Saturday, December 26, 2009

THE OH-OHS: It's not just that I'll read any article about our nation's continuing failure to put a name on this decade; it's the use of the following analogy by the Washington Post's Michael Rosenwald which will take some readers here back more than a decade to the pre-WWW version of this blog ...
"It's really kind of amusing to me," said Dennis Baron, a University of Illinois linguist and curator of a Web site that decodes language in the news. "People think if we don't have anything to call the decade, that maybe we will forget it, that it will be some kind of orphan decade, that it won't exist. But it's simply not true."

For evidence, see: the romantic partner of an older adult who is not married. The phenomenon exists; there just isn't a good, specific word for it.

"If you are 60 years old, saying 'my girlfriend' sounds stupid," Sheidlower said. " 'Partner' sounds too businesslike or suggests a gay relationship. 'Companion' doesn't sound romantic. The Census Bureau calls it POSSLQ -- persons of opposite sex sharing living quarters. That obviously doesn't work. The fact that there is a need for a word doesn't mean it will arise."
I think we settled on "lover," just because it was too amusing not to use. Either that or "special lady."

Friday, December 25, 2009

MAYBE THIS WAS AN ILL-FATED GIFT CHOICE: My father attempting to Wii Bowl sounds frightfully like Monica Seles playing tennis, complete with the grunting. Video may follow.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


MALCOLM GLADWELL IS NEVER OUT OF STYLE: As we start the ushering-out of 2009, it's worth recalling that at the start of the year the WaPo's Hank Stuever (as he does every year, and we do blog about it) attempted to predict what would be "in" and "out" in 2009. Some of his soothsaying proved correct (Senators in, Governors out; honeycrisp apples in, fujis out); some didn't ("slow blogging" did not trample tweeting; Dwight & Angela did not prove more compelling than Pam & Jim); I'm calling Fleet Foxes v. Kings of Leon a draw; and in a typographical battle this writers is keenly interested in, I'm not sure if REVENGE OF CAPS LOCK has, indeed, negated my occasional need to Emphasize. Things. With. Periods.
ALL THAT'S MISSING IS A CAMEO FROM XAVIER MCDANIEL: Commenter Stacey wanted to clue us in on a battle that's been raging in the Seattle suburbs -- between the Shorewood and Shorecrest High Schools in the realm of all-school lip-syncing (or, apparently, "lip dubbing"). Yes, the Shorecrest filmed-in-a-single-take "Hey Ya" is an impressive technical feat ... but then, OMG (as the kids would say, as I understand it) the Shorewood response is blow-your-mind awesome. I won't spoil the twist, though there's some background here to read when you're done. Enjoy, and know that at least in the Pacific Northwest the kids may, in fact, be alright.
NEW DEFINITION OF SUMMER MADNESS: The Inquirer's Peter Mucha is trying to figure out what happened to Will Smith, who released no films in 2009 and does not star in any films which have wrapped or even begun filming at this point. An Oscar-seeking Flowers for Algernon remake may be next.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IT WOULDN'T BE TOO SURPRISING IF ADAM DURITZ'S PEA-SIZED BRAIN WAS 85% DREADLOCKS, 10% WATER, AND 5% ACTRESS PHONE NUMBERS: The Village Voice (remember them?) ranks the 50 Worst Songs of the Aughts, a list it claims is topped (bottomed?) by the Counting Crows/Vanessa Carlton cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." Why? Here's part of it:
Let us speak right into whichever of Duritz's ears doesn't have a cockily tipped wool hat over it. Adam, we don't know if you misunderstood the song's anti-globalization, anti-industrialization, anti-corporation message, or just chose to ignore it so you could get free Frappucinos for life. But we're gonna hip you to a harsh reality. Seriously, you know the line about how they "paved paradise and put up a parking lot?" Like how they replaced something beautiful with something cold and heartless and commercial? That's you. You're the parking lot, motherf**ker. You drove your shitty steamroller over something everyone loved so you could pander your sensitive pussyhound whine to people waiting in line at the Carl's Jr. They paved Nirvana and put up a Counting Crow. Argh!
added: Gang, I didn't say I agreed with the list, though I'm going to be a fan of anything that snarks on Sideshow Duritz. So, what is the Worst Song of the Aughts, then?
TOWARD A GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF POP CULTURE: As I've mentioned, I'm well behind on Mad Men, and am wrapping up the first season DVD--one disc to go! Admittedly, I know certain key arcs already (the big Peggy reveal in Season 1, and the gist of what happened at the end of Season 3 both at work and at home for Don), so things that might have been subtle and/or shocking (e.g., the remarks about Peggy gaining weight and her skirt not fitting) get a bit anvil-y. However, I have developed the following principle--the quality of an episode of Mad Men, is typically inversely proportional to the amount of screen time and dialogue January Jones has in it. Seriously, "suburbia in the 50/60s is a quiet repressed hell" is a pretty dry well by now, but the advertising stuff is seriously fascinating.
THE TRIBE HAS SPOKEN: It's actually not that hard for me to identify most of my favorite Reality TV Seasons of the Aughts -- the great ones had such strong narratives and vivid characters throughout, as well as demonstrations of individual excellence which made them truly memorable. This list is not so much ranked, but it is structured:

Any such list has to start with Survivor: Original Recipe. It created the mold into which so much which followed was poured, not just by bringing the reality competition genre to the States but by lucking into a narrator/protagonist as brilliant as Richard Hatch in both playing the game strategically and explaining to viewers what he was doing. We didn't know what we were getting into -- and neither did the Pagong tribe, which turned its name into a verb along with creating so much of the other language we now use across the genre, from alliances to "immunity" to I'm Not Here To Make Friends to -- and this doesn't get noted often enough -- putting an out gay man front and center of the show.

Yeah, okay, so they may have messed with Stacey Stillman's chances in order to keep Rudy in the game artificially, and it was a shame Gervase couldn't swim ... but it really was important for Burnett to show that this wasn't just going to be a game for the young and fit. In the end, as Chuck Klosterman discusses in his new book, "Those first voters made a critical distinction. They decided that the ability to succeed at Survivor without natural skills was more impressive than succeeding with one's own aptitude and work ethic. They decided that that the ability to drag everyone down to the middle required more strategy than transcending the group alone. They invented what success at Survivor was supposed to signify."

And it was only by one vote. The other Survivor seasons which I have to add to any top ten list are Palau and Guatemala, one after the other in 2005. Palau had the demolition of the Ulongs, Janu's quitting followed by the Tom-Ian showdown for which we had waited all season; Guatemala was one of the best strategic games we've seen, with Stephenie, Danni, Rafe, Gary Hogeboom Hawkins and freakin' Judd, man, all trying their best. It's a ridiculously entertaining season. (Just left off the list: Pearl Islands -- the Rupert/Fairplay/Lill/Savage/Osten year.)

You know that The Amazing Race will get several slots on any list I'm preparing, and I don't need to like the winner to love the season, as long as the ride is fun. That's why Season 3, with FloZac, Teri-Ian, Team FireCop and the model twins tops this chart. Here's what I wrote in 2002 after the finale, and especially this: "[G]ood reality tv reveals character, and TAR does it better than any other show by placing characters in familiar settings, and not hermetically sealed bubbles. Many of us know what it's like to travel while fatigued, to have to deal with foreign cultures . . . to find a cab in an American downtown.... Plain and simple, this was television at its best -- a great travelogue, plus a great study of human emotions. Surprising, thrilling, revealing, and most of all, entertaining, and there's nothing wrong with a little entertainment now and then." Joining it on my top ten list, because I'm clearly not limiting myself to one-season-per-show, are Seasons 2 and 5 -- the first dominated by TaraWil and Team Cha Cha Cha, the latter by Colin/Christie, Chip/Kim and Mirna/Schmirna -- also make the cut as well. We've never seen racing as smart as we have in the latter, or oxen which were as broken.

No surprise to regular readers of this site that America's Next Top Model: Cycle 2 gets a mention here. It had the talent (Yoanna/Shandi/Mercedes/April/Xiomara/TinyJenascia) and the drama (Shandi), and it was back when Janice Dickinson was still on the show as, as I noted back then, "America's favorite she's-a-man-baby-uberbitch [with] a heart of gold as Mercedes' biggest champion."

As I told Alan, I put American Idol 7 (David, David, Clifford the Crunchy Muppet, Michael Johns and Carly Smithson) atop any list of best Idol seasons. The level of talent was great, and the underlying narrative of scrappy, sincere Cook versus The Young David Archuleta Machine was satisfying to watch. Also, that Jason Castro meltdown is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. (Last season is a close runner-up; the talent level seems to keep rising on the show even when you'd think they'd have somewhat drained the swamp by now.)

Two slots remain. I originally put Top Chef Masters here to recognize its sustained, drama-free excellence, but in the end I can't leave out Project Runway 2, from back when everyone was watching the show that pioneered that "let's give professionals a shot at being awesome in their craft" subgenre. Santino, Nick, Andrae and the rest of that deep cast delivered both on the fashion and drama, and even if the show displayed entirely too much tootie at times, it was a joy to watch. Also: Tim Gunn, the mentor we all wish we had in our careers.

The final spot -- and this is pure entertainment value -- has to go to Joe Millionaire. This was the series that made clear just how much of a role editors played in the process, turning something which the competitors thought was a Bachelor-type show into one of the best comedies on television. Mmm, (slurp) (slurp) (gulp) indeed.

Other Runners-Up (not in any order): Nashville Star (season one); MTV's Sorority Life (season one); The Apprentice (season one); Rock Star: Supernova; Bachelorettes in Alaska; WWF Tough Enough (season one); The Contender (season one); Grease: You're The One That I Want.

Ruled out on eligibility grounds, but nonetheless compelling: Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Baltimore Ravens was marketed as reality tv, but really was a documentary that filmed an aspect of life which itself functions like reality tv. But nonetheless great. Similarly on Project Greenlight, which certainly had reality/elimination elements at the start but was much more of a documentary. Real World: Hawaii, the last great season, was in 1999. Finally, both Joe Schmo seasons ruled, but they're more improv comedy with reality elements than pure reality.

That's it. That's the list.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

HE CHARMED EVERYONE HERE EXCEPT TAMARA EASTER, WHO LATER REVEALED TO HIM HER INNERMOST SECRETS: PopWatch's Wendy Mitchell wants to know: Can Ben Folds get his own TV show, please?

And let's shoot for something beyond Idol mentor. Why not host a variety/talk show? (Additional question: is he ever gonna dance again?)
IT'S THEIR PREROGATIVE: Good news for Idol fans -- for 2010, they're ditching the three-groups-of-twelve (plus wildcard) semifinals and returning to the 24-to-20-to-16-to-12 structure. As I wrote back in February, this format values consistency over one-trick ponies, and may help prevent the Scott MacIntyres of the world from advancing into the finals going forward.
TECH SUPPORT: So Haloscan is cutting us off from its Comments functioning before year's end; we can shift to their Echo system or export our existing comments and use something else. Any advice? Obviously, what we'd prefer is something which makes the change as invisible as possible -- keeping all the existing comments and a pop-up window system, if at all feasible.

FYI: at present, we have 115,708 comments stored on Haloscan capable of being exported.
LUFTBALLOON: My mother-in-law gave the Little Earthling a copy of "The Red Balloon," a movie I had not watched since I ran the 16mm film projector in 5th grade. Could someone please defend this movie? I realize it is meant for children, but I simply do not understand its supposed artistic or entertainment value. I do not mean that I was not entertained or simply want to poo-poo its apparent artistry -- it was an amazingly boring 36 minutes -- I mean I do not understand how this movie is intended to entertain or be a work of art when it is barely more engaging than John Cage's 4' 33".
DAVID SOUTER=BRIAN WILSON? Two interesting things for discussion in this WSJ Law Blog item on Justice Sotomayor:
  • As part of an extended music metaphor, the writer notes--"[I]f Alex Kozinski and Richard Posner are, say, Stephen Malkmus and Wayne Coyne, brilliant and legendary to those who follow those worlds, Supreme Court Justices are all Madonnas and Bonos and Ringos and Eltons." Please provide suitable music analogs for your favorite (or least favorite) judges and justify your answer.
  • There's a discussion of her dating life (or more precisely, her lack thereof)--I would totally watch Justice Sotomayor attempt to find love, ideally with the rest of SCOTUS as her confidants and advisors. Please write your proposed "challenges" and titles for such a show.

Monday, December 21, 2009

NO QUESTION SHE CAN HIT THE HIGH C: Sadly, NPH can't host every awards show, but Kristin Chenoweth hosting the Critics' Choice Awards for film? Yeah, that'll work, though is a somewhat odd choice, given that her film work to date has been (to put it charitably) less than distinguished. Though if her hosting is half as funny as the promo linked above, it'll be excellent.
HELLO? ELTON! OF COURSE.... OF, OF COURSE. SEND AN EMBARRASSINGLY BIG CAR AND I'LL BE THERE: Congratulations to Rage Against The Machine and the people-powered movement which propelled "Killing in the Name" ahead of the treacly X-Factor winner to become 2009's UK Christmas Number One Single, having been downloaded 502,000 times to the runner-up's 450,000. Most of the band's proceeds from the single will go to Shelter, a leading UK anti-homelessness charity, and the band has promised to do a free concert in the British Isles as well.

Said the Clay Aiken wannabe who won X-Factor, "I wouldn't buy it. It's a nought out of ten from me. Simon Cowell wouldn't like it. They wouldn't get through to boot camp on The X Factor - they're just shouting."
TRITONE SUBSTITUTION: [posted at 10:30] One could look at the Sing-Off finale much in the same way as an Idol elimination show -- an impossible amount of padding before providing a sentence's worth of information. But what padding! A lovely medley from Boyz III Men, spirited performances from all the groups and judges (but, Ben, why the piano?) and Bobby McFerrin, and an outfit for the ages from Smokey Robinson, ridiculous in every aspect.

I don't know that the promised recording contract will lead to lasting fame for the winners, but if all they got from this was a better choice of bookings in the future, well, that ain't bad. Nice short series.
AUNT OLIVIA, 1946-2009: Celebrity death enthusiasts are still hip-deep in twitter (and Twitter) about Brittany Murphy today, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the passing, from cancer, of Alaina Reed Hall. Hall was Sesame Street's Olivia Gordon Robinson, and while I was never entirely clear on the familial relationships on the Street, having been mostly four years old when I was watching, Wikipedia tells me she was Robin's Son Gordon's sister. Spacewoman almost certainly remembers her more clearly (if not fondly) from her role as Rose on 227.

Anyone who spent 12 years on Sesame Street likely need not worry about entering TV heaven, but even without that credit on her IMDB page, she would deserve passage through the pearly gates for having played tiny roles on two of our seminal modern entertainments (Herman's Head and Cruel Intentions) and a larger role in another (Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, for which she voiced the animated characters).
YOU CAN PLAY HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS WHILE WAITING: For those of us on the East Coast still digging out from the snow, don't forget to call Mr. Plow (that's my name!). That name again is Mr. Plow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

AND THE TITLE OF SOLE SURVIVOR: Congratulations to commenter Lou W. for winning our suicide pool in the NFL's fifteenth week tonight, opting for the Texans while the others in the final three had bet on the Broncos.

As for the other Survivor, I followed this season via recaps more than by actually watching the shows (though I certainly watched tonight) -- it's a shame critics can't preview full- or half-seasons in advance to let us know when the good ones are coming. From all accounts, Russell made this one of the truly good ones. Up next for Season XX: more All-Stars, debuting 2-11-10.

added: Miss Alli! "[T]here is no such thing as a "best player" other than the player who gets people to vote for him or her. It is an intrinsic part of Survivor to play to a jury in a way that gets them to vote for you. It's the hardest, most mysterious part of the game. Winning challenges is easy; understanding what somebody will do with his or her vote is hard.... Like it or not, for all players, this game ends with a final challenge called Get The Most Votes. If you stink at that challenge, you deserve not to win.

"Third of all: If you're a juror, you don't have to put aside anything! You have the ultimate power of your own reckless, irrational whimsy! That is the absolute essence of the game. The essence of being a juror on Survivor is that you can do whatever you want. The fact that some jurors vote out of a twisted sense of "respect," some vote out of resentment, some vote out of loyalty, and some vote because they think one person needs the money more? That's the game. Those are the rules, and everybody knows them, and everybody has the same opportunity to take them into account and play accordingly."

YES, I AM AWARE I'M NOT AT ALL IN ITS INTENDED DEMO: Two things worth noting in the Sunday Styles section of the Times today:
NO OBVIOUS JOKE HERE, AND NOT REALLY FUNNY: Brittany Murphy, dead at 32.