Saturday, January 22, 2011

THE DIGITAL LADY: Fifteen years ago today the New York Times published an article titled, "The New York Times Introduces a Web Site," announcing that "The New York Times begins publishing daily on the World Wide Web today, offering readers around the world immediate access to most of the daily newspaper's contents" and that such content would exceed the "@times" service it had been providing to subscribers of America Online. The Web, the article explained, was "the Internet's fastest-growing service, which lets computer users see electronic publications consisting of text, pictures and, in some cases, video and sound."  Sounds like fun.
FROM THE ALOTT5MA ACCESS TO JUSTICE FILES:  Every person, of course, deserves his or her day in court ... but first you have to survive Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (or its state-law equivalent) to demonstrate you've stated a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Meet Hubert Blackman, a college student from New York City, who on December 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm sought to experience the heights of Las Vegas private entertainment as only one can at the Stratosphere Hotel.  He arranged with a local business to have a woman visit him to perform a dance for $155 and, for an extra $120, a sex act.  As his pro se federal complaint alleges (thank you, 28 U.S.C. § 1332) and his interview with the press spells out in further detail, the gravamen of the complaint is that he thought he had contracted for an hour's worth of services, but the woman left after a half hour.

Blackman called the local business to demand a refund; they said no despite his protests that he was incapable of entering into an informed agreement on account of drunkitude.  He then called the police; they explained to him that what he did remained illegal in Clark County and suggested he call the Better Business Bureau.  He, instead, filed the complaint alleging "I just need medical treatment on mental condition: psycotic disorder" because "A excort had did an illegal sex act on me during her paid service to me [and] the excort had broke the law," and in his prayer for relief sought as follows: "I would like the court to close the business. I also would like to get my $275 payment back and a $1.8 million verdict for the tragic event that happened."

Others here, no doubt, can comment on the possibility for class action relief with regards to such complaints and the propriety of coupon settlements thereof; many here can criticize the grammar and spelling.  I just want to know what kind of person is smart enough to file a federal complaint (faster process, if less plaintiff-friendly), but dumb enough to talk to the press about this one.   (That said, isn't it worth it for the defendant to refund the money rather than defend this case?)
EVEN BETTER THAN SKEET SURFING:  Someone has found a way to combine bowling and billiards.

Friday, January 21, 2011

ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO:  If you listen to the United States Government Printing Office, this one's easy: "The possessive case of a singular or plural noun ending in s or with an s sound formed by adding an apostrophe only," citing Jesus', Mars' and Dumas' as examples.

But if you listen to everyone else, oy vey: "Many respected sources have required that practically all singular nouns, including those ending with a sibilant sound, have possessive forms with an extra s after the apostrophe, says Wikipedia, citing The Economist and the MLA.  But there are exceptions.  Our anonymous British friends who don't put a period after Mr. say this: "Although singular in other respects, the United States, the United Nations, the Philippines, etc, have a plural possessive apostrophe: eg, Who will be the United States' next president?" Also? "Try to avoid using Lloyd's (the insurance market) as a possessive; it poses an insoluble problem."

Insoluble?  A few sources suggest that Biblical and classical names are an exception -- Jesus', Socrates', Ramses'.  Then there's one person who says "when a word of 3 syllables or longer ends in s, you just put the apostrophe for the possessive, unless that makes the sentence sound ambiguous" -- Laertes', but Claudius's.

But we here at ALOTT5MA don't believe in insoluble situations.  We believe in answers. So when we ponder why all of Anthony Hopkins's recent films have sucked, should we just say Hopkins'?  Is Richard Dreyfuss' career on the rebound, or Richard Dreyfuss's?  And how can we praise sufficiently Pythagoras' contributions to our understanding of right triangles?  The floor is yours.

added, January 28:  Final poll results:

  • Add an apostrophe ("Dickens' novels") -- 71 (47%)
  • Add apostrophe + s ("Dickens's novels") -- 29 (19%)
  • Usually add apostrophe + s, but with exceptions -- 48 (32%)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

THE FAMILY IS MODERN; THE JOKES ARE OLD-FASHIONED: Since Alan isn't covering it any more, I thought I'd put up a thread here on Modern Family. I really was of two minds about last night's episode. On the one hand, if I were compiling a list of plot devices that really should be put out of their misery, it would include at least four from last night: (1) walking in on parents having sex; (2) the mis-sent email; (3) the child's friend who is more important to the parents than to the kid; and (4) the impossible reservation/ticket. You can grimace and do one of those from time to time, but putting them all together in a single episode (along with the comedy-of-errors miscommunication gag, which at least is versatile enough not to make my list) just seems lazy. It's like ordering a sitcom off of a dim sum cart.

On the other hand, you can't fault most of the execution. Gloria's plaintive "I sended ... come back" was perfectly delivered, and the show really pushed the boundaries of what you can imply with the blocking as the kids opened the door and again with Luke's comment about it. So even though I thought the plotting was lazy, the Cam-Mitchell plot was grating, and Manny's absence was regrettable, the other two stories made me laugh pretty hard.

Another thought as I was typing this: the popularity of this show is a bit strange, because the show's viewpoint is so narrowly dialed into a narrow demographic -- the well-to-do West LA professional. Cam and Mitchell's status obsession, their repeated use of Lily to promote their own interests, the preschool application story that Sepinwall hated so much, and the Jay-Gloria relationship, to name a few examples, are all things that I associate so much with daily LA life and that I see far less of where I live now. Are those things really relatable outside of LA?
I GUESS EVERY SUPERHERO NEED HIS THEME MUSIC: Given the dire straits the network is in, it's popular to say that NBC can't do anything right lately. However, there's one thing that they are doing right--and that's title sequences. As shows have gotten pressed to add more ad time, title sequences and theme music are often the first thing to go. For instance, we haven't seen the Grey's Anatomy credits (which well establish the show's mix of the medical and the personal drama) in ages, and the Emmy-winning Desperate Housewives theme hasn't been heard in its entirety in several years, having been reduced to a stinger. A number of shows don't even have real title sequences, but just a card and a 2-3 second sting (Good Wife, Castle, Glee). (Of course, that can be very effective for some shows--e.g., Lost.) While there have been exceptions (Community frequently cuts its theme and titles for time, and a number of NBC's new shows followed the "title card/stinger" method--Outlaw, Undercovers, Harry's Law), NBC has shown a committment to title sequences which are excellent:
  • 30 Rock--the music and the quick cuts between the characters, coupled with the NYC backdrops, immediately make the show's tone and setting clear, and put you in an appropriately manic mode.
  • The Office and Parks and Recreation--Both establish that while we're in a small universe, we're in a small universe that's not without charm and quirk (or, apparently, Hutts), and where people have ambition beyond that world (even if that ambition fails). (And looking forward to see how they tweak the Parks and Rec credits to reflect this season's cast changes.)
  • Parenthood--This (which oddly doesn't seem to be available on YouTube) may actually be my favorite opening sequence on TV right now, with its mixture of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" and real childhood photos of the adult cast through the years evoking the show's tone just right.

There are a bunch of other solid ones on NBC (and its cable sister networks) now--Chuck, Friday Night Lights, Psych, Royal Pains--where the theme music and title sequence combine to effectively establish tone and character, along with a number of classic NBC ones (Hill Street Blues, ER, Friends, Cheers). It's an art we're losing, and one I wish we weren't.

THE JUDGE'S CONSTIPATION WILL GO TO HIS HEAD: You know, I was all ready to hate the new version of American Idol. I mean, I expected to despise Jennifer Lopez, and I couldn't figure out why Steven Tyler would do it, and I know for a fact that Randy Jackson is useless. I know it's just one episode of auditions, but for my money, that couldn't have gone much better. As it turns out, taking all of the passive-aggressive tension and the muttering and the mind games and the could-give-a-shit tardiness and truancy out of an audition episode left nothing but a loose, breezy good time. Surely Tyler's sexual harassment of 15-year-olds will grow old (incidentally: he is who he is, and we knew who that was when he was hired, so I'm kind of glad he's not going to change just because he's on TV). Surely reputed diva and self-described Gervais-threatener Jennifer Lopez will not continue to be all smiles and candy. Surely, uh, Randy Jackson. But this was an important episode for Idol, and it went well.

ETA: What didn't go so well: Ratings down 13% from last year's premiere. Ratings, of course, correlate to expected quality, not actual quality.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MEOW:  Julie Newmar. Eartha Kitt. Lee Meriwether. Michelle Pfeiffer. Halle Berry. Anne Hathaway!
WHY FOAM? WHY NOW?  If you asked me to construct a perfect episode of Top Chef, it'd look a lot like this one.  Heavy on the Bourdain, with a Quickfire visit from filleting god Justo Thomas, and then a Restaurant Wars in which one team soars like I've never seen a Wars team soar before while the other crashes, burns, explodes and faces elimination in an exceptionally satisfying way.

You know how we say "if you're going on Survivor, learn to start a fire without a flint" and "if you're going on The Amazing Race, learn to drive stick"?  If you're going on Top Chef, have a Restaurant Wars concept ready.  Because that was brilliant.
ALMOST AS EXCITING AS BRADLEY WHITFORD'S FACIAL HAIR: Y'know what livens up any boring afternoon? The bold and exciting adventures of Detective Conan O'Brien and Detective Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich! (In particular, note the guest appearance beginning at 2:45.)
THE GOLDEN GLOBE CURSE: I'd missed last night's Glee (the one that introduced Blaine) when it first aired, and while it features yet another really excellent performance by Chris Colfer, it raises a question for him as well--what's his post-Glee path? For many of the others, it's quite obvious--for instance, Cory Monteith and Mark Salling can play the sort of lugheads that Ashton Kutcher has made a career of playing, Dianna Agron can play the "damsel in distress" type role in an action movie, and Lea Michele will continue her quest to be Barbra Streisand. (The adults have less to worry about, since it's much easier for them to stay on the show for several seasons without plot gymnastics that are ludicrous even by Glee standards.) Colfer, on the other hand--where does he go from here? To Broadway? If so, in what role? Does he wind up being America's favorite "gay best friend" character actor for the next 10 years? Is there something else?
SHE SAID, "I'VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT WHERE WE'RE GOING": Bono knew where U2 stood on December 30, 1989, performing at Dublin's Point Depot as part of a series of hometown concerts ending what seemed like a never-ending tour between The Joshua Tree and Rattle & Hum, during which the band's worst tendencies were magnified -- grandiosity, pretentiousness, and a level of self-righteousness which was difficult even for loyal fans like me to stomach after a while.  And so from that concert stage that night, a bootleg of which I've held onto for these two decades, Bono said:
I was explaining to people the other night, but I might've got it a bit wrong – this is just the end of something for U2. And that's what we're playing these concerts – and we're throwing a party for ourselves and you. It's no big deal, it's just – we have to go away and ... and dream it all up again.
Dream it all up again, disappear for a while, and two years later came Achtung Baby, a reinvention of U2's sound that was both a radical shift from the blues-based Rattle & Hum (produced by Jimmy Iovine), utterly contemporary in its seeking a more dance-based rhythm (given the contemporaneous Manchester thing) and yet ultimately something that felt very much like the same band.

American Idol, too, needed to dream it all up again.  After three straight seasons of increasing bloat and stuck with older white boys with guitars winning -- each defensible on its own merits, but troubling as a whole -- the show last year finally started to decline in the ratings and in our own interest here.  Given Simon Cowell's leaving, it was a perfect opportunity to rethink the show and rethink it they have.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

LYNDON'S JOHNSON:  Preempting Robert Caro's anticipated take on same, do enjoy this animated-enhanced audio from an actual phone call placed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on August 8, 1964 to Joe Haggar (of the eponymous trouser company) in which the President sets forth his exact trouser needs in the way only he can:

COME TO MY (TICKET) WINDOW: Two somewhat odd pieces of Broadway casting:
  • Anderson Cooper will pre-record the voice of "The Book" in the upcoming Daniel Radcliffe-led revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, which was played by Walter Cronkite in the last revival.
  • While Billie Joe Armstrong takes a week's vacation from his limited engagement in American Idiot, Melissa Etheridge (who's already halfway to EGOT--1993 and 1995 Grammys for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female and an Oscar for "I Need To Wake Up") will play the role of St. Jimmy, which is a traditionally male part.
STILL DOESN'T EXPLAIN WHAT THE HELL "WINTRY MIX" IS: The AP Stylebook twitter account helpfully explains the difference between "sleet" and "freezing rain," though I'm now confused about how "sleet" and "hail" are different.
LIKE HUGH HEFNER, ONLY WITH MUCH LESS DRY HUMPING AND BABY OIL: After north of 16,000 hours on television, Regis Phibin will leave our airwaves later this year. Any question that Ryan Seacrest is pretty much now the unquestioned go to hosting/emcee figure of our day?
FEARING THE MALACHI CRUNCH:  So I was incredibly excited last night at about 7:55p when, flipping around to see if there was something airing for Lucy to watch, I noticed that the Hub network was just about to re-air the Family Ties two-parter "A, My Name Is Alex" and set my TiVo promptly.

For those too young to remember (or who weren't into Family Ties), this was as Very Special as episodes get.  Alex's "best friend" Greg (I use the quotes because I don't believe we had ever seen him before) is killed in a car accident on a drive Alex himself had opted out of, and we transition from Alex's comic denial-of-grief into 40 minutes of stark drama (staged on a black set, ala Our Town) before an unseen therapist who unpacks all of Alex's insecurities and the pressure of always being seen as the one who had all the answers.  (Or, alternatively, it hasn't aged well, but this plus HIMYM was a nice one-two punch last night.)  Much, much hugging and learning and Emmy-winning ensues.

So here's my question: what's a tv episode you haven't seen in a damn long time which you would be delighted to come across again?

Monday, January 17, 2011

WAWA'S TO THE RIGHT, THEY GOT BEVERAGE INSIDE: The topless green mermaid meets the Big Gulp, as Starbucks will unveil the 31-ounce "Trenta" size for cold beverages this spring.
"OFFENDED" VERSUS OFFENDED:  Ah, yes, that perennial debate reared its head again in the midst and in the wake of Ricky Gervais' hosting (note: not "Gervais's," but we'll get to that later in the week) of the Golden Globe Awards last night, and as to whether he'll (a) ever be invited to host an awards show again, or (b) even be allowed to live.  First, let's review perhaps the three most biting lines, though you can see all the highlights on video:

  • Referring to I Love You Philip Morris as “Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. Sort of the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists then. Probably? My lawyers helped me with the wording of that joke. They’re not here.”
  • “I love this next presenter; he’s so cool. He’s the star of Iron Man, Two Girls And A Guy, Wonder Boys …I’m sorry are these porn films? Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Bowfinger? Up The Academy? Come on! He has done all of those films, but many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as The Betty Ford Clinic and the Los Angeles County Jail. Robert Downey, Jr.”
  • His final line of the night: “And thank you to God. For making me an atheist.”
I mean, it's Ricky Gervais.  This is what he does.  No one should have been surprised that this was the route his comedy went, any differently than had they invited Jeffrey Ross.  Was it funny?  Yes.  And it's an entertainment show in the first place -- this wasn't nearly on the bite-the-hand-that-invited-him level of Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, though, again (a) what did they expect?, and (b) at least it was funny.  Would they rather have had a yodeling ventriloquist Miss America aspirant host?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

FROM THE SAME PEOPLE WHO PREFERRED EVITA PERON TO MARGE GUNDERSON**: Welcome to the 2011 Golden Globe Awards, three hours during which I'm mostly rooting for chaos -- both in terms of the awards choices and the behavior of the celebrities attending.  Ricky Gervais, don't let us down: stir the pot properly.

** Credit: Matt's twitter feed.
HALFTIME REPORT: With us about halfway through the TV season, I wanted to toss together an omnibus post to quick-bullet a few shows that I at least have been watching, but that we haven't blogged about, to give y'all a chance to speak out on the things we don't cover week to week. In Sunday-Friday chronological order:
  • Desperate Housewives--Enjoying the Huffman/Williams plotline, if just for giving Lynette something to do other than bitch about her kids, and Longoria is selling the "switched at birth" plotline as best she can, but someone needs to find a storyline for Susan or send her off to Mandyville ASAP. The Bree plotline is meh, but I understand the need for male beefcake.
  • Brothers & Sisters--Look, I know you've had budget cutbacks (Emily Van Camp and Patricia Wettig are gone) and cast shifts (Calista Flockhart and Giles Marini didn't want to do every episode), but the abrupt writeouts/disappearances/reappearances are too much. The show's at its best when the characters are clashing over stakes that matter and/or political issues, rather than the umpteenth "William had a secret!" storyline.
  • Hawaii Five-0--Like its timeslot competitor, Castle, it's taking some time to balance the elements (procedural, family, and mythology). Based on recent episodes, they're bagging the family stuff altogether and adding more mythology. That seems like a decent idea, since Alex O'Loughlin and Taryn Manning lacked the Fillion/Quinn/Sullivan chemistry that works so well on Castle. Still, an entertaining way to spend 44 minutes.
  • NCIS: Los Angeles--For a show that debuted with a massive audience and has held on to it, it's surprising just how much tinkering has gone on. Some are subtle (pushing Chris O'Donnell more and more to the background) and some not (writing out two of the original six cast members, adding 3 new cast members). For once, though, all the tinkering has worked well, and we're getting legitimately fun banter, bromantic (O'Donnell and Cool J), quasi-romantic (Ruah and Olsen), and geektastic (Foa and Felice Smith).
  • No Ordinary Family--The mythology stuff is way too drawn out and boring, but it's nice to see a superhero show that's not so relentlessly dark. Kay Panabaker has actually proven to be the strongest story-generator, in part because her mind-reading power is easier to hang story hooks on than super-strength, super-speed, or super-brains. The sidekicks (Reeser and Malco) remain the most fun part of the show, but it's a good time as a whole.
  • Better With You--Remains an adequate sitcom where the cast is much better than the material it's given. Right now, seems noteworthy primarily because they're using the traditional "hide a pregnancy" methods (laundry baskets, couches, counters, shooting from the chest up) to disguise the fact that JoAnna Garcia isn't pregnant, even though her character is.
I'll also be picking up a few more shows over the next few weeks--Off The Map (like the cast, and it looks gorgeous, even if writing is thus far more than a bit derivative), Harry's Law (primarily for the snark value), and Fairly Legal (which, as best I can tell from the poster, involves Sarah Shahi's legs solving legal problems).