Friday, May 20, 2011

FAB FIVE FREDDY TOLD ME EVERYBODY'S FLY/DEEJAYS SPINNIN' ARE SAVIN' MY MIND:  It's the end of the world (as we know it) (according to a nutball).  How are you feeling?

Buzzfeed has 32 animal pictures you need to see while you still can.
MACHO SADNESS: Randy Savage, the dynamic wrestler equally captivating (and gonzo) as heel and face, died this morning in a car accident. He was 58.
THOUGH YOU WERE LI'L, THE JOY YOU BROUGHT TO US WAS NOT LI'L: I'm sure I butchered that tag, but Google couldn't fetch me the quote. In any event, when Leslie Knope spoke those words (or thoseish words), it was one of the great meta moments of TVdom, right up there with "anyone who can't make money off of Sports Night should get out of the money-making business" and Cougar Town's Travis asking his mom why she has a picture of herself dancing with Bruce Springsteen and half the gags in Arrested Development's third season and Community's second. Because while Parks & Rec is a li'l show, in ratings and in ambition -- trafficking not in the worlds of corporate and network politics or life-and-death surgeries or hillbilly mob warfare or covert intrigue or gruesome forensics, but rather small-town bureaucracy and its alternately lulling and invigorating effects on the people who practice it -- pretty much everybody, it seems, sees it as radical. It is simultaneously hysterically sharp and unabashedly sentimental. Kids like P'n'R for what P'n'R has got; moms like P'n'R for what P'n'R has not. [Ed: Got.]

So in a television season that seems to have flown by quickly when it wasn't dragging interminably behind an unpredictably dispersed plume of summerlike hiatuses (hiati?) and cast absences and newsy preemptments and postponery, I saw some things. I saw Mags Bennett wrestle with grief and ambition and resignment while Raylan Givens stalked her with sublimated anger and duty that didn't know whether it was filial, paternal, or occupational. I saw a collection of drudges buoy an inconstant buffoon toward a moving proposal. I saw a rag-tag band of misfits tell sad and hopeful stories in clay and cowboy costumes while their writers and producers told sad and hopeful stories about clay and cowboy costumes. I saw a warrior tyrant wield a weave as a weapon and then cut some sour teenagers' hair off just to see them cry. And I saw a miniature pony twice move Ron Swanson, first to schoolgirlish glee, and then to silent, manly tears.

I watched less new television this season than in years, I think, but, as I've said before, we live in an age when there is so much good television that there is absolutely no reason to watch bad television.*

*And yet the biggest television headline last week was that Ashton Kutcher replaced Charlie Sheen on a Chuck Lorre show. Huh.
ASK JEEVES: If you paid $100 for a share of Linked In this morning, or $95 yesterday afternoon, or $45 yesterday morning, and you intend to hold that share for a while, one of the two of us has a gross misunderstanding about what Linked In is.

I would love -- love -- to see a breakdown of people who decided to purchase shares of Linked In stratified by age.
MEET THE NEW BOSS? All I want to say about last night's Office finale  (okay, I say more about the boss choices below the fold) is that I'd rather not have a cliffhanger.  Myles McNutt explains why:
I think the biggest problem with building the entire finale around the mystery of the new boss is the fact that we are going to learn the result of his mystery from the trade papers and not from the show itself. The Simpsons' “Who Shot Mr. Burns,” for example, worked because all of the speculation would lead people to tune in for the premiere to find out the answer, and would allow the mystery to be resolved within the narrative: here, it’ll be old news by the time we hit the premiere, which will do little to sustain real excitement.
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO II:  Ben Yagoda believes there's a time and place to put punctuation marks outside quotation marks:
The British way simply makes more sense. Indeed, since at least the 1960s a common designation for that style has been "logical punctuation." The best way to grasp this is to look at an example, such as what Slate commenter Dean Hamer wrote under a recent article about PBS and NPR:
[I]ronically, given the anecdote about "Tales of the City", PBS is the ONLY widely available channel that has any serious LGBT content; e.g. documentaries such as "Ask Not" and "Out in the Silence".
"Tales of the City" and "Out in the Silence" are units—consisting of the words and the quotation marks. Insinuating a period or comma within the unit alters it in a rather underhanded manner. American style is inconsistent, moreover, because when it comes to other punctuation marks—semicolons, colons, exclamation points, question marks, dashes—we follow British/logical protocol. Dean Hamer would pass muster in any U.S. newspaper or magazine, for example, if he were to write: I am a big fan of "Tales of the City"; did anyone else see "Ask Not"?

...By far the biggest fount of logical punctuation today is Wikipedia, which was started by two Americans but whose English-language edition is by and for all English-speaking countries. The site's style guide notes that "logical punctuation … is used here because it is deemed by Wikipedia consensus to be more in keeping with the principle of minimal change." That is, if you put a period or comma inside quotation marks, you are wrongly suggesting that the period or comma is part of the quoted material, and thus you have "changed" it.
However, Yagoda notes: "When I asked [the Modern Language Association's Rosemary] Feal and Carol Saller, who oversees the Chicago Manual of Style, if there was a chance their organizations would go over to the other side, they both replied, in essence: 'How about never? Is never good for you?'"

Survey says!  By a 60%-40% margin, y'all are cool with the British way.
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO I:  Legal writing guru Bryan Garner talks about the Supreme Court Justices' writing and grammar preferences, including transcripts of his 2006-07 interviews with The Brethren. (HT: Amy.)  And it looks like the Chief Justice needs to read our archives:
Garner: Let’s go to a very specific question. You’re known as a stickler about the distinction between that and which. Why does it matter?

Roberts, C.J.: I think it makes for dramatically different reading. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you. But when I see sentences with which in them, it slows you down; it’s a little more . . . what? It starts to sound like one of those old 19th-century contracts — which and wherefore. That just seems to have a better pace to it. I actually find you can usually get rid of both of them and go with the gerund that, again, is better for pacing. But which is . . . I usually strike ’em out.
And Justice Scalia has a bugaboo or two:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

NOT QUITE FROM STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP, BUT STILL FRIDAY NIGHT IN HOLLYWOOD: Having successfully made peace between the East Coast and West Coast contingent in NorCal earlier today over a lovely lunch that brought myself, Earthlings, and Spacepeople together, just a reminder that the first ever quasi-official ALOTT5MA LA Happy Hour will take place tomorrow night at the Cat & Fiddle starting around 6:30 for at least a couple of hours. I'll be around, as will several commenters--lurkers and friends are welcome as well. Hope to see many folks there.
AMERICA VOTED:  Well, the Fox and 19 Entertainment executives explaining the transition into the post-Cowell era in this informative oral history are pretty damn proud of the job they've done, but whether you're happy with it may depend on tonight's results.

MAYBE THIS TIME, THEY WILL ACTUALLY FIND AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL: Upfronts come to an end with the CW, which seems to be doing thematic nights this year, with an all-Josh-Schwartz night on Monday (I give 3 weeks before the PTC's screaming leads to Gossip Girl moving to 9 and Hart of Dixie, which sounds like a throwback to WB days, headed to 8), an all-Kevin-Williamson night on Thursday, a genre night on Friday, and reality on Wednesday. The one exception is Tuesday, where 90212.0 (now with 100% fewer adults!) gets paired with Sarah Michelle Gellar thriller Ringer (tossed over the CW after CBS passed). As usual, I've aged out of the demo the CW is after, so they likely don't care that only Hart of Dixie realy interests me, though Ringer may get an episode or two to grab me.
IT'S WHAT YOU WEAR FROM EAR TO EAR -- AND NOT FROM HEAD TO TOE -- THAT MATTERS: On June 12, the producers of a new Broadway Annie revival will be hosting open auditions for red-headed (and other) girls ages six through twelve. As the link suggests, this could be a hell of a reality show, "Toddlers & Tiaras-meets-Glee, with a mega payoff ... It could be inspiring. It could be weird and twisted. It could be featured on The Soup." Online auditions are also available. Below the fold, from 1982, Miss Sarah Jessica Parker sings "I Don't Need Anything But You":
IF I CAN CHANGE, AND YOU CAN CHANGE, EVERYBODY CAN CHANGE:  Anticipating tomorrow's release of Pirates of the Caribbean: As If Anyone's Going To Remember What's After The Colon, EW ranks the top ten "fourquels" of all time.  IFC, similarly, lists "five that weren't terrible."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WOULD SHE GO OUT WITH YOU TO A THEATER?  That's it, right there. That single bowdlerized Alanis Morrisette line exemplifies everything that's wrong with American Idol this season, a season in which weak nonsense was treated like the real thing, over and over again.

We are left with three competitors -- Lauren, who needed to grow as an artist as Alison Iraheta did two seasons ago but never quite did, leaving her always sounding outmatched by the emotional content of her songs (in particular, her "I Hope You Dance" tonight was painfully cold); Haley, who has developed into more than a growl but still sounds out of her depth as an interpreter; and Scotty, the baritone country prodigy who entered this competition fully formed and hasn't been tested -- not by genre, not by other competitors, and certainly not by the judges.

So one of the women will go home tomorrow -- I'm guessing Lauren -- and then Scotty will triumph in the finale. Yawn.  Four months 'til X Factor, and we find out if America has its own Jedward.
I DON'T HAVE MANY ENEMIES IN LIFE. I GET ALONG WITH REPUBLICANS, PROTESTANTS, CATHOLICS, EVEN A FEW REPORTERS. BUT THE ONE THING I HATE IS AMATEURS: Look, The Good Wife may not quite be "very much the network answer to The Wire," but its recently-concluded second season is very much a show at the top of its game.  Were all the network dramas staying in a hotel, it might well be the $7800 Presidential Suite right now.

Why? MZS calls it "old fashioned in the best sense" -- "Every scene is written, acted and directed with maximum intelligence and minimum fuss.... a series by and about grown-ups, interspersing big moments with small, good things."

I'd like to add two things: first, that there are certain worlds this show seems to get so very right -- the business pressures and details of law firm practice, and the Alicia's emotional universe as a woman who has suffered, endured, emerged and finally had enough of a marriage which no longer benefited her or her children. (Honestly, as much as I liked the confrontation with Peter, the scenes with mother-in-law Jackie have been even more devastating.)

Second, as I've mentioned before, is that I love this show's tertiary cast.  So many characters who drop by for only a handful of episodes each season -- David Lee and the other Lockhart Gardner partners; the parade of quirky judges; Michael J. Fox, Mamie Gummer, Martha Plimpton, and the other opposing counsel; Dallas Roberts as Alicia's brother; the talking lion; Alicia's children's friends, and so many more. I will happily follow this show to Sundays at 9.
MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS: Allegedly, no decision has yet been made, but apparently, the producers behind The Office have picked their horse for the new boss. There may be issues with the performer's availability, and wouldn't shock me if NBC is pushing back (the performer is decidedly not a big name, at least in the US), but if this is the choice, it certainly takes the show in an interesting direction (in particular, I'd argue, for Dwight).
TIFFANY NETWORK: CBS may be the network for old folks, but gotta say that their new shows may actually be of more interest to methan any other network's. There's two sitcoms with tired premises but intriguing casting (one stars Kat Dennings and the other has a supporting cast featuring Dave Foley, Rhys Darby, and Mary Lynn Rajskub), and three dramas that I might actually watch--a medical show from Susannah Grant starring Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Ehle, and Margo Martindale, a procedural show about a detective with Superior Autobiographical Memory (aka Marilu Henner disorder), and Person Of Interest, with Michael Emerson as a reclusive billionaire who hires a ex-CIA agent to fight crime.

As usual with CBS, the biggest news is the moves, with Good Wife moving to Sunday nights (against Housewives, Football, Family Guy, and HBO programming and getting pushed for football overrun) and CSI to Wednesday nights. As a result, Thursday at 9 is looking even harsher than it was last year, with Person of Interest, Office, Grey's, and Bones squaring off.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SHOW WE RARELY TALK ABOUT MAKES CHANGE WE'LL HALFHEARTEDLY DISCUSS:  Lisa Edelstein has decided to quit House rather than take a pay cut.
CONSIDERING A BID? DON'T TVEIT!  Regular commenter Sue has spoken often and fondly of her work for Playwright Horizons, the theater which hosted the world premieres of The Heidi Chronicles, I Am My Own Wife, Sunday in the Park with George, Assassins, Grey Gardens, and new Pulitzer Prize-winner Clybourne Park. Their annual online fundraising auction ends Wednesday and you can still bid on such items as a 30 Rock set visit, tickets to The Book of Mormon plus a backstage visit with co-star Michael Potts and drinks with writer Bobby Lopez, golf for eight with Jeffrey Toobin, and two tickets for the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon audience.
MY NAME IS ABC, AND I LIKE TO DANCE: After kind of boring schedule announcements from NBC and Fox, ABC's fall schedule is interesting because of just how much shakeup there is. 4 nights have new shows on them, and ABC's been quite aggressive in purging reality filler from its schedule (Wipeout is nowhere to be found). Of particular note:
  • Replacing failed drama No Ordinary Family in the leadoff spot on Tuesdays are a pair of male-driven sitcoms--Last Man Standing and Man Up, neither of which sound terribly interesting in concept, but have good creative teams (folks from 30 Rock and Better Off Ted).
  • Wednesday remains a comedy block, and Happy Endings gets the plum slot out of Modern Family (Abed will be unhappy, since Cougar Town is held for midseason), with a glossy Gossip Girl style soap called Revenge in the 10 PM Wednesday slot where ABC has struggled for years, which doesn't seem to be the best fit, but who knows?
  • Rather than ceding Thursday at 8 to CBS's comedies and Idol, ABC's trying to make a big move by putting Charlie's Angels there. It's an interesting move, since it'll have appeal to both viewers who watch CBS' procedural lineup later in the night and viewers who watch ABC's female-driven dramas later.
  • With stalwarts Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Brothers & Sisters off the schedule (though Makeover will return at midseason), Desperate Housewives is surrounded by a pair of new shows--fairy tale drama Once Upon A Time at 8 and Pan Am, ABC's Mad Men clone, at 10.
  • Midseason is interesting, as ABC's holding a lot, including buzzy soap Good Christian Belles (which I'd bet fills for Desperate Housewives rather than having repeats), horror drama The River, Shonda's DC-set drama Scandal, and Apartment 23, a sitcom featuring Krysten Ritter as a party girl and "James Van Der Beek as James Van Der Beek" (allegedly in a NPH in Harold & Kumar kind of way).
MARK FEUERSTEIN WILL NOT BE PLAYING ME IN THE ADAPTATION:  I am honored, and still a bit bewildered, to be one of the dads featured in John Donohue's Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families, in bookstores everywhere today, a series of essays and recipes from folks like Stephen King, Mario Batali, Wesley Stace, and Mark Bittman as well as interviews with non-famous cooking dads like me in which I talk about duck. I am totally biased, obviously, but I think it's a great anthology, a worthy Father's Day gift, and fun read in its own right. (Saveur and Kirkus agree.)  And there's a trailer:

John's website, Stay At Stove Dad, is worth your time as well. As Batali writes, "The best reason to cook, besides its being delicious and good for you, is that it will automatically make you look good. You'll look like a hero every day."

P.S. This is all Carrie's fault. She introduced me to John.

Monday, May 16, 2011

THE WALLPAPER TASTED LIKE WALLPAPER:  The kids from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory reunite, forty years later:

IT'S A BRAND NEW RECORD FOR 1990: They Might Be Giants has a new grown-ups album coming out on July 19 (Join Us), and here's the first set of summer tour dates, along with a track from the album.
BY THE COOL BLUE TRIANGULAR WATER: For their promo shot for this year's NBC upfront, the cast of The Office recreated Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
THE BAREST BARATHEON, A BEAR NO MORE: When Loras Tyrell, the Knight of the Flowers, showed up on-screen last night, I explained to Spacewoman that he's kind of the Justin Bieber of knighthood. But his scene with Renly Baratheon a little later -- was that the first major plot departure from the novel, or was I just too dense to read what GRR Martin was writing? (And please don't comment on anything that's coming later than this point in the books.)

In other Westeros news: a lot of poking, stabbing, and piercing. And there was some violence, too.
THEY LIKE SINGING EVEN MORE THAN NBC DOES: Traditionally, Fox's fall schedule winds up bearing little or no resemblance to what they actually put on in the spring, since they reboot their schedule pretty much entirely to make way for Idol, even though they've always announced an intended schedule. This year, though, with X Factor following basically the same "2.5 hours over 2 nights" schedule as Idol, the schedule is pretty cookie cutter. Replace Idol with Factor in the Fall, give big Sci-Fi show Terra Nova the leadoff slot on Mondays, toss a couple of new sitcoms in (one to fill the 30 minute slot when/if Factor goes to 90 minute performance shows, and one to pair with Glee and Raising Hope), and that's pretty much it. Only surprises are that J.J. Abrams drama Alcatraz is held for Mondays in the Spring and that somehow Bones will return in the fall, despite Emily Deschanel's pregnancy. Boring!
NO COMMERCIALS, NO MERCY:  I will no longer complain about the Kennedy Center's selections for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, because they have clearly given up on trying to make it an award recognizing lifetime achievement in comedy. After honoring folks like Richard Pryor, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart and Neil Simon in its first decade and George Carlin and Bill Cosby more recently, they've now gone to honoring Tina Fey in 2010 and, for 2011, Will Ferrell?

I'm sure they can do a nice tv show with tributes and montages galore, but there's no prestige to the thing anymore. It's just a way to fill two hours on PBS.  Apologies to David Letterman, Norman Lear, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, and Nora Ephron -- you just haven't done as much to deserve it yet, I guess.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

AFTER ONE HUNDRED SEVENTEEN DAYS: What does it take to win Survivor? [spoiler-protecting page break removed]

YES! YESYESYES!  Not only did Boston Rob win, but Philip delivered one of the most entertaining final tribals ever, capped off with David's closing argument telling the jury what we all knew to be true: you can't play a better game than what Rob Mariano did this season. "Genius," as David said, "is what that was."

That brilliance was extended to the very end: Rob hand-picked a pair to join him in the finals who could not win -- the sycophant and the psycho. The needle: threaded.  (I think that was an 8-1-0 vote.)

The only thing that could have made that better? I missed the absence of the Dead Homies sequence. But damn that was one fine season of television.

added: Rob talks to EW: "I didn’t tell anything to Amber either. Obviously I came home and I’m 150 pounds. She knows my sister went out for the family visit so she knows I went deep, but she didn’t know. I actually led her to believe that I was voted out at the final four. So last night when she was backstage in the green room with the kids — she’s watching the last challenge and she sees that I win the last challenge and I’m going to be in the finals. And all of a sudden things start clicking in her head. It was nine months of me keeping a secret and the payoff was worth it."

Matt Zoller Seitz: "Mariano's greatest gift was his ability to make every player he allies himself with feel as though they were the confidant and co-conspirator who was special and wonderful and different from all the others and would never, ever be betrayed.... His dominance was so total that after a certain point, it became obvious not only that he was probably going to win, but that there would be no traditional suspense this season -- just the more detached sort of excitement that comes from watching a master do his thing."

added: The unaired Fallen Comrades sequence.
SOME NIGHTS, WE'RE AMERICA'S SIXTH MOST WATCHED NETWORK! Yes, NBC's fall schedule, despite the admitted gaps, is kind of boring. The more interesting projects like Smash (which seems to be Glee with adults) and Awake (trippy procedural from the creator of Lone Star), get held for mid-season (along with the return of 30 Rock, due to Tina Fey's pregnancy) and a launch in connection with The Big Game That May Or May Not Happen Depending On Court Decisions In Minnesota and a new season of The Voice.

I may check out The Playboy Club (Mad Men "inspired" but with more boobs), the remake of Prime Suspect, and trippy procedural Grimm (which sounds like a much better fit for SyFy than NBC, and is given a Friday Night Death Slot following the final 13 episodes of Chuck), and the new sitcoms certainly have a pedigree--one has Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph and is from the writer who gave us last week's "Eagleton" episode of Parks & Rec, and the other comes from a co-creator of Party Down. That said, if you're trying to rebuild, maybe the first thing you lose is cutting Biggest Loser from two hours to one, and not building your entire schedule around talent shows (Sing-Off, Voice, America's Got Talent)?
FEAR, BASICALLY. IT’S A TOUGH PRINCIPLE, BUT FEAR KEEPS PEOPLE LOYAL. IF THEY’RE AFRAID THEY HAVE SOMETHING TO LOSE, THEN THEY’LL DO WHAT YOU TELL THEM TO DO: The last time I rooted for someone this much in a reality tv finale, it was the Battle of the Davids on Idol. Before that, you might even have go back to season two of The Amazing Race (Chris/Alex v. Tara/Wil), but let's all agree on this one -- Rob Mariano has to win tonight.

He has given us so much amusement over the years, across so many seasons -- as both a competitor and as a narrator of his own game -- and has done such a masterful job this season ... I want to see him finally claim title of Sole Survivor and the million dollars, and I want to see if Survivor can have a jury that respects the game he plays. If only for the clip below, involving Lex during All-Stars ... dayenu.