Friday, April 6, 2012

AUTHORSHIP AND OWNERSHIP : This post is certified 100% spoiler-free.

How to watch The Wire, according to David Simon:
  1. Watch the whole thing. Preferably on Sundays at 10:00 p.m. a decade ago, but I reluctantly grant you permission to watch it at other times.
  2. Do not breathe a word about The Wire until you have watched the entire series.
  3. Do not form any opinions about The Wire until you have watched the entire series.
  4. You know, just like how when you read a book, you do not talk about it or form any opinions about it until you have finished reading it. Because experiencing art and entertainment is a furtive pastime, right?
  5. When you have finished with the entire series, you are authorized to discuss The Big Picture, The Thesis, and What It All Means.
  6. Under no circumstances are you to express opinions about components of The Wire, like individual episodes or particular characters that you liked, because discussion of any such opinions prevents people from discussing The Big Picture, The Thesis, and What It All Means.
Those are obviously ridiculous rules. It doesn't offend me in the least that Simon advocates them, because he is in a terrible position. He created a work of fiction that is rightfully beloved by an ever-growing audience, and he is entitled to say what that show means to him and how he meant others to experience it. It must be incredibly frustrating to create something that people use -- that people consume, though I suspect he would cringe at the word -- in a way that he didn't intend.

But he's still wrong. An author's control over his work ends at the moment that the consumer obtains it, and the right to determine what the work is transfers from author to consumer at that precise moment. Simon can try to influence that meaning, and, as the author, has a greater role (or taller soapbox) than others in doing that. But the ultimate measure of a work's meaning is how it is perceived, not how it was intended or how it was created. That's why authors who try to fight the prevailing perception of their work (Veena Sud comes to mind) cannot win.

And the other thing about which Simon is wrong is the weird notion that obsessing about discrete components of The Wire is incompatible with an understanding of The Wire as a unified whole. It's exactly the opposite. People care about the characters because of their role in the unified whole, because of the way that those characters' actions and attitudes shaped or reflected Simon's Baltimore. Favoring Omar over Stringer as a character is no more inconsistent with understanding the ways in which institutions inhibit progress than picking one's friends is inconsistent with formulating a world view. I'm fairly certain that I get The Wire, both as a social statement and as a work of fiction, and I'm also pretty certain that I love Bunny Colvin and like hearing Adam's and Marsha's and everybody else's newbie take on individual episodes.
IT'S POWERED BY TRADITION, MY FRIEND:  Step aside, Alec Baldwin and John Krasinski; it's time for dueling Chicago fans Nick Offerman and Craig Robinson to pick up the baseball cap-based rivalry for 2012.
SHE MOVE ONE SPACE ANY DIRECTION SHE DAMN CHOOSE:  Fresh off their second straight national championship win, Texas Tech chess coach Susan Polgar is taking herself and her whole team to tiny Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, according to her "the center of chess in America."

Homeschooled in her native Budapest, Polgar was the world's best female chess player by the age of 15. In 2005, she set a Guinness World Record by playing 326 simultaneous games -- and winning 309 of those matches, with 14 draws and just three losses. She is the executive director and founder of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, known as SPICE.
BECAUSE JESSICA LANGE OPTED OUT OF THE CATEGORY: With last night's premiere of Scandal (a mix of Leverage and West Wing?  I'll take it!) giving us another legit potential Emmy contender in Kerry Washington, it's time to look at Best Leading Actress in a Drama Emmy contenders--it's a pretty small field, sadly.
  •  Kathy Bates, Harry's Law, Mariska Hargitay, L&O: SVU--Both returning nominees, but both have had their loads lightened on their respective shows this year.  Bates seems the safer bet to return--remember that Spader and Shatner continously racked up nods for Boston Legal.
  • Lauren Graham, Parenthood--A fine performance, but the show may be too ensemble-y for her to be viewed as the lead, particularly this season.
  • Maria Bello, Prime Suspect--Would be a legit contender if the show hadn't tanked.  Given the weakness of the field, can't write her off completely, but NBC seems unlikely to put money behind it.
  • Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison, Once Upon A Time--The big commercial hit drama of the new season, but it seems to me that if they're going to honor the acting, they're far more likely to do so for showier supporting roles (Lana Parilla and Robert Carlyle) or guest spots (Richard Schiff).  Goodwin's spunky Snow has a better shot, if just because she gets to play a dual role.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

WE BEAT UPN! 25 years ago tonight, on Sunday, April 5, 1987, the Fox network aired its first primetime programs--an hour block of Married With Children and The Tracey Ullman Show, with 21 Jump Street following a week later.  It was another 6 years till Fox programmed every night of the week (starting in the fall of 1993), and despite hits like The Simpsons and 90210, Fox didn't really go legit until it got the rights to the NFC in 1994, and didn't become a dominant force until American Idol and Joe Millionaire dominated the 2002-2003 season.  Fox has given us a lot of programming--some memorably good, some memorably bad, and some memorably ridiculous--share your favorites in the comments.

ETA:  Vulture has a nice slideshow of 25 shows it's safe to say Fox won't be featuring on its upcoming 25th Anniversary special.
STIFLER'S MOM WAS UNAVAILABLE FOR COMMENT: Jason Biggs writes for Vulture about what it means to be "the Pie guy." No addressing of the question that I've had about American Reunion--it's well established all these characters graduated in 1999 (indeed, there's a line from Tara Reid in the trailer confirming this).  Is the film set in the past (2009, for their tenth reunion), in the future (2014, for their fifteenth reunion), or did basically the entire graduating class elect to gather for a reunion in 2012, the thirteenth anniversary of their graduate?
THERE'S A GUITAR LEANING ON A MARSHALL STACK/USED TO SOUND LIKE THE SUN ON THE HORIZON*: Jim Marshall, of Marshall amplification, died this morning. There are, of course, other amplifier companies, and guitarists have worn other brands (Vox, Mesa-Boogie, Galleon Krueger) like merit badges of differentness, but there has never been any question what they're distancing themselves from -- the Marshall stack. Back in the days before concerts became theatrical events, in the days of arena rock and heavy metal, all concert sets looked basically the same. There was a light rig and a logo banner above the stage, a drum riser in the middle, and a wall of Marshall cabinets defining the difference between "stage" and "backstage." The more popular or more heavy-metal the band, the wider the wall. If somebody asked me to say what a Marshall stack sounds like, I couldn't do it. It sounds like somebody playing electric guitar. It's like trying to define a standard American English accent. A Vox sounds like a hipster slacker, and a Galleon-Krueger is a fake British accent, and a Mesa Boogie sounds like a stoner from rural Georgia. A Marshall stack is what the news and the commericals sound like.

And, incidentally, the white-on-black cursive "Marshall" may be the second-most iconic non-band trademark in rock and roll (behind CBGB) -- more so than the Gibson "G," the Fender logo, or the Zildjian insignia.

*Until I looked it up just now, I thought that it was "there's a guitar bleeding," and I still will prefer to hear it that way.
THE FIFTH QUESTION: I don't know why it's taken me 39 years to wonder about this, but here goes: since God is omnipotent and omniscient, why did God ask the Hebrews to mark the doorposts of their homes with lamb's blood to know which homes to pass over in inflicting the tenth plague? Wouldn't God just know which were the non-smiting homes?
WORTHWHILE CANADIAN INITIATIVE: What does it mean to be a Canadian film? Does it require Canadian talent behind the camera? In front of it? Does it need to be filmed in Canada? (Well, so are a lot of American films.) Does it need to involve Canadian themes -- and what, for the love of God, are "Canadian themes" beyond a desire to celebrate Thanksgiving in the wrong month and to find the Northwest Passage?  Is Juno a Canadian film since it was filmed in Canada, was directed by a Canadian and stars two Canadians, and shares its name with the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, even though it's not set in Canada? If Juno counts, does Meatballs?

Hell, I don't know.

But in the comments yesterday, Randy called Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter "the greatest Canadian movie ever made" and if there's a blog better suited than ours to test that proposition, well, it's probably in Canada and since I haven't found it (that blog -- I know where Canada is), we're here.

And in terms of defining a "Canadian film," I think the Genie Award nominations are a fair start, though that only covers us from 1980 onwards (see, also, this list) it leads us to an obvious problem: beyond Meatballs and Strange Brew, are we basically looking at the films of David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan? The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz aside, I think so. And if that's the case, if I'm choosing up between devastating films I don't often go back to (with the exception of Egoyan's Exotica), as much as I admire Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (and Jeremy Irons' performance therein) I think I have to agree with Randy and go with The Sweet Hereafter, in which the setting matters more to the overall feel of the film and therefore makes it a more Canadian film, as opposed to "a film which happens to have been made by a Canadian."  Your mileage may vary (in miles or kilometres.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

AN ALOTT5MA DIGITAL POST: In news that should surprise pretty much no one, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, and Jason Sudeikis allegedly plan to leave SNL at season's end.  It wouldn't shock me to see some additional departures as well--Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Kenan Thompson have all been on as long or longer than that group, and all (save Thompson) have had some success in other media recently.  So are we ready for the Jay Pharaoh era?
I CHECKED, AND THE DATELINE IS APRIL 2: Ugh, my beauty is such a curse, says Daily Mail contributor Samantha Brick. If you were the most beautiful woman in the entire world -- Helen of Troy come back to life -- you still could not get away with this.
NEW FRONTIERS IN INTERACTIVE REPORTING: If you've ever wanted to blow up the NYT website, here's your chance.

Kind of hoping this catches on. We could fly across the interwebs raining destruction on circular arguments, unnecessary comma-splices, and irritating sidebar links.

Hat tip: Fuchs.
PRESENTED, AS ALWAYS, BY A PARADE OF DUCKS:  The thirty-eight winners of the 71st Annual George S. Peabody Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (in Media) have been announced, with winners including HBO's Game of Thrones and Tremé, Parks & Rec,, Homeland, Portlandia, Jeopardy!, and The Colbert Report's SuperPAC segments.
ALSO, SPY DADDY SINGS THIS TIME:  James Cameron has made only one change in the film for today's 3-D rerelease of Titanic, and it is too nerdy not to share:
Speaking with the UK magazine Culture (via, Cameron revealed the one slight fix he made to the 1997 blockbuster: the night sky.

Cameron was urged to make the fix by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astronomer who questioned the position of the stars during "Titanic's" climatic scene.

"So I said, 'All right, you son of a bitch, send me the right stars for the exact time, 4:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, and I'll put it in the movie,'" Cameron said. "So that's the one shot that has been changed."
We last went back to Titanic for the tenth anniversary of its release, but feel free to complain again about L.A. Confidential not winning Best Picture. (You're still right.)

added:  Video of NdGT explaining his problem with the movie (Revised link). Awesome.
I'M TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. I JUST WANT TO PLAY THE GAME, DRINK PEPSI, WEAR REEBOK: We haven't run a good Shaquille O'Neal quote in a while, but the ALOTT5MA Fave was due:
GQ: You rapped for a second. You got into films for a second. Everyone remembers Kazaam. When was the last time you watched it?
Shaq: The other day.
GQ: Did it hold up to you?
Shaq: I was a medium-level juvenile delinquent from Newark who always dreamed about doing a movie. Someone said, "Hey, here's $7 million, come in and do this genie movie." What am I going to say, no? So I did it.
IT'S ALL ABOUT SELF-PRESERVATION, JIMMY. SOMETHING YOU NEVER LEARNED:  Um, who replaced half the cast of season one of The Wire with all these douchebags?  And why isn't the band back together?

Welcome back to Baltimore, and "Ebb Tide" (Sepinwall, Ariano) shows us the characters at one. McNulty is exactly where he doesn't want to be, Daniels is in the evidence room, Kima's behind a desk, Avon's behind bars, and the only folks who seem happy with their lot in life are the police higher-ups whose jobs are secure, and who don't understand why Prez keeps trying to be Real Police when he could quietly move up and have a protected career.

Meanwhile, who are all these new people, and why do they insist on showing off their penises?  (Okay, one penis.)  At least the presence of a lot of dead bodies gives us a clear path forward in the season, but I'm about as lost as Bodie is driving in a clearly fake "Philadelphia" (seriously, it doesn't cost that much to drive up I-95 and film here; that exit sign could not have been less authentic), trying to find the familiar stations on my radio.

(Oh, hi Amy Ryan!  What are you doing here?)

Get on the party boat, gang, because we've got another season to watch, even if Bubbles, Lester, Dee, Omar, Rhonda, Maury, and so many of our friends seem missing.  Veterans, we may need some hand-holding today while we wait for our meeting with Senator Mikulski ...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

STUDS TERKEL WOULD BE PROUD: Look, I enjoyed the oral histories of SNL, ESPN, and MTV, but did we really need a lengthy newspaper oral history of One Tree Hill, which ends its nine season run tomorrow night without my having seen a single episode?  If anyone wants to argue that the show's an overlooked gem, this is the place to do it.
ANOTHER COMMENT ON COMMENTS:  Echo has informed us that as of October 1, 2012, they will discontinue their support for comments on blogging sites.  We had moved to Echo from Haloscan at the end of 2009 when the former took over the latter, and they've been cheap and reasonable with us ever since.

As I understand it, our main free options are Blogger itself, Disqus, and Intense Debate.  Our goals for a commenting system remain:
  • It should be free.
  • It should be simple and clean as a layout matter.
  • It should not require a complicated login, and must protect the pseudonymity/anonymity of our users.
  • It should synchronize with our existing comments, which reach 2,000/month.
  • It should allow comment reading and posting from all mobile devices.
  • It should allow for easy moderation/editing/spam protection.
  • Ideally, it would allow for threaded comments, "like" buttons, etc.
  • It should reward its bearer with riches beyond his or her wildest imagination.
HE LIVED IN A BOX! Variety's Jon Weisman lists the 21 best one-season shows from the 1990s, and while the top slot is obvious** I've got to give him a B- at best because he forgot about Profit, a brilliant, fun show which unfortunately preceded The Sopranos' breaking of the "you can't have a corrupt protagonist" ceiling.

**He slotted F&G into his 00s list.
HE IS THE ENTERTAINER:  So commenter Chuck and I were talking about our respective Springsteen experiences last week, seeing him crowd-surfing during "634-5789" both nights and chugging a fan's beer in the seats during "Raise Your Hand" on Wednesday, and we couldn't help but wonder: what other entertainers of his generation have that level of trust/comfort with their fans that they'd go out into the crowd and have such unmediated interactions with them?  Mick Jagger, no, Neil Young, no, Bob Dylan, no ... and then we thought, Billy Joel, yes?

Monday, April 2, 2012

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT JOHN HUGHES WOULD THINK: How do we feel about mobile gaming sensation DrawSomething being used by teens to ask folks to prom?  (And apologies to those of you who've experienced my less-than-stellar drawing skills.)
WANDERERS:  I have heard worse ideas in my life than the proposal that the best way to jump-start American soccer would be to move one of the English Premier League teams to New York City.
I'M GOING TO FIGHT THEM ALL -- A SEVEN-KINGDOM ARMY COULDN'T HOLD ME BACK: For many shows, the first episode coming off a long hiatus opens with fifteen or twenty minutes of checking in separately with each of the principal characters, reminding the audience who they are and what motivates them. Some shows -- The Wire, Mad Men -- either recognize that their sprawl precludes this or invent ways to put everybody together (say, a surprise 40th birthday party) to streamline and minimize the intrusion of the reintroduction process.

Not Game of Thrones. It's amusing to me that it takes an entire hour-long episode just to lay eyes on each major character once, with only a few prime movers (Tyrion and Cersei in the red corner; Robb and Bran in the grey corner; Dany in the thirsty corner; Stannis and Melisandre in the crazy pants) meriting a second scene. So there was less actually happening in this episode than there was updating us on status (Tyrion is acting hand, because Pa Lannister sees what a mess Cersei and Joffrey are making; Robb is winning the war; Stannis is a dick) or putting the wheels in motion on things that will pay off later, for better or for worse. Because of the structure, this episode felt like all prologue to me. About the only thing that really happened [MILD SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED OR READ] was that incompetent boob Janos Slynt proved what an even more incompetent larger boob Ned Stark was by locating all of Robert's children in about a thousandth of the time it took Ned last season.

It doesn't take a reader of the books to know that something's going to happen soon, though. And it's great to have this show back.
TIME IS NOT ON YOUR SIDE:  Betty's unhappy. We get it. Don (and the rest of SCDP) are on the wrong side of the youthquake. We get it. Pete believes he's more important than Roger and wants everyone to know it. We get it. Harry doesn't like being Thinner Harry. We get it. Matthew Weiner was pretty sure last summer who the Republican nominee would be this year, and isn't a fan. We get it.

Hopefully, we'll look back on this episode of Mad Men as one which quietly set a lot of interesting balls in motion, but my immediate reaction is "this is why not every hour of television merits an immediate reaction," because in the wake of an intense, plot-filled return to Westeros last night, that felt weak.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ON CABLE TV LAST NIGHT:  I speak, of course, of the trailer for HBO's The Newsroom, which looks like SportsNight (without the sports, and with Sam Waterston in the Robert Guillaume slot and Emily Mortimer and her brittle bones as Felicity Huffman), crossed with Judd Hirsch's rant in the Studio 60 pilot, plus cursing, and unlike Studio 60 this time it's intentionally not-funny.

Related, and I didn't see it first: Linda Holmes' The Ten Most Sorkin Things In The Trailer.
BIRDS SMASH: Yes, there will be an Angry Birds animated series, which will, according to the game producer, explore the "deeper thoughts, deeper feelings of the characters, such as, why are they always angry?"  I just want to know what use the pigs have for the eggs.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

HIS FIRST VIRAL VIDEO IN WHICH HE DOES NOT INTRODUCE HIMSELF AS "WONDER MIKE":  In an effort to combat the harms of distracted walking, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter today has debuted the City's pilot program for E-Lanes.
ONCE DESCRIBED AS "DAFFY DUCK TAKEN ONE STEP FURTHER THAN HE ABSOLUTELY HAS TO":  On April 1, 1944, in response to such anarchic animated heroes as Woody Woodpecker, Tex Avery unleashed Screwball Squirrel on the world, and a more vengeful, fourth-wall-breaking protagonist you will not find. He lasted five shorts. Enjoy.