Saturday, December 17, 2005
And because I started this site, I get to kick things off with the third annual award for Reality TV Host/Judge of the Year. Past winners include Robert K. Oermann of Nashville Star (2003) and Ralph Garman (as Derek Newcastle) for Joe Schmo 2 (2004).
This year, I don't think there will be too much debate. While perennials Tyra Banks (the Susan Lucci of this category) and Jeff Probst (for the Janu council, via Isaac) did solid work and Phil Keoghan was great in the one season of The Amazing Race which aired this year -- there was only one, right? -- a new entry into the field gave us such pleasure that to ignore him would be absurd.
Tim Gunn teaches a course called concept development at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, and concept devlopment is what he did so well on Project Runway. In his role as both task assigner and mentor on the show, Gunn has been the bridge between the viewer and the intricate work being done by the competitors. His position on the show is unique -- his purpose is to improve the work of all the competitors and does not judge them, formally or informally. His criticism is constructive in the best sense of the word. In this, he gives viewers clarity in an arcane field -- much like 2003's winner Oermann, he gives the context in which we understand that "pretty" is not always "good" and the importance of balancing one's own vision with the client's.
Without Tim Gunn, Project Runway is just American Idol with scissors. With him, it's an educational hoot.
And he has a blog.
That cartoon, "The Spirit of Christmas", can be downloaded here. It is still really f'n funny.
When the history is told of individuals who reached mass prominence through recognition on the Internet (Bill Simmons, Glenn Reynolds, Dane Cook, etc.), doesn't it start with Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
I did not want to leave, however, without saying a few words about an organization I hope you'll consider supporting as the year comes to a close.
This year, I joined the board of directors of The Philadelphia Committee to END Homelessness.
That's right. End it.
Our philosophy is simple: we believe believe that the best way to help homeless and at-risk individuals and families is to secure them housing first, then connecting them to the mainstream and neighborhood services they need to maintain permanent housing. This community-based approach helps prevent people from entering the homeless service system, and helps those already homeless to rapidly exit the cycle of temporary solutions. Give people the stability and dignity that permanent housing affords, rather than use the more expensive shelter system as a bandaid.
Our plan is called Safe Home Philadelphia. Because we don't accept public money, we exist outside the network of service providers dependent on a constant supply of homeless people to fill our shelter beds and keep people employed. Indeed, when we have finished our plan, we want to turn our offices into more family housing, and declare ourselves out of business.
Here are some of our success stories this year:
- Nanette, her 18 month-old daughter and 6 year-old son were constantly moving between friends and family while she desperately tried to create a normal life for her family. SafeHome Philadelphia found her a modest apartment, helped her move in, arranged for IKEA Philadelphia to donate bunk beds, installed smoke detectors and arranged for separate electric metering. Nanette is thrilled to have her very own kitchen, is able to look for work and is proud that her son is enrolled permanently in a local school.
- Juanita was afraid for her own life and her teenaged daughter was threatening to run away from home because of unrelenting abuse. It was literally at the 11th hour when their call for help came. SafeHome Philadelphia helped Juanita remain in a welfare-to-work program so important to her future, and paid the security deposit on a one-bedroom apartment. Juanita's terror is over and her situation stabilized to the point where she confidently looks forward to being self-sufficient in no time.
- Having lost his job, Tom and his pregnant girlfriend Tanya were scheduled for eviction on December 12th. Without other resources, the shelter system loomed large. SafeHome Philadelphia moved Tom and Tanya into their new apartment on December 11th, pre-paid the required 3 months rent (security deposit, first and last month) and helped Tom locate a part-time second job to ensure that rent will be paid. Having helped Tanya sign up for medical and other benefits, she is able to confidently prepare for their new arrival.
Want to help the homeless? Help us help them no longer be homeless. We know what works; give us the resources to succeed.
What's important here to realize is that homelessness is not a permanent, intractable condition. We can do something about it.
Thanks for your time. Help us if you can.
Friday, December 16, 2005
For readers of a certain age, it's a TiVo must.
- Metasearch engine Dogpile has comdogpiled a list of the most-searched terms of 2005, and while I'll give you Nos. 1 and 2 (music lyrics and Paris Hilton), I want to know who uses a search engine to search for Google, eBay, and Yahoo (gee I always forget those sites tricky URLs). And are there really that many people who give a hoot about Jennifer Anniston's hair still? I am guessing they excluded racier terms from their list, since I'm sure 95% of the Paris Hilton searches included other terms.
- Apparently many of those folks who used Dogpile to search for Yahoo, then used Yahoo to search for Britney Spears, according to the Web site's own list of the most-searched terms of 2005.
- At least one critic liked The Producers. AP film critic David Germain put it on his top 10.
- The Chicago Tribune's TV critics hashed out a combined top 10 list.
- Those nasty hurricanes and whether it was all of us who made them worse is Discover Magazine's No. 1 science story of the year. A decent pick, yes, but, I would have gone with this experimental partnering of Mentos and Diet Coke (watch the video!). Mentos: the explosionmaker.
- Confirming what I think most of us already knew, Babyfit has determined that Overland Park, Kansas, is the healthiest city in America to be pregnant in.
- And finally, the POTUS lists some more of the artists on his iPod, including The Archies.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
NYT: How come the movie feels, in every sense, like a rip-off?
ChiTrib: It is not very funny. It doesn't look right. It's depressing.
LATimes: "The Producers" has been entombed -- lox, shtick and two smoking bagels -- as a theatrical fossil.
NYDN: What the heil went wrong?
You'd almost think they wanted it to fail, but why?
- Dwayne Wade tops AI and LeBron on the list of the NBA's best-selling jerseys.
- Kanye West's Late Registration tops both Rolling Stone's and Spin's list of the best CDs of 2005, beating out the Rolling Stones and MIA, respectively, for the honors.
- A list of 42 Songs, of which I can vaguely recall the tune of one ("So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), are in the running for the Best Original Song Oscar.
- Paris Hilton tops PETA's worst dressed list, while Kate Moss tops Coke Fiend Magazine's list of the Best Dressed Women in the World.
- U2 tops the list of the highest grossing tours of 2005, edging The Eagles and Neil Diamond.
- ESPN Classic is putting together a list of 20 Greatest Sports Performances of All-Time. You can let your voice be heard here, but it's got to be Wilt's 100, no?
- England's digital music video channel The Box named "Thriller" the greatest video of all time. The channel also recently picked Lionel Richie's sublime "Hello" as the worst video of all time.
I've been working my way through Disc 5 (middle of second season) lately. Here are the Moments. Feel free to rewatch your own Disc 5s and offer up alternatives.
A Girl Named Pixley: Jeremy has been nominated for an award, and spends much of the episode unsuccessfully trying to engage Isaac in a discussion of whether he should write an acceptance speech ahead of time. Later, Isaac naps on his couch while waiting for a party his wife is attending to end -- Isaac isn't at the party because of the lingering aftereffects of his stroke -- and Jeremy awakens him to discuss the award further. Isaac tells him that he didn't win. The conversation concludes:
Isaac: You know what sucks?
Jeremy: Losing an award?
Isaac: I was going to say not being able to dance with your wife.
Jeremy: I was going to say that too, sir.
"The Giants Win the Pennant . . .": Dan wants to do a feature on the 49th anniversary of the Giants coming from 13 1/2 games behind to win the 1951 pennant. He discovers that Isaac was at the game, but Isaac refuses to let Dan interview him on camera for the story. Dan pesters Isaac, who finally confesses that he missed the famous home run because he was in the men's room.
Dan: You never saw Thompson's home run.
Dan: You were at the game.
Isaac: I was washing my hands.
Dan: Never wash your hands.
Isaac: If only you'd been my mother.
Dan: You didn't see it.
Dan: You were washing your hands.
Dan: Were you bummed?
Isaac: For a while. But then you get older, and it just joins all the other things in your life that happen while you were looking the other way.
Dan: Did you see your daughter get born?
Dan: Did you see her graduate college?
Dan: Are you watching Sports Night tonight?
Dan: Then shut up.
The Cut Man Cometh: The dating plan breathes its last. Dana apologizes to Casey for putting him through the whole moronic process. She asks, eyes aglow: "If I were to ask you out tonight, would you say yes?" Casey pauses for a moment. "No."
Dana Get Your Gun: This episode has no Moment. It's good and all -- Sam finds Dana's Revolutionary War musket under her desk and bunches her panties a bit, and the guy subbing in for Dan gets yanked when he goes all stalkery towards his girlfriend on the air, but not so much with the eye-misting. Even Sorkin takes a pitch occasionally.
And the Crowd Goes Wild: Natalie and Jeremy have broken up, and Jeremy wants his stuff back. Simultaneously, the NYPD wants Sports Night's stuff -- in this case, their footage of a riot outside the Garden. Natalie is insistent that they shouldn't turn over the footage because of the First Amendment. Jeremy keeps demanding his stuff. Natalie speaks her piece on the riot footage and the First Amendment to Isaac, who unsolicitedly offers her the night off to cope with her grief over Jeremy.
Natalie: I'm not upset about this, Isaac. I'm upset because there's a principle. a bedrock principle that doesn't change, and now I'm supposed to hand over these things, I'm supposed to hand over these things that are ours.
Isaac opens his arms, and Natalie runs crying into them.
Celebrities: This is the last episode of Disc 5, and I was pretty convinced that it had no Moment. But then we get to the last scene. Jeremy, as the ex-boyfriend, isn't invited to participate in Natalie's game of Celebrity. Jeremy returns to the Sports Night studio after his encounter with Jenny the porn star. He sits silently in Dan and Casey's office while the Celebrity war rages in the newsroom. The episode ends with Jeremy listening in and quietly chiming in the answers before everyone else. "Lenny Bruce . . . Thoreau . . . Josephine Baker."
The Sweet Smell of Air: I pulled this one out of chronological order and saved it for last because it has three separate Moments. The first is a little one. Isaac has been obsessing over an article about prospects for engineering new species of birds and sealife that can survive in outer space. Dana asks Isaac why he's so caught up with the Space Squid. Isaac's response: "Because I won't live to see it."
I smiled and wrote that down as the Moment, but then everyone finds out that the exclusive interview they'd nabbed with Michael Jordan was only offered to Sports Night in the first place because Jordan's people thought that CSC would be the only network sufficiently concerned about its ratings that that it would agree to relinquish editorial control, thereby ensuring that the interview would be nothing more than an infomercial for Jordan's new cologne. Sam and Dana report this development to Isaac. Isaac says, "They thought we were desperate enough for the ratings to do it. Are we, Sam?" A pause, while Dana looks at Sam, sure that he's going to insist that they do the interview to get the ratings. Sam solemnly shakes his head no. Isaac concludes: "Then tell them Isaac Jaffe says to go to hell." Sam beams. Dana looks on in astonishment.
But then Sorkin decides to offer up riches in abundance, and there's one more Moment. Casey has to demonstrate something at his son's school, and he has no idea what to do. When he returns to the studio, everyone is sitting in rundown. Casey announces: "I'm back and I'm triumphant. I did what I do, Dan, I did what I do. I got there early, I'm standing out on the playground during recess. I'm trying to think what I can come up with at the last minute. But I can't concentrate on that because all around me, kids are playing games. There's some kickball going on over there, dodgeball over here, hopscotch in the the corner. And like a flood, like a surge, I'm suddenly filled with a sense of I-know-what-the-hell-I'm-doing. And when recess was over, we go back into the classroom." Dan interrupts: "And you called the highlights." Casey nods. "I called the highlights."
Am I a little too excited for Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip?
Odd choices abound: The Bad News Bears? The Green Mile? Forrest Gump? Jesus Christ Superstar? Love Story? 9 to 5?
And all you It's a Wonderful Life haters will be happy to see it's on the ballot.
And speaking of haters, the KC Star's Robert Butler has had it with the AFI and its lists.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
That said, no quarrel with the winner or loser this week. Particularly loved the winner this week, for all the obvious reasons -- wow! on the fabric choice.
I know "Marge vs. the Monorail" gets a lot of support round these parts, but for me I think the answer is "Cape Feare" (though I was disappointed to read that Sideshow Bob's German tatoo is gramatically incorrect; it should be "Der Bart Der").
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Not that this leg didn't have its plusses -- namely, a pair of tasks requiring deliberateness and thoroughness once Killer Fatigue had set in, and a final Roadblock which, quite frankly, is up there with the Ice Globes from TAR2 as my favorite Final Leg Task ever.
[Also, kudos to Rolly Weaver, who's up there with Colin (of -and-Christie) for being one of the best task completers in the Race's history.]
But seriously, yo? Next season can't come soon enough. Thank goodness this one's over.
All three lists, by the way, are topped by Chicagoans--Kanye West, Common, and Andrew Bird, respectively. Along with the near-universal praise given to early Pazz and Jop favorite,Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise, 2005 is shaping up to be the best music year for the Land of Lincoln since the Guyville hey-day of 1993.
And over on the movie side of things, critics from N.Y., Boston, San Francisco, and L.A. agree that there ain't nuthin' like gay cowboys. By the way, you can read the original short story "Brokeback Mountain," which was published in the New Yorker back in 1997, here. Perhaps someday soon the movie will actually open in Chicago.
Lastly, here are TV Guide's Matt Roush's Top 10 shows of the year: 1. Lost; 2. My Name Is Earl; 3. Battlestar Galactica; 4. Grey's Anatomy; 5. FX Dramas (Over There, Rescue Me, The Shield and Nip/Tuck); 6. Veronica Mars; 7. 24; 8. HBO Historical Dramas (Deadwood, Rome); 9. House; 10. Everybody Hates Chris.
Two immediate questions, and I'm sure you'll have more: how do you nominate A History of Violence for best drama, and then, of the three main performances, only nominate Maria Bello but not Viggo Mortensen or especially William Hurt? How do you nominate Matt Dillon for Crash but not Don Cheadle or Thandie Newton?
[Edit by Matt--IMDB's list includes the TV categories, which are dominated by the new, with only Curb Your Enthusiasm having a debut date before 2004 in the top categories, and with nods for Drs. McDreamy, House, and Yang as well as all four Desperate Housewives.]
"We had a kid who was really into 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' " James recalls, "so we had a purple suit made for him, and we hired these people to be Oompa Loompas and they came out and danced. We had these trees with candy all over them, with signs that said 'Do not eat.' It was fantastic."
I have two things to note: one, is that it doesn't cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a kid in a chair and have him carried around the room by strapping relatives, which is as big a thrill any thirteen-year-old ever needs.
Second is that if you want an antidote to all this, pick up Mark Oppenheimer's Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America, which only briefly covers NYC-area ridiculousness ("selling an experience more ethnic than any that the children’s parents would allow them to experience for real.”) to then focus on some really wonderful celebrations -- Lubavitchers in Alaska, an eccentric reform community in Arkansas, adult b'nai mitzvah in Lake Charles, Louisana, and the like. Y'know -- where the theme isn't "Austin Powers", but Judaism.
- Mission Impossible III--If the Alias pilot didn't establish that J.J. Abrams can do dialogue and intrigue as well as the blowing stuff up material, I'd be a little worried from the trailer, which is largely narratively incoherent (and features almost zero Keri Russell), but interesting, and looks like more in the vein of the first MI than the second one.
- Miami Vice--We've seen a lot of quasi-spoofy TV show remakes, but what makes this one odd is that it's decidedly not that sort of thing--instead, it takes itself perhaps even more seriously than the show did (and certainly looks a hell of a lot darker than the TV show). But making Tubbs the hip and cool one? That's just wrong.
Monday, December 12, 2005
The more I think about it, the Family nature of this season wasn't the problem. At all. I miss the Gaghans, the Blacks and the Paolos. Having kids and teenagers were fine.
No, the problem was with the racing. Specifically, the lack thereof. There just weren't any real opportunities for teams to do what I call "outracing the Race" -- finding ways, through devious airplane connections, local guides and smart planning -- to use their wits and create leads for themselves. Even just having tasks that involved real skill would've been nice -- think of the "build an Ikea desk set" or "deliver these wine barrels across town" tasks, for starters.
None of that here. Making it to the final three of this season required Not Screwing Up Too Badly, and not any amount of Doing Things Really Well. When you think about the great teams of the past -- Team Guido, Colin and Christie, Charla and Mirna, Rahb and Ambuh, Cha Cha Cha -- they all found ways to shorten the vast distances of the race to their advantage -- and the Race was structured in such a way to allow them to do so.
I undertstand they felt confined to the Americas. Fine. But too much of the racing took place in inert, confined spaces -- isolated ranches, closed-down museums, etc -- where there was no interacting with the locals, no randomness, and little need for skill. Find Buffalo Bill and take a picture in old-timey clothing? Look at the funny trained bear? Find Les at the gas station?!? Come on.
Okay, sure, they cut down on the Fear Factor and Gross Eating Challenge stuff. But where was Sell Fruit To The Locals? Navigate A Major City's Public Transit System? Challenge a local in the native sport?
This spring, let's pray they put some racing back into the Race. Because after Tuesday, it's all about the Runway for a while.
This issue might be best taken up by a new blog that is quickly becoming one of my favorites: The Consumerist. Yes, it's yet another site from the Gawker Empire, but it's a goodie, filled with tales of customer service from hell, fiendish rip-offs, Kafkaesque help lines, and the occasional good deal. Think of it as that cloying consumer help guy from the local news with the right does of attitude.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
But on the level below that you've got Amazon (Boys v Girls, Rob C's strategery), Pearl Islands (Rupert, Johnny Fairplay and the Pirates), Australia and, I think, this season, which may have never reached heights of drama, but had a good level of strategy, personality and humor to it.
The winner -- whom we can discuss in the comments -- is one of the most worthy we've had because [added Monday morning] Danni did a ridiculously good job in taking control of her own destiny in the game. Coming into a merge where she was outnumbered, she bided her time, grabbed a key immunity (why did no one in the alliance outbid her at the auction to ensure she couldn't get it?) and then, most critically, didn't rest on her immunity but seized the opportunity to create a rift between Steph and Judd and take control of the game.
Most players in that situation, once they received the immunity, would've just been happy with that, and not worried about the results of that night's council. She, instead, kicked ass. Also, note this: she started voting with the majority as soon as it turned on one of its own, Jamie, and had only one vote cast against her the whole time -- Lydia's, at final four.
Just one last question: didn't the Mayan civilization die out centuries ago? If so, who the heck were those visitors?
The Producers: The Musical is a 50% an absolute joy and 50% a disappointment. When the musical feels right shot as though it was on stage, it's terrific. . . .
The trouble comes when Stroman is called upon to act like a film director and not a stage director. Most of the time that is the case, she fails. And one gets the impression that boss man Mel Brooks wasn't in a big rush to keep her from simply recreating a lot of his handiwork from the original film as well as from the show. . . . [T]here was the question of how Ms. Stroman would handle Max's soliloquy, "Betrayed." Would this be the showstopper that it was on stage? And the answer was that she did a decent job, but no, it doesn't have the power on film that it does on stage. Part of that is the natural subtext of watching a movie and knowing that the singing's been prerecorded. And part of it, again, was that there was no real invention in the sequence. The filmmaking needed to match the magic of the song and it was lacking.
I told y'all: it should've been Pacino.