Saturday, May 27, 2006

YES, BUT HOW CAN YOU AVOID THAT TIE-UP ON THE NJ TURNPIKE SOUTH BEFORE THE MERGE AROUND EXIT 8A? Echoing thoughts I've advanced here before, Charles Passy argues that the just-concluded National Geographic Bee is a more meaningful competition than the Spelling Bee:
True, spelling is a gateway to understanding language, but what possible value is there to knowing how to spell "appoggiatura" (a musical embellishment) and "pococurante" (an indifferent person), to name two of the more recent winning words? By contrast, knowing about Cuba or Russia means knowing about Communism, the political ideology that has informed much of America's foreign policy in the past half-century.

And yet the spelling bee continues to receive all the attention. Perhaps that's because spelling is a tantalizingly easy concept to grasp. You either spell a word right or you don't. The answers are all in the dictionary.

Geography, on the other hand, asks more. But it offers more in return: to know the world is to know how to make it a better place, from a path to peace in war-torn regions to a promise to conserve our planet's natural resources.
Regardless of the merits of the above, this is Spelling Bee Week, and, yes, Shonda's coming back for another year of our live coverage.
IT WAS A BALL, IT WAS A BLAST: I finally got around to seeing the much-acclaimed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels last night, and that's some good stuff. Nice to see a traditional, not particularly meta-theatrical (though it has its share of meta) musical comedy on the boards. In particular, snaps are due to Norbert Leo Butz, who won a much-deserved Tony last year for playing Freddy (the Steve Martin part). What's truly impressive about Butz is his range--not only in the show, where he's got the show-stopping quasi-rap number "Great Big Stuff" but also manages to sing a gorgeous ballad, sending up both Broadway and pop music conventions, called "Love Is My Legs," but generally--he plays a vulgar idiot so amazingly effectively here, but his prior roles (as a vengeful ghost in Thou Shalt Not, he was the best thing about that mess, and originating the thankless part of Fiyero in Wicked, he gets to play a traditional leading man). Two nits to pick, though:
  • The show is a bit too long. running about 2:45. The show could easily have been brought down to 2:15-2:20 simply by cutting a lengthy and spurious subplot between a wealthy widow and a sidekick character. Maybe I would have felt diferently if Joanna Gleason, whom I love, had still been in the female part, but this subplot felt like a distraction from the narrative thrust of the show. There's also a small early subplot involving an oil heiress from Oklahoma that's a bit tacked on, but it does move the main plot forward.
  • Structurally, the show suffers from the problem that its best and biggest number comes early in Act I ("Great Big Stuff"), and while there are decent production numbers thereafter ("Here I Am," "Love Is My Legs"), and some solid songs ("Nothing Is Too Wonderful To Be True," "Dirty Rotten Number"), it never reaches that height again, rendering the show a tad anti-climactic.

Still, if you want to laugh a lot, have your toes tap a lot, and maybe even learn a lesson along the way, it's one of the best readily available options in NYC.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

FUNNIEST TRAMPOLINE-RELATED VIDEO SINCE TRAMPOLINE BEAR: Seriously, friends, do not attempt to play Trampoline Basketball.

(I laughed so much I started crying. Then it stopped being funny for a few seconds. Then it got funny again. Via Deadspin.)
WHO AM I? WHAT AM I DOING HERE? So I'm having a bit of an identity crisis. For the last several months, my posts here have focused on a number of television shows, a little theatre, a little celebrity babynaming, and a little restauranting. But now, with Memorial Day looming, summertime is nearly upon us. The TV season is going into hiatus, no new shows will be opening over the next few months, nearly all of the pregnant celebrities have finished spawning for the 2006 season, and, well, I guess I can still talk about food.

In short, unless I come up with something new to talk about this summer, my repertoire is likely to consist of So You Think You Can Dance, cultural analysis of the 17 different Starbucks (is the plural of Starbucks "Starbucks" or "Starbuckses"?) within walking distance of my apartment, whatever weird grammatical and spelling nuances capture my attention (see prior note re Starbucks), and my thoughts on the Firefly and Veronica Mars DVDs I've been saving for this summer. Anything else anyone would like to suggest, be my guest.
SHUFFLE UP AND DEAL: NBC has done big reshuffling of their fall schedule. High points:
  • Studio 60 to Mondays at 10 from Thursdays at 9. (And many breathe a sigh of relief, as giving up What About Brian? is a lot easier than giving up Grey's.)
  • Law and Order: CI to Tuesdays at 9 from from Fridays at 10.
  • 20 Good Years and 30 Rock swap timeslots with The Biggest Loser on Wednesdays, so the sitcoms will lead off the night, Kidnapped now on Wednesdays at 10.
  • Deal or No Deal goes into the Thursday night 9 PM death slot.
  • Crossing Jordan returns in the fall on Fridays at 8, with Law and Order surprisingly banished to Fridays at 10.
  • Scrubs still being held for midseason, with Medium joining it on the bench.

The most interesting thing is that NBC (wisely, in my view) is going with disposable programming in the 9 PM Wednesday and Thursday slot rather than trying to compete on a prestige level in those nasty timeslots, and seems to be giving L&O a none-too-dignified trip toward the grave.

ALL OF HIS LIFE HE HAS RESISTED THE TUG OF ATTAINABLE LOVE: The New York Daily News asserts that "attainable hot" is the new "hot." Among those listed as "attainable hot" are Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan, Ashley Williams, Amanda Bynes, Laura Prepon, Sara Ramirez, and Jenna Fischer (or at least the characters they play on TV). If that's "attainable hot," I'll take it.
EVERYTHING BAD IS GOOD FOR YOU: According to a scientific study, eating chocolate may well boost your brain functions. Guess I need to sit down with a Hershey bar and play some Brain Age this afternoon.
IT TAKES HOURS TO LOOK THIS TERRIBLE: With the 2005-06 television season now over (wrap-up post to come next week), it's time to start catching up on our favorites. The DN's Ellen Gray starts with this profile of Philly native Kate Flannery, who plays Scranton lush Meredith on The Office. Cool news: with all the downtime on the set, her character has a MySpace page, as do several of her co-workers.
I BELIEVE PHIL, ISAAC, P.E., KIM AND KINGSLEY ALREADY GOT THE MEMO: According to the Times, kids these days don't know you're not supposed to blog about the office using real names. Also in receipt of the memo is The Disassociate, whose What To Expect When You're Expecting A J.D. essay is in the National Law Journal this week.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I THINK WE FOUND IT: Huh? Um, huh? Let's try that one more time: huh?

If anyone has anything enlightening to share about tonight's Lost -- or, you know, rampant speculation about what any of it might mean -- feel free to share it in the comments.

(I don't mean to sound critical -- I thought it was a stupendous episode. I just don't understand a single thing that happened in the last fifteen minutes.)
I DIDN'T THINK IT WAS POSSIBLE TO OVERDO THE DRAMATICS ON A JIM STEINMAN SONG: Well, you learn something new every day. Other than that, what did I learn on Idol's finale? That I liked Bucky more than I was willing to admit at the time, because there was something pure and good-natured about him? That there's Comedy, High Comedy, and then Elliott Yamin not knowing what to do when Mary J. Blige was burning through "One"? That Clay Aiken now looks like Daniel Franco from Project Runway?

Funniest thing said tonight? When Dionne Warwick came out during the Bacharach medley, Jen said, "I think she already knows who won."

We all did. Yawn.
AND WE'LL REVEAL THE OBVIOUS . . . AFTER THE BREAK: I know that Ryan Seacrest likes to create drama by proclaiming things like "this was the closest vote ever" and the like, but really, given DialIdol's remarkable clairvoyance this season, does this look like there's a whole lot about which to create drama?
I VANT TO SUCK A MILKBONE: So Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette has a new baby brother -- Zolten Penn Jillette. According to a statement issued by Babyname Mixmaster Daddy Penn Jillette, "Zolten is a common Hungarian name, it's my wife's maiden name and most importantly, it's the name of Dracula's dog." Oh.
WE NEED MORE CHICK-FIL-A IN NEW YORK CITY . . . WE NEED IT FAST: NYT restaurant critic Frank Bruni just drove 9 days, hitting 42 stops over 3,650 miles in search of America's best fast food. He files this report.
MY MOUTH KEEPS MOVING, JUST LIKE A MOTOR: Now I know why Abe Vigoda seemed to dread being recognized, even casually, silently, on the escalator at the Food Emporium. Now it is only too clear. I'm sorry, Mr. Vigoda, if my (apparently) apparent pleasure at our crossing paths was discomfitting.

...actually Abewatch doesn't appear to have been updated since 2003, but if you're worried about Abe, has the at least a superficial promise of reassuring up-to-the-minute information.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NET-NEUTRALITY NET-NEUTRALITY NET-NEUTRALITY: There. I said it. And here's a recent endorsement of the principle from one who'd know something about it, courtesy of the BBC.
HE HAD A BAD DAY TOO: So as to avoid spoilers for tonight's finale of House (which did score awesomeness points for House referring to himself as "Dr. Hizzy"), all I have to say is this--What the hell was that? And are they really going to go there next season? (Did anyone catch the post-credits "special look at House?" My TiVo cut out because of the Daniel Powter overrun. Shut up, Daniel Powter.)
I, FOR ONE, WELCOME OUR NEW INSECT OVERLORDS: The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News have been sold to a group led by a Republican PR executive who has spent much time bashing the paper and Mr. McMansion.

Still, in an era in which media consolidation is the rule, there's something exciting about returning both papers to local control. There is exceptional talent at both ends of 400 N. Broad Street, and let's hope the new owners give our journalists the resources they need to do their jobs, a platform from which more can appreciate it . . . and then stay out of their way.
DOES MY DESTINY MAKE YOU PROUD? Not even remotely close. Although I have to say that it bugs me when the judges' criticism of a performance of the new AI single revolves around criticizing the song itself rather than the performance. Doesn't Simon, at least, have some role in commissioning the designated single?

That being said, it still wasn't remotely close.
A COWLED ALBINO MONK WHOSE HOBBIES INCLUDE SELF-FLAGELLATION, MULTIPLE HOMICIDE, AND IRREGULAR LATIN VERBS: No, the New Yorker's Anthony Lane did not like The Da Vinci Code, and I think you'll like his not-liking-it:
There has been much debate over Dan Brown’s novel ever since it was published, in 2003, but no question has been more contentious than this: if a person of sound mind begins reading the book at ten o’clock in the morning, at what time will he or she come to the realization that it is unmitigated junk? The answer, in my case, was 10:00.03, shortly after I read the opening sentence: “Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.” With that one word, “renowned,” Brown proves that he hails from the school of elbow-joggers — nervy, worrisome authors who can’t stop shoving us along with jabs of information and opinion that we don’t yet require. . . . .

The Catholic Church has nothing to fear from this film. It is not just tripe. It is self-evident, spirit-lowering tripe that could not conceivably cause a single member of the flock to turn aside from the faith. Meanwhile, art historians can sleep easy once more, while fans of the book, which has finally been exposed for the pompous fraud that it is, will be shaken from their trance. In fact, the sole beneficiaries of the entire fiasco will be members of Opus Dei, some of whom practice mortification of the flesh. From now on, such penance will be simple -- no lashings, no spiked cuff around the thigh. Just the price of a movie ticket, and two and a half hours of pain.
HEADED FOR THE FRISCO BAY: I will be in and around San Francisco for the next five days or so. I have a little work to do, my wife has a lot, and we are spending the weekend up in Point Reyes (Olema) at a wedding. There's a little wiggle room in there, though, so any tips on must-see, must-do, must-eat or drink?
I JUST REGRET I NEVER GOT TO VOTE FOR HIM: A moment of silence for Lloyd Bentsen, folks. Not only did Bentsen serve his country for 30 years (6 in the House, 22 in the Senate, and 2 as Secretary of the Treasury), there's no question that he generated one of the top 5 most entertaining and memorable moments in a political debate during the age of TV.
EVERYTHING'S GONNA STOP US NOW: With the closing of Strawbridge & Clothier today and Wanamaker's already closed to be renovated into a Macy's, Center City Philadelphia will be bereft of department stores this summer. More importantly, while we wait and pray for Nordstrom to decide to come downtown, an era of locally-owned retail palaces is over, as the Inquirer's Dianna Marder explains in a lengthy feature.
WE OPEN IN SYDNEY, WE NEXT PLAY SIBERIA, THEN ONTO IXTAPA (LOTSA QUAIL IN IXTAPA), OUR NEXT JUMP IS ZURICH, THAT HEARTLESS SARKLESS MENACE, THEN LOS ANGELES AND UMBRIA, THEN WE OPEN AGAIN, WHERE? IN HONG KONG! And this would be the placeholder post for the series finale of Alias. (Think the writers had watched a few Raiders films shortly before settling in to write this one?)

Thank you for five wonderful years.
GIVING NEW MEANING TO "SLOW BOAT TO CHINA": This is a placeholder post for discussion of the 24 season finale.

Monday, May 22, 2006

ISN'T THAT THE AMBER-COLORED, CARBONATED LIQUID? I'VE HEARD GOOD THINGS ABOUT IT: Beer Advocate magazine believes that six of the Top 50 Places to Have a Beer in America are in the Philadelphia area, but I've only been to two of them.

And the bar ranked number one in America is just minutes from my alma mater, but I've never heard of the place.
SPEAKING OF LEONARD COHEN: He was on Fresh Air today (the audio should be up later today), touting his new volume of poetry, Book of Longing, which my sister-in-law's mother actually already bought for me (I had made a mix CD a few years back in which every other song was a cover of "Hallelujah" interspersed with songs by the likes of Lou Reed, Nick Cave, and Nick Drake, that gained instant popularity amongst by extended family).

Besides the book (which is a bestseller already in Cohen's home and native land), there's a new documentary being released this summer about Cohen, plus he's got a new CD (sort of) coming out, and Prince Charles just revealed this weekend that he is a big Cohen fan.

Why all the activity from Cohen? To paraphrase Andrew Dice Clay speaking about Little Boy Blue (prize to the first person who stumbles upon this entry by googling "Leonard Cohen and Andrew Dice Clay): he needs the money.
JUST BETWEEN US, IT WAS A COMEBACK, RIGHT? Other questions I didn't have the courage to ask LL Cool J, sighted in post-prandial discussions with an associate at the Brooklyn Diner (57th Street @ 7th) concerned the current whereabouts of the panther and whether the War on Terror has dampened his previously proclaimed desire to "bomb a town".
NEXT UP IS THE 45 FOOT TALL IPOD: Worship all at the new shrine of the Apple! I command ye! The shrine is open 24/7/365. Actually, what with the new ability to run Windows on a Mac for those few purely Windows applications I still use, I'm somewhat tempted to make the move when I upgrade.
IT GOES LIKE THIS, THE FOURTH, THE FIFTH: Given that I barely comprehend the extreme popularity of American Idol, I'm not even going to pretend to understand how a GWAR-esque band from Finland managed to win the Eurovision Song Contest, which is apparently the Europe-wide equivalent of Idol. Their winning song, Hard Rock Hallelujah, shares llittle in common with the Jeff Buckley song, commanding us to prepare for the "Arockalypse."
THE QUESTION GAMERS SHOULD BE ASKING THEMSELVES IS: DO I WANT TO GO WITH RADIAL SYMMETRY, OR BI-LATERAL SYMMETRY? ...OR MAYBE SOMETHING REALLY DIFFERENT: SimCity? Wimps. Civilization? Meh. Apha Centauri? *snore*. Black & White? Getting there... But Spore? Spore will take you from the unicellular organism to galactic conquest in a single PC game. Plus the creatures and infrastructure you create will be downloadable into other players' gameworlds.

If you haven't heard about it, check the official site for a funny promo cartoon and other tantalizing news. I can hardly wait.
ROLLIN', ROLLIN', ROLLIN': In case you were looking for a way to combine video game geekiness and political protest, look no further than the Katamari Damacy march in San Francisco.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

CITY OF (SPOT)LIGHT: On tonight's Sopranos, everything seemed to move a step forward in an episode which had something for everyone -- fans of violence, fans of psychological development and dreams, fans of Johnny Cakes, fans of gratuitous nudity. But to say more, let's go to the Comments.

edited to add Sepinwall's take: "As Tony drove away from Satriale's, you could see him figuring out exactly how much trouble he's in. And after he finished that mental calculus, what's the first thing he did? He called his construction buddy to get AJ a job, because he knows he may not have much time left to straighten the kid out. . . . And while Tony was realizing how small and vulnerable he is compared to New York, half a world away, Carmela was having her own sense of self smashed to bits. In Caldwell, she may be hot stuff, but when she sees France with all its treasures and history, she realizes she's just another insignificant speck, and that 'it all gets washed away.'"

And Tim Goodman, who locates the Lou Costello Memorial in Paterson, NJ: "'Cold Stones' managed to play off Carm and Ro in Paris as both comical and enlightening. A great series can juggle conflicting emotions that way, and it's a sure sign of confident writers (and directors). Where Ro couldn't speak the language and was mostly interested in the shopping and the young Parisian on his motorcycle - there's got to be a classic film reference in there, I just can't think of it - Carmela was struggling to appreciate the depth of history that a European city provides in contrast to the United States, and also to awaken her senses to the natural beauty at hand. 'Who could have built this?,' she says at one point. There was more nuance in that one line (joined with the cinematography) than most dramas strive for in a full season."
NO WORD IF THE INSTRUCTIONS COME IN BOCCE: Sure, I can make my own beer. But I've never made my own water.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: There are only 4 days left in the 2005-2006 network television season, mostly marked by a few much anticipated finales (Desperate Housewives tonight, Alias on Monday, Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday, Lost on Wednesday) and a few big and awful-looking TV movies (Stephen King's Desperation, 10.5: Apocalypse). A few shows have yet to wrap up their seasons (cable shows, and a couple of shows on the WB), which means it's time to look at the season and ask who deserves to be nominated for an Emmy. Now, let's not bother with the obvious nominees (Hugh Laurie, Steve Carrell, Felicity Huffman, Kyra Sedgwick) or the folks who've been on the "shoulda been nominated" list for eons (Lauren Graham, John C. McGinley, Battlestar Galactica). Give me your best slightly off, but still deserving folks. A few from me?

  • Christopher Eccleston, Outstanding Leading Actor in a Drama, Doctor Who. Eccleston brings both humor and pathos to the Doctor and just flies with it. Regardless of how ridiculous or bizarre the situation is, the Doctor has, if not a solution, at least an explanation. Particularly nice work in Dalek, where the Doctor is confronted with the question of when it's right to take a life in vengeance
  • Donald Faison, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Scrubs. Despite the fall of comedy over the past few years, this is an extraordinarily nasty category, with John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, John C. McGinley, and Neil Patrick Harris all in it, but Faison is one of Scrubs' secret weapons. Whether the script calls upon him to play Dr. Blacula or asks him to be the straight man, he's there, and he's always, always, excellent.
  • Emily Van Camp, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama, Everwood. Van Camp's character has done some mighty unlikable things this year, but it's to her credit that she always makes it believable and plausible what her character is doing.
  • Eric Close, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama, Without A Trace. It's hard to get glory for your work in a police procedural, but Close had a character arc this year which is part of what made Trace so effective--the weaving of the personal and the procedural.

Toughest category to fill this year again, assuming the Housewives and the Gilmore Girls go comedy? Leading actress in a drama. Sure, Edie Falco's getting a nomination, and I assume so are Mariska Hargitay and Ellen Pompeo, with Jennifer Garner likely beyond that. But beyond that, you quickly reach bottom, with other network options being Sarah Lancaster, Patricia Arquette, the ladies from the three CSI variants, Emily Deschannel, Maura Tierney, Kristen Bell, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jennifer Finnigan, and Kathryn Morris.

MY GOD, IT'S BEEN SO LONG; NEVER DREAMED YOU'D RETURN: DeRo wonders if Pearl Jam is the second coming of The Grateful Dead, and no one comes off well in the comparison.