Saturday, January 3, 2009

AND WHAT WE'RE LOOKING FOR, STILL ISN'T FOUND: It's pointless for me to review the Broadway production of Hairspray reuniting original cast members Marisa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein, which we took Lucy to see today, since it's closing tomorrow. I'll just say that it's good to see Tevin Campbell still getting work (2+ years as Seaweed) seventeen years after Graffiti Bridge, and that his career has recovered since, um, yeah.

[Also for your oh-that's-where-he-is-now? 1980s standup comic Kevin Meaney, covering the roles of Principal, UltraClutch Owner and Mr. Pinky.]

e.t.a. Charles Isherwood on all the shows closing in the next two weeks.
I'M WAITING FOR HIS SHOWDOWN WITH DEXTER MORGAN: For those suffering from Bartowski Withdrawal Syndrome (no episodes for a full month, until a 3-D-a-palooza the day after the Big Game Trademarked By The National Football League), I join Alan in heartily recommending Burn Notice as a substitute, having devoured basically the entire first season in a matter of days. The tale of spy Michael Westen, who's sort of a much more violence-willing MacGyver, who gets inexplicably blacklisted by his employer and left to fend for himself in Miami with the help of his ex-girlfriend, a former IRA operative whose motto is "shoot first, and ask questions about our relationship during or immediately after" and his old spying buddy, played by Bruce Campbell in full Bruce Campbell mode (also, discuss--is Nathan Fillion the new Bruce Campbell?), is seriously solid stuff--funny, smart, suspenseful. Verdict's out on whether all the rules of spying in Southern California also apply to Miami spying, though at least some seem to.

Season 1 is available and reasonably priced on DVD, and the final few episodes of Season 2 begin airing in a few weeks on USA, which I'm sure will constantly rerun them.
HOT HITS: Having recently listened to WXPN count down its Top 100 songs of 2008, I gave some thought to my favorite songs of the past year. I checked the Billboard charts, a helpful group of lists on, and a good list compiled by Ed Masley of The Arizona Republic.

In the end, I had some trouble coming up with ten songs that I really loved. In any event, here they are in alphabetical order by title:

You Want the Candy by the Raveonettes (the wall of sound from the great girl groups of the 1960's as if performed by The Velvet Underground with some salacious wordplay)

That's Not My Name by the The Ting Tings (The Tings Tings had many good songs this year)

Sequestered in Memphis by The Hold Steady (The Hold Steady should be paying royalties to Mott the Hoople. I love the chorus: "In bar light, she looked all right/ In daylight, she looked desperate/ That's all right, I was desperate too")

Real Love by Lucinda Williams

No One by Alica Keys (I think of this as a 2007 song, but Billboard considers it a 2008 release)

Mercy by Duffy (this would have not sounded out of place on a soul oriented radio station in 1968)

Chasing Pavements by Adele (ditto)

Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa by Vampire Weekend (this is probably not my favorite song of the past year, but it is the song that will most clearly call to mind 2008 for me in the future)

American Boy by Estelle (feat. Kanye West) (pure pop for now people!)

Always a Friend by Alejandro Escovedo and Bruce Springsteen (the song of the summer!)

Feel free to list your favorites in the comments.

Friday, January 2, 2009

JUST THE DOCTOR, THAT'S ALL: Tomorrow, we will know who will follow in the footsteps of Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant as the Eleventh Doctor. British bookmakers are offering odds on everyone from the nonsensical (Jason Statham, Jim Broadbent, Daniel Radcliffe) to the intriguing (Chiwetel Ejofor, Richard Coyle) to the obscure (Matt Smith and Patterson Joseph--current frontrunners). I have high hopes for the show under Coupling maestro Steven Moffat's direction (especially given his jaw-droppingly brilliant "Blink"), and his choice of Doctor may give us some idea of where he wants to take the show.
Did you guys see this story? The 10th graders in the Communications Arts Program at Blair won the WaPo crystal ball competition. They beat a ton of political experts and their predictions were crazy close to the actual outcome. I was in CAP 10 last year, so I didn't do crystal ball because it wasn't an election year, but it was a really great class (Mr. Freeman is fantastic) and I'm not surprised they did so well (CAP has actually won before, but not for a while). I've never emailed ALOTT5MA before, but I thought this was pretty cool.
Two things about this email intrigued me -- first of all, that these tenth graders outwitted the professional pundits (and semipros like Silver and Kos), and secondly, that we have a reader who's in the eleventh grade. For real, I figure the median mode reader of this site is a mid-thirties white urban lawyer, so of course I wanted to figure out what the heck she was doing here. Her name is Maddy, and she reports:
The school is Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD. It's a public school, but it has two magnet programs-- the Communications Arts Program (CAP) and the Math-Science-Computer Science Magnet. The kids who won crystal ball were in 10th grade CAP-- they did the project in NSL (National, State, and Local Government-- our county's way of saying American Gov.) Crystal Ball asks political experts (and a couple of high schools) to predict the general election as well as key senate races.

And the the story of why a random high school student is reading your blog is a bit long but here goes: A little more than a year ago I got pretty sick. I went from playing sports and barely watching any TV/generally being out of the pop culture loop to watching hours upon hours of TV a day. I've since gone back to school part time, but I'm still at home, tired and bored, much of the time, so I continue to watch a lot of TV, obsess over pop culture, and spend way too much time online (I even started my own TV blog because I needed something fun to do). During my extensive online travels I came across Alan Sepinwall's blog, which led me to ALOTT5MA.

Sorry, that's probably way more than you wanted to know. I actually have a question for you, if that's ok. How do you find all of the crazy and random stories you link to in the blog?
I'm happy to answer that one, and I invite my colleagues to jump in -- basically, I just know who the best editors are out there -- which sites are most likely to have found the content I'll find interesting -- traditional media like the NYT/WaPo arts sections, the essential TV Tattle, PopWatch, really, everyone along the right side of the page here. Plus I newsgoogle And then collectively, God willing, we serve ourselves as useful secondary aggregators (and analysts) of what we find. And if teenagers find it interesting, well, um, okay!

e.t.a. Our under-25 and 50+ population is making itself known in the comments. If you're among them, do let us know.
TURTLES, ALL THE WAY DOWN: That's Sir Terry Pratchett to you, pal.

Also, Robert Plant was named Commander of the British Empire - one slot short of a knighthood.

NB: I see that a number of CBEs sport the honorific "Sir," so maybe I've got this mixed up.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I AM SHIVA THE DESTROYER, YOUR HARBINGER OF DOOM THIS EVENING: Rachel Getting Married combines so many of this blog's interests -- Tamyra Gray, proper dishwasher loading techniques, Elvis Stojko, people who should see In Her Shoes and, of course, Anne Hathaway -- that I'm surprised it took me until today to see it.

To merely call it "well-written" undersells just how perfectly and subtly Jenny Lumet's screenplay reveals this damaged family in all its pain and joy, and I cannot say enough about Hathaway's brittle, bitter, true performance. There's a shot -- when they're cutting the cake -- that just floored me, and this film is just full of magical little touches, unforced moments of recognition, of brilliance, pain and occasional beauty.

[Go back to our August 2004 initial discussion of Hathaway, when the question was whether she, Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, Hillary Duff, Keira Knightley or someone else was most likely to be the next Julia Roberts-level star. Right now, she's winning.]

There are filmmakers who focus on dysfunction -- I'm thinking of Todd Solondz and Noah Baumbach -- whose goal is to make the viewer uncomfortable, to squirm in the face of all that awfulness. Jonathan Demme's goals are different, his heart is larger and this film is so much more rewarding as a result. Highly recommended.
I WILL NOT MAKE THIS ERROR WITH ABE VIGODA: With the death of Senator Claiborne Pell, I ask: is there a word for the feeling you have when learning that a public figure or distant relative has died whom you had assumed had died long ago? Premorse? Learning that the person in question still lives is not what I'm after, but a recent death that moots the earlier error.
ONE YEAR ARE IN, AND THE NEXT YEAR YOU ARE...: The WaPo's Hank Stuever, with their annual list of What's In and Out for 2009.
SEE YOU IN ANOTHER LIFE, BROTHER: The AV Club's, Time Magazine's, EW's and Alan Sepinwall's (see also this addendum in the comments) recent lists of the Best Television Episodes of 2008 suggest that we ought to open up our own decision of the same for awards consideration.

For me, it's not even a question -- though to be fair I didn't watch The Shield or The Wire, making me a bad citizen. On February 28, 2008, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse treated us to a time-traveling episode of Lost that demonstrated, conclusively, that they knew where the show was going, knew that Desmond/Penny were ten times more interesting than Jack/Kate/Sawyer, and still knew how -- as Poniewozik put it -- to craft an episode that "rips your heart out while it ties your brain in a knot."

Really, what was better on tv in 2008 than "The Constant"?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5-4-3-2-1: Having never watched Idol, I lacked familiarity with the oeuvre of Kellie Pickler prior to her inexplicable appearance on tonight's Primetime Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest (I'm not joking, that's its entire title), but I certainly think she needs to get off my television set effective immediately. Taylor Swift, on the other hand, continues to impress, especially considering that she was clearly not lip-syncing in the freezing cold (even if she seemed to be fake guitar-playing at a few points). Personally, I'm still looking forward to Will.I.Am, who's apprently going to perform "It's A New Day." Discuss your preferred countdown below.
VOCAL MINORITY: I don't think we've awarded an ALOTT5MA Award for Most Vehement Fan Base, Especially In Proportion to Quality of Work of Which They Are Fans, but this year, that winner is clear--it goes to fans of CBS' cancelled vampire drama Moonlight, who seemingly would spam to death anyone who had the slightest thing negative to say about their beloved show. Yes, there have been more vehement fan bases in the past (just about anything Whedon-y, Star Trek, Veronica Mars, maybe Babylon 5), but this seems to be a winner on the quantity/quality ratio. Other nominees for the award included Twilight and Ron Paul.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BLOCKING: Not every inspirational sports story ultimately has a happy ending (see, e.g., the occasional catch-up coverage on Hoop Dreams), so it's nice to see one that does. The Times catches up today with Michael Oher, subject of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, talking about his struggles both on the football field and in the classroom at Ole Miss. While the article expresses skepticism about Lewis' projection that Oher is the next great offensive left tackle, it notes that he is a likely first round pick.
CLAP LOUDER! For December 31, we have the annual necrologies--Michael Riedel handles the stage and Alan Sepinwall handles the small screen. EW had a pretty good general set in the last issue as well. (And a subject for debate--who closes the Oscar necrology and gets louder applause--Ledger or Newman--or does one or the other get a special tribute separately, aside from a potential acceptance on Ledger's behalf?)
THE DAY THE "WHY DON'T YOU PLAY MUSIC ANYMORE?" DIED: How'd I miss this? Apparently, at 12:01 AM tonight, barring a resolution, all Time Warner Cable systems, including those in New York, L.A., Hawaii, most of Ohio and the Carolinas, and most major cities in Texas except Houston, will lose all Viacom cable channels--this includes MTV and its sister channels, VH1, Nickelodeon and its siblings and cousins, including Noggin, the N, and TV Land, and Comedy Central. If you're a cable watcher in one of those markets, maybe stick with Clark/Seacrest tonight.
"WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A BLACK PRESIDENT -- LITERATURE SHOULD CATCH UP": According to a new study of Newbery Medal winners for excellence in children's literature (and I can't find the primary materials online), "Characters depicted in Newbery winners are more likely to be white, male and come from two-parent households than the average U.S. child." Worse, the paper claims, is that "the trend has accelerated even as the U.S. has diversified, with fewer black and Hispanic main characters in the past 27 years than in the Civil Rights era of 1951-79," with the last book featuring a Hispanic protagonist to win being Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska, in 1965.

I believe we have folks here who'd like to comment on this.

e.t.a. via tortoiseshelly, go here and search for "Do You See What I See?: Portrayals of Diversity in Newbery-Medal-Winning Children’s Literature," and you'll be able to find the study.
SING ONCE AGAIN WITH ME, OUR STRANGE DUET: Does the world really need The Phantom of the Opera II: The Phantom Goes To Nathan's?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ALPHABET SOUP: Even though it's the #4 show on TV so far this season (and the #2 scripted show), we have apparently never blogged substantively about NCIS. My Dad is a fan, and between the DVR, USA's constant repeats, I was subjected to multiple episodes over my trip to Houston for the holidays. And you know what? It's not that bad. Heck, it's actually kind of enjoyable. Let's see why:
  • Like CSI: Original Recipe (but not CSI: Extra Tasty Crispy or CSI: Now More Morose), we have a number of characters who are unabashedly dorky. And dorks are represented both in the younger sphere (Field Agent McGee, Forensic Specialist Sciuto) and the older ("Ducky," the medical examiner). Heck, even Mark Harmon gets to indulge his dorkiness from time to time.
  • However, we don't just limit it to dorky. Even though NCIS is an old-skewing show, it has the only regular Goth character on television in Abby Sciuto, who's the perkiest Goth you could ever imagine.
  • The show doesn't take itself too seriously, but rather has a sense of humor about itself. It's neither self-consciously wacky (I'm lookin' at you, Psych) nor so ponderous and self-important that it's no longer fun to watch (L&O:SVU). The mysteries are generally solid.
  • Even though it's filmed in Los Angeles, it's set in DC and generally looks like it rather than LA passing as DC.
  • Bonus points? GFTJ! The NCIS team has a female Mossad liason who's consistently portrayed as the most competent of the bunch and certainly could kick the ass of any of the other team members.
Is it Great Television? No. But it's a reasonably diverting way to spend a half-hour, and with Hizzy vacating the timeslot and other options being decidedly mixed--According to Jim, Idol, 90210, and Biggest Loser--especially for those of us not Idol oriented, it's not a bad choice at all.
LIKE THE NEW YEAR, THIS SNEAKS UP ON YOU: Because I'm old -- the kind of crochety old that knows nothing of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart yet dislikes their attitude -- I didn't get this viral video until now. Just in case we haven't blogged it: Ninja Kitty.
ON THE BORDER: Yesterday I happened to notice that the stock of Borders was trading at less than 50 cents per share (it was as high as $11.60 earlier this year). The same day I read this article about the woes affecting book retailers on account of people reselling books on the internet.

Olsson’s, the leading independent chain of bookstores in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close soon.

My thoughts turned to the (many) Borders gift cards that my family has at the moment. When The Sharper Image recently filed for bankruptcy it treated all holders of gift cards as unsecured creditors, who got (I think) nothing in the bankruptcy plan.

I have NO idea if Borders will file for bankruptcy, but if it does then there is some chance that its gift cards will become worthless. In my neighborhood, these gift cards are very popular items. I did a quick hunt through my house and found we had ten such cards, worth over $350 in total. I am planning to make a concerted effort to use them promptly.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I WILL ONLY SUPPORT THE CANDIDATE WHO PROMISES TO MAKE ME A SPY: One of the most eagerly anticipated awards of every ALOTT5MA Awards Season -- especially if all we've given you in a day is an ad about toilet tissue which spares one the indignity of dingleberries -- is the annual award for Funniest Half-Hour of Television of the Year. Previous winners include:
2004: The Daily Show, Night Two of the Democratic National Convention ("My father was a poor Virginia turd-miner ... ")
2005: South Park, "Best Friends Forever"
2006: The Office, "The Injury"
2007: 30 Rock "The Source Awards"
The 2008 writers' strike impacted the field for this award significantly -- only twelve 30 Rock episodes this calendar year, sixteen of The Office.

There were decent episodes of HIMYM ("10 Sessions"), and I did give much thought to Office episodes like the more-painful-than-funny "Dinner Party", "Chairmodel" or "Did I Stutter?" -- especially the last one (fluffy fingers, Newsies), as well as 30 Rock's brilliant last pre-strike episode, "Episode 210" (about which Alan wrote today, with the Jewish donuts and Gladys Knight).

But ultimately, I have to go with a half-hour that aired the same night as "Chairmodel" -- April 17, 2008 -- because Stephen Colbert was in Philadelphia as part of his pre-primary coverage, and, um, folks showed up for an overstuffed genius episode. Go watch the clips of Barack Obama, noted repairwoman Hillary Clinton, and most brilliantly, John Edwards delivering the W0RD, a piece of intentional comedy that almost makes one want to forget the unintentional tragicomedy he provided later in the year. (Also in the episode: a review of the Philadelphia debate and a sitdown with Rep. Patrick Murphy, who isn't as funny, but he's my friend so I'm linking.)

In a year in which political comedy mattered a great deal, Colbert's being a bit too forgotten (and, yeah, the Xmas special was underwhelming), but for that half-hour, the comedic and political universes centered on his set, and he made the most of the opportunity. Tina who?
FROM THE "WHO ARE THE AD GENIUSES WHO CAME UP WITH THAT ONE?" DEPARTMENT: Seriously, yo, what market research determined that toilet paper users were desperate for a product that promised a dingleberry-free experience?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

FLABBERGASTED: The window crack through which the Eagles could enter the playoffs today to enter the NFL playoffs was staggeringly narrow -- the pigskin equivalent of going five million dollars in debt, having one rival fall in Iowa due to anti-Mormon sentiment with the Iowa winner unable to capitalize on said victory, another rival waiting until week twelve to start playing football and a third simply falling asleep when the game was about to begin.

Yet here we are. In the playoffs, again, with a team good enough to beat the Steelers and Falcons (at home) while splitting with the Giants; bad enough to tie the Bengals and get swept by the Washington club. And good enough to capitalize off every Dallas mistake today to turn a 3-3 nailbiter into a 44-6 asswhipping so complete that words cannot describe the giddiness at the Linc tonight. A crowd that showed up not even expecting this game to matter gathered on the concourses to cheer on the Oakland Raiders, then quickly filed into their seats for one of those games that we'll be talking about in the future with the same glee that The Tommy Hutton Game still gives us tsuris.

I cannot explain this maddening, ridiculous team, and I have no hope for them to advance far in the playoffs. But, hey, we're in. What a year for Philadelphia sports.
FROM THE ALOTT5MA CANINE NOMENCLATURE DESK: Via long-time Jeff (jam) and Sara (sbr929), this update:
Jeff: Thanks for the many excellent suggestions, which have been so inspiring that they have in some ways made a final decision even more difficult to reach. We love many of the ideas, and we have refrained from posting an update mostly out of embarrassment over our ongoing state of indecision.

At this point, we are trying out a few possibilities to see how they fit her personality, which is still emerging as she makes the adjustment to a new home. We are focusing primarily on Lily, Fiona, and Olive (though we also love CJ, and Lottie, and ...).

Sara: yes. we are just that pathetic. but i hasten to add, according to Jewish tradition, we still have a few days...
GFTJ/BFTJ: This has not been a great year for Jewish heroes -- aside from the Ha'aretz headline "Two Jews and a black man help Phelps fulfill Olympic dream," it's mostly been a year for the Spitzers and Madoffs of the world to take center stage in representing the Tribe.

So I was delighted to see the article in today's Times about Ed Zwick's upcoming film Defiance, the real-life story of "the triumph of the three Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus and Asael, who fought the Nazis in the deep forests of Belarus and saved 1,200 lives." And then I looked to the IMDb page to see who's playing the brothers, and I see that ALOTT5MA doppelgänger Mark Feuerstein is in the cast ...

... only he's not playing one of the three heroic Jewish brothers, who are instead being portrayed by Liev Schreiber (good), the new blonde James Bond and the boy from Billy Elliott, the latter two of whom don't strike me as being very Semitic. Feuerstein's playing "Malbin," and my immediate thought is, Oy. He's probably the town baker, with lines like Before you go off resisting the Nazis, can I pack you with some knishes to go? or Malbin the Tailor, offering to hem Daniel Craig's garments (some more pockets, perhaps?) before heading into the forest, or just Malbin, First-Reel Victim.

So I did some homework, and discovered that Lazar Malbin was the chief-of-staff of the operation (Jen: "Chief of staff?" Is that like a community organizer, only more bookish?) , a charisma-free man with military experience and "a sense of national responsibility [with a] determination to save Jews, any Jews," but also a "a stutterer [whose] speech would deteriorate greatly when he experienced any emotional stress." So maybe he does get to kill some Nazis after all (while stuttering), and that would be awesome.

Also in this film? Ladies and gentlemen, at long last as prophesied, we have an Iben Hjejle sighting. (Also, the girl who played the gymnast in In Treatment who everyone liked.)