Saturday, June 6, 2009

LET'S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY, AND HAVE OURSELVES A SNACK: Some questions spurred by this weekend's box office:
  • Are Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifiankis movie stars now? Cooper, but not the other two?
  • Who decided to greenlight a 100M+ plus version of Land of The Lost? A huge part of the nostalgic value is how bad the effects were, and the Sleestaks still look proudly like men in bad suits, so where did the money go?
  • When the decision was made to make LOTL a comedy with a rather adult edge (seriously, Ferrell and McBride spend an extended period of time in the film stoned out of their minds in the movie), why release it the same week as the much buzzed Hangover?
  • Is there a more inconsistent performer at the boxoffice than Will Ferrell? He seems to alternate hits (Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory) with big misses, even without stepping outside his wheelhouse.
  • Is there a bigger one-hit-wonder in Hollywood than Nia Vardalos?
  • Which of these three things about The Hangover is the biggest--how much money it will make, how funny it is, or how racist/sexist a hell of a lot of it is?
AN EVENING WITH THE DYNAMITE LADY: Of all the things I came to love during the year I spent in Little Rock, Arkansas (1997-98), evenings spent at Arkansas Travelers games (then AA-St. Louis) are near the top of the list. While I've attended minor league games at probably ten different parks, the (now closed) Ray Weidner Field ranks as my favorite. Free parking. Seats were $5, $6 for reserved. They'd sell you a can of beer in the stands for $2 -- $2.50 for premium -- hot dogs for $1.50, every night. And like minor league everywhere, you'd see players on the hustle or a few on their way up. I saw J.D. Drew's professional home debut, although he was a different stripe in many ways. On a couple of occasions, met some of the minor leaguers. Down the road a piece there was a Bennigans which, in Arkansas, had to suffice for an Irish bar. For the occasional pre-game pint, I'd stop in and chat with the lovely barkeep who was working a couple of jobs to help her husband - a player on the Travelers - have a shot. I don't recall his name or hers, so I don't know if he did. I hope so. I wished her well and tipped heavy.

But my favorite part was just how seriously the Arkansas Travelers took their promotion nights. They had the Dynamite Lady for each of three weekend games. A month of free dinners at Corky's BBQ for a lucky fan. But best of all was their annual Clunker Car night where in the middle of the 2d through 7th inning, they gave away a car. Not just any any car, but elegantly crappy (but fully operational and with clear title!) cars. An AMC Matador Wagon, a mid-sixties VW Microbus, a 1985 Chrysler K-Car, and a 1960s sidestep Ford Pickup (the last filled with 10 cases of Mountain Dew, courtesy of Arkansas Beverage Distributors).

I did not, alas, win a car. But on my way home that night I ran into the lady who had won the pickup, filling up opposite me. The doors squeeked, the hood stuck. If that car lasted another 5000 miles, I'd be surprised. But she was a happy woman. "In Arkansas, every boy bugs their mom for a pickup truck from the time they're three years old. And every mom wants to get them one." she said. "Tonight, my son gets his." She left me with a six pack of Mountain Dew and one of my favorite moments in Arkansas and, really, of any anonymous fan with whom I have struck up a conversation.

And in thinking on this, it reminds me I need to get out to see some minor league ball this year. And so do you.
GLEE CLUB OF THE DAMNED: A literal interpretation of the music video for "Total Eclipse of the Heart". (Related, their take on "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "White Wedding".) (Unrelated: Misheard Ledbetter.) (HT: Volokh.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

WHY ME? Bestselling fantasy author David Eddings died on Tuesday. I've been sitting on this news for a couple of days, but today seemed like the right day to post about Eddings.

I first read The Belgariad* and The Malloreon one summer in college. I'm not sure how I happened upon them initially -- I was a sometimes kind of fantasy reader, Anne McCaffrey and the like, but not much more than that. I blew through all ten books over the course of a couple of weeks, sprawled on the bed of my summer sublet after work. (I think it might have been Enchanters' End Game that I made the mistake of pulling out during my lunch break one day -- fortunately, I was working by myself that afternoon, so no one noticed that my lunch hour accidentally turned out to be my lunch third-of-a-day. Oops.) I don't remember any of my friends having read them; they were just kind of my own special thing until I got to be friends in law school with a guy named Mr. Cosmopolitan, who to my surprise had read all of Eddings' books many times over. The first present I ever gave my future husband was a hardcover copy of Belgarath the Sorcerer, shortly after it was published. And so today -- our 10th wedding anniversary -- felt like as good a day as any to talk about David Eddings.

* This is where to start: The Belgariad, then The Malloreon, then Belgarath, then Polgara, then The Rivan Codex if you're really interested. The Elenium and The Tamuli are good, too. Everything else is pretty much garbage, but that's 19 non-garbagey books for your summer reading list.
Given that Mr. Cosmo's knowledge of the Eddingsverse is way more impressive than my own, I asked him to chime in:

I grew up with Eddings as my fantasy touchstone, reading his first three books in about two weeks, and then waiting agonizing months or years for the next installment. But as I read more (and more varied) fantasy, I always came back to Eddings before starting off on a new series.

Eddings took his craft seriously, but never himself. He understood that good fantasy is derived from medieval legend, and could cite chapter and verse for every ancient concept that found its way into his books. At the same time, he often reiterated that one of the keys to fantasy was having a “really good Magical Thingamajig.” He was also adept at striking the delicate balance between the heroic exploits that are the heart of the genre and the everyday aspects of life so often overlooked in fantasy writing.

One of the greatest testaments to his work is the startling number of people who have not only read him, but who are willing to admit to having read him. At least among a certain age group, it was okay to talk about having read Tolkien, but you never really knew how someone else would react to the revelation that you had a bookshelf full of Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Ursula K. Le Guin, or Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance). Even looking back with twenty years’ perspective, I have never met anyone who was embarrassed to have read Eddings in their youth, or wasn’t happy to discuss the books even as an adult.

As I write this, our mangled copy of Pawn of Prophecy is sitting on my nightstand, awaiting yet another re-read. My husband could probably just quote the whole damn thing at you. ("The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor's farm . . . . [And so] the three friends started down from the snowy hilltop to view that miracle, which, though it is most commonplace, is a miracle nonetheless.")

David Eddings will be missed.
WHAT A TERRIBLE THING TO HAPPEN ON DOZEN EGG NIGHT: BoingBoing notes yesterday's 35th anniversary of the Cleveland Indian's short-lived experiment with 10-cent beer night.

Ayers Rock, now Uluru.

The Klamath.

Dragon Tree.

Skinny Love, Bon Iver

The Medical Detectives, Berton Roueche

Cathedral of Christ the Light, Craig Hartman/SOM
YOU THINK I GIVE A DAMN ABOUT A GRAMMY? 18-time Grammy winner and "Polka King" Jimmy Sturr is outraged that the Grammys are dropping the "polka album" category. Total categories drop by 1 to 109, with Latin Urban Album being combined with Latin Rock or Alternative Album and "Contemporary Folk/Americana Album" being split into separate categories. (Also, apparently, the field formerly known as "Folk" will now be known as "American Roots Music.") Here's a list of last year's 110 fields. Any others that could be eliminated or combined (how about a single "Tejano/Norteno/Banada" category?), or are there categories that need to be added?
AFRO NINJA IS A PROFESSIONAL STUNTMAN? I'm an unreformed fan of America's Funniest Home Videos and, so it's no surprise that when Spacewoman and I stumbled across Tosh.0 last night, we were in tears laughing. The premise is that a guy who seems like a young TV comedy writer with a disarmingly amateurish onscreen manner reviews, dissects, and follows up on various Internet memes. I had already seen most of the stuff he showed, but the way he Zaprudered the video of the guy who tried to karate chop 100 coconuts, for example, was exquisite.

Speaking of which, news blooper!
SO YOU WANNA BE A ROCK N ROLL STAR: World Cafe Live's "Kids Rock for Kids" rock concert series benefits children's medical charities in the Philadelphia area. My son Aidan’s band “System of an Up” will be performing at World Cafe Live on Sunday at 1:00 PM to benefit Kids Smiles, which provides access to dental care for children who might otherwise not have dental care available to them. Tickets are available here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

WHEN ATTEMPTING A COVERT OPERATION, KEEP THESE PRINCIPLES IN MIND: We clearly have a lot of Burn Notice fans amongst us, so here's athread to discuss tonight's season premiere, which I thought efficiently set up the fact that even though Michael may no longer be technically burned, he's in every bit as much danger as he was before, if not more. Given that we'll be waiting a good 6+ months for new Chuck, Michael and Fiona will suffice. (Also, feel free to discuss the other USA premiere, Royal Pains, though it's unclear whether our obligation to cover all things involving Mark Feuerstein is still in force.)
IS THIS IRREPLACABLE? Tim Schafer is a video game developer of some note, who was working on a project for Activision. Activision dropped the game from further development, and it was picked up by EA. Now, the game, which is developing substantial buzz, is the subject of a lawsuit, with Activision claiming it still has rights in the game. Schafer's response to the lawsuit is the priceless moment: "Hey, if Activision liked it, then they should have put a ring on it."
WILL YOU LEND A CARING HAND? Fortunately, Dr. Horrible Origins: Penny is far better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine was. (In case you missed them--Captain Hammer! and Moist: Humidity Rising.)
JACQUES BAILLY IS A FRIEND OF OURS, AND YOU'RE NO JACQUES BAILLY: But if you're suffering from Bee withdrawal, the YouTube interactive spelling bee hosted by former Disney starlet Christy Carlson Romano can occupy you for a few hours.
FEAR IS THE ONLY DARKNESS David Carradine has died, apparently by his own hand. ALOTT5MA staff wishes his family well in the face of this awfulness.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ONE PITCH AT A TIME: Some might call it heroic (though I question the use of the term in anything that's just a game), or at least "probably the best athletic performance ever at the University of Texas," but, c'mon: 169 pitches in one game is wrong. I don't care that UT's Austin Wood threw 12 1/3 innings of no-hit ball in relief efforts during a College World Series Game; no matter how much he may have told his coach "I'm not coming out of this game," it's coach Augie Garrido's job to preserve his player's season and his possible MLB career.

Some will admire Wood for enduring the cramping and the vomiting and the Pedialyte to put in an extraordinary athletic achievement; like Keith Law, I think it's inexcusable and unconscionable for a coach to sacrifice an unpaid player's health for the team's (and the coach's own) temporary needs. And let's not overlook opposing pitcher Mike Belfiore of Boston College, who threw 129 pitches in 9 2/3 innings of work (his previous high this season: three innings), of whom Law writes:
Belfiore is a legitimate top-two-rounds draft prospect, and in the words of one scout to whom I spoke this morning, "he's probably damaged goods" as a result of the overusage.

Belfiore came into the game with just 38.2 innings for the entire spring across 24 appearances, and like Wood, he had pitched the day before, throwing 20 pitches and allowing two runs to score in a long inning of work. If Belfiore suffers any major injury as a result of his overuse this weekend, he would stand to lose out on much or all of his potential signing bonus in next week's draft, which in his case would mean several hundred thousand dollars. It's also possible that he and Wood suffered damage that won't be discovered until after they're drafted, and their pro careers will be cut short because two college coaches decided to abdicate their responsibilities to their players because it was more important to win a single postseason game.

This is the worst pitcher abuse I've seen a Little League World Series coach made a 12-year-old throw 175 pitches in 1998. I think it's one thing for veterans like Ronnie Lott and Kellen Winslow to decide to put their bodies through hell for crucial games; that's not a choice a coach can allow a player to make before his professional career even begins. Enough with the macho.
PHILLUMINATED: The California Bar website has a follow-up article on Tammy & Victor from the Amazing Race.

Interestingly, the article notes that Tammy & Victor actually spent some time learning a few skills ahead of time -- firearms, paddle boarding, swimming -- and were on orders from the producers to know how to drive a standard transmission car. I suppose they've realized that suburban moms grinding gears for twenty minutes makes for bad television.
TIP A 40 FOR 'ACCORDING TO JIM': In this, the third of our dwindling series of roundtables, or roundish end tables, about the historic 2008-09 television season, we consider shows (or other things) that are leaving us and that we'll miss. Frankly, this seemed like a better topic before the networks renewed literally everything I ever watched. And I suspect one of us is saving something -- something really frakking awesome, not that I would know -- for a later post this week. So we convene, the ALOTT5MA Committee on Things That Will Be Missed, to bury and praise the following:

Matt: It's a hard year to talk about what we'll miss, because so many "bubble shows" got surprise renewals--Chuck, FNL, Dollhouse--and because many of the cancelled shows clearly got a fair shake from the network but failed to find an audience--Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, Dirty Sexy Money. Then there are those that said goodbye after a long and healthy run--sometimes too long, like ER. But the shows that really hurt are those which never really had a chance. To me, this year, two shows lead that list. The first is ABC's "The Unusuals."
While you can't deny that ABC promoted the hell out of the show, even giving it the primo Dancing With The Stars leadout, it had such a short run that it makes my list. I enjoyed a cop show that wasn't in the mold of the supercop Bruckheimer shows where the cases always neatly resolve themselves, and that reveled in the characters as much as the crimes. Indeed, it reminded me, in some ways, of "Hill Street Blues," though admittedly, a "Hill Street Blues" as a latter-day David E. Kelley might have written for. The second is the CW's "Privileged." Blessed by a network that should have found it solidly in its wheelhouse--teen girls--perhaps this was just too smart for its own good. Given a lead-in of the ridiculously stupid and horrific (though much-improved by the end of the season) 90212.0, it was out of place on the successor to a network that made a legit hit out of "Gilmore Girls." Had they had a little more patience and learned to promote it right, the show would assuredly have been a hit. The good news is that series star JoAnna Garcia is apparently much in demand for new shows, and I hope and expect she'll be a star.

Adam: Neither is technically gone yet -- one has a few more episodes to burn off, and the other hasn't officially announced his retirement yet -- but it feels like King of the Hill and SNL's Darrell Hammond have moved on. I think of both as comedic comfort food -- certainly familiar at this stage, but always giving me a warm feeling when they're sampled again. About Hammond, we've said enough already. But it's easy to forget how different King of the Hill was from the pack when it started in 1997 (and still is today) -- an animated series that emphasized character over cheap gags, observational humor and empathy for all Arlen's diverse inhabitants rather than knocking middle America for its doodly-ness. When virtually every show on tv still seems to be set in a city on one of the coasts, King of the Hill remained resolutely home with the residents of a small town in Texas. I can't say I watched the show regularly in its later years, but it always made me happy when I did.

Isaac: I was going to say "hysterical news reports about swine flu," mainly because I am crazy sick for hysterical news reports about disease but also to needle the Cosmos for getting haz-mat quarantined for their kid's exceedingly mild flu. Then I dumped the cheap joke because I both will sincerely miss Flight of the Conchords and also think two years for it were about right. The "beautiful corpse" theory belongs to Sepinwall, but I'll apply it here. I loved Carol Brown. I loved Inner City Pressure. I loved Most Beautiful Girl in the Room. I loved, of course, Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros. I loved the camera phone, the long riffs on masculinity and anti-New Zealand racism, the bizarre take on daily life. But every new episode seemed increasingly tortured out of a pair who didn't want to make a TV show, and it was just getting to the point where that was about to overtake the entertainment value.

Bob: I will miss The Shield. [Editor's note: now is your chance to shoot The Arrows at Bob.]
MR. SOFTEE HAS BEEN SUPPLANTED: But when will we get a gourmet cupcake van that tweets its location servicing my neighborhood?
THE LACK OF DIVERSITY IN CELEBRITY GOSSIP: A little pop culture test for you folks--there are five major gossip rags--US, OK!, Star, Life & Style, and In Touch. Without peeking at Jezebel's helpful roundup, can you tell me:
  • What is featured on all five of the covers in some capacity (3 as the main story, 2 as the sidebar story)? Answer--Jon and Kate.
  • What picture is used on four of the five covers? (3 use the EXACT SAME picture, and the fourth uses another picture from the same shoot.) Answer--Kate Gosselin in bikini.
  • What scores 4/5 covers, including 2 main stories? (Surprisingly, In Touch opts for Kim Kardashian in a bikini and Patrick Dempsey over this, perhaps because it targets an older audience.) Answer--Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart/Twilight
  • What couple and/or love triangle related to a couple hits 4/5 covers, all as a sidebar story (US opts for LeeAnn Rimes). Answer--Brangelina + Jennifer Aniston.
  • When will each of these things go away and stop being the focus of so much media attention? Answer--Not nearly soon enough.
COSMIC COW SENDS HIS REGRETS TOO: Via Adlai comes the news that, as a result of the zero bids so far, for the low low price of $150 plus food you can have lunch with the cast of Too Close for Comfort. Ted Knight is unavailable, having died 13 years ago, but still, it's the cast of Too Close for Comfort. Fun fact: it's possible that the included "lunch with Lydia Cornell" -- that's author/blogger/comedienne/improbably hot 47-year-old Lydia Cornell -- would have sold for more than $150 as a separate item, making Jm Jay and Van Valkenburgh actually a negative value.
FASTER, GRANDMA, GRANDMA'S GAINING ON US: The House Next Door this morning has a really cool video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz compiling movie shots where the camera follows, or chases, a character moving away from it. It's fun to identify the movies, and the juxtaposition of some of them ought to make you smile. One small nit: although the montage gets quickly to the famous Scorcese Steadicam shot from Goodfellas -- naturally the first scene after the intro -- where's the companion shot from Boogie Nights, at least portions of which fit the criteria? It's weird to see Luis Guzmán appear for, I think, Carlito's Way, but not for Boogie Nights. I guess Seitz wanted the other Steadicam shot from Boogie Nights, but I think the comparison of the two -- something about which I had never given much thought -- would have been nice.
THE COVER FEATURE ON BEARS WILL BE AWESOME: The news that Stephen Colbert will be guest-editing next week's edition of Newsweek strikes me as a good place to jump off and discuss Newsweek's redesign. The editor's letter indicated that the goal was do a weekly version of what traditionally have been monthly magazines--less focused on pure reporting and more focused on giving the readership context and analysis. It's a laudable and sensible idea for a newsweekly to try this in the Internet age, where a weekly "reporting" is invariably behind the times, but the context and analysis needs to be better and more provocative to really work. Also, the design, while not reaching Wired levels of manic-ness, feels overly self-consciously "modern," with curved edges and the like to say to readers--"see, we're now!" It has potential, but it's just not reaching it.

Reviewing the Colonel's grilled chicken | Philadelphia Inquirer | 06/02/2009

A BIRD THAT APPEARED TO HAVE BEEN RUN OVER BY A PANINI TRUCK: Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan tries KFC's new "grilled" chicken.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

WELTANSCHAUUNG: EW's Mark Harris (rapidly approaching fave status, though no vote has been taken yet) moonlights for New York Magazine to talk to Woody Allen and Larry David about their new collaboration, Whatever Works (a script Allen originally wrote with Zero Mostel in mind), and muses on the state of Jewish comedy:
By the time Seinfeld became a hit, the idea of otherness, or even of depression, as central to Jewish comedy already seemed quaint. And today, in the age of Jon Stewart, it feels downright ancient. Stewart can be smart, impassioned, engaged, shticky, earnest—but neurosis, into which he playfully dips, isn’t the most deeply felt aspect of what he does. When he assumes the stance of a wimp or a weakling, it’s lightly ironic, a costume from the Jewish past he can don for a laugh, then shrug off.

At the movies, Allen’s most natural heir and the most successful representative of the new Jewish humor is Judd Apatow, who has pointedly put Jewish characters in many of his mainstream comedies (a genre that tends to omit potentially discomforting details like religion). To those of us raised on Allen’s films, Apatow’s schlumpy, relaxed good guys may hardly seem Jewish at all — they’re more defined by their status as slackers, stoners, horndogs, and underachievers. They might have grown up asking the Four Questions at the Seder table, but they wear their religious heritage with a casualness — neither obsessive nor dismissive — that is light-years from the scratchy suit in which Allen seemed trapped. “F*ck you guys, I’m glad I’m not Jewish,” grumbles the excluded-feeling non-Semite in Seth Rogen’s Knocked Up posse. “So are we,” Rogen shoots back with a smirk. “You weren’t ‘chosen’ for a reason."

Even fifteen years ago, some comedy elders might have derided the, let’s call it, Reform Jewish humor of Stewart and Apatow (and Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Adam Sandler, and countless others) as “assimilationist.” Today, the charge is irrelevant. The new comics haven’t assimilated; rather, they were born into a comedy culture that has Jewish humor so deep in its DNA that they’re naturally at home in it.
WHERE WE BELONG, ON THE ROOF, WITH PEOPLE, IN ARMS, SHIT CREEK WITHOUT A PADDLE: The Spacefamily caught Up this weekend, and I have to say, it's my favorite movie of all time starring Ed Asner. As I mentioned before, I had some hesitation -- a fish-out-of-water story set in the jungle seems like a well-ploughed field -- but I enjoyed it. Some of what Pixar does best is taking an old joke, say a talking dog or three, and making a fresh approach to it. So while some of the symbolism was a bit heavy, pun intended (his house is his past, and he's dragging it around, see?), the gags were on-target, the danger compelling, and the pace brisk once the house came unmoored.

And yet, a caution to those with young children: the movie begins with a death, the dogs are pretty scary, and the climactic fight scene is violent and ends violently. Bonus fright for those of us with acrophobia.
For the second in our series of roundtables looking back at the TV season, we consider things that either were underrated or were too seldom discussed. Hint: None of these involved Melissa Rycroft.

Phil: I'm not sure it is truly under-appreciated (couple of Emmys, big kudos to the senior lead, Mrs. Bullock and others supporting), but it has gone un-discussed around these parts: I have been sucked into Breaking Bad. They made it easy to catch up on the first season during the run-up to the second season premiere and I have watched every episode enthusiastically down the stretch. The finale is waiting on the DVR when I get back from this trip. The amazing thing about the show is that it has managed to remain humorous while slowly raising the stakes surrounding each character's transgressions, difficulties, and compromises. It's hard to do real justice to the darkness and absurdity without dissuading potential viewers. Folks will just wind up thinking, "but I don't WANT to see a methamphetamine addict crushed under the ATM machine he was foolish enough to steal but too foolish to pry open, even if it is a murderous act of his skanky heroin-addicted wife that is thereafter humorously attributed to one of the show's hapless and harmless (but for being a meth dealer) protagonists." That's what I'd be thinking, if it were described to me. Turns out I do very much want to see exactly that, the severed head of a Mexican Mob informant riding a turtle through the desert, and much, much more. Perhaps the highlight this season for me personally was when the junior protagonist explains to the senior protagonist that, in their business, he doesn't need a criminal lawyer, he needs a criminal lawyer. Very well acted, and believable in a moment-to-moment way even when implausibly plotted. Side effects may include an nagging urge to shave one's head, desensitization to half-screen promotional animations for In Plain Sight, and actual occassional (perhaps semi-regrettable) viewing of In Plain Sight (which, let's face it, is for girls).

Adam: Can we please start discussing Michael Emerson as one of tv's best character actors? I have no idea what he'll do after LOST -- can he be a romcom lead? -- but if he doesn't win an Emmy in these last two years, something is wrong.

Bob: Among under-discussed shows, 24 comes to mind, which I still watch. I would describe the season that ended recently as diverting, but not resoundingly good. The show was resoundingly good in its first season and has been uneven in subsequent seasons. Because of the DirecTV deal, we did not discuss FNL as much this season as we used to do, but I found this season very enjoyable.

Isaac: The supporting cast of Chuck gets not enough love. Sure, it gets plenty of love from a few people, but really, not enough mainstream love. Ryan McParlin takes a character that in most hands would be a complete fratty douchebag and instead turns him into a stout, charming lug. Josh Gomez is terrific in a role with an impossible job description: bridge the gap believably between the cartoon world of the Buy More, the action world of Chuck's spy life, and the humanity of Chuck's real world, while adding some pathos of his own. As for Jeffster!, well, duh, Jeffster! And I'll second Bob's mention of FNL -- because of its weird split season, it flew under the radar. The Smash sendoff and the finale were pantheon-level, though. In a season of awesome surprising renewals, FNL's was the best.

Matt: Let's distinguish between shows that are underdiscussed here and those that are underdiscussed in the mainstream media. Sure, I could toss out things like Alan Tudyk's performance in the last couple of episodes of Dollhouse, pretty much the entirety of the cast of Friday Night Lights, or the wonder of Adam Baldwin's grunts, but those get enough attention here. I'll offer up a pair of shows we've rarely talked about and that don't get a ton of critical love, or even love from gossips like Ausiello, though: (1) "My Boys"--We talk a lot about how HIMYM is, in some ways, the new Friends, but this arguably shares a little more of the traditional sitcom DNA than does HIMYM, and the performances are all big fun. Sure, some of the characters can be one-note, but Jim Gaffigan in particular consistently brings the funny, and the character are pretty much all people who you actually like and want to hang out with even despite douchebag intervention. And by largely abandoning serialized stories this season and leaving the utterly implausible "PJ is a sportswriter!" plotlines, it's gotten even more solid. Sadly, it won't be back for a full a year. (2) "NCIS"--In the endless wasteland of CBS's alphabet soup of police procedurals, this is the only one I've picked up watching on a regular basis. Yes, the mysteries are often either ones you figure out immediately or ones that follow the "Oh my god! The bad guy is suddenly chasing us!" model made popular by Sue Grafton, but it's not about plot. It's about characters, who are genuinely likable. Indeed, in a lot of ways, it's a family drama with Mark Harmon as the father figure, Michael Weatherly and Cote De Pablo as the squabbling teenagers, Sean Murray and Pauley Perrette as the dorky kids, and David McCallum as the grandfather. While other CBS shows try to hip themselves up--the de-geeking of the CSI franchise is notable in recent years and the backdoor pilot of NCIS: LA lacked any charm whatsoever, in part because the characters were all "awesome!"--this one keeps it on the level.

Kim: I was genuinely shocked a few weeks ago when I heard that Without a Trace had been cancelled -- both by the fact of the cancellation itself and by the media silence surrounding the cancellation. This for a show that was garnering 12.5 million viewers per week and consistently landing in the Nielsen top 20, after having endured several timeslot shifts to help CBS bolster underperforming nights. Without a Trace had a great cast (Anthony LaPaglia! Marianne Jean-Baptiste! Poppy Montgomery!) and compelling storylines, not to mention a big fat Bruckheimer budget -- reportedly around $3mm per episode. In the current "give Jay Leno 1/3 of all NBC primetime programming hours" environment, I guess the cancellation of an expensive eight-year-old procedural shouldn't come as that much of a surprise, but it's odd to me that the show will end its run much as it lived it -- without a trace.
MOMMY'S ALL RIGHT, DADDY'S ALL RIGHT: You know what improves anything? Some Cheap Trick! (Spurred by this.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

LOOK AT THE SIRENS ON THE COP CARS/LOOK AT THE POP STARS: We're kicking off a series of roundtable posts summing up the recently concluded TV season, which as you know always starts in September and gradually builds toward a hatch implosion and a thirteen-year-old struggling to keep from dropping the over-heavy Scripps trophy on some CEO's foot. Today's topic, to start us off, is the year in unscripted television:

Adam: We had two nice, but not compelling seasons of The Amazing Race this year, and it's good that they've almost wholly abandoned the wacky eating challenges and emphasis on physical challenges. Still, it'd be nice to have a season that filled its cast looking not for compelling personal narratives but instead for solid, creative, competitive racers. I also have to note that thanks to my wife, I did not miss a single episode of Rock of Love 3: Skanks on a Bus, and hated myself for enjoying it every time.

Bob: Assuming that unscripted programming includes sports, I'd like to note that I found the Celtics-Bulls NBA playoff series from about a month ago immensely entertaining. Four of the seven games were decided in overtime, which shattered the old record of two OT games in a single series. Game 6, which Chicago won, was a triple-OT classic that was incredibly exciting. Only one of the first six games was decided by more than three points. There were so many great plays during this series that they have all blurred together. Ray Allen was clutch. So was Derrick Rose. A compilation of the top ten plays of the series is here.

Matt: I watch a lot less unscripted programming than many around here--not watching Idol or America's. Next. Top. Model. goes a long way to that. That said, the biggest moment of unscripted television of the season has to be Jason Mesnick's douchebaggery at the end of The Bachelor, which generated far more discussion than such a show ought to--even though I do not watch the show, I'm familiar with it. Another moment of note comes from the world of sports, and technically, is in the post-season, and that's LeBron James' visible tears as Cleveland again choked it away on Saturday night. Just painful. As for my favorite brief moment of unscripted programming? That's an easy call. It involves Anderson Cooper, Michael Phelps, and a swimming pool. Take a look.

Kim: Most notable for me in the world of reality programming is the surprising fact that all modeling shows have evaporated from my schedule. After consistently watching Tyra for years and even adding in Make Me a Supermodel last season, both shows festered on my DVR this year before I finally deleted them, unwatched. More modeling, less personal struggling, please.

Isaac: Like Kim, the thing I noticed the most looking back on this season's reality is how much I've dropped. I got bored with the sameness (and in some cases Tyraness) of ANTM, TAR, and RW/RR Challenge and turfed them; I couldn't remember if there even was a Runway this past year; I put Survivor into "if I get around to it" DVR limbo (though I always did eventually get around to it), and I found talking about Idol more fun than watching it. I will say that Survivor continues to offer depressing evidence that the human condition is never to mature beyond middle school, as evidenced by the fact that you can have a unanimous winner even though the winner and the runner-up did materially everything exactly the same, the only difference between them being one's winning smile and the other's nerdy glasses.
SAY HI TO MY MOTHER FOR ME: I pass along this request from the frequent reader and infrequent commenter also known as my mother:
Last year when preparing for a vacation that included Paris and Barcelona you folks gave fabulous advice on location themed reading for the trip. I'd love to have input for this year's journey involving Baltic capitals - Copenhagen, Oslo, Wahrmund (Bullet train to Berlin), St. Petersburg and Tallin. Also planned are side trips to Canterbury and Normandy.

I've purchased Kristen Lavransdatter which I figure I should read as Nobel laureate fiction. The trilogy is mighty thick, but there is a long flight and some downtime during the journey.
I've got nothing really, but I'm quite confident you folks will. In addition, we're open to our occasional discussion of "what are you reading lately?" I just finished Kevin Roose's The Unlikely Disciple--his account of taking a "semester abroad" from Brown not overseas, but to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, which I found quite interesting--and am now plowing through the new Harlan Coben, which seems to have recaptured a fair amount of the humor that marked his early books, which has been missing in more recent ones.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

TOMORROW'S CULTURE TODAY: Okay, so we had no idea on the whole Galifianakis thing, but more than a year after Alex noticed the phenomenon, Andy Samberg just had a clip-filled song during the MTV Movie Awards (w/Will Ferrell and JJ Abrams) titled "Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions, They Just Turn And Walk Away." We'll add the video when available in the AM (pls let me know when better is available) and any other thoughts you have on this hypefest are welcome.
LEADING IN RATINGS WITH MY CHIN: I want to make what I'm sure will be an unpopular argument around here, and one I'm not sure will actually be proven true. Indeed, I seriously hope it will be proven untrue--that theory is this--"Jay Leno at 10 PM will be a huge success for NBC." My arguments:
  • For as much as the Reporters Who Write About Television and the "cultural elites" hate him, the general public lurves Leno. He's been creaming Letterman for years--drawing 5.7 million viewers a night. Admittedly, that's not high by network primetime standards--though it's on par with what The Unusuals has done for ABC on Wednesdays at 10, and what Southland did for NBC Thursdays at 10 after its solid premiere numbers. If his viewership is steady, he's a winner.
  • Leno doesn't have any competition in the slot. Not only is there no variety show competition in the slot, there's no comedy there. Looking at the fall schedule, 10 PM is pretty heavy on the downer shows--Castle and The Mentalist are both cop shows with comic elements, and Eastwick looks like it's going to have some comic elements, but for people looking to laugh, Leno is the only real option.
  • Leno is "safe." There are clearly a lot of viewers of Dancing With The Stars that have decided that they don't like Castle, and I don't see Jerry Bruckheimer procedural The Forgotten appealing to that audience either. Leno's an appealing option to that group, which I'm guessing will skew older.
  • The economic argument. Even with Leno's outrageous salary, an hour of his show will be at least half the cost of an hour drama, especially one with a big starry cast (like Parenthood) or one that requires a lot of location shooting and stunt work (Heroes, Trauma). NBC may come out ahead even with lower ratings.
  • Leno is DVR-proof. It loses any timeliness or interest after it's aired. It's immediate--no one is going to be TiVoing his show to watch over the weekend.
  • Given how horrific NBC at 10 has been this season, with the exception of Law & Order: Extra Tasty Crispy, there's nowhere to go but up.
  • It's better than the alternative--having Leno take big bucks and potentially destroy Tonight, one of the most lucrative shows on television, by going on against it. There's an opportunity cost here that has to be netted out.
I want to emphasize that I don't WANT this to happen--nor am I sure that this actually will happen, but I think it's possible we could see in the fall not the epic Fail that many are expecting, but a win for NBC.
A BLEG DIRECTED TO OUR YOUNGER AND/OR HIPPER READERS: Help me understand the whole Zach Galifianakis thing, esp. with whatever YouTube clips you believe would be most helpful.
MUSIC! MAKES THE PEOPLE! COME TOGETHER! YEAH! Yes, Kris Allen won Idol and is winning the singles sales race at iTunes--"No Boundaries" is at #14, while Lambert's "Mad World" is at #29 on the iTunes overall sales chart. But dig a little deeper by looking at the "Pop" category, and it seems like Adam's fanbase may be a little more rabid, which could bode well for album and touring for him. Lambert has 10 solo songs on the "Pop 100," along with his "Slow Ride" duet. Allen has 6. Both have two versions of one song charting twice--"One" and "Heartless," respectively--as they're selling well in versions found on different albums. Other things of note in the Hot and Pop 100:
  • It's remarkable by how few artists the Pop 100 is dominated--Lady Gaga has 6 tracks, Beyonce and David Cook have 5 tracks each, David Cook has 5, Katy Perry has 4, Pink, Britney, the Pussycat Dolls, Rihanna, and Black Eyed Peas each have 3 and Lily Allen, Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson, Natasha Bedingfield, and the Veronicas each have 2.
  • Some oldies continue to chart--Biz Markie hits 88 and 99 on the Hot 100 with "Just A Friend," "Don't Stop Believin'" still charts at 43 on the Hot 100 for the Journey version (the Glee cast version is #10), "In The Air Tonight" charts at 58 on the Pop 100 (I assume courtesy of "The Hangover"), "Eye of The Tiger" charts at 59 on the Pop 100, "Graduation (Friends Forever)" lingers at 97 in its annual run up the Pop 100, and ba-da-da! "Sweet Caroline" is at 91 on the Pop 100.
tWHEN I COME TO AMERICA, PIZZA IS MY HAPPINESS: For those of you not following the competitive eating mid-season, Kobayashi defeated Joey Chestnut in a P'Zone eating contest, inhaling 5 3/4 of them in six minutes. Interestingly, neither of the competitors stopped to dip their P'Zone is the marinara sauce.

Kobayashi - the best competitive eater of all time - has also announced he will likely retire after the Nathan's Hot Dog contest this July 4.