Saturday, September 19, 2009

THIS EMMY SMELLS LIKE CUMIN: In case NPH hosting alone isn't sufficient awesomeness, how does a Dr. Horrible production number tomorrow night sound to you? No word on if there's any new material, who's writing, or who's involved, though tweets from Maurissa Tancharoen and Felicia Day suggest that they may be. Coverage will be live in some form during the show (though we're still deciding if just through an open thread or through CoverItLive--if you have thoughts on the subject, weigh in below.

ETA: There seems to be some CIL demand, so I think I've set one up, which'll go up not long after 7:30 to let us discuss pregame and/or red carpet. If you have suggestions for Tweets we should pipe in (we'll almost certainly be putting in Sepinwall and Feinberg's, with maybe some of the celebs who've claimed they're planning on Tweeting while there) or participants, we're more than happy.

GO AHEAD. NAME A SECOND EMMA LAZARUS POEM: The year 5770 begins in controversy as National Museum of American Jewish History has announced its first 18 inductees into its "Only in America" Hall of Fame. Sure, gimmes like Einstein, Brandeis, Koufax, Salk and Bernstein made the first cut for induction, but looking at the initial 218 nominees reveals some serious omissions from this inaugural class. Where are the Marx Brothers? Joe Shuster and Jerome Siegel, the creators of Superman? Perhaps some sporting love for Berg, Greenberg or Spitz?

Youngest nominees? Sergey Brin and Larry Page, whose religion I had never contemplated. And I'm just guessing that nominees Judah Benjamin and Bess Myerson will be waiting a long time for the induction call.

[edited for clarity]

Friday, September 18, 2009

LIGHT'S OUT: It is hard to imagine a scripted television program from today lasting another seventy years, yet that's what Guiding Light did -- fifteen years on radio, and another fifty-six years of serialized, daily television drama before ending today. Guiding Light is the only soap I ever watched -- for a few years in middle and high school, as it was my mom's show as well -- and I still have vague but fond memories of the various combinations and machinations of Bauers, Spauldings and Lewises.

The causes of the show's demise (and the soap format generally) are obvious -- scripted dramas cost much more than talk shows to produce, and the stay-at-home television audience is not what it was for reasons of feminism and economics. But it's important to acknowledge that we are rapidly losing an American cultural form as unique as the Broadway musical, however silly and archaic this one may seem, and it is a loss.

Last night, Jen and I went to see comedian Jeffrey Ross do a reading of his new memoir, I Only Roast the Ones I Love. And beyond all the well-timed barbs (NSFW) at the random members of the audience ("Who dressed you for tonight, FEMA?" "You look like the son of Art Garfunkel and ... help me out here ..." to which the respondent offered Larry Fine) was a deep respect for the roasters of an earlier age -- Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett in particular. Ross fears the art of the tummler is dying, and while he's doing what he can to keep it alive and tell stories of the past, he had no real answer for the question of what those of us outside of the comic community could do to learn more about what made the Berles and Hacketts so memorable to them. There's no YouTube of them at their filthiest, sadly (though this ain't a bad joke) -- just the oral traditions handed down within the comedic community, and the sanitized versions from network tv of what they could do. The Borscht Belt is dead, and its comedians are on cultural life support.

[Incidentally, both Ross and I are reading the same book right now: I'm Dying Up Here, William Knoedelseder's book on the 1970s Los Angeles comedy scene. More on that later.]
STANLEY WITH THE POISON PRETZEL IN THE PARKING LOT:Yes, it's Clue: The Office. Jim, Pam, Angela, Phyllis, Stanley, and Dwight must determine who "killed" Toby as part of a fun team-building exercise from Michael Scott.
THE PLACE IS LIKE A MUSEUM. IT'S VERY BEAUTIFUL AND VERY COLD AND YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH ANYTHING: Even with the interest generated by John Hughes' death, my neighbors are still having trouble selling Cameron Frye's house (hopefully they aren't using Ferris' description in the marketing materials), so much so that Landmarks Illinois has listed the home on its Chicagoland Watch List for 2009-10 (among the other interesting sites is Marlon Brando's high school). Be sure to watch the accompanying video about the house, which is historic and worth saving for many more reasons beyond it being the site of Ferrari crashing into a ravine.

And speaking of Hughes, The Chicago Tribune's Christopher Borrelli wrote an interesting look back at Hughes' high school oeuvre and how it ruined his life. Borrelli also provides a sure-to-be controversial list of the 10 best high school movies since Hughes' last (1987's Some Kind of Wonderful), which includes such perennial faves as Dazed and Confused and Mean Girls alongside more obscure choices like Raising Victor Vargas and The Class.
NOW I'MMA GONNA LET YOU FINISH: But Beyonce has the most sinister mind control video of all time.
WHEN I COME AROUND: For those of you anticipating the Green Day musical coming to Broadway, here's a review of the world premiere in Berkeley.

Also, if you've got $4.9M burning a hole in your pocket, you can buy Billie Joe Armstrong's pad in Oakland.
MEATBALLS! CORN! MEGAN FOX! Even though we're in September, traditionally the beginning of awards-bait movie season, interesting to see that we have four movies all clearly aiming for commercial success this weekend, with each targeting a decidedly different demographic.
  • Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, which, despite vocal turns from Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and NPH, seems to be pitched squarely at kids. I certainly have some fond memories of the book from growing up, but the film's visual style seems too slick to square with the book. That said, it's getting solid reviews and there's a lack of kid-friendly fare out there.
  • The Informant! which is aimed squarely at the market of folks who wonder "why hasn't there been a good comedy about antitrust law and price fixing?" I suspect a substantial portion of that market consists of folks reading this very blog.
  • Jennifer's Body, which is an (apparently quite bloody) horror flick (minus) featuring a leading "performance" from Megan Fox (minus on acting, plus on visual) written by Diablo Cody (plus, but YMMV), also featuring J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, and Amanda Seyfried (all plusses).
  • Love Happens, which looks like Nights In Rodanthe minus 10 years, though it's always nice to see Judy Greer and Martin Sheen working.
What (if anything) is getting your box office dollar this weekend?
THE AUDACITY OF KNOPE:We also figure there might be some desire to discuss the remainder of NBC's "Comedy Night Done Right," so some thoughts to start you off. (Needless to say, this does not address The Jay Leno Show, which, based on my viewing of Monday's episode, qualifies as neither "comedy" nor much of anything "done right.")

Parks and Recreation had a shaky start last year, and both as it's progressed and over the summer, the show's had some time to find its footing. It's still not working as well as The Office does, in part because they haven't figured out how to use the supporting cast as well--this may be because The Office employs a bunch of writer-performers (Carell, Novak, Kaling, and Lieberstein all have writing credits), while Parks separates those functions more tightly. Also, they've clearly made the decision to make Leslie less nakedly-ambitious and more Michael Scott-y--in particular, the cold open was pure Michael Scott. But still, little touches and reveals like Leslie's "I was trying to be cute!" defense to the charges against her, the Shepard-Fairey-esque KNOPE posters, the discussion of April's romantic status, and where Andy is currently living make it a worthy addition to the lineup.

On the other hand, Community seems to have its footing instantly. I, like many of you, would happily watch Joel McHale snark next to a blank screen for 22 minutes (and do so most Fridays). I'd seen the pilot earlier when NBC streamed it on Facebook to build buzz, but a second watch made me catch even more jokes, and be reminded again of the timelessness of John Hughes. I'm not sure how long they can keep up a show with the lead being so relentless a douchebag (though, as revealed at the end of the episode, a douchebag with at least something of heart). It's a nice fit for the lineup, falling somewhere between the relative realism of The Office and the over-the-top cartooniness of 30 Rock, yet makes an awful lead-in to Leno, given that the show and McHale are plainly pitched at a Letterman/Stewart comic sensibility to which Jay is the antithesis.
AND THAT'S WHAT MAKES [SPARTACUS] SUCH A GREAT WHODUNIT: Solid, solid return for The Office last night, in an episode that had just about everything you'd want -- Michael turning a bad situation worse, Pam/Jim sweetness, more Stanley and, of course, the internet sensation of 2004 -- parkour. And Andy Bernard -- oh, Andy, we can't wait to hear what Broccoli Rob has to say about you. The show has such a rich supporting cast that deserves to be celebrated in many ways, including this one:

Indeed, a friend at NBC/Universal has hooked me up with five of the new Office bobblehead dolls -- Kevin, Oscar, Phyllis, Creed and Angela (with Sprinkles), with my preexisting Dwight in the middle -- and they sit comfortably well next to my Green Bag justices and talking NPH and Kenneth the Page bobbles. Certainly worthy of gifting for Rosh Hashanah, Columbus Day or an upcoming holiday of your choosing. (Gift yourself one. The Ryan comes with its own Dundie.)

As for SNL:WUT, meh. When even "Really?" is weak, you're in trouble, and the Joe Wilson opener was one obvious joke stretched too long. Only highlight, IMHO, was Kristen Wiig's Madonna-at-the-VMAs tribute, but again, I still hate the tell-don't-show mentality that ruined the blinking joke. Matt will cover the rest of NBC's Thursday comedy lineup (and Leno isn't "comedy") in a bit.
THE LOMBARDI TROPHY OF ERISED: There is no better marker of the return of football season than a San Francisco Chronicle piece lamenting that Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. no longer runs the 49ers. Of course, the ownership group since DeBartolo-York took over has been criminally incompetent. Which, for my selfish purposes, is worse than just being criminal.
14 m, 47 s: Yes, all the cool kids are doing it. But.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

TWAS A BRAVE MAN WHO FIRST ET A ... MUFFIN A LA MODE? It's a tie! (Look for hanging chad.) Results of Humiliation II are final (enough), as 162/163 respondents have, except for Dillard, tried a muffin in their lives, and tried vanilla ice cream, unlike Sue. Coming in a close third was Michele M, whose deviant non-tendency of avoiding chewing gum is shared by one Alan Sepinwall.

Cottage cheese and egg salad were the most-avoided foods, though for the folks falling one shy of perfection their most-avoided food was canned pasta -- one-third of them have not enjoyed the recipes of Ettore Boiardi.

The honor roll of 54 respondents who've tried everything: Racharooni, Maggie, HeatherK, Aimee, littleredcar, Scott, Dan S., Tony, Heather P, nena, Andrew, Maret, Alex Gordon, patricia, smm, chad, Frank, Meghan, Eric J., Benner, kt, lauri, Amy, Nowhereman, Adlai, polarama, Lori, Becky C, slowlylu, jane, Will, Kitty, Maryann, jj, amy (lowercase version), Becca S, Steph (take two), anne57, amanda, Charlie, Alex's son, bill, sarah, MichaelG, Genevieve, Mandee, KR, Tosy and Cosh, Joseph Finn, J. Bowman, Paul Tabachneck, KCosmo's neighbor, JD, Mo1, Jim Bell. Note in particular that Maret, Adlai and Joseph Finn share the Canonical Crown so far, having eaten everything on this list and seen all the cultural works on Tuesday's. [Median was 21 of 22, average was 19.88.]

Results spreadsheet is a Google Document which you are free to manipulate and analyze as you see fit. [Results have been corrected since initial posting.]
ADAM; ADAM & STEVE: We aren't regularly covering the audition rounds of SYTYCD, but I did want to note three things about the show that made me happy yesterday:
  • The show announced that Adam Shankman is now a permanent third judge. I don’t know whether this means no more guest judges or they're just going to expand to four (I trust Nigel to keep the show on time even if it's the latter), but it doesn't matter. Shankman is hands-down my favorite of all of the judges, guest or permanent. He's articulate, knowledgable, constructive, entertaining, credentialed, upbeat, and enthusiastic. He enjoys the dancers, enjoys their dancing, and enjoys dancing himself -- he quite memorably got up on the spur of the moment to dance ballroom with an amateurish auditioner last season, softening the rejection quite a bit. He doesn't have a schtick, like Mary's yelling, or a hangup, like Nigel's macho fetish or Li'l C's hatred of the English language. Love this move.
  • In one of the "this season on SYTYCD" audition montages last season, they showed a snippet of an insane move -- a guy skittering across the floor on his hands with his body parallel to the floor -- that they never showed on the show proper. Now I know why: it's from this season. That move belongs to B-boy Legacy (who apparently choreographs with Lauren), whose crab walk and slo-mo headstands are amazing. I can't imagine he won't make the top 20.
  • Nigel apologized, sort of, for last season's "aren't the same-sex ballroom dancers disgusting freaks?" performance, putting this seasons same-sex ballroom auditioners through to Vegas (after choreography) and acknowledging that he got himself in trouble last season. This was nice enough for me to ignore that the judges' condescending "so brave/inspirational" comments to the same-sex ballroomers immediately followed virtually identical comments to Hot Deaf Girl (also through to Vegas, duh), making it seem as if the judges think gay and deaf are basically the same thing.
    GLUM: Yes, as Matt says below, last night's episode of Glee was the worst of the show's three episodes. I would go so far as to say it was a complete manic mess, hyperactively mixing nice cameos and disturbing humor with choppy exposition and extraneous performance videos. But unlike Matt, I think last night's episode was a symptom of the more systemic problems the show has -- problems that are not solved just by adding more Lea Michele.

    This is not a show whose premise is universal, like an office comedy or a family drama. Instead, it assumes the difficult task of cobbling together a mass audience comprised of discrete interest groups: musical theater fans; a cappella fans (or, rather, the presumably somewhat larger group of people who are open to becoming a cappella fans); fans of sarcastic teen comedy. Those three groups are not completely incompatable, and there may be wide areas of overlap, so that's not entirely the problem.

    The show, though, also decided to add a tone of unironic affirmation -- "be true to yourself!"; "have the guts to dream!"; "hang in there!!!" -- that may have been one element too many to maintain a workable balance. The show just seems like an endless string of inconsistencies. Pitch-perfect acid like Jane Lynch's "it's nice how you use your mental illness to help them" or Ken Tanaka's "I live at the YMCA and own only one pair of long pants" can't live comfortably with sledgehammery themes ("guts," which characters said so many times you'd think the show was anticipating a drinking game) or tacked-on platitudes ("if you believe in yourself, you don't have to bring others down," which, incidentally, was incomprehensible in context). Structural premises like "the cool kids hate Glee Club" and "the adult world mimics the teen world" are incompatible with the most anti-Glee football player joining an adult a cappella band or with the wild (and wildly unbelievable) popularity of the Acafellas among adults. It makes no sense to do a morality tale about a group of misfits succeeding because (not in spite) of their nonconformity, then dropping in a musical number featuring 20 or so identical backlit and faceless dancers gyrating suggestively in bikinis and short skirts just because that's how everybody does it in R&B videos. Those sexually aggressive (or is it objectified? You decide) dancers were high school cheerleaders, by the way -- something that Glee finds not worthy of commentary, even while it makes (funny) jokes out of both the predatory former Glee Club director and the sex obsession of the football player. And that's to say nothing of the incompatible acting styles in the show, from the default naturalism of most of the actors to Lea Michele's obvious musical-theater delivery to Quinn's impenetrable (har, har) Peggy-Olson-Meets-Mona-Lisa rictus.

    My guess is that if you like or have liked this show, it is because you are in one or more of the interest groups it is courting. The more of those interest groups that the show tries to serve, though, the greater the risk that the balance will tip away from what any one group likes and toward stuff that it doesn't like. That, I think, was the problem of last night's episode: too much comic pedophilia for the Up With People crowd; too much old white guys singing Wonderbread versions of R&B songs for the ironic-appreciation-of-Cruel-Intentions crowd; not enough Lea Michele for the folks who don't just think of Victor Garber as Spy Daddy; and too much Jessalyn Gilsig for everyone.
    WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES: in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Happy 222nd, folks.

    ETA: By popular demand, let's all sing along!
    PERHAPS THEY JUST NEEDED SOME SPIRIT FINGERS: Despite what may be the second-best performance of Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison" in TV history (this remains #1, and sadly, the English version seems to have audio disabled), the return of Vocal Adrenaline, and cameos galore (SpyDaddy! Debra Monk! John Lloyd Young!), I thought this was the weakest of the three episodes of Glee we've seen so far. Not nearly enough Rachel, and the entire "Mercedes has no Gaydar" plotline seemed implausible to me. But I have a feeling that an episode with a lot of New Jack Swing performed a cappella will have more than a few fans around here, so talk amongst yourselves and don't give up your dream of hitchhiking across Europe yet.
    DO YOU KNOW THE VANILLA-SCENTED MUFFIN MAN? Voting remains open a wee bit longer on Humiliation Round 2: The Palate, and I want to remind everyone that you can't win if you don't yourself vote. Right now, given that, we're looking at a close to a three-way-tie between muffins, chewing gum and vanilla ice cream on the "you won't believe I haven't eaten" metric, so please weigh in.

    ALOTT5MA Management intends to bring this format back only as a weekly feature, fearing that if we run it every day we'll burn it out like ABC did with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, only without the nude picnicker.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    A GAME OF HORSESHOES? A GAME OF HORSESHOES! No lessons from this week's Top Chef Vegas, because I think we already understood these three (1) it's hard to cook cactus well; (2) in an outdoors grilling challenge, you probably ought to apply open flame to your food; and (3) if Tom spits out your food, that's a bad sign. And yet despite how many competitors we've still got left, I felt like this week's episode took a leisurely pace in which every chef (save Somerton's Jennifer Carroll, surprisingly) seemed to get a solid amount of face time. Not the world's most innovative cooking -- and lord knows Tim Love was among the more bitter judges we've had -- but I'm still quite happy with our season.
    OH BABE, SHE HATES TO GO: I'm only mildly ashamed to admit that my first concert was shortly after my family moved to Dallas in the seventh grade, when my whole family went to see Peter, Paul and Mary perform at the then Starplex Amphitheatre in Fair Park, and that The Best of Peter Paul and Mary: Ten Years Together was a staple cassette on long toad trips of my youth. Mary Travers passed away today after a 5 year fight with leukemia. She sang lead on the group's only U.S. #1--a wistful version of John Denver's "Leaving On A Jet Plane," and their version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind." Her songs leave a ringing cultural legacy of the 60s and 70s, as well as reminding us that not every problem of that era has been resolved.
    READING IT IS LIKE COMING HOME TO THE SMELL OF WARM APPLE PIE (FOOD METAPHOR): I've missed Fire Joe Morgan so much that every couple of months (usually prompted by terrible baseball article or that Mark Whicker piece) I punch up the old URL in the hope that somebody quietly updated it. Every time, though, it's the same sad, funny farewell post. So you can imagine my excitement when I read that FJM would be guest-editing Deadspin today.

    You know how sometimes you get really excited for something, and then it happens, and it's really disappointing? Like Studio 60 or the Seinfeld finale? Nope, that did not happen at all.

    Instead, we got brilliance like this Ken Tremendous takedown of a writer who basically thinks Jeter should be the AL MVP because he's a Yankee, or this DAK piece about somebody who doesn't think Calvin Johnson and Purple Jesus are STARS (caps his). Man, I've missed these guys.
    FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN THE FACT THAT MAN LIKED TO DANCE: Back in the day, I lived in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood within spitting distance of a gleaming golden statue of Alexander Hamilton. Why there was a statue of Hamilton, a man who died 33 years before the city was incorporated, remains a mystery to me, but I bring this up as way of examining an even bigger mystery, why the city's Park District is thus far refusing to make room for a donated statue of Chicago Bears great Walter Payton outside Soldier Field. We've got Jordan outside the UC, Mr. Cub and Harry Caray at Clark and Addison, seemingly every White Sox player this side of Jorge Orta at the Cell, hell, there's even a Joe DiMaggio statue over in Little Italy, so let's hope the Park District comes to it senses and creates a spot for tourists to take photos and Sunday Night Football to set establishing shots.

    THE ONE ABOUT THE RESULTS OF YESTERDAY'S GAME (via sconstant): Apparently, someone among us didn't understand why all these women were suddenly showing up with the same haircut, what all the random clapping with umbrellas around water fountains was about, or why the show Joey was greenlighted (well, none of us understand the last one).

    And that person, the winner of the first annual ALOTT5MA Humie award, is Nowhereman. 136 people of 140 participants had seen Friends. (Technically this means the Humie should be shared with 3 others, we acknowledge and quickly moveon.)

    Runner-up humiliees were: KR who missed ET (134 people didn't) and several million school bus jokes (Q: What's ET short for? A: He has little legs.); jam, who missed the Bunch (131); Cecelia and Jen, who have not watched the Simpsons (128 people have) or other Important Animated Sitcoms (127). Most shockingly to me, some non-trivial number of blog readers haven't seen American Idol. Other lacunae can be explained away by remoteness in time or niche-ness, but the fact that some 17% of respondents have not seen any American Idol just boggles me. Now we know why they're bringing on Ellen, I guess.

    The Anti-Humies go to the following, who gave the maximum possible points by having seen everything: Other Kate, Maret Julie S-G, Neato Torpedo, Adlai, djg, Joseph Finn, bella wilfer, emilygwynne, Deanna and Mo1's Wife. And honorable mention must go to our hermits, who have each seen 11 or fewer of the 20 candidates in the spreadsheet -- barkylab, Dan S., tina m, Barb, Becky, Renee, Janetm, Becky S and Katelyn.

    We are also calling in, because as J. Bowman notes, four people have seen an episode of the Simpsons, but have not seen any episodes of The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy or King of the Hill. Matt Groening is demanding a recount.
    I LOVE IT WHEN A CAST COMES TOGETHER:So, it seems we have a complete cast for the movie of The A-Team. Liam Neeson takes over the Hannibal role, Bradley Cooper plays Face, and some MMA fighter I've never heard of (but I pity the fool!) steps into Mr. T's shoes as B.A. Baracus. The casting of Murdock is intriguing--he'll apparently be played by District 9 star Sharlto Copley, who had no substantial credits or training before his performance in D9 and who apparently made up most of the dialogue on the spot. Your villains? Patrick Wilson as a CIA agent who I'm guessing will gratuitously take off his shirt at some point, and Jessica Biel as a former flame of Face who's now a general chasing the A-Team. Let's look back and be reminded that "if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team!"
    I'M GOING WITH THE TACO: Wow. So impressed by the response on yesterday's first attempt at the game of Humiliation that I feel compelled to go to the well once more, and here's my thought: humiliation of the palate. Name a food that you've never eaten which you believe everyone else here has. Later today, I'll take the responses that appear to be the biggest outliers and post a Doodle board again to determine the winner.

    One caveat: various religious laws and allergies may well restrict your choices in food, but unless it's an obscure one I'd assume you're not going to win. This crowd has more than one bacon-abstainer. And then tomorrow we may do this in reverse.

    Related: who wants to try the test-marketed KFC Double-Down Sandwich?

    Updated: Voting is now open. Top 22 answers on the board; click on the box of each food you have, indeed, tried.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    SAMURAI I-AM-URAI: Johns Hopkins undergrad John Pontolillo has fended off a burglar successfully. No word on whether he used a Hattori Hanzō, but Zed is clearly, indisputably dead.
    I'M GOING TO TRY TO WIN THIS WITH JAWS. YEAH, YOU HEARD ME: Frequent commenter sconstant invites us to play a game:
    The recent death of Patrick Swayze gives me a good opening for a blog entry Adam invited me to write a while ago about Pop Culture Humiliation. Not the regular kind, where your kids, who have lived high on the hog off of your German recording contracts, record you attempting to eat a hamburger on the floor of your hotel room, or where your soundboard guy leaks/fakes a recording of your wife's> backing vocal, or you intentionally try out for a reality show requiring a talent you don't have.

    I'm talking about David Lodge's game of Humiliation. In his book, Small World, partially set in a university English department, Lodge invents for his characters the game of Humiliation. "The essence of the matter is that each person names a book which he hasn't read but assumes the others have read, and scores a point for every person who has read it." One intensely competitive junior faculty member fails to get tenure after a game in which he scored high with Hamlet. The game was invented for the book, but is played out in the real world. I have watched a crowd of drunken English grad students who are playing this, and it is not a pretty (but kind of an amusing) sight as people get pretty seriously humiliated by their own high-scoring admissions.

    Anyway, in this crowd, it's not only books but music, tv, and movies. I am a pop culture devotee, but have some pretty serious holes in my education. At some point in my adulthood, I had only seen one episode of Star Trek. I was, I think the last person in the United States to> hear the song "Single Ladies," or see the video. For a long long while, the only movie I had seen with Sylvester Stallone in it was Woody Allen's Bananas. All these have since been remedied, but I have a lo> of aces up my sleeve in the pop culture Humiliation department.

    So, Thingers, have at it. What pop culture bit are you totally lacking that everyone else here will boggle at? Do your best, which is to say your worst. But perhaps it starts and ends here: I never saw Dirty Dancing, Titanic or an episode of Hill Street Blues.
    updated, 4:30p: Yeah, let's figure out a winner here. Click here to vote by checking off each of the listed works that you have seen.

    updated, Weds morning: We're close to a winner, but Nowhereman (Friends) can't win if he doesn't vote, because otherwise his totally is artificially boosted by having not not-voted on his own entry. We'll close voting later today.
    THE NAILED CHRONICLES: How is frequent ALOTT5MA bête noire Lenny Dykstra doing in his efforts to pay debts through bankruptcy? They're now auctioning off his championship and all-star rings and other baseball mementos, which you can bid on here. As the auction program (warning: large PDF) explains:
    The Lenny Dykstra Collection is consigned to Heritage by Yossi Dina, known as “the Pawnbroker to the Rich and Famous.” The proprietor of South Beverly Wilshire Jewelry and Loan, Dina has been amassing for over twenty-five years a treasure trove of rare gems, priceless antiques and fine original art from forfeited loans as well as from his years of acquiring some of the highest quality and rare collectibles from the personal Estates of internationally prominent families and celebrities. Now one of the many creditors unable to assess repayment of a loan made to Lenny Dykstra, he has employed the services of Heritage Auction Galleries to recoup the funds through the sale of this collection.
    Among the other items in that auction catalog, which is a hell of a fun timewaster? A 1919 baseball signed by both Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    I WOULD'VE CARRIED A WATERMELON: Oh, this is sad, even though it's not surprising: Patrick Swayze died today of cancer at the age of 57.

    Dirty Dancing came out in theaters in August of 1987 -- a/k/a the summer I got my driver's license. Thus having limitless abilities to get myself to the movies, I saw Dirty Dancing 19 times in the movie theater. Part of that (ridiculous, I realize) number was obviously a reflection on the excitement of living in the Philadelphia suburbs, but more of it, I think, was the fulfillment of the shiksa goddess fantasy with gender roles reversed. Jewish high school girl goes on cheesy resort vacation with family, develops huge crush on hot goyische dance teacher, and when she goes behind her parents' backs to help said hot goyische dance teacher's shiksa friend who was knocked up by smarmy Ivy League Jewish guy to whom perfect older sister will subsequently relinquish her virginity, hot goyische dance teacher actually falls in love with her and convinces like 50 dancers to do cool oft-mimicked Kenny Ortega choreography up to the stage at the end of the summer in over-the-top display of undying affection? Are you kidding me? Retrospectively, I'm surprised I didn't see the movie 119 times.

    Swayze's work didn't attact a whole lot of critical acclaim -- and I'm not arguing that it should have -- but he was in an unusually large number of movies that were seminal to our youth for one reason or another. Roadhouse, Point Break, Red Dawn, The Outsiders, and that movie about the only-mostly-dead sex at the pottery wheel that apparently sent registration in ceramics classes through the roof -- and believe me, it wasn't because Whoopi was looking so cute. I don't think I ever saw him in anything after his tranny-fierce turn in To Wong Foo with Love, Julie Newmar. (His dancing, by the way, was the real deal -- he trained at the Joffrey Ballet School, among other places, and he was a replacement Danny Zuko in the original Broadway production of Grease.)

    Setting aside all the dirty dancing and the clay and the Wolverines, the thing I've always liked about Swayze was that he was married to a woman -- another dancer, Lisa Niemi -- whom he'd met when he was 19 years old, and they were still married when he died today, 34 years later.
    PIRATES PILLAGE. PIRATES STEAL. PIRATES TAKE ADVANTAGE. (JUST NOT AFTER SUNDOWN ON FRIDAY): We have in the past mocked Survivor for their rent-a-magical-native reward challenges, to be sure. And I'll confess that my Hebrew is more than a little rusty, so I may be missing some nuances here.

    But, still, if I'm on the Israeli version of Survivor is and see this stumbling in from the jungle, I'm tanking the challenge.
    PACK YOUR KNIVES AND GO TO OPENTABLE.COM: Apparently, "my Grandma is on the Supreme Court of the United States," coupled with a little intervention from one of Chicago's most prestigious law firms, is what it takes to get you a table at Rick Bayless' Toplolobampo.
    YOU'RE A HOUSECAT. YOU'RE VERY IMPORTANT, AND YOU HAVE LITTLE TO DO: Throwaway moments eliciting feelings of generational superiority are obviously a big part of the fun of Mad Men: quaintly drinking one's way through the work day! playing with dry cleaning plastic without your mother batting an eyelash! letting your sub-10-year-old granddaughter drive! But for someone like me who had her kids post-Y2K, the notion of having a baby in the mid-60s just out-mindblows everything else I've ever seen on the show. The out-the-window visit from the family, the drugs, the complete lack of father-to-be presence (great acting by Jon Hamm during that whole stay in the waiting room), the drugs, the we'll-get-this-baby-out-of-you-by-hook-or-by-crook-so-shut-up-and-bear-down attitude from the nurse, oh, and the drugs, and especially the hilarious shot of Betty carrying baby Gene swaddled up in the front seat of the car on their way home for the first time. Yikes.

    A lot happened this episode after Don went back to the office a half-day after his wife had a baby. SuperJew Duck's return is great news from a plot standpoint -- I'm deeply curious to find out where Peggy's story will go for the rest of the season. And who knew that Pete Campbell would end up being the best darned ad man out there for the "Negro" community?
    AND TO THE LIST I SHOULD ADD "QUICKENINGS": I'm a fan of Mad Men, and in some degree or another also of House, The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica, Twin Peaks, Angel Heart, Harry Potter, American Gods, and countless other works of fiction about which I'm set to complain. Because I'd like to declare a moratorium on dreams, visions, premonitions, and hallucinations.

    I get why writers and filmmakers use them. A vision or a hallucination can both create and resolve a mystery or a conflict. A dream can conjure a mood, surreptitiously kick a leg out from under a stable reality, or shine a brighter light into particular areas of a character's mind. All of the above can be used to goad the reader into picking sides between the rational world and a character's subconscious instinct.

    Usually, though, dreams, visions, and hallucinations are at best parlor tricks and at worst just lazy writing, a way to thumb the scales when the goods themselves lack their own heft. Just because a dream can be a shortcut into a character's psyche doesn't mean that the longer trip isn't worth the trouble (and by the way, if a show or book asks you to choose between the real world and something that happens in a dream or a vision, bet the farm on the subconscious/supernatural). There are some scenes in entertainment and literature that I've seen so many times that they can get no traction any more -- sparring co-workers whose argument dissolves into spontaneous making out; the doctor who surprisingly refuses to help an irredeemable patient -- and I think I've added "self-consciously off-kilter dream sequence" and "future foretold by possibly unreliable source" to that list.

    Just ranting, really. By the way, I don't know when or if your Mad Men thread is coming, but this isn't it.
    THE WHOLE SHACK SHIMMIED:Oh, Lord. A Shake Shack a mere five minute walk from my home? Well, that's another option for lunch.
    THE EVIL INSIDE OF ME IS ON THE RISE A nice profile of ALOTT5MA fave Neil Patrick Harris in New York Magazine.
    FOR NOW AND FOREVER? It's pretty common for Off-Broadway musicals to transfer to Broadway (indeed, 3 musicals currently running made the transfer, not counting the 2 that are transfers from City Center's Encores), or for a musical to transfer to a smaller house during its run (Chicago is now at its third theatre), but for the first time, a Broadway musical will make a transfer to Off-Broadway. At its Broadway closing last night, Avenue Q announced that it will reopen in a month Off-Broadway, in a smaller house with lower ticket prices (topping out at $86.50, down from north of $100). I'm not sure how this'll work out, and it's obviously not an option for every show (can't drop the chandelier for Phantom in a smaller house), but it's certainly an interesting experiment

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    OKAY, GRANTED, THERE'S STILL THE SMALL DETAIL OF HIS NEEDING TO WIN ON MONDAY: But should he indeed become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledom and the U.S. Open in the same year, this one shot ought to ensure Roger Federer finally wins SI's Sportsman of the Year award, right?

    [Recognizing, granted, that the World Series result could give Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter a legitimate claim as well.]

    added. Joe Posnanski on The Shot. (HT: Tony H.)
    HOSTED BY RUSSELL BRAND -- WERE ORIGINAL HOSTS DAN AYKROYD AND BETTE MIDLER BUSY? The VMAs are, if nothing else, an opportunity to determine if the gap between Ourselves and The Youth of Today should be measured in inches, yards or miles.

    But tonight is a night for my generation as well, as the final MJ tribute of this summer is airing as I'm typing. Madonna's opening speech was the Queen at her most personal, sad and, per her usual, complicated. As events warrant, I'll update this post.

    updated: 1. WTF, Kanye? Tries to pull an ODB on Taylor Swift? For what? (And isn't it Jay-Z's job to speak up for Beyonce?) Ugly, stoopid. (Added: video.)

    2. There's an energy and near-recklessness to this show (Russell Brand, Lady GaGa, Green Day) that's kinda compelling. Couldn't care less about the awarding, of course.

    3. I sure hope Jimmy Fallon isn't "our generation's David Letterman" in any respect other than "he hosts the 12:30am show on NBC." Also, the Pink circus performance was just plain wack (in a good way) -- just reminds us how much the artists have riding on getting buzz out of these few remaining mass events.

    4. Beyonce, wow. Invites Taylor Swift up again to finish her speech rather than say much on her own in accepting Video of the Year. Great moment. I never thought I could turn on Kanye, but he's earned all the boos now.

    5. Performances worth watching: Taylor Swift goes underground; Pink's tribute to Circus of the Stars.