Saturday, December 12, 2009

WHAT WOULD JOAN DO? On the off chance we needed more evidence that Christina Hendricks is awesome, let's look at pictures from her Holiday party.

Friday, December 11, 2009

SO IF YOU BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS, CHILDREN, LIKE YOUR UNCLE BILLY DOES, THEN BUY THIS FESTERING TURD OF A RECORD: Wagering is now active for this year's UK Christmas #1 Single, with the odds so stacked in favor of Whoever Wins X-Factor This Week that you can also bet on the number two. What's that -- Rage Against The Machine is in the running? Yes, you can do what they told you. Or it could be Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody. Or Robbie Williams, George Michael and Michael Buble, who will all be appearing in the X-Finale.

[Last year's coverage collected here.]
HAPPY HANUKKAH: With tonight marking the beginning of the festival of lights, 11 Points has a list of the 11 Most Badass Jews in History, and no, the imagined offspring of Lenny Kravitz and Courtney Love does not make the cut.

MAN, I CAN'T FIND NOTHING ON THE RADIO: Rolling Stone has its own solid decade in review issue out now, but something of interest is they provide the list of the top 10 songs with the most "spins" on radio during the decade--I'm assuming it's not just pop/Top 40 formats, based on some of the selections, but I still shiver a bit. Here's the list:
  1. "How You Remind Me"--Nickelback
  2. "Drops of Jupiter"--Train
  3. "Hanging By A Moment"--Lifehouse
  4. "Breathe"--Faith Hill
  5. "Kryptonite"--Three Doors Down
  6. "The Way You Love Me"--Faith Hill
  7. "I Hope You Dance"--Lee Ann Womack
  8. "Wherever You Will Go"--The Calling
  9. "Smooth"--Santana f/ Rob Thomas
  10. "The Reason"--Hoobastank
Interestingly as well, for all the noise of singles driving album sales in the pre-iTunes era of the early 00s, none of the top 13 selling albums of the decade (a list topped by The Beatles, 1, followed by NSYNC, Norah Jones, and two Eminem albums) contain any of those singles, though Nickelback's All The Right Reasons and Santana's Supernatural are at 14 and 15.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

YUKON CORNELIUS: What this season of Top Chef proved, much to my chagrin, is that there does come a point at which consistent excellence and competence only goes so far, and wacky interpersonal nonsense is needed for flavoring. Or maybe it's just that the Brothers Voltaggio were never quite interesting enough, or that once you've seen the Masters this will feel like amateur hour.

So, overall: loved that the eliminations made sense, loved the panel of death episode, thrilled that my Somerton homegirl Jennifer Carroll did so well, hate Toby Young, and just don't know how to feel about all the predictability. (Also, were any of these chefs as good as Hung or Stefan?)
FEEDBACK LOOP: A thought about Glee that's a little too long for comments--the show developed in a way unusual for network TV. The 13 episodes we just finished seeing were substantially complete and in the can by the time the second episode aired. Courtesy of the Internet, it's easier than ever for show writers to communicate with the audience outside of the show (through Twitter, blogs, and the like) and to get feedback directly from the audience. Now, at least one creator has claimed she doesn't make changes based on audience feedback, and we know of at least one incident where involvement with online fans directly got incorporated into the show. HBO also traditionally follows this model, producing a full season of episodes before airing even one.

But the question I want to ask is whether Glee is better or worse off without the feedback the audience would have provided on those first 13 episodes (though we have to assume that the network provided notes). Sure, we might have had some improvements--a quicker end to the fake pregnancy story arc, more singing and more Sue--but we might also have seen more pressure to amp up various relationships on the show, in particular the Rachel/Puck and Puck/Quinn shippers, who are quite loud.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I AM SPARTACUS? Honestly, I was more than a bit underwhelmed by tonight's Modern Family--we largely left the three family units separate rather than having them bounce off one another in different combinations, and I found the O'Neill/Vergara plotline ineffective--but there was still an awful lot of funny there (particularly in the Mitchell/Cameron plotline), and I'm hoping and expecting Fred Willard will recur as Phil's dad, which is just perfect casting
I SAW HER TODAY AT THE RECEPTION: Well, if you don't know at the end of your first 13 episode order if you're getting picked up for the back nine, you might as well throw in the kitchen sink in Glee #13 -- the evening's second reference to Miss Effie White, twists and turns and revenges and revelations, new songs, delayed reactions and a whole lot of rescrambling.

Did it all work? No. Here's a hint for folks involved in television's creative process: when you know what you've got is good, you don't need to give the viewers reaction shots confirming it. We don't need to see Mr. Schue crying while listening to the kids, or audience members dancing in the aisles. Trust us to get it.

But I will say this much: Lea Michele's "Don't Rain On My Parade" was show-stoppingly, astonishingly good, even for a performer who has set our expectations so high all season. As manipulative as this episode was (yes, all television manipulates emotion -- that's the point -- but this was excessive), you can't fake moments like that. Glee is ambitious, messy, imperfect and sad at its core, and its April return cannot come soon enough.
TERRIFIC TET!: I'm sure I have plugged these guys before, but if you need stocking stuffers or other small gifts this month, American Science and Surplus is pretty darn awesome. Frenel Lenses, Geiger Counters, magnifying bug boxes. Everything you've ever seen at a science museum gift store, they've got. I once blew a decent chunk of an afternoon at the Chicago store with commentor sconstant.
SOMEHOW, LOU REED DIDN'T OPT FOR THAT TITLE: It's a truth pretty much universally acknowledged that "Are You Hot?," the Lorenzo Lamas-hosted "Search For America's Sexiest People," was the nadir of reality television. Now, we may have found a new low--ladies and gentlemen, get ready to ride on the Conveyor Belt of Love.
STILL BETTER, PROBABLY SOON OFF: I have a feeling that all the people in the world that are ever going to watch Better Off Ted are already watching it. I get that it can be too sharp and/or glib for some people and that its corporate-conglomerate setting is not relatable for some portion of the potential viewership. It's not a show like Chuck, which is so broadly charming that I simply do not understand why it is not hugely popular. Still, after last night's poorly performing episode of Ted, which I thought was damn funny, I wonder how it can lose that many viewers from its Scrubs lead-in. Are there really millions of people who watch Scrubs solely for its sentimentality, such that the compatible humor in Better Off Ted is no draw?
SHE'S NO WAYNE NEWTON: The Wynn, trying to keep things relatively young and hip, is attempting to get Beyonce to sign a deal to be a marquee performer (alternating with Garth Brooks). Two questions--is this the right career move for Sasha Fierce at this point, and who do you think should be looking at Vegas residency for their own career?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

SHE'S THE ONE FOR ME; SHE'S ALL I REALLY NEED: This blog does not ordinarily traffic in gossip; our Remarkably Promiscuous Golfers Desk has remained unfilled for years, and we plan to keep it that way. But can we ignore the reports that Billy Corgan and Jessica Simpson may be dating? No, we cannot. This, indeed, is more shocking than that other story ... until we hit double digits. (Perkins? Really?)
NOW ADD SOME GOLD AND SILVER FOR SOME PIZZA PLACE CLASS: There are a lot of reasons why I should be a long-time fan of They Might Be Giants. My ear bends toward do-it-yourself indie pop, I entered college in the 1980s, I am easily amused by songs that take arcana seriously and occasionally entertained by novelty songs, and my college girlfriend went to Lincoln-Sudbury High School just a few years after the Johns. I'm not a long-time fan of They Might Be Giants, though, because I dock points for using drum machines and not using bassists (as TMBG did and didn't when I first encountered them), because there is an exponential relationship between time (x) and the annoyingness of Linnell's voice (y), and because it's frustrating how the band veers between beautifully and meticulously constructed pieces and other songs that feel like offhand improvisations.

They solve little of this in their children's music work. In fact, to paraphrase Spacewoman's comment on No!, their kids' work sounds exactly like their grownup work except with the same music and lyrics. Yet, because the kids' music genre is more forgiving (or maybe just makes me feel more forgiving), I find the kids' albums more enjoyable. Songs like "Seven Days of the Week," "I Am Not Your Broom" and "Violin" still send me racing for the skip button, but I know there's a payoff at the other end.

Here Comes Science is, I think, the band's fourth kids' album (after No!, Here Come the ABCs, and Here Come the 123s), and it's the best. For one thing, the science theme is specific enough to give the collection some coherence without being so narrow as to require too much lyrical absurdity as a way of filling out the album. For another, the disc hits the sweet spot where the songs are interesting (usually clever, often outright funny), instructive, hummable, and well-performed by a band that includes both a live drummer and a bass player. It's an educational collection that does not condescend to its audience -- neither music nor lyrics are dumbed down. I think the kids appreciate that, and lord knows, so do I.

The other great thing about the album is that it's a little bit ballsy. Dan Zanes, as one example, sometimes takes tentative political stances in his albums ("Down By the Riverside"; "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister"), but they're watered down in Kum-Ba-Yah folksiness or winking anachronism. It may not be particularly controversial to say, as TMBG do, "Science Is Real," but in case you missed the point, TMBG doesn't try to avoid the sore spot: "Now I like those stories about angels, unicorns, and elves/I like those stories as much as anyone else/But when I'm seeking knowledge, either simple or abstract/The facts are with science." In other words, please feel free to burn this children's disc. Funny.

Monday, December 7, 2009

THAT WAS A VERY LOUD BEEP ... I DON'T EVEN KNOW IF THIS IS WORKING, MARK. MARK, ARE YOU THERE? ARE YOU SCREENING YOUR CALLS? IT'S MOM: New York magazine catalogs seventeen once-everyday objects rendered obsolete by the end of the Aughts.

The 6 Weirdest, Scariest Processed Foods | Health and Wellness | AlterNet

LLOYD DOBLER HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS LIST: The 6 Weirdest, Scariest Processed Foods.
WHO IS NOW RUNNING THE HOLLYWOOD GENE PROJECT? With reference to the impending Carrie Underwood Christmas variety special, I defy anybody to make a cogent argument that there is any meaningful difference whatsoever between 2009 Carrie Underwood and 1980 Barbara Mandrell.
TRASH LIKE THAT TAKES ITSELF OUT: Continuing my practice of only writing about shows several days after they air, I have a couple of things to say about the Blake Lively SNL that aired two nights ago.

The quick thought: am I the only person in the entire world who thinks it was exceedingly strange that they cut directly from a skit whose punchline was Tiger Woods being the victim of domestic abuse to a close-up of Rihanna in the digital short? I guess the way the show is built, and with Rihanna carrying the digital short, that skit was going to come either immediately before or immediately after a Rihanna performance, but I might have tried to use something -- anything -- as a buffer. One of the fake UPS ads?

The somewhat more labored thought: the show is not particularly funny these days, but it's also not as unfunny as the Internets would have it, and a lot of the stuff that doesn't work is a result of the pressure for SNL to be funny in the exact same way that it was funny before. I read a lot of stuff suggesting that the show was only funny in one or more of the the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time-Players/Eddie Murphy/Bill Hartman-Dana Carvey/Will Ferrell eras, with the current cast paling in comparison. One of the reasons the current cast pales in comparison, though, is that it's trying to do what past casts were good at. Fey's first Palin sketch aside, though, this is the wrong age for SNL to do either political satire or send-ups of talk shows, because the bar has been raised too high for that stuff, and the current cast isn't cut out for it. It feels like they think they have to do it, because that's what SNL does (this also works as a summary of Joe Piscopo's entire SNL ouevre).

The most memorable SNL performances, though, came from people who weren't trying to repeat an earlier cast's success. The original cast created something completely different from what was then on TV, Eddie Murphy saved the show by running in an entirely different direction, and, as people now seem to forget, Will Ferrell created some extravagantly and defiantly weird TV (the Lord of the Flies morning TV sketch with Grier and Oteri that predicted the gang fight in Anchorman; "more cowbell"; his Neil Diamond). It took people several years to warm to Ferrell. To me, the show is at its worst whenever Jason Sudeikis's Biden is on-screen, because it's a bad impression with no convincing hook done out of duty to SNL's traditions rather than any comic imperative, a cheap Phil Hartman ripoff (though, in candor, I never enjoyed much of Phil Hartman's work until News Radio). The show needs more people trying weird things, not more Sudeikises echoing Piscopo echoing Aykroyd (and note: head writer Seth Myers was the boyish guitar-playing successor to Jimmy Fallon, who was just a cut-rate Adam Sandler).

So I agree with the consensus (where "consensus" = Hitfix) that this week's was a good, but not great episode, and completely disagree with the "why." When Spacewoman said to me something that I hear a lot -- "nothing after the news is ever any good" -- I had to disagree. To me, that's where all the good stuff, the really weird stuff, is. The best thing on the show was the last -- the bizarre NASA-potato chip sketch with the inexplicable accents, antebellum costuming, 70s set dressing, and weird melodrama. That may be my favorite thing on SNL all year. And I loved the "To Catch a Predator" talk show, not for the talk show part of it, but for the way it absolutely nailed the feel of the source material (particularly Chris Hansen hiding under the desk). Though it came before the news, I also thought the "Under-Underground Festival" ad was very funny. Which, oddly, makes two sketches where I enjoyed Sudeikis. Then again, I had no need for the compulsories -- the political bit, the dig at reality stars, the parody of the guest's show, the notion that anything making fun of one of the boroughs or of New Jersey is itself a punch line (all of which came before the news).

Incidentally, despite the fact that he appears as a performer in just about every movie there is, I can't shake the thought that when Bill Hader leaves the show, he is going to write and run a transcendently funny TV show. And one other thing: If you took the "over" on Matt's query about the number of mentions of Blake Lively's breasts, you lost some money.
FIRST DRAFT: Courtesy of White Collar creator's Jeff Eastin's Twitter, here's a massive collection of TV scripts hosted by Google, with an emphasis on pilots. Ones of interest include:
  • The House pilot script, set not in Princeton, but in Cambridge, introducing us to Greg House, who "wields the truth like a sword--and isn't afraid to cut you."
  • The original Studio 60 pilot script, which reads much better and sharper than what ultimately made it to air.
  • The Modern Family pilot--sadly, not the original version where the documentary crew were characters, but featuring jokes that didn't make to air, including Phil performing "We're All In This Together," a discussion of the appropriate time to shoot someone with a BB gun, and the revelation of what Mitchell does for a living,

One-Hit Wonders of the 2000s Page 1 |

WELL, HE HAD AT LEAST ONE GOOD DAY IN THE STUDIO: Billboard Magazine names Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" the one-hit wonder of the Aughts, though Macy Gray, Vanessa Carlton, Blu Cantrell and James Blunt are among those who have not been forgotten in the process.

The list looks at artists whose top single charted from 2000-07 (because folks in the last two years could return some day), "ranked by how high their big song climbed on the chart compared to how far down the tally their subsequent highest-charting effort peaked."
AND THAT'S WHY YOU ALWAYS CHECK THE AMAZON GOLD BOX: For those who haven't seen Arrested Development in its entirety yet, you now have no excuses--the Amazon deal of the day is all three seasons for a mere $28.99. That's about 55 cents an episode, and that, my friends, is value.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Y'KNOW, IF YOU'RE GOING TO CALL A SHOW "THE AMAZING RACE," HOW ABOUT MAKING THE TEAMS TRAVEL ON FOOT UP AND DOWN THE VEGAS STRIP RATHER THAN TAKE TAXIS EVERYWHERE? And what was with all the hidden service entrances? Yes, our Race is over, and we had one great challenge tonight -- the Cirque challenge, a tremendous test of athletics and reasoning under pressure -- as well as a deceptively tough one: "what's in Monaco?" But as much as I admired the chip-counting task on a strategic and working-accurately-under-pressure level, it was impossible for viewers to determine what teams were completing it properly as it happened, and so as far as overall narrative cohesiveness is concerned I'm still not entirely sure why the team that won, won.

What I appreciated about this season of the Race, overall, was that its challenges were more tourist-based than stunt-based, tasks that reasonably approximated things anyone could do in visiting these places. No, these teams weren't quite as compelling as those in the past, and I missed all the airport-fu -- there was nothing like Season 5's ending which was determined by two teams failing to remember that checking your luggage through to the final destination means you can't change your flights midway. But, still, it's a damn fine show. Party at Wayne's house!

Fienberg talks about what I didn't: the awesomeness of the interactions with the embalmed Wayne Newton.
COMMISSIONER'S CORNER: By now, we all know what happened in the second quarter of the New Orleans-Washington game today, per the AP recap:
[F]acing third-and-26 at the Redskins 44, Brees backpedalled under pressure and threw a desperation pass deep over the middle toward Jeremy Shockey in triple coverage. Kareem Moore dived over Shockey's back to make an interception, rolled over, got up and ran 14 yards before Meachem simply took the ball away from an upright Moore and started running down the sideline -- high-stepping 44 yards for the team's ninth return touchdown of the season.
Query for this crucial last week before the fantasy playoffs: is your league scoring this (and should it be scored) as an offensive touchdown for Meachem? As a touchdown for the New Orleans defense/special teams? Both? Neither?
QUESTION: BASED ON A SNARKY THOUGHT BY THE BLOGGER THE PATHETIC EARTHLING: Is the the name of this movie actually "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" not just "Precious" a movie which is based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire?
EXCESSIVE BLOCKING: The Blind Side is definitely a well-made movie and tells its story well, but loses something important from the book--distance. The lengthy discussion in the book of how and why the left tackle position became so important in condensed to a brief voiceover from Sandra Bullock at the start of the film, over the film of the Lawrence Taylor-Joe Theisman incident. Likewise, the film loses the skepticism and uncertainty Lewis brings into the book at first--even though Sean Tuohy was a childhood friend of his, at least at first, Lewis is not uncertain that their aims are entirely altrustic and above-board.

There's also a couple of really lame "ghetto" scenes near the end of the film that pull you out of the film, and a few minor continuity errors, largely due to them filming in Georgia, rather than Memphis. For instance, even though there's a brief discussion of how the Tuohys don't know any Democrats, before that, we see in their son's room what I immediately recognized as a Harold Ford, Jr. for Congress poster. But that said, you can't deny that it's moving, and the theatre I was in sat, no one leaving, even through the credits, when we see pictures of the real Michael Oher and the Tuohys--that says something.