Saturday, May 1, 2010

WHAT? NO! NO, THEY CANNOT WATCH THE SHOW FROM BACKSTAGE. THAT'S IT! THAT'S WHAT'S BEEN MISSING FROM THE SHOW! THAT'S WHAT WE NEED! MORE FROGS AND DOGS AND BEARS AND CHICKENS AND... AND WHATEVER! YOU'RE NOT GONNA WATCH THE SHOW, YOU'RE GONNA BE IN THE SHOW! COME ON, EVERYONE! In watching The Muppets Take Manhattan with the girls again today, I found myself drawn to the meta question: does this movie (and, really, do any of the Muppet movies) take place in the same narrative universe as The Muppet Movie? Because clearly the Muppets can't have both formed in the sequence depicted by The Muppet Movie as well as attended college together before making their way towards Broadway. It's irreconcilable on its own terms, but I've got two ways worth looking at it:

The first comes from The House Next Door (who else?), which posits that each Muppet film essentially is a new production from a troupe of actors:
It occurred to me that the Muppets—as defiantly modernist as any children's entertainment (dig the fake film-burn midway through The Muppet Movie, which caused the projectionist at the theater I used to program to freak out mid-screening)—are also an update of one of the hoariest and oldest theatrical traditions: a Commedia dell'arte troupe. Establish Kermit and Miss Piggy as The Lovers (their love plot serves as a major narrative thread in nearly every Muppet movie, including this one) and the rest of the troupe falls into place: Gonzo as the deformed, foolish Pulcinella; Rowlf as the self-effacing, loyal Pedrolino; Fozzie as Arlecchino, the slow-witted clown. The Muppet films speak to us in part because they reapply centuries-tested comic traditions to addressing and critiquing television and film themselves. Part of Jim Henson's creative genius was that he understood how to walk that delicate line between traditional storytelling and self-conscious address, and The Muppets Take Manhattan is a thorough application of his style. There is no narrative continuity between The Muppets, The Muppet Movie, and The Muppets Take Manhattan, and it's the creators' strong ability to create dynamic characters that allows them this freedom.
The other theory is my own, and it's one which strives to integrate continuity into the film universe. Much as The Muppet Movie is a movie-within-a-movie about how the Muppets received The Standard Rich & Famous Contract and became stars (including towards its end the newly-famous Muppets filming an origins film), The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Great Muppet Caper and all the other Muppet films should be seen as the other films the now-famous Muppet actors are making within the universe of the first film. In other words, the first film is a story about the "real" Muppets becoming actors, and the rest are the films those actors have made -- with Fozzie Bear playing a character named "Fozzie Bear," etc. It explains, for example, how the "Kermit" and "Miss Piggy" characters can marry (in a musical within a movie, but for "real") at the end of Manhattan yet this marriage isn't acknowledged in subsequent films. These are the movies which Lew Lord of Worldwide Pictures signed them to make.

To be sure, Caper makes an explicit wink in this direction -- Kermit talks at the start of the film about the reporter roles that "Kermit," "Fozzie" and "Gonzo" are playing, but does so without tying himself to the prior narrative. Why not extend this all the way throughout the films? Isn't "The Muppet Show" just the variety show that these actors produce on their off days? Or, as usual, is this just a part of my brain which should have been more profitably devoted towards learning ERISA law?
WHAT'S THE NAME OF THIS CLUB? Yes, it's Jesse Tyler Ferguson musical theater-izing one of Lady Gaga's less-known songs. It's no Eric Cartman or Christopher Walken performing Poker Face, though.
NOW THAT WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE, I KNOW WHO I AM. I'M NOT A MISTAKE! IT ALL MAKES SENSE: I try to avoid links to slideshows unless they're really good, and NYMag's eight film villains with sympathetic backstories qualifies. Can I suggest another? Brigadier General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) in The Rock, who had a legitimate beef with the U.S. Government regarding the treatment of the Marines under his command, even if his proposed response seemed a bit ... disproportionate.
BRAD WHITFORD ISN'T THE ONLY SORKIN ALUM WITH A BITCHIN' STACHE: The West Wing welcomed a number of guest stars who've since gone on to bigger things--some easy (yes, we all remember Lisa Edelstein and Taye Diggs' recurring role) and some not so much (Phil Dunphy! A non-mustachioed Ron Swanson!). How do you fare on the quiz?

Friday, April 30, 2010


Via TV Tattle.
SOMEWHERE THE STARBUCKS MERMAID SHEDS A TEAR: Leslie Buck, the man responsible for designing the iconic Greek takeout coffee cup that once dominated the NYC java landscape, has died at the age of 87.
I GET PAID TO BE SUSPICIOUS WHEN I'VE GOT NOTHING TO BE SUSPICIOUS ABOUT: The much-anticipated release of Scott Turow's Innocent, his sequel to Presumed Innocent, gives me an easy hook for the sort of book-related catch-all post we haven't done in a while: name your favorite works of law-related fiction. [Surprisingly, perhaps, I'm not that well-read in the genre, so I'm using this for suggestions for my own reading as well.]

Bonus: Turow sings Del Shannon's "Runaway" at a recent Rock Bottom Remainders concert, though not the one at which Jen performed.
MAIL TIME! First off, this protective disclaimer for all of us -- I am not seeking legal advice through this post, and you are not offering me legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is being formed; we're just chit-chatting.

So, I received a letter yesterday from a law firm attempting to collect on a delinquent account owed to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue -- employer withholding tax as to our nanny, whom we pay through a professional payroll service. According to the letter, the amount due is $0.04.

The letter further advises that because of a state tax amnesty program, my liability may be reduced if I resolve this within the next few weeks; however, an additional 25% collection cost has been imposed upon my liability.

So: do I call the legal assistant on the phone and negotiate a settlement? Do I just send them three pennies in the mail to see how they respond? Your most creative suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

SHE'S KIND OF LIKE BOSTON ROB IN A GIRL'S BODY: Final nine is always an interesting point in Survivor -- any one person's flipping can change the balance of power, and a well-timed "send a random threesome away for reward" helped destabilize things.

What's safe to say about this episode is that the person who was eliminated caused his or her own elimination. Also, that that was the most civilized reward location I've seen in quite some time. Also, I'm getting tired of hidden immunity idols -- it's like when The Amazing Race had a fast forward available every single week, and it's overtaking the fundamental strategic game.

added: Folks who have already called out Jeff Probst for his in-show sexism will find further evidence in his pervy report on this week's show. He does, however, add this: "Next week is a biggee. Two immunity challenges. Two tribal councils. Two people gone." I'll tell you what I think that means in the comments.
THE TOOTH-FAIRY DOES COVER THIS: A few years ago, I ran into Ronnie Lott outside the Bank of America building in San Francisco. Along with one of my colleagues, we said hello, did our best not to be fanboys, and let him go on his way. My friend said, "even now, that man could kill me with one finger. Including the one he no longer has."

I'm not sure where removing your own tooth ranks in order to stay in the game ranks with having a doctor remove your finger so you can make the next game, but the Capitals' Eric Belanger is one tough customer.
SIMPSONS REFERENCE IN LIEU OF JOKE SUFFERS HISTORIC DROP TO SECOND-MOST UNORIGINAL THING ON LIST: CBS Sports just released its list of most common fantasy baseball team names. Are you an Evil Empire? A Ball or Slump Buster? A reference to performance-enhancing drugs? You are not alone. I'm sad to say, by the way, that "Beverly Hills-Adjacent Street Parkers of Greater Fairyland" didn't crack the top 100.
THE GOLDEN HORATIO: Best Week Ever compiles the top ten SNL cast-member-breaking-character-and-cracking-up moments in show history. Cue sad trombone.

added: The BWE commenters remind me of my favorite one -- even more so than Debbie Downer -- Phil Hartman as Frankenstein shouting Fire, BAD! while completely cracking up at Kevin Nealon (Tarzan) and Jon Lovitz (Tonto). Transcript here; can't find the video.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SHATTERED GLASSBLOWER: So Siobhan went home, with both The Outlaw Casey James and Big Mike joining her in the bottom three. First off, pimp slot thwarted!

Obvs, I can't read America's read on country music. Moreover, this should scare anyone who's been ready for a month to see Aaron go home, or who believes that TOCJ's and Big Mike's one-tricks are more interesting than that of Lee DeWyze. America disagrees with you.

Was Siobhan going to win this? No. Her talents proved too inconsistent; her shriek too alienating. But I am upset to see her go home before Aaron, and before she got to tackle The Songs of Francis Albert Sinatra next week. I still don't get why he's still here, and the prospect of a Crystal-Aaron-Lee final three remains tenable and disturbing. And Crystal may not win.

added: Oof. We might have had some phone number issues this week, though I'm doubting there will be a remedy.
SOME OF THEM HAVE STAINS; WE COVER THAT UP: Looking for a used mobile home?

Via Fimoculous and Errol Morris' Twitter.

ETA: OK, thanks to a tip in the comments, I found out this is part of a site run by a couple of guys who make local commercials for obscure businesses (which explains some of the over the top elements like the sound effects and slo-mo run). It's still great, but less so.
WARD, I THINK YOU'RE BEING ... 11 Dirty TV Moments That Slipped Past the Censors. #9, in particular, is a stunner, and Jaye P. Morgan's punchline is brilliant.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TO WIN BIG, DO YOU HAVE TO WIN STUPID? Our friend and loyal commenter Dan Suitor hits the big time with Gawker's publication of his "The Problem With Glee" essay, which you're free to discuss here along with tonight's episode. An excerpt:

Some have a deep resentment for Glee's simplistic portrayal of high school that stems from their own experiences, while others just hate show tunes and pop music. None of those are my problem.

Those things are intrinsic to Glee's nature. They're non-negotiable; a price of admission I was more than willing to pay in return for one other aspect of the show. For a time, it featured some of the most incisive, biting social commentary on network television. My problem, now, is that Glee seems to have abandoned its wit and sense of satire for a more genuine tone.

Know this: Glee is not a sincere show, or at least it wasn't at the beginning.... Faced with a possible hit, Murphy & Co. have made concessions to their original conceit and filed down the edges on the show's razor-sharp fangs.
"I WAS SINGING THAT SONG TO MY MOM": Gee thanks, Aaron, because now I can vomit.

I've got very little to say about tonight's Idol, in part because I don't much care for The Songs of Shania Twain, but mostly because there's no sense of surprise with this year's remaining competitors. We lack an Adam Lambert/Blake Lewis/David Cook with the creative skills to surprise us with an interpretation -- this season's competitors are all good in the same way that they've been good for a month (Crystal & Big Mike: phrasing and control; Casey: hunkitude), and those competitors with the largest standard deviations in their week-to-week performances (Siobhan, Aaron) were towards the upper end of their skills this week.

I guess Big Mike and Siobhan were the best this week, and The Outlaw Casey James and Lee towards the lower end, but everyone was above-average so there are no obvious targets. Crystal, Lee and Siobhan are the three who have yet to appear in the bottom three (Aaron's been there twice, and Big Mike obvs has been last once), and I think anyone-but-Crystal may end up going home.
NOT QUITE THE SAME AS THE FLASH MOBS THAT HAVE VISITED MY END OF CENTER CITY: The Opera Company of Philadelphia surprised Reading Terminal Market patrons on Saturday.
ANCHORS AWAY: It's one of the key creation myths in American brewing: Anchor Brewing Company, in the 1960s one of the last few independent breweries and the largest independent brewery on the west coast was on the brink of bankruptcy. Fritz Maytag, heir to the appliance fortune, decided he would rather buy the company than do without.

For forty-five years, he has not only been one of the great pioneers of craft brewing -- openly supportive of countless microbreweries -- he turned Anchor Steam into an icon of San Francisco itself. Brilliant beers and some terrific traditional spirits as well (Old Potrero Rye, Junipero Gin).

After forty-five years, he is selling it off. I don't always buy Anchor Steam, much as I love it. It's so rare that I even think to buy an imported beer anymore, and almost never an imported ale -- there is so much great American beer -- and I have Fritz Maytag to thank for that.
GERALD LAMBEAU, GRIGORI PERELMAN, AND ME: Congratulations to MIT's Esther Duflo for winning the John Bates Clark medal, awarded to the nation’s most promising economist under the age of 40 for her work on poverty and development.

I use this as an opportunity to announce my campaign for the other major under-forty-in-academia prize, for which this is my last year of eligibility -- the quadrennial Fields Medal. It will be awarded again this August to the world's most promising mathematicians under the age of 40. Let me be blunt: I believe I should be one of the front-runners for this award, as anyone who has seen my two-weeks-out fantasy football playoff permutation trees will attest. (Also, Lucy can totally do her times-table through 10x10, and she's still in first grade.)

But if merit's not enough, maybe threats will do: if the International Congress of Mathematicians refuses to award me with that to which I am entitled, I will have no choice but to divide a number by zero, right here on this blog. Yeah, I said it: I will not abide by your silly laws about what I can and cannot do any longer. If the ICM doesn't want me to tell the truth about what 9 ÷ 0 really equals, then they will honor me appropriately.
RAISE YOUR HOPEFUL VOICE, YOU HAVE A CHOICE: The analysts at What Not To Sing have classified all 700+ songs ever performed on American Idol based on how familiar the audience was with each prior to performance and confirmed that singing an obscure instead of well-known song doesn't make any difference in terms of your likelihood of being eliminated, but you shouldn't sing something that someone else already has performed in the show's history. Tonight: The Songs of Shania Twain.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I ASSUME FAMOUS ORIGINAL RAY'S WAS #101: As we did two years ago, we today herald the release of Restaurant magazine's annual list of the world's fifty best restaurants (and #51-100) with a mix of awe, wonder, checklisting and a dash of "hey, where are all the Asian restaurants?". Dethroning El Bulli, your new number one is Copenhagen's Noma, which describes its philosophy as "a personal rendition of Nordic gourmet cuisine, where typical methods of cooking, fine Nordic produce and the legacy of our common food culture are all being subjected to an innovative gastronomic approach."
WHAT? ALAN WATCHING: Congratulations to our very good friend Alan Sepinwall, who is exiting the land of ink and paper to occupy a digital perch at There, he'll join his podcasting partner and friend of fifteen years Dan Fienberg, who offers his own welcoming remarks.

We live in a new era when it comes to the places in which cultural criticism is practiced, and we will follow Alan to his new home eagerly.
I AIN'T GONNA HAVE NO MONEY TO BUY MY SON THE G.I. JOE WITH THE KUNG-FU GRIP: Eddie Murphy talks to New York magazine about a career and life in transition:
"[N]ow I'm kind of like a single dad for a week, then my wife gets the kids, then I'm like a bachelor for a week. It goes back and forth.” So which half of him seems to be winning out — the bachelor or the single dad? “I’ve lost a lot of my cool and edge, I think,” he admitted, shaking his head. “I don’t know. I think my cool and edge are gone.” But fans of challenging, adult humor want to know: Where did it go? “You know, I think I’m onto some other place. Whatever my edge or cool was back then, I’m onto some other area. I don't know what it is.” Is there any hope? “You know, I'm thinking about getting into stand-up, to see what comes up!”
How about this, Eddie: start by returning to 30 Rock. You've skipped all the reunions, the specials, participation in the Shales/Miller oral history ... it's time to try to make comedy for grown-ups again.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

CAN WE GET SOME SHOOTING? KICK A DOOR IN? CHASE A CRACKHEAD? It's been a month (at least) since I've written about The Amazing Race, and my relative lack of having anything to say after this week's well-constructed Shanghai leg just leads me to wonder whether, unlike Survivor, we've just hit a point where we already have seen it all when it comes to the Race.

To be clear, structurally this was a good leg. Loved the noodle challenge (RIP He Pingping), the fashion needle-in-a-haystack, the Survivor-level puzzle roadblock with added wind terror. (Questions: (1) did any rule stop a team from solving the puzzle on the reverse side? (2) given the wind, why not stack each row once completed rather than leave them all subject to the gusts?) But even with three relatively likable teams left, I just don't care that much. Should I?
WATCH OUT, MICHAEL PHELPS: Leading Team USA to a gold medal in gymnastics certainly can get you a lot of doors, but it doesn't guarantee you top position in the NYT wedding announcements, as Kerri Strug learned today. Her announcement was #2, behind this couple.