Saturday, September 25, 2010

WITHIN THE FIRST TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES, IT ATTACKS A BUNGEE JUMPER:  Yes, several of us are watching Sharktopus on the Syfy Channel tonight, and it's exactly what you would hope for from the network which brought you Mansquito.
17 ACROSS. YES, 17 ACROSS IS WRONG. YOU'RE SPELLING HIS NAME WRONG. WHAT'S MY NAME? MY NAME DOESN'T MATTER. I'M JUST AN ORDINARY CITIZEN WHO RELIES ON THE TIMES CROSSWORD PUZZLE FOR STIMULATION: Based on the criteria of "1) stylistic innovation and influence, 2) overall excellence in writing, direction, performance and production, and 3) ability to withstand repeat viewings," MZS slideshows his list of the top ten tv drama pilot episodes of all time.

It is an oddly predictable list, but I think that's only because how strong the critical consensus is around so many of the entries.  If there's one I'd add to the list (presuming it's not on his comedy list), it's the Moonlighting pilot film which did such a wonderful job of setting up the characters, the mood, the occasionally fourth-wall-breaking universe.  (Or may it's because I was 13 when I first saw it, so I'm predisposed to remembering it as awesome.)  Also of recent vintage, the show may have gone downhill fast but the Desperate Housewives pilot was compelling, different and gripping.

Friday, September 24, 2010

[(".,';...—:-?!")]: Happy National Punctuation Day!  Be sure to party in moderation, lest you start employing unnecessary quotation marks.  The official NPD folks suggest crafting a haiku in honor of your preferred mark; here's mine to start:
Larry King's column
Actors, sports and random shit
Many ellipses
PLAYING TRACK SIX, TRACK SEVEN, AGAIN AND AGAIN: A week ago Saturday, Superchunk played the Bowery Ballroom on Delancey, here in New York City. (This is a wonderful place to see a show, with a full bar in the basement, pleasant-but-durable appointments throughout, a great big open floor in front of the stage, and seating for perhaps two-dozen upstairs, all in a room which manages to preserve a sense of intimacy with the band even from the stools at the balcony bar.) The songs from their set (and free-associatively selected favorites from the rest of the Superchunk catalog) are still echoing behind my eyes, surfacing as a hum-alongs while walking to the store, or inspiring full-on unselfconscious wife-has-left-for-work-already singing in the shower. It was an amazing show, in that matter-of-fact manner that Superchunk is often amazing.

The one set list for the Bowery show that I’ve been able to locate on line is wrong. Not through-and-through wrong but at least wrong about the first song, which was Baxter. I am not likely to be wrong about this, as it is one of the more obscure Superchunk songs and one of my favorites. (There’s a poorly captured version of Baxter from a 1995 show here at about 3:10, after Shallow End and some noodling. That’s the only version I could find on the web.) The point is that a room full of people yelling “He’s always happy about something… !” is not something I’m likely to forget, or misremember, or remember out of sequence, particularly because I can contrast the experience with an old roommate looking over at me in the car as I rocked-out to Incidental Music circa 1998 and sneering “Yeah, that fucker. Always happy about something.” Some folks, they get it. Some folks, they don’t. Baxter is a favorite of mine because it reminds me of that. It was really, really great to be in a room full of people who got it last Saturday.

Local fan-favorite Throwing Things was the last song of the show, as stated in the semi-suspect internet set list above, but it came as a stand-alone second encore and not as the end of a single encore, if that matters. (And, I mean, wow. Wow! Does that link make up for the crappy Baxter link, or what? Can you hear them singing along? Yes, yes you can.)

Throwing Things, Cast Iron, Detroit Has a Skyline, and Baxter were surprise all-in sing-alongs. Slack Motherfucker, Hyper Enough, 100,000 Fireflies, Driveway to Driveway, and Foolish were sing-alongs as well, but I don’t think anyone was surprised.

Overall, the band was tight and upbeat, the sound was absolutely fantastic. Songs off the new album worked seamlessly into a show that pulled material from the whole length of their career together, and all the old favorites came with the expected earnest roar and punch.

So, if you get it, or think maybe you'd want it, and there’s a date near you, go. Just go. This year, next year, 2020 if it takes that long. Go. Go go go go go.
DONDE ESTA LA BIBLIOTECA? We're used to aggressive footnoting of shows like Treme and Mad Men to explain the historical and local references at issue, but you don't normally need them for a comedy. However, for Community, it certainly helps, and Vulture gives us Dan Harmon's annotation of last night's excellent season premiere (seriously, the "study group waking up" tracking shot that opened was damn impressive).
OH MY PAPA:  South Philly native Eddie Fisher passed away yesterday, and it brings up a topic I've droned on about in the past -- what does it take to kill a career these days?  For Fisher, of course, it was leaving his wife Debbie Reynolds -- where they were seen as America's sweethearts -- to shack up with that grieving hussy Elizabeth Taylor.  The scandal wrecked his career as a crooner, though it obviously gave his daughter Carrie a lot of material going forward.

In 2003, as you may recall, Billy Crudup left his longterm girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker -- who was seven months pregnant at the time -- to take up with Claire Danes.  Career consequences?  None.  And neither Brad Pitt nor Angelina Jolie seemed to have been hurt in the slightest, though Jennifer Aniston -- like Debbie Reynolds decades earlier -- seems to be doing fine centering her celebrity around her victimhood (see #3). 

No, to have your career die in Hollywood for non-criminal reasons, it looks like anti-Semitism (Gibson) or flagrant overall weirdness (Cruise) are what you need -- but even in Cruise's case, neither Valkyrie nor Knight & Day were total bombs and both did well overseas.  But infidelity?  In Hollywood, it doesn't seem to be an issue, which I suppose begs the question of why over in the sports world Tiger Woods has generated so much genuine resentment and outrage.  Is it the quantity/quality?  The way we found out?  Was America just bored?  Why did Tiger take the hit which so many others did not?
THEY'VE GOT A LOT OF THEM, JEFF.  MORE THAN THEY DO IN LOUISIANA: I recognize that I'm a little late on this, but I wanted to offer one thought on this week's Survivor.

There are two ways that a Survivor season can be enjoyable.  One is what we've seen recently, which is brilliant people out-strategizing each other, often by taking advantage of the one dumb person who's out there.  The other is what we saw this week, where a tribe is full of people who have never played poker or understood the wisdom of occasionally keeping one's feelings to oneself, and the prospect of a satisfying self-immolation is always near.  Fienberg spoke with the eliminated contestant yesterday, and hoo boy does this person double-down on the stupid.
CHOCK FULL OF FIRTHY GOODNESS: Geoffrey Rush co-stars as well when The King's Speech hits theaters in search of Oscar this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A HUGE HIT WITH BOTH ANGLOPHILES AND PEDOPHILES: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or both 30 Rock and The Office made me forget (mostly) about their mediocre 2009-10 seasons with solid returns to form tonight.  Nobody (nobody) does a pre-credits sequence like the team from Dunder-Mifflin, and I'm glad to see the joke factories back in business, even if I have no idea in which direction either show is going this year.
FEATURING ALL SORTS OF MESSED-UP HAIRSTYLES: Crowding up your visual field this December: Top Chef All Stars, with eighteen past (non-winning) contestants returning: Better still? 2007 ALOTT5MA Award Winner for Best Reality TV Host/Judge Anthony Bourdain will be rotating with Gail Simmons in the third chair.
HE'S A SEMI-AQUATIC EGG-LAYING MAMMAL OF ACTION: So, I have to ask. Anyone here as obsessed with Phineas and Ferb as all four members of the Cosmopolitan household? We've been watching it (and listening to the soundtrack, which I love) for ages, and somehow had totally missed the part where it became the next big Disney juggernaut. We're always surprised that other people watch it, but apparently we are not alone.

My only gripe, and it's a pretty big one: the boys are brilliant, creative, and good-natured, while big sister Candice -- Disney queen Ashley Tisdale, for those of you playing along at home -- is whiny, insecure, and boy-crazy. Hmph. The platypus community, however, should be proud of their portrayal.
WHAT THE BLEEP: With tonight marking the launch of $#*! My Dad Says, some thoughts on potential spinoffs:
  • $#*! My Vice President Says--An irascible Senator from the Northeast spouts his homespun and occasionally profane wisdom after being elected Vice-President beneath a young, hip, POTUS.
  • $#*! My Gram Says--Young family agrees to take in the husband's grandmother, only to find that she's not quite what they expected as she spouts homespun and occasionally profane wisdom. (Starring Betty White, natch.)
  • $#*! My Darth Says--A Sith Lord spouts homespun and occasionally profane wisdom. (Note, we may have some rights difficulties here.)
  • $#*! Picard Says--A seemingly buttoned-down former Starfleet captain spouts homespun and occasionally profane wisdom.
  • $#*! Miss Tyra Says--A former model spouts homespun and occasionally profane wisdom while curing all known diseases.
  • $#*! Hugh Laurie Says--Potential retitling of House--maybe this is the way to freshen up the show?
  • $#*! Tim Riggins Says--Self-explanatory. He also takes off his shirt once in a while.
FAMILY DYNAMICS: I didn't get home till late last night, so haven't yet had a chance to watch Undercovers, either variety of Top Chef, Cougar Town, or The Whole Truth, which are all sitting on my DVR (and the last of those may not get watched), but did have a chance to watch Modern Family and Better With You. Modern Family was, as usual, pretty solid, but I agree with Alan--this wasn't a great episode, in no small part because we left the three family units largely separate and there were few surprises in how folks behaved--everyone acted exactly the way we'd expect them to act. On the other hand, I enjoyed Better With You a lot more than most of the critics did, in large part because, as is the case with HIMYM, I find it easy to identify with the characters. Yes, it's very broad and doesn't do fun things with time and shifting narration like HIMYM does, but it still made me laugh. I am a bit concerned that they've written themselves into a bit of a corner with making Mia pregnant (introducing babies on relationship sitcoms rarely winds up working well), but we'll see how they handle it.
WHEN IT'S TIME TO CHANGE, YOU KNOW IT'S TIME TO CHAAANGE: A Very Special Brady Bunch Episode, Harlan Ellison and the commodification of the counterculture, video from the spinoff shows and "like, how did they afford a band to record a backing track?". All in one place:
The Brady Bunch played perfectly as a five-day-a-week time-killer for kids just coming home from school—frequently to a grownup-free house—in the late ’70s and early ’80s. And because the show’s stories and dialogue weren’t its main selling points, the generation that watched The Brady Bunch the second time around could see the same episodes over and over without getting burned out. The mood woven by the show was a lot like the Bradys’ lawn: plastic and evergreen.
TAKE ME, OUT, TO THE BALL GAME: Followup to last week's item -- no, the Cardinals didn't show any same-sex couples on the Kiss Cam last Saturday, but the controversy continues.

Wholly unrelated baseball question -- nickname for the Phillies' playoff pitchers: H20, or Two Roys and the Boy?

added and vaguely related: How about takeout at the ballgame? New Phillies iPhone/iPad app -- order food from your seats, and it's delivered within 30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MELT YOUR POPSICLE: At this exact moment, the sun is crossing the equator -- thus ending the summer of 2010 and, in turn, balloting for Song of the Summer. Did anyone challenge Ms. Perry for the crown?

Related, Buzzfeed compiles (based on Billboard data) the SotS for every year from 1940-2009.

added, vaguely related: Katy Perry's bosom is deemed too suggestive for Sesame Street.
EXPLAINS HIS NAKED-ITY: In case you were wondering where we were all day, it was Fire Joe Morgan Re-Reunion Day at Deadspin, and you need to read it all. Right now. And then let's play a round of "Is this normal?"
SING FOR THE LAUGHS, SING FOR THE TEARS: Big changes announced for Idol -- guest mentors out, permanent mentor record executive Jimmy Iovine is in; theme weeks forcing folks out of their wheelhouse are out, and stay-within-your-box-and-make-the-box-awesome with decade-based theme weeks is what's in.

Add the previously mentioned Bieber Rule, and I don't know if this will make for a better show, but it will certainly be a different one. Also, there's two new judges.
META STASIS: So, Glee. On the one hand, last night's season premiere was one of the strongest episodes of the series. For me, the show is at its best when it is funny, and last night was full of funny moments. Some were good writing in its ordinary form (Britney's summer vacation, Coach Beiste's nonsensical Arkansan vernacular, Asian camp); some were just good performing (best deadpan comic timing by a person with Down's Syndrome, ever); a great many were meta (the intro reciting Internet complaints about the show; Finn's terrible dancing; Finn and Artie's half-baked idea of making Artie into a football player, which felt like a riff on the absurdity of the Kurt/football storyline last season). The new characters worked for me, especially Coach Beiste, an expertly-performed and fully rounded character who replaces the one-dimensional Coach Tanaka (the two new singing kids worked too, primarily because they didn't seem as square and out-of-touch as three quarters of the incumbent Nude Erections). I'm not capable of commenting fairly on the songs, since they're not up my alley, but at least they seemed well-chosen, well-staged, and well-placed within the smartly unambitious plot of the first episode.

But it wouldn't be Glee without some stupid decisions, would it? I thought the opening device of appropriating (for laughs) common criticisms of the show was brilliant. I thought Ryan-Murphy-as-Kurt's response to the criticism was petty and defensive. Yes, it is far harder to create something like Glee than it is to criticize it. That is true of literally every work of professional entertainment, from poetry to pornography. So nobody should criticize anything ever? Perhaps Murphy should develop a thicker skin.

And what about the way the show abandoned plots and characterizations it had worked so hard to develop credibly? Last season, Quinn grew up, had a baby, learned to be a supportive teammate instead of an icy queen bee, and chose to reject the Cheerios. Rachel developed a complicated emotional relationship with her mother, the long-time coach of the rival Vocal Adrenaline (a woman with some alleged sexual chemistry with the chemically inert Schue). Tina and Artie hooked up in a way that made more sense than other relationships on this show. But somehow, in an offscreen summer, Quinn reacquired her cheer-conniving (coming to school with a plan to backstab Santana and appeal to Sue's venality to get back into the Cheerios), Idina Menzel vanished, and Tina suddenly chose abs over Artie. I guess everybody should buckle in for another season of plot whiplash.
HAPPY TIME, PEOPLE? Bill Simmons is occupying Mike Wilbon's chair for the remainder of the week on PTI. Yesterday was a bit stilted; let's hope he feels more relaxed on-air as the week progresses because right now he's really making clear just how good Kornheiser and Wilbon are at communicating that in-the-moment passion and thoughtfulness.
THE SHORT ANSWER IS YES, A LOT OF THE EXTRAS WERE GANGSTERS: Scorsese, Liotta and everyone else involved talks to GQ about the making of Goodfellas, twenty years later.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HAVE YOU GOT A MINUTE? The band responsible for this blog's web address, Superchunk is back at the Trocadero Wednesday night; first time I saw them there was in 1992 with Bettie Serveert opening, when I was younger and more capable of handling a mosh pit. Eighteen years later, I'm not sure if I can still rock, but based on NPR's stream of their concert at the 9:30 Club last week and the post-show performance of "Precision Auto" from last night's Jimmy Fallon taping, they sure as hell can:

[Added: AVClub interview!]
ALSO KNOWN AS "OOKIE": I'll try to be calm about this and just state that I strongly disagree -- for football and moral reasons -- with the decision of my preferred football club to name a new permanent starting quarterback. In lieu of a rant, I will refer instead to the quarterback's 2007 plea agreement and statement of stipulated facts:
12. In or about the summer of 2002 at various times, PEACE, PHILLIPS, TAYOR, and VICK "rolled" or "tested" additional "Bad Newz Kennels" dogs by putting the dogs through fighting sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road to determine which animals were good fighters. VICK was aware that PHILLIPS, PEACE, and TAYLOR killed a number of dogs that did not perform well in testing sessions around this same time period. VICK did not kill any dogs at this time. . . .

32. In or about April 2007, PEACE, PHILLIPS, VICK, and two others "rolled" or "tested" additional "Bad Newz Kennels" dogs by putting the dogs through fighting sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road to determine which animals were good fighters. PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK agreed to the killing of approximately 6-8 dogs that did not perform well in "testing" sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road and all of those dogs were killed by various methods, including hanging and drowning. VICK agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK. . . .
Okay. Vick served his time, and has a right to participate in society again. He could earn a living doing any number of things that do not restore him to a position of glamor and celebrity. I don't have to forgive or forget, and I have not and don't plan to. But as chinmusic suggested last year when we discussed Vick, Roman Polanski and John Phillips, it's hard:
[T]he separation of artist from art is more difficult in sports, or at least team sports. I can watch Chinatown and block out Polanski, but how does an Eagles fan support the Eagles without supporting Vick? Support for an athlete is largely public. Sure maybe you don't buy his jersey or cheer for him when his name is announced, but when the team runs out of the tunnel or Vick throws a TD to Kolb in some wildcat nonsense, how can you make it known what you are and are not approving with your high-fives and fist bumps?
MY LOVE, SHE THROWS ME LIKE A RUBBER BALL: TPE wonders, in the comments in the Toto thread below, "is there a B-side other than '(Hey Hey) What Can I Do' [A: Immigrant Song], on which we really need to spend eternity?" That song, the sad tale of a man whose woman won't be true and wants to ball all day -- a volatile pair of character flaws, no doubt -- is surely among the greatest B-sides in rock history. It is unfair to the flip side, though, to suggest that there aren't others. When I was a pimply teen, I treasured my Iron Maiden cover of "Cross-Eyed Mary" (a: "The Trooper") and my Metallica covers of "Am I Evil (Yes I Am)" and "Blitzkrieg" (a: "Creeping Death," 12" picture disc). Later, I obsessed over the U2 b-sides ("Sweetest Thing," "A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel"). Today, I know every clattering mistake in the reverby demo of the Decemberists' "Kingdom of Spain" (a: "O Valencia!"), and The Thermals' "There's Nothing You Can't Learn" (a: "I Don't Believe You"), a buoyantly catchy pop-punk anthem, is better than anything on their new album.

I can't be alone here -- surely you have your own favorite b-sides.
OR AT LEAST THE SUBSET OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC THAT HAS NIELSEN BOXES HOOKED TO THEIR TV'S: So, based on last night's ratings, we can state there are things that the American public does and does not like.
  • Does like--Third tier celebrities dancing, things exploding in Hawaii, being told that something is imminent and important, but not being told what exactly it is, Chuck Lorre comedies.
  • Does not like--morally ambiguous con men backed by indie folk-rock, overly attractive U.S. Marshals running around.
For what it's worth, I really admired the craft and performances of Lone Star, but can see how it might not be a big hit--it's very morose and indie-film/cable-y--I'll watch the few episodes before Fox pulls it and replaces with whatever else it's got in the queue or dumps it off to FX. It's also not terribly compatible with House, or at least what that show has become as it's abandoned making House a morally ambiguous protagonist. I do hope Fox does have the decency to formally let the creators know that the show's toast so they can bring things to a satisfying conclusion.

On the other hand, Hawaii Five-0, I get completely why it's a success--completely in CBS's wheelhouse, and 3 of the 4 principals are likable and funny--in particular, it's nice to see Daniel Dae Kim getting to be lighthearted and verbal rather than morose and silent. Like NCIS: LA, it's a success in spite of something of a charisma vacuum in the lead. Not as much fun as Castle is, but a solid procedural, and as the cast and writers finds the show's rhythm, I expect the show will only get better, as NCIS: LA did over the course of its first year.
"WE KIND OF CAME TO EXPECT MIRACLES": The inspirational story of Adam Taliaferro, 10 years after a spinal cord injury suffered in a Penn State football game almost left him a quadriplegic.
SECOND PLACE, UNDOUBTEDLY, GOES TO STING: A few weekends ago I sat on a Cape Cod beach in the aftermath of Hurricane Tropical Storm Well It Rained A Lot Earl with frequent commenter Chuck and his family, as well as the sconstants and others, and I forget how we got to this topic but we started singing Toto's 1983 number-one hit "Africa" and couldn't help but wonder: is there a worse metaphor in all of pop music than "I know that I must do what's right -- as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti."

Seriously. What, exactly, is a mountain's elevation (in comparison to another mountain) supposed to tell us about a decision to pursue a woman? Add to that the decidedly sub-Dylan cramming of syllables into the verse, and as admittedly catchy as the song is musically the whole damn thing just makes no sense. Is there worse out there?
CHIEF NOC-A-HOMA'S BOYS: You will not see me praising Atlanta's baseball players often, but sufficient dap is due and owing to Matt Diaz for his well-executed tripping of an on-field intruder during last night's game after the spandex-clad idiot had caused the first two security officers to fall. Said Diaz: “I saw this idiot coming right at me. I figured he’d be better off getting tripped than Tased.”

[Quipped one online commenter: "Presumably the fan was left-handed or Diaz wouldn't have made contact."]

Now, the economic point: this is the second such incident I've seen in person this season; the first was the May 3 tasering. Both nights were Dollar Dog Nights, and I have to wonder -- does the availability of cheap hot dogs lead fans to spend more discretionary money on beer, and therefore make incidents like this one more likely?

Monday, September 20, 2010

OBYTYRY: Former Southern high school gym teacher Leonard Skinner has passed away. Of his famous rockin' former students, he said, “They were good, talented, hard-working boys. They worked hard, lived hard and boozed hard.”
THE LEGEND OF SIR WALTER DIBS: Certainly, as usual, the Marshall-Lily plot on HIMYM was far more of a laugh magnet than the Ted plot, and, personally, I found the whole episode a little laughter-light, and, yes, Ted's final line was an overly on the nose callback, but that was a pretty promising premiere, with the right amount of heart-tugging and question-answering (Marshall's relationship with his father and Rachel Bilson's character's turn, which I'd called during her monologue to Ted) with swerving to raise new questions. Alan's got some thoughts, and I'm sure y'all do too.
HER COSTAR IN THIS ONE MAY BE LESS HAIRY THAN HER FIANCEE: Katy Perry visits Sesame Street to teach about opposites.
IN THE TOWN OF COEUR D'COEURS: You know what improves any day? A montage of people from Pushing Daisies (mostly, let's be honest, Chi McBride) saying "Oh, hell no!"
YOU'LL SEE THAT LIFE IS A BALL AGAIN, LAUGHTER IS CALLING FOR YOU: Tonight begins the Fall TV Season in full, so it's worth asking: what new shows are you planning to sample? What returning shows are you excited for, and which had better turn it around quickly before they're relegated to "only if someone else says it's a good episode" status, and Mosby, I'm looking at you ...

[Speaking of which: there's a billboard on I-95 South promoting the HIMYM syndication run. Of note: NPH is front-and-center, and Josh Radnor's mostly hidden in the background. It's safe to say the show got Fonz'd.]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

COME FOR THE STUHLBARG; STAY FOR THE MIDGET BOXING: I'm certainly interested enough in Boardwalk Empire to stick with it for awhile; Sepinwall, MZS and Noel Murray will help explain what you just saw (as will pretty much every other tv critic of note), though I can at least add a little context for the premature baby incubators on the Boardwalk.

[Also, I did get a bit of an Roman-Moronie-from-Johnny-Dangerously vibe from Big Jim Colosimo, but we'll see if that's much of a problem going forward. Also, only once during in the episode did I look at Buscemi and say to the screen shut the f-ck up, Donny.]
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CHA CHA CHAS? In the important category of "update journalism," TAR winner Nick Spangler is apparently now playing the role of Patrick (the Patrick Fugit role) in the musical version of Saved! in Kansas City.