Tuesday, July 28, 2015

So much TV to watch: How to deal

This is a repost of an earlier thread about how to deal with all the TV there is to watch.

We're at a point in release beyond saturation where it's not just impossible for one human being to keep up with all the T on the airwaves, it's no longer possible to watch all the "Must Watch" shows out there.

Unless you're a professional TV writer, TV is a way to supplement your life and naturally it will be balanced with other time demands of your life.  You can adjust your answer accordingly if you fall under the category of aspiring professional, semi-professional or serious hobbyist, but unless you're veering into being irresponsible, we all have to abide by some sort of TV diet.

To compound the problem, we're living in a Golden Age of TV. As a result, there are going to be a great number of programs more worthy of your attention than programs you have time to watch.

But this isn't a curse. It's a blessing.  In contrast to people who say that TV is a waste of time and bad for your brain hi mom while praising other forms of art like cinema or live theater, I maintain that the capacity of TV to enrich you culturally, socially, and intellectually is greater than ever before. There's no greater evidence of that than the fact that the amount of enriching programs on the air exceeds our available time to watch them all.

So if you have to give up on some critically acclaimed program like Mad Men or Dexter to be able to keep up with Justified or Enlightened, it's still a win-win situation. The only danger you have of "losing"  as a TV watcher is if you don't use your TV diet to challenge yourself. If you watch a soap opera, reality TV show, a standard procedural, or a sitcom that doesn't push the boundaries (i.e. Two and a Half Men, According to Jim), a rerun of something you've already seen, then you are just using the medium as comfort food and  guilty of eroding your brain like your parents (if they were anything like mine when I was younger) accused you of.  Of course, the degree to which something like Grimm, Raising the Bar, Royal Pains, or Southland transcends the procedural or whether a certain reality TV show has merit, is up to you the viewer to justify. But that's part of the fun. I've never bought the argument that Happy Endings has merit beyond the standard sitcom, but I did enjoy the process of my fellow film critics slowly discovering that Happy Endings wasn't a typical sitcom (Cougar Town also falls into this category).

It's not just a blessing, but a challenge.  Sure, it is really easy to fall back on TV as comfort food. It takes a little effort for me to explore something new than to fall back on a rerun of Futurama, Archer or Newsradio which are instant gratification for me. In fact, since the era of YouTube, my attention span has significantly shortened to the degree to which an hour-long  drama can feel like something of a chore. A show like Homeland is so suspenseful that I have no trouble jumping on board, but I've also challenged myself with shows that might not be immediately as rewarding like Scandal, Revenge, or (the now defunct) Terra Nova to develop myself intellectually [edit: What was I thinking when I wrote of Scandal as challenging? Perhaps 12 Monkeys or Humans would be better recent examples]. With a show like Hell on Wheels, it paid off heavily [Sense8 and The Bridge are a couple other examples of shows paying off heavily if you get past the slow burn].

As for discarding shows, I've never seen an episode of Dexter, Friday Night Lights, and have missed large swaths of Mad Men and Breaking Bad but I don't consider myself the lesser for it as long as whatever I'm watching grows me as a TV watcher. Sure, it might hurt my ambitions as a professional TV reviewer [edit: I am now slightly semi-professional as a TV reviewer, but the same still applies as I have larger ambitions], but there's a wealth of material I'm already exploring.

Monday, July 13, 2015

If I had an Emmy Ballot: Lazy Comedy Picks

This is the comedy series of my lazy Emmy picks. As I said in my previous post, this is where I make decisions about what I would submit on an Emmy ballot without having seen everything. I wish I had time to fill in some of my opinions, but I'm writing so much over at Hidden Remote.

Best Series:
Last Man on Earth  (Fox)
Mom  (CBS)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Fresh off the Boat (ABC)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)

Best Actor:
Will Forte, Last Man on Earth
John Cho, Selfie (ABC)
Jeffrey Tambour, Transparent* (Amazon)
Jay Harrington, Benched (USA)
Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC)
Ken Marino, Marry Me (NBC)

Best Actress:
Zoe Deschannel, New Girl (Fox)
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie  (Netflix)
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie 
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Anna Faris, Mom
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Best Aupporting Actor:
Hugh Laurie, Veep* (HBO)
Taran Killam, SNL 
Charlie Day, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia 
Titus Burges, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Sam Waterson, Grace and Frankie
Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation

Best Supporting Actress:
Constance Wu, Fresh off the Boat
Chelsea Peretti, Brooklyn Nine Nine
Carol Kane, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Judith Light, Transparent*
Ariel Winter, Modern Family
Julie Bowen, Modern Family

Best Guest Actor:
Paul Giamatti, Inside Amy Schumer
Jim Carrey, SNL
John Hamm, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Chris Dianotopolous. Silicon Valley
Oliver Platt, Modern Family
Paul Scheer, Fresh off the Boat

Best Guest Actress:
Vanessa Bayer, Portlandia (IFC)
Reese Witherspoon, SNL
Mary Steenburgen, Last Man on Earth
Mary Steenburgen, Togetherness
Natalie Morales, Parks and Recreation
Jennifer Hasty, Selfie

Best Directing:
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Inside Amy Schumer
A to Z (Fox)
Modern Family

Best Writing:
Archer (FX)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Grace and Frankie
Last Man on Earth
Inside Amy Schumer
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

If I had an Emmy Ballot: Lazy Edition Drama Picks

I preface the word "Lazy" with my Emmy predictions because I can't watch everything so I'm making speculative picks based on what I know of a show from past seasons or have heard of it.

For instance, although I have only watched two or three whole episodes of Mad Men, I know that it's the show's last run and I like Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks enough that I'd be happy to see them rewarded with Emmys despite the fact that I can't possibly judge their worthiness. Why don't I just watch Mad Men so I can definitively say whether they belong? My schedule is too busy to start watching every single TV series just for a simple personal blog entry.

In other cases, I like the idea of Downton Abbey as a show and I'm happy it's being watched. I just made a decision not to watch it because, like I said, so many hours in the day. At the same time, I can say without watching Mr Robot that it doesn't sound like a show I want to see rewarded, and while it's not a well-founded decision you should trust me on, them's the rules of this exercise.

Lastly, there are shows that I watched in past seasons that I didn't get around to watching this season. Synopses and previews have helped me determine whether these are shows I'd want rewarded. In the case of The Americans, I quit the show because I found Phil and Elizabeth's ability to fool everyone around then unrealistic. However, this season I heard from general buzz that their daughter Paige discovered their secret identities. Now that sounds like the show I was hoping for. Am I gonna go and backtrack through a season and a half? Hell no! The good news is that this not watching everything method is something you can all participate in, so here we go:

Best Series:
The Bridge (FX)
Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
The Americans (FX)*
Mad Men (AMC)*
Empire (Fox)
Boardwalk Empire  (HBO)
Good Wife (CBS)*

Best Actor:
Clive Owen, The Knick (Cinemax)
Terrence Howard, Empire
Jon Hamm, Mad Men*
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul (AMC)
Charlie Cox, Daredevil (Netflix)
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire

Best Actress:
Julianne Margulies, The Good Wife*
Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Dianne Kruger, The Bridge
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black*
Taraji P Henson, Empire
Hayley Atwell, Agent Carter

Best Supporting Actor:
Jeffrey Wright, Boardwalk Empire
Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline (Netflix)
Jussie Smollett, Empire
Andre Holland, The Knick
Nick Sandow, Orange is the New Black
Donal Logue, Gotham (Fox)

Best Supporting Actress:
Yael Stone, Orange is the New Black
Christina Hendrichs, Mad Men*
Katja Herbers, Manhattan (WGN)
Emily Mortimer, The Newsroom (HBO)
Deborah Ann Woll, Daredevil
Olivia Cook, Bates Motel (A&E)

Best Guest Actress:
Juliette Lewis, Wayward Pines (Fox)
Margo Martindale, The Americans
Franka Potente, The Bridge
Annaleigh Ashford, Masters of Sex
Barbara Rosenblat, Orange is the New Black
Alysia Reiner, Orange is the New Black

Best Guest Actor:
Pablo Schreiber, Orange is the New Black
Terrence Howard, Wayward Pines
Zeljko Ivanek, 12 Monkeys (SyFy)
Frank Langella, The Americans
Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex
F. Murray Abraham, Homeland*

Drama Writing
Good Wife*
The Americans
Orange is the New Black
Boardwalk Empire
Downton Abbey*

Orange is the New Black
Sense 8 (Netflix)
The Knick
Agent Carter
The Americans
Boardwalk Empire

An asterisk indicates a show I didn't actually see.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Links to all my work at Hidden Remote

Since May, I have been writing for Hidden Remote as a TV reviewer.

I have not been able to blog here as much but I will use this space to highlight the work I've been doing there.

First off, here is my author page.

I started out with an essay on breakout stars from the Spring of 2015 that follows off my annual Top 25 Characters posts. I included probable Emmy nominee Ben Mendelsohn from Bloodline, breakout scenery chewers Constance Wu and Taraji P Henson of Fresh off the Boat and Empire respectively, Anna Faris of Mom, Carol Kane of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Charlie Cox of Daredevil, Emily Hampshire of Schitt's Creek and Charlie Day of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Will Forte for Last Man on Earth and recurring star Adam Devine for Modern Family.

I then did a critical reassessment of the 2003 Daredevil in light of the successful Netflix series. 

From there I reviewed 2 Broke Girls in the last two episodes of the season and had a lot of fun reviewing a show I feel has some redeeming qualities but is ultimately very crude and sloppy. In the second review, I had a lot of fun dissecting some of the bad jokes line-for-line.

After that, I looked at some of the Guest Stars You Didn't Know Were On It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I also did a Season 1 review of Sense8 which I found a highly ambitious and unconventional superhero show that had a very impressive commitment to being a global show.

Currently, I am reviewing the first season of The Brink on HBO and the second season of Halt and Catch Fire on AMC. The Brink is a show that I have fallen in love with after five episodes but it's been particularly jarring to see other critics in disagreement with me. One of the most exciting things about reviewing TV is that you form opinions in a vacuum and I had no idea that other critics wouldn't respond the same way as I did when I reviewed the show. Halt and Catch Fire is a show I pretty much gave up on first season but because of the convenience of the premiere date (and a connection to one of the show's executive producers), I decided to give it a second try and while the show isn't among my favorites this year, it has markedly improved.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Episodic Highlights from 2015

Cory Barker's blog TVSurveillance.com has a year-end roundtable where they ask panelists to name their favorite episodes. While I love the critical format of looking at a TV series on an episodic basis, it wasn't until I participated in Cory's roundtable last year that I ever thought of defining a year of TV by its best episodes. Although I don't plan to amass some big or definitive episodes of the year list, it seems worthwhile to put some thought into episodes that resonated with me as we near the midpoint of the year:

While I eventually got bored of the show and hobbled to the finish line of the show's first season, there's a lot to be said for how strong 12 Monkeys came out of the gate.  The show's first three episodes built up high stakes and set up the ground work for loopy sci-fi scenarios with promising speed and efficiency. The series' two main characters were also strongly established from the start and their chemistry intrigued me enough that I was still invested after the way-too-soon death of Leland Goines in the pilot episode.

Though Modern Family is seen by many as a show that has gone stagnant, I continue to consistently enjoy it and maintain my faith that the writers are able to bring it when the occasion calls. "Connection Lost," in which the entire story is told from a half-hour screenshot of Claire's laptop, is the kind of ambitious episode premise that's dynamite if executed well. Some might call the idea of using various apps to tell a narrative might ring to some of shameless product placement, but it's unquestionably innovative and has a high degree of difficulty. This episode reminds me of those art class assignments involving found art.

Fresh off the Boat's 5th episode, "Persistent Romeo". was one of those episodes with a comic hook-- the boys mistake one of those sexual harassment videos they show during orientation as a how-to guide for picking up women -- that was executed perfectly just as the series was finding its groove. The show harkens back to 90's sitcoms in both a meta way and as a stylistic preference. The innocent idea of a kid badly wanting to fit in with his friends and the suspense around whether he'll be able to pull it off with a halfway decent sleepover was also an idea executed well here. My review at TV Fanatic is here.

I've always been weary of praising bottle episodes. Are we celebrating your lack of a locations budget or your homage to some era in TV history few people care about when locations budgets were a big deal? Of course, that was before I saw Archer's bottle episode "Vision Quest" which plays off the character beats so masterfully and establishes new gags (Cheryl's claustrophobia, Cyril's masturbation habit, the uselessness of 911) that escalate enormously over the course of a half hour. My review at TV Fanatic is here. I also gave high marks to the episode "Pocket Listing" for dealing with the sexual chemistry between Lana and Archer so well, for letting Cheryl unleash her crazy, and for giving everyone someone to do in a grandiose comedy of errors.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia had another season that blew its competition out of the water. "The Gang Spies Like US" demonstrated the show's ability to mine tremendous comic depth out of a single comic misunderstanding with Dee causing such unparalleled destruction that it reminded me of some of the more well-executed set pieces in the Pink Panther series. "Charlie Work" was another one of those episodes that pushed the boundaries of a comedy and had the kind of innovative camera work that just won a film a Best Picture Oscar.

The inclusion to this list of Wayward Pines' second episode, "Do Not Discuss Your Life Before", is a testament to the potential it squandered by tipping its hand too early. The show is a mystery with an all-star cast and a solid premise, reminiscent of the best Twilight Zone episodes, about a sheriff trapped in a town where people have a habit of getting lost and staying in place for years. The show started out with promise and the second episode really heightened the tension by teasing out answers that seemed attainable but out of reach. The relationship between Juliette Lewis's Beverly and Matt Dillon's Ethan was also starting to give the protagonist a much needed sounding board. Unfortunately, the episode's end solved what I considered the most intriguing mystery (whether the town was in cahootz) and ended the storyline of the much-needed confidante. As a season finale it worked wonders, but the problem was it was the second episode.

I'm a fan of Silicon Valley but I'm generally enjoying it for the strong character work and sense of place and would disagree with an assessment that the site is consistently a laugh-out-loud comedy. The show's humor is generally long-form which can occasionally yield a home run like last year's season finale (which I cited on last year's list of favorite episodes). This year's "Homicide" was another such episode with a hilarious plot (Richard dealing with a client who secretly hates Ehrlich) and an even more hilarious side trip for Dinesh and Gilfoyle (although it's always a given those two will have the funnier plot) enhanced by another visual gag for the ages. On top of that, it was also a meaningful development moment for Richard as he first shows some backbone here. 

Inside Amy Schumer's "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer" is an incredibly ambitious long-form sketch that pays off in droves. The key to the humor is the extreme attention to detail combined with the way accomplished actors Paul Giamatti and John Hawkes tackle the inanity of the subject with utmost seriousness.

My favorite episode of the year, to date, would be "The Gang Beats Boggs" from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  The show's black comedy elements-Frank practically murders a kid, airplane security is jeopardized- were next level uproarious, the confined space of the airplane lent to a great comic intensity, and the running gag (of keeping score) held up throughout. This was the gang at their unruliest and the show at its most hilarious.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Quintessential Minnesota Film: The Mighty Ducks

This is part of a series I worked on at one point combining my geography major with my film writing. 

The Quintessential Minnesota Film: The Mighty Ducks

The films of Joel and Ethan Coen have a strong sense of place as evidenced by their portrayals of Mississippi (my last entry, O Brother Where Art Thou), Hollywood (Intolerable Cruelty), a quasi-modern day Louisiana (Ladykillers), Texas (No Country for Old Men) and Washington DC (Burn After Reading). They are perhaps best known for their portrayal of their home state of Minnesota in 1996's Fargo.

I spent a summer studying in Minneapolis and visited my sister multiple times around the year when she lived in St Louis Park for 6 years. This is the same Minneapolis suburb that the Coen brothers are from and the shooting location of A Serious Man. Bonus points for A Serious Man for mentioning Red Owl store.

In Fargo, I appreciate the spot-on accents and the portrayal of the bitter cold of Winter. It truly is a kind of cold that demoralizes the population. You get the sense that these people are committing murders because they have nothing better to do but I feel like the portrayal of Minnesota as a bleak and dull winter land is inaccurate.

Courtesy: Sheryl Wallace
Minnesotans are among the healthiest, happiest and most civically active people (they actually rank #1 in voter turnout) in the nation. They also have great state pride.

In light of these virtues, what could better representative Minnesota than a sports film about Minnesota's most beloved sport? The protagonist, Emilio Estevez's Gordon Bombay, is a disgraced ex-hockey player ordered by the court (see the civic pride tie-in) to coach a youth hockey team.

This is a state in which nearly every Minneapolis suburb (that I saw) has its own community center with a hockey rink. It's also worth noting that in the land of 10,000 lakes, ice skating isn't just done in the ice skating rinks but on frozen lakes as well. Minneapolis has hosted the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships annually since 2007.

It's also a film which features St. Paul's famous ice carnival in the background.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Favorite Songs for their Lyrics Part VI

This is another edition of "Favorite Songs for their Lyrics" where I pick a number of songs whose lyrics resonate with me and whittle away at them to my heart's content.  I focus only on the song's lyrics because I feel like quantitatively judging music along some scale of good to bad is mostly pointless. Music just hits us certain ways. Also, worth noting: My musical tastes are embarrassingly mainstream and I've never been particularly adventurous at seeking out things other than what's on the radio, but isn't that more fun for everyone since you'll know the songs I'm writing about?

Bottle it Up, Sara Bairelles - I once heard Bairelles say on Chelsea Handler's show that she's in a healthy and stable relationship so she just channels her sister's problems for her love songs.  Perhaps that's why her two most famous tracks from her first album seem like love songs on the surface but are really expressions of frustration about the pervasiveness of the love song genre. Both this and "Love Song" are extremely direct manifestations of her feelings. "I know it's just your soul but could you bottle it up" could be a direct plea to Sara's sister to use her as a muse because "girls across the nation will eat this up." Yet as the song moves along and the word "love" is repeated over and over and pigeonholed into various sentences,  there seems to be a sense of the singer getting lost in the emotion herself. Even the ability to view "love" with ironic detachment doesn't prevent one from being overtaken with the emotion.

Ain't it Fun, Paramore - The song's first line shows the narrator stating with a hint of casual apathy: "I don't mind letting you down easy" which could mean she's personally rejecting the subject or that she has no problem softening the news that the adult world is going to be tough on the subject.  Or maybe being romantically rejected by the narrator is the subject's "welcome to adulthood" moment? The next line turns contradictory as she advises the subject to "give it time" so that he or she can truly experience the pain ("If it don't hurt now, just wait a while"). But then you realize that the pain of being taken down a notch is part of the process of growing up. Ain't that fun?

Annie Waits, Ben Folds-Folds is one of the few consistently interesting lyricists because he uses the medium to tell stories and he realizes that the best stories aren't necessarily about himself. On its surface,  "Annie Waits" is another of Ben's folksy yarns and the catchy piano riff is misleading as well. A girl named Annie is being stood up by a friend but this slightly unfortunate afternoon is indicative of a larger pattern of disappointment and loneliness. The song juxtaposes the ticking of Annie's biological clock ("She's getting old") with the fact that it's getting late on this particular afternoon. The tragic undertones are evident in everything from Annie's worst-case-scenario daydreams ("Friday bingo, pigeons in the park) to the way the headlights cast shadows that "pass her by and out of sight." A second layer of the song is that whether she's really lonely or not is based on the pount of view of the narrator who happens to want her and therefore thinks that it is the end of the world for Annie that she's being stood up. The twist is that maybe the narrator's the lonely one.

Blank Space, Taylor Swift-If you've been living in a nuclear facility underneath a cave on the moon for the past five years, let me catch you up: Taylor Swift is an extremely popular singer-songwriter who’s known for writing her own songs, being a serial dater, and using her break-ups with famous people as fuel for her songs. Although most singer-songwriters in the 18-25 range write about break-ups a lot (in addition to those under 18 and over 25), Swift gets a disproportional amount of flak for wearing her feelings on her sleeve but that’s because she’s extremely direct in her songs. At times, her directness can be almost sophomoric as with “Shake it Off” where she basically says nanny-nanny-boo-boo to her haters and makes a song out of it.

Taylor Swift tries to split the difference in a far more fascinating way with “Blank Space” in which she realistically explores what a relationship with “Taylor Swift: tabloid fixture” would be like. Like “Shake it Off,” Swift insists on being foolish with her romantic decisions using the “we’re young and we’re wreckless” defense. To review: She wants to immediately show the object of her affection “incredible things” right after being introduced to him, she treats love as a game, and she is already referring to her as “his next mistake.” Did we mention she also gets drunk on jealousy? The song’s most interesting line is “I can make the bad guys good for a while” which strikes me as a reversal. I know Taylor’s commenting on her wrong decision, but isn’t getting someone involved in wreckless behavior (AKA romance) turning someone bad?

Adia, Sarah McLachlan- Sarah McLachlan sings to a friend who she let down in what seems to be a major way.  As I listened to it a couple more times,  it became unclear who committed the transgression as evidenced by the hints of uncertainty (Clues here are "Adia, I do believe I've failed you" and the last line of the chorus "Does it matter?"). So instead of singing out an apology,  Sarah pleads with Adia to not lose her innocence. It's possible that innocence could be used in a "not guilty" way but a "not bitter" interpretation is more likely here.

This is interesting if Sarah was the transgressor that she would plead for her victim to not feel pain but that also makes a lot of sense for admittedly selfish reasons.  If you hit someone with a car,  wouldn't you be relieved to know for the sake of your conscience that the other person was OK?  Another possible interpretation is that the narrator let her down by simply not preventing Adia from harm or simply letting her grow older to the point where she'd have to face the dangers of adulthood (hence the reminder that "we are young").

Broadway is Dark Tonight, Goo Goo Dolls- It's a bit of a downer as a song but the song paints such a rich scene. The setting here is an "old man's bar" where a young man is drinking something off his mind.  In the second verse the narrator addresses the subject in second person and says (possibly in the form of a command or a condensed form  of description) "forget your only son" so that might have something to do with it. And then there's the rich description like "You pray to statutes when you sober up for fun" whatever that means. Perhaps, the young man drinking at the old man's bar laments a generational shift as noted by the fact that "The cowboy killed the rockstar." Johnny Rzeznik likely grew up idolizing the quintessential image of a rockstar because that's what he became (also because he looks like someone who could have scored an invite to stand in with the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith), so you can imagine what the murder of the rockstar at the hands of the cowboy means to him. The song has a strong sense of place that I knew it wasn't based on the Broadway district of New York before looking it up to confirm that.
Your Armor, Charlotte Martin-Whether you find love or don’t as you get older, we all tend to get jaded towards love songs. Heck, even Adam Levine proclaimed “One more stupid love song and I’ll be sick” even though approximately 100% of his songs are about relationships. But a song like “Your Armor” is wistful and enchanted enough to do the trick. The narrator is fascinated with a special someone who, at first glance, seems to be timid and shy as described by the word “Armor.” She asks him in the chorus “Is your armor thin again? Do I want to wear it down?” By painting him in this way, she admits that his reserved nature is intriguing. I always have been attracted to the reserved librarian type, but I realized listening to this song that being attracted to what you don’t know about a person is pretty universal.
Martin then asks two more questions that rephrase the previous line but these questions are a little bolder: “Am I worthy to come in?” expresses self-doubt and “Do you want to be found?” cuts deeper than asking about the subject’s personality. She wants him to make a voluntary decision to shed it.  Again, this is pretty bold for a narrator who admits that these are “words that she could never say.” She and her subject both run around pretending the sun is all they need and that “chasing you around the room is tempting.” Lastly, the song makes use of a great time metaphor for the passage of time, which is always something I love: “Making deals with minutes that will slip away.”
Learn to Fly, The Foo Fighters-You can’t go wrong introducing the devil and angels in the first verse and playing off each other: “Run and tell all of the angels, this could take all night. Think I need a devil to help me get things right.“ The narrator oscillating between using both the devil and all of the angels for guidance is indicative of this sense of panic he’s feeling that’s prevalent through much of the song.  In the next verse, he wants a new revolution to be cooked up and it’s almost as if he’s having a manic episode or some party drug is starting to kick into his blood stream. The other interesting thing about this song is that the narrator seems clear-headed in terms of knowing what he needs to get him out of this sticky situation (i.e. to fly, all of the angels, for the subject to fly along with him) but he’s also “looking for a complication” before admitting “I’m looking cause I’m tired of trying.” Is the “complication” a sort of hail mary pass because he knows he’s failing? The theme of an airplane here is key here because then the concept of a nose dive  fits the premise perfectly.
Thrift Shop, McElmore and Lewis-There’s not much to say here because the songwriter’s satirical spin on the rap song is pretty clear to anyone who listens to this song and that’s a pretty beautiful thing in and of itself. There’s nothing wrong with obvious symbolism. There’s also nothing wrong with being hilarious: “I’m gonna take your grandpa’s style, I’m gonna take your grandpa’s style. No for real, can I have your grandpa’s hand-me-downs?”
Team, Lorde-This is one of those songs where I’m going to have to wrack my brain on each line because Lorde isn’t making it easier on me. If “Royals” is any indication, Lorde’s main shtick seems to be “I’m an outsider, I’m not decked in bling, take me seriously anyway.”  Of course, one has to ask why she feels so insecure about her lack of bling. I don’t ask myself “Is the artist visibly rich enough” when shopping for albums, but maybe preteen girls do?
Perhaps, Lorde feels like an outsider because she’s from New Zealand and, if “Flight of the Conchords” is any indication, Kiwis seem to have that chip on their shoulder.  What’s interesting is Lorde uses “Cities you’ll never see on screen” as the metaphor of choice for her outsider status. New Zealand has three sizeable urban areas but the first thing people think of when they picture New Zealand are pastoral countrysides filled with sheep. Maybe Lorde is working in conjunction with the New Zealand Chamber of Tourism to highlight New Zealand’s great cities (she was born and raised in an urban area), but it’s more likely that she’s reflecting back against the images of the U.S. she’s inundated with (most foreigners are now subjected to more American TV and movies than art produced in their own country). It’s worth noting that Lorde’s portrayal of what she does see on screen is negative. There are “a hundred jewels between teeth” and “between throats” which reflects a sort of excess. In contrast, her boys have “skin like craters of the moon”  but they love that moon like brothers.
Clarity, Zedd-Who is Zedd (other than the evil lord from the Power Rangers) and will we ever hear from her again? I hope so because she certainly has some pretty enlightened views on love and heart break. She sees the subject as "the piece of me I wish I didn't need" which is a pretty smart way to view someone you can't get over: At a certain point, they stop becoming a person and turn into your image of that person. To cement this idea that Zedd is getting over someone, she uses the metaphor of "Frozen Waves" as keeping her in a state of heartbreak, and considers the subject the past (that, for better or worse, is coming back to life). The narrator is woefully lost in these feelings and portrays them well: "It walks deep through our ground and makes us forget all common sense." The real reason that Zedd can't forget the person in question is indicated in the chorus because he brings her moments of clarity. [Editorial update: I have since discovered Zedd is a guy and the singer of the song is female]
Clarity, John Mayer-Since, we're sticking to songs with the name "Clarity." I agree that John Mayer is obnoxious these days, but in his first two albums, he really had a lot to say. I know it sounds corny but in my formative years, “No Such Thing” was my guide for how to approach adulthood, “Bigger than my Body” was an anthem for how to outlive expectations, and “Why Georgia” captured my desire to move during my quarter-life crisis. “Clarity” captures John Mayer in a brief moment of happiness. The narrator is kind of OCD (no surprise there) but he wakes up one morning with a "calm he can't explain." He was surprised that "it somehow lingered on." The interesting line here (placed appropriately in the chorus) is that he resolved to "Wait to find if this will last forever." Um...how do you wait to find if something lasts forever? Will he send a report back to the subject on his deathbed. The pessimistic way to read this is that the narrator is still OCD and can't be comfortable with this new feeling. The more optimistic view is that if you are OCD, waiting to see how long a good feeling lasts is the best one can hope for.

Be sure to click on the tab that says lyrics for past editions of this series.
Other songs I've done include: Green and Gray, Nickel Creek; Collide, Howie Day; Hard Candy, Rain King,  She Don’t Want Nobody Near, Counting Crows; 3 X 5, No Such Thing, Bigger than my Body, Why Georgia, John Mayer; For the First Time, Script; Fairytales, Sara Bairelles; End of the Innocence, Don Henley; Hey Soul Sister, Train; Over my Head, You Found Me, Fray; Let’s See How Far We’ve Come, Mad Season, Downfall, All I Need, Black and White People; Matchbox 20; Jack and Dianne, John Cougar Melloncamp; Here is Gone, Better Days, Goo Goo Dolls; Breathe, Anna Nalick; First Cut is the Deepest, Cat Stephens; Grace is Gone, Gray Street, #41, Dancing Nancies, DMB; Time, Hootie and the Blowfish; Gone, Landed, Ben Folds; Stars, Switchfoot; Your Winter, Sister Hazel; South of Nowhere, Gin Blossoms; On Love in Sadness, Jason Mraz; In Too Deep, Sum 41; I’m With You, Avril Lavigne; Barrytown, Dan Steely; Game of Love, Michelle Branch; Testing 123, Barenaked Ladies; Wake Me Up When September Ends, Greenday