Friday, November 13, 2009

30 Rock back episodes: Audition Day and Stone Mountain

Audition Day A

This show was just cooky anarchy as Tracy and Jenna were recuriting gay and black people off the street, Brian Williams got in on the act, and more hijinks ensued. It was one single premise pushed to extremes: Open the auditions to one new person and the flodgates will come breaking open and they pushed it to extremes. It showed some of the brilliance the show was known for to keep holding our laughter and slowly remove us from reality as the show got more insane. The show also ended on the right twist.

Stone Mountain A-
Tracy was just the kind of off-the-wall bizarre plot that showed the ever-so-slight semblance to something in reality so that it plays on our perceptions of how celebrities might act. It's classic 30 Rock. It shows one character being a complete nut job but slowly reveals to him existing in a universe where other people in his world are equally as nutty. Betty White and Fallon are just as crazy as he is. That was great.

I thought the Liz and Jack plot was kind of the territory where some sort of moral argument or theme is presented through the disagreement between the two. The theme this week is whether such a thing as the real America exists in small towns: Usually it's the opposite where Jack is the cynic which I thought was a good change. Not as funny, and some of the gimmicks fell-flat, but it was a well-developed plot. Usually, the plots aren't that well-developed anyways.

The Jenna plot was the weakest of the three but not that bad. Reminded me too much of Parks and Recreations in that it was just a Halloween episode. It did give Lutz, Twofer, and Frank something to do. By the way: Why is Frank a full-on cast member and his partners-in-crime are just guest stars?

Community Backlog: Home Economics and Statistics

Home Economics B+

Pierce trying to mingle with the young people as a savant of sorts is mildly amusing, you have to admit. Again, the plot wasn’t too Jeff-Britta heavy and when it was it wasn’t even a will-they or won’t-they issue, although it was funny how Abed approached it so directly. You also saw Jeff just plain hit rock-bottom.

Annie is one of the brighter characters and in my opinion, the potential breakout star (being good-looking never hurts, after all). If the Troy-Annie subplot wasn’t working on all cylinders, the show manages to make up for it with a genuinely sweet and heartfelt ending that’s capable of surprising you. I’ve lately been concluding that the thing that saves this show from its corny jokes and somewhat forced set-ups between characters is the last two or three minutes from the show. In the endings that strike just the right balance between the happy and sad. These characters’ happy endings aren’t so much everything working out for them but them accepting their lot and making the best out of the situation. In this episode, Annie didn’t have the guts just yet to announce her love to Troy in a dramatic fashion.

Intro to Statistics: B-
I think the show was slowly building up in the last two weeks towards a level of comfort but this week had too many moments that made me cringe.
I think everyone will have their own list of characters they like and dislike. Personally, I find Sherri very stereotypical and that makes her the weak link of the ensemble. Her link to being divorced and hating Jeff’s new prospective girlfriend was far-fetched for me.

We've already established Jeff reluctantly likes the college a little and the people in the group. Is he going to go on a tirade every week and try to disown his group of friends only to realize in a sappy ending that they're not that bad after all? I know the episodes have aired a little out of order, but it seems like a step backwards.

Still, the episode had a good Senor Chang moment.

Community: Intro to Debate

Intro to Debate…B-

Of the three sub-plots this week, none of them entirely worked out for me so it’s hard to put this anywhere north of the B range. However, the plots collectively the episode had enough moments to invoke a general feeling of gooey goodness in me by episode's end. A lot of it came down to the climax of the debate where the hot shot debater in the wheelchair does something completely unexpected to seemingly win the debate until Annie does something even more unexpected to really win the debate and tie up the B-plot nicely. Tying plot points together in a Seinfeldesque manner like that is always impressive enough to at least partially redeem an episode's lackluster plotting.

In the A-plot, Dean Pelton wants the debate team to do well and Jeff is seen as a prime candidate. He offers a carrot on a stick of sorts to get him to join. This plot’s been used before two or three times but maybe it’s the show’s go-to-move and I’m not supposed to dock it points for unoriginality. Annie wanting to be popular again convinces Jeff to put more effort into what he’s doing. It’s a redo of the episode where Annie bawls her eyes out to get Jeff to attend her Halloween party.

As for the B-plot, I would think it's a little early in the series for Abed’s meta-textual gags to work. Besides, where is he getting the free time and actors to create another TV show? The B-story ties into the A-story because Abed has a strange ability to predict the future and he predicts that Shirley will be chased by a werewolf and that Jeff and Annie will make out. Jeff and Annie start feeling (strangely) unexplained chemistry (kind of abrupt, since they've had zero up to this point). The A.V. Club’s review says that the sudden falling-in-love scene was supposed to be mocking the convention of how the librarian starts becoming sexy once she lets her hair out. Not buying it. The chemistry becomes hastily explained by Shirley telling this week’s will-they-won’t-they pair about Abed’s prediction.

The problems with the debate scenes themselves is symptomatic of one of the show’s main problems: Painted in too broad a stroke. The theme of the debate-within-a-show (that occupies a little too much screen time, in my opinion, btw) is whether man good or evil.

Lastly, the C-story is about Britta trying to quit cigarettes and Pierce volunteering to hypnotize her out of it. I might have missed this: Was he claiming to be an amateur psychologist in addition to being a toastmaster, keyboardist and fashion consultant (as when he designed the mascot) Sometimes it stretches it that Pierce is like the jack-of-all-trades until you remember that he’s not particularly adept at anything. Instead, he’s just that eager beaver who is willing to pick up any extracurricular activity and volunteer for any task because he wants to fit in and be respected so badly. That’s actually a relatable character in any college or group, so I have to give it that.

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Last two weeks of the Office: Murder and Double Date reviews

Murder B
This was a somewhat breezy and inconsequential episode and kind of a pleasant one at that. It showed the staff being themselves and dealing with some typical team situation –the staff forgetting the impending problems of doom and immersing themselves into a board game- in the quirky way that this body of people reacts. They are almost like a large dysfunctional family: Andy and Dwight got really into the game while Angela and Stanley got bored to death and the rest of the crew members fell somewhere in between. Oscar, a more sensible member of the group, insisted on keeping his blackberry throughout because the reason the group was playing this game to forget that the company might be bankrupt.

The show also pitted Michael and Jim against each other in a way that created
meaningful conflict and then simmered the tension down in a realistic way. You have to wonder how the hell Jim can have any credibility telling the group to get back to work knowing he was the goofball for several years up until he realized had a kid and a mortgage to support. Still, the fact that the office calls him out on it is great.

There was also the Erin and Andy subplot and if you don’t like mushy romance, you’ll find this amusing. The plot development between them is straight out of a romantic comedy film but it seemed slightly hipper and done in a way only the Office could pull off.

I gave the show a B, however, because it seemed kind of rushed and not exactly funny.

Oh wait----Just as I concluded on giving the show a B, the show’s closing scene of Pam, Dwight, Andy, and Steve in a show-down put a smile on my face. Ehhh....still a B.

Double Date C-
This left such a bitter taste in my mouth because the Jim and Pam show isn’t that exciting anymore. I feel like Jim’s development as a character has gone in a negative direction and I don’t believe John Krasinski or the writers see the character the way I do. They still think Jim is as likable a guy as he was in the first couple seasons.

In contrast, I think he’s a goofball who suddenly feels holier than thou in relationship to Michael and his other coworkers because he’s got a baby on the way and a mortgage to support and, all of a sudden, he has to be more responsible. I can almost no longer tolerate watching Michael and Jim scenes. There were moments like when Jim says “Stop!” to Michael that I cringe and not in a good way.

In the episode, Michael joins Pam and Jim for a birthday lunch for Mrs. Beasley. The episode started picking up steam when Michael insensitively dumps Pam’s mom (did not see that coming) and Pam gets pissed off. In contrast to Jim, I can still stay on board Pam’s character even if I don’t approve of what Pam is doing. I think Pam is a rational person but she’s just sort of gone nuts and has lost it. We as the audience aren't really supposed to be condoning Pam’s actions as recognizing that Pam is in a Oepedial state of regression at seeing her mother date her boss. I believe the writers are more aware of this.

In the third act, Pam gets pissed off and Michael concedes her a single punch if it will make everything feel better. The episode also showed Toby completely ignoring his HR duties by giving Pam boxing advice. I thought that since the monumental hug, Toby and Michael were getting along better now, especially since that monumental hug. Another problem with this whole thing was that Toby seems too apathetic to want to risk getting himself in trouble over a desire to punch Michael. It's a central trait of Toby that he gets pushed around a lot and he doesn't push back because he's too timid.

The episode builds up to that one punch (or at least the promise of it) and all the hype is a little too hard to deliver. Maybe that was the point?

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Parks and Recreation back log: Greg Pikitis and Kaboom

Greg Pikitis: B
The major strength of this episode was that every character had a moment or two that was funny. The creepy attraction of Tom towards Anne has been played out for laughs from episode one and it’s still effective here. Anne pretty much tolerates Tom but obviously finds him unpleasant and when she throws a Halloween party, she doesn’t want to invite him. I love Tom and find him to be one of my true breakout characters because he thinks he’s so convinced that he’s the life of the party even when he isn’t. Unfortunately, Tom isn’t really the main A or B-story. The A-story mostly centers around Anne worrying that her party is lame. That’s not much of a plot and there’s not too much more excitement out of this than being surprised by people’s Halloween costumes. April’s straight boyfriend’s gay boyfriend wins hands-down for being a straight guy.

The B-plot showed how sweet Leslie’s romance with the cop is because the two are so awkward together. If he wasn’t such a nebbish guy, there’s no way he would put up with too much more of her, but he seems like he’s too shy to ask out more than one person a year and knows it might be a while before the next person comes along who’s willing to go out with him. The B-plot worked slightly better for me. Greg Pikitis gave us more of that normal-crazy dichotomy off of Leslie where he did something that wasn’t that big of a deal but to Leslie, it was the equivalent of a national scandal. The episode was cringe-worthy but was more so predictable. The actor who played Greg nailed his part well and Andy had some very strong moments.

Andy’s best moment and the episode’s best moment came out of an off-screen allusion to him: One of the best moments in the episode was how the nurses appeared to like Andy so much more than Mark. Hillarious.

Kaboom: B+
Part of the theme of small-town comedies and dramedies is that small-towns are one big grown-up version of high school. People have known each other forever and their world seems kind of small by comparison. If this makes sense to you, you might get a Breakfast- Club-kind of joy out of seeing a friendship form between two polar opposites. Andy is the dumb jock who’s not into doing work and Leslie, is the goody two-shoes type. It also indicates in a sweet way that Andy is really coming around and willing to change. Andy develops in a way that doesn’t make him any less dense or dumb.

The show starts out with Leslie getting foolishly inspired by Kaboom (a real organization that in this parallel universe is part of a nonsensical scam) to do something impulsive. In a great Ann-and-Leslie moment (one of the key relationships of the show and the best-developed in my opinion), Leslie hops on board her stupidity and the two fill in the park on their own. Unfortunately, Andy’s still living in the pit (although he claims he isn’t) living in the park and he gets badly injured by a torrent of dirt that a crane drops on him.

Andy then has the choice to sue the city or not and the episode takes a good turn that makes a winner out of both Andy and the Parks department. It’s nice to have a good ending after things usually go so haywire for Leslie. Like Michael Scott’s development, the show isn’t worth rooting for if they don’t make Leslie semi-competent once in a while.

30 Rock review: Problem Solvers

30 Rock: The Problem Solvers C+

I would call this the weakest episode of the season on the basis that two of the subplots didn’t work and the main plot was devoid of funniness. I’ve written on a few occasions that the show’s writers posses godlike levels of talent in terms of dialogue and carefully constructed jokes but when the jokes fall a little short, we’re reminded that the show uses the same five or six plots over again:
1. Kenneth being naïve
2. Jenna and Tracy either turning the world upside down with their selfishness
3. The inverse of #2: Jenna and Tracy trying to compensate for being selfish by being selfless and still managing to make cause an equal amount of disaster than if they’d just been selfish to begin with
4. Either Liz or Jack finding love but realizing it can’t mix with their professional lives
5. Liz, the most grounded character on the show, feeling power-hungry
6. The inverse of #5: Jack, the most aloof character on the show through his inseperable wealth, feeling like one of the little people and being humbled

I previously liked Stone Mountain so much because it mixed up plots 5 and 6 so much and brought Jack from feeling grounded to a state of condescending aloofness (which was really his natural state) and did the reverse to Liz so that they both cathartically shared the same worldview at episode’s end.

This episode just had a complete recycling of plot points in the A-plot. Liz feels she’s too god for Jack and takes bad advice from Tracy and Jenna. Not one change from the Rosemary’s Baby episode or anything along those lines. What was worse was that it wasn’t funny. The two guest stars who played rival agents weren’t memorable and when few jokes are falling you’re reminded of unoriginality. The romantic ending cliché also didn’t work that well in my opinion.

The B-plot was even more painfully unoriginal. I won’t even spell it out for you because it was pretty much plot three and its only gag was that Jenna and Tracy got so enthusiastic about what they were doing that they created t-shirts.

The best plot was the C-plot which introduced a new cast member and played off Kenneth’s naivette. This was Kenneth at his best. They took his naïve helpfulness and turned it upside down. The new cast member was very eager to please and was Kenneth-like in nature in that sense. The twist was that Kenneth viewed the new cast member’s willingness to do things for himself rather than asking an assistant to do it for him, as stepping on his territory. The hilarious result: Things get ugly with Kenneth and the new cast member who are the two most likeable guys on the show. It is a blessing that we now have a new cast member who can potentially solve things.

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Review of last two Parks and Recreation Episodes

Mural: C+
This week in which both the office and Parks were very slowed-down episodes where nothing really happened in terms of character development (I don’t consider impending bankruptcy much because I don’t believe it will amount to anything serious on the Office). This wasn’t too much of an episode for action. It was just a set piece that let the characters’ quirkiness come out. The plot was that all the characters each had to design a new mural for city hall and the episode’s best strength was how committee members who initially didn’t care about it started getting into the competition. April appeared a little more enthusiastic than usual, Donna (a side character) had the most bizarre entry of the competition, and the other uncredited member of the department Jerry had far and away the best picture but lost points becasue everyone hated him. Tom went from initially disliking the picture he contracted out to an art student becaue it didn't include enough naked ladies on it to loving it because it had shapes. It was a relatively nice way to spend a half-hour but it was mostly forgettable. The episode’s biggest sin was a lack of ambition.
The B-plot was so dumb, I barely can bring myself to repeat it: Ron makes a semi-orgasmic moan while Andy is shining his shoes which embarrasses both of them. Even if you are warming up to this show, you have to take a step back and admit that that was just a misguided idea.

Ron and Tammy: A-
The idea that Leslie Knoepp is crazy and the world just sort of brushes her off as a little overenthusiastic about what she does is fine, but to actually pair her against someone who’s just as crazy was gold. That other person is Megan Mullally who guest stars as Ron Swanson’s bitchy ex-wife, Tammy. The plot is that the parks department needs to fight the library system for the rights to develop the plot and Tammy’s been appointed the new director of the library department.

Up until now, Tammy has only been alluded to and like Maris Crane on Frasier, she’s already been pretty hard to live up to. Megan Mullally pulled it off: She was vindictive and crazy in this episode but only revealed herself to be that way in the third act of the episode. That was the beauty of the whole thing: When Leslie meets Tammy, Tammy seems perfectly pleasant and sweet and tricks Leslie into feeling out of place when she overreacts to a $3 library fine. Tammy generously agrees to give Leslie the plot because, as she says, the two must stick together as women in government. Leslie feels so pleased by Tammy’s offer that she thinks it’s a good idea to get Ron and Tammy on good terms. The two appear to hit it off again immediately, at least on a pure carnal level, but we soon find that Megan has ulterior motives. The other major twist is that Ron isn’t so much hateful of Tammy’s guts so much as he is desperate to resist her charms and too weak to do so. It’s a doozy of an episode and even more so if you love Ron Swanson. For me, he’s never been the most appealing part of the show so others might rate it higher but I did think it was a strong episode overall (and gave it the second highest grade that I gave).

The b-plot was pretty decent and the question of whether Mark is really a jerk was given a satisfiable answer on the basis of how he didn’t try to be a jerk to Andy even though Andy is hilariously dillusional.Also of note: the episode had a GREAT Anne Moment, where Anne is too engrossed into group think to disagree that having a library next to her house would be a bad idea.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Songs whose lyrics I love, Part III

Past editions:

Also, check out this article i wrote on a website that pays me for hits for my take on the choice of Oscar hosts.

Gone, Ben Folds Five (2001)-Certainly not my favorite song, there’s a very heavy air of sadness to it as the narrator reflects on someone who dumped him a year ago, and how he’s at the last stages of moving on. “The chemicals have are wearing off,” is how he describes the process. Gone is also a very strong word which you think the narrator is enthusiastically coming to grips with since you hear the word repeated and sung so joyously.

Grey Street, Dave Matthews Band (2002)-One of my favorite Dave Matthews Songs of the later era. The song has some really dark moments about how the woman in question is going to take things and set them on fire. It’s about a women who’s struggling and stuck in the same situation in life. The imagery is very vivid. Perhaps the woman’s problem is that she’s literally stuck in a dead end. There's an equally good chance that the way she sees the world is the problem, itself. The chorus ends “All the colors blend together to form Grey Street.” Maybe some of the colors are bright things in her life that she’s ignoring because they come together.

Time, Hootie and the Blowfish (1996)-If there’s a phobia for people who are afraid of time passing them by, then I have it. The narrator acknowledges this feeling. Time is responsible for washing away the narrator’s dreams. I know it’s not natural or sensical to blame time itself for things going awry, but I feel like time is the culprit, myself. It gives you hope to see that the narrator overcomes this through disbelief.

First Cut is the Deepest, Cat Stephens (1967)-It’s kind of true that the first break-up you have is the hardest. The narrator is in a very heavy state of flux saying that they will try to find love again but they’re still hurt and looking back quite a bit.

Stars, Switchfoot (2005)-I like how the narrator is talking about so many extremes: ecstacy, pain, his luck going down the drain. The song is very up-tempo which accompanies the mania quite well. I also like the consistent use of imagery and in particularly the weather references (i.e. “Maybe I’ve been partly cloudy, maybe I’m a chance of rain”).

#41, Dave Matthews Band (1996)-The lyrics are about DMB’s professional break-up with his early manager who discovered him. It could be applied for a lot of things and it expresses in a beautifully abstract way, a reflection on a happiness that was and a determination to get back to it, it seems. The narrator reflects in the verses about times past. He talks about playing far away from the loneliness no one notices now and how he wanted to stay, play, and love (“you”). In the choruses he resolves to share the joy of playing in the rain with the subject of his song. He also resolved to not pass this by, bring water, and enter one way and exit another. It’s all incredibly vague, but you sort of get the idea that there’s something going on.

Name, Goo Goo Dolls (1997)-The idea of how “We’re grown-up orphans who never knew their name” strikes me immediately. I believe that what’s being sung about is the bitterness of having grown-up and not being able to return to that childhood-like innocence. I interpret not knowing your name as not knowing your identity as a grown-up like you did as a child. The narrator is singing to a childhood crush (he sings about losing letters he sent to her) and when he says that he won’t tell anyone her name, there’s an implication that he does know her name and she doesn’t. I believe that means he knows her really well in the way you know someone that you’ve grown up with and known all your life. I see some truth in that because I tend to think that the people who know me best are the people who grew up with me.

Vegas, Sara Beirelles (2009)-As Sara Beirelles explains it, it’s about how people are thinking there could be one thing that could change their lives and make it all better. Someone believes going to Vegas is the solution to all their problems because that’s where dreams come true, while another person believes that place is New York and a different person believes he should sell his car and cross the border. The pseudo-romantic element about not forgetting the narrator is just something I see as a reminder not to get too caught up on those dreams.

Sugar We’re Going Down, Fall Out Boy (2006)-Fall Out Boy uses wickedly clever and self-conscious lyrics. They’re the musical equivalent of a new wave director who invokes references of past artists in their songs so that they’re not just singing about emotions but they’re also reflecting (and sometimes parodying) on the conventions of singing about emotions. There’s a reflection here that maybe that persona might just be a little shallow when he notes that his identity is “just who I am this week” and that an emotion as strong as love is just a notch on a bedpost or (even worse) fodder for a line in a song. Then, in the chorus, they lament that they’re striking out early but enthusiastically and proclaim themselves to be going down swinging. Maybe, it’s a larger issue that they’re shallow people so they’re getting what they deserve.

Grace is Gone, Dave Matthews Band (2002)-There are so many DMB songs to choose: At the moment, I feel like throwing in this more low-key number about a guy drinking away his problems. I’ve certainly never heard someone so self-conscious about why he’s drinking, interestingly enough. It’s almost like excessive exposition to a character in a movie: but the song is so catchy and the words flow so well into each other. We also run into the interesting question of what exactly it means for your "grace" to be gone?

Update: The song was written by Matthews upon the passing of his stepfather and I got the feeling that this event didn't have the same effect as the passing of his biological father. As a result the song has a more lightweight tone than full-fledged mourning: It feels as though the song was written because he was fond of his stepfather and the least he could do as a songwriter was to devote a song for him.