Thursday, November 25, 2010

Guest Stars Part II: Sunny and 30 Rock

This is the second edition of me taking an extensive look at notable guest stars that have appeared on TV shows I watch. I define notable as someone who I recognize when looking at the critics or watching the show so it's a subjective thing. As usual, any corrections or additions to the list are greatly appreciated. More importantly don't hesitate to weigh in.

* means appeared as Self
^ means that they appeared in more than one role
Bold means Recurring Character

30 Rock:
Adam Levine*, Al Gore*, Alan Alda, Andy Richter, Ben Bailey*, Betty White*, Bill Hader, Brian Williams*, Brian Stack (Conan O'Brien), Brian McCann (Conan O'Brien), Buzz Aldrin*, Carrie Fisher, Conan O’Brien*, Cheyenne Jackson, Chris Parnell, David Schwimmer, Edie Falco, Elaine Stritch, Elizabeth Banks, Elvis Costello*, Emily Mortimer, Horatio Sanz, Isabella Rosselini, James Rebhorn, Jennifer Anniston, Jerry Seinfeld*, Jimmy Fallon*, John Bon Jovi*, John McEnroe*, John Slattery, Julia Louis-Dreyffus, Julianne Moore, Lonny Ross, Matt Damon, Megan Mullally, Meredith Viera*, Michael Sheen, The entire cast of "Night Court", Oprah Winfrey, Padma Lakshi* (Top Chef), Paul Giamatti, Paul Scheer, Paul Reubens, Rachel Dratch^, Rob Huebel, Rob Reiner*, Rip Torn, Sean Hayes, Selma Hayek, Sherri Shepherd, Steve Buscemi, Wayne Brady, Will Arnett, Will Forte^, Whoopi Goldberg

Summary: 30 Rock can affectionately be called a "Stunt Casting Whore." When the show's on, no one seems to mind but it was a different story when the show started slumping in Season three. The show's detractors must at least be jealous that 30 Rock's casting department is able to pull practically anyone out of a hat: Oprah Winfrey, Julianne Moore, Matt Damon and Paul Giamatti are likely very busy people with very little need to guest star on a TV show.

Whether you love or hate 30 Rock for the stunt casting. It's hard to argue that guest stars aren't used well on 30 Rock. Random celebrities like personalities like Buzz Aldrin, Jon Bon Jovi, Rob Reiner, Elvis Costello John McEnroe, Padma Lakshi, and Betty White (this was about a year before she became an Internet meme) seem to come out of nowhere in relatively inconsequential roles. Al Gore, Brian Williams, and Carrie Fisher have never satirized their own personalities so effectively as on this show.

Highlight: So hard to choose from this list, but here's a top 5 (in no particular order):
1. Elizabeth Banks-In Banks's Avery Jessup, Jack has found a counterpart that's equally nutty which means that Jack's vitriolic nature isn't going to be softened by the mushy romantic comedy plots that (in my opinion) sank much of the show's 3rd and 4th seasons.
2. David Schwimmer-Absolutely hilarious as an egotistical-actor-turned-rogue-environmentalist.
3. Paul Reubens-Played the last surviving heir to the Hapsburg Dynasty and a genetic monstrosity due prolonged in-breeding. His performance alone made
4. Wayne Brady-A bad date that Liz couldn't break up with due to accusations of racism. His hobbies included "Vietnam War reenactments, blogging about Star Wars (not the movie but the Reagan-era initiative) and taking pictures of doors."
5. Chris Parnell-Dr. Leo Spaceman has become a fan favorite for his unique brand of medical incompetence.

Check out this article on how 30 Rock's Characters Represent the Epic Struggle of Art vs Commerce

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
Notable Guest Stars:
Anne Archer, Autumn Reeser, Catherine Reitman, Chad Coleman, Dave Foley, David Huddleston, Dennis Haskins, Jason Sudeikis, Judy Greer, Lynn Marie Stewart, Mary Lynn Rujskab, Melanie Lynskey, Nora Dunn, Patricia Belcher, Rene Auberjonois, Rob Thomas*, Sinbad*, Stephen Collins, Suzy Nakamura.

Summary: Over the course of 67 episodes, "Sunny" doesn't have a particularly notable roster of people to come through the show. This is somewhat curious because Danny DeVito is so well-connected. In fact, the show's two biggest hit characters are people with personal connections to the show: Mary Elizabeth Ellis (The Waitress) is Charlie Day's wife and Bruce Hornsby (Rickety Cricket) is a long-time friend of the gang and a story consultant for the show. Additionally, the target of Dennis in the "DENNIS System" episode, Jill Latiano, was Glenn Howerton's real-life fiancee. There is a relatively steady stream of guest stars week in and week out but a lot of them are under the radar.

It's also interesting to note that the guest star is never at the center of the episode on "Sunny." In his recent appearance, Jason Sudeikis probably had the most screentime for a guest star so far and that's because he was temporarily part of the gang themselves. Guest stars usually have the thankless task of responding with bafflement to the gang's unique style of conversation.

Highlights: Due to the way he defined the role on "Newsradio," Dave Foley is considered the archetypal straight man but he was a little underused in his role as a school principal who made a massive error in judgement by hiring Charlie and Dee. For my personal favorite one-time guest star, however, I'll go with Saturday Night Live alum Nora Dunn. She plays Frank's sister-in-law who responds disapprovingly as Mac and Frank both try to pick her up at her husband's funeral.

The Waitress and Rickety Cricket are fan favorites but I would probably choose Brian Unger's performance as the lawyer as my favorite long-term character. It's already enough of an accomplishment alone that he's able to play a foil to the gang (particularly Charlie) without seeming vindictive or overly dislikable in the process. Half the time, the lawyer is overly stressed and wants them to go away and half the time, he relishes going toe-to-toe with the gang and besting them. I didn't particularly care for how he was used in "The Gang Gets Divorced" (he seemed a little vindicitive to want to financially destroy Dennis when Mac was the one that drunk-dialed), but on the basis of the first two episodes alone, I'm pretty impressed.

I didn't list Unger as a notable guest star because I didn't recognize his name. His background is quite interesting: He's produced segments for the Daily Show, served as a commentator on NPR and written for The Washington Post and Minneapolis star Tribune; and he's served as a host for series on The Discovery Channel and PBS.

Coming up on the next edition: Boston Public, Mad About You, Newsradio, Community, or possibly Heroes. Whatever strikes my fancy

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Glee Pairings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Check out this article on the World's Most Dangerous Sports I recently wrote.

The writers do a lot of pairing up of characters on "Glee" but with the lack of consistency from episode to episode, some of them have turned out much weaker than I expected.

Good Character Pairings:
Puck/Artie: Established in "Never Been Kissed," we have yet to see if Artie and Puck ever acknowledge the progress they made in this episode. So far, however, I'm thankful for that one solid episode.
The degree of how soft Puck's gotten since being presented as a bully in the first few episodes was a little inconsistent with the fact that he was a full-fledged part of the group. The Puck from the first half of Season One would have never wanted to be around Tina, Artie, Mercedes and Kurt and would have made fun of anyone who associated with them. This was addressed perfectly here and clarified exactly how strong of a relationship Puck had.

Burt/Kurt: This very strong relationship that has been at the center of the show's core theme of acceptance. The differences in mannerisms and lifestyles between father and son are conveniently bridged here and Mike O'Malley's performance was strong that he was nominated for an Emmy and was promoted to regular cast member.

Figgins/Will/Sue: Figgins and Sue have a delicate balance of power. It helps that there's a very pragmatic referee in the middle of their conflicts.

Michael Chang/Tina: I like how Michael has Asian pride and that's also been used as his comic attribute a little (i.e. he goes to the same restaurant every time, he supposedly knows where every missing Asian kid is). Sorry Artie, I like these two better.

Will/Emma: They have the makings of a power couple or a couple that was meant to be but never was. The writers are pulling Will apart from Emma in a number of ways (in particular, he's picking up a lot more sexual encounters than her along the way) and still convincing me at least that they belong together

Bieste/Will: The kiss was awkward but she does test him in terms of whether he's as much about tolerance as he says he is.

Quinn/Rachel: They're rivalry over Finn had its moments in their first season and the balance of power between the two shifted quite smoothly back and forth last season.

Finn/Will: If Will is a mentor to any one person in the club, it is probably Finn. He's had more heart-to-heart talks with him than anyone else and Finn's lack of smarts makes him the one most in need of guidance.

Bad pairings:
Mercedes/Quinn: They had a nice moment of bonding but since there's been nothing since, you get the feeling that the two were paired together for just an episode just out of convenience sake because they needed a B-plot one episode.

Kurt/Finn: Finn thought Kurt was "really cool" but he wasn't into him like that. I don't see Finn actually thinking Kurt is cool to begin with. Finn's not into cosmetics or things that gays stereotypically are into, and that's all Kurt talks about (at least that's all Kurt is seen talking about). I understand Finn believing in tolerance for Kurt because he's gay, but I don't understand Finn and Kurt having much in common. Finn was probably a little homophobic (not as in gay hating, but as in having certain assumptions about Gays) before meeting Kurt and if that's the case, I wouldn't see Kurt as the guy to convince him that his stereotypical impressions of Gays are wrong considering he fits all the stereotypes.

Artie/Brittney: I think it's just a matter of pairing Brittney up with everyone but this one was a little awkward. I do admit they were running out of girls left, and Brittney's your de facto slut. If they hadn't already used up their guest star budget, I would have suggested interesting some new girlfriend for Artie if need be.

Will/Tanaka: Were these two really friends or was Will just a colleague who got into a sticky situation with him because of Emma? I don't think this was ever established. They were in an A Capella group together for an episode, but I think the show wanted us to believe the Emma situation was sticky because she was tearing two friends apart, but if Tanaka was Will's friend, I just never saw any chemistry.

Sam/Quinn: What's wrong with having some people single and some people attached to each other and having some people in between? Sam and Quinn were going to be a not-yet-defined couple with a little bit of tension and they got together way too quickly. If they're doing everything but having sex, that's too much to keep any sense of tension going already.

Will/Rachel: Rachel is self-serving to the point of sabatoge. It was because of her that the prospective 12th member was too afraid to join the group. It's true that Rachel's selfishness is acknowledged by her peers, but it's Will's responsibility to get tough with her. Will should care too much about his Glee club not to take major actions about it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Office Review:

I've been published at recently as well as helium

I’ve recently discovered the website and have been finding a new vocabulary for my observations lately and in this case something that I learned about two days ago, I now have a new example of: This episode is an example of Third Line Some Waiting in which snippets of an unresolved C-plot are intermingled with an A and B plot and they're not developed or concluded over the course of an episode.

Ryan's website has been hinted at before in a couple places as a pretty funny gag and fortunately it got its own episode. I really like Ryan a lot so I'm glad to see a Ryan-centric episode.

I know I'm in the minority, but I find Ryan the most interesting character on the show and the most relatable from the audience's perspective. His first day at the office was the pilot episode so he has no back history with his officemates further than what the audience has. He's also more unattached to the Office than Jim who was originally supposed to be the guy too cool to care about work (This was because Jim's UK counterpart Tim was the most apathetic on his show). Additionally, Ryan's malleable and dynamic. His fortunes have gone massively up and down and he has changed his attitude and persona accordingly with each step. He's more fitting for a zeitgeist of economic uncertainty where people can be gainfully employed one day and laid off or (in the case of CEO's) indicted the next.

Back to the episode at hand: The plot centered around Ryan winning over some of Dunder-Mufflin as investors to his new start-up but some of the guys who've already invested in him are having their regrets. Considering they voluntarily gave him the money in the first place, what caused them to change their minds and suddenly realize he was unreliable isn't particularly well-explained. Ryan has a buyer for his company but he wants to build up the site and invest more while his Dunder-Mifflin cohorts want out and are trying to convince Michael (who owns a majority of the shares) into voting to sell his shares.

The episode has a couple good twists and a good twist can really make an episode, as far as I'm concerned. Here, it's that Washington University doesn't want to buy the company for its content but becuase it's the WU Public Health Fund and they just want the URL name.

Pam has been growing a lot in confidence and her dynamic with Michael has gotten better in a way that's still within the realms of realism as far as I'm concerned (her husband on the other hand, I don't and I'll be getting to that shortly). That being said, Pam was pretty out of line in this episode. Who is she to judge the nature of his relationship with Ryan? We're assuming she sees less of their interactions than the viewer at home sees since she's not privy to any one-on-one conversations between the two. The episode was also inconsistent with Michael’s character. Michael had a huge crush on Ryan the first couple seasons but he was practically Ryan's worst enemy during the season Ryan got promoted to New York.

Let's tackle the big issue and I've tackled it at least once before on this blog:
Jim is a big jerk to Gabe. Are we supposed to be rooting for him? It was a good prank but realistically, it should lead to Jim getting in trouble. It also completely redefines Jim for the worse when he pranks someone other than Dwight. Unlike Dwight, Gabe doesn’t have a hint of arrogance in him and he’s a well-meaning guy.

It was already a big enough hole that Jim, Pam and Gabe are on good enough terms that he invited them to his party when Jim and Pam unethically skipped a day of work on a technicality and humiliated Gabe last season when he was just starting out.

It’s true that the sales cap policy is bad but Jim has a mean streak in him when he doesn’t get what he wants that it seems like the show’s writers and Krasinski don’t seem to acknowledge the character’s flaws. The show is acting as though Jim is still the show’s likable spunky everyman character when he’s clearly not and that’s less forgivable because this show ordinarily has such realistic portrayals of character relations.

The B-plot involving Dwight establishing a hay theme park establishes the question, “How many lost hours is Sabre suffering this week and why hasn’t Gabe or Toby done anything about it?” Ryan is off establishing his own business, Michael is helping Ryan with it and Dwight was seemingly spending the entire work week building his own hay theme park.

The Angela-Dwight dynamic had some nice movement this week. The meeting of Angela and the new guy was nicely played out and I liked how her attraction to him basically came out of the fact that he was mocking her ex-boyfriend. The sex contract had run its course and it was unrealistic to expect that they hadn’t used up all five mandatory trysts at this point.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Last night's Glee: Substitute

Here's my review of Glee. On a side note, I'm learning when I write these reviews how hard it is to resist finding out someone else's opinion on the show right after you watch it. Fortunately I managed to stay entirely away from any message boards or sites until I formed an entirely original opinion on the show. For all I know, every other person who watched the show thought the exact opposite of me and that's the fun of it:

One good thing about Glee being erratic is you never know what to expect. The show might go in directions that are entirely self-defeating and stupid because the writer’s have done that before. This week, the shit really hit the fan. Over the course of the episode, Terri was back in Will’s life, Will was fired, Sue had taken over as principal, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Holly Holiday was going to take over the Glee Club. You can’t accuse Glee of being predictable if at least one of these changes didn’t get reset to the status quo by episode’s end (who knows if that’s the last we see of Terri).

On the major changes to happen this week: Sue taking over for Figgins is at least where we are at episode’s end. I have no way of knowing how long this will last, but it obviously can’t or shouldn’t. Aside from Iqbal Theba being one of the better
actors on the show, the current power structure with Figgins-Will-Sue is far more effective than Will being at the mercy of Sue.

On Terri’s return: If I’m not mistaken, the general consensus last year was that Terri’s craziness was too much, even for Glee. I never felt she was particularly out of tune with some of the show’s other characters (see Rachel, Sue), but I love the new Terri and I can’t see the Terri haters of old legitimately not liking this new development. Which brings me to the point that it was a mistake for both Will and the show’s writers (if Will’s emphatic refusal is to be believed) to have Terri leave so soon. On-again off-again romantic pairings are what drama is all about.

As for the main plot, Gwyneth Paltrow was a perfect guest star. Yes, it was stunt casting. She´s an Oscar winner but she also added a lot and fit the tone perfectly. Most importantly, it was so apparent how much fun she was having that it became contagious. Gwyneth’s exaggerated caricature of a fun-loving Dead-Poets-Society-wannabe substitute was the perfect foil to exaggerated caricature of a bitter teacher Sue Sylvester and especially exaggerated prima donna Rachel. When Holly Holliday responded to Leah Michelle’s threat of going to the nurse, with “You suck!” that was the best moment of the show.

The premise that Holliday served as a genuine foil, on the other hand, to Will was a little bit harder to buy. The acting certainly sold it: Gwyneth Paltrow got “more real” (to quote Clone High) in her heart-to-heart moments with Will. I don’t remember Will being that much of a taskmaster as the flashbacks made him out to be, but since it was acknowledged at episode’s end in a realistic way, I don’t mind this at all. In fact, it ended in a happier place than I expected with Holliday at least getting her job back. Paltrow is probably too busy a movie star to make too many returns, but I at least liked that in the fictional universe, good things happened to good people.

With Glee the endings do not make or break the episodes. My (possibly outlandish) theory is that things generally get melodramatic and fantasical in the middle third of the episode and if the characters can shrug the drama off and become more realistic at episode’s end, it feels to the audience like we’ve been taken into and out of a fantasy and back to real life again. Musicals are all about fantasy so this kind of mirrors our TV viewing experience.

Other random notes:
-Do not know how to spell Prima Donna...the spell checker told me it was two words
-Harry Shum Jr. as Michael Chang is nicely coming around. It is very clear that he has more of a dancing background than the others and the duet was gold. Whether it was better than Joseph Gordon-Leavitt's version when he hosted SNL is a tough call.
-The Leah Michelle/Gwyneth Paltrow duet didn't really feel necessary. I've already forgot it.
-The writers are usually careful not to portray Will as a womanizer. He has had flings and relationships and gains points by admitting that some of the things he's done (i.e. Vocal Adrenaline Coach Idina Menzel, trying to romance Emma with the Rocky Horror Show) were mistakes. He also has used caution and discretion (i.e. Emma, April Rhodes). Tonight's episode was definitely a step backwards in that direction. The writing room should keep Will away from ill-fated romance for a while lest he lose more good guy points with the audience.
-Santana is regularly getting the best lines in the episode these days.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Looking at Outsourced and Community this week

Thoughts on "Outsourced" after this past week's episode "Home for the Diwalidays":

After just seven or eight episodes, the show has smoothed out the rough edges on its more two-dimensional characters. While these characters are often criticized for being stereotypical and culturally crude, from a functional episode, I think everyone in the ensemble brings something to the table and that’s rare.

For example, look at Madhuri. She fits into all sorts of conventions of a girl with little to no confidence: she’s shy, she’s less direct with Todd than Asha, she was the last to make an upsell, etc. We might even read into her character, some implicit feminist cultural about the nature of caste oppression and its effect on women in India, but the critical consensus is that the show is written by cultural boobs so those readings tend to get dismissed. As I’ve mentioned before, the show’s obstacles are a double-edged sword because if the show would look any more realistically than it already is at an oppressed woman like Madhuri, it would cease to be a comedy.

Even if we cut out the cultural aspects and judge Madhuri as a staple sitcom character, I’m impressed at her growth. Along with Gupta, she has been one of the slowest characters to grow on me, but she’s been used well the past few weeks. There was a good self-referencing gag a couple of episodes ago where she went to a Halloween party dressed as a lamp shade and her presence wasn’t noticed by the other characters or the audience either. This week, Madhuri showed some cunning by massively overcharging Rajiv for a sari. It was a direction consistent with what we’ve seen from her so far, it was a direction forward for her character, and it worked within where the episode was heading. All of these things deserve recognition.

What's also admirable is that the one character who's a little less than three-dimensional, Tanya, is used sparingly. She's regularly cut out entirely of episodes and only is used when she's important to the plot. Speaking of weeks in which Tanya is important to the plot, this week's episode answered a question that was previously irking me: Why haven’t Tanya and Todd gotten together already? She’s so ridiculously forward with him and the show dallied a couple episodes too long in not answering why he wouldn’t have responded to her. It wasn’t just a matter of Todd’s hang-up with Asha but he seemed a little unaware that this woman whom he clearly finds attractive was right there in front of him holding up a large sign that said “Please boink me.” Well, no worries. In any case, Todd and Tanya made up for all the sex they weren’t having in the last couple episodes here, so everything was squared away there.

On another note, I also am loving Rajiv’s character and his passive-aggressiveness last night. The gag where he caught Todd on camera but accidentally opened himself up to blackmail ran just a little long but it was pretty funny nonetheless.

Community: "Cooperative Calligraphy"

In contrast, Community is a show in its second season. The show felt a little bit awkward in its pilot but viewers have gradually warmed up to it. It's now being counted as a favorite by many viewers I've heard from. The strength of the ensemble has been cited as one of the show's major strong points.

I can't help but watching "Community" this season and just wondering what the hell these these guys are thinking during some of the show's stranger episodes. Last week's episode had a very trippy A-plot that seemed a little incongruous with a B-plot that was a bit melodramatic (Abed becomes a "Mean Girl"). At the same time, I thought "Messainic Myths and Ancient Peoples" was an amazing episode and it did push the envelope a lot, so being a little more outlandish has gotten the show places. This week, however, the show just got too rediculous for me.

I mean, let's be honest: They based an entire episode around Annie losing a pen.

I lose pens all the time. I don't even know where the hell my pens come from. If I see a pen lying around somewhere, I usually take it, it's the most inconsequential thing in the world. Some people might call that relatable, but this episode is asking is to believe that seven grown adults would strip themselves down and tear apart a room for a pen?

A lot of dramatic situations are based around people forced into confined spaces. I believe this is called the "Ship of Fools" theory in film/literature analysis which says when characters of different social classes are put together in a confined space it becomes a microcosm of society. This episode was a pretty lackadaisical attempt to create that effect. Any sane person would have just walked out of the room. Annie's craziness was, in fact, something they took a stand against in the penultimate episode of last season.

Some people might say it wasn't really about the pen but that the pen was just a launching pad to larger issues within the group. That doesn't take away the fact that the episode is already asking us to make a big enough leap in logic to accept that the pen could act as a launching pad in the first place.

How difficult would it have been to replace pen with something of value like wallet, credit card, wrist watch, or a locket?

My point, here is that "Community" is getting off pretty easily for its stumbling while the new sitcom on the block has to fight tooth and nail for any semblance of respectability.

It's Always Sunny review

Review of It's Always Sunny:
"Dee Reynolds: Shaping America's Youth"

Knowing that the show always returns to the status quo at episode’s end, it was somewhat of a guilty pleasure seeing the possibility play out that Dee and Charlie might have turned their lives around for the better last week. Although the gang’s meant to be dislikeable in every possible way, Dee and Charlie tend to be a little easier to root for because they’re both stuck at the bottom of their group’s social hierarchy to some extent. Dee is regularly seen by the guys as Dennis’ tag-along sister and, due to his illiteracy, Charlie accidentally shut himself out of management.

Last week, Dee met up with her high school acting teacher and was encouraged to take a position as his assistant. She didn’t necessarily get the theater class jumping for joy with her impromptu presentation of Frankenstein but she got them to participate and to my surprise, she wasn’t fired by episode’s end.

Similarly, Charlie stumbled upon the discovery last week that there’s an actual job market for “Charlie work” called janitorial work. The combination of a power waxer, respect, and minimum wage proved too irresistible for Charlie to leave when the gang wanted him back.

This week’s episode was all about anticipating how long this high life would last before things fell apart and exactly how they would fall apart. As anyone who’s ever substitute taught at a public school with all its rules and regulations knows, there was no better possible setting for this scenario to play out. Dee and Charlie’s general disregard for anything and everyone around them practically makes them ticking time bombs and that made it a lot more fun.

Dee’s desire to be liked by her students (as a former substitute teacher, I can attest that’s more of a necessity than the administrators will ever acknowledge) led to her spontaneous announcement that she would take the class to Broadway which gets a quick veto by the principal (guest star Dave Foley) because she’s just a substitute and the school has no arts budget. Meanwhile, Charlie starts mentoring a kid who dons face paint and the principal quickly vetoes Charlie’s solution to bathe the kid or even talk to the kids in general.

As a backup plan to win the favor of the kids, Dee takes them to Paddy’s Pub for a movie screening hoping that they’ll find it cool to physically be in a bar. This is where the B-plot takes over the episode somewhat abruptly: Mac, Dennis and Charlie filmed a movie sequel to Lethal Weapon 4 in which Mac donned blackface to play Murtaugh and they hope that showing it to an audience at Paddy’s will squelch the debate over whether blackface is acceptable.

The movie itself was ridiculously entertaining but the whole side plot was sloppily tagged on and robbed us of what could have been a winning third act involving Charlie and Dee. When you have material that good and Dave Foley to work with on top of that, a B-plot isn't even necessary.

Instead, there is quick little coda wrapping things up. The gang gets reunited via Dee and Charlie getting fired and to their credit, our heroic janitor and substitute theater teacher accept their fates pretty well. An added twist I enjoyed is that Principal Dave Foley is probably also getting fired himself. Like Jason Sudeikis last week, Dave Foley is pitch perfect casting as the only sane man in the room. He practically defined the role for American audiences in Newsradio and he played that last scene perfectly. He's such an endearing schlub, that I'm hoping this isn't the last we see of him on Sunny.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Shows with Great Guest Stars Updated: Part I

I've done this a couple times before, where I look at guest stars who've been on comedy shows. Here's a more thorough listing I'm working on. I am also hoping to mine some good article fodder out of this raw data.

^-Very minor part/Cameo
In Bold=Recurring role (There's not a set number of episodes for a role to be considered recurring. It's a judgement call)
*=Stars who played themselves

Arrested Development's Notable Guest Stars:
The Roster: Alan Tudyk (Dodgeball), Amy Poehler, Andy Richter, Bob Oderink, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Charlize Theron, Carl Weathers*, Dave Atell, Ed Begley Jr, Frankie Muniz*^, Henry Winkler, Heather Graham, Ian Roberts, Jane Lynch, Judge Reinhold*, Judy Greer, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jeff Garlin, John Michael Higgins, Justine Bateman, Jack McBrayer^ (30 Rock), James Lipton , Liza Minnelli, Martin Mull, Marty Shore, Mo Collins (Mad TV), Russell Simmons*, Ron Howard*^, Scott Baio, Simon Helberg^ (Big Bang Theory), William Hung*, Zach Braff

Stars who played themselves:
1. Russell Simmons appears in a flashback commercial for the highly dangerous cornball cooker contraption
2. Frankie Muniz has a brief cameo on the studio lot
3. Carl Weathers serves as an acting coach to Tobias who'll do anything for free food
4. Ron Howard has a cameo as an executive in the last episode.
5. William Hung is involved in a courtroom episode for the sole reason of being able to use the gag "Hung Jury"
6. For the same reason, Judge Reinholdt is used as a judge in the same episode
Stars who possibly played themselves:
7. Andy Richter plays various fictional brothers of the real Andy Richter. It's possible that at one point in the episode he was the real Andy Richter.
8. Jeff Garlin plays a studio executive who mentors Maybe. Garlin does work in Hollywood so that could possibly be him.

Notes: The show was so good at inserting stars in the right places that they were able to create meta-jokes based on casting alone: James Lipton is a prison warden who aspires to be a pretentious screenwriter. Amy Poehler, the real-life wife of Will Arnett, gets involved in a haphazard marriage to Gob. Scott Baio succeeds Henry Winkler as attorney just as Baio succeeded Winkler as the star of "Happy Days." Lastly, Justine Bateman (Jason's sister) stars as a mysterious woman who might or might not be Michael's sister.

The show's writers also had a lot of fun with naming characters. Aside from using Judge Reinholdt and William Hung solely because their names could set up a running punchline, Scott Baio was called "Bob Laublau" and to add icing to the cake, it was later revealed that his primary hobby was blogging on the "Bob Laublau Law Blog." Giving Liza Minelli's character the name "Lucille" also led to a lot of Freudian ambiguity between Buster's girlfriend and his mom (later compounded by the fact that Buster named his turtle Lucille).

The best: Charlize Theron plays a love interest to Michael in a six-episode arc who may or may not be a spy for a British rival. Later is revealed she may or may not be mentally disabled. Theron played the ambiguity with finesse.
If there was some type of popular vote by AD fans, the winner might be Henry Winkler or Judy Greer as George's flirtatious secretary and mistress who is often introduced on talk shows as "Judy Greer from Arrested Development" despite a pretty lengthy career.

Frasier's Notable Guest Stars
The Roster:Aaron Eckhart, Anthony LaPaglia, Amy Brenneman, Bebe Neuwirth, Bill Campbell, Brian Cox, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bryan Callen (Mad TV), Christine Barinski, Felicity Huffman, Harriet Samson Harris, Jane Adams, Jane Kaczmarek, Julia Sweeny. Kristin Chenowith, Laura Linney, Laurie Metcalf, Mercedes Reuhl, Millicent Martin, Patrick Stewart, Patricia Clarkson, Rene Auberjonois, Rita Wilson, Saul Rubineck, Sela Ward, Tea Leoni, Teri Hatcher, Teri Polo, Victor Garber, Virginia Madsen, Wendy Malick, Zooey Deschannel

Also from the show Cheers: George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, Rhea Perlman, Shelley Long, Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson

Notes: Being a spin-off of "Cheers," it was fairly inevitable that former barmates would visit Frasier in Seattle. Ted Danson and Woody Harrelson got entire episodes. Former flame Dianne (Shelly Long) appeared in Frasier's imagination in addition to actually being in Seattle. Bebe Neuwirth's Lillith, being the ex-wife of Frasier and mother of his child, was somewhat of a recurring character on the show and the dynamic evolved between the two considerably.

Frasier has very good taste in women. Four of his girlfriends (Virginia Madsen-2004, Laura Linney-2004, Patricia Clarkson-2003, and Felicity Huffman-2005) would go on to be nominated for an acting Oscar. Another love interest, Mercedes Reuhl was also an Oscar winner in 1991 for "The Fisher King". Other very talented and beautiful girlfriends of Frasier include Teri Polo, Sela Ward, Amy Brenneman and Teri Hatcher. Julia Sweeny (The Androgynous Pat from SNL) played a fairly undesirable date of Frasier's.

Perhaps, the most memorable guest role was one left up to our imagination: Maris never made an onscreen appearance and it was doubtful she would ever live up to the hyperboles Niles and others used to describe her physical appearance and mannerisms.

The Best: The bombastic Patrick Stewart has a one-episode stint as a gay symphony conductor with whom Frasier gets into a sticky situation. As for recurring characters, Wendie Malick provides much of the heart of the final season as Martin's companion. The biggest audience favorite was probably Harriet Samson Harris who was used sparingly but effectively as Frasier's ruthless but strangely charming agent Bebe Glazer. When Frasier had enough of Bebe, Kristin Chenowith in all her pint-sized-perkiness came along as Bebe's intermediary in an somewhat underrated role.

3rd Rock From the Sun:
The Roster:Ana Gasteyer*, Bryan Cranston, Chris Hogan, Christine Lakin (Step by Step), Cindy Crawford, Courtney Peldon, Darrell Hammond*, Dennis Rodman*, David DeLuise, Dom DeLuise, Elaine Stritch, Evlsi Costello*, George Takei*, Jan Hooks, John Cleese, Kevin Nealon, Kurtwood Smith (That 70's Show), Laurie Metcalf, Miguel Ferrer, Mike Ditka, Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall), Phil Hartman, Wayne Knight, Tracy Morgan*, William Shatner

People who played themselves:
1. Ana Gasteyer was herself when the Solomons went into an alternate universe where Tommy was a cast member of Saturday Night Live and Ana's boyfriend (Tracy Morgan and Darrell Hammond also appeared in much smaller roles)
2. George Takei appeared as himself checking out of a hotel in a Star Trek convention
3. Dennis Rodman is referenced to as being an alien ("Men in Black" also made this joke) and Rodman appears as himself in two episodes.

Notes: The show was created by former "Saturday Night Live" writers Bonnie and Terry Turner which allowed them fairly easy access to SNL alums such as Jan Hooks, Phil Hartman and Kevin Nealon. Everyone's favorite tomboy from "Step by Step," middle child Allie, pops up in a family reunion episode. The show also tapped into the sci-fi fanbase with highly publicized appearances by George Takei and William Shatner as "The Big Giant Head"

Chris Hogan, David DeLuise (Dom's son), Ian Lithgow (John's son), and Danielle Nicolet played a quartet of perpetual students of Dick's, that served as stand-ins for pretty much the entire unviersity's student body.

The Best: John Cleese played a rival alien who was even weirder than the Solomons but better able to fit in. Runner-up would either be Shatner or Cindy Crawford as a model from an alien planet who botches a plan to take over the world by falling in love with Harry. The sight of Crawford and French Stewart got enough laughs alone because it was such an extreme "beauty and the geek" scenario.

Coming up, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Monk, Pushing Daisies, Newsradio, Spin City, Friends, 30 Rock, My Name is Earl and much, much more

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Modern Family review: Bumbling Dads, Comedy of Errors, etc

Last week's episode of "Modern Family" inspired a lot of thoughts in me:

The Dumphy Household plot: Haley and Claire are both sick and spend the day in bed together. Claire dissaproves of Haley's boyfriend and tries to have a mother-to-daughter talk with him about how she might think about pursuing other men and Haley misinterprets this as a candid confession by her mom that her marriage isn't working.
The Jay-Gloria-Manny plot: Jay fires one of his workers for allowing Manny onto a construction crane and driving through a wall. Manny feels guilty and pleads for the worker to have his job back but Jay won't budge. Meanwhile, Jay can't remember the location or occasion for the next of Gloria's anniversary dates because she overcelebrates.
The Cam-Mitchell-Lilly plot: Cam wants to put Lilly in a commercial over Mitch's objecetions

I tend to never be particularly dissatisfied with this show, because I only need one of the three plots to really hit the spot for me. The strength of the characters and general strength of writing alone ensures that an episode subplot will never be truly awful. From that perspective, it’s good that the show’s subplots aren’t usually strongly interconnected.

With that in mind, one of three plots was kind of a dud for me and I feel like the Cam and Mitchell subplots have been consistently weak lately.
I do think that Cam, Mitchell and Lilly are great to watch and I don’t remember any gay couples ever being depicted so richly on broadcast TV. I especially like how their lives aren’t so much shown in the context of the gay community (“Will and Grace” did that and it never interested me) but rather, within the context of how they fit into WASP suburbia and their families. Let’s look at the last three weeks: 1) Mitch and Cam argue about whether to turn Lily into a child actor; 2) Who’s at fault for Mitch bringing a costume to work? 3) Mitch and Cam disagree on where to send their kid to private school. The Mitch-and-Cam plots focus fairly heavily on inter-couple bickering and for the same reason I never got into “Everybody Loves Raymond,” I don’t find bickering couples that much fun to watch. The Halloween costume plot could have been much more entertaining, for example, if it just cut out the bickering and devoted more screen time to how Cam was going to get through the day.

The other two plots both were very strong. The Jay-Manny subplot was at its best when it briefly exited the wackiness of sitcomdom for a moment of realism. Jay put his foot down and refused to let Manny influence his decision over whether to rehire an employee who put Manny in danger. Even more impressive was that the moment was rooted in classic comic wackiness straight out of an episode of “I Love Lucy” and the storyline eventually transitioned back into a comic context by episode’s end. It’s a testament to the show’s richness and consistency in tone that they can merge emotional moments and comedy so well. The story's big emotional reveal- that Jay called Manny his kid for the first time- was not foreshadowable anywhere in the episode so I liked the twist there.

The Haley-Claire subplot was a great comedy of errors: Due to a certain ambiguity in their words, Haley and Claire are drawing two entirely different conclusions from the same conversation. 90% of the plots on “Three’s Company” revolved around this staple, and it’s been used in Dumphy clan storylines before (i.e. the episode about Haley’s diary). This was a good episode for Haley who often sees her parents and siblings as mere impediments to her all-important social life. It was slightly atypical of the show, however, to not have a nice little resolution at episode’s end. Claire still believes that her mother doesn’t really like her father and their marriage is on shaky grounds. For a show that aims for realism, a teenage girl’s response to her parents’ decaying marriage was treated a little too casually.

Other notes:
-It was nice that the Dumphy clan storyline referenced the staggering economy without basing a whole storyline on it.
-I was thinking during this episode about the “bumbling dad” trope that sitcoms mine for humor and how “Modern Family” employs it pretty diversely. “Modern Family” adheres to the stereotype very closely with Phil and subsequently mines a lot of laughs from his bumbling. That’s not entirely the case with Jay. Like Phil and other bumbling dads, Jay often finds himself outmatched by his stepson, but it has less to do with his incompetence and more to do with Manny being a freak of nature in terms of maturity and intelligence. Hence, Jay can do some comic bumbling but it doesn’t detract from our view of him as a very capable family patriarch.