Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten Shows of the Year

As if there aren't already 8 million of these floating around, here's my TOP 10 OF THE YEAR!!

1. Boardwalk Empire, HBO-The creation of the mob during prohibition is one of the most formative chapters of American history and if edgy film and television is going to practically be synonymous with gangster stories, someone might as well get to the heart of the matter. With Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg among the producers, the show is in good hands. In addition, Steve Buscemi steps into a rare leading man role and deserves an Emmy for it.

2. The Choir, BBC, Office/Jamie Oliver's Food Food Revolution, ABC-Both those shows were insightful, educational, relevant and, ultimately, inspirational. One show involved a British chef's quest to fight America's obesity epidemic with Huntington, West Virginia as a starting point. Oliver, best-known as the Naked Chef (famous enough to be a punchline on Saturday Night Live), was supplied with his own ready-made villain in the form a radio DJ who believed Oliver was just out for fame and the town didn't care about lettuce. In winning the evil DJ and the town over, Jamie Oliver gave us some great tear-inducing drama and got us on board his cause and character. Consider me Team Jamie Oliver.

On the other side of the pond in England, choir master Garreth Malone attempted to tackle arts education in a coed school, a boy's academy and a community choir. Like Food, Food Revolution, it seems like an easy formula to mine some drama but then the tears start flowing and you're genuinely moved. Both shows were a reminder that reality TV doesn't have to be about artificial competitions when real life can be quite compelling.

3. Breaking Bad AMC-This is Breaking Bad's third year on my top 10 list but the first year in which it is considered the preeminent show on television which merits a bit more exploration:

Crime dramas are only effective to the extent that they can relate their universe to an audience comprised largely of people uninvolved in the criminal underworld who see meth rings, Mexican drug cartels and the like as largely abstract occurrences. Hence, films that deconstruct the gangster genre like Goodfellas, American Gangster and Scarface largely win the audience over if they can create enough of an arc where that violent gangster was once an ordinary Joe Schmoe.

Breaking Bad used two entire seasons to carefully lay the groundwork out for that ordinary Joe Schmoe to become a truly unsympathetic character (or would you argue he still retains his sympathy?? it's certainly a balancing act) which makes his moral demise all the more richer. What's more, he's paired with somewhat of a lowlife in Jesse Pinkman and as Aaron Paul's win at the Emmys demonstrated that character has morphed quite unexpectedly into a moral barometer of sorts.

The show's momentum can't be denied because it's the most ambitious on television. It sets characters on a collision course with each other and its as if the writers are on a dare to see how long they can keep the characters from colliding.

What I wrote about Breaking Bad 2 years ago on my 2008 list: http://bit.ly/eXUdIF

4. Futurama, Comedy Central-Whether I was Futurama's biggest fan or just a casual one before the show came back (I'd put myself somewhere in the middle), I fell in love with the show all over again during its run this summer. To be resurrected from the dead like Futurama is somewhat of a miracle in the world of TV, but the downside can be greater expectations. For me, the show met and exceeded the bar. The writing was sharp, the visuals were imaginative and the plots were consistently ambitious. If the episodes failed, you can at least say that they fell hard because they aimed high. The show also earns points for experimenting with new dynamics (i.e. Bender and Amy, Hermes and Bender, Amy and Nibbler, Fry and the Professor) between characters.

5. Modern Family, ABC-I enjoyed Arrested Development immensely but I also interpreted its success at the time to conclude that the traditional family sitcom couldn't exist unless it was being mocked and/or subverted. That changed when I saw Modern Family.

Modern Family went into new territory by bringing humor without a hint of irony. The show mines comedy out of the quirks of Dumphy, Prichett and Prichett-Delgado clans and mines drama of the forces that threaten to tear those family bonds apart. Is is significant that the comedy doesn't suggest that the family is worthless and the negative vibes in the family are always overcome (or at least ameliorated) by episode's end.

6. Party Down, Starz-I honestly have never heard of the Starz Network which is why it took me so long to discover this gem. Starring Adam Scott, Megan Mullally, and Lizzy Caplan (best known for this Jason Mraz video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oieBnV_HFB0), this show centers around a ragtag band of dreamers in Los Angeles working on a catering team together to pay the bills but hoping for bigger things. Their characters' varying degrees of disconnect from reality is contrasted with the very close proximity these people are to the people who nonchalantly live their lives. The show also manages to be edgy in bringing characters to the screen who aren't in love with their lives without being unnecessarily crude or depressing (a sin I find Weeds and Entourage guilty of).


7. Terriers, FX-There are so many procedural shows out there that it's hard for any one show to distinguish itself. So how does Terriers make the list? Likable protagonists that you can latch onto are a start. The pair of amateur detectives are mellow and easy-going (kind of functional versions of the Dude in Big Lebowski. The Dude did solve a crime over the course of the film but that was by pure coincidence. I do want to be specific in my comparison here, because Terriers isn't a stoner comedy) which is refreshing considering so many characters in cop procedurals take themselves so seriously. Like the characters, the plots also meander but in a good way: plots don't necessarily resolve themselves from episode to episode and the viewer can't really be sure where the show is going next.

The show also has noirish overtones and reminds me very much of Chinatown in the sense that a land deal becomes so much more than it seems on the surface.

8. Glee, FOX-Some critics felt that the show had a sophomore slump but I don't think that's the case with this show at all. Hot hits with the teenage demographic usually are the big fad one season and disappear pretty fast (i.e. The O.C., Gossip Girl, Everwood). At least for now, however, the show is strong enough to overcome the fact that it no longer has novelty working in its favor.

The episodes occasionally miss but I admire the show for trying to approach serious topics like anti-bullying, the limits of teenage aspirations, and prejudice, with a sense of gravity.

The additions in the second season have only made the show better. Dr. Carl (John Stamos) has been a much better rival for Emma Pillsbury's affections than Coach Tanaka and the additions of Sam combined with the expansion of Brittany, Mike Chang and Santana have been very effective at balancing out the melodrama stemming from the Finn-Puck-Rachel and Rachel-Quinn-Finn love triangles.

Further Reading on the Backlash and Continued Popularity of Glee

9. Parks and Recreation, NBC-This show has better characters and a better ensemble than most shows on TV. Amy Poehler, an SNL alum who gradually transformed into the show's MVP by her 8th season, is more than talented enough to lead a sitcom as bureaucrat. The supporting cast of players in the Pawnee parks department isn't just notable for being good: The writers and actors deserve credit for having the characters evolve as the show hit its stride. Despite being a polar opposite to Leslie Knope, Anne (Rashida Jones) has become the yin to Leslie's yang. Similarly, Andy (Chris Pratt) has gone from "the other guy" to a lovable hanger-on and Aubrey Plaza's unrivalled ability to deadpan has stopped overshadowing April's development.

The show is a welcome compliment to The Office and a great example of how to follow up something great without changing directions entirely.

10. No Ordinary Family, ABC-Think Heroes if the show were to compress all of the disparate storylines from Heroes into one family. There are also two sidekicks who make the show better with every minute of screen time they get. Romany Malco plays an impassioned district attorney and good friend of the dad (Michael Chilkis) and the other (Autumn Reeser) is an adorably nervous (and easy on the eyes) lab assistant of the mom (Julie Benz) and brings with her an overeagerness to live out her comic book fantasies through her. The show can get a little corny, but it has impressive special effects and an arc that's just now starting to considerably deepen.

Article of Best new fall shows of 2010 including Modern Family

Best show I discovered a year too late to put on my Top 10 List for last year and which I haven't seen this year because I couldn't find any bit torrent for it and HBO won't even allow itunes downloads for:
In Treatment, HBO-The raw drama, the power of the performances, the insight into the human psyche is, to quote Shawn Stockman on NBC' The Sing-Off (and if you saw his critique of Committed on that show you'd know what I was talking about), "What it's all about, man." The root of what makes drama good is right here. There's nothing but a room, a couch and a chair with a patient who we slowly learn about as the weeks go on and a psychiatrist who's pretty damn good at his job. More specifically, we're watching that guy pretty damn good at his job in four out of every five episodes. On that 5th episode, we learn how much of a basket case he is when he visits a psychiatrist of his own (Editorial note: I have restrained myself from watching the "Paul goes to therapy" episodes because I find it ruins the illusion).

[Ed. note: I since put it into my top 10 for 2009]

Runners-Up:
Sing-Off, NBC, Burn Notice, USA, The Office, NBC, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX (my #1 last year), Archer, FX, Outsourced, NBC (Still a fan and avid defender!)


Other articles of mine:
The Evils of Craigslist:
http://bit.ly/etV1vJ
The Morality of the Characters on it's Always Sunny in Philly
http://bit.ly/g70Aka
Which Filmic Version of Washington Suits you Best:
http://bit.ly/h4i5n1
A Day on the Set with the Extras on How Do You Know?:
http://bit.ly/gUWO0r

Sunday, December 26, 2010

15 Favorite TV Characters of the Year 2010

Be sure to check out this list of top ten websites of the year

And another article to click on


List of my 20 favorite characters on TV:

1. Gus, Breaking Bad (Giancarlo Esposito)-This mysterious guy provides a voice-a rhyme and reason- to the forces across the border who previously were just standard thugs. Gus is very business-like but deceptively deadly. Much like Walter, he has a dual identity and even is a prominent member of the community. He voluntarily chooses to place himself a little too close for comfort to the local law enforcement (something which Walter doesn’t have the luxury to do) by becoming a prominent sponsor to the local department.

2. April, Parks and Recreation (Aubrey Plaza)-Much has been made of Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) as the breakout star of the Office, but April Ludgate won my heart from day one. Much like the comics of early and mid-20th Century filmdom, April’s humor comes from Aubrey Plaza's physicality: In this case her detached expressions and deadpan voice make you relish practically everything she says. Her deadpan makes the way she toys with men’s hearts (i.e. "Sister City") or prospective clients (“94 Meetings”) all the more delicious. It also makes her vulnerabilities or the times in which she’s genuinely invested in the world around her seem all the more surprising.

3. Erin, The Office (Ellie Kemper)-As a late comer to the proverbial party of Dunder-Mifflin, Ellie Kemper had her work cut out for her in order to stick out in such a large ensemble. I think she pulled it off with flying colors. In a world full of neurotic people, Erin’s unique idiosyncrasies (her naivette, eager-to-please attitude, etc.) command our attention because of the subtlety with which Ellie Kemper imbues them into the character. Kemper also commits to the littlest details in every scene. If you turn away while Erin is on screen, you usually miss some little gem that compliments the action.

4. Asha (Rebecca Hazelwood), Outsourced-As one of the few defenders of Outsourced, I gotta stack as many characters as I can in here. People criticize this show for being one-dimensional with its characters and falling on old clich├ęs, but I’m pretty impressed with how the show was able to smooth out the rough edges of its supporting cast and give us distinct characters within the first 7 or 8 episodes. Each of these characters refutes stereotypes and each character's traits are contrasted by another character on the show (i.e. Manmeet's overconfidence is contrasted by Gupta's sense of self-shame) which illustrates the diversity of this culture in terms of personalities.

I like Rajeev's passive-aggressiveness and find that it adds a healthy dose of conflict to the show in comparison to other workplace comedies. I also like Manmeet and how he mines quite a bit of humor out of his sexual repression without ever seeming to be a downer.

But the breakout star is Asha. It’s easy to see why Todd would mistakenly fall for Asha: She’s smart and relatable and to this guy who’s lost in this foreign land, she feels less foreign than anyone else. She also makes the antiquated (at least by our standards) life choice seem pretty sexy.

5. Michael Weston, Burn Notice (Jeffrey Donovan)-Apologies to James Bond and Jason Bourne, but Michael Weston is my new idea of the perfect spy. Grounded, intelligent, unpretentious and most importantly, focused when he needs to be, Michael Weston is the guy I want at 3 AM coming to my rescue when the fate of the world (or at the very least, Dade County) is on the line

6. Kate Beckett, Castle (Stana Katic)-Castle works because of the interplay between Castle and Beckett and the reason and that's because Katic keeps the will-they-or-won't-they balance in check pretty well through her deadpan obliviousness to his charms. She's a strong and grounded character and is one of the few characters from the world of TV procedurals who's troubled past angle isn't terribly overdone.

7 and 8. George (Romany Malco) and Katie (Autumn Reeser), No Ordinary Family-The sidekicks of No Ordinary Family are really what make the show. Lab assistant Katie is such a delight because not only is she beautiful yet nerdy (every fan boy’s dream), but she’s so unashamed of said nerdiness. She’s also a little bit of a neurotic mess and a lot of humor is mined out of that.

George is very much the opposite, but he adds the same elements to the show that Katie does: He provides loyal support to the hero. His presence provides a more serious take on the superhero genre: The seriousness of crime and how important it is to put a stop to it. George is a great improvement on Romany Malco’s previous TV role on Weeds.

9. Mr. Schuester, Glee (Matthew Morrison)-With many large ensemble shows and films, the protagonist is often little more than a piece of cardboard around which the rest of the cast can show off their trademark quirky characteristics. It’s the thankless straight men to all the funny men that populate the show. With that, it’s easy to gravitate towards the show’s main sources of drama (Kurt or Rachel), edginess (Puckerman), sex appeal (Emma Pillsbury) or humor (Sue Sylvester), but Mr. Schu's where it's at, folks.

Aside from giving into a few temptations when it comes to the ladies, Mr. Schu is not only a stand-up guy but he inspires passion in his students and, goshdarnit, I feel a little inspired by him as well.

Vulnerable characters are always attractive, and one of Mt. Schu’s vulnerabilities is Glee Club itself. He needs the Glee Club just as much as they need him because it becomes clear pretty early on that teaching people to sing is his life’s calling and not teaching Spanish or taking more paid vacation than your average employee. When it’s threatened (by Sue or Holly Holiday) then you feel sorry for him.

Mr. Schu has taken a lot of flack from the critics this year, so I feel an extra strong need to step in and defend him.

10, 11. Phil/Lem, Better off Ted (Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett)-When I referred to protagonists being carboard for the other characters to bounce off, Jay Harrington in BoT would be the perfect example of cardboard extroadinaire. Then again, you have to give credit to the four other cast members for being fantastic that anyone playing Ted would have a hard time keeping up.

If I made this list last year, it might be girl-next-door Linda (Andreas Anders) making the cut, but I’m going to use this space to explore the wonderfully peculiar creations known as Phil and Lem. These two are fundamentally out of touch with the rest of the office (and by extension, all of humanity excluding people who went to MIT or pretended they did) is hours of endless fun.

The apotheosis of office nerds, Phil and Lem are so lovable because they embrace their status as outcasts. Additionally, the way they worship Ted and are scared of Veronica indicates that the two will stay that way forever. The highlight for Phil and Lem this season was the episode where they tried to scientifically devise the perfect system of insulting someone. It's possible that Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation could have come up with insults more organically than those two.


12. Jay, Modern Family (Ed O'Neill)-Sofia, Haley, and Manny are all funnier but Jay really is at the heart of the show and I have to admire Ed O’Neill because in the 90’s, he single-handedly tarnished the image of fathers in pop culture with his negative portrayal of dads in the lazy, misogynist slob that was Al Bundy. Jay, on the other hand, is just a little rough around the edges, but he emanates such warmth. It’s a remarkable balance and a remarkable transformation.

13. Fa’ad, Running Wilde (Peter Sarifinowicz)-Creator of The Hangover and Old School, writer-director Todd Phillips referred to Zach Galifanakas in the Hangover and Will Ferrell in Old School as “That's the Third Lead, which is the best comic position you can have. Todd used Ferrell like that in Old School. We had it with Steve Carell in Anchorman. It's the guy who gets to break all the rules. He has no story responsibility. He just gets to fuck shit up.”
(source: GQ magazine)

Fa’ad falls under this newly coined trope. He is entirely unnecessary to the plot. The screwball romance between Emmy and Steve could play out just as well without him there, but Fa’ad works his way into the schemes nonetheless and always managed to punch up the action in interesting ways. He single-handedly made the episode "Trade-Off,"* simply because of Fa’ad’s mispronunciation of “A-list” and his discussion of his competition with his brother “Fazul.’

*Not sure, if that's the name of the episode. Don't make me have to look it up, people. "Trade Off" is an apt name for the episode. Just roll with it.

14. Andy, Parks and Recreation (Chris Pratt)-Parks and Recreation has a pretty strong ensemble, in fact. Andy is another guy worth singling out because he’s come around so much since the first season. He started out as basically “the other guy” for an eventual Mark/Anne romance with his unattractive immaturity. Along the way, he’s retained a certain naivette and youthful exuberance (much like Erin on The Office) but he’s definitely grown up quite a bit. I admire how Chris Pratt has been able to make the growth happen in a way that’s been convincing to the character while simultaneously retaining the humor in Andy.

15. Senor Chang, Community (Ken Jeong)-I'll give this year’s most inexplicably suddenly critically respected show it’s due by throwing in Senor Chang to my list.

What a wild card, huh? The guy is a brutal dictator of a teacher and then it turns out he’s not a teacher at all. Now, he wants to be friends with the group or possibly destroy them. It feels like the writers just stick him with whatever label they want whenever it’s convenient, but I don’t really mind because Ken Jeong can be entertaining with whatever circumstances you give him. You also relate to Chang: Teachers want to be popular and well-liked too and if they could get away with it, I could see them wanting to trade places with the coolest guy on campus.

16. Ron Donald, Party Down (Ken Marino)-Ron Donald spent the first few episodes of the season in a Shakespearean downfall from his throne as head of his own Soup 'R Franchise. Then he came back as team leader and entertained with his one-of-a-kind style of mangement. The Ron Donald Do's and Don'ts, people. That's what it's all about.

17. Manny Delgado, Modern Family (Rico Rodriguez)-Manny probably ranks in the top 3 in maturity among the entire Prichett/Delgado/Dumphy clan and he's only 11. A perfect foil to the ADD-riddled Luke as well as new stepfather Jay, Manny is a lovable lug.

18. Avery Jessup, 30 Rock (Elizabeth Banks)-Finally, a woman who can keep up with Jackie D. Her introductory scene on a news talk show in which she and Jack connect through their mutual rudeness to the third guest was pure comic gold.

19. Jamie Oliver, Food Food Revolution (Himself)-How I wish I had an enthusiastic grown man running around my high school cafeteria and trying to get me to eat my vegetables. A class act, Oliver was a man who was very easy to root for in this very moving reality show which brought the issues of obesity to light.

20. Kelinda Sharma, The Good Wife (Archie Punjabi)-This was a year in which Indian women proved more sexy than their caucasian counterparts. As investigator to Alicia's law firm, she really elicits a lot of attention whenever she's in screen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Revolving Door of TV Job Openings

They say TV is an erratic business where if you find yourself without a show come pilot season, you're screwed. This list I compiled is of all actors who have returned to TV after previous success in the industry. It illustrates that there usually is a lot of opportunity in TV every year.

Over the last two years, these are actors managed to find their way onto a TV show after enjoying previous success. The show in parenthesis is their previous success:

2010:
Alan Cumming, Good Wife (The L Word)
Amy Ryan, In Treatment (The Office)
Andre Braughter, Men of a Certain Age (Gideon’s Crossing)
Andy Richter, Conan (Andy Barker PI)
Autumn Reeser, No Ordinary Family (Entourage/Valentine)
Betty White, Hot in Cleveland (Golden Girls)
Blair Underwood, The Event (LAX)
Bob Oderink, Breaking Bad (Mr. Show)
Bobby Canavale, Blue Bloods (Third Watch)
Bradley Whitford, The Good Guys (Studio 60)
Bridget Moynihan, Blue Bloods
Carly Pope, Outlaw (Popular)
Chloris Leachman, Raising Hope (Mary Tyler Moore Show)
Chris Parnell, Archer (Miss/Guided)
Colin Hanks, The Defenders (Mad Men)
Craig T Nelson, Parenthood (The District)
Dana Delaney, Body of Proof (Desperate Housewives)
David Cross, Running Wilde (Arrested Development)
Debra Winger, In Treatment (New Adventures of Wonder Woman)
Elizabeth Banks, 30 Rock (Scrubs)
Henry Winkler, Royal Pains (Sit Down Shut Up)
Howie Mandel, America’s Got Talent (Deal or No Deal)
Jane Leeves, Hot in Cleveland (Frasier)
Jason Lee, Memphis Beat (My Name is Earl)
Jason Ritter, The Event (The Class)
Jeri Ryan, Body of Proof (Shark)
Jerry O’Connell, The Defenders (Do Not Disturb)
Jerry Seinfeld, The Marraige Ref (Seinfeld)
Jessica Walters, Archer (Arrested Development)
Jim Belushi, The Defenders (According to Jim)
Jimmy Smits, Outlaw (Cane)
John Stamos, Glee (ER)
Jon Voight, Lone Star (24)
Judy Greer, Archer (Miss/Guided)
Julianne Moore, 30 Rock
Julie Benz, No Ordinary Family (Dexter)
Katy Segal, Futurama (Sons of Anarchy)
Keri Russell, Running Wilde (Felicity)
Khandi Alexander, Treme (CSI: Miami)
Laura Linney, The Big C (John Adams)
Lauren Graham, The Parenthood (Gilmore Girls)
Louie CK, Louie (Parks and Recreation)
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope
Matt Walsh, Outsourced (Dog Bites Man)
Maura Tierny, The Whole Truth (ER)
Meghan Mullally, Children’s Hospital (Will and Grace)
Michael Chiklis, No Ordinary Family (The Shield)
Melissa Leo, Treme (The L Word)
Mike O’Malley, Glee (Yes Dear)
Nicole Sullivan, #@*% My Dad Says (King of Queens)
Olivia Munn, The Daily Show (Attack of the Show)
Peter Krause, Parenthood (Six Feet Under)
Peter Serafinowicz, Running Wilde (Saturday Night Live)
Phil LaMarr, Futurama (Futurama)
Ray Romano, Men of a Certain Age (Everybody Loves Raymond)
Rob Corddry, Children’s Hospital (The Winner)
Rob Huebel, Children’s Hospital (Best Week Ever)
Romany Malco, No Ordinary Family (Weeds)
Scott Bakula, Men of a Certain Age (Enterprise)
Scott Caan, Hawaii Five-0
Steve Zahn, Treme
Taran Killam, Saturday Night Live (Scrubs)
Timothy Olyphant, Justified/The Office (Deadwood)
Wanda Sykes, The Wanda Sykes Show (New Adventures of Old Christine)
Wendy Malick, Hot in Cleveland (Jake in Progress
Will Arnett, Running Wilde (Arrested Development)
Will Forte, 30 Rock (Saturday Night Live)
Will Sasso, #&@& My Dad Says (Less than Perfect)
Will Shatner, #%@& My Dad Says (Boston Legal)
Zach Woods, The Office (Internet shorts)

2009:
Alison Pill, In Treatment (Book of Daniel)
Allison Brie, Community (Mad Men)
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (SNL)
Andy Richter, Tonight Show (Andy Barker: PI)
Andreas Anders, Better off Ted (The Class)
Azziz Azziznari, Parks and Recreation (Human Giant)
Benjamin McKenzie, Southland (The OC)
Cheri Oteri, Sit Down Shut Up (SNL/Just Shoot Me)
Chevy Chase, Community (The Chevy Chase Show)
Chris Noth, The Good Wife
Chris O’Donnell, NCIS: Los Angeles (Head Cases)
Christa Miller, Cougar Town (Scrubs)
Christine Barinski, Good Wife (Happy Family)
Courtney Cox, Cougar Town (Dirt)
Dan Byrd, Cougar Town (Aliens in America)
David Koechner, Hank (Saturday Night Live)
Dimitri Martin, Important things with Dimitri Martin (Stand-Up with Dimitri Martin/Daily Show)
Ed O’Neill, Modern Family (Married with Children)
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Sopranos)
Eliza Dushku, Dollhouse (Tru Calling)
George Lopez, Lopez Tonight (George Lopez Show)
Heather Locklear, Melrose Place (LAX)
Henry Winkler, Sit Down Shut Up (Arrested Development)
Hope Davis, In Treatment
Ian Gomez, Cougar Town (Norm)
Idis Ebra, The Office (The Wire)
Jane Lynch, Glee (Arrested Development)
Jason Bateman, Sit Down Shut Up (Arrested Development)
Jason Schwartzman, Bored to Death
Jenna Elfman, Accidentally on Purpose (Dharma and Greg)
Jay Harrington, Better off Ted (Coupling)
Jessalyn Gilsig, Glee (Heroes)
Jesse Tyler Furgeson, Modern Family (Do Not Disturb)
Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (Saturday Night Live)
Joel McHale, Community (The Soup)
Jon Mahoney, In Treatment (Frasier)
Julianne Margolis, Good Wife (ER)
Katie Segal, Sons of Anarchy (8 Simple Rules)
Kelsey Grammar, Hank (Back to You)
Kevin Alejandro, Southland (Drive)
Kristin Chenowith, Sit Down Shut Up (Pushing Daisies)
Kenan Thompson, Sit Down Shut Up (Saturday Night Live)
LL Cool J, NCIS: Los Angeles (Friday Night Lights)
Leonard Nimoy, Fringe (Star Trek)
Mark Fuehrstein, Royal Pains (Good Morning Miami)
Michaela Watkins, Saturday Night Live (New Adventures of Old Christine)
Mike O'Malley, Glee (Good Wife)
Nathan Fillion, Castle (Firefly)
Neil Flynn, The Middle (Scrubs)
Nick Kroll, The League/Sit Down Shut Up (Cavemen)
Olivia Williams, Dollhouse
Paulo Costanzo, Royal Pains (Joey)
Patricia Heaton, The Middle (Back to You)
Paul Sheer, The League (Best Week Ever)
Portsia de Rossi, Better off Ted (Arrested Development)
Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation (The Office)
Selma Hayek, 30 Rock (Ugly Betty producer, Mexican soap operas)
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family (Knights of Prosperity)
Susan Sullivan, Castle (Dharma and Greg)
Ted Danson, Bored to Death (Damages)
Will Arnett, Sit Down Shut Up (Arrested Development)
Will Forte, Sit Down Shut Up (Saturday Night Live)
Zak Galifanakas, Bored to Death (Dog Bites Man)

Miscellaneous Notes:
-What's in parenthesis isn't the actor's most well-known gig, but often, it's their last gig. That is likely not 100% accurate

-If anyone cares to update the list and make it more accurate, much appreciated.

-Mike O'Malley is listed in both 2009 and 2010 because he was given a recurring guest role in 2009 and given a permanent role in 2010. The query is about how many opportunities there were for actors and he was given an opportunity in each year.

-Recurring guest roles are added here such as John Stamos for Glee or Will Forte, Selma Hayek, Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore. I made a judgement call as to whether the character was important to the story and could be reliably counted upon to appear again.

-Famous enough movie stars who haven't dabbled much in TV get a place on the list too, but I generally leaned towards people who haven't been on TV before

-Some people here such as Olivia Munn, Wanda Sykes, Jerry Seinfled and Andy Richter were added to the list even though they are filling in hosting roles. The reason is because they have a history of acting as well. Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno got new gigs but neither of them has any history of acting so they weren't on the list.

-In the case of Phil LaMarr, his last role on TV was Futurama. It was cancelled and then revived.

-Voice actors are included such as Will Arnett, Will Forte or Henry Winkler who have acted outside of voice acting. Voice actors such as H. Jon Benjamin (Archer), Bily West (Futurama), and Tom Kenny (Sit Down Shut Up) are just voice actors.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reviews of Recent Films: Fair Game, 127 Hours, I Love You Phillip Morris

Check out my article on the Top 10 Websites of 2010:

Fair Game-Directed by Doug Liman, Starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn:
The movie recounts the events that appeared in the news between 2003 and 2006 in which Karl Rove's aide L. Scooter Libby outed a CIA agent to discredit her husband who was an ambassador to Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.

The film reminds me of the issue of how much you can truly hype up an event film when it is based on a story that played out on several years over the news. It's not just like Titanic or 127 Hours where some of the drama plays out as you know what happens at the end of the film. The moviegoing audience has been saturated with the story: Every turn in the narrative has been played out and analyzed out over several years in the news.

Perhaps it's because of that or because of something else, I didn't see anything extaordinarily creative in how the story was told. It was pretty much standard for political thriller and/or suspense story. A movie ike "In the Loop" or even "Lions for Lambs" are both more memorable because they are original looks at Washington Politics.

Aside from being very traditionalist genre fair, the movie delivered. It showed the emotional heart of the story, sharp dialogue and had ample suspense. If Sean Penn hadn't already won two Oscars this decade, I could easily see him getting nominated for this performance.

The age-attractiveness gap here was unforgiving. Naomi Watts is so gorgeous and Sean Penn is so not that I can't see the two together.


127 Hours- Written by Simon Beaufoy, Directed by Danny Boyle, Starring James Franco, with a small role by Amber Tambelyn

127 Hours is Danny Boyle's follow-up to his masterpiece Slumdog Millionaire. With Beaufoy, Boyle, Franco, the beautiful scenery of Utah, and the ambitious premise, this was a film I entered the film with a lot of anticipation.

I found that the film delivering in interesting ways but I also found that the film dissapointed on a couple fronts.

On the plus side, James Franco's performance was a raw undiscoved place. The idea of telling the story entirely from the point-of-view of the stranded hiker was an interesting way to tell the film and increased the intensity of the film. Personally, I thought the film was already intense enough and I would have liked to have had some glimpse of the rescue effort but I admire that they stuck to their own methodology. The film is a little like "Spirit of St. Louis" in that it makes a somewhat solitary experience more spacious through flashbacks and, in some cases, hallucinations. Tom Hanks had a volleyball in "Cast Away," James Stewart had a fly in the cockpit, and James Franco's Aron Ralston has a video camera to speak into.

The movie manages the feat of holding our attention, but it's a little short and I didn't like how the standard romance-as-plot-solution figured so heavily into the plot. The movie didn't explain well enough that a vision of a child late in the process convinced him to keep going. I didn't necessarily want the film to center around how his life was completed by a child three years later. It was fairly distant from the action at hand.

Overall, a very good movie.


I Love You Phillip Morris-Written and directed by the guys from Bad Santa, starring Jim Carrey, Ewan MaGregor and Leslie Mann

Like "Bad Santa" 2003, the filmmakers aren't afraid to go to crude places in their humor but whether they can effectively mine satire from that crudeness is something your mileage may vary on. For me, the crudeness was a little excessive.

As a sign of the rapidly changing times we live in, "I love You Phillip Morris" treats homosexuality and scenes of gay sex almost as an afterthought. Not that I personally mind the homosexuality as much as I find the general crudeness a little dissonant with the love story, but it's interesting to note that it just five years ago that we were relatively shocked with homosexuality on screen with Brokeback Mountain.

Nonetheless, "I Love You Phillip Morris" presents itself as a straight love story and a pretty effctive one at that. That's one of the only strong things about the film. Jim Carrey and Ewan MaGregor give great performances as lovers who meet in prison and the other strong element of the story, Steven Russell's (played by Carrey)relationship with his ex-wife, is due to the strong performance of Leslie Mann.

The tone is somewhat inconsistntant and jarring. The other element of the plot, that Steven Russell is a conman, gets a little repetitive and overly cyclical. None of the turns in the story are developments that we, as an audience, become overly invested in, since they occur so fast.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dispatch from the best a cappella blogger on the web: Ranking all 18 Groups of the Sing-Off

Hey folks, I am super-excited for this piece I wrote a year and a half ago and just posted where I hang out with the extras on set of "How Do You Know":
I just got invited by the DC Film Office to attend the premiere of the James L. Brooks movie but missed it because I was snowed out, but still cool to have a good relationship with the local film office. They've brought a lot of film productions to Washington D.C.


As I previously established in my last post on the Sing-Off, I'd like to think of myself as the best a Capella blogger on the internet.
My qualifications for being the greatest a capella blogger are:
1. A year in the choir in high school through a scheduling glitch.
2. Repeated efforts to join my college's a capella groups because I thought it would make me cool
3. Watching a lot of a cappella on youtube
4. Not being entirely sure whether a cappella has two or one "p"s or whether the "C" is capitalized. I view this as adding a dose of suspense for the reader.

Here is a ranking of rank all 18 groups from the first two seasons. I think this year is an improvement over last year which is why the Season 2 groups rank higher.

1. Committed-Church group from Huntsville, Alabama with a hint of gospel in their stylings
The worst you can say about them is that they're not entirely original in their genre because of similarities to Boys II Men sounded the same as they do. At the same time, no one has sounded like Boys II Men in years and Boys II Men is retired. They kill it in so many ways and damn, those bell tones (seriously, what's a bell tone?).

Committed's six members are some of the most endearingly innocent guys in reality TV. They seem noticeably camera shy (kind of like American Idol's David Archuleta). I also love how when they decided to tackle the Backstreet Boys, and got all excited about the concept of "acting sexy" entirely unaware that they probably already inspire screaming girls across the country.

This group prefers to sing church numbers and have stated reluctance to sing secular songs. This is all the more ironic considering their open number was "This Love." Unless the subject of the song is something metaphorical like biblical knowledge, I'm guessing that Adam Levine's desire to get his fingertips along every inch of the subject of this song is the exact opposite of what's appropriate for church.







2 (tie) Streetcorner Symphony-Professionals from Nashville, TN and Nota-Band of friends from Puerto Rico
Each of these two groups has a distinct identity that I've never seen anywhere else and they both do it incredibly well. Streetcorner Symphony has the easygoing Southern take while Nota infuses their music with Latin beats. Each does their thing incredibly well. Streetcorner is more versatile and has more guys stepping into the lead, while Nota has more guys who can take over vocal percussion to suit their percussion-heavy style.

This is Streetcorner Symphony doing "Hey Soul Sister":




Nota doing "I'm Yours"





4. Voices of Lee-College choir from a Bible School in Cleveland, Tennessee-This 10-person co-ed group  nailed everything they were given. They sang with a very noticeable passion and had a great overall sound. Highlights included a Beatles Medley, Alicia Keys and Natasha Bedingfield.





5. Groove for Thought-Group of music teachers from Seattle
I viewed Groove for Thought, Streetcorner Symphony and Committed as three groups with a distinct style and identity that they mastered. As Shaun said, Groove for Thought could sing anything really well. They might not have been able to rock it out, but they could take a rock song and make it  interesting.

Also worth noting: I'm moderately in love with the female soloist. Usually soloing means sing all you got and she seems to know how much effort to put into each note. She also mimicks trumpet and saxophone sounds with her voice. Here she is on David Bowie's Changes. Discussion Question: Does she smile too much when she sings? (seriously: I have no idea what the proper etiquette for smiling while singing is)




6. Back Beats-A 10-member group recruited by a recent graduate (2010) of the USC's Socal Vocals that consists of other SoCal Vocals, members of USC's Trojan Men, UCLA's Awaken, BYU's Noteworthy and a Los Angeles-based recording artist named Jordan Pharoh. (Annoyingly, these guys can't be categorized very easily into one short sentence)

This group has much in common with the SoCals from last year in that the basic pool of members comes from the SoCal Vocals and the old and new guys all sang together in the same group at one point in time. Check out this juicy scandal here where you see Backbeats and SoCals singing together unbeknownst to the audience who thought Kenton Chen legitimately discovered the Sing-Off while watching TV one day:




This group has improved tremendously over the course of the season. They set the bar at a high level with the arrangements and nailed them. It's also interesting that everyone in that group has been kind of a star within their own a capella groups, but Kenton and others are willing to sacrifice having solos because they've their game plan is to have a metaphorical Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Joanna and Cat while everyone else play supporting roles.

This is all the more selfless when one considers that Kenton Chen has just released a CD and one good solo in front of a national television audience could boost his record sales significantly. Kenton soloed in the Love Shack, but it was mostly fun because of the visual performance.

As another show of the Backbeat's deep bench, check out this video of two of the Backbeat singers performing "Water and a Flame:"




7. On the Rocks-University of Oregon all-male a cappella group

Really likable group of guys that improved a lot over the course of the performance. I really sensed that these guys had a fighting spirit to improve and eke out every ounce of talent they had from themselves to keep up with the pros around them. They showcased many sides of themselves throughout: Kyrie was a good arrangement, the Elton John medley had creativity written all over it and Lady Gaga's Bad Romance had mesmerizing choreography. On the minus side, the Rhianna/TI came off as a group of college kids out of their element

Here's On the Rocks performing Bad Romance. This is taken from a performance that became one of the most viral hit on YouTube this past year.




8. Pitch-Slapped-Coed group from the prestigious Berklee College of Music

The group had this theatrical groove and might have over emoted, but they were clearly proficient and fun. You gotta go to YouTube to check them out a little more, but even so, that one number they did was one of my favorites of the night. They could have challened for a spot in the finals if they didn't rub the judges the wrong way in the first episode for whatever reason. Commenters in this youtube video say the lead girl is incredibly hot (I'm personally in the not hot camp). Whether she is or not, I think the taking off the glasses trick is really pulling the wool over their eyes: Don't ignore the fact that she's a good singer.




9. The SoCals-Group of 7 very recent alumns and one current member of the SoCal Vocals-
Odds are this group is entirely non-existent at this point since they didn't win and they are all doing other things.

This group was an all-star group of singers hampered by the fact that they were small and didn't have a deep bench. The male solos were dominated by just one guy and and none of the female soloists stood out. The female soloists were all capable singers but the perception that they weren't stars might have centered around them all rotating too much to the point where I never got to know the personality of any one singer.

They had an identity though (Broadwayesque) and as background singers, the sound/blend was top-notch. They also smiled a lot when they sang like singers do at amusement parks. I have no idea why they just ended up being "The Broadway Group" considering the larger SoCal Vocals aren't known for being Broadway singers but one can see a theatricality to the SoCal Vocals videos.

As I said before, this group is sort of the stepfather of the slightly more successful Backbeats, so go on with the video #6 above to see what these guys are all about.

10. Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town-Multi-Grammy-winning recording artist Jerry Lawson backed by a quartet of elderly gentlemen in the doowop style
It did not make much sense to have a famous singer as a comptetitor on the show.
While he is admittedly handicapped by age and can't dance around much, Jerry Lawson already has produced over twenty hit records as the arranger and front man of the Persuasions. This would be like having some top 40 star compete on American Idol. What's the point?

I am not knowledgable about how age affects the vocal chords except for my experiences with my 101-year old grandmother. My grandmother was the bomb when she sang in her high school choir in the 1920's (too bad there was no American Idol or Sing-Off back then). She's labelled within my family as a "singer." We like to hear her sing not because she's bringing down the house with her vocals but rather, because it provides a nostalgic reminder that she was once good. I think that's what Jerry is bringing to the table. He doesn't strike me as great in the moment which makes it unfortunate that he's bumping out other great groups. The "Talk of the Town" part of the equation (the back-up singers) do have a sound that even I can recognize as very tight and fine-tuned.

11. Whiffenpoofs-Collegiate a capella group of senior guys at Yale U.

As I stated previously, the Whiffenpoofs massively alienated me by confirming every stereotype of what Yale students are like in the introductory video, but eventually I came across to their way of thinking.

They aren't really groomed for this and on "Haven't Met You Yet" one of the soloists was really operatic and missing the point of the song, but like On the Rocks, they were willing to give it 100% and do what they could with what they had. I also read an article that said they never had any choreography to their performance before and they were pretty impressive in that sense as well.

If they're truly a group of guys who don't take themselves that seriously and have a sense of perspective, I didn't get that impression from watching. One of the guys really rubbed me the wrong way when he said "he felt so inordinately powerful in a tuxedo."





12. 11th Hour-A Teenage Septet that's Directly Connected to the High School Music's Department-
Really impressed for a group that's just in high school. Their arrangements were great, they had well-defined roles and they had a bubbly enthusiasm.

Like the Backbeats, the group impressed me most with their selflessness. Consider this: Among the three guys, one sings lead, one does bass, one does percussion and the judges knew them all by name and publicly complimented on their performances. The three girls in the group other than Kendall Young, however, are never going to have a solo and no one is going to remember their names. I'm assuming that the musical director would have never given any of those three girls who aren't Kendall a solo if they had gotten farther because as a HS group on the verge of being kicked out they always had the pressure to use their best singer.

If you look at the looks on the faces of the girl back-up singers, however they are just giving it their all and having the time of their lives up there. Ben Folds said in his blog that the synergy and teamwork in this show would be a major human interest angle that would warm people up to this show and that's completely true.





13. Noteworthy-All female group from BYU
The most memorable thing about this group is that the lead singer had a pretty scary-looking mohawk that seemed to defy geometry. Hopefully, you want the audience paying attention to more than the mohawk.

They were capable of delivering different things and they show mastery of the little things like outfits and choreography. With the exception of the Aretha Franklin cover, they had good song selecitons.

Here's the group singing Viva la Vida. The soloist here later joined the Backbeats.




14. Men of Note-Alumni from an award-winning high school group in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
This group picked a very unoriginal song, but they had pretty solid harmonies. So good, in fact, they are so good that I'm gonna put them ahead of the Beezlebubs.




15. Tufts Beezlebubs-All-male group from Tufts University.
I am probably the biggest source of criticism for the Beezlebubs on the internet considering a) I'm sure they don't get written about a lot and b) everyone else on the planet likes them. Because they are just college kids, I kind of feel awful writing bad things about them.

Honestly, though, I just never had any idea what the big deal about these guys is. Their goofy self-conscious charm is nowhere near as infectious as On the Rocks or Whiffenpoofs. I also hated all their song selections for starters: Magical Mystery Tour is the same phrase repeated over and over again, and I never liked the Who, Sail Away, Flo Rida. Their arranging is a lot of block chords, and I don't think they sounded very innovative. They seem to be the same quality as a million other a capella groups out there. I must be wrong on this because nearly everyone else thinks they're great. Best I can say is that I like their outfits and the lead singer for Sweet Caroline. I did just listen to all of their performances on YouTube to see if they changed with time but they haven't.





16. Maxx Factor-A barbershop quartet of 4 soccer moms
When you talk about Groove for Thought being a one-trick pony, you clearly haven't seen this group that was barbership through and through. It's so much easier to transition from Barbershop to pop than it is to transition from jazz (Groove for Thought) to pop. I never could see Maxx Factor rocking or being edgy in any way.





17. Face-Six guys from Boulder
Really, not a great name. Although I don't think this was in their personalities, they come across as trying too hard to be manly for some reason. I will admit that it's hard to judge groups that well when they only do one song.





18. Solo-Random hodgepodge of people from Omaha.

Wow, Omaha, Nebraska isn't a bunch of corn fields but a very dangerous ghetto if the introductory video to this group is to be believed.

This group is a major rags-to-riches story as they came from a dangerous neighborhood with lots of violence and poverty to form this group. At least two members were homeless for a while before the group came together.

That being said, the group was soloing over each other as if it was like a dueling banjo of the voice. They also didn't seem to understand the concept of vocal percussion either. The mere fact that they made it on national TV hopefully assures that no one on the show will be sleeping on a park bench anytime soon, so good for them!



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Songs of the Year or Top Songs of the Year-Take your Pick

New articles on how to deal with bad bosses, Also, Barack Obama's Family Tree and How to Enjoy College Finals Week. Please click on all of them.

Because it's the time for top ten lists, I was thinking of making a top ten list for songs of the year. Then I reconsidered whether there was a point to comparing and quantifying songs. A song is something like three minutes long. It's somewhat pointless to debate single scenes within a larger movie. Bloggers do it anyway and I'm sure there's a viral blog post somewhere out there called "Best movie scenes running three minutes or less" because we as bloggers are in the business of finding pointless things to rank. Even scenes have so many elements to them: the acting, the written dialogue, the technical aspects, the set design, the music. Because a song is just one of those elements and therefore it's very subjective.

The longer I try to quantify good music, the more I realize that most songs seem to affect me the same way within the same life cycle. "True" fans of music will read this and basically label me as the scourge of society while the top 40 music executives will read this and high-five each other because their business model is working perfectly:
1. Discovery-I am driving and want to listen to music. I tune in the station I'm most familiar with because I expect to hear my favorite songs (see stage 3B or 3C). In between listening to my favorite songs, a new song comes on the air. I tolerate it because eventually one of my favorite songs will come on.
2. Song grows on me-The song comes on again, maybe I'm in a department or grocery store and I recognize it further.
The song will keep playing and it can go in three directions
3a) Find the Song Annoying-I usually am suckered into liking the song after enough listening. As long as it's not from a genre I don't like (rap, country, heavily synthesized dance music), my defenses are slowly eroded by the barrage of repeated playings. There is occasionally a song I've heard a million times and still shrug my shoulders with "what's the big deal?" The creators of these songs must really suck at what they do because I basically have admitted to being a passive sheep when it comes to pop music.
It's also worth noting that I'm even generous toward a song if it's song by the wrong person. I had no tolerance for David Gray's Babylon or Coldplay's Yellow until I heard them covered by Howie Day who makes the lyrics sound intelligible (take notes here, Mr. Gray, diction matters!) and doesn't whine when he sings (ditto, Coldplay).

If I wanted to devote more time and energy to this direction of inquiry, I could properly categorize all the ways in which songs fail to connect to me and find some trends. For instance, I just noticed that three songs that I've never liked- Beyonce's Crazy in Love, Beyonce's Naughty Boy, and Kelly Clarkson's Miss Independent- all repeat the same phrase over and over. Without looking it up, I would guess that the phrase "Crazy in Love" makes its way into something like 80% of the songs lines. So repetition = bad
3b) I like the song and don't change the radio station if it's playing. I also tend to associate the song with when I heard it.
3c) Flat-out obsession-After about 7 or 8 times, it hits me: I f-ing love this song! It's almost hypnotic because it's like I've never played it before. I start to look up the lyrics. I want to learn how to play the song on the piano. I'm singing it in my head and love when it comes on the radio (never mind that i can just watch it on youtube whenever I want).
4. Calming Down-I slowly stop wanting to listen to the song all the time. Like 3b, it becomes associated more with a memory or place in time

So my way of reviewing music this year is to mention all the songs that I would recognize if someone said they're name. Getting me to recognize the name of the song is the first step to making step 2 happen. Then, I'll tell you which categories they go under:

Songs I've been obsessed with:
Teenage Dream, Katy Perry
Misery, Maroon 5
King of Anything, Sara Bareilles
Hey Soul Sister, Train
Haven't Met You Met, Michael Buble (Ironically, I don't believe in that attitude in my own romantic life. It's a song that I love without embracing the lyrics)

Songs straddling obsession or songs that I could see myself falling madly in love with if I was bombarded with them just couple more times:
Break Even, The Script (I have absolutely no idea who The Script is)
Tik-Tok, Keisha (I usually don't like clubbish songs like that, but it's very catchy)
Falling for You, Colbie Collait
Just the Way You Are, Bruno Mars (A little early in its run for me to embrace it just yet, but it's growing)


Songs I like:
Mine, Taylor Swift (Although it sounds a lot like her last couple of songs)
Telephone, Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce (To call it a little synthetic is an understatement. Is there an instrument in there?)
Half of my Heart, John Mayer
If It's Love, Train*
Dynamite, Taio Cruz
All the Right Movies, One Republic
Live Like You're Dying, Kris Allen (I like the half-rap syncopation part. There, I said something almost musical)
Bulletproof, La Roux
Need You Now, Lady Antibellum
Waka Waka (It's Time for Africa), Shakira

Songs I like if they're covered by someone other than the original artist:
Valerie, Amy Winehouse (as covered by Glee)
Natasha Bedingfield, Strip Me (just don't like Natasha's voice)
In My Head, Jason Derulo

Songs I'm completely on the fence with depending on whether I'm sober or not:
All Summer Long, Kid Rock

Songs I still have successfully resisted:
Heartbreak Warfare, John Mayer
California Girls, Katy Perry (This has been played a million times, so I'm not sure why my ears have resisted. Perhaps the rap in the middle takes me out of any potential hypnotic effects)
Break Your Heart, Taio Cruz feat. Ludacris
I Got a Feeling, Black-Eyed Peas
Nothing on You, Bruno Mars (too insipid)
Baby, Justin Beiber



*Listen closely to the lyrics, it's really just incoherent rambling. The guy believes he can "win it" by staying in bed all day, because he's in love. I don't think being a full-time bum is the way to ladies' hearts

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

My Guilty Pleasure Part I: Who else wouldn't love the Sing-Off?

First off: Random helium article on Homosexuality in Hollywood that provides an informative account of gays in Hollywood Please click on this, just so i can get some revenue from my article, I know, I'm shameless. Moving on.......

Second: This article has a lot more exposition than I planned it to have....so therefore, skip to third paragraph (Assuming the next paragraph is paragraph 1) to get to the meat and bones of the article. Also paragraph 7 right after the embedded hulu video is killer.

I'm absolutely loving the Sing-Off. I always had a casual admiration of a capella music and at one point I felt compelled to audition for one such group in college on one year of high school choir experience because I thought it would make me socially set. I remember arriving on my campus freshman year of college and seeing this a capella group selling CDs. I wasn't aware of the relative ease of recording a CD at the time so I thought these guys were rock stars. Years later, I told this to a guy who was in the group and he confessed that he also was deluded into thinking he was a rock-star because he was in the group.

Since then, I've had a lot of a capella music on my youtube favorites list. Sometimes, I get into a group for the hell of it and just follow their videos seeing what directions they'll go next. I've temporarily become fans of the Harvard Veritones, Indiana Straight No Chaser (the current version), University of Michigan Friars (they're very funny), USC Reverse Osmosis, University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers, California Golden Overtones, UC Men's Octet and California State University of Northridge Acasola. I wonder if any of those groups will find this blogpost in a google search. I feel a little creepy following these groups since I don't go to those schools and have no ties to any of those group's members, but I thought I'd publicly declare my fandom for them because they must need all the publicity they can get and they post their stuff on youtube (even though there are 1,000s of youtube posts already posting covers of the same song) in hopes of attracting random fans like me.

Anyways, I've absolutely been loving the Sing-Off. Last year, there were 8 groups on the show, two of which blew me away: 1) Nota, a 6-man Puerto Rican group who infused Latin beats into pop songs and 2) Voices of Lee, a coed group of Jesus lovers from a college in Tennessee who blend like butter and play a lot of ping-pong. This year, I'd say at least eight of the ten groups on the show (and the other two, Jerry Lawson and Men of Note both have lots of redeeming qualities) genuinely impress me to the point where I think they had legitimate chances at winning last season. The learning curve for the a capella community with regard to this show has been ridiculously steep. As a result, this show has the exact opposite problem as last year. Rather than having to endure groups like Maxx Factor or BYU's Noteworthy which didn't do it for me so I could get to the good stuff, this year it's pretty much amazing performance after amazing performance and it's somewhat annoying that 40% of the acts are gone after Week One.

The group that finished second last year, the Tufts Beezlebubs, were by my recollection, nothing particularly special at all compared to the groups competing this year, or even most any a capella group you'll find on youtube. They sung fairly well and chose some original song selections but this year's collegiate groups all have deep rosters, are choosing interesting material and on top of that, they have massively exciting arrangements. The Beezlebubs looked adorably goofy on stage and didn't take themselves too seriously but they're no match in the guys-humiliating-themselves-for-points-with-the-judges department (GHTFPWJ for short) against this year's groups when you have The Yale Whiffenpoofs doing Mika's "Grace Kelly" in white tie and tails or University of Oregon's On the Rocks (a viral youtube hit from earlier in the year) doing a full-on rendition of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."



Other than use this blog to discuss my feelings of blah towards the Beezlebubs, it's worth noting that I wasn't really a fan of the Whiffenpoofs until the second episode. I've never had so many stereotypes about what someone who attends an Ivy League School like Yale be confirmed so rapidly as with the 90-second introductory video to the Whiffenpoofs. Just check this out:



Almost every single building these guys are photographed in looks gothic, ornate and like something a public college could never afford without overcharging for admission. There's a guy remarking that he feels so inordinately powerful when putting on a tuxedo. Perhaps, his career path will suit him to be the villain in the Avengers? Let's see what else....they claim to have personally invented a capella (if Al Gore went to Yale, not Harvard, I could have put an appropriate joke in there), while University of Oregon's On the Rocks is playing football on the lawn in their expositional video and the Backbeats are going to the beach, the group from Yale is doing.....you guessed it!......playing golf and toasting each other with champagne glasses in an expensive restaurant. Fortunately, Whiffenpoofs are actually entertaining and inventive with their singing which took the bad feelings away.

This year's group also has the Men of Note and Eleventh Hour which are high school groups. The latter was ridiculously talented for a group of high-schoolers and, just as the judges said, kind of a real-life "Glee" in that they consist of a mixture of geeks, homecoming queens, jocks and the like and come together to create beautiful music. Of course, high school stereotypes are exxagerated but the expositional video sold me that something awesome was in the works. I also appreciated that Men of Note flat-out admitted that one of their primary uses for their talent is wooing girls in malls. I've long suspected that all-male a capella groups employ some superweapon to create a massive force of female attraction that can't be reckoned with. I went to an all-male a capella concert in college and the amount of screaming girls was just plain unfair to someone on campus who isn't vocally gifted enough to make such a group.

Other great groups along the line of NOTA (small bands of professionals) include Streetcorner Symphony from Nashville Tennessee and a septet of music teachers from Seattle who form the jazz-influenced Groove for Thought. In the first three songs, they're sticking with the same soloists and I'd prefer more rotation, but they are both rediculously good. It's interesting to note how suceptible I am (and many other viewers likely are) on being sold on a brand: I genuinely like SCS more because among other things, they authentically look like guys who came from a Nashville streetcorner.

One other group of note: The Backbeats. Last year, I was fascinated by the SoCal Vocals because I'd heard somewhere on the interwebs that they were the best in the world or something, and I got the sense that they had potential to be much more than what I was seeing on the screen. I searched them on youtube, and holy crap! Those guys are good. It's odd because they were pigeonholed in a certain way, but looking at their videos of Somebody to Love and Feeling Good, they are way more than that. The problem was that there are something like 15+ members in the group and when you reduce it to eight contestants, a lot of the magic was lost. In the interest of honesty (I'm not sure if the rules are that you can't go twice), I hope it's being disclosed sufficiently that this is pretty much the same group as last year: It's still various members of the larger SoCal Vocal a capella group willing to balance the show with school work along with whatever alumni are available. Only this time there are a few extra people thrown in. Just because they changed their names doesn't mean it's not SoCal Vocals Part II. Still, there's only one overlapping member from last year to this year, and the SoCal Vocals are so good that all the leftover members who Kenton didn't invite for whatever reason to be on the Sing-Off were able to produce a ridiculously awesome video. I imagine it's sufficiently auto-tuned but those guys sound very strong and they're the freaking B-team:



The Voices of Lee equivalent is Committed and they are probably the best group in the show. Not only are they amazing with their bell tones (whatever that means), but the way the judges are so utterly speechless at the performances that they turn into incoherent babbling messes is just something you have to see for yourselves. Speaking of incoherent babbling messes, that would be Nicole Scherzinger all the time and I'm surprised she isn't getting more press for making Paula Abdul look like a Rhodes Scholar. Even if the show itself isn't creating watercooler talk, clips of Scherzinger should be making the rounds on Best Week Ever, The Soup and late night TV, I would have imagined. I am wholly convinced that Scherzinger is a far more talented individual with her dancing, songwriting and singing than I am at practically anything, but you gotta admit, there is some basis in truth here.

As for the other judges, Ben Folds is such a cool nerd and he's so freaking knowledgable, I love him. I've also seen him in concert and he's one of the best acts I've seen. As a piano player, he's also an inspiration. Shaun Stockman is also an excellent judge and I will fight any other blogger to the death who says he is unqualified. I'm referring to a popular blog for the a capella community that wrote in a blog post last December (I am not making this up) suggesting replacing Stockman this season with James van der Beek or Peter Gallagher because they had been in a capella groups before. If that's what the a capella blog community is coming up, I should be the premiere a capella beat writer on the internet and this is just my first a capella-related post.

Also, by the way, this is a reality show competition and I don't often write about a capella. I did write one other thing on reality TV once. Great article that you should click on.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

No Ordinary Family: "No Ordinary Anniversary" and "No Ordinary Sidekick"

First off, some new articles, I've published out and around:
Which Hollywoodized Verison of Washington suits you best
Morality of the Characters on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
World's Most Dangerous Sports

No Ordinary Family is a show that's been plagued by TGIF-style sappiness when portraying family stories. The dad, awkwardly played by Michael Chiklis, does a lot of preachy moralizing about the importance of family and doing good. There's a slight disconnect between the PG-rated level of talk and the PG-13-rated level of action. Some kids' shows or light-hearted action shows (USA's Monk and NBC's Chuck are two examples off the top of my head) don't really show a lot of murder on screen (Monk does so in the opening credits but no further murder usually takes place. Monk solves the case and the villain surrenders his weapon to an oncoming barrage of cops seconds before anyone's at risk of dying). No Ordinary Family mixes very sappy family melodrama with serious serial drama and the tone is something that needs a little tweaking. I'm starting to think with the last couple episodes, "No Ordinary Anniversary" and this week's episode, the episode is finding its groove a little better.

It's quite possible that the creators of this show now are aware of the sheer corniness of their show, but the episodes were already in the pipeline before the feedback rolled in that would otherwise have made them aware of the problem. Whether that's the case, I knew it was too much to expect that the tone would change significantly over the last couple weeks. The corniness is here to stay and I have to take the good with the bad (I had the same experience with Studio 60). The best I can hope for is minor tweaks and the existing tone fits into better situations.

If the family is melodramatic, it helps if there's a palpable sense of danger. I'd say the looming threat of Katie's new boyfriend (aka The Watcher) certainly raises the drama and the plot escalated in a way that was well-handled. Daphne first suspects something because she can't break into the guy's thoughts. This development simmers for a while before the next inevitable step. Daphne and JJ come to the realization that he took over JJ's dating profile. Before we know it, Daphne finds herself in a very compromising position.

The pacing is really starting to improve on all fronts. Mini-parables of the week are starting to segway to stories with larger themes and the unresolved endings make for a tone that's slightly darker. Previously, Daphne and JJ's stories were as important as the plots involving their parents. Now it seems like, the show knows that the kids' stories are best served as B-plots meant to break up the action. The serial stuff that made shows like Lost and Heroes so popular and with Dr. King and the Watcher, we have two good villains to drive things along. The Watcher is far from the antisocial Skylar-type villain we've seen on these kinds of shows and his charisma works directly on us.

On the subject of action, there's not any improvement in the action scenes. Interactions between people with different powers (i.e. X-Men, Fantastic Four, Heroes) can lend themselves to all sorts of creative chess-type pairings where one person's power cancels out someone else's power but makes him vulnerable to a different type of superhuman. The battles (the fire-shooting villain in the last episode, for example) appear to be checkpoints en route to advancing the plot. I get the sense that the show isn't even interested in the notion that action scenes can be fun and exciting in their own rights.

Lastly, RIP Francis. Sorry to see the poor guy go, considering he was one of the few side characters who wasn't painted with such a broad stroke of cartoonish smugness. Francis practically was marked for death considering he kept involving himself in the middle of things against very powerful people with whom he had no superpowers to defend himself against.

Would love to write on Glee (this week: Sappy and a very blatant excuse to sell a Christmas Album) or Running Wilde (last week: the limitations of the Andy-Emmy-Steve love triangle really started to show and the plot felt entirely gratuitous as a result, this week: considerably more creative with a plot it has told three times already in the last 8 episodes), but must go to bed.