Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 of the Year in TV

My annual Top Ten of the Year in TV:
1. Homeland, Showtime 
The write-up for my #1 show typically has to be insightful and substantial so I'm going to wax a little poetic here and start with a quote from a forward to the book "The Manchurian Candidate" by Louis Menand:
"The secret to making a successful thriller, as Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy have demonstrated, is to slow down the action occasionally with disquisitions on Stuff It Is Interesting to Know- how airplanes are made, how nuclear submarines work, how to build an atomic bomb. Ideally, this information is also topical, food for the public's hunger of the hour."

Although Menand is not writing about "Homeland", he is saying that a great thriller should 1) tap into the zeitgeist and 2) include some content as a hook. But here's the catch: Topical films and television rarely capture the zeitgeist of the times without seeming like a rehashed newsreel. This is why so many war-related films (i.e. "Rendition", "The Kingdom", "Redacted", "Lions for Lambs") failed in 2007 when the war was in full swing. Homeland is a rare exception where I'm entirely hooked by a show about something I'm already sick to death of hearing on the news about. The acting by Lewis, Danes, and Patinkin is phenomenal, the characters are engaging, and the show keeps suspense going without seeming as though the cliffhangers are cheaply inserted. The show's "hook" is the insider look at CIA interrogations and terrorist watches but it branches into medicine, politics, and even throws in a Douglas Sirkian melodrama for good measure.

2. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX
I continue to find it astounding just how many layers this show can reveal around its five characters Clues are being dropped around us over time, but there's still room for our preconceptions to be challenged as we learn that Dennis wasn't as popular in high school as he thought or that Charlie's mom was a whore. At the same time, Sunny has such fun with dysfunction. Mac had daddy issues, Mac was fat, now Mac's a repressed gay, does it really matter? I don't know the answer to that but I'm having fun than ever trying to figure it out. The show is so comedically strong that many a scene can be lifted verbatim and, as a stand-alone sketch, it would be funnier than what you'd see on Saturday Night Live. "The Gang Dines Out", which had the makings of a stageplay, was one of the best episodes of TV I've seen all year. Ditto for "Charlie and Dee Find Love" which teased us with a rewrite of the character bible on Charlie (as someone who will never stray from the waitress) and the "Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre" which added a horror component, more of the McPoyles and a cameo by Guillermo del Toro of all people. As of late, it's getting more apparent that the characters truly love each other which has led to a few more happy endings and that puts a smile on my face more than it compromises the show.

3. Boardwalk Empire, HBO (Note: I've watched Season 2 which goes up to half of 2012 but not the latest episodes)-Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is anything but the burly man that you picture as the patriarch of a big crime organization, and that's what makes him so interesting. Starting out as more of a pencil pusher who cut corners and tried to keep the peace, Thompson has become a fascinating study in squirming your way to the top. Unlike other mob dramas, Boardwalk Empire has the added challenge of being a historic artifact. We know where Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Nucky Thompson are going to end up, but that doesn't detract from the journey. Boardwalk Empire weaves together a number of interesting storylines and more often than not, the characters- Kelly McDonald as practical Irish immigrant who's moral purity slowly wilts in a marriage to a criminal, Gretchen Mol as a randy young grandmother who knows how to  play the angles, Michael Shannon as the Fed determined to stay within tracking distance of the bootlegging operation, Jack Huston as a gentle soul of a gangster with a disfigured face, and Michael Kenneth Williams as the criminal leader of the black community who can intimidate but knows his limits- do not disappoint. Season two succeeds in creating a more tightly coiled narrative arc with tension rising as Nucky and Jimmy head towards an inevitable showdown.

4. Suburgatory, ABC-Emily Kapnek's show isn't revolutionary by any means but it is the show watching and rewatching more than practically anything else. It has a unique voice and a sharp script. More importantly, the show has a vastly underrated cast with supporting actors (Cheryl Hines, Rex Lee, Chris Parnell, Alan Tudyk, Ana Gasteyer) who do exactly what supporting actors should do and more.  The show also gets a surprising amount of milage for its visual gags and is one of the few instances of voiceover that adds something. The show posits two urban transplants into a foreign suburban world and in that mismatch, sharp satire is added.

5. American Horror Story, FX-In both seasons, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy have managed to create a compelling arc using the horror story homage. The show has a no-holds-barred sense of grandiosity. Nazi doctors and devious nuns not enough? How about aliens, demon possessions, and mutated monsters for you. In Season Two, things got a little excessive but they never got predictable. In Lana (Sarah Paulson), Kit (Evan Peters), and Shelley (Chloe Sevigny), the show's given us three characters to desperately want to see get out of this mess alive. Following a star performance in 2011,
Jessica Lange manages to patch together an otherwise shoddily written part and create a more nuanced character that could otherwise just be evil with a capital "E." Lily Rabe (whose career I am now going to make it a point to watch) and Joseph Fiennes were highly compelling, and while I was highly disappointed with the direction the show took Zach Quinto's character, he was one of the high points of the show before [SPOILERS AHEAD] it was revealed he was a psychopathe. With Quinto suddenly morphing into Skylar from Heroes (counterbalanced slightly be Sister Mary Eunice now being the only good guy in authority, the show needs at least one), I'm not thrilled with where the show stands now, but it's the unpredictable nature of AHS and the interesting directions the show has taken that gives me faith that the ship will either be righted or will at least leave me surprised.

6. The Guild, YouTube-An unabashed celebration of nerd culture and the banding together of six highly diverse misfits who initially never meant anything to each other except as anymous screennames to go on gaming quests with. Each season has succeeded in raising the stakes for the characters and developing them further. This season saw Codex get a job with the game and Vork head the protest movement. Felicia Day can play the violin, work a crowd at comic con, act, and is a talented writer as well. America's next great hyphenate in the making.

7. 30 Rock, NBC-How I will miss this show and wish I was kinder to it every year on my top 10 list. The show might have lost its novelty factor somewhere in the middle but it's never failed at being funny in ways both brilliant and gut-wrenching. This season, the show took on the election with "Mayor Dunston Checks In" and a satire of the presidential debates in which Jack and Liz debate for Jenna's tweeting power. Both were topical without overdoing it. Other reasons why 30 Rock had a great year: Kenneth finally got some forward movement and was hillarious as a member of the  Standards and Practices, Hazel (although this will be debated) was a great addition, the wonderfully vain Avery Jessup returned to turn the 30 Rock universe upside down for a few episodes before unfortunately departing again, and the 30 Rock staff scored two of their biggest successes of the year in improving on two of their past experiements: Queen of Jordan and The Live Show.

8. 30 for 30, ESPN-The series of documentaries launched by ESPN, currently in its second round, is a perfect compliment to the ESPN brand. More than that, the series of documentaries made by seasoned filmmakers is just what's needed to revive a genre of storytelling (sports reporting) that has become stale through heavy repitition. I caught 9.79, Broke, and Ghosts of Ole Miss, and think they could all work as stand-alone films in wide release.

9. Alphas, SyFy-Procedurals rarely hook me but in this show, each mystery of the week helps develop the show and the characters. The special effects are top-notch and the action scenes are both physical and intellectual: The intersection of the characters' powers often play out like a game of chess. The show also works well because of the chemistry. David Strathain's Dr. Lee Rosen works well as a father figure to the group, Rachel and Nina have an intriguing budding relationship as surrogate sisters, and with Ryan Cartwright's Gary Bell, the show deserves credit for not treating autism as though it has kid gloves.

10. Lilyhammer, Netflix-The show's one big flaw is allowing it's protagonist to have become inexplicably powerful too quickly and too easily. Other than that, Lilyhammer has an excitingly well-defined sense of place. Because it's filmed by a Norweigan production company (in collaboration with Steve van Zandt), it goes without saying that watching this show transports you to another world. The cast of characters is wonderfully sharp and I get the strong sense that there's potential of better things to come in Season 2.

10 Honorable Mentions:
Mindy Project, Fox-My review of it is written somewhere else. Don't necessarily think Mindy's a star, but the show is capable of hitting a few emotional chords, and the supporting cast and infrastructure of relationships are both solid.
Little Mosque on the Prairie, CBC-Just as how the Cosby Show eased racial tension by showing how a black family wasn't that different than white middle-class Americans, Little Mosque could do the same in America if people watch it on Hulu.
Go On, NBC-An interesting show with a daring mix of sediment and character-based quirkiness. Sedimental shows run a high risk of disappointing but that's not even half the battle here.
Vegas, CBS-Of the two episodes, I've seen so far, the show definitely has potential. Las Vegas is always an exciting locale to set a drama but historical Vegas has a little something extra to it and I'm excited to see where that goes 
Portlandia, IFC-The show, which made my Top 10 last year, sticks out pretty strongly for its innovation.
Key and Peele, Comedy Central-Mad TV had a few bright spots when these two were on screen so it's a good thing these two have carved out a more specific niche for themselves in the sketch comedy world
Breaking Bad, AMC-I've only watched two or three episodes. It's inclusion on the list is only so I don't get my license revoked as a TV blogger.
Unsupervised, FX-Most underrated cartoon of the year. It's got wonderful characters, it's feel good and disgusting.
Modern Family, ABC-A still solid half-hour comedy. I am certain that out of order, these episodes will kill in syndication.
Bunheads, ABC Family-I never was a Gilmore Girls fan, so when I came at this show at a fresh angle, I was delighted by what I saw.

For reference, here is what I watched: 2 Broke Girls, 4 to 9ers, 666 Park Avenue, Alcatraz (just one ep.), American Dad, Bent, Big Bang Theory, Bob's Burgers, Brickleberry, Chelsea Lately, Comedy Bang Bang, Daily Show, Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23, Eastbound and Down (one ep.), Family Guy, Futurama, Glee, Good Chrisitan Bitches, House of Lies, Last Resort, Librarians, Louie (a couple eps.) Luck (one ep.), MAD,  Merlin (although episodes date to 2008), Misfits, New Girl, The Neighbors, The New Normal, Office, Parks and Recreation, Revenge (Again, not sure what year I watched this),  Saturday Night Live, Scandal, Shameless (two episodes), Smash, Up All Night (I think? Can't remember exactly if it was 11 or 12), Vampire Diaries,  Walking Dead

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bunheads and TV History's Biggest 2nd Episode Curveball

Bunheads caught my attention because it was free on itunes. At first glance, it looked female-centered and slightly tween-oriented. I initially thought this wasn't too far off from the Gilmore Girls demographic which wasn't my cup of tea.  [Ed. update: It turns out show runner Amy Sherman also created Gilmore Girls]

But, again, it was free and the female lead was somewhat charming as Brett's love interest on Flight of the Concords. 

Good thing I jumped at the beat, because I found the show to be surprisingly interesting.  It's one of those love stories where the girl finds the boy repulsive at first but is gradually won over. Only in this case, this all happens within the first two acts and the girl already drunkenly married the guy before she got around to being convinced he was right for her.  

The girl in this case (Sutton Foster) is Michelle. She's a Vegas showgirl who once aspired to be a dancer. The guy is the wonderful Alan Ruck. It is rare to have a series where a couple falls in love after they get married and that's an interesting twist. It also helps that Alan Ruck and Sutton Foster are able leads and sold the moments.  

Following a great pilot episode, we fast-forward to Episode 2 and 



What were they thinking?? For one, I have trouble buying a coincidence of the magnitude that a woman marries someone who dies the next day. For another, the pilot introduces the premise of the show. If you get anyone on board your show enough to want to tune into week 2, how can you then destroy the entire premise and make it a different show without risking losing that audience? Lastly, this is triply bad because it was a good premise they initially had, Alan Ruck is a great actor, and his character was a good character. I could see them killing off the romantic comedy equivalent of a red-shirt ensign but Alan Ruck?? 

And one episode in? Could they not have waited a few more episodes? Killing off a character can be a very unexpected twist, but not Episode 2. It would have made a good season finale, for example. 

The focus shifts to a sort of small-town comedy a la "Northern Exposure" or "Local Hero" and is also about a woman finding herself. The relationship shifts to Michelle and a mother-in-law played by Kelly Bishop who are strangely bonded by legal circumstances and the sharing of a loved one for 24 hours. The show also centers around four perky high school girls who are ballet students of the mother-in-law. Some of the show's most entertaining moments come from the quartet because they have such clashing personalities but they are practically glued to the hip. I'm not sure why but I think co-dependent pseudo-families of people are at the center of good TV (see It's Always Sunny, Cheers).

As is, the show still works past Episode Two but I maintain it's a bad move and would have been a better show. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Top 25 Power List of Actors: 2012

1. Leo DiCaprio-Gets his choice of projects, astounds audiences, grows in every film. Even something like J. Edgar not being seen by audiences doesn't really tarnish his exemplary filmography.

2. Matt Damon-Being prolific helps. He's been with every director, starred with nearly everybody, continues to be bold, and still well-liked even in face of bombs.

3. Brad Pitt-Nearly got double-nominated last year. His name above the marquee can probably automatically get a film in the Oscar discussion at this point and that's not saying anything for his ability to increasingly turn in a great performance or his clout to get something greenlit.

4. Daniel Day-Lewis-Being less prolific makes him hard to gauge

5. Johnny Depp-Tourist was a bust but he can still be exciting and creative like no one else. Don't forgot the success of Rango if you're looking for recent hits.

6. Christian Bale-Acknowledged as supremely talented by many in the industry. Did right by Batman and Nolan, he has won an Oscar, and is capable of winning another without a doubt. Also, challenges himself outside of Nolan with collaborations with Terrence Malick and Warner Herzog and doing the Western 3:10 to Yuma.

7. Michael Fassbender-Of five films he made in 2011, three ("Shame", "Dangerous Method", "X-Men First Class") were big critical or commercial hits. He's like Jude Law in 2004 but nearly every film he made turned into gold one way or another. His Oscar snub was highly undeserved last year. In 2012, he had a solid supporting turn in Prometheus.

8. George Clooney-Going a little bit downhill but still viable as a leading man. By downhill, how many times can he reinvent the same variation of a pretty man who becomes disheveled. Some might be shocked I'm putting him this low, but I do think that in front of the camera, he's run out of his ways with his range to produce another Oscar-nominated performance. Behind the camera, that's another story and I think he could get nominated as a director. The truth is his box office receipts don't really keep up with how often he appears in People Magazine.

9. Ryan Gosling-Is in the conversation as the next Clooney and is often in Oscar contention every year.

10. Robert Downey Jr.-Being behind Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, two of the biggest franchises of the last few years and delivering such a strong take on Sherlock Homes that it's worthy of acting buzz  says a lot on its own. He often gets talked about as if he's a comeback when, in my opinion, he should simply get talked about as one of the most talented stars in Hollywood.

11. Hugh Jackman-Les Miserables puts him near the top now. It's a temporary ridge. I think he has to follow it with something great to stay at the top of the A-list. His likability as a person is enormous. He's been a little bigger in the world of theater than film.

12. Sean Penn-Won two Oscars in the last 10 years, so he's not someone to ever count out in an Oscar race. Does not have box office appeal but that's because he doesn't choose projects with box office potential.

13 (tie). Philip Seymour Hoffman-Once a character actor, now a capable lead. When you think about it, he was the main star of "Doubt", "Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead", "Synechdone, New York" and if I'm not mistaken "Pirate Radio." That's pretty unique because the roles he had for the first ten years weren't even supporting roles. In terms of amount of screentime among cast members, he likely ranked 7th for Scent of a Woman, 7th for Big Lebowski, 6th for Talented Mr. Ripley, and 8th for Almost Famous.
13. (tie) Joaquin Phoenix-I think his stunt circa 2009/2010 where he decided to be crazy in character has likely helped him be seen as a badass Daniel Day-Lewis type who can take method acting to new insane levels. In short, it's likely boosted his credibility.
15. Bradley Cooper-I can make his case in four words and a comma: Hangover, Silver Linings Playbook

16. Daniel Craig-The credibility of doing justice to the franchise of James Bond combined with the classic training and ability to knock out supporting parts out of the park ("Road to Perdition" "Infamous" "Munich). I can't see any course of action for Craig other than getting bigger and bigger every year.

17. Joseph Gordon Leavitt-Being in Christoper Nolan's last two hits certainly helped make his case as an A-lister and allowed him to give great performances, but his contributions to 500 Days of Summer and raising that movie to Best Picture Oscar contention helped a lot too. He's clearly artistic in his aims and earning credibility with his blockbusters. Looper got an AFI award for top ten films of the year.

18. Denzel Washington-Up for Oscar #6 and while he hasn't branched out as much as DiCaprio or Damon (he's done most of his work with Spike Lee and the late Tony Scott), he's a surprisingly durable brand. I was thinking he's a relic of the 90's, but double-checked and Unstoppable, Safe House, Inside Man, the Book of Eli and American Gangster were all successful either critically or commercially.

19. Andrew Garfield-I don't know if I like him personally and I don't know why they made a new Spiderman Movie five years after the last one ended, BUT if he is Spiderman, then he will be a big attraction for the next few years.

20. Jamie Foxx-He hasn't quit his string of good performances since Ray. In some cases, he was my favorite part of "The Soloist", "Jarhead" "Dreamgirls" "Horrible Bosses" and while those performances are underacknowledged, in my opinion, I think he easily has the potential to score another Oscar nod at will (kind of like how Will Smith only really tried acting twice and got nominated each time). Hopefully, Djanho Unchained will help rise him to the core

21. Jeremy Renner-He was in the Avengers, on Saturday Night Live, got two Oscar nods in quick succession and took over the Bourne role.

22. Liam Neeson-A talented actor who was cast in the lead in Battleship, The Grey and starred in Wrath of the Titans. While none of these movies had any cultural impact whatsoever and will likely be forgotten in a year's time, they show that Neeson is still being cast in lead roles. He hasn't been the lead of an Oscar-caliber film since Kinsey and it was really around Schindler's List when he was at the peak of his stardom, but one good franchise or one good Oscar winning film could land him back on top and I'm convinced that Hollywood is willing to cast him in it.

23. Tom Cruise-For better or worse, Tom Cruise has survived Oprahgate. He's no longer one of the top stars in the world but he's still being given enormous amounts of money ($75 million for a musical and $60 million for Jack Reacher, although Jack Reacher looks like it cost well over $100 million) to be making action movies and they're not being seen as frequently, but I think the fact that he's still able to do what he's always been doing merits a place on the top 25. I also think he's still showing the shrewdness in movie selection that he did before his fall from grace, especially with Tropic Thunder but I even see the small stuff like how "Knight and Day" does cast him in a slightly different light than his other films and was a good move for him in his career.

24. Ben Kingsley-I don't think this guy is in "old grandfather role" territory just yet and he did strike up a collaboration with Scorsese for his last two films. He's also damn talented as everyone knows, so I can see him being a pretty good asset to any movie, a viable Oscar contender given the right role, and a name on a marquee that could sell a film.

25. Ben Affleck-He likes directing more than acting but that doesn't mean he won't act, and he especially gives it his all when acting in his own projects. He demonstrates with Hollywoodland that he can act very well, so I see no reason why other directors wouldn't want to gobble him up like Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson did in the years after they won directing Oscars.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Negative Effects of the Internet

This is an article I wrote several years ago for a website called helium which collects people's articles and pays them just a few cents for those articles. Not a good deal. This morning I got an e-mail several years after I wrote this article that my article was deleted from the database for some odd reason, so I'll gladly share it with you here.

In the internet age, everyone's attention spans are getting shorter and a lot is being left out. My sophomore year in college, for example, I had a roommate who had a few habits that got on my nerves. He would cycle through his mp3s and never be able to play a single song all the way through. He would never be able to watch a half hour TV show, instead perferring highlights on ESPN, clips from Saturday Night Live reruns (back when they aired on Comedy Central), and MTV videos.

It frustrated me that he could never sit all the way through a program without changing the channel. I would listen to entire CDs from start to finish, watch entire movies, and plays. I would go to class and listen throughout the entire lecture. How awful it must be to have that small an attention span, that my poor roomate, has, I thought?

Fast forward five years later and after discovering the joys of youtube and other forms of internet video for the past year and a half or so I've turned into him. This is the tragic thing that youtube has done to me.

With so many forms of entertainment being available to me every time I log into a computer, I want to experience them all and can't sit still too long at any one thing before something else grabs my attention. Why watch an entire episode of the Conan O'Brien show where you can just see the clips of the skits since it's on MTV's site? Why listen to the radio when you can get any song you want on demand? I started taking those shortcuts toward instant gratification and I'm having trouble finding my way out. My primary form of entertainment has gone from two-hour long movies to a one-hour long drama like Heroes to half-hour shows to clips of Monty Python, Conan O'Brien or Mad TV on youtube and it's affecting everything I do.

I can't sat still through lectures and often through work I find myself channeling through youtube, a TV show on demand, or some other video or radio station site. I can't watch TV through the commercial breaks and I'm often alternating between two or more shows. I'm an instant gratification junkie, in short, and I'm fully aware that's a more chaotic and less peaceful place that both society and myself have fallen privy to.

How is this a problem? Well, aside from the obvious answers of all the ways a shortened attention span makes it more difficult to focus on anything and get anything done, I feel like we can't fully appreciate anything at all as well. Remember Beethoven's 5th symphony? Oh, silly me, I forgot that you folks in generation X won't dare listen to anything unless it has words being sung/screamed loudly accompanied to a keyboard, guitar, drums and bass, and you folks in Generation Y, live in a world where only rappers are considered true musicians, so that's pretty much synthesizer, drums and bass (see we've already shortened our attention span from 4 instruments to 3).

Anyway, Beethoven's 5th symphony is that one that goes Dum-Dum-Dum-Duuuuum, Dum-Dum-Dum-Duuuuum. It's a very dramatic piece that even my 5-second attention span college roommate had downloaded on his computer but that well-known part of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is only the 1st movement of four parts. If you listen to the 2nd part of the symphony, it's very boring and insipid on its own, the third is kind of iffy, but the 4th is where it all comes together. When you get to the fourth, you realize that the second and third movements were put there for a reason: to provide contrast to the 2nd and 3rd movements. The symphony takes over 30 minutes to listen to (or maybe it's 20 or 40, I really am just guessing here, but it's at least 4 times longer than your average song on the radio, put it that way. I couldn't find on wikipedia, google, amazon, my desk encyclopedia or this old music textbook how long the symphony was) which very few people in Generation Y has the patience to do
but it is that much more rewarding to get to movement 4 . And that's exactly what we're missing when our attention spans get reduced to wax: The metaphorical second and third movements of the movie, TV show, album and quite possibly life itself.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mindy Project: Thanksgiving Episode Review

I generally don’t care too heavily for the standard romcom but for two weeks in a row, The Mindy Project has gotten me to feel Mindy’s pains of a woeful love life. Last week, there was the painful realization that Mindy’s biological clock was running out. This might not have been so emotionally painful if not for the way it all played out: A screwball comedy scenario of Mindy getting an intimate interview from Dr. Castellano segued rather suddenly into a poignant third act in which Mindy was bedridden with depression.

This week, I found the same effectiveness in making Mindy’s rather typical problems carry that extra sting. In this episode, Mindy goes to Gwen’s Thanksgiving Party in somewhat of a mopey mood because her sports agent boyfriend (yes, that sleazy guy from the night club) doesn’t want to be exclusive with her. Her mood temporarily brightens when she bumps into an old flame only to find out that he’s with someone else. 

Mindy’s dilemma of suddenly becoming emotionally unpredictable upon hearing the news that an ex (Ed Helms) is with someone new is fairly universal and increasingly more prevalent with the advent of facebook. In fact, the inability of facebook to make the news of my exes disappear is my number one complaint with the medium. It is also why I found myself really rooting for Mindy to snag back the man that got away. After all, I think it’s fairly well established that Mindy’s current boyfriend really isn’t a keeper. It is interesting in its own way to have Mindy try to better herself by dating a sleazy sports agent she doesn’t have a future with but it’s not particularly meaningful. This is why I’m particularly pleased that the Josh-Mindy scenes are taking up only two or three minutes an episode.

This is an also an episode of pairings. Morgan comes along as Mindy’s plus one to Gwen’s Thanksgiving party. This might not make very much sense, but it’s a good way to get some inter-group chemistry going by isolating these two. It also helps that Ike Barinholtz is making Morgan fun in every scene he’s in. It’s been a while since Barinholtz left Mad TV and it’s a good thing he’s finally finding a meaty comic role to sink his teeth into.

The B-story was fairly lackluster but it sported another good pairing. Betsy goes home to a family that treats her like a kid and there’s unresolved tension. Nothing particularly grandiose comedically here but I do like the Betsy-Jeremy pairing. Because the show is seen through Mindy’s point of view (I’m referring here to both the showrunner and the character), Jeremy’s primarily defined through his sexuality.

Therefore, a good way to develop Jeremy is to pair him up with a woman who he has no desire to have sex with. I know that with the way characters are always being paired up, it seems premature to rule out Betsy from Jeremy’s menu, but I’m pretty sure Betsy is meant to be too plain and frumpy to appeal to someone like Jeremy or pretty much anyone. So as a result, we don’t get sexy playboy Jeremy but curious foreigner Jeremy and I’m fine with that.

Last but not least, the C-story features Danny paired with no one. Watching Danny enjoy Thanksgiving in solitude tugged at my heartstrings which was pretty much the intended effect. Here’s hoping Danny learns to open himself more..

Random thoughts:
-Am I only the one who feels like they tried to plug a dinner party scenario into a Thanksgiving episode? There was little talk of turkey or football, Morgan would have likely had his own plans, and why would Mindy feel the need to go with a date? 
-Mindy and Gwen have low-to-moderate chemistry as friends. When they get into a girlfight, however, it’s a whole another story. That was pretty intense and pretty delightful at that. Anna Camp just earned her place on the show with that scene
-I’m kind of used to thinking of Ed Helms as a bad boyfriend from "The Office" so it was kind of ironic seeing him as a legitimate possibility for Mindy
-Ever notice how characters on TV flirt better than we do in real life? Even with a gun pointed to my head, I don't think I could have come up with as witty responses in conversation as Ed Helms' Dennis in the conversation with Mindy right after he falls down the stairs. Oh yeah, and he just fell down the stairs.

Go On Episode Review: Dinner Takes All

Go On has its moments as a Steven-Carrie-Ryan show and its moments as a Ryan-and-the-group show but for a number of reasons (logistical, for one), merging them together usually feels forced. This Thanksgiving-themed episode was a good case in point of that awkwardness. That Ryan's group members would ditch their established plans to have Thanksgiving at Ryan's radio station stretches believability just a little. That Carrie would skip Thanksgiving with her family to participate in a hair-brained (not to mention, immature) scheme by her boss, when an entire episode resolved with the pair establishing such boundaries, stretches believability just a little more AND negates some of the growth the characters have made to date.

The main Ryan-centered plot is that Ryan and Steven reunite with an old friend (Lauren Graham) who Steven begins to crush on. Ryan, attempting to be a good friend, initially throws his backing behind Steven and agrees to be his wingman. Cue Act II:  Ryan changes his mind and wants Lauren Graham and while he's not ready to date yet, he doesn't want Steven to have her. Ryan's long been a bit egotistical and we're supposed to understand that goes with the territory of being a famous radio personality (and also goes with the territory of being played by Matthew Perry), but I had a problem with the show's lack of awareness that this was not a good thing Ryan was doing. Especially since he shared his plan with the group, and Lauren didn't even step in and say this might be unhealthy.

Still, while the episode's premise was a little shaky, it wasn't a half hour that was entirely devoid of enjoyment. In terms of character growth, Steven and Ryan had some good moments together and it's significant progress that Ryan is ready to start thinking about dating.

The group is also gelling together and those character quirks-Yolanda suddenly interjecting her loyalty to someone, Lauren awkwardly backtracking after overstepping her bounds, etc.- are starting to get more comic mileage as the traits become more recognizably associated with the characters. I especially liked the shared moment between Owen and Yolanda as they both related to each other as children of tiger moms who played string instruments (which isn't a thing, by the way, but I bought that it COULD be a thing in-universe).

The ensemble is easy to enjoy from the perspective that there's no show on TV where random people are connected by nothing but a common emotional denominator: loss. There's a certain chemistry between the characters and a bittersweet tone to the characters that sets this show apart but I could still use a little more humor. From a comedy standpoint, the show had exactly one scene that worked tremendously: The made-up unique Ryan and Steven engaged in their own unique drinking game. Whether that's enough to overcome a somewhat low joke-per-minute ratio is still up in the air.
Random thoughts:

-Ryan's voiceovers are corny. I'd even rank "Modern Family" above "Go On" when it comes to schmaltzy voiceovers to close out the episode

-I've heard the argument that Go On isn't that unique when you consider "Community" is still on the air and I've heard the comparisons (Personally, I don't like "Community" anymore but I digress). It's worth noting that Community stopped being about a group of involuntary study buddies after the first season. It was then that they consciously chose to take the same class. It also didn't really matter if they were taking the same class: The characters also basically just decided to be a gang. It will be interesting to see how Go On handles this dilemma of voluntary separation.

-Owen has been a bit oscillating between shy and confident.

-If I'm not mistaken, Lauren Graham is good friends with Matthew Perry and confessed to having a crush on him on "The Ellen Show". I know Ellen makes her stars do crazy things, but art imitating life?

-The New York Times had an infographic on the Fall Season's breakout characters last week and Brett Gelman's Mr K was on there. Am I the only one who finds him somewhat limited? Playing creepy-crazy doesn't take that much effort. I much prefer Julie White as whip-smart curmedgeon Anne.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some Old-Timey Reviews from 2003 Films

In an effort to update the blog with something, I've decided to fill this space for now with reviews I used to post on the Internet Movie Database that I wrote when I first registered in 2003. They are entirely unchanged from when I wrote these nine years ago, so if you have a problem with their quality and accuracy, take them up with the 2003 version of Orrin. To very loosely quote an episode of Futurama ("loosely" means I'm not going to actually look it up): "I can't be held responsible for what year-ago me said or did. He was a maniac."
This was essentially my first effort to be a critic. I was out of college for a year and seeking to devote myself to something new and keep myself active. It was through doing these that I eventually got interested in being a critic and in film studies when I went back to college, so it all comes full circle:

Bruce Almighty:
Jim Carrey, who has thoroughly explored bathroom humor and Frank Capraesque drama, finds a very comfortable balance here. The plot: Carey is a newsman in Buffalo whose frustrations over his unmet aspirations to be a news anchor cause him to challenge God himself. God, in the form of Morgan Freeman, accepts his challenge setting up a pretty decent opportunity for some laughs. The choice to put Carrey's character in Buffalo rather than the New York City where most movies are set, seems to resonate in a symbolic sense, as the world Carrey inhabits always seems to be a little off the norm. Aside from Carrey's comedy, and a convincing performance by Morgan Freeman (as convincing as humanly possible, that is, considering he's playing God), I liked this movie because at heart it's very uplifting and speaks great truths about the power of love and `being a miracle.'

Whether it lives up to the success of its Marvel predecessor Spiderman with whom this superhero shares several parallels, Daredevil is an undeniably solid film. The advantage for Daredevil's appeal is that unlike human spiders, blind people actually do exist and his struggles add a neat human dimension. The title sequence is done in Braille and the special effects, shown from our blind superhero's point of view, are amazing. The well-balanced story is somewhat dark in tone but not depressing, and gives us a good character portrait. What's best about the film, however, is its cast. Ben Affleck, with his do-good persona has superhero written all over him. Affleck isn't physically intimidating but that never stopped Tobey MaGuire in Spiderman or Michael Keaton in Batman. If you're looking for a love interest who can knock down bad guys in her sleep, no one can top Garner and as for the villains, you'll feel Mike Duncan Clarke and Farrell were practically born into their parts.

Swimming Pool:
Swimming Pool is a sophisticated and new kind of movie for our postmodern world in which reality and fantasy become so blurred together. Well, sorry, I'm not on board. Call me old-fashioned but I like stories with coherent beginnings and endings and while I appreciate Ozon's effort to give his films that artistic edge, I felt like I almost wasted a ticket. I say `almost', because if you trim down a few minutes, you have, more or less, a coherent story and up until the end I felt pretty entranced. Set in an appropriately eerie French house, the main characters are a well-known writer and her editor's sexually loose daughter who are forced to temporarily live in it. Despite all the sex, drinking, and violence going on, there's very little going on. Overall, the storyline is very static so it helps that Rampling and Sagnier show so much chemistry as two awkwardly mismatched roommates.

Uptown Girls:
Brittney Murphy and Dakota Fanning star as a very childish 22-year old and a very mature 8-year old in a movie that is pretty flawless. That is if you're a pre-teen and a girl. Everything from the heavy use of peppy teen music, to the shiny lights and purples and pinks decorating the sets and wardrobe to Brittney herself create a mood characteristic of a modern Cinderella story. For the rest of us, it might not be your cup of tea depending on how far removed you are from 12 and your gender, but it still has its moments. Brittney proves herself capable of creating movie magic on screen showing us her childish side, even if she overdoes it a little. As for her counterpart, Fanning holds up ok except that the writers didn't create a very convincing 8-year old. On the whole, the movie is rather intelligent and deals with some weighty material (death of a parent, neglect, etc) that is quite powerful.

Last Samurai:
Being released alongside so many other great war epics, The Last Samurai probably won't get the recognition it deserves, but that should not detract from its achievements. Set in 1870s Japan, this is an epic set around a washed-up Civil War veteran played by Tom Cruise. Whether you think he's too much of a pretty-boy or not, Cruise can still create magic on screen, even if he plays the same kind of guy over and over. To refresh your memory, Cruise starts his films (Rain Man, Jerry MaGuire, etc) as an arrogant jerk before meeting an inspirational figure, that leads him to a journey of self-discovery where he changes himself and turns into a true hero. This movie is the same, but within the context of a war epic, Cruise is just what the doctor ordered, and just as Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr did exemplary work alongside him, Cruise's brings out the best in costar Ken Wattanbe, who had an extroadinary presence, in an already emotionally stirring relationship. The story is beautifully told and visually beautifully portrayed.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico:
Once Upon a Time in Mexico, ('92 to be exact), a cinematic visionary named Robert Rodriguez made a pretty decent movie with only $7,000. The film, about a guitar playing hero taking up a life of crime after his guitar-playing hand is shot, got him enough attention in Hollywood to attract a bigger budget. Catching the end of this trilogy, it appears he used the cash to find more convincing ways of blowing people up. To call the movie violent is an understatement and there are a couple of moments so graphic that I recommend squeamish people stay away. However, the violence is first-rate here, and Rodriguez' gift of lightly sprinkling clever touches into his action shines through. Set against a masterfully crafted backdrop and a somber Latin-flavored score, Mexico is a shift from his earlier movies in its more epic tone. With a couple exceptions, there is very little character development and in its place is a complex story featuring a complex web of characters on various sides of the good/evil divide. Whether you're able to follow the plot, you'll probably be highly engaged by it and, in contrast to Mexico's tragic predecessors, be elated when the good guys win in the end.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two pics I have to publish for another blog

This is of absolutely no relevance to anyone who reads this blog. I've been hired to blog a few hours a week for a furniture store in El Monte and Los Angeles, CA and needed a place to store a couple of images.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Favorite Songs for their Lyrics Part VI

Collide, Howie Day-If I heard the line "I'm tangled up in you" from Adam Levine, I'd assume it was some advanced sexual position. In the context of this song it feels metaphorical and thus poetic. Not to say that Howie Day is any more or less sleazy then Levine but he certainly sells a different side of earnest love better. The song sticks out to me because of the artful way it mixes and merges contrasts in the chorus:
"Even the best fall down sometimes. Even the wrong words seem  to rhyme. Out of the dark you fill my mind" and it all builds up to an apt description of opposites coming together: the word "collide." The "seem to" in front of "rhyme" also is highly effective as it changes the song entirely: It's as if the narrator is discovering those feelings as he's saying those words.

She Don't Want Nobody Near, Counting Crows-This song is about the duality that sometimes we want to be alone and sometimes we want to be with people.

The song's subject is a woman who likely I can picture as the mysterious neighborhood recluse whose eccentricities are the subject of neighborhood gossip about (to add to that point, the song is written in some slangy dialect laced with double negatives and wrongly used connotations).  She doesn't want people in her house because it's crowded but she doesn't want to be alone either so "they just keep pouring in." Throughout the song, her house guests are referred to as "them" and thus portrayed as if they were some form of a house pest. At the very least, other people are something she doesn't understand.

In the final verse, there's a twist that the woman doesn't just have a discomfort around people but a deep-rooted fear of having her sadness rejected by others: "She don't want nobody near cause she don't want anybody to see what she's like when she's down. 'Cause it's a real bad place to be."

3 x 5, John Mayer-One of the non-single songs from his first CD (before he became full of himself), this song is simply about the beauty of the outdoors and scenery. It also has a message to enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it. The narrator feels elation because "Today I finally overcame trying to fit the world inside a picture frame."

This isn't a song that says much (I'm not suggesting a lot of songs do) but it captures a certain feeling very well. I remember in a writing worskhop, one of our exercises was to look at a picture of a seascape overlooking an Irish coastal town and describe it. Even though we largely used the same adjectives ("rustic" "quaint" "placid"), our paragraphs differed wildly. I see this song as John Mayer's version of that exercise and excuse for him to have some fun with it.

For the First Time, The Script-The narrator is someone who's struggling financially and the subject of the song is what I suspect is a platonic female friend who just suffered a broken heart.  The repetition of the line "man these times are hard" and the melancholy undertones of the lyrics (i.e. "we're smiling though we're close to tears") suggest that the two of them can't really solve each other's problems. Still, he hopes that the two can ease the pain a little through reconnecting and talking. Not just any talk but a really meaningful one that would keep the two up all night as they drink cheap bottles of wine.

I often wonder with this song if it wouldn't have been more interesting if the subject was a man. The song's subject is probably female because its based on a true story or because logistically the band might be more successful at concerts if all their songs have pseudo-romantic undertones so girls will fawn over them and buy tickets. At the same time, the relationship is platonic and unless he's lying through his teeth and the bottles of wine are a means to make her easier to get in bed,  it's clear that he sees her as a platonic friend. If the song is just about friendship, why couldn't the subject be a guy? How often does a guy sing a song to a guy like that? At the same time, I can see the beauty of the song as the fact that she's vulnerable and presumably beautiful but he still wants to develop his friendship with her.

Sara Bairelles, Fairytales and The End of the Innocence, Don Henley-The disconnect between reality and simplistic fictional portrayals of love that dominate our cultural storylines (by which I mean a realistic love story is usually relegated to the Sundance circuit while a Drew Barrymore rom-com opens on 2,000 screens nationwide) is an underexplored theme but one that I hear every once in a while done well in song. Bairelles' short and sweet number shatters the illusion of fairy tales. Cinderella is on the bedroom floor with her dreams shattered while Repunzel concludes she would have cut her hair if she had known men would climb it. Why don't these fairytales play out successfully after the happy ending? Bairelles' answer is "she's always waiting on the next best thing." The subversive suggestion is that it's human nature not to ever settle down into a happy ending.

Henley's song (and my one entry this week before 2000, I'm shamelessly unaware of anything that's not new) also rallies against fairytale mentality with the line "We've been poisoned by these fairytales." He takes it a step further by suggesting what to do when "happily ever after fails." The solution is geographical or metaphorically geographical: "A place we can go still untouched by rain." But that's clearly not much of a solution so he advises his subject to offer up her best defense (reminiscent of the Ben Folds song "Still Fighting It") because it's the end of the innocence.

Click on the lyrics tag for more editions of this series

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Parks and Recreation Clips by Me

I'm once again enjoying watching Parks and Recreation this season. As I said in a previous post, I quit the show last year because I found the Tom-Anne pairing a dealbreaker and would even go so far as to say I was empowered with the decision to break from a show if I didn't like its direction.

Nonetheless, aside from Tom and Anne no longer being a couple, I was also pleased to watch Parks and Recreation because I was on the set when it was being shot in Washington.

I met and got a picture with Chris Pratt; was part of a small press corps that photographed Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt as they met with the DC mayor; sort of talked to Aubrey; was close enough to hear Chris saying (and improvizing no less) his lines; and was technically an extra in one of the scenes.

It was one of the coolest experiences I've had reporting and a very wonderful turn of events on a day that just 5 1/2 hours earlier I thought would be hopeless (it was about 10:30 am that an e-mail from the DC film office came in announcing Parks and Recreation would be shooting and it was about 4, I finally rendevouzed with the crew and got an article confirmed by two publishers.

Here are two articles I wrote on the incident:

Monday, October 08, 2012

Guest Star Update: The Office

It's time for another installment of guest stars. In this version, I will be looking at The Office. The way I do this is by looking at the cast lists from's printable version and writing down the name of every guest star that I recognize. Thus, it's a highly subjective list. An asterisk denotes a recurring role.
The Office:
Amy Adams*, Amy Ryan*, Amy Piitz, Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Conan O’Brian, Chip Esten (Whose Line Is it Anyway), Dan Castellenata (The Simpsons), David Koechner*, Georgia Engel, Idris Elba*, Jim Carrey, Jim Coleman, Joey Slotnick, Josh Groban, Kathy Bates*, Kevin McHale (Glee), Maura Tierney, Melora Hardin*, Nancy Walls*, Patrice O’Neal, Ray Romano, Ricky Gervais, Rob Huebel, Stephen Collins (7th Heaven), Tim Meadows, Timothy Olyphant, Warren Buffett, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell*, Zoe Jarman (The Mindy Project)

The Office has been relatively low key about guest stars in comparison to other NBC programs that previously anchored NBC’s Must See Thursday such Seinfeld, Friends, Will and Grace, and Frasier. Greg Daniel and Mike Schur have said in interviews that the show’s plan was to veer away from stunt casting in an effort to preserve the setting. A big name star, even if they weren’t playing themselves, would break the illusion that these people lived in a small town disconnected from the nation’s cultural centers. For instance,
the show was in talks with Carol Burnett to guest star in the fourth season but likely nixed the idea out of concerns that she was too famous.*

Perhaps, Conan O’Brian’s anti-climactic non-speaking cameo is a wink to this notion.
As Michael Scott is commenting on the greatness of New York, he doesn’t even notice Conan O’Brian walking by although its captured at the edge of the faux documentary shot.

In spite of this, the show has used bigger names in recurring roles (Kathy Bates, Amy Ryan, Timothy Olyphant and Irdis Ebra, and cast James Spader-initially a guest star) and they seemed to reverse course completely with a guest starring binge in the Season 7 finale with Warren Buffet, Ray Romano, James Spader, Jim Carrey, and Will Arnett all guesting as interviewees for the open position. It was also in this season that Will Ferrell was given a 3-episode arc that many found distracting. A possible explanation for this was network pressure being worried that the show would suffer upon Steve Carrell’s departure. Another possible explanation is that since they were all in the running to take over on the Office, the episode served as a proverbial test drive.

Before they were famous:
Kevin McHale-Artie on Glee showed us a nice functioning pair of legs when he played a pizza boy locked in the break room a couple years before he was cast on Glee.

Zoe Jarman-Jarman just got cast in “The Mindy Project” as a level-headed receptionist where Mindy works. She played a bubbly young missionary en route to Mexico in the “Christening”

Amy Adams-Although she had a scene-stealing role in Catch Me If You Can, it wasn’t until she got nominated for an Oscar for Junebug (an independent film few people saw) in early 2006 that she became a known commodity. Her Oscar nomination occurred on the same week as her last episode of the Office

Amy Ryan-One of the show’s greatest moments was when Ryan’s Holly Flax  reacted to Michael Scott’s awkward yoda impression with one of her own. It was then that we knew Holly was the ying to Michael’s yang and would root for the two of them to get together for the next three seasons.

Jim Coleman-Probably best known for his role on Heroes, Coleman plays a state senator who’s importance is inflated by wife Angela but taken at face value by everyone else. If that weren’t enough, a twist comes later that season when it’s revealed he’s gay. Being imbued with two jumping-off points for laughs makes him more well-rounded than some cast members.

Idris Elba-Elba’s Charles Miner really broke The Office out of its rut in Season 5 in the way that a great villain can breathe life into a superhero franchise. The Office’s tone veers toward realism but it skews a little towards the silly. Miner’s no-nonsense approach created a stark new contrast to not just Michael Scott but Dunder-Mifflin and the tone of the show in general. Without so much as cracking a smile, Miner established what seemed like a reign of terror although he’s probably not too far off from most workplace bosses.

Josh Groban-Maybe it’s just the novelty of seeing the opera singer do something different, but Groban was a lot of fun as Andy’s brother who can outsing him. Stephen Collins (pictured below) from 7th Heaven played a variation of his dad-of-the-year role with some undertones of parental neglect.

Ricky Gervais-Since the show’s inception as a spin-off of the legendary British series, the original cast of the Office has been high on fan’s wish lists but the show has largely strayed away from any crossover between the universes of Dunder-Mifflin and Slough but in that anomaly of a seventh season, Gervais’ David Brent had a chance meeting with his American expy in the show’s cold open. It was largely inconsequential and blatantly pandering, but an undeniably fun couple of minutes.

Blink and you miss it:
Andy Daly-Ben Franklin in the bachelor party episode was played by stand-up comedian and Mad TV alum Andy Daly. In real life, Daly is a history buff and enjoyed improvising the scene with Rainn Wilson.

Patrice O’Neal-The late great comedian appeared as one of Daryl’s warehouse workers on three occasions.This is ironic because I actually thought that Daryl was played by Patrice O'Neal for a short while before Craig Robinson broke out in Judd Apatow's films.
Kevin McHale-As previously mentioned, Kevin McHale played the pizza delivery boy with an attitude who found himself locked in the Dunder-Mifflin conference room when he ticked off Michael Scott.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Nine Great SNL sketches from the 2010-2011 season

This article was written in 2011 but never got around to being published unfortunately. Please excuse its tardiness 
SNL has faced a lot of criticism for being bland and repetitive as of late but I firmly maintain that whether you find SNL lame or cutting-edge, it’s always been consistently infused with equal parts lameness and cutting-edge material. SNL recruits from among the best comics in the world for their writing staff and even in an off-year, it would be virtually impossible not to have a few good sketches.

After browsing through the entire SNL season this afternoon (thanks Netflix), I’d like to present nine notable exceptions to the rule from this season:

  1. Sketch: Miley Cyrus Show with Johnny Depp (From the Bryan Cranston episode)
SNL’s Achilles heel has long been their inability to resist running a good concept it into the ground. But while you may by tired of the Miley Cyrus Show after four viewings, you have to admit that the skit jumped out at you when you first saw it. For a variety show which overuses the mock talk-show concept, that’s nothing to shake a stick at.

One great thing is you don’t have to know anything about Miley Cyrus to appreciate the skit. Vanessa Bayer’s monotoned character is a fill-in for any commercialized starlet and it’s remarkably sharp from the creepily uneasy relationship with her father to the lack of historic pop-culture awareness (To guest  Johnny Depp: “I’ve been a fan of yours going all the way back to Willy Wonka”).

I also thought the bombardment of questions all at once (although somewhat similar to Australian comedy show, “The Chasers”, who has the character “Mr. Ten Questions”) was very strong. Points also go to the writers for working in a brick joke (when an earlier joke doesn’t come to fruition until much later) at the end: “Oh you’re from France? Did you know that…”

2. Christine O’Donnell Gets Vetted (From the Amy Poehler episode)

SNL’s opening politically-tinged sketches exist out of habit and can feel stale. Many of them are written by Jim Downey who has been with the show since the '70s so that's little coincidence.

I loved this one, however, because like the Cyrus sketch, it was just as hilarious if you didn’t have any idea who Christine O’Donnell is. The premise was gold regardless of the specifics of current events: Two campaign strategists sent to help a candidate manage her PR fiascos discover she has twice as many ghosts in her closet. Rewatch this sketch and take notice of how completely unexpected its twists and turns are: A strategist saying “this campaign is going to be a real dogfight” segues into a reveal that O’Donnell was in fact running dog fights herself. Great work by Jason Sudeikis as straight man and Kristen Wiig as O’Donnell.

3. Hassles at the Globe Theater (from the Gwyneth Paltrow episode)

This sketch poses the question of what it would be like if the hassles of our modern moviegoing experience (i.e. excessive previews, cell phones, oversized concessions) existed in Shakespeare’s time. It’s an incredibly simple premise and might not seem to offer much, but a creative approach brought out lines such as “In case of fire, the emergency exits are nowhere, so please make your peace with God” or “Please be sure to silence your falconer.” Because a black-eyed peas song was used, the sketch is not available online due to licensing issues, so please enjoy this transcript:

4. The mom’s boyfriend talk show (Jane Lynch episode)

A great example of how a good sketch is supposed to escalate and surprise the viewer as it goes on. A kid (Andy Samburg) wants to interview his mom’s one-night stands (Jason Sudeikis) and turn it into a talk show. At first glance, the sketch seems like a cute but tired concept and given that the show is overly reliant on mock talk shows, I wouldn’t have expected them to have taken it any further. Then suddenly, the sketch morphs into something entirely different: When the son casually mentions that this is the 100th episode of his show, this prompts the boyfriend to suddenly do the math and realize he’s in a lot of trouble. Panic ensues as the skit ratchets up into a whole new level of chaos and hilarity.

5. Mort Feingold: Celebrity Accountant (Helen Mirren episode)

That this hit sketch from last season was only repeated once this season might have more to do with the limits of the cast to churn out celebrity impressions on cue than anyone deciding that once a season was an appropriate number (When has that ever happened?). The sketch is essentially an excuse to package together a bunch of impressions, topical jokes, and one-note gags under the guise of a cheesy stock character played by Andy Samberg. The punchlines aren’t all showstoppers, but they’re enveloped into the flow of the sketch such that it all fits together seamlessly. For example, when Mort Feingold counters Ricky Martin’s announcement that he’s gay with a mediocre line like “I got news for you, I’m Jewish,” he hams up the line and it segues to the next jingle, so there’s hardly anything lost on the viewer.  The skit also shows how talented and deep the cast can be with nearly everyone getting a chance to shine.

6. Catherine meets the Queen and King (Host Anne Hathaway)
As some Americans were soaking up the glamour of Prince William’s royal wedding and other Americans were scratching their heads about what was so monumental about a wedding in England, SNL took the opportunity to slay the golden calf that is the British royal house in hilarious fashion. Bride-to-be Catherine Middleton (Anne Hathaway) discovers in her first private meeting with the Queen and Prince Phillip that they are really thieving low-lives with cockney accents.

7. Stars of Tomorrow (Scarlett Johansson episode)

Scarlett Johansson and Vanessa Bayer play two of the greatest actresses of children’s theater according to various talking heads in this mockumentary. But when we actually see the actresses, they turn out to be terrible. It's a good reveal and one that makes sense to the small slice of the audience who's ever seen children's theater. The actresses hilariously ham up monologues from “Forrest Gump,” “The Color Purple,” “On the Waterfront” “A Few Good Men” and “Brokeback Mountain.” 

8. Osama Bin Laden’s video will

SNL can be so unimaginative with their opening sketches that I half-expected the episode following Bin Laden’s death to result in another Obama or Biden press conference. Instead we had a more imaginative alternative: Osama’s video living will in which he asks that due to his deadly fear of fishes he asks that noone bury him at sea. Other highlights include his trust of the Pakistani government and how diluted his estate will be when diluted among 750 grandchildren and 11,000 nieces and nephews.

9. Livin’ Single (Host: Russell Brand)

Vanessa Bayer was a great addition to the cast this season (not to take anything away from the other new arrivals) because she has good instincts as an actress. This sketch works entirely because she sells it. First, she sells us on being a woman who’s so fiercely proud of singledom that she can inspire other single women in her own talk show. Then she sells us on being someone who’s slowly being seduced out of it all by Russell Brand. Taran Killam's character fits in a little awkwardly here: He comes off as too much of a loser to look elsewhere for a date, but it's hard to tell if that's the point of his character.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A night of live Emmy tweeting

Highlights from my Twitter Feed last night at the Emmys going from end of the ceremony to the beginning:

Winners: Game Change, Tom Berenger; Hatfields and McCoys; Kevin Costner, Hatfields and McCoys; Julianne Moore, Game Change; Jessica Lange, American Horror Story; Director Jay Roach, Game Change

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp

2 performances of Sarah Palin have won Emmys but I think the best Palin inpression isn't even on tv: on youtube wins

Edward Copeland@edcopeland
Actually, I'm beginning to think Romney might do Palin the best. He doesn't get voice, but captures essence.

Annie Barrett@EWAnnieBarrett

If Claire Danes and Julianne Moore stared at each other's dresses, would they go blind at the SAME TIME?

Jaime Weinman@weinmanj
I don't care how prestigious TV gets, I still think a part of Kevin Costner tells him that "Emmy winner Kevin Costner" is a come-down.

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp21h

I'd agree w/you in TV directing or producing but he never won an acting oscar

Todd VanDerWerff@tvoti
When is Kevin Costner gonna get his own FX series with an occupational irony narrative?

Price Peterson@pricepeterson

They should just distribute Emmys with, like, a t-shirt cannon.

Alan Sepinwall@sepinwall
 For the most part people who work in TV don't watch TV, then are asked to pick what's best on TV.

[In response to a Mad Men actor won in the screenwriting category for miniseries]
Abe vanderBent@abevanderbent
Miniseries awards: the cure for the common Mad Men actor Emmy drought

Seth MacFarlane@SethMacFarlane

RT : did you just draw that up in the men's room? Behind-the-scenes // Yes but don't worry, I washed my hands.

[In response to Julianne Moore thanking director Jay Roach and his brilliance]:
Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Jay Roach, for those of you who dont know, directed Meet the Fockers and Austin Powers. He's hardly brilliant
Kevin McFarland@km_mcfarland
If only this was and the camera could cut away and back real quick to reveal Tom Hardy was winning this award. .

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Tom Bergeron and Tom Berenger both won tonight and more importantly, I finally realized they weren't the same person

Dan Hopper@DanHopp
In Memoriam of anyone who's ever been on, or near, a television.

Sara Benincasa@SaraJBenincasa
Time to roll out The Deadies!

Sara Benincasa@SaraJBenincasa
Aww, man, Patrice.

Cory Barker@corybarker
Tom Berenger is taking it on a lot of faith that we've seen Hatfields and McCoys.  

James Poniewozik@poniewozik
Is there an ABC show whose stars have not yet presented at this thing other than SHARK TANK?

Nathaniel Rogers@nrogers
: I'm starting to admire the creativity Hollywood shucksters employ when inventing new forms of category fraud

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Disliking Ryan Murphy and liking Jessica Lange's role in AHS are 2 different things

James Poniewozik@
Inclusion of MISSING in Miniseries makes me wish there really was an Emmy for Best Cancelled Series" never heard of this one

Doug Benson@DougBenson
OMG, a prostitute just passed out in my hotel room, turn on ABC right now.

Doug Benson@DougBenson
"This is the first win for Damien Lewis. Jon Hamm has still never won an Emmy." -Mean lady announcer really rubbing it in on the

Cory Barker@corybarker
It would have been amazing had the audience booed when Jessica Lange said "Ryan Murphy." " heh

Winners: Daily Show with John Stewart; Director Glenn Weiss, 65th Annual Tony Awards; Louis CK, Live at the Beacon Theater
Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
I'm skipping the variety portion of the program, wake me up when the miniseries go back and Jessica Lange wins

James Poniewozik@poniewozik
Jon Stewart does physical comedy bit upon winning, nearly kills self. Love it.  

Sara Benincasa@SaraJBenincasa
I want to give Jon Stewart the MVP Award for doing the most amusing shit this evening.

Edward Copeland@edcopeland
Thankfully, the Emmy Awards is the only thing on TV that is ineligible.

Winners: Homeland; Damien Lewis, Homeland; Claire Danes, Homeland; Maggie Smith, Downtoan Abbey; Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad; Director Tim Van Patten, Boardwalk Empire; Homeland's Writing Team

Todd VanDerWerff@tvoti
I am in favor of and 's KickStarter to buy Jon Hamm a used Emmy. Get on board, everyone!

Will Harris@NonStopPop
Wow! Not complaining about Damian Lewis taking the win. Cranston's great, but it's not like his mantle's devoid of Emmys

Jill Mader@jillemader
I've had countless people to tell me to start watching Homeland lately. Now the are too. Geez guys, I have a job you know. 

The Onion@TheOnion
Bryan Cranston definitely deserved another win for 'Drug People Show.'

Did the Emmys people put presenters together based on who they ship? First Poehler and CK, now Fey and Hamm...
Matthew Seitz@mattzollerseitz
At this point I kinda hope Jon Hamm never wins an Emmy for MAD MEN. It'll cement the character as supremely off-putting.

[In response to ABC letting us know that we all can tweet a certain way]
Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
ABC is so obnoxious, stop telling me how to tweet! 

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Oooohh! finally a guy who's never won before on stage!

Kevin Haley@KevinPHaley
Lt. Winters wins!!! That is what I am talking about. An Emmy to Hamm would be retroactive at this point.

Alan Sepinwall@sepinwall
And with Aaron Paul's win, it's time to watch him on "The Price Is Right" again  

Matthew Seitz@mattzollerseitz
Aaron Paul is so likable he could play a guy who slow-roasts babies and I'd still think, "He means well. There's good in him."

Todd VanDerWerff@tvoti
The best way the could improve is to have people who actually watch television vote on them.

Kevin McFarland@km_mcfarland
"Thank you so much for not killing me off!" Aaron Paul, being awesome.  

Boy it must be fun to be on a show where you thank your bosses for not killing you off

Responding to a barrage of Maggie Smith bashing:
Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
haven't seen Downtown Abbey but maggie smith has been awesome since the 60s, come on!

Frank Conniff@FrankConniff
"Maggie Smith couldn't be here tonight because she's had an incredible career and doesn't need this shit."

Nathaniel Rogers@nathanielr
I honestly think Christina Hendricks is world class. The things she can do when scenes aren't even about her. Let alone when they are.!

Nathaniel Rogers@nathanielr
so sad for Christina Hendricks. But then this Academy thinks Jon Cryer deserves acting prizes so she's better off.

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Julian Fellows = Bernard Lee (from the James Bond series) ?

Reality Shows
Winners: Amazing Race; Tom Bergeron, Dancing with the Stars

Tom "Harrison" Bergeron wins for Dancing with the "Oh my god it's full of" Stars. 

Alan Sepinwall@sepinwall
Bergeron only outlier so far RT : line about "the easiest way to win an Emmy is to have already won an Emmy" looking strong

Todd VanDerWerff@tvoti
I can never figure out what it is the Emmys value in a "reality host." So far as I can tell, it involves showing up for work.  

[Getting kind of bored]

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
I just gave my mom a lifetime achievement award for best awardshow watcher. If she had a twitter account, shed kill it

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
w/out even checking the feed, I'm guessing twitter bashing goes up 500% w/MacFarlane onscreen
[After which I saw.....:]

Les Chappell@Lesismore9o9
I was deeply hoping that microphone bit wasn't intentional and the Emmys realized no one wants to hear Seth McFarlane talk.

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Julian Fellows = Bernard Lee (from the James Bond series) ?

What if Modern Family cast members did a season of Amazing Race? The Emmys would fold upon themselves."

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
That's a lot of amy poehler's boobs we're seeing. How is that classy?

Winners: Modern Family; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men; Julie Bowen, Modern Family; Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family; Director Steve Levitan, Modern Family; Writer Louis CK, Louie

Big Bang sketch. To watch the Emmys, you would have no idea that this is actually a wildly exciting period in history for TV comedy. 

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Though there were worse choices, I'd argue Julia L-D's not Emmy worthy b/c Armando I.'s script is the real star of Veep

You SEE!!! THIS is why Amy deserves the Emmy!! That bitch is hilarious. I’m not even calling it the anymore. I wanna win the
On the best actor race:
Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
I might like House of Lies if I knew what it was. Other than that, b/w ppl who've already won and people who play themselves, who is there to root for?

James Poniewozik@poniewozik
"This is crazy!" --Jon Cryer
": Oh gross. Now I wish Modern Family had picked someone for the leading actor category."my thoughts exactly

So, who else should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress? Sing out, Followers!
In response:
cheryl hines, suburgatory; anna chlumsky , veep, those 2 worthy subs

lara cohen@Larakate
every time they say modern family i'm just going to pretend they're saying parks and rec. cc:

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
": My only wish is that "The Breaking Bad Show" had been longer." Agreed!

Libby Hill@midwestspitfire
I love it that Modern Family kind of hates their audience. And now we'll throw Community fans a bone. FUCK. YOU. A. B. C.

Alan Sepinwall@sepinwall
That Louie episode was my least favorite episode in that category, but can't begrudge Louis CK for overall genius of Louie s2.

Is there any way we can vote for new Emmy voters?

Worthy Snubs for Best Supporting:
Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
how 'bout rex lee, suburgatory, james van der beek, don't trust the b, jack mcb 30 rock, or mike omalley glee?

Orrin Konheim@okonh0wp
Happy to see Eric stonestreet win once but 2X is a bit much, especially w ed oniell and max g. in the running nice speech though
Dan Hopper@DanHopp
Who's the Lead Actor on SNL? Lorne Michaels?

Jill Mader@jillemader
Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are my favorites on Modern Family, but I'm so tired of seeing that category dominated by one show.