Saturday, March 31, 2012

Goodbye Parks and Recreation

Happy Final Four everybody. Check out this article I wrote on the Rick Pitino controversy as well as the even more significant adventure wherein I try tackling a youtube violator. Click these links PLEASE

I stopped watching Parks and Rec for now because it's simply ridiculous that Anne and Tom could be paired romantically.

In real life, a woman who displays that little interest in you for that many years and is even a little turned off by you is someone you shouldn't pursue. Yes, I'm all for the idea of seeing that annoyance with someone who gets under your skin turn into mutual attraction (in fiction and in real life) but Anne never showed anything but mild disinterest in Tom this whole time.

Pair Tom with anyone but Anne is one of those unspoken contracts I've established with P & R for my allegiance to the show and they broke that cardinal rule.

Besides, aren't Greg Daniels' series supposed to rely on realism?

I feel like they pair up Anne with guys just to give her something to do and none of her three relationships have had any chemistry whatsoever. The first relationship with Andy worked for the audience because it was bad but it was supposed to be bad. Her second pairing with Mark (is that his name? He was the most forgettable character on any NBC sitcom in history) was painful to watch.  Anne plays a valuable role as Leslie's confidante and a contrasting outsider to city government.

Getting "Bent": A look at NBC's promising Spring pilot

"Bent" is a sitcom about a womanizing half-baked handyman repairing the home of a high-strung lawyer in sunny California. The high-strung lawyer is played by Amanda Peet who sells the content self-assured woman so well, she could potentially be her own TV show genre. You could almost say "It's a show about a handyman and Amanda Peet" when pitching a sitcom and a network executive would know exactly how to picture that

You could call the show a romantic comedy (and coincidentally that's what the show IS being called) but there's nothing to indicate that the two leads will get together other than our expectations of what should happen in a sitcom if a) the two principal characters are male and female b) within 20 years of each other in age and c) neither character is hideously ugly.

In the pilot episode, Amanda Peet fires the handsome womanizing contractor when he canoodles (60% of the artistry in blogging is finding the best, most appropriate euphemism for sex) the maid. It was a moment in which Amanda Peete's character really established herself as she stood up and said "you're fired" to him.

For the handsome handyman guy (yes, I should look up the character's name or even the actor's name, I suppose), it should have been a big "oh sh--, what have I done" moment before moving onto someone else where the series should ideally start with another contractor who'd hire him with a tempting maid that he'd be making actual effort to resist.

Unfortunately, the plot loses me when she agrees to rehire him. I realize that this was a necessary move so that we'd have an episode two.

But this was the wrong course of action. I'm not suggesting that if it were a real life situation but that's what is truest to the characters.

I understand how this guy's narrative arc is to meet a woman different from him who challenges him but I don't see any glue that would keep them together past the length of the contractor job. Even worse I can't buy that he would even be in her life for said contracting job because a) she fired him and b) his firing was the most buyable moment of the episode and it already cheapened her character to have her relent because he kidnapped her daughter (really not the kind of thing to go over well with an alpha-mom like her) and taught her to play the piano.

I thought maybe they'd get stuck together because the competing contractor would all of a sudden drop out with the work half-done, and she'd be stuck in an emergency and actually need him. Then the balance of each person's needs would shift to the point where there we might get something interesting.

I'm not in any way, shape or form a screenwriter, and I could have already plotted out that episode better than the professionals did so I'd say that's a horrible start.

On a side note, I think it was moderately awesome that they had a character named "Screwsie"

Thursday, March 29, 2012

American Dad voices

Blog News: I'm currently facing the conundrum of how to continue to pour my best efforts towards writing and support multiple endeavors. This blog does not pay (you can always fix that by donating or simply clicking on my examiner and gunaxin links where I do get paid per page view, but I've near given up on that) nor does it get the support in eyeballs to justify great efforts. At the same time, it is my blog and one of the first points of entry to familiarize someone with my work. If someone goes to this URL (which is on my business card) and sees a poorly-written entry at the top, he might not want to look further, which requires a demanding amount of work to proof and edit pieces. As a solution, I will try to be more bloggy and casual and borrow message board postings of mine to shorten the amount of effort. Thanks for those of you who do read (if you're out there, say hi). Onto the show

 I just started thinking about how difficult it must be for a cast to continue to find distinct sounding timbres every week to create new voices. I can't imagine I could do more than say 10 voices in me. When you have Roger doing an Al Pacino impression, that's an extra layer of depth to just doing an Al Pacino impression, for example, cause you have to filter it through Paul Lyde and come up with a rough approximation for how well Paul Lynde can cover Al Pacino.

Two of the smaller parts were played pretty excellently and added quite a bit. The guy who made the pizza begal (Jonah or Judah, I believe) was a unique creation as a nebbish tough man. Additionally, the drugged-out homeless guy added humor through distinction. He sounded like a cross between the two perverts in the Family Guy neighborhood (the old guy who preys on Chris and the guy with the earring who goes "oh no") but he was in a slightly higher ranger than the old guy and seemed a little more enthusiastic. It was a lesson in how you can create an interesting sounding voice with just a few minor tweaks.

If you listen really closely you can hear the occasional lapse. For me, there were three things that were pretty off to me from the last episode "Mo Money, More Problems":
1. The woman who said "This was my elbow" sounded kind of like a man.
2. The woman at the clinic who called Stan Rudy Huxtable sounded pretty much like Hailey. Also, she was black which isn't as big of a deal is that there was no differentiation between her and Hailey.
3. The women at the grocery store who Stan sold samples from sounded different when she went out to the parking lot than before. She also seemed entirely unenthusiastic about having Stan sample her food. She seemed near catatonic about it and I thought that was the character's little moment of humor: she's like a lot of grocery employees who care very little. Then, in the next scene she was passionate and aggressive.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Asexuals: Underrpresented on TV?

I just learned that there's a such thing as an asexual person when reading the biography of Janeane Gorafolo ( They have a need for emotional companionship from the opposite sex like everyone else, but they apparently don't have a need for physical intimacy and this group makes up 1% of the population. They even have a support network online.

Now consider how various ethnic and sexual minorities have pressed for change in terms of seeing more of their kind on TV and how with enough pressure, TV shows have cast more gay, black, and Latino characters. I've read about black people recalling how seeing Uhura on Star Trek or the Cosby Show had a powerful positive effect on them. The flipside of that is what if you're asexual and don't have much interest in sex, it must make you feel very alone to be surrounded by images of people who's end goals are driven by relationships and sexual. A disproportionate number of TV character arcs are written that way because it makes for more compelling drama. Media studies classes (or at least, my media studies class) note that discrepancy between the end-point of stories always being love and real life. However, TV conventions still haven't changed too much.

Considering most TV shows (especially) gear their characters towards an endpoint of falling in love with someone or having a relationship, it would have been nice to have a character on TV who is asexual.

Sheldon on the Big Bang theory is a refreshing change to that, but they paired him up with Amy.  I love this show but I've really only seen the first couple seasons on reruns, so I'm not the expert, but I wonder if his relationship with Amy is representative of an asexual relationship.

If it isn't I'm pretty disappointed. It's probably fans saying "Sheldon should be happy and find love" and I don't think it was necessarily organic to the character, especially considering there are actually people like him.

[Update: I have yet to see a 4th season episode, but I understand from message board reactions that Amy and Sheldon's relationship is indeed asexual. So good for the Big Bang Theory for putting minorities on TV in more ways than one!]

Wilfred and the Beauty of Miserable People

Wilfred reminds me of how the TV industry only feels it can present shows to an audience as a comedy, a fantasy, a procedural, or a serialized arc. Wilfred was marketed as a comedy and like many comedies today, it included a gimmick to help the show get greenlit and help sell it to audiences: Lonely boy has an abnormal relationship with dog of beautiful girl next door wherein he sees him as man in a dog suit and can have conversations with him.

However, other than the occasional situational humor that arises from seeing a dog with anthropomorphic  (Disclaimer: I'm about 75% sure I correctly used that word in context) qualities do dog things (covering some of the same territory as Family Guy, no less), this isn't really a comedy. At least, I don't see it as such. I see the gimmick as a dramatic one.

We tend to think of a gimmick as something more prevalent in comedies, but biopics and biopic-like character pieces like to present themselves as a story about someone with a certain type of disability (e.g. Sam I Am, Beautiful Mind, My Left Foot), someone with an unusual delusion (e.g. Melvin and Howard, Informant, also Beautiful Mind)  or someone who's just plain miserable (e.g. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Sylvia, Rachel Getting Married, Julia).

The third class, unusually miserable people, presents somewhat of a challenge for entertainment purposes.

Let's look at the above examples: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is presented as a societal deconstruction of the happy American family image a la Douglas Sirk. It also was made interesting because it featured the two most glamorous stars of its day "uglying it up" so to speak. Sylvia (a Gwyneth Paltrow biopic of suicidal author Sylvia Plath) is historical fiction and so it has value in its authenticity. Lastly Julia (a little-seen 2009 Tilda Swinton film often confused with the 2009 release Julie & Julia) or Rachel Getting Married take a clinical approach and analyze the why of the person's despair.

Wilfred has his comic moments, sure, and some of them hit better than others. His love of Matt Damon is one of those running gags that definitely works for me. The ease with which he can get to second base with women and the enjoyment he gets from it, on the other hand, feels kind of awkward. Other times, the pacing of gags is so far apart that you're not sure if it's a comedy at all.

In those cases, I don't think it really is. It's a sad story and I'd argue is that Wilfred is what keeps the show ingestible. He's a narrative balancing force in what otherwise would be a very depressing story. Sometimes, dialogue forces you to put a positive spin on depressive tendency and by talking through his problems with Wilfred, Ryan is creating a positive spin.

With that in mind, I very much enjoyed Wilfred from the point of view of a drama. It speaks a lot of truth about the nature of depression and the power of defense mechanisms to help us cope. Ryan is very unique in the sense that there might not be a character on television who starts out from such a hopeless place. Even better, the writers aren't in a hurry to move him out of that sense of hopelessness*. There's a typical girl-next-door setup, but the usual will-they won't-they tension that's become cliched at this point, doesn't even seem like a plausible direction for Ryan. Ryan has his occasional triumphs, but his depression is somewhat of a constant with the character and that's wonderful because it aligns closer with real life

*Ed. Note: I'm only up to episode 11 of the 13 episodes that have aired so far, so in the event that by the 12th episode, he's singing and dancing and has turned his life around, I am ill-informed

As usual, please check out my column, subscribe, and donate.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why do honorary Oscars count as less?

Please click on this link

Something that bothers me more than anything else about Oscar Season is the rarely questioned assumption that Honorary Oscars don't count as much as Oscars in competition.

I'll look at one of USA Today's (or one of many other publications) 10,000 pre-Oscar articles (the newspaper's arts section has a policy of milking every major event in the entertainment cycle to death to compensate for lack of original ideas) and their umpteenth event preview will read something along the lines of "Will director Mary Scorsese win an Oscar in competition or will they be relegated to the less prestigious honorary award?"

And this brings me to the troubling question: Who decided that the honorary awards were worth less than the regular Oscars?

The actors who have won honorary awards (except Peter O'Toole), by and large, are happy to have won Oscars and don't really care whether it was in competition or not. In fact, many of the people who won Academy awards (i.e. George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando, Alexander Payne) detest competition to begin with.

It's even a better experience to win an honorary award because you don't have to go through the trouble of competing. Wouldn't you feel much more esteemed to be acknowledged for an entire lifetime of work then have one good performance?

It strikes me that winning an honorary award is a much greater compliment because they determined that it's not just one role but a person's entire body of work to be of the highest standard.
 Besides, Some of the people who won Oscars in competition were only on screen for less than 10 minutes, and some of the people who won an Academy Award for acting weren't even actors to begin with. Haing Ngor was a doctor who was recreating his life experiences in the Cambodian genocie, Jennifer Hudson was an aspiring gospel singer and Jon Houseman was an acting teacher who filled in for one of his former student's when the original guy cast in the role backed out.
If Sidney Lumet, Blake Edwards, Gene Kelley, Lillian Gish and Charlie Chaplin all treasured there awards, who are we to say that there award is worth less?

I think it's part of our obsession with competition and the athletic aspect of it that informs this view of ours.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

This lent, give up google searches?

Disclaimer: This is more of a brainstorm than something that should be considered a fully-thought out blog post.

As someone who writes content and markets it over the internet, I am an avid student of how people find information in Web 2.0. Most of what I learn, however, disappoints me.
I think the idea of "googling" has always been distressing to me. At first, I didn't like it because it was a somewhat arduous task that didn't get good information back to you. Now that the web search has admittedly improved, it's hard to fall back on that as an excuse for why I don't like googling, leaving me to fall back on other reasons, beyond the traditional "not knowing what you're getting or how reliable it is, along with occasionally still not getting what you're looking for" excuses.

When I was a freshman in college, I learned of the idea of "texts" which, as I understand it (and I might be off), is the idea of getting your body of knowledge from a single source. Simply put, anything on a bibliography is a text. A textbook, an article, etc. More than that texts are people.

Your wise uncle, your professor, your third grade teacher, even a guy you talk with on an also count as texts. In the old days, knowledge was passed on through oral traditions and that's probably part of why yore was so appealling. There probably was some importance to knowledge being part of a social function. Religious people who are passionate about gaining spiritual guidance seek out a clergyman (rabbi, priest, shaman, what have you) or other spiritual teacher. Similarly, people who want to succeed as athletes seek out a coach. I don't know about all people but I recently spent some time with a former opera singer who said she'd go back to the profession if she could find the right vocal coach. Is it possible that the best way to learn for these people is through a one-on-one learning relationship, you have to ask if that's not the best way to go about a lot of things.

When you use that same "text" for everything, all your texts and sources are getting muddled. Even if your google search takes you to site A, B, and C, and you selected Site B, you don't process it as such. If you were to relay how you got the information to someone else, you wouldn't say "I got it from Site B." You'd say "I googled it."

Shouldn't Site B get the credit and deserve to be your source of information next time? Wouldn't it be beneficial for you to return to site B as well?  That's what I do.The internet affords us a lot of opportunities to get acquainted with texts, and I take advantage of all of them. I hardly ever go to google. If I want to know about a TV show's history, I got to, if I want to know a cast listing, I go to, and if I want to know a schedule, I'll go to imdb or tvgen. If I want to know about a newspaper market, I'll go to the Virginia Press Association, MediaBistro, or 50States. These are all just a couple of examples, but the point is I have a fairly good virtual roadmap of the internet for all my needs.

In my opinion (although I'm not really the expert), we don't go the extra mile because googling is a cognitive shortcut. We're shutting off our brains to a proverbial GPS. 

Ten great Saturday Night Live Sketches from the 2010-2011 Season

SNL has faced a lot of criticism last season for being bland and repetitive 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.
If you consider SNL’s past season to be a disappointment, I’d like to present a few notable exceptions to the rule:

  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 loved the bombardment of questions all at once (although somewhat similar to Australian comedy show, “The Chasers”, who has the character “Mr. Ten Questions” 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…”

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

SNL’s opening politically-tinged sketches exist out of habit and sometime feel stale. 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.

  1. 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 movie going 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:

  1. 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 overrelies 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.

  1. 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 then 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 at. 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 Johannsen episode)

Scarlett Johannsen and Vanessa Bayer play two of the greatest actresses of children’s theater according to various talking heads in this mockumentary. 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 Presidential or vice-presidential 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. Hassles at the Globe Theater (from excerpt)

The fairly simple premise is what if the hassles that we get with modern movies-having to put up with previews, cell phones going off, oversized concessions, etc.- existed in Shakespeare’s time. Because a Black Eyed Peas song was used, the skit wasn’t shown on hulu or Netflix due to licensing problems, so please enjoy my favorite line and this excerpt: “In case of fire, the emergency exits are nowhere, so please make your peace with God”

10. 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’s a great actress from which the burden can be eased on Kristn Wiig. This sketch works entirely because of her selling 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.