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.