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Archive for September, 2007

Clap Clap ClapClapClap: IITS’s Foray Into the MLB Race for the Post-Season

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 30, 2007

Hot Fun in the Summertime / Early Autumn

You wanna talk about curses? In my 21 years of existence, I have never lived in a city (or state, as far as I know) that’s brought home a championship victory in any of the four big sports while I was living there. From my infancy in Baltimore/D.C. (’86-’90) to my childhood and adolescense in Philadelphia (’90-’04) right up to my college/young adult years in New York (’04-present), I have never heard the sounds of a city rejoicing the acquiring of a major title. And it doesn’t end there–I’ve only tuned in to the world of sports for an extended period of time twice during my stay in New York. The first time was for the 2004 ALCS, in which a 3-0 Yankees managed to blow several extra-inning games and eventually the entire series to the Boston Red Sox in arguably the most (in)famous come-from-behind series victory in the history of professional sports.

And the second time was perhaps even more embarrassing. My parents did their best to make me realize something exciting was happening in the NL this year before I returned to NYU this school year, but it wasn’t until I got cable installed my second week here that I was able to witness it firsthand. As you all almost undoubtedly know by now, over the course of the last 17 games, the New York mets blew a seven game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East, as the city grew frustrated to the point of utter agony (the Daily News headline yesterday: “AAARGH!!!”), until today, in which a final mortifying Mets loss (8-1 to the Marlins, who scored 7 of their 8 in the first inning) and a final triumphant Phillies win (6-1 over the Nationals) cemented that the Phillies would be going to the post-season, and that the Mets would not.

And despite my (relatively) newfound NY citizenship, I couldn’t be more excited about all this. Even when I was really into sports, I never was bothered by my home teams’ abilities to bring home the bacon–the natural iconoclast in me I guess, but I’ve never been a home team fan. And so I rejoiced at the humiliation of Philly’s big losses over the course of my 14 years there–Mitch Williams blowing the ’93 World Series for the Phils, the Flyers getting swept by the New Jersey Devils for the ’96-’97 Stanley Cup, right up to the Eagles tanking the ’05 Super Bowl, for which I still had enough residual bitterness to cackle at smugly from my Freshman dorm. Doubt it’s made me too many friends, but given my home teams’ track records, it’s probably saved me a whole lot of heartache.

But now that I’ve been outside of Philly for (most of) the last few years, I don’t feel so bad rooting for them. Why not? I haven’t even followed sports with any closeness for over a decade now, so if I’m going to get a fresh start in actually paying them mind, I need a focal point with which to do so, and in these last few weeks, the Phils made a hell of a case for themselves (The Eagles…not so much). Does this make me a bandwagon jumper? Absolutely. But hey, you real fans out there need assholes like me to make you feel superior about your fandom anyway, so try not to give me too much shit for it.

Besides, the Phillies are a great team to reindoctrinate someone to the world of pro sports, especially a pop culture fanatic (or should I say Phanatic? No, I shouldn’t) like myself. You’ve got MVP candidate Jimmy Rollins, with the speed and cockiness of Willie Mays Hayes, whose name even enables you to pound the walls and yell “JIMMMYYYY!!! JIMMMYYYYY!!!” a la Henry Hill rejoicing in the shower about the Lufthansa Heist in Goodfellas whenever Rollins does something awesome, which is much of the time. Then you’ve got Ryan Howard, a should be brutish clean-up slugger (47 HRs this year, would’ve been his second 50+ year in a row if he hadn’t missed most of May) who’s still nice-guy enough to appear in Subway commercials with that Jared tool and not even look pissed off about it. And then you’ve got a whole host of connections to the US version of The Office–from Ryan Howard sharing his name with B.J. Novak’s temp-cum-boss character, to the show taking place in Scranton (the home city for one of the Phils’ minor league teams) to Phils backup 3rd Baseman Wes Helms being the real-life cousin of Ed Helms, better known as The Office‘s Andy Bernard. Not bad, huh?

So I’m not gonna do anything lame and fraudulent like giving you my thoughts on the post-season, or whether I think Rollins deserves the MVP over Matt Holliday of the Rockies (who I really hope win their playoff with the Padres tomorrow, though I’m not exactly sure why). And I’ll try to resist the temptation to blog like I know what I’m talking about too much over the course of the playoffs. I just think it’s a real exciting time to be into baseball, and I’m glad I picked this time to start watching again, and for once, to lay my cards on the line and start rooting for the home team.

Well, not really. Ex-home team. It’s a start.

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Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap | 3 Comments »

In the Mix: The Police – Synchronized Machinery

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 30, 2007

Taken from an article I had published on Stylus a few days ago–now with MP3 links!

Even though they’ve sold a combined 11 million copies in the US alone, and regularly appear on all sorts of Best Albums of the 80s lists, I doubt there are too many people that could honestly say that Ghost in the Machine or Synchronicity are perfect albums. The Police only made one really solid album in their lifetime, and it wasn’t either of these—1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta runs at about a steady 8 ½, a markedly consistent effort in both sound and quality. Consistency is far from the name of the game with Ghost and Synchronicity, albums that match gorgeous pop songs with frenzied post-punk workouts, proggy head-scratchers, and, at least in the case of Synchronicity, the most egregious filler to ever occupy space on an album that actually outsold Thriller for fifteen weeks.

So I’m taking some sandpaper and a hot glue gun to the two albums, combining them at the points where they best complement each other, to create my idealized version of this phase in their career–Synchronized Machinery. And in my opinion, that involves taking out the albums’ megahits. Ghost‘s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is jettisoned, as is Synchronicity‘s “King of Pain,” and of course, 1983’s #1 single, “Every Breath You Take.” Despite going through long phases of wanting to destroy the radio whenever I heard them played, these three songs are somewhat indisputable in their classic status, and they’ve rightfully become part of our pop cultural DNA. Nonetheless, their sort of pop perfection tends to distract from what I really like about the Police’s last two albums—my favorite Police songs tend to be their most jarringly hybridized, ones that combine their disparate influences into somewhat perplexing, but thrillingly unique early-80s music. Part Clash, part Yes, part Byrne & Eno, but all Police.

And in the interest of keeping it strictly a Police effort, I’ve kept off a couple songs that sound more like Sting starting his solo career, including Synchronicity‘s bullpen tracks “Tea in the Sahara” and “Murder By Numbers,” as well as the quality b-side “Once Upon a Daydream.” I wanted to keep Synchronized Machinery to roughly the length of a regular Police album anyway, so they aren’t much missed.

01. “Synchornicity I” (from Synchronicity)
I generally hate doing this, but I ended up keeping the Synchronicity opener in place, since really, I can’t picture it anywhere else in the running order. It’s an odd introduction to one of the best-selling albums of the 80s, but it’s the perfect introduction to my punkprogwave Frankenstein album. It’s one of Syncrhonicity‘s weirdest and most frenetic tracks, a keyboard-heavy 6/4 groove played with the energy of the band’s punk-y early singles, matched with one of Sting’s most obscure pseudo-intellectual lyrics (“We know you, they know me / Extrasensory / Synchronicity”). Regardless of how little sense they make (and maybe they make perfect sense, I don’t know enough Jung to judge), the words sound great, and that’s all anyone ever asked of a man who thinks “Their logic ties me up and rapes me” is an acceptable line to introduce a hit chorus.

02. “Spirits in the Material World” (from Ghost in the Machine)
And of course, I hit right back with the Ghost opener. Possibly the least obviously commercial single the 5-0ers ever released, “Spirits” pits reggae’d-out synths against Sting’s bubbliest bass line and possibly the least satisfying chorus of the 80s, and somehow comes out with both a top 20 hit and one of Ghost’s coolest, if most enigmatic songs. There’s just so much weirdness contained in this song—the random sax gargles in the second verse, the pogoing synth-line that appears randomly in the song’s bridge and disappears almost as quickly, the chorus’s attempt to cram one beat too many into its titular hook—and hey, it all kind of works anyway. Don’t think Diddy’ll be sampling it any time soon, though.

03. “Miss Gradenko” (from Synchronicity)
In the interest of democracy, seems only fair to have one of drummer Stewart Copeland’s contributions in here. Even if “Gradenko” hardly registers as one of the Police’s most memorable song—I had completely forgotten how it went before prepping this article—it’s a pleasant enough slice of strangeness, and with three verses, two choruses and a guitar solo in two minutes, it’s one of Synchronized Machinery‘s most efficient tracks. Anyone know what the hell the lyrics are about?

04. “Too Much Information” (from Ghost in the Machine)
One of the better horn-infused post-punk dance party numbers that makes up Ghost‘s bread & butter. One of the band’s simplest choruses (“Too much information / Running through my brain / Too much information / Driving me insane”), and that chorus makes up about 80% of the song’s lyrics, but it’s played with enough enthusiasm that it’s hard to mind too much. Plus, it’s fun to wonder if those mid-song “SHIAH!“s were the inspiration for the similar shouts in Big Country’s “In a Big Country.”

05. “Invisible Sun” (from Ghost in the Machine)
Quickly on its way to becoming my favorite Police song ever. The Police really knew how to introduce a single—that creepy chuckle at the beginning of “Roxanne,” that far creepier bass rumble that opens “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” even just that little cymbal fill that kicks off “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”—and on those terms, the first 45 seconds of “Invisible Sun” is surely their masterwork. A chillingly undulating synth pattern fades in to introduce Sting’s extremely patient count off, shortly joined by Summers’s sublimely subtle guitar line and Copeland’s heartbeat-approximating drum thump. Sting doesn’t get to a full eight count, instead stopping short at six, creating a tension gloriously relieved by the introduction of the song’s “woah-oh-ah-oh-woah-oh” hook, spooky and yet strangely anthemic—the best tone-setter the song could’ve asked for.

The rest of the song is no slouch either, with one of Sting’s most surprisingly coherent political lyrics, and one of rebel rock’s great opening lines (“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life / Looking down the barrel of an Armalite”). As with “Spirits,” the song’s relatively bland chorus mainly just serves to accentuate how awesome the rest of the song, but no matter, since the rest can certainly weather the hit. Bono may have written a few songs more fist-pump worthy than this, but certainly none as hypnotic or fascinating.

06. “How Stupid Mr. Bates” (from the Brimstone & Treacle soundtrack)
Summers and Copeland were nice enough to provide their support on the soundtrack to the 1982 film Brimstone & Treacle, only remembered today for featuring one of Sting’s only lead acting performances. Along with two other tracks, the Police contributed this instrumental, a nice-enough low-key number that works beautifully as my side one closer. I’ve had several conversations with Stylus colleague Alfred Soto about the Police’s similarity to Rush, another foreign (both literally and figuratively) rock trio of the early 80s with highly conflicting influences, occasionally over-reaching lyrics and a love-him-or-hate-him frontman. Here the similarity is writ large—basically, “How Stupid Mr. Bates” sounds exactly like Rush, and if I told you this was an album track from Moving Pictures, you’d probably believe me (unless you’d already heard the album, and if not, why the hell haven’t you heard Moving Pictures yet???)

07. “Omegaman” (from Ghost in the Machine)
The album’s secret weapon, “Omegaman” was regrettably buried in the second side of the original Ghost in the Machine, but here it’s brought to the album’s center, where it deserves to be. Honestly, why the band opted for “Spirits” and “Invisible Sun” (and even “Secret Journey,” not found on this cut) over choosing this as a single is beyond me—with its chugging groove, heartbreaking bridge and simply stunning chorus riff, this is really about as classic as new wave guitar-rock gets. True, the song’s super-ambiguous lyrics probably did it no favors commercially, and Sting probably wasn’t too keen on the Summers-written song overshadowing his own material, but damn if this isn’t a beaut. Essential even for non-Police fans.

08. “Demolition Man” (from Ghost in the Machine)
Sort of hard to listen to without getting flashes of Sylvester Stallone and Taco Bell-heavy dystopias, but nonetheless, “Demolition Man” is the Police at their most badass (which is to say, not very, but it certainly beats the hell out of “Walking in Your Footsteps”). Summers and Copeland might’ve been pissed off at the band’s increasing reliance on horns, but fuck it, I think they sound tight on this, without making the band’s sound any less “raw” or “urgent” or “good” or whatever. Get a life, you two.

09. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” (from Synchronicity)
All right, so I cheated a little bit. There’s not too much punkprogwave about “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” a relatively straightforward ballad that hit the top ten and featured a horrible video with the band poncing around a maze of tall candles in slow motion (which, truth told, is actually an incredibly awesome video, and at least Sting isn’t wearing a stupid-looking hat for once). Still, I don’t feel too bad including this—even the most punkprogwave of albums still has room for one crowd-pleaser, and “Wrapped” is still the most obscure of the Police’s big ballads. Find me another ‘80s pop hit with the words “Mephistopheles” and “alabaster” in the lyrics and I’ll gladly swap it out for that boring French song from Ghost.

10. “Rehumanize Yourself” (from Ghost in the Machine)
Not too much to talk about on this one, it’s just another of the punkier, hornier (just in the one way, sorry) tracks from Ghost, with more of the political lyrics and such. It’s just slightly above-average enough to land my concoction’s much-coveted “buried-in-the-second-side” slot, so bully for that, I guess.

11. “Low Life” (b-side to “Spirits in the Material World”)
On the whole, the Police weren’t a great b-sides band—most of the stuff they left off was just a little too so-so to deserve inclusion on their full lengths, although considering some of the putrid shit that ended up on their full lengths, it’s hard to give them too much credit for good editing. In any event, “Low Life” is probably my favorite of this era’s b’s, a fairly average ballad that takes on an impressively epic quality in its final minutes, Sting yelling the title against some surprisingly tolerable sax wonking. In any event, it serves its place well on this album, as a set-up for the album’s closer…

12. “Synchronicity II” (from Synchronicity)
The only single to threaten “Invisible Sun” for my top-ranking Police tune. The introduction is almost as great—one note of piercing guitar distortion, leading into Copeland kicking off the band’s most ass-kicking upbeat groove. Something about the way Sting’s bass sounds when it’s just doing its one-note low rumble thing—boring as hell to play in Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, but it sounds fucking great. If “Invisible Sun” beats U2 through subtlety and subversion, “Synchronicity II” beats them straight up at their own game, with Sting’s mountaintop “YAAAAHHHHH-OHHHHHHHH-OHHHHHH“ing and Summers’s unbearably tense riffing putting most of War to utter shame.

And unlike “Invisible Sun,” the rest of the song is just as amazing. There’s no chorus to let you down, because strictly speaking, the song doesn’t have a chorus—just a very extended verse form and some extremely memorable bridges, with the righteous major-chording of the former providing sharp and stunning contrast to the creeping darkness of the latter, and vice versa. And as an album closer, it couldn’t work more seamlessly. You’ve got the whole bookending thing with “Synch 1” going, as well as the whole “many miles away…” closing thing, permanently associated with the video’s classic closing panning shot. And hell, I just like albums that save their strongest rocker for the finale. Fairly underrated practice.

13. “Mother” (from Synchronicity) (Hidden Track)
Nah, just kidding. Still the worst song ever written.

Posted in In the Mix | 2 Comments »

TV Fall ‘07 Season Blitz, Day 4-5: Every Other Motherfucking Show Under the Sun

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 29, 2007

Who loves ya, baby?

Bionic Woman

(Wednesday Night, 9-10 PM, NBC)

Starring: Michelle Ryan, Miguel Ferrer, Katee Sackhoff, Molly Price, Will Yun Lee, Lucy Hale

Premise: Jamie Sommers (Ryan), a 24-year-old grad student recently forced to play mother to her teenage sister (Hale) and a child of her own on the way, gets into a horrible car accident (which is probably not so accidental) that costs her 75% of her limbs and nearly kills her. However, her super-scientist boyfriend (Chris Bowers) and a team of other spooks (Ferrer, Price, Lee) re-assemble her with mechanical body parts and a superior bloodstream, which not only save her life and give her super-human strength. But they’re not done with Jamie yet, and neither is Sarah Corvus (Sackhoff), the “original Bionic Woman,” who may have been behind Jamie’s accident.

Thoughts: A remake off of a spin-off is rarely a good idea, and Bionic Woman feels particularly unnecessary–the original show has all but faded from popular memory, not even making the cut for VH1’s second installment of I Love the 70s. And though I hardly know enough about the original series to quite stack the two up against each other, so far the remake has done a fairly poor job of standing on its own–there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, no clever modern twists to give it newfound relevance, nothing really to justify its existence in the first place.

Similarly, neither is Michelle Ryan a particularly inspired choice for the new titular action heroine–she’s believable enough as a struggling twenty-something, but once she’s called on for scenes of either extreme emotion or ass-kickery, she wilts. This is perhaps unfairly emphasized in the several scenes she has with Katee Sackhoff, best known as tomboy fighter Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica–as Sommers’ nemesis, Sackhoff packs all the charisma and badass chops that probably should have gone into the protagonist, and Ryan seems hopelessly outclassed in comparison. It makes you wonder why Sackhoff isn’t in the lead role herself–or just in another show altogether for that matter.

Because frankly, The Bionic Woman isn’t getting much support here. The show’s acting, writing, direction, editing, even the special effects, are all strictly C grade (and not in a charming throwback way, more in a “c’mon, how much time and money do we have to spend on this goddamn show?” way). Standout moments include one of the most clumsily handled sex scenes in recent memory (the whole plot with her fiancee/doctor is totally botched, but he’s dead by the end anyway so I guess it’s OK), and a particularly shudder-inducing moment where a young girl sees Jamie running at superspeed outside of her car window, but of course, her mom just misses seeing it and doesn’t believe her (“I just thought it was cool a girl could do that,” the girl declares). Most personally irritating was the show’s use of Sia’s “Breathe Me,” best known as the soundtrack to the Six Feet Under finale’s montage-of-mortality–I’m sorry, but you have to fucking earn the right to use a song that blankly emotional, and Bionic Woman is far from having paid its dues on that front.

Hit Potential?: Depends on how desparate young girls are for figures of female empowerment, and how desperate young boys are for chicks that look good delivering jump-kicks in high heels. The first ep got pretty good ratings, but I gotta believe that this is lasting a season or two, tops.

Worth Watching?: Not even a little bit, though seeing a post-Grey’s Isaiah Washington in an upcoming mid-season arc might be worth catching for historical purposes.

Private Practice

(Wednesday Night, 9-10 PM, ABC)

Starring: Kate Walsh, Taye Diggs, Tim Daly, Audra McDonald, Amy Brenneman, Paul Adelstein

Premise: Wanting freedom from McDreamy and the rest of the staff at Seattle Grace, Addison Montgomery-Shepard (Walsh) packs up for her own show in LA, spun-off in a backdoor pilot on a two-hour Grey’s last season. Here she joins up with a private practice (not much imagination to that title, huh), relatively free from the chaos of Grace, if not the personal drama. She joins her good friend, Fertility Specialist Naomi (McDonald), Naomi’s ex, Internal Medicine Specialist Sam (Diggs), and their co-partners, Psychiatrist Violet (Brenneman), Pediatrician Cooper (Adelstein) and Alternative Medicine Specialist Pete (Daly), the last of which Addison might have personal feelings for.

Thoughts: Even more than Bionic Woman, I just wanna label this one with a fat ol’ who gives a shit? If you like Grey’s, you’ll probably like this, albeit a whole lot less, and if you don’t like Grey’s, I’d sure keep my channel-flipping to north of ABC on Thursday nights if I were you. The whole thing smacks of what I like to call “Things Are Heating Up On An All-New Men In Trees!!” syndrome–meaning there’s gonna lots of personal drama that’s supposed to be fun and sexy, but whose participants are neither interesting or hott enough to make it anything but unbearable.

Yeah, there’s Kate Walsh, and she’s cute and kind of loveable and all, but she wasn’t even one of the cutest Grey’s chicks, and the two seasons she got at Seattle Grace hardly established her character enough to make her worthy of her own branch in Shonda Rhimes’ empire. Besides her, Brenneman and McDonald are bores, Daly looks like he’s still pissed off the killed his character on The Sopranos, and Diggs’ll find a TV show that actually makes him a legit A-lister one day, but this certainly ain’t it.

Hit Potential?: Sadly, it’s sort of a hit already–it was the highest-rated show in its time slot on Wednesday night, and with Grey’s devotees proven an insatiable lot, it could very well stay that way. The Knots Landing to Grey‘s Dallas, if you will.

Worth Watching?: Not unless you really can’t wait for things to get even hotter on an all-new Men in Trees!!!

Life

(Wednesday Nights, 10-11 PM, NBC)

Starring: Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Adam Arkin, Brooke Langton

Premise: After a dozen years of wrongful imprisonment for a crime for which he was framed, Detective Charlie Crews (Lewis) is finally exonerated, with help from his lawyer Constance Griffiths (Langton). Upon release, he promptly resumes his Detective position, despite his generous state settlement for his time unfairly served. He teams up with a new partner, Dani Reese (Shahi), and tries to come to terms with the past 12 years of his life, including with former partner Ted Early (Arkin), for whom wounds are still fresh.

Thoughts: If there’s one thing TV doesn’t need right now, it’s yet another “brilliant cop” show, where some quirky detective solves obscure and improbable mysteries with bizarre methods and a host of doubters to tell him how nuts he is, despite the fact that he’s always right. Monk, Criminal Intent, Psych, even House basically follows this formula, despite the med setting. Yet despite its adherence to this formula, Life manages to be perhaps the most promising new pilot I’ve seen this week, and perhaps the only one that feels, against all odds, distinctly fresh.

Most of this can be attributed to the truly outstanding performance of Damian Lewis in the lead role. Watching Lewis here is as revelatory as it was watching Hugh Laurie as House for the first time–unexpected, confusing, but unmistakably fascinating. Lewis’s Det. Cres isn’t a narcissistic supergenius, nor is he a seething vigilante–he eschews the two easy roads for something far more complex, a character whose feelings and motives aren’t really clear yet, who no one on the show can quite figure out yet. When his partner asks him why he returned to the force so quickly and he says that the thought of still being a cop was all that kept him going in prison, it’s not certain whether he actually means it, is just using it as an easy reason in case people like her ask, or if he even knows the answer himself. It’s funny–for all of these shows that are so wrapped up in mysteries, Life might be the first I’ve seen to let their characters be mysteries themselves.

Hit Potential?: Unfortunately, I don’t really see it. Despite Lewis’s brilliant performance, the show seems a bit too unconventional–and I mean legitimately unconventional, not the way a show like Chuck is “unconventional”– for breakout success, and it’s not quite flashy enough to really capture critics’ attention (Reaper, on the other hand…sigh). The lack of stars, even by TV standards, is most likely the final nail in the show’s coffin. Ladies and gentleman, meet your soon-to-be first “brilliant but cancelled” show of the ’07 TV season.

Worth Watching: For now, most definitely. Once the show inevitably explicates all the underlying mysteries–what Crews went to jail for, who actually set him up, what the deal with his ex-partner is–it might lose much of its appeal, and as a crime-of-the-week serial, the show probably won’t stand up so well. But the real worry is if it’ll even be allowed to get to that point, so all I can say is catch it while you can.

Dirty Sexy Money

(Wednesday Night, 10-11 PM, ABC)

Starring: Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, William Baldwin, Samaire Armstrong, Natalie Zea, Glenn Fitzgerald, Seth Gabel, Zoe McLellan

Premise: Nick George (Krause) is a successful lawyer whose lawyer father neglected him as a kid because he was busy keeping up with his biggest client, the Darlings–an extremely upscale, media-whorish New York family. When Nick’s dad dies, Darling patriarch Tripp (Sutherland) asks him to take over as the family’s lawyer, which he is initially resistant to for fear of alienating his family like his father did him, but accepts anyway when Tripp offers him an extremely generous retainer. Now he has to deal with the day-to-day drama of children Jeremey, a Pete Doherty-ish tabloid hog, Juliet, a spoiled would-be actress, Brian, a reverend with some un-catholic tendencies, Karen, a thrice-married trophy wife with a torch for Nick, and Patrick, a would-be senator with some skeletons in his closet, as well as Tripp and his wife Letitia (Clayburgh), who Nate’s dad might’ve had a decade-long affair with.

Thoughts: It’s drawn comparisons to CBS’s Cane, but the worst-titled new show of the year essentially presents itself in its pilot as an adult Gossip Girl–appropriate enough, since the shows run consecutively Wednesday nights. Both shows present an insider view to the lives of the rich and famous in high society New York, both are already neck-deep in scandal and bad blood, and both are seen from the view of the one “outsider,” here of course the character of Nick, played excellently by Peter Krause. Now being given a third starring role (at IITS we’ve spent much of the past few months catching up with his work in Sports Night and Six Feet Under) to officially cement his rep as a TV legend, Krause certainly makes the most of a role that could have easily been thankless, the kind of guy you want with you to help navigate through the seamy underbelly of the obscenely upper-class.

The rest of the cast can more than hold their own, though. Few shows this season could claim a cast this prestigious, with Krause joined by acting vets Sutherland and Clayburgh, new TV blood like Armstrong (Anna on The O.C., Emily in Entourage), Gabel (the creepy teen with a thing for Mommy Famke in Nip/Tuck) and Zea (The Shield, Passions), as well as, uh, Billy Baldwin. These dudes know what they’re doing, and it’s the kind of professionalism that a show like Dirty Sexy Money (uggggh that title) badly needs.

Hit Potential?: Maybe not quite a breakout, but yeah, I think the show should be sticking around for a while. It’s the kind of (relatively) classy show that ABC needs to be padding their lineup with–not as edgy as NBC, over-the-top as FOX, youthful as CW or geriatric as CBS, the channel makes its rep on adult dramas that you don’t have to feel embarrassed to watch, and on those grounds, Dirty Sexy Money is an excellent addition to the schedule.

Worth Watching?: Possibly, but yet to be determined for certain. That DSM stands out among the season’s new lineup is more due to the weakness of the lineup than the strength of the show, however. Beyond the thrill of watching consumate pros at the top of their game (even creator Craig Wright’s resume includes work on Six Feet Under, LOST and Brothers and Sisters), there’s nothing particularly compelling here, nothing much new or different. The show might just need more time to make the dilemma of Nick’s possible corruption carry more emotional weight (and for the Darlings to become more worthy and sinister competitors for Nick’s soul), as well as to expand upon the episode’s final twist about Nick’s dad’s death, before it can really become one of the new season’s leading lights.

My Name is Earl (3rd Season)

(Thursday Night, 8-9 PM, NBC–time likely to change)

New Cast: Leo Fitzpatrick, Ben Foster (most likely just for this episode)

Where We’re At Now: Having confessed to the kidnapping charge Joy was (semi-rightfully) hit with last season and taken the rap for her, Earl has begun to serve the two years of his jail sentence, where he runs into Sonny (Fitzpatrick), an old acquaintance who tries to teach him to act invisible while incarcerated. However, Earl forces attention to himself when he tries to pay back fellow inmate Glen (Foster) for setting him on a path to crime when they were much younger. Meanwhile, Randy moves in with Joy and Darnell, and Joy’s frustration at Randy’s reliance on Earl for even the slightest of daily tasks spurs her to teach him to fend for himself.

Thoughts: With its third season, My Name is Earl continues its performance as a goody-goody TV program–not since the halcyon days of King of the Hill has there been a show this quietly consistent, the kind of low-flyer that never really makes too much of a splash on the cultural radar, but always stays pleasantly reliable in its watchability. As with KotH, the plots to Earl are virutally irrelevant–you know Earl’s gonna do some good for a hard-luck ex-friend (who’s gonna be played by some unexpectedly cool second-string celebrity), Joy’s gonna be a hard-ass, Crab Man’s gonna be awesome and Randy’s gonna be stupid. This season premiere is no exception–yeah, Earl’s in prison now, and it’s good to get some new scenery, but Earl is Earl, and that’s really nothing but a good thing. So you’ve got some great flashback scenes, some inspired soundtrack choices and some none-too-cringeworthy moralizing, and a reminder that Thursday nights just aren’t the same without NBC.

Still Hot / Worth Sticking With?: Sure. You’re insane if you’re anywhere else besides NBC on your dial on Thursdays anyway, so might as well stick around for the most pleasantly underachieving comedy on the air at the moment.

Ugly Betty (2nd Season)

(Thursday Night, 8-9 PM, ABC)

New Cast: Illeana Douglas

Where We’re At Now: Woo, here goes. After the car accident they were in during the S1 finale, Daniel is recovering, but Alexis is still in a coma, for which Daniel is hopelessly guilt-ridden. Amanda, now fat, confronts her parents (with Marc’s help) about her being adopted, which they admit, but without explaining who her father is, which she and Marc conclude to most likely be Bradford. Claire, hiding out at a friend’s beach house, attempts to contact Bradofrd before he and Wilhelmina can marry, but Wilhelmina has other plans. Ignacio is still stuck in mexico, while Hilda nurses a wounded Santos in pre-wedded bedroom bliss, and Justin sneaks out from his Arts & Crafts summer camp to lurk around the MODE offices. And Betty attempts to get over Henry, who appears to be gone with Charlie for good.

Thoughts: Can’t really say with too much authority, since I’d only seen about two and a half episodes of the show before, the finale not being one of them, so parts were still a little bit confusing (how many fucking characters does this show have, anyway??) It definitely seemed like a solid return to form, though–gotta give the show props for juggling about a dozen main characters and at least twice that many story lines while still managing to give all the characters their proper due and not having the whole thing feel like a big mess. Meanwhile, the premiere did a good job of resolving what must’ve been one huge clusterfuck of an S1 finale, and introduced a couple new threads at the end of the episode that should make for some interesting shit in the season to come. Also, what are the odds of Jayma Mays, best known for playing Hiro’s girlfriend Charlie on Heroes, also playing a girl named Charlie in this show? Nifty.

Still Hot / Worth Watching?: Probably, yeah. If you dug the show’s rapid-fire fabulosity before, no reason why you won’t dig it now. I’d personally stick with Earl in the 8:00 showdown, but considering I was stupid and signed up for a Thursday night class this semester anyway, it’s all gonna be torrents anyway.

The Office (4th Season)

(Thursday Night, 9-10 PM, NBC–time likely to change)

New Cast: n/a

Where We’re At Now: Having been turned down for the promotion he tried out for in the S3 finale, Michael resumes his life at Dunder-Mifflin, including an increasingly joyless relationship with Jan, who he now lives with. Jim, also having lost the promotion (which actually went to Ryan), returns as well, and having dumped Karen (who quit the next day), he and Pam start a secret relationship. Dwight and Angela get into a fight over the ailing health of Angela’s cat, and Michael runs over Meredith with his car.

Thoughts?: Hardly an Office ep for the ages, but no show’s return is more welcome than this one, really (at least until next Friday, anyway, but more on that when the time comes). It’s nice to see Jim and Pam together for the first time, and seeing a now super-arrogant Ryan (with suit and beard to match) is definitely a treat. For everyone else, it’s the same old story–Michael does something hugely insensitive and tries to cover it up with even greater insensitivity, Dwight doesn’t seem to understand womanly issues, Toby gets wailed on and Creed says some wacky shit. It’s all good, baby bay-bay!

Still Hot / Worth Sticking With?: At this point, The Office is almost inarguable as this generation’s Cheers, the kind of loveable, family-like ensemble sitcom that could conceivably run for 20 years without really overstaying its welcome. Who knows if this season’s gonna be any better or worse than the first three–personally, I wish Karen had stuck around a little longer, and a new cast add-on or two wouldn’t have killed ’em–but it’s The Office, and as one of the 00s’ greatest TV institutions, its place on our dial and in our hearts is more than secure.

Grey’s Anatomy (4th Season)

(Thursday Night, 9-10 PM, ABC)

New Cast: Chyler Leigh

Where We’re At Now: The gang, minus George, start their first year as residents, while Callie takes over as Chief Resident, much to Miranda’s displeasure. Meredith and McDreamy are in flux, Burke is officially history and leaves without telling Christina, Izzie pines for George, who is cold to bride Callie. Meanwhile, as George starts the internship program for the second time (under Meredith as a resident), he gets chummy with newbie Lexie, who also happens to be Meredith’s half-sister, an introduction that Meredith does not warm to.

Thoughts: Well, there’s not too much to discuss here. This is still Grey’s, with all the implications, good and bad, that goes with that. Trading in Isaiah Washington for Chyler Leigh isn’t exactly much of an upgrade, and having the cast advance from wide-eyed interns to grizzled residents is sort of interesting, but in the end, it matters little. Of the soapier prime-time shows, Grey’s is the one that feels the most like a legitimate soap, and you don’t see too many TV critics comparing season 55 and 56 of The Young and the Restless, do you?

Still Hot / Worth Watching?: Been over half a season since I checked in on the Grey‘s gang, and I’m sort of reminded of why–the show’s glory days appear to be behind them, as the show seems doomed to keep recyclng the same personal dramas (Meredith breaks up with McDreamy FOR GOOD, but oh noes there they go having sex in closets again!) and watch their once interesting and fresh-faced characters get tired and boring. To be fair, it’s not really all that bad–the show’s basically the same as it ever was, and considering ER is on its 14th year or whatever, compalining about the show going four seasons seems sort of ridiculous. But at this point, I think I’m checking out of Grey’s for good. I’m sure the show can take the hit.

Big Shots

(Thurdsay Night, 10-11 PM, ABC)

Starring: Michael Vartan, Dylan McDermott, Joshua Malina, Christopher Titus

Premise: Four rich, alpha male CEO friends in their late 30s and early 40s, living life in the big city (I forget which one, but I’m pretty sure it’s on the West Coast). James Walker (Vartan) has just been fired, but before his boss can tell anyone, he gets run over by a golf cart and dies. Duncan Collinsworth (McDermott) is on his way up in the world, but might be brought down by a scandal involving a call-girl that turned out to be a call-dude that he solicited in a gas station bathroom some time ago. Brody Johns (Christopher Titus) is whipped by his controlling wife, and Karl Mixworthy (Joshua Malina) is cheating on his with a girl who initially threatens to disclose his secret to his wife, but then befriends her instead.

Thoughts: Hmm. Four rich, alpha male friends living the high life on the West Coast? Seems like that niche has already been filled by one of those pesky HBO shows, and turns out that the world has little use for an aged, PG-rated view of that lifestyle. Essentially, Big Shots is a total waste of time–yeah, the acting prestige is there, but McDermott was always overrated, and Malina has always been the worst thing about every show he’s been on (all two of them). And who the fuck cares about Michael Vartan and Christopher Titus in this day and age, anyway?

Sorry, it’s 4:00 AM and I don’t feel like devoting any more thought to this show. The rest more or less speaks for itself anwyay.

Hit Potential?: Nah. The reviews are justifiably dismal, and why anyone would (or how anyone could) want to stick around ABC after the Betty/Grey’s two-hour block is beyond me. The best this show can hope for is to survive innocuously for a few seasons while everyone wonders what the hell it’s still doing on the air, a la What About Brian.

Worth Watching?: I mean…

Posted in Fall '07 Season Blitz, TV O.D. | Leave a Comment »

I Sez: That’s Enough Quentin Tarantino

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 28, 2007

TV sweep continues tomorrow, goddamn college/social life/slow Torrent speeds

So by now most if not all of you have most likely heard–Quentin Tarantino is currently planning an excursion into erotica for his next major picture. Sez Tarantino: “If I actually do an erotic movie, I’m going to have to reveal what I find sexy, what turns me on. And when it comes to sex in movies, it’s got to be kind of kinky, because that’s what’s cinematic, that’s what’s fun. Everything else is just – shagging.” Unsurprisingly, Captain Quent intends the movie as a throwback to the soft-core European sex movies of–you guessed it–the 1970s.

Now, to my memory, Tarantino has shot but one sex scene in his entire life. Tony Scott directed the hott Slater-on-Arquette action in True Romance, and the Bruce Willis-Maria de Medeiros scene in Pulp Fiction fades out before things get really interesting, so the sole representative of Tarantino’s erotic verve is the hilarious, if sexually uninspired, spontaneous screwing between Bridget Fonda and Robert DeNiro in Jackie Brown (“Wanna fuck?” “Yeah…yeah, that’d be great”). But that isn’t really what worries me about this announcement, and somehow, neither is the idea of anything involving both butter and Michael Madsen.

What bothers me is that Tarantino felt the need to announce what his next picture would be at all–not the plot, not the cast, but just the retro genre to be fetishized, which basically is all QT needs. This is a familiar pattern. For the last ten years, Tarantino has essentially done nothing but very specific 70s throwbacks–the blaxploitation one (’97’s Jackie Brown), the kung-fu one (Kill Bill 1 & 2), the Girndhouse road chase one (Death Proof) and now the porno drama (God I can’t wait to see the title). These movies are all awesome–in fact, sometimes I think Jackie Brown is the man’s best flick–but his inability to stop looking backwards in his films gets a little harder to digest each time.

Why doesn’t Quentin Tarantino ever just make, like, a movie? I mean, yeah, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were clearly influenced by specific genres, and yeah, a lot of their inspiration came from the 70s, but they couldn’t be traced back as specific tributes to any one genre, and consequently, they deservedly earned Tarantino the rep of being one of the country’s most unique and most distinctly modern directors. But now it seems like Tarantino is unable to find a starting point for his movies that isn’t firmly rooted in the past–the man’s constant quest to relive the cinematic glory days of his youth has officially crossed the line from charming into the territory of the somewhat depressing.

Maybe what Tarantino really needs is to choose to direct someone else’s script. With the Kill Bills and Death Proof having scripts that were, at least compared to previous efforts, decidedly on the slight side, Tarantino’s latest movies have been little but opportunities for directorial virtuosity. If Tarantino could apaply his new tricks to a script that was actually fairly interesting, he could easily come out with his best movie in a decade. Get Shane Black on it or something.With much of the dregs of 70s filmmaking trends still untapped–the disaster film especially seems like an all-too-likely likely suspect for a future QT project–Tarantino needs to get back to making actual movies sooner rather than later. He doesn’t even need to listen to me about it–just see the disappointing returns, now matter how it’s been cut, for Death Proof for further evidence. You’ve lived in the same decade for over 30 years now. It’s time to grow up a little, Quentin.

Posted in I Sez | 3 Comments »

TV Fall ‘07 Season TV Blitz, Day 4: Reaper, House, Cane

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 27, 2007

They all have one word in their title, I guess

Reaper

(9-10 PM, Tuesday Night, CW)

Starring: Bret Harrison, Missy Peregrym, Tyler Labine, Ray Wise

Premise: Weird shit starts to happen to college dropout and Work Bench employee Sam Oliver (Harrison) on his 21st birthday–he’s attacked by a pack of wild dogs, he saves the life of his unrequited crush of a co-worker Andi (Peregrym) through telekinesis, and the devil (Wise) shows up as a backseat driver on his way home. Turns out his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born in exchange for the recovery of his ailing father, thinking they would never have children, and now Sam has to act as Hell’s bounty hunter, capturing escaped souls with the help of his best friend Bert “Sock” Wysocki (Labine), his new superpowers, and a particularly powerful Dirt Devil.

Thoughts: As I discussed with IITS friends and colleagues Weber and Victor last night, it’s the whole Studio 60 / 30 Rock phenomenon all over again. Let’s see if you recognize this plot formula from a few nights ago: Nerdy post-collegiate fuckup is snapped out of a meaningless, sexless existence by mysterious forces that call on him to perform shocking and extraodrinary tasks for the good of humanity, all while keeping his shitty job at a fictional megastore for cover. That’s right–it’s the exact same plot as Gossip Girl.

It’s sort of hard to cast these feelings of deja vu aside, especially considering that Reaper not only shares its plot outline with Chuck, it also has many of the same strenghts–novel plot, decent action sequences, relatable protagonist–and nearly all the same weaknesses. Weak plot conceit and poor set-up? Check. Bland female lead? Check. Super-annoying and even nerdier best friend? Better fuckin’ believe that’s a check. Apparently Labine bonded with pilot director Kevin Smith over both being unfairly compared to Jack Black just because both are fat funny dudes–yeah dude, I’m sure those are the only reasons. I put the Over-Under at about four episodes before he breaks out the accoustic guitar and metal falsetto.

But honestly, while I know that it’s ridiculous to talk about matters of realism in a show that involves a soul-sucking vaccuum cleaner, the ridiculousness of this pilot seirously irked me. So after one day of weird occurences, Sam’s mom tearfully confesses to their demonic bargain, which they said they never would’ve made if their doc hadn’t been blackmailed by the devil into telling Dad that he was infertile, therefore no risk of having a first-born. But, I mean, once impregnated, if you knew your kid was gonna be destined to spend eternity serving in hell, wouldn’t an abortion be a pretty likely solution? And wouldn’t you want a doctor for a second opinion in a matter of such importance? The parents definitely gave up a little too quickly on that one.

Similarly bothersome is how OK Sam seems with the whole thing. Aside from some requisite “YOU SOLD MY SOUL TO THE DEVIL?!?!” and “NO I WON’T DO THIS YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO FIND SOMEBODY ELSE!!!” yelping, Sam doesn’t seem to really hold it against the devil or his parents. He absolves his mom of all guilt, telling her that he satisfied his deal with Satan and is now free (he isn’t), and he tells his friends he’s excited about his new responsibilites, because it makes him feel like an adult. Uh, guy? You’re going to hell. The worst place in the world, with devils and those caves and the ragged clothing, and the heat, my God, the heat. Super that you can accept responsbility now, but at the absolute most, you’re about eighty years away from an eternity of torture–now might not be the best time to be thrilled over your emotional maturation.

Ray Wise though? Totally awesome.

Hit Potential: This thing has Cult Favorite written all over it, from the appearance of former Cult mainstays Wise (Twin Peaks) and Peregrym (Heroes) to the involvement of cult idol Kevin Smith to the countless Buffy parallels. Maybe it can get beyond that, but frankly, if Veronica Mars couldn’t, what kind of odds does this have?

Worth Sticking With?: As with Chuck, I’m willing to give some Pilot exemptions here–once they move past this stuff and find a rhythm, I could see it being an enjoyable show, especially if it doesn’t fall into the Dead Like Me trap of trying too hard with the elaborate/ironic death sequences. And it’ll be interesting to see if hell gets defined any further than it already has been–sure, I’m sure Sam’ll mostly be taking on murderers and rapists and the like, but what about the homosexuals? Some Jews, maybe? Divorcees? How about dudes who were just too lazy to go to Church on Sunday mornings?

House (4th Season)

(9-10 PM, Tuesday Night, FOX)

New Cast: n/a thusfar

Where We’re At Now: House, having lost his staff (Cameron, Chase and Foreman) for a variety of reasons at the end of the last season, refuses to have them replaced, much to the chagrin of Cuddy and Wilson. He’s forced to do a solo diagnosis for the first time, going so far as to bribe a janitor and randomly shout out questions in different wards of the hospital to avoid hiring a new team–which of course, by the end of the episode, he eventually realizes is something he has to do.

Thoughts: I’d say something about how it’s good to actually have some tension in House now that so much of the cast is gone, but who am I kidding? House is House is House is House. The show still begins and ends with Laurie, and though Carpenter, Epps and Spencer are all conspicuously absent for the whole premiere, you’ll barely even notice it while watching. Plus, you know after a few episodes–maybe some abortive replacement attempts, maybe after one of the three “coincidentally” gets transferred back to Princeton-Plainsboro–the gang’ll be back together soon enough.

I will say that as far as the Case-of-the-Week episoding goes, this was one of the best thusfar. House is generally a show you can set your watch to (the incorrect diagnoses, the scenes of the patients suddenly getting much worse after supposedly being cured, the final last minute twist), and the S4 premiere was no exception. However, the twist was actually a genuine surprise this time–who knows, maybe they all would be if I understood why “Oh, it’s hemothyrroglandulitis, not thermoangiocardosis!” is supposed to be revelatory, but this one was actually pretty cool. So, uh, they haven’t lost their touch, maybe.

Worth Sticking With?: House is like dining at Wendy’s–only the guest stars are ever surprising, and it doesn’t really matter ‘coz you know that as good or bad as it ever gets, it’s always just satisfactory enough.

Cane

(10-11 PM, Tuesday Nights, CBS)

Starring: Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Eddie Matos, Rita Morena, Nestor Carbonell, half a dozen others

Premise: Pancho Duque (Elizondo), family patriarch and CEO of the Duque rum and sugar business, is told by doctors that he has under a year to live. He decides to leave the family business to son-in-law Alex (Smits), rather than his less level-headed biological son Frank (Carbonell). The sugar part of the family business is under siege by the Samuels family, who want to buy the Duques out and who may have killed Pancho’s granddaughter some decades ago. Meanwhile, Alex’s son wants to skip MIT and go to the army, Frank gets in bed with one of the Samuelses, and someone from Alex’s past resurfaces as a threat to the family’s safety.

Thoughts: Two works keep coming up in reviews as reference points for Cane: Dallas and The Godfather. These accurate comparisons may seem like a strange mixture, but really what’s strange is that no one ever thought to mix them in the TV medium before. Sure, you had plenty of those warring-family soaps in the 80s, but they were all fairly campy, and mostly feminine in nature. To have such a show from a distinctly patriarchal perspective, and with a relatively straight face, is fairly new.

Well, that is, of course, except for another show, which should be providing the third reference point: The Sopranos. This was immediately apparent from when Alex shows up flashy and business-like at his kid’s little-league game a la Tony at Meadow’s soccer games in the Sops S1 and 2, but also in the episode’s constant “I do what I do to take care of my family” sentiment echoing, as well as the hit that takes place in the finale. Smits’ Alejandro has yet to prove himself a character on par with Tony, but he’s almost as commanding a presence, which is always a joy to watch.

There’s about 20 subplots crammed in to the Cane pilot, and I won’t go into them here. Suffice to say there’s a lot going on here, and even if it’s twice too lavish and four times too extravagant, I always respect overambition in TV over underambition (especially considering some of the shows that I’ve watched this week), and I gotta say, I’m liking this show so far. Don’t really understand why the reviews haven’t been better–the show currently scores an unexemplary 57 at aggregate review site MetaCritic.

Hit Potential?: Given the rest of their lineup of shitty procedurals and shittier sitcoms, Cane feels decidedly out of place on CBS, so I think it’ll be sort of a challenge to acclimate viewers to its far grander scope (or to get them to flip to CBS in the first place, something I’m not always brave enough to do myself). But it’s got the prestige (I count at least three Emmy winners in the cast so far) and the ambition to become a modern day TV dynasty (or at least a modern day TV Dynasty), so here’s hoping.

Worth Sticking With?: Yeah, more then any of the shows I’ve watched so far, I’m legitimately pretty curious to see where Cane is going from here. Give it a shot if you’ve been missing some grand TV drama in your life–there’s something here for just about everyone.

Posted in Fall '07 Season Blitz, TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

TV Fall ‘07 Season Blitz, Day 3 (Part Two): CBS’s “Return of the Sitcom!” Lineup

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 25, 2007

Still not brave enough for Two and a Half Men and Rules of Engagement, sorry

How I Met Your Mother (3rd Season)

(Monday Night, 8-8:30 PM, CBS)

New Cast Members: Mandy Moore, Enrique Iglesias (unclear if either will stick around past premiere, though I sort of doubt it)

Where We’re At Now: Having officially broken up at the end of last season, Robin and Ted attempt to prove to the other how much they’ve moved on, Robin by returning from Argentina with a seize-the-day windsurfing masseur (Iglesias), Ted by hooking up with a rebel girl he meets at Carl’s. Marshall, Lily and Barney spectate.

Thoughts: Not exactly a blast out of the gate–this is very likely to be the make-or-break season for HIMYM, and you’d like to think they’d be bringing out the big guns to start the season. Presence of Iglesias and a very against-type Moore are sort of appreciated, but neither’s given too much to do, and with the show’s three best characters essentially benched for the episode (Barney does his wingman routine, Marshall does his acting-like-a-girl routine, Lily doesn’t do much of anything), the big guns these are most certainly not.

That said, this is still unquestionably the best sitcom on TV. Given so little to work with, NPH continues to swing for the fences and either spawns or re-perpetuates at least a half-dozen more catchphrases before the night is over (“THIS IS SO GOING IN MY BLOG!!” being a personal favorite for mostly obvious reasons). And just in terms of creating its own vision of the rules and politics of single life, which is what HIMYM has always been best at (the Lemon Law, the re-re-return, the highway exit theory, etc.), this ep is a worthy addition to the canon–never before on TV has the battle for post-breakup dignity been portrayed in such an organized, well-articulated fashion, and Robin’s last-second revelation leading to a final declaration of victory is sure to be a season high point.

Still Hot / Worth Sticking With?: Yeah, of course. Tonight won’t sway too many doubters, though, so the show better start upping the ante pretty soon. Getting around to who the titular Mother actually is in the not-too-distant future probably wouldn’t hurt. That or Marshall’s third Barney-slap, either one.

The Big Bang Theory

(Monday Night, 8:30-9:00 PM, CBS)

Starring: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco

Premise: Leonard (Galecki) and Sheldon (Parsons) are nerd roommates with a new neighbor, hot chick Penny (Cuoco). They’re the original Odd Trio!

Thoughts: Does a Nerd Anti-Defemation League exist? No? What about one for Hot Chicks? If not, the call for one has certainly been trumpeted by The Big Bang Theory, easily (well, hopefully) the most insulting TV series to premiere this season. NBC may have crafted a Monday Night lineup specifically designed for geeks, Leonard and Sheldon make NBC’s Chuck and Hiro look like Crockett and Tubbs by comparison–they’re the kind of stock nerd characters that luckily usually get relegated to supporting roles in sub-par teen comedies.

You know, the kind that talk about every situation as if it’s a science experiment (“What’s the protocol for leaving here?” “Well this is an interesting development,” “I really think we should examine the chain of casuality here”), the kind that have DNA models and boards filled with complex math equations casually lying about their apartments, the kind that not only play Klingon Boggle recreationally but also don’t think it weird to disclose this fact to outsiders. Essentially, nerddom at its most egregious and negatively stereotyped–the kind of nerd you at most knew one or two of in High School, but which much of America probably assumes populate the entire sub-culture.

Arguably even more offensive, however, is the Penny character, the kind of stock hot chick character that luckily usually gets relegated to starring roles in middle school-aged masturbation fantasies. You know, the kind that’s always wearing short shorts and has no problem getting naked in your apartment under the slightest of pretexts, the kind that seems to have an eternal patience for nerddom, thinks that anti-social behavior patterns are “so sweet!” and is conveniently never listening (or never comprehending) when you say something insulting or patronizing, the kind that seemingly has nothing better to do than to just stand around not doing much while you and your friends fumble over and experiment with the best way to approach her.

Yuh-huh–if anyone reading this blog knew even one hot chick remotely resembling this description, then congratulations, my friend, for you have officially beaten reality.

Hit Potential?: Would love to give this a “no” with absolute confidence. But even though I can’t quite do that, I can still say that I do believe that at least 75% of America (roughly the percentage of the population to have interacted with either a real-life nerd or hot chick in their lifetime, I figure) will be able to see through it. It’s the other quarter I’m worried about, though, since they probably make up the majority of CBS’s viewership.

Worth Watching?: Fuck no, and a motherfucking pox on creator Chuck Lorre (also the Two and a Half Men mastermind, SHOCKA) and whoever else on CBS’s staff who thought that it was a good idea to even put this on the same night as How I Met Your Mother, much less in the proceeding half hour. I suggest changing the channel before the ending credits to HIMYM start, just to make sure you’re not giving anyone any mixed messages.

Posted in Fall '07 Season Blitz, TV O.D. | 3 Comments »

TV Fall ‘07 Season Blitz, Day 3: NBC’s Nerd Dream Team

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 25, 2007

Tired of using technology-oh

Chuck

(Monday, 8-9 PM, NBC)

Starring: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Adam Baldwin

Premise: Mild-mannered retail employee Chuck (Levi), an anti-social member with a go-nowhere job at the Nerd Herd of megastore Buy More (spoiler alert: show not a big fan of subtlety), who is all of a sudden thrust into the world of international intrigue when his superspy ex-best friend semi-accidentally sends him an e-mail containing all the nation’s intelligence secrets, which he unknowingly reads. He’s stalked by a couple CIA and NSA spooks (Strahovski and Baldwin, respectively) as well as some genuine bad dudes, before deciding to use his powers for good, as the government’s very very secret weapon.

Thoughts: In a world of nothing sitcoms and boring family dramas, it’s nice to see a show this genuinely high-concept (read: totally ridiculous) get some airtime, and like last week’s Gossip Girl, this has the hand of O.C. mastermind Josh Schwartz pulling the strings, so some good times will undoubtedly be had. And the show’s undoubtedly got promise–any series that begins with its protagonist attempting to escape his own birthday party can’t be all bad, and one with Adam “Animal Mother Jayne Cobb” Baldwin can’t even be mostly bad.

Still, there are definite issues here, even aside from the fact that the show’s set up makes little to no sense (why is the CIA hacking into its own secrets, exactly?) Mostly it’s got to do with the characters–aside from the always reliable Baldwin, the support looks kind of lacking so far, with mysterious female lead Strahovski and midget best friend Gomez (the kind of super-extroverted nerd that seems to exist only in television) striking out almost completely. To an extent their characters have to be sort of preposterous, but a little likeability wouldn’t be killing anyone here.

But that wouldn’t matter so much if Levi was a stronger lead (or Chuck a stronger protagonist), and despite inevitable Seth Cohen comparisons, his character kind of irked me. Chuck has no idea how to talk to women at the beginning of the episode, but by the time of his faux-date with Strahovski, he’s perfectly charming–sorry, no one develops romantic self-confidence that quickly. Plus, how many nerds do you know–I mean genuine nerds, dudes in their late 20s that still play enough Call of Duty to require band-aids for their callouses–that have Levi’s shaggy, Jim Halpert-esque adorable good looks? C’mon, we’re living in the post-Jonah Hill era–let’s see some actual dirty, unshaven fatties in there, huh?

Hit Potential: Could be. Being part of the NBC Monday Night line-up won’t hurt, and with the Schwartz-McG combo in effect they’ve got the same nerd/jock push-and-pull that made The O.C. such a crowd-pleaser. Plus, seems like just about everyone loves geeks these days, right? Might get stuck a bit in the cult show trap, but I think the odds of it being a modest, if not runaway, hit are pretty solid.

Worth Watching?: Worth giving another week or two, at least. Seems like most of the pilot’s kinks could be ironed out in the next few weeks, and there’s enough potential here to give it the benefit of the doubt for the time being. Levi’s gonna have to prove himself as both likeable and (somewhat) believable as Chuck before I can give it an unequivocal rec, though.

Heroes (2nd Season)

(Monday Night, 9-10 PM, NBC)

New Cast Members: Dania Ramirez, Stephen “BING!” Tobolowsky, Nick D’Agosto

Where We’re At Now: The Bennetts move to a new life in California, where Claire and HRG attempt to blend in as ordinaries. Hiro travels back to feudal Japan, where he meets the guy whose sword he stole, who turns out to be kind of a scoundrel. Peter is gone, Nathan is a boozer, and Mamma Petrelli turns out to be part of some shady elder tribunal with Poppa Nakamura, who has just received a coded death threat. Mohinder and Parkman are looking after Hero locator Molly, whose prophetic nightmares portend that Sylar is still on the loose. Meanwhile, brother-and-sister Mexican illegal immigrants attempt to sneak across the border, while Sis can’t seem to stop accidentally killing people.

Thoughts: Count me among the many who felt let down by the first season Heroes finale, but I gotta say, they did a pretty decent job here in sucking me back in. It might’ve just been an absence making the heart grow more tolerant of preachiness and ludicrous plot contrivances thing, but it was great for me to see the old gang again, with a good amount of new faces to keep things fresh. Best is classic That Guy Stephen Tobolowsky, who has undoubtedly been in at least three of your 100 favorite movies, most notably as Needlenose Ned Ryerson in the immortal Groundhog Day, as this season’s obligatory morally ambiguous business dude, whose Midas Touch power might be my favorite yet.

Still Hot / Worth Sticking With?: Yeah, this was definitely a solid premiere, the right balance of reminding audiences of past glories while introducing plenty of new threads of potential interest. And with the hotly anticipated return of CW refugee Kristen Bell on the horizon, how could you not hang on just a little longer?

Journeyman

(Monday Night, 10-11 PM, NBC)

Starring: Kevin McKidd, Gretchen Egolf, Moon Bloodgood, Reed Diamond

Premise: Dan Vasser’s (McKidd) idyllic existence is disrupted when he wakes up one morning to find that time is no longer marching straight forward and is instead sending him wherever it damn well pleases. Wife Katie (Egolf) and cop brother Jack (Diamond) find this more than a little implausible, chalking his lost time up to alcohol relapsing, but Vasser senses his time travel has a purpose, especially when he starts running into his ex-fiancee (Bloodgood), who died in an accident a decade earlier.

Thoughts?: Well…kind of hard to judge. If nothing else, you’ve got a big draw in the character actor cast, including Tommy from Trainspotting (an unrecognizable, at least from that, McKidd), Mike Kellerman from Homicide (Diamond) and the chick from Daybreak with the weird name and the weirder fiancee (Bloodgood, currently betrothed to 24’s Eric Balfour, who must be getting tired of her TV boyfriends constantly getting stuck in time loops). And from a technical standpoint at least, the show’s top notch–plot structuring, editing, period music are all grade-A shit, so to an extent, I’m definitely digging this.

The plot, though, has some big obstacles to overcome. Namely, two of them. First, it has to start making a little more sense–admittedly, I was busy in an imbroglio over the new possible Meg White sex tape while watching, so that might have distracted somewhat, but the pilot seemed to leave a whole lot of mysteries and lapses in logic, so there’s some definite explaining to be done. And second, it has to escape the shadow of Dr. Samuel Beckett, that other unwilling time traveller preoccupied with setting right what once went wrong. Can we get Dean Stockwell for a little cameo arc this season, please?

Hit Potential?: Not much. Confusing plot, absence of marquee names, no aliens, nudity or nude aliens–the only thing this show really has going for it is the time slot, and the hopes that people willing to stick with Heroes might be patient with Journeyman as well. Really, though, that at most buys a season of good will, and after that, the best the show can hope for is a cult following and maybe a resurrection on the Sci-Fi channel, where it probably belonged the whole time.

Worth Watching?: Maybe. I dunno, you might just have to see for yourself on this one. Once you’re done with the Meg White tape, that is.

Posted in Fall '07 Season Blitz, TV O.D. | 3 Comments »

TV Fall ‘07 Season Blitz, Day 2: Family Guy’s Star Wars Special

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 23, 2007

Now, I know what you’re all thinking, or at least what you all should be thinking–why bother reviewing a new episode of Family Guy? Ever since its return in 2005, the show has been of a remarkably consistent quality, which is to say, it’s pretty much sucked. I mean, sure, you maybe get one or two funny bits an episode if you’re lucky, but the plots have gotten more and more unbearable, the humor staler and staler. Who cares, right?I don’t really have a defense for that. Watching new episodes of Family Guy is sort of like a less heartbreaking version of watching new episodes of The Simpsons–it’s just something you have to do every now and then, regardless of how painful, to reaffirm that the show hasn’t suddenly gotten awesome again while you weren’t looking. And hey, at least this was a Star Wars special; that Back to the Future-themed episode from last season was sort of decent, and it made sense, since the only parts worth watching about FG now are the random pop culture tangents. An entire episode of nothing but those tangents should be a welcome reprieve.

Turns out it kind of works the opposite with “Blue Harvest,” named after the code name for Return of the Jedi in a reference far more clever than any that actually appear in the episode. See, the Family Guy creators are not particularly creative people–they only know how to do pop culture references in a very predictable, superficial manner, and the only thing on the show that really makes them seem at all creative or original is how unexpected they are. So when you’ve got an entire Star Wars-themed episode, there isn’t even the element of surprise, and the show’s not-so-secret weapon just becomes totally worthless. Of course, that’s still not enough for McFarlane and clan, so they pepper the episode with terrible Deal or No Deal and Dirty Dancing asides in an attempt to regain that spontaneous feeling, but when framed within a larger pop cultural reference, they just feel kind of weird.

Even within the Family Guy formula confines, though, I still feel they sorta dropped the ball with this one. What the hell is Quagmire doing as the famously effete C3PO, and how does Cleveland make sense as R2D2? Wouldn’t Stewie and Brian (who are ridiculously underused as Darth Vader and Chewbacca, respectively) have made a lot more sense in those roles? And where the hell is Meg? Considering the yen the show has for humiliating her as much as possible, couldn’t they have put her in as Admiral Ackbar, or that weird mushroom-y dude? I guess they might not have been in the first movie, but that just points out another one of the ep’s flaws–why bother recreating the first movie so relatively faithfully at the expense of the other two (or five) SW movies, which have arguably become even more iconic?

Of course, this is all totally moot, since it ignores the real reason why “Blue Harvest” sucks, a reason so obvious that the episode even pointed it out at the end–they got beaten to the punch three months ago, by a Robot Chicken special on the same theme–one which was actually funny, no less. Robot Chicken was the exact show to take on Star Wars, considering nerdy pop cultural references aren’t just their raison d’etre, it’s their entire etre–there’s literally no show without their miscellaneous references, so they have to actually put some thoguht and creativity into ’em. The results are usually pretty mixed, but on Star Wars the hit ratio was impressively high, mostly because the RC boys did the smart thing and took on the whole double trilogy, which has enough material for dozens of potentially hilarious sketches (and a devoted enough cult to get them), many of which the show wisely exploited, and many of which are echoed in far lesser form by “Blue Harvest”.

All right, so show still suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. Whatever, I’m sure I’ll come back to watch more new episodes before the season’s over. What the hell else am I gonna watch on a Sunday night, anyway?

Posted in Fall '07 Season Blitz, TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

Blog Hiatus: 09-22-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 22, 2007


Happy Holidays, everyone.

Posted in Blog Hiatus | 1 Comment »

Charts on Fire: 09/20/07 (Special 50 vs. Kanye Edition)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 21, 2007

“In every spiritual tradition, you burn in hell for pretending to be God–and not being able to back it up!”

So by now you almost certainly know the story, but let me sum up for those of you too busy with the pennant race and/or Britney Spears’s tragic undoing. Kanye and 50 have been beefing arguably all the way back to anti-Kanye comments 50 made some time in ’05, but tensions have been recently brought to the surface by the concurrent release of both artists’ third almbums (Kanye’s Graduation and 50’s Curtis), which pre-release had already spun off a combined seven singles and were generally being prepped as the two biggest hip-hop releases of the year. A dozen years later, the US were finally having our Blur vs. Oasis–not like rappers have never feuded before, but rarely has it occured in such an organized, non-physically threatening and easily quantifiable manner. Chart watchers across the country rejoiced.

And naturally, such a feud could not go without some arrogant trash-talking. Mostly on the part of 50, who started refering to Kanye as a “worker bee” and to himself in the third person (a sure sign of the onset of supervillainy), parodying “Gold Digger” in concert, and even making the bold proclamation that being so confident in his imminent victory, he would quit the music business altogether were he to lose the battle. One day, and most likely a very sobering conversation with his publicist (“uhhh yeah, 50, about that…”), later, 50 issued a retraction of his promise, but still conceded that if 50 were to be outsold, it would mean that Kanye had made a better album.

Well, the results are in, and as everyone outside of Jamica, Queens could have predicted, 50’s ass got trounced–Curtis pulled in a would’ve-been-impressive- by-anyone-else total of 691k (not so much compared to the 1.1 mil of The Massacre), while Kanye’s scored a career-best 957k (the best total for any album since, you guessed it, 50’s ’05 chart Massacre). In addition to this, Kanye also lands the top spot on the singles chart this week with current mega-smash “Stronger” (Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo, you have your first US #1!!!), and even the chart’s top debut with his T-Pain-featuring (sic) “Good Life” at #1, while 50 remains landlocked at #5 and #42, with “Ayo Technology” and “I Get Money,” respectively. It’s a landslide: No on 50.

And frankly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. In the space of the four years since his ’03 breakout, 50’s shit has gone from charmingly cocky to uncomfortably complacent to disturbingly disinterested. No other celebrity in recent memory with even a claim to musicianship has ever shown as much contempt for his medium of choice as 50, a disgust brilliantly vocalized in review site Coke Machine Glow’s recent piece on the album. I couldn’t even say for sure that 50 made the lesser album, since I doubt I’ll ever listen to it, but if the four singles released are any indication (two of which are actually pretty hott, though due little to 50’s involvement), he’s as uncommitted and unmotivated to doing anything above-average as someone with countless millions who never liked music that much to begin with probably should be.

Thing is, 50 follows after Jay-Z in this matter–business before pleasure always with his music, with getting five mics never as meaningful as getting five top ten hits. But while Jay-Z at his best still felt like he was about as hungry in his music as he was in his personal finances, 50 has always treated music as a means to an end. If he could get the same amount of fame, cash, respect and ass as he does now being a plumber or an interior decorator, you get the feeling he’d have no problem switching careers in a heartbeat. Kanye’s arrogance is far more upfront–he’s made a career out of it, practically–but 50’s is much worse, much more deep-seated and much more destructive. ‘Ye’s arrogance drives him to continually be proving himself as much as he possibly can, 50’s arrogance drives him to try to maintain the status quo while exerting as little effort as possible. It’s the kind of unnervingly prevalent “less is more–for meee!!!” attitude that’s leaving me totally dispirited about mainstream hip-hop in 2007.

So man, is it doing my heart good to see Kanye (who looks about as narcissistic as Skee-Lo in comparison) beat him unequivocally on the only level that 50 truly understands, the numbers. He can spin this however he likes–and over the next few weeks, I imagine he will–but on this one, it’d be hard for the most over-confident-with-the-least-reason-to-be man in music to chalk it up as anything but a loss. Now you can’t tell Kanye nothin’, right?

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