Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Archive for October, 2008

Commercial Break: Goldey & Creme Don’t Know How to Play [GTA IV]

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 18, 2008

You cheat, you lie

There are some hit songs that just don’t seem co-optable. Songs whose very presence in the pop sphere are so bizarrely anonymous, practically asymptotal in the first place, that you have trouble believing that they ever existed at one point, much less that they could be re-appropriated at a later date to further a separate agenda. So when I heard the new commercial for the PC version of GTA IV–already a cutting edge ad campaign by soundtracking standards for their use of LCD Soundsystem’s “Time to Get Away” and the Greenskeepers’ “Vagabond”–I refused to believe my ears to the sounds of the swelling synth-strings, pulsating bass line and wafty guitar line. For I knew those sounds, and they could not possibly belong to the song I thought they belonged to. But yes, lo and behold, Grand Theft Auto IV was basing a new promotional video around Godley & Creme’s “Cry.”

Godley & Creme in general were a very odd phenomenon. Their history, between their numerous bands, side projects and collaborations, can be traced through nearly thirty years of pop music, from Hotlegs’ unfortunately forgotten late-60s one-hit “Neanderthal Man,” through a whole bunch of 70s megahits with 10cc (“The Things We Do for Love,” “Dreadlock Holiday,” “I’m Not in Love”), and into the music video era with a bunch of the most innovative clips of the time (Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes,”  Herbie Hancock’s “Rock It,” Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill”). Oh, and one of them is named Lol, which should’ve turned into a half-decent internet meme sometime this century (still might, I suppose). Still, the only reason why you’d ever hear of them on their own is probably the clip they made for their own hit as a duo, the morph-happy, “Black or White”-foreshadowing vid for “Cry.”

The clip itself, while no longer particularly technically impressive in 2008, must’ve been a real doozy back in 1985, because it got the public to send a song that had no business being anywhere near a top 40 station to #16 on the pop charts. Not that “Cry” is a bad song–I adore it, and it currently ranks just below Positive K’s “I Got a Man” as the song I’m most pissed off about never being able to find at karaoke bars–but it’s,’s probably the wussiest song ever written. There are songs that are more effeminate out there, maybe, and songs that are possibly more embarrassing, but no song that I can think of has ever been as nakedly weak and vulnerable as this.

It’s a song written entirely about hurt feelings–specifically, the lead singer’s. He’s not angry, he’s not placing blame, he’s not trying to explain himself or get back together or anything. It’s just a whole world of sad. “You don’t know how to easy my pain / YOU DON’T KNOW!!!” “You don’t know what the sound is darlin’ / That’s the sound of my tears falling.” And of course, “You don’t know how to play the game / And you cheat / you lie / YOU MAKE ME WANNA CRYYYY-YYYYYYYY!!!” The song’s titular proclomation isn’t even a statement of quiet integrity, like the Temps’ “I Wish it Would Rain Down” or Smokey’s “Tears of a Clown”–he’s not saying that he’s crying over his loved one, he’s saying that his loved one makes him want to cry. ‘Coz, y’know, she’s a big meanie.

And of course, the music doesn’t exactly help. If it was a more stately production, perhaps, with big drums, a huge guitar solo, and a nice, effective coda to close out, it could’ve masqueraded as just a particularly self-pitying power ballad of sorts. But instead, the song just plods along, more ethereal than rocking and not nearly grand enough for encore status. Even worse, the song’s rhythm section is not-so-subtly structured to sound like a heartbeat, just in case the song’s subject matter forgot which part of the singer’s body they were breaking. And when you think the song can’t outpour its emotions any more wallowingly, they start kicking it up octave after octave in the song’s finale–“Cryyyyyyy…. / Crryyyyyyy….. / CRYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!” Dear lord.

And yet…this is the song Rockstar games has most recently deemed fit to promote their ultraviolent, ultrasexualized and decidedly unwussy franchise video game. I am sort of powerless to defend this position, only able to posit that before the vocals come in, the song is does have a sort of widescreen cinematic effect to it that works well with some of the shots, and that once the violence inevitably appears in the commercial, there’s a marginally effective irony at work. Also, the use of “Cry” in promotion of action is not entirely unprecedented, as there’s an entire Miami Vice episode finale (with Ted Nugent, remarkably enough) that uses the song as its backdrop–and no one knew soundtracking in the 80s like Michael Mann and the MV crew. So maybe they know something I don’t.

Honestly, though, I’d probably stick with Eazy-E for these. For future reference.


Posted in Commercial Break | 3 Comments »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World Series

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 16, 2008

People all over the world

I know I’ve been egregious with the Judaism references in this blog recently, especially considering the lack of attention I pay to my religion most of the year (not to mention the fact that I apparently misused the term “goy” in one of my previous entries–whoops), but when thinking of the Phillies this season, I keep going back to the dayenu prayer we learned in Hebrew School, a Passover standard. Dayenu, roughly translated, means “It would have been enough,” and the prayer consists of listing the tremendous things that God did for the Jewish people during their eventual exodus from slavery in Egypt, concluding that if he had done just that one thing, it would have been enough. As the Phillies fought their way back into the NL East Race, won the division, shelled the best pitcher in baseball, won the DS, achieved one of the most unexpected late-game comeback wins in recent playoff memory, and now claimed the NL Pennant as their own, at each step, I told myself that it would be enough. But the team kept exceeding my expectations, and now here they stand, four wins away from giving Philadelphia its first major championship in two and a half decades.

The real story of this particular series, for myself and most of the fans I’ve heard from, is how just about everyone on the team contributed to the win in some prominent, key fashion. The big heroes are obvious–Shane Victorino, who only hit .222 but had six RBIs (including four in Game Two) and had the catch of the post-season by robbing Casey Blake of a potential game-tier in the same game, Chase Utley, who not only hit over .350 with a big dinger in Game One, but had huge line-drive grabs in both Games Four and Five, Brad Lidge for shutting down the ninth inning in all four wins, and of course, NLCS MVP Cole Hamels, who pitched 14 innings of three-run ball, winning both the series opener and closer. But you also can’t overlook J-Roll’s stadium-killing opening home run tonight, Ryan Madson’s solid sixth to eighth-inning work throughout, Greg Dobbs’s rally-starting hits in Game Two and even Carlos fucking Ruiz’s rally-continuing hits in Game Four. Maybe it’s not quite all 25 guys–my beloved Jamie Moyer couldn’t make it through two innings of his start in Game Three, and So Taguchi continues to be So Useless, but when even Matt Stairs is hitting game-winning longballs, you know something special is probably happening.

The game itself tonight was so unsuspenseful that I had almost stopped paying attention by Lights Out time in the ninth. Once J-Roll hit that opening blast, it seemed only a matter of time before this thing was put to bed for good, and when Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal suddenly turned into ’83-era Steve Sax in the fifth, you knew that L.A. was on the ropes. The anti-climax of Game Five is fairly appropriate, given the anti-climax that this series has probably been for all the league–MLB wanted Manny, Derek and Nomar to head back to Boston so bad that you’d think no one remembered that two ideal major finals never happen in the same year, and we already had the Celtics and Lakers once this year. But I don’t think anyone could begrudge the Phils for their party-crashing–seems like most major-market sports fans realize that 25 years is a pretty long time for a city to be titleless. Phils-Rays doesn’t exactly have the right angles, but some years, breathing life into morbiund cities and franchises should be a good enough Series angle in itself. Plus, with franchise cornerstones like Rollins, Howard, Utley, Hamels and Victorino leading the way, even Met fans seem to acknowledge that the Phils are generally a pretty OK group of guys.

I don’t have much of a prevailing memory from the 1993 playoffs, when I was a seven-year-old kid for whom sports was pretty much the whole world. I remember the heartbreak that would forever be associated with the name Mitch Williams, and I remember thinking that the SkyDome looked kind of pretty (especially compared to the Vet), but that’s about it–I’ve had to read up recently to learn about the Kim Batiste extra inning game-winner in the NLCS, or Schilling’s precedent-setting staff-ace dominance throughout the post-season, or the 15-14 heartbreaker the Phils ended up losing in Game 3 (which there’s nearly an entire article on in ESPN Magazine this week, incredibly). It sounds great, but it’s clearly the Phils team of a different generation. For Philly sports fans my age–and especially for the ones who, unlike me, came of age through the fifteen years of suffering between then and now–this’ll be the team that they’ll eventually define their fandom by. And they’ll be thrilled to do so.

If the pennant was as far as they went…well, dayenu. But hey, they’ve come this far–maybe they’ll be able to part the Red Sea this time, too. Bring it on, AL.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap | 1 Comment »

Standing Offer / Commercial Break: Snakes & PCs

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 14, 2008


Well, after my readers came through beautifully on that “Rip Things in Half” .gif a year ago, they disappointed me terribly with their inability to help me properly document the “Hey Brad…Not Brad” mania of last April. So this time, I am giving you all a choice of two recent paragons of commercial ROFLness, and will resume my standing offer of $15 for the submitting of either (and, say, $25 for the both). Based on past experience, if this is something you actually know how to do, it should take you like an hour, and with the current state of the world, can you really afford to turn down a job that pays $25 / hr right now? If I can’t coax a little assistance out of my readers on this one, I might have to relocate this blog to a Usenet newsgroup or something.

The first one is from that atrocious set of Holiday Inn commercials featuring Philip Baker Hall as a professor with an apparently very low ethical price tag, teaching his students about business by serving as a shill for Holiday Inn at every possible opportunity. The Cal Ripken one is the worst of the bunch, not the least because the tenuous baseball connection has guaranteed it exposure throughout the MLB playoffs. Mostly, though, it’s just lazy–all right, I suppose every girl grows up wanting to marry Cal Ripken, but who would want to be nicknamed “Bob,” exactly? But I’m utterly smitten with the “ssssSNAKE EYYYYYES?!?!?” guy, for some reason. His sneer, his eyebrows, his false sense of braggadocio…I must have them in .gif form, with “ssssSNAKE EYYYYYES?!?!?” flashing under it.

The second one is from the recent series of Microsoft commercials, the ones they’re hoping will bail out the company after the brilliant but commercially disastrous SeinGate ads. They’ll never come close to living up to that campaign again for me, but these are still somewhat clever, undeniably compelling and persuasive commercials, despite the fact that I couldn’t be less invested in the Mac / PC debate (and that I still can’t believe that isn’t actually John Hodgeman at the beginning of those commercials). The cast of characters presented in these ads is a wide and diverse one, but my favorite has to be the shimmying black kid, who is apparently taking a break from soccer practice or something to gloat “I’m a PC, I’m a PC” while gliding about the field. You’re not gonna find too many customers cooler than that on TV–or on the internet, if he was to show up in .gif form with his signature phrase appearing under him.

So come on, do us both a favor and help me out here. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.

Posted in Commercial Break, Standing Offer | 1 Comment »

Don’t You Forget About Me: Eazy E – “Real Muthaphuckkin G’s” (1993)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 13, 2008

Should have known by now, Eazy Duz It

Huge, huge respect to the powers that be behind the marketing for Saints Row 2 for reminding me of this song’s existence in their recent ads for the game. I didn’t even know there was a Saints Row 1, personally, but their use of this song makes me tempted to actually play a non-Rock Band video game for the first time in who knows how long. What better, though to advertise a video game about gang warfare, than Eazy’s aural smackdown in his own escalating West Coast feud with Dr. Dre? Doesn’t matter that the lyrics are edited to be kept unspecific in the trailer–the song has become so inextricably tied with Eazy’s return fire that I don’t think I ever even heard the whole song until the 21st century, only hearing parts of it in clip shows detailing the bad blood between the two Gangsta Gangstas.

Of course, there’s a pretty good reason for why that is–“Real Muthaphuckkin G’s” isn’t particularly great. Everything about this song screams second-rate, especially when compared to a gem like Snoop and Dre’s first blow in the battle, “Dre Day.” The bass line is vaguely similar, but not as memorable, the synth hook is Dre G-Funk By Numbers but not nearly as catchy. The guest rappers on the song are Dresta and B.G. Knocc Out, whose careers never quite broke out the way Snoop’s did, and and who it seems likely Dre had never even heard of at the time the song came out (and really, what beef do these losers have with Dre anyways?) And the video is similarly tired, with the same stock South Central crowds, the same White Sox hat Dre wore (and what did these guys have against the Dodgers, anyway?) and a strange appearance from the Bizarro Eazy that appears in the DD vid, who Eazy and crew proceed to beat down in what would appear to be a very poetic case of self-loathing.

“Real Muthaphuckkin G’s” was not a pop hit, the video went nowhere, and by the time I started listening to music seriously in 1996, Eazy, then dead from AIDS, was most known to me as “the guy from the end of the video for ‘Tha Crossroads’.” But it did have one huge impact on the pop culture landscape: It introduced the public to the now old hat image of Dr. Dre, fresh from his days in 80s electro outfit World Class Wreckin’ Cru, in a shiny, tight dress, with a stethoscope lovingly draped around his neck.

The value of this picture is certainly not to be under-estimated. Dre, now somewhat notorious for his homophobia, has become heavily disenchanted with his early electro days (despite club hit “Surgery” being almost as awesome as anything he’d do later) that he’s now appeared to disavow the era completely.
When talking about the group in VH1’s recent NWA doc, he and fellow WCWC-turned-N.W.A. member DJ Yella seemed downirgh uncomfortable talking about those days, with Yella sheepishly submitting that they all used to be in some wack groups. But without having heard their music back in the 90s, I just assumed Eazy had gotten a good trick photo or Dre lookalike or something–I couldn’t believe such a hard dude would ever think glamming it up like this was OK. But it certainly seems like he dug it for a while, and thanks to the picture, his days at WCWC can never be completely forgotten. And if he had lived to fight another battle, he could’ve always pulled it out as an ace in the hole in case he got into a really heated one with Dre. “You tellin’ me I don’t pitch in for gas enough? Motherfucker, you OPTIONALLY WORE A DRESS AT LEAST ONE POINT IN YOUR LIFE. Don’t lecture me on shit.”

And anyway, despite the lack of greatness, I actually like this song pretty OK. It’s all second-hand news, obviously, but that heavy, creeping bass and synth-hook combination is still pretty fun to work with, and the way Eazy’s nasaly voice cruises on top of it shows why it’s a shame his solo areer never had the time (or the hits, I suppose) to really get off the ground. And for whatever reason, it sounds right at home soundtracking reckless gang violence in a computer-generated dystopian setting. It’s certainly no “Dre Day,” but I’ll take it over more contemporary retaliation songs like Nas’s “Ether” or Fat Joe’s “Fuck 50” any day. If we got to see Jay-Z’s early “Hawaiian Sophie” days in the Nas vid, or embarassing high school photos of 50 Cent with a Jheri curl in Cam’Ron’s, then maybe we’d have something to talk about.

Posted in Don't You Forget About Me, Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Who ARE Those Guys? The Tantalizing Enigma of the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 10, 2008

Angels: Still a suicide squeeze away from being interesting

The Phillies had a fairly glorious win tonight in game 1 of the NLCS, with the team’s two most badly slumping hitters (Burrell and Utley) now officially looking back on track and the team’s ace (Hamels) now officially looking like…well, an ace, without any of the qualifications he might’ve needed (can’t handle pressure starts, always breaks down by season’s end,  gets fucked by big power hitters) just a month ago. But in the aftermath, I feel more like talking about the team on the losing end–a team I find more interesting than anyone seems to really give them credit for being, so much so that I can’t even wait another four of five games to write about in the hopes that I can make a Eugoogly out of the article. The Phils could use the attention being diverted elsewhere anyways.

When talking about the Los Angeles Dodgers in this post-season, one invariably must talk about their recently-acquired superstar and media lightning rod Manny Ramirez. This is, naturally, not without reason–Manny’s controversy-soaked booting from Beantown and the subsequent near-historic tear he went on once displaced to the West Coast is the most obvious and easily marketed story to emerge from Dodgers Stadium this season. But to me, it might be the least interesting. More interesting to me, for instance, would be the fact that the Dodgers are currently sturcturing their lineup around a whole bunch of dudes that few non-baseball nerds outside of LA had even heard of this time last year. And they are doing this while a veritable 21st Century Baseball Hall of Fame hides in the reserves.

Picture it’s 2003. Someone tells you that in five years, a team that has the services of Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, Angel Berroa, Greg Maddux, Estaban Loiaza, Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny at their disposal will make a deep playoff run. Not only would you not be surprised, your mind would probably boggle at the possibilities. This is a group of players that, as of 2003, had amassed between them:

  • One MVP award
  • Two Rookie of the Year awards
  • Four Cy Young awards (as well as a second place and third place finish that very year)
  • Two batting titles
  • Two stolen base titles
  • About 700 home runs and 500 wins
  • 21 All-Star Game apperances
  • Two rings from that year’s World Series

Sounds like the makings of a championship contender, no? Compare them to a team like the ’08 Phillies, that has maybe a half-dozen past-or-present star-caliber players on it, and there couldn’t be much of a doubt as to who would be the series favorite, could there?

And indeed, the Dodgers have been cited as the series favorite by just about anyone who thinks their opinion matters. But the truly remarkable thing is that despite having all these sluggers and gunners on their roster, not a single one of them is on either the team’s starting lineup or their starting rotation. Some of them (Kent, Garciaparra) are coming off the bench, some of them (Maddux) are coming out of the pen, some kind of sucked (Berroa, Pierre), some were injured (Schmidt), some kind of sucked and then got injured (Penny, Jones), and one was deemed useless enough to get released straight up (Loaiza). But barring a pinch-hit or middle-relief miracle, none of them will be mentioned when discussing the 2008 Dodgers post-season.

Has there ever been a team that had this big a collection of wasted talent, and still turned out to be a possible Series contender? In my limited experience, the closest thing I can think of is last season’s Dallas Mavericks, who had faded glories Jason Terry, Juwan Howard, Eddie Jones, Jamaal Magloire and Jerry Stackhouse all coming off the bench (Bill Simmons: “Ladies and gentlemen, your 1999 Eastern Conference All-Stars!”) But there are two differences, I think–for one, it seems unlikely that anyone would have thought in 1999 that eight years later, all these NBA dudes (none of whom except Stackhouse were ever anything but second-tier to begin with) would still be producing, while in ’03, players like Nomar and Andruw were still thought by some to be on the track to hall-of-fame careers, and players like Penny and Berroa were still on the rise.

The other big difference, and the one I find particularly compelling, is that all the deadweight and uninspired play eventually took their toll on the Mavs, who were undone by the youth and burgeoning talent of the Hornets in the first round last year. But the Dodgers have stayed strong because amidst all the injuries, the bad contracts, and the flame-outs, they managed to launch a legitimate youth movement simultaneously. Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton and Clayton Kershaw, all 26 or under and none with more than three seasons in the big leagues, managed to form a solid team foundation that should be potent for years to come. Without Manuelito’s contributions they might not make the playoffs, but at the very least, they’re far less of an embarrassment than the Detroit Tigers, whose has-been stars all mostly managed to at least contribute a little.

It’s not often that you see a team that can manage to be both the Yankees and the Rays in a single season, with a worse regular season than both but with arguably greater playoff hopes than either, but the Dodgers somehow managed to swing it. And speaking of the Yankees, how the hell did Joe Torre end up presiding over this mess the way he did? I thought he was supposed to be the crochety old “Players’ Manager,” favoring his proven vets over the green young’ns? Says Baseball Prospectus: “Torre could have the next Mike Schmidt at Triple-A, and he would still give Nomar Garciaparra just one more week to find his stroke at third base.” Yet here we are in the post-season, where Veteran Experience should be paramount, and Torre’s playing certified nobody Blake DeWitt at 2nd while Jeff Kent grumbles on the bunch. Has Torre really been as morphed by LA as those State Farm commercials claim he has?

I’m certainly hoping the rest of the NLCS is chock-full of games like tonight’s, but I gotta admit, I can think of worse baseball fates than the Dodgers advancing to the fall classic. Objectively speaking, the Phils’ obvious delineaton between the great, good, fair and subpar players on its team just can’t compare to the glorious contradictions of this ass-backwards ballclub.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap | 3 Comments »

Something’s Always Wrong: Apologies, Paris Hilton

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 8, 2008

House of Wax: Still terrible

Tonight, as many of you may well know, begins the Jewish holiday known as Yom Kippur. As we all spend the day looking back on the year that was and atoning for the sins we have commited over the last 12 months, I figure that now is as good a time as any to make amends for one of the cheap shots this blog has taken over that time period–namely, at socialite/actress/rebel without a pause Paris Hilton. In an article I wrote last August about the five celebrity deaths that I believe would devestate the country, I included Ms. Hilton in the tally, because

she is the one celebrity for which just about anyone in America can feel like a more productive member of society by comparison. If you put stamps and return addresses on your mail today, and put the little mailbox flag up for the postman, you can already feel like you’ve done more than Miss Hilton will do all day. She’s also generous enough not to confuse people (well, most people) by making it seem like she’s trying particularly hard with any of her movies, TV cameos or albums, leaving America to feel as smug and superior as it likes upon the sight of the vacant-eyed starlet. Without her, who do we evaluate ourselves against?

Admittedly, Paris’s inclusion was a bit of a scramble on my part to round out an even five on the list. Nonetheless, it seems fairly unlikely that I ever could have predicted her involvement in anything like the two Paris for Fake President ads that have surfaced in the months since. In case you’ve missed them, the first one was created in response to a John McCain ad portraying Barack Obama as more of a celebrity in the vein of, say, Paris Hilton, than as a deserving presidential candidate. Ms. Hilton, whose family was a contributor to McCain’s campaign, took umbrage at the aspersion, and with help from director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights), created an ad of her own. In it, she pretended to take McCain’s (“that wrinkly, white-haired guy”) use of her image in his ads as a personal endorsement for her own presidential campaign, using the opportunity to discuss her own platforms for the position.

The video received the predictable net buzz, a less-predictable amount of response from non-fake politicians (Nancy Pelosi on McCain’s involvement in the brouhaha: “Of course they want to talk about Paris Hilton. Would they want to talk about why they have the worst record of job creation in America?”), and now even a sequel video. Paris’s second campaign ad features President Bartlet himself, Martin Sheen, as an advisor to Paris in the art of fake presidency. Now I’m just sort of hoping that Paris doesn’t string a couple more of these together until she gets enough fake-buzz to launch an actual meta-presidential campaign–I registered as a democrat earlier this week, but if the Internet or Pop Culture parties actually put forth Ms. Hilton as an official candidate, it’d be hard not to be true to my roots.

In any event, I can’t help but be fairly impressed by the inroads Paris has made here towards making herself a useful member of our society. For one thing, these videos are actually pretty fucking funny–the first one especially, as it turns out that Paris actually has a pretty decent knack for political satire. It probably shouldn’t be too surprising, since Paris has spent so much of her time in the public eye seeming to perfect the art of expressing as little emotion as possible (unless boredom counts, I suppose), which tends to hurt her performances in dramatic fare such as The Hottie and the Nottie, but is without a doubt a boon when the key to your performance is your ability to keep a straight face. Still, I thought the temptation to mug for the camera, or the inability to convincingly speak long sentences of thought, would be too great for Paris. My mistake.

Perhaps even more impressive, though, is that Paris has actually managed to sneak a couple legitimate stances on relevant current events in there. In the first, she posits that a compromise between Obama and McCain’s positions on energy (the former wanting to develop new technologies and the latter wanting to drill off-shore) would be the most logical, and in the second, she theorizes that banks might be better served lowering inflated interest rates for economically hurt home owners. Well, “legitimate” might be a stretch–I’m certainly not qualified to probably grade the merits of her arguments, and she isn’t extremely forthcoming with the details of her plans anyway–but they sound surprisingly logical and even somewhat insightful for videos that should be all about yuks and frivolity. Plus, perhaps they’ll have the same galvanizing effect on the Hills-obsessed girls of today that Rage Against the Machine (was supposed to have) had on angsty teen dudes during the Clinton administration.

So, Paris, for my underestimation of your contributions to society, be they comedic or political, I ask for your forgiveness. I’ll dedicate an Al Chet to you tomorrow in services.

Posted in Something's Always Wrong | Leave a Comment »

What the World Needs Now: The Tony Reali of Political Debates

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 7, 2008

Happy trails, factual inaccuracy

It’s a shallow, and likely oft-made observation, but it always bowls me over just how little difference there is between political news coverage and sports news coverage. There have been so many times since the primaries that I’ve walked from my room with ESPN on the TV to my roommate watching CNN in our living room, and barely noticed a difference. The tickers look the same, the post-game discussions sound the same, and the redundancy is similarly egregious. It’s probably not coincidental, and I’m sure both have made changes over the years to be more like the other, but it’s still fairly jarring. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing–in fact, rather than wonder what steps should be made to differentiate the two, however, I ask in what ways they need to be even more similar. And the most obvious answer to me is the need for a Tony Reali figure in political debate.

Now, fans of rush hour ESPN might assume that by this, I mean that debates need a hands-on moderator like the one Reali serves as on Around the Horn. And indeed, it is tempting to picture last week’s Biden / Palin debate with more third-party feedback than that hypnotic graph on the bottom of the screen, supposedly tracing the second-by-second approval ratings of undecided male and female voters to subjects like gay marriage and third graders staying up late. Imagine this debate with Reali there, adding and subtracting points from the candidates’ tallies in real time, making snarky remarks in response to tired or unpersuasive arguments, and finger perpetually on the mute button in case one of them goes completely off the rails. Can’t pretend like that wouldn’t make for more compelling television, can we?

But rather than be that drastic, I’d say it would suffice just to have a Reali-type figure based on his role in Pardon the Interruption, in which he plays the fact-checking Stat Boy, appearing at the end of the program to correct inaccurate assertions made by hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. My friends and I have often joked about how we wished we had a Reali to close out our pop culutre and statistic-heavy conversations, settling debates by offering helpful tidbits like “Actually, Anna Paquin was only the THIRD youngest actor to ever be nominated for an Oscar–Haley Joel Osment was 11, and Justin Henry was all of eight when he got his first nod…and Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ only spent nine weeks on top of the charts, a week less than the duration of Olivia Newton John’s ‘Physical’.”

So imagine what he could do for a presidential debate? During each of these, a whole slue of stat-related assertions get thrown out for which most people couldn’t possibly have a clue of the actual accuracy. Some might say that the candidates purposefully take advantage of that ignorance to throw out their own crooked numbers, but really, could you even blame them if they just couldn’t keep all the stats straight? So why not have a crack team in the CNN research room to check the veracity of all the number-related assertions–maybe tape delay the debate 15-20 minutes if they need a little time to do so–and then at the end of the debate, one of the candidates calls out “Time to find out where we messed up. Reali!

“Actually, Senator McCain only voted against alternative energy 15 times, and a couple of those were as riders on other bills…and the average schoolteacher now makes 35-40 thousand dollars a year, not the 30-35 that Senator Obama suggests…and this is actually only the fifth most important election our viewers will vote in in their lifetimes, behind 1984, 2000, 2020 and 2032…”

If the public gets statistical accountability in sports, they probably deserve it in politics too, I’d say.

Posted in What the World Needs Now | 5 Comments »

Fall ’08 Season TV Blitz, Day 7: Third Down for Dexter and Friday Night Lights

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 7, 2008

(Sunday, 9:00-10:00 PM, Showtime)

New Cast: Jimmy Smits

Where We’re At Now: After finishing up with Doakes, Lila and all the unpleasantness from season two, Dexter Morgan is a new man, at peace in his relationship with Rita, his past with his father, and his controversial predilections. His idyllic frame of mind is disrupted when, on a routine mission at the house of a murderous drug dealer, he finds the drug dealer struggling with a man he does not know, and Dex ends up killing the man in self defense while the drug dealer escapes. Turns out the man is not your typical scumbag at the end of Dexter’s knife, but the cop hero brother of the assistant district attorney (Smits), who does not take his brother’s slaying lightly. Meanwhile, Rita has a surprise announcement waiting for Dex…

Thoughts: More than any of the returning shows this season (well, of the decent ones anyway), I questioned the need for another season of Dexter. Season two avoided the sophomore slump and then some, making for some of the most scintillating TV of the decade at its peak. But it ended conveniently, unsatisfyingly and extremely uncovincingly, and with Dexter’s true nemesis of the first two seasons sadly out of the picture. Meanwhile, Dexter seemed pretty conclusive about not fighting what he is anymore, and to see him perpetually waffling on that would’ve been about as compelling as whether or not Meredith and McDreamy end up together at the end of this season of Grey’s. Unless the show was willing to have him get caught–an idea it toyed with tantalizingly last season, but ultimately didn’t have the stomach for–it seemed like there wasn’t much more of Dexter Morgan left to see.

Give the show credit, then, for throwing two potentially interesting wrenches into the mix. The show nearly forced Dexter to confront the possibility of having murdered an innocent when he didn’t know what to do with Doakes at the end of last season, but allowed Lila to off him without permission while Dexter just tut-tutted at her and pretended not to be glad for her assistance. We don’t know yet exactly what the deal with Dex’s latest victim is, but given his uneasy rapport with Smits (who still looks pissed off about Cane not becoming the next Sopranos), clearly the pangs of conscience might be getting to him for the first time. Meanwhile, the idea of there being a little Morgan running around in nine months is certainly one rife with possibility–can Dexter stand to take responsibility for another life, when he’s taken so many of his own? Cheesy, I guess, but provocative nonetheless.

Still Hot / Worth Sticking With?: Too early to call, but for there to even be a possibility of forward progress after exhausting so much in the first two seasons is another credit on the show’s eventual Hall of Fame resume.

Friday Night Lights
(Wednesday, 9:00-10:00 PM, DirecTV)

New Cast: None Permanent

Where We’re At Now: Coach and the Panthers is forced to go into a quasi-rebuilding year after the injury to Smash Williams eliminated them from title contention the year prior. Smash attempts to get back to full-strength for college, while Riggins takes over his role as starting tailback and Saracen fights off pressure from the school’s hot new freshman QB prospect, and his rich, manipulative father. Landry and Tyra are on a relationship break while the latter frets about getting into college and not ending up like her mom and sis, and Tim and Lyla are back in full effect, but Lyla worries about displaying it in public. Meanwhile, Tami has taken over principal duties at school, and discoveres that taking care of the whole school isn’t so easy, especially when so much of the time, energy and money is devoted to the Panthers.

Thoughts?: I might’ve thought that Dexter shouldn’t or wouldn’t come back, but I figured there was no way that Friday Night Lights would even have the possibility of coming back. After NBC politely ran out the clock on the season and two-thirds of the show that they ordered to air, despite perpetually sub-mediocre ratings and a truly mystifying lack of Emmy consideration, it seemed inevitable that the channel would wash its hands of the show, which would collect its consolation prize of Brilliant But Cancelled cult status. So sure did the show’s demise seem that I even prematurely Eugooglized it last February. But in a comeback even more improbable than the Panthers’ come-from-behind State victory in the S1 finale, in comes the DirecTV channel (which I’m still not convinced even exists beyond this show) to resurrect the show’s third season, freeing it from the commercial burdens and expectations of a major network timeslot in the process.

So it’s hard to be too picky about a show where, from here on out, every episode is pretty much a bonus. Not that there’s too much to be picky about in the first place, though–going back to Dillon in the fall is like all the great parts about going back to school (seeing your friends and acquaintances again, catching up on the summer gossip) without actually having to go back to school. Most things are pretty status quo at the moment, though Tami as principal is certianly going to lead to some interesting splits on the unified Taylor front, as she continues to fight for school supplies and education benefits to the detriment of Coach’s team (and brings up the question, for maybe the first time in the show’s run, of just how important High School football really should be in Texas).

The show comes into trickier territory for the first time with regards to the graduating class of ’08–namely, Jason Street and Smash Williams. Street was nowhere to be found this episode, after spending last season quititng the Panthers and then knocking up a waitress in a semi-immaculate conception, but Smash is still in the picture (albeit only as a guest star now), with coach helping him try to regain his speed and his confidence after last season’s potentially career-ending injury. Keeping Smash around for the time being isn’t necessarily a problem, but once characters start hovering around a show when they have no real reason to be there, that’s when a show is closer to its end than its beginning. Here’s hoping the creators realize this soon enough, cut the cord with Jason and Smash, and start to rebuild around a new crop.

Still Hot / Worth Watching?: Most definitely. With the official retirement of The Wire, Friday Night Lights is rivaled only by Dexter and Mad Men as the natural heir to the Best Drama Alive throne, and season three shows no sign of slippage thusfar.

Posted in Fall '08 TV Blitz | 1 Comment »

Fall ’08 Season TV Blitz, Day 6: The No-Brainer Roundup (Worst Week, Gary Unmarried, The Mentalist, Knight Rider)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 5, 2008

Worst Week
(Mondays, 9:30-10:00 PM, CBS)

Cast: Kyle Bornheimer, Erinn Hayes, Nancy Lenehan, Jay Malone, Kurtwood Smith

Premise: Sam (Bornheimer) has recently knocked up and betrothed himself to Mel (Hayes), and plans to tell her parents (Lenehan & Smith) about it. However, he is about to have…

Thoughts: Well, at least there’s no laugh track. Apparently Worst Week is based on a British programme called The Worst Week of My Life (always with the brevity, those Yankee TV execs), but in America we already have a very well-established precedent for the Everything That Can Go Wrong Will Over Weekend With In-Laws setup, and you’d think Meet the Parents had more or less closed the book on that plot frame. Apparently, though, CBS thinks America will want to see horrific confluences of circumstances befall a relatively genial and well-meaning individual every Monday night, though, and in the season premiere alone, Sam shows up late and naked to his in-laws’ house, unknowingly pisses on Mom’s roast goose, knocks Dad unconscious and mistakenly informs Mom and Mel that he’s dead, and sets Dad’s portrait on fire. Sadism is alive and well on broadcast TV.

It could be worse. Bornheimer makes for a generally likeable, relatable protagonist, and he resists the temptation to just ape Stiller’s freak-out antics. Meanwhile, no one makes for a better no-nonsense hardass than Kurtwood Smith, he of That 70s Show, Robocop and Dead Poets’ Society fame, and even if the show hasn’t really let him loose–yet–the always pervasive threat of his stern disapproval gives the show a decent comedic tension. And, in all seriousness, the lack of laugh track really does help. But how could they possibly keep this show going for more than a couple episodes? How much bad shit can you really watch happen to one guy before you say “fuck this, I wonder who got voted off Dancing With the Stars?” And how many episodes can they really stretch one week out into? Are there going to be dream episodes? Or will the show eventually evolve ino Worst Month/Season/Year/Existence?

Hit Potential: Well, the critics seem to think it’s decent enough, and it’s gotten OK ratings. But can you really imagine this lasting 22 episodes? A second season? Dear lord.

Worth Watching: Not unless you think Flirting With Disaster is the pinnacle of screwball comedy. And even then probably not.

Gary Unmarried
(Wednesday, 8:30-9:00 PM, CBS)

Cast: Jay Mohr, Paula Marshall, Ryan Malgarini, Laura Marano, Jaime King, Ed Begley Jr.

Premise: House painter Gary (Mohr) has recently divorced from wife Allison (Marshall), with whom he had two kids, awkward Tom (Malgarini) and bookish Louise (Marano). Gary contemplates whether to turn a one-night stand with Vanessa (King) into a more long-term relationship, and Allison informs Gary that she’s engaged to their marriage counselor Dr. Krandall (Begley).

Thoughts?; Gary Unmarried, unsurprisingly, is a show as unsophisticated and groan-worthy as its title. It’s a laugh track-smothered, Two and a Half Men-piggybacking sitcom with twice as many yuks as the thankfully unrenewed Back to You packed into its first half-hour last season. With relatively little plot or basic situational comedy to speak of, the success of the show is basically dependent on how charming you find the rogueish Mohr to be. And to be fair, he is pretty charming–dating back to his Bob Sugar days in Jerry Maguire, Mohr has always had a knack for playing sleazy, snaky over-smilers, and here he plays one of his most unapologetic to date. Too bad TV shows generally require more than one character, because there’s not much support to be found elsewhere, even with Jump the Shark Queen Paula Marshall and good sport Ed Begley Jr. in tow.

Hit Potential?: Can I really say “none” with any sort of conviction? Ratings haven’t been off-the-wall yet in either direction, but a show as unambitious as this on a channel as unambitious as CBS could be on years before we even notice that it should’ve been cancelled in its first half-dozen episodes. Maybe it’ll at least finally cancel out the decade-long hit that Mohr’s career took after Paulie.

Worth Watching: Nope. But y’know what was kinda underrated? King’s Ransom. Wish that was on cable more.

The Mentalist

(Tuesday, 9:00-10:00 PM, CBS)

Cast: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Owain Yeoman, Tim Kang, Amanda Righetti

Premise: Patrick Jane (Baker) is a brilliant detective guy who used to pretend to be a psychic, until a serial killer took offense and disposed of his daughter and wife. He has a team and solves mysteries. You know his steez.

Thoughts?: I mean…really? I don’t demand much in the way of creativity from my CBS dramas, but can you try a little harder than The Mentalist? If you want to see a quirky, brilliant detective with a haunted past, there are already about a half-dozen DV-Rable shows with that exact plot description, most notably NBC’s excellent Life, one of the few pleasant surprises of last season. But you could forgive it if there was some sort of twist, something to make The Mentalist at least slightly distinguishable from the cookie-cutter copy of a show format that it seems. And while I guess Simon Baker (he of Land of the Dead and The Devil Wears Prada) is slightly more dashing than your average superhero of a TV detective, and it’s always nice to see the super-underrated Robin Tunney (The Craft, Empire Records, Cherish) and the super-hott Amanda Righetti (The O.C., Reuinion, North Shore) get work, there’s nothing else to work with here. Just a brilliant dude, doing brilliant shit, while everyone else sits around and marvels at his brilliance.  C’mon.

(You know what’s even worse? There are repeated instances in the show’s pilot where people ask Baker questions to the effect of “Who are you??” And not once–not once–does he turn around and proclaim, “I…AM THE MENTALIST!” I mean, seriously, if you’ve got a title like that…might as well work with it, right?)

Hit Potential: Undoubtedly. What else do CBS watchers have to do on Tuesday night?

Worth Watching?: Damn, I miss Reunion and North Shore. What happened to you, FOX?

Knight Rider
(Wednesday, 8:00-9:00 PM, NBC)

Cast: Justin Bruening, Deanna Russo, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Paul Campbell, Yancey Arias, Bruce Davison, voice of Val Kilmer


Thoughts?: It’s hard to know exactly what to say here. Seems like acting disappointed, surprised, annoyed or amused by the stale humor, surreal plotting and blank characterization of this 2008 update of the 80s Hoff/Daniels classic would all be inappropriate, or at least redundant. So instead, I’ll just say this: This show is exactly what you expect it will be. I’ll leave it at that.

Hit Potential?: About as much as the updated version of the show theme, which sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to The Saint (KILMER!!), has to be a radio hit.


Posted in Fall '08 TV Blitz | 5 Comments »

Eugoogly: Cub Fan Optimism

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 5, 2008

Well you better get ready for a brand new season

True story: I nearly wrote a playoff preview/prediction column for this blog. I actually wrote most of an Angels/Red Sox analysis before I realized three things:

  1. No one cares
  2. The MLB playoffs are kind of impossible to predict for anyone
  3. I was pretty tired anyways

But really, how can you say that the superiority between two baseball teams can be decided by a five-game series? It’s a 162 game season, one in which teams barely ever win even 2/3 of their games, and you think that a series that small between a 92 win team and an 88 win team is anything more than a coin toss?

The beauty of regular-season baseball is that you can’t rely on just one player or one hot streak–you have to have a full, balanced team, which plays consistently well over the course of an insane number of games. Which is why the Cubs and the Angels–two teams with depth at nearly every position, a uniformly strong starting rotation and well-stocked bullpens, despite having no obvious MVP candidates–were the two best teams in the regular season this year. Unsurprisingly, it’s also why they might be the first two teams to get bounced from the playoffs this year–because in a five-game series, depth and balance doesn’t really mean shit. Not that the Cubs couldn’t put out a pretty formidable starting nine, but the difference in ten regular-season wins comes from being able to play Reed Johnson in the outfield when Fukudome or Edmonds are slumping, of being able to trot out Ted Lilly as your 4th starter when Zambrano’s stuff is off, or to have Carlos Marmol to slip into your closer role while Kerry Wood is on the fritz–stuff that in such a small-sample series, doesn’t matter nearly as much.

Not that it isn’t a little eerie that both the Cubs and the Angels seem to be just a teensy, tiny, every so slightly bit…well, I’m not gonna say cursed, but maybe just predisposed to losing? The Cubs’ every-infielder-commiting-error thing in Game 2 was downright weird, as was the Angels seeming unwillingness to hit extra-base hits or put up extra-run innings in either of their first two. Everyone says that the Red Sox “have the Angels’ post-season number,” but what the hell does that even mean? It’s not like they’re really outplaying the Angels in any significant way, they just seem to be getting the breaks where the Halos aren’t. Is it really an issue of “mental toughness”? A cracking under the pressure? Or is it just that these teams have really bad fuckin’ luck? Hard to say, but I’ll generally pick the latter.

Anyway, point is, while I really do feel for Cubs fans, maybe they shouldn’t take this quite so hard. I know winning a World Series would be nice and all, but even with these dispiritng final games, can anyone really question that this was the best team in the National League this year? Yeah, history might not remember it as well as whoever wins the pennant, and lord knows I wouldn’t be too happy about the Phils getting swept (or losing in five, which is still an all-too-real possibility), but how mad or heartbroken can you really get at a team for losing three games out of five when, during the regular season, the Pirates could’ve beaten the Cubs three times out of five if a couple of breaks had just gone their way? The Boston Celtics could’ve played 20 best-of-five series with the Milwaukee Bucks last year and won 18 or 19 of ’em, if not all 20, but that’s just not the way baseball works.

It sucks that it hasn’t happened for the Cubs so long, and that shit certainly seems to break against them more often than not, but this is why having a cynical attitude about your long-suffering team might ultimately not be such a bad idea. But this year, Cub fans didn’t just hope for the best, they sort of expected it–going into the playoffs, the Wrigley faithful seemed to think that finally, the team was good enough to make a run at the World Series. Truth is, though, any year the Cubs made the playoffs was a year when they were good enough to make a run at the World Series–just ask the ’06 Cards, the ’02 Angels or the ’97 Marlins. Meanwhile, only a half-dozen times in the last 30 years has the team with the best regular-season record won the World Series, and the Cubs didn’t even have that. Just because they padded their regular season with a couple extra wins and could put out a marginally better roster than they did last year certainly wasn’t reason enough for the fanbase to assume that this season, the odds were significantly in their favor.

Or if you don’t buy that, how about this–even before game one, even without any sort of history or curse, the Cubs might not have even been the better team in their series. Yes, I’ve already said that the Cubs were the best team in the NL this regular season, and yes, the Dodgers didn’t even have one of the ten best records in baseball this year, but keep in mind that they spent nearly their entire season without leadoff man Rafael Furcal or closer Takashi Saito, most of their season without team MVP Manny Ramirez, and all but the last couple months without a full-power Derek Lowe. Now that all those parts are in full working order, and the team doesn’t have to resort to young’ns like Clayton Kershaw or Andy LaRoche, washed-up Plan B’s like Angel Berroa or Juan Pierre or sudden team albatrosses like Andruw Jones or Brad Penny (and imagine what the team would have been like if those two had bothered to show up), it’s entirely possible that this is now the strongest team in all the National League.

For the Cubs, it seems glib to say that there’s always next year (or, as so many oh so clever TV pundits have put it, there’s always the next hundred years), but you know what? In this sport, there is always next year. There’s no reason to think that the Cubs won’t be in the playoff hunt come next October, and then they’re just a couple rolls of the dice away from the World Series they’ve been craving for so long. And when it happens, don’t go in expecting a World Series (something that I definitely think won’t happen again this lifetime), and don’t go in expecting the team to fall on its face. Don’t expect anything at all. My dad put it best: In other sports, what you do in the playoffs is what matters. In baseball, you just have to get to the playoffs. Expect anything else, and you really only have yourself to blame.

R.I.P. Cub Fan Optimism, 2007-2008

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