Archive for November, 2009

Monday Morning Quaterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 7

Maybe it was a lucky break for Joseph Gordon-Levitt that last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was so universally acknowledged as terrible, because by comparison, his own perfectly decent gig began to look positively transcendent. After a rocky start with a ridiculously overlong and poorly written bit involving Obama in China, Joseph Gordon-Levitt took the stage for his monologue, an elaborate and impressively faithful reproduction of the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number from Singin’ in the Rain.

The monologue musical number has become just as much of a go-to in recent years as the “questions from the audience” bit, but if it’s done well, it provides a nice dose of variety into the mostly-comedic proceedings. This variation wasn’t particularly funny, but for me, the monologue stands with the music performances as a time when SNL doesn’t particularly need to be funny as long as it’s entertaining, and Gordon-Levitt’s physical dexterity — his ability to do back flips off of walls on live TV — was actually sort of thrilling, not a word I would apply to many other monologues.

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1 comment November 22nd, 2009

Gavin Rossdale on Criminal Minds: Speaking of awkward special guest stars

As if James Franco’s giggle-inducing, suspicion-arousing guest spot on General Hospital wasn’t enough, here’s another weirdly out-of-place guest star. Gavin Rossdale (the singer of crunchy nineties “alternative” band Bush, the dweller of Gwen Stefani’s shadow and possessor of unfashionably long hair) recently did a guest spot on a show you never hear mentioned on this humble blog, Criminal Minds. This happened a couple of weeks ago, but I can’t imagine you’d actually want to watch the show. So no biggie.

On the show, Gavin plays a guy who is possibly a murderer. And possibly a vampire. But definitely some sort of gothic singer for a cover band. It sort of reminds me of a basic cable remake of The Crow.

It’s the nineties plus vampires plus murder minus dignity.

Go over to VideoGum to see him perform Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Do them a favor — they could use the boost in traffic that our link will provide.

November 21st, 2009

Friday Night Lights: A Sort of Homecoming

Last week on Friday Night Lights, Tim became an assistant coach for the East Dillon Lions, while Coach struggled to scrape together funds for his scruffy team. Matt learned that art is about being a miserable, unbathed recluse, which understandably freaked Julie out. Buddy Garrity went off the reservation re: the Panthers under the odious thumb of Revoltin’ Joe McCoy. Vince, Landry, and Luke continued to flail about on the ragtag Lions team. And now, on to episode four, Dillon: A New Hope.

We've got spirit, yes we do! And barbecue!

We've got spirit, yes we do! And barbecue!

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3 comments November 19th, 2009

HIMYM: Thank God That’s Over

Phew! It was dicey for a while there, but we pulled through it okay. I’m talking about the Barney-Robin romance on How I Met Your Mother.

That was legen...wait for it...darily awful.

This relationship played to the worst elements of everybody’s expectations for this show. I was so not into it, I didn’t even look up and see if fans came up with a cutesy, combined name for them. (Brobin?)

First of all, HIMYM has always been prone to Friends comparisons. Which, to be honest, is fair. Just replace HIMYM’s bar with a coffee shop and its New York location for a fictionalized, la-la land named New York City and you’ve got Friends. However, when people talk about liking Friends, no one is talking about the years where they’re all paired off with each other. Who could forget Chandler and Monica’s whirlwind relationship? Everybody can. And did. Because it was boring, and weird, and soapy, and the show¬† was better when they were all just friends.

Second, the Barney-Robin relationship fell victim to the same problems that all will-they-or-won’t-they TV relationships have. You can’t string along fans, who presumably want these things to happen, indefinitely, and yet giving the characters all they could want and desire is totally boring. Characters are much more interesting when they’re lovelorn and longing, and it’s best to keep them entertained with a rotating series of relationship red shirts than another character that fans are invested in. Otherwise, you get caught in a Veronica/Logan situation, where screeching fans howled that Rob Thomas didn’t know what he was doing whenever they were apart just because it made them personally happy to see them together, ignoring the fact that the storylines were more compelling when both characters are single.

Finally, didn’t it seem that, when Barney and Robin were dating, that was the entire focus of the show? What happened to Ted? Or aspects of Barney’s and Robin’s lives that didn’t involve their romantic pairing? Eventually, I just got sick of hearing about it.

Thankfully, it looks like the show did, too. Which frees up room for the parts of HIMYM that I like, such as Marshall’s brilliant rant about frozen waffles. Not only was hilarious, but it was true, too.

Now, if we could only get rid of that meeting-the-mother conceit, the show would be perfect.

15 comments November 17th, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 6

I’m torn between sighing about the continuing poor quality of this fall’s SNL episodes and celebrating Jason Sudeikis. It wasn’t a banner episode for him, or anyone, but was certainly front and center in a lot of sketches. Watching this utility player grab a bunch of screen time was more fun than thinking about how host January Jones looked vaguely ill at ease through most of the episode, or that this November’s run of episodes has been particularly lazy, and how much it will suck if Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn’t handed some decent material next week.

So, right, Sudeikis: what a versatile and funny guy, even when the material isn’t anywhere near there. He had one of the better of this season’s obligatory okay political cold opens, because the writers seem to actually enjoy writing goofy stuff for Joe Biden to say, as opposed to the ginger tiptoeing they do around Obama. He got to show off a decent Jimmy Stewart impression in a Rear Window sketch that I otherwise don’t want to talk about ever again because it was super-duper terrible. He went for stupid-enthusiasm in the now-officially-overplayed Jon Bovi bit on Update. And he did his flummoxed-straight-man thing twice: first, and to lesser effect, as the lead anchor of the news program where Kristen Wiig’s barely-closeted lesbian reporter attempts to interview extremely attractive women, one of those things that was funny once but because Kristen Wiig does it, must be revived at least once a year. He played semi-straight again for the final sketch of the night, one of the only decent ones, where he cloudwatched with a sheltered female companion. I’d link to that sketch here, but it’s one of the few that didn’t make it on to NBC’s SNL site.

In that (minor but funny) cloud sketch, January Jones was cast as a strange girl that Sudeikis put up with because she’s hot; she also played the object of Wiig’s affections in that reporter sketch, making this the second-most reused trope of the night. These sketches basically built around the fact that January Jones is attractive vaguely resembled the writers’ fumbling of Megan Fox in the season premiere, but they were overshadowed by the most-reused trope of the night, which, oddly, had January Jones playing the epitome of old-time glamour. The monologue was, as expected, a riff on her Mad Men role, fine; but then she was playing Grace Kelly in that sketch that, again, I’d really rather not think about; and the night’s other actually-good sketch “A Lady’s Guide to Throwing a Party,” had her playing a fifties/sixties housewife.

Sometimes the term “lazy” is bandied about so often by critics, including myself, in reference to SNL, that the description begins to feel, well, kinda lazy in and of itself. But I can’t think of another way to describe the thought process that goes: “January Jones, oh yeah, she’s on Mad Men and she’s pretty, so I guess we have to write a bunch of sketches where she’s in the fifties and sixties, and a bunch more where she’s pretty.” I mean, January Jones isn’t actually Grace Kelly or even Gwyneth Paltrow. She doesn’t actually have a particular reputation you need to play around with. Chick was in American Pie 3.

Of course, some writers would apparently take that to mean that they should be writing sketches about her being in American Wedding. Instead of sketches that are, you know, funny first and pop-culture-related second if at all. I’m usually quick to defend the show for its built-in hit-and-miss quality and degree of difficulty, but yikes, these last few episodes have been making it pretty difficult.

Also, the Black Eyed Peas were there. Not good.

Episode Grade: C-

2 comments November 16th, 2009

Gay or not?: Chris Colfer does the hokey pokey in and out of the closet

Chris ColferYesterday, Glee co-star Chris Colfer gave an interview to USA Today wherein he half-heartedly took a step back into the closet. All at once, Colfer’s comments were confusing, inconsistent and, to me, maddening.

Let me backtrack.

For those unfamiliar, on Glee Colfer plays the designer label-wearing, “Single Ladies”-choreographing, gayer-than-Christmas character Kurt. Kurt is one of the funniest characters on the show — lovingly and sensitively written — and Colfer does a great job playing him. He’s totally flamboyant, but the character doesn’t come across as minstrel-y. All in all, Kurt is a great role model for flamboyant young kids.

So, being that Kurt is the gayest character on the gayest show on network television, one would be tempted to make assumptions about whether the actor playing the role is gay himself. Colfer has been asked about it before and publications like After Elton and The Advocate have matter-of-factly discussed him as being out. He’s said a couple times that he wasn’t out in high school because people are “killed” for it in his hometown.

So, it seemed bizarre and inconsistent that in the USA Today interview he decided to play coy. From the article:

Playing an openly gay kid means fielding questions about his own sexuality, which Colfer doesn’t address.

“I try to keep up a mystery. As much as I give away of my personal life, the less people will believe me as other characters. I try to be private about it. It is what it is,” Colfer says with a shrug.

This drives me nuts.

I don’t want to be too hard on Colfer. Even today, coming out is always hard and you have to remember that he’s basically just a kid (born in 1990, for the love of God). And I certainly can’t imagine coming out to the entire country when I was 19.

Still, this is the latest in a troubling pattern of behavior by gay celebrities. Whether you’re Michelle Rodriguez or Ricky Martin or Sean Hayes or Anderson Cooper, dodging the gay question has been a time-honored tradition. However, the idea of not only dodging the gay question, but actively aspiring to achieve a sort of glass closet mystique strikes me as willfully and actively dishonest.

The most recent high-profile case of this phenomenon was American Idol’s Adam Lambert, who danced around the gay question for ages despite the fact that he was pretty much openly gay before the show. There were photos of him, essentially, shitting glitter and neon glowsticks. No one was fooled, but it kept people talking. And then he had his big Rolling Stone article and the beaten dead horse of Lambert’s sexuality was finally buried.

Now, Colfer’s decision to intentionally obfuscate (and self-contradict) his sexual orientation is both disappointing and aggravating. It’s aggravating because it reinforces the idea that being gay is something that should be hidden. “It’s none of your business” is something you say when you’re caught cheating on your wife or if you’re trying to cover up a blemish with the law. “Yeah, I’m gay. What’s so interesting about that?” is the attitude that Lambert and Colfer should be expressing. No one would ever play coy about their national origin or religion (unless, maybe, you’re a creepy Scientologist).

As for his concern about getting roles — I can understand why actors in particular would be hesitant to discuss their homosexuality. Getting roles is a cut-throat business and casting directors are fickle. But, let’s face it, actors like Chris Colfer and Sean Hayes are never going to be the leads in heterosexual romantic comedies (Other actors like, say, T.R. Knight might be able to get away with it. It’s just a fact). No one is ever going to say “Well, we can’t get Gyllenhaal, somebody get Chris Colfer’s people on the phone.”

It may not feel good to be limited to certain roles and put in a specific box, but that’s all Hollywood is — boxes.¬† Actors are typecast all the time based on their race, their age or their level of attractiveness. Steve Buscemi might want to get the same roles as George Clooney, but it’s never going to happen. (It’s not the end of the world, though. The rules are definitely bendable. Neil Patrick Harris’ role as Barney on How I Met Your Mother works so well because he isn’t traditionally masculine.) Colfer happens to be baby-faced, wirey and fey. Confirming or denying his sexual orientation isn’t going to change a thing.

I’m not advocating a witch hunt to “out” anyone in Hollywood (politicians, however, are a different story). Beating down an actor’s door to force them out of the closet doesn’t do anything but imply that they’ve been “exposed” as being gay. But as long as there people in Maine voting to strip away the rights of committed couples and a complete ban on gay people in the military, it’s important to for everyone to be out and unashamed.

This coy business isn’t cute. It’s counterproductive.

16 comments November 12th, 2009

Music: The XX

As you begin to circle the drain of 30 (a true “what have you done with yourself” sort of age), a lot of things begin to make you feel old. Rock concerts where you keep anxiously shifting because of your lower back pain. Not recognizing most of the people on the MTV Video Music Awards. Feeling the urge to buy property.

One more thing that will make you feel old is The XX. This British co-ed quartet is all baby fat and smooth skin, but they’ve made one of the most sophisticated albums of the year. Whenever I listen to their self-titled debut I’m in shock that this record was made by kids who have barely entered their twenties. Kids, I tell you.

The XX makes remarkably restrained, darkly sensual songs. Singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims trade verses like morbid pillow talk against the backdrop of mellow beats and clean electric guitars. It’s subdued music, but it’s not suitable for the background — it’s music for a variety of nighttime activities.

This is the video for their song Crystalized.

1 comment November 12th, 2009

Friday Night Lights: In the Skin of a Lion

Last week on Friday Night Lights, Coach was mocked for forfeiting the first game of the season. Matt met his new “mentor,” the pantless metalworking artist. Tami encountered friction with the Panther boosters and the Dillon students when she turned in fancy running back Luke Cafferty for lying about the district his parents’ home is in. Landry and Vince took a leadership role in uniting the East Dillon Lions, and Tim joined the Lions as kind of an assistant coach. He also moved in with Alicia Witt and her teenage daughter, whose name we think is Becky. Now, this week!

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4 comments November 12th, 2009

James Franco on General Hospital: You could only wish grad school was like this

Whenever I think about the possibility of going to grad school, I always think about the inevitable realities of feeling old in the middle of a classroom filled with nubile recent college grads and dealing with assholes on group projects. Apparently life is easier for James Franco, though.

Because getting an MFA in creative writing wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Franco is launching a much-publicized guest stint on General Hospital. He’s an “artist whose canvas is murder.” F’reals.

Here’s the promo for his upcoming role.

Also, I’m going to make a declaration here. James Franco: not hot. Opinions?

November 11th, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Seasom 35, Episode 5

At fourteen years old and eight feel tall, Taylor Swift became, I assume, one of the youngest and most towering celebrities to ever serve as both host and musical guest of Saturday Night Live. This should not be such rarified air; if this chick can do it, they should occasionally force others to pull double-duty, possibly against their will. For example, the upcoming Joseph Gordon-Levitt episode could feature JGL musical numbers instead of Dave Matthews Band, and when Beck returns for the tenth or fifteenth time, he should have to do a monologue. Let Taylor Swift’s la-la-musical-monologue pave the way, because it was way better than her actual songs lamenting how well she could service a nondescript boy if he’d only notice her.

Her sing-songy introduction to the show wasn’t hilarious, but it was sort of cute and, more importantly, in tune with her sensibilities. As it turned out, Swift fell into a pretty broad SNL host category: very game, not necessarily all that polished, and yet surprisingly good at a few odd impressions like Kristen Stewart and Shakira (I’ve never really seen that Kate Minus Jon Plus Babies show but her impression that Kate woman seemed to at least have a specific vocal cadence). I was impressed by her command of her gangly-Amazon (ganglazon?) body, even if it was just in service of, say, imitating Kenan Thompson’s pointless “Scared Straight” character.

Actually, that recurring bit was one of the less tired of the night, or at least I found it more amusing than the one billionth Penelope sketch. Not because the material is particularly good — it is not; this falls squarely on the “awful schtick” side of the Kenan awful schtick/hilarious character work divide — but because the sketch has been done so many times that the main attraction is now (a.) Jason Sudeikis’s reactions, which he obviously plays up in order to facilitate (b.) Bill Hader cracking up at the ridiculousness of everything.

If that had been the only bad recurring bit of the night, I could’ve ignored it. But, as mentioned, the show trotted out Penelope for a sketch I could barely bring myself to watch; Armisen’s conceptually clever but beyond played-out Nicholas Fehn character on Update; and the less irritating but still sort of second-rate parody of The View. This kind of laziness is understandable after three or four episodes in a row; dispiriting, though, after two weeks off.

It’s not as if every non-recurring sketch was golden; the one with Swift and Jenny Slate as crazy-in-love roommates felt like it was going somewhere funny, but instead just repeated itself and ended abruptly, despite nice physical work from Slate and Swift (I particularly liked Slate attaching herself to Swift’s leg as she left the room). But at least it required more effort than “Kristen Wiig, doing a tic, go!”

Surprisingly, at least to me, the show was best when it really focused on Swift’s presence and audience. The highlights (apart from a mostly solid Weekend Update) had her playing around with tween/teenage culture: the trailer for Firelight, in which a Kristen Stewart lookalike is torn between Frankensteins and mummies (I realize the correct term would be Frankenstein’s Monsters and I’m sure someone in the SNL writers’ room does too, but they also correctly surmised that “Frankensteins” is much, much funnier to say); and a PSA about parental automotive mistakes just as dangerous as texting while driving. I liked the ad for the soundtrack to the unfinished animated classic Bunny Business, too. Given that they are capable of writing actually-funny sketches, I don’t think it’s asking too much for the writers to limit their reprisals to say, two a week, rather than the three or four we’ve been getting for the last few shows.

Episode Grade: C+

1 comment November 9th, 2009

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