Archive for January, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 13

Jon Hamm’s first gig hosting Saturday Night Live, around this time last year, was held in almost weirdly high regard. It was a decent episode, to be sure, but I feel like most of the appreciation stems from (a.) general Mad Men love, (b.) the fact that January Jones made him look even better in retrospect, and (c.) the hilarious ad for “Jon Hamm’s John Ham.” But as with Justin Timberlake, who hosted a completely mediocre episode that was inexplicably well-liked, only to come back and host a second episode that was nearly as good as everyone thought the first one was, Hamm made a triumphant return to the SNL stage this week, backed by some of the season’s best material.

I was afraid that Hamm’s quick return would mean a lot of clumsy rehashing of what worked about last year’s episode (or maybe even what didn’t), but the writers found an excellent way of sorta-reprising “Jon Hamm’s John Hamm” with “Hamm & Buble,” a pork-and-champagne-themed restaurant based on Hamm’s creepily insistent mispronunciation of musical guest Michael Buble’s name.

Throughout, the show played up Hamm’s capacity for well-dressed menace and/or sleaze, as in an unusually excellent monologue showing clips from his pre-Mad Men career, including a hilarious reference to Martin Lawrence’s ill-fated monologue from some fifteen years ago. I have to give it to Hamm: something about his dashing good looks seems to inspire the writers; they even attempted a second political sketch after the characteristically limp opener about the State of the Union address. The Hamm-assisted riff on newly elected Massachusetts senator-hunk Scott Brown was probably the most inventive political sketch they’ve done since The Rock Obama.

The show got even better and weirder after a strong Weekend Update. For example:

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2 comments January 31st, 2010

Sara Talks About Craig Ferguson Some More

Yeah, I know. I watch his show a lot these days. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a Scottish accent. Dan agrees with me.

So y’all know there are a lot of things I love (it’s true! I’m not angry at everything), like cheese, Tim Riggins, American whiskey, moderately expensive writing implements, yoga pants, Triscuits, and shopping at mostly-empty Targets. And you know I love Craig Ferguson, puppets, and musical numbers on TV. Here’s something else: I also love Rosie O’Donnell.

I do. I never watched her daytime talk show, because I had to go to school, or her on The View, because I have a job, but A League of Their Own is one of my more frequently quoted movies (along with Ghostbusters, Top Gun, Moonstruck, Mrs. Doubtfire, and, of course, Center Stage and Bring It On) and I love her in it. I want to see the sequel when Doris not only rips up the picture of her ugly, mean boyfriend and throws it out the window of the moving bus, but also makes out with Lori Petty a little. I’ve always liked Rosie’s willingness to put herself 100 percent behind whatever she believes in, and to say what she thinks even if it gets her in trouble. I admire that in a lady. And I’ve always wanted to bitchslap Elizabeth Hasselbeck, ever since Dan handed me a layout of a Survivor story a thousand years ago and her smug, pointy little face was staring out of it. (Sadly, that page is not online in the vast digital archive of the work we did a long time ago that now embarrasses us. But I found a feature story Cristin wrote!)

Which is all a very long way of saying that Rosie O’Donnell was on Craig Ferguson’s cold open tonight, and they lip-synched Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” and there were puppets. It was great. Please to enjoy.

1 comment January 29th, 2010

Friday Night Lights: In the Bag

You guys, Matt Saracen is gone. Julie doesn’t know what to do, and neither do I.

Yes, welcome back to our regularly-scheduled Friday Night Lights recap, only, like, a month late. Sorry.

How much you want to bet Mindy puts Dr. Pepper in the baby bottle?

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2 comments January 21st, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 12

Outside forces boosted this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live; it wasn’t particularly stellar in the area of writing or even of regular-cast performance, but the host and musical guest both pulled more weight than usual. More surprising: the Ting Tings, whose songs have always struck me as the bad kind of catchy, the nyah-nyah approach to earworms. They were semi-inexplicably booked to play a couple of songs that have been making the rounds for like two years now, but given that old-news quality, their stripped-down performances were actually quite engaging, seeming to shrink the SNL stage to a more intimate size. The live version of “That’s Not My Name,” with its minimalist beginning building into a more familiar, noisy climax, was actually more fun than the radio cut; “Shut Up and Let Me Go” was less transformed, but included an enjoyable cowbell shout-out.

Less surprising, due to her general awesomeness, was Sigourney Weaver as host. I speculated last week that Charles Barkley might’ve had the longest gap between hosting gigs, but Weaver actually broke that record this week; she last appeared in 1986, fresh off of Aliens. Fitting, then, that she matched her second collaboration with James Cameron with another go at SNL — and hey, the show finally managed to book the star of an already-out movie that hasn’t bombed and has in fact grossed a bajillion dollars. I guess they did that with Taylor Lautner, too, but Sigourney Weaver is a sixtysomething lady — not exactly the demo SNL chases.

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January 18th, 2010

Kudos to Kimmel

I’ve never had much use for Jimmy Kimmel. I’m like Lucille from Arrested Development: “I don’t know who that is and I don’t care to find out.” But he impressed me by going on The Jay Leno Show and making things as awkward as possible. Kimmel’s show airs at 12 on ABC. He easily could’ve stayed above the fray on this whole late-night situation, or he could take easy pot-shots at Carson Daly like Letterman did. Instead, he totally bullies Leno–and Leno isn’t really able to turn the tables on him. So I give a tip of the cap to him. Watch the clip below. It’s really uncomfortable.

January 15th, 2010

Suits! The Musical

If you missed How I Met Your Mother’s 100th episode, you also missed the musical number. Of course there was a musical number!

I applaud the show’s decision to reign it in at one song, instead of an entire musical episode. Musical episodes of shows can be fun, but they often employ some kind of gimmick to explain away the presence of the songs (magic spells, weird aural diseases, and the like). That wouldn’t really fit on How I Met Your Mother. I love that they have the guts to just break into song, even if they Rob Marshall it at the end. For your pleasure (after 30s of commercials):

January 13th, 2010

Wu-Tang ain’t nothing to f*ck with

January 12th, 2010

Late Shifty

Let’s talk about this late-night talk-show kerfuffle business. I won’t be coming at this from the point of view of detailed industry analysis, because I don’t really know that much about the television industry apart from that it often rewards mediocrity, which is not so different from so many other industries, and I won’t be coming from a fan’s point of view, either, because I can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched a late-night chat show from start to finish.

No, I’m examining this as someone who half-watches fifteen or twenty minutes of a talk show in bed before falling asleep, but who does like comedy and therefore finds this stuff sort of weirdly, tangentially fascinating.

From that perspective, I was pretty happy when Conan O’Brien got the Tonight Show gig, because Conan is clearly the funniest and most inventive of the major network latenight hosts, yet I rarely saw his 12:30 show during the week, because I try to go to bed well before then. I do enjoy Letterman’s crankiness and idiosyncrasies, but Conan is the guy for my generation, which is kind of odd because I’m not even sure if we’re in the same generation, but dude wrote for SNL and The Simpsons when I was first watching SNL and The Simpsons, so he’s got the comedy bona fides for anyone my age. On the Simpsons twentieth anniversary special the other night, Conan said that if he was offered a job to sit in a remote field and think of weird stuff for Mr. Burns to say or do for the annual salary of a dollar and some cheap wine, he would do it. Though I don’t literally believe this, that sentiment is why Conan is my horse in this race.

However, I had to admit when Conan got The Tonight Show that it seemed premature. Not because he hadn’t made his bones, but because from a purely financial point of view, Jay Leno is a big deal. People like him. Especially people with unsophisticated taste and a yen for cheap shots at all the dumb non-news news that they get from the Today show in the morning. He’s been beating Letterman soundly for years now. I guess the idea was that NBC wanted to sew up Conan for the foreseeable future, so they figured, hey, by 2009 Leno will probably be looking to retire or waning in the ratings anyway, so let’s lock up his replacement.

When those things didn’t happen, they still had a deal to replace him, so they gave Leno that primetime talk show. To be honest, I kinda dig the idea of a primetime talk show in the sense that I like anything to shake up the pointlessly stodgy network-TV format. But a daily hour is probably too much, and I never watched Leno’s show because Leno isn’t funny.

I’m actually a little surprised Leno’s primetime chat show hasn’t gotten better ratings, though it should probably be noted that four or five million viewers a night in latenight is just fine, while in primetime it makes you the biggest hit on the CW and/or one of the lowest-rated shows anywhere else. Still, NBC was apparently making money off of this deal; they were just squandering a lot of audience and affiliate goodwill in the process by getting the actual late-night lineup off to a slower start than a show that could garner, say, ten million reviewers from 10-11PM.

So regardless of profits, NBC is nixing The Jay Leno Show. Their plan, subject to the approval of both Leno and Conan, is to do a half-hour Jay Leno bit at 11:35, followed by The Tonight Show at 12:05, and finally Jimmy Fallon’s Late Show at 1:05. Everything gets bumped back half an hour; Leno essentially functions as the late-night warm-up act, easing viewers into the “new” line-up. The Tonight Show has dipped in ratings under Conan – owing to him being less of a people-pleasing hack – but presumably with a Leno lead-in, and up against the second half of Letterman’s show, it’ll bump back up.

As quick fixes go, this actually seems logical to me, but I’m not a programmer or a semi-spurned late-night host, so what do I know. This, if it actually goes through, might also repair what seems to me like a big problem with the Conan Tonight Show: they’ve been booking sub-Late Show guests. NBC and whoever else swore up and down that there wouldn’t be booking problems with both The Jay Leno Show and The Tonight Show competing for guests, but have you actually checked out the guests for the latter this season? It’s kind of embarrassing. With Leno siphoning off the Los Angeles crowd and Jimmy Fallon taking care of anyone in New York, Conan often has the lowest-wattage guests on any given night, which is kind of sad for the freaking Tonight Show. I mean, dude has had Norm MacDonald as lead guest like three times since taking over. Don’t get me wrong: I love Norm, and it’s fun to see him come on Conan with absolutely nothing to promote, do some bits with Conan and Andy, and just basically screw around. In some ways, this makes for better TV.

But not every low-rent guest is Norm MacDonald. Many of them are reality TV players, or sports stars. It’s an unpleasant feeling to be falling asleep watching Conan and hear that someone you’d actually like to watch – Amy Adams, say, or the reunited Monty Python survivors – will be coming up… on Jimmy Fallon’s show well after you should be asleep. I remember Leno said in a Rolling Stone interview over the summer that numbers-wise, only a handful of guests really make a demonstrable difference in ratings, but it can’t help Conan that his Tonight Show has such lame bookings. If Leno only does half an hour, you figure with his horrible monologue and horrible recurring bits, he’ll only have time for one guest a night, if that, and Conan will start talking to some actual stars, not just the NBC stable players and third leads in movies that wouldn’t look so shabby at 1AM. Tuesday night’s guests, for example, per the Tonight Show website, are “TBA” and former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. For serious.

I also hope the move to midnight – if Conan goes for it, which he may not – will allow him to make the Tonight Show more his own. He still does a lot of signature bits, and I love that Andy Richter has been returning to the couch, now sidekick as much as announcer, and, as I’ve said, I’d still rather watch Conan do a slightly hackier version of his schtick than just about any of the other hosts in top form, because Conan’s just a funny, goofy, smart guy. But it pains me to see Conan having to go after, like, Octomom jokes, Leno-style, in the monologues, because Conan’s strength has never really been the opening monologue. He’s not a stand-up comedian; he’s a writer-performer. I hope that the producers will consider Leno’s opening thirty minutes a get-out-of-monologue-free card of sorts; no one expects it to be eliminated entirely, but maybe Conan can slip away from that yuk-yukkiness that can feel so stale. Or, by the way, kinda hateful: did anyone catch that nasty and unfunny joke Conan made about Ellen DeGeneres and Tim Gunn the other night? I confess I didn’t, but someone repeated it on Facebook, and it’s the kind of ignorance-based humor that Leno traffics in; Conan should know better.

It’s too bad that Conan and Fallon may have to bump back an hour, too, because they both sort of get a timeslot demotion even though Conan is funnier than Leno and Fallon’s show has been shaping up nicely. Fallon cleverly sidesteps the fact that he’s not as natural a writer as Conan (nor as comfortable an interviewer, despite the decade of performing experience he racked up prior to hosting a talk show) by making his show a loose, vaguely spontaneous, whimsical affair that doesn’t necessarily depend on huge laugh lines. It’s too bad that I’ll catch the show even less often with a proposed 1AM start-time.

Of fact, in purely selfish terms, moving Conan to 12:05AM is a pain in the ass. I try to go to bed around 11:30. With Conan on the Tonight Show, I had an easy go-to viewing option if I want to watch a little TV in bed before drifting off, and I never had to even think about Jay Leno. Now with Leno back in that slot, there’s a dead zone that can only be filled by the first half-hour of Letterman or my Fox affiliate’s 11:30 rerun of Seinfeld. When I heard rumors that Conan could make a jump to Fox – NBC has apparently said that if he does want to walk off Tonight, they won’t sue him or whatever – I was amused at the prospect of him returning to the home of The Simpsons, but also wondered: would Fox affiliates be willing to replace Seinfed reruns with anything?

I mean, for serious: Seinfeld has been off the year for almost a dozen years, has only 180 episodes or so, and it still gets several prime syndication spots. That’s kind of insane. That’s like if when Seinfeld was finishing its run, some of the most popular syndicated reruns had been The Cosby Show. But by 1998, Cosby Show was turning up on Nick at Nite. I love Seinfeld dearly, but I don’t particularly want to watch it anymore; I’d rather see a Simpsons rerun, even from a lesser Simpsons season, because there are over 400 of those. You could run them all year and not show the same one twice.

In summary: Fox, if you really want to capture my viewing attention, sign Conan. And start his show after a Simpsons repeat.

January 12th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 11

Expectations for sports-star hosts of Saturday Night Live are already low, but SNL threw a curve ball of sorts by booking for their year/decade kickoff not just a sports star, but a sports star who no longer plays sports and, indeed, remains in the national consciousness primarily due to, in descending order, (1.) his unlawful transgressions, (2.) the goofy stuff he says, and (3.) Kenan Thompson’s occasional and hilarious impersonation of him on, hey, Saturday Night Live. The choice of Barkley

It also made me about any number of inauspicious records, such as: when was the last time a long-retired sports star hosted, if ever? (I am too lazy slash sports illiterate to look this up and say for sure, but every sportsman or sportslady I can recall hosting since I began watching the show circa 1992 has been pretty current.) Was this also the greatest amount of time lapsed between a first hosting gig and a second, with sixteen-plus years passing after Barkley’s first shot back in 1993? (Trivia: Phil Hartman and Mike Myers were still in the cast; Nirvana was the musical guest; Barney jokes were still sort of amusing; “Office Space” was still a cartoon — and, to be fair to the carping that’s about to commence, at least four of the sketches were recurring bits.) If so, Buck Henry ought to turn up and smash that record to pieces.

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2 comments January 10th, 2010

I’m Not Offended by Jersey Shore

Let’s have the conversation we’ve been avoiding up until now. Let’s talk about Jersey Shore.

I’m an Italian-American. I’m not from New Jersey, but I was born on Staten Island, which is were 3/8 of the Jersey Shore cast is from. (And yes, I’ve totally vacationed with my family at Seaside Heights.) As you’ve probably heard, many of my ilk, including the National Italian American Foundation and the New Jersey Italian American Legislative Caucus, have been greatly offended by the existence of this show, especially its use of the word “guido.”

I’m not offended by Jersey Shore. Why? Because people like that exist. I’ve met them. No Italian-American organization can deny it. I think everyone would have more of a right to protest–and I would join them–if it were a fictionalized show called “Italian-Americans!” that made everyone behave in that cartoonish way, but it’s an unscripted series  and producers are totally within their rights to just let the cameras roll as people willingly make fools of themselves. I’m sure the cast members of the show are playing up the lifestyle TO THE EXTREME, but it’s a reality show, and everyone exaggerates their personalities on a reality show. I’m sure audiences are savvy enough to expect it now, and know that even real guidos aren’t even as intense as the Jersey Shore cast. (There, I said it. I’m also not offended by the word “guido” unless it’s used with hatred, which is not really what I’ve seen on the show.)

In truth, I don’t think I’m being held back at all by the show. I don’t think anyone will extrapolate the cast’s behavior to all Italian-Americans. If I told someone my ethnicity and they responded with some kind of fist pump, I’d probably roll my eyes, but I wouldn’t consider it some kind of prejudice. I’d think it was a lame joke, and it would most likely be meant as one. I doubt any Italian-American will be denied a job because Angelina was too high-maintenance to work her shift at the tee-shirt store. People just don’t think that way. They don’t believe that everyone in New York lives like a Real Housewife, or that the real world is anything at all like The Real World. I certainly don’t believe that all residents of Los Angeles are like the vapid placeholders on The Hills.

And, in the beginning, it was actually kind of novel to see so many Italian-Americans in one show. Think of any reality show: When was the last time the majority of the participants were brunette? I was tickled to see a show full of people who don’t conform to the Bunim/Murry model of beauty (blond, buff, and skinny). Sure, I don’t have a wardrobe full of carefully shredded outfits, but it was kind of a kick to see people who looked a little bit like me on TV. (Curves!)

Sure, I wish there was a way to incorporate more of the positive aspects of Italian-American culture into the show, but I can’t fault the producers for not forcing it in. And I can’t comment at all on whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of New Jersey. Maybe TiFaux Cristin can weigh in?

Jersey Shore Cast

Ten cases of Aqua Di Gio were required for this shoot. (See, we can laugh at ourselves.)

January 6th, 2010


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