Archive for November, 2010

The Walking Dead: Cute Guy from ‘Love, Actually’ Adjusts to Zombie Apocalypse

There’s plenty to not be excited about on television.  But then there’s The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead is about as exciting as it gets, if you ask me (which you sort of did by visiting this blog that I haven’t updated since phoning in a post about how I’d gladly share a twin bed with Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt). And I haven’t been excited about much on TV in a long while, aside from the rather disappointing third season of Damages or the sustained excellence of 30 Rock.

If you don’t like graphic comic book mayhem, chances are you won’t like The Walking Dead. Shocker. But what I’m trying to say is that it’s not one of those horror shows that’s actually a heady extended metaphor for something political. This is a show about zombies. It’s just a beautifully/grotesquely shot, somewhat soapy series that features unusually well developed characters for a genre that often leans on camp or cheap thrills.

The premise of the show isn’t complicated: basically, the cute guy from Love, Actually (the one who loves Keira Knightley, but she’s married to his best friend and at the end of the movie he does that kind-of-sweet-but-mostly-depressing series of poster board cards like he’s in a hangdog version of INXS’ “Mediate” video) is a cop who wakes up in the hospital after the zombie apocalypse. I’m not going to get worked up over who did it first, The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later, but I recognize the duplication.

Anyway, he ambles out of the deserted hospital, makes friends with a man and his son who get him up to speed on said apocalypse, leaves for Atlanta (where allegedly salvation awaits — we know better than that, though), and eventually gets reunited with his wife and son, who are living on the outskirts of the city with a band of survivors. Also worth noting, his wife is boning his best friend (a fellow cop) because she assumes he’s dead. There seems to be something afoot here about how long this relationship had been going on — that has yet to come out, though.

What I love about The Walking Dead, aside from the endlessly satisfying debraining of the undead, is the idea of a sustained series* about zombies. The traditional zombie movie format has an origin story (“Where did all these zombies come from?”), a hero story (“I’ve got to get away from these zombies. My buxom love interest too.”) and a frequently downbeat conclusion. With this series we’ve the opportunity to see a sustained zombie narrative with emotional ups and downs as well as complex characters. This is a new playing field where the reality is post-apocalypse.

There’s going to be a marathon of the series on Sunday, so you should TiFaux that.

Goodbye TiFaux!  See you in 2011!

*I know, I know — it’s based on a comic book. But I don’t read comic books (I’m barely literate as it stands), so television is really all I’m concerned with here.

1 comment November 30th, 2010

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best

Break out the leg warmers.

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 1)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 17)

Not to sway the vote one way or another, but Jane Lynch’s faces make me laugh in spite of myself.

November 30th, 2010

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best

So, how do you prefer your Madonna–straight up or mashed up?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 4)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 15–I couldn’t find a video without the lyrics in subtitle, sorry!)

November 23rd, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 7

After ScarJo and Jon Hamm both returned to high expectations and low rewards, it was Anne Hathway’s turn to follow up a successful SNL hosting gig. But Hathaway’s episode from 2008, while decent, wasn’t quite a best-of-season candidate; maybe that’s what allowed her, the writers, and the cast to kick up such a solid episode this time around.

How often you can say this about SNL since the 2008 election? It immediately got off to a strong start with a funny cold open. Seriously! It happened! Taking a page from the amusing-then-tired Hardball opening-sketch format of the mid-aughts, Abby Elliott played Rachel Maddow, interviewing Nancy Pelosi (Kristen Wiig), John Boehner (Bill Hader), and Kenan Thompson (Charlie Rangel). It wasn’t so much a feast for spot-on impressions, but it did have, get this, good jokes! Of different types! Boy, that was a good feeling, to actually laugh at a politically themed cold open. Remember when this used to happen all the time?

Hathaway seemed particularly amped to be back during her monologue, and jumped into the first of several impressions during the Miley Cyrus Show bit (recurring a little too fast, but the Miley Cyrus industry is providing enough material to change up the jokes to some degree, at least for now), a spot-on Katie Holmes. Her Alanis Morrissette bit at the end of the show, in the “Horse Play” soundtrack ad that reprised the bunny-movie soundtrack ad from a few seasons ago with less weirdness/hilarity, was less close but also established a strange mid-to-late-nineties niche for her, I assume because she was totally into Dawson’s and Alanis as a teenager.

I’ve often found Hathaway a little studied as an actor — a little more technically proficient than inspired — and this was true, to an extent, of her hosting gig, where she mixed more sustained impressions (of Holmes, or Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz bit), straight-woman material (as Kate Middleton), and short bursts of accented craziness in smaller parts. But it worked: it was like she did her homework to ace the SNL test, and it pretty much worked. This variety also made her feel a little more present than her 2008 episode, in which she was similarly game but receded into the background a little.

It also helped that the show happened to give us a bunch of solid sketches this week, as if to make up for the disappointing thinness of the Hamm and ScarJo episodes. Only one sketch really fell flat: the reprisal of Penelope. This character that started out with a simple (if over-emphasized after pretty much one airing) conceit and joke: the behavior of a chronic, irritating one-upper. But as the sketch has been repeated and repeated, what used to be the kicker joke of one of Penelope’s nonsense one-ups coming true has become a running gag about how she really does, say, shrink and float through soap on a stick of celery. If Penelope had appeared exactly twice, first in the normal guise and second in the surreal one, this might be funny, but by this point it’s a waste of time, a dead-air opportunity for hosts (usually female, for some reason) to play it straight and irritated.

Apart from that Penelope detour, though, it was pretty much all decent or better. There were some unquestionable highlights, like the inspired royal-family sketch with Kate Middleton discovering her future in-laws to be tough-talking limey thugs and the ad for Mega-Mart’s twelve-minute Black Friday stampede in the making, with promises of freshly waxed floors, free box cutters, and seven copies of a secret unpublished Harry Potter novel. There were a lot of fake ads, actually: Horse Play and Camel Tame and the TSA, all pretty funny.

Such was the show’s freshness that even long-time cast members like Fred Armisen (who by this point typically slows the show down more than almost anyone) and Bill Hader (who is hilarious but sometimes struggles to do more than his funny recurring characters and occasional impressions) were particularly well-used: they both killed in the royals sketch, Hader had a nice showcase as the elderly, confused, angry news reporter, and one of Armisen’s patented awkward-weirdo characters actually worked in the Wizard of Oz deleted scenes.

Even Weekend Update was better than it’s been for most of this season. In fact, the episode was so solid that a pretty strong six-minute bit was cut from dress and put online, featuring another short burst of Hathaway craziness:

If this sketch has been subbed in for that Penelope run-through, this would’ve been… oh, wait, this already was definitely the best episode of the season.

Episode Grade: B+

2 comments November 21st, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

The contenders:

Community: Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design
Totally solid episode. Both the blanket-fort and the conspiracy theories were wild, out-there plots without really spoofing one specific movie, and it worked better that way (if for no other reason than there was nothing for Abed to point out, so he got to be a real character). Plus, who doesn’t like seeing Kevin Corrigan pop up anywhere? Its central weakness: It’s basically the “and that’s why you don’t teach lessons” episode of Arrested Development. There are far worse things to strive for.

30 Rock: College
For a show that’s already lean and fast-paced, how much better does it get when they decide to jettison a third plotline? Here, they just stuck to Liz and Jack—no Tracey or Jenna—and they were able to cram more jokes in by not having to do a set-up or payoff of the third plotline. Rather than giving Jenna and Tracy something to do, Liz just comes across them, sitting side-by-side on a couch, each gazing into a different hand-mirror. Genius! High-fiving a million angels!

The Office:
I love Ryan. I love how he’s cycled through 10 different types of douchebags throughout the course of the show. I also get a kick out of every time someone gets a fax because of But, even more than that, I love how Michael was able to manipulate Ryan this time around—in his sad, pathetic, Michael way. I also liked Dwight’s plotline, because he was evil and curmudgeonly, but there were reasonable explanations why (for money and to heal childhood wounds), making it less cartoonish.

It will never be Outsourced. Maybe that joke about how “Native Americans” are called “Native Americans” and not “Indians” because they find the word “Indian” derogatory would have been funnier in other hands, but it wasn’t funny here.

So, who won Thursday?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

2 comments November 19th, 2010

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best

Both shows turn “Jump” into male/female duets, but which one is less likely to make Van Halen throw up in its mouth?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 1)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 12)

November 16th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 7

This is getting to be a little troubling. Saturday Night Live has had a pretty epic run of great host choices this season. Seemingly few of them have been chosen to promote any particular blockbuster of the moment, but rather to capitalize on generally good feelings about their strong, not-quite-household-name work: Bryan Cranston, Jane Lynch, and Emma Stone. Other hosts have been established friends of the show: Amy Poehler, Jon Hamm, and, this week, Scarlett Johansson. Unfortunately, all three of these episodes have represented some degree of disappointment, Hamm and Johansson in particular: they both hosted twice before to surprisingly strong effect, and both had their weakest of three this season.

Johansson’s episode was a bit better than Hamm’s, but it may have been just as disappointing, because I’d argue that her two previous gigs were even better, on average, than Hamm’s. She even has a recurring character: Lexy, the daughter of Fred Armisen’s Long Islandy pitchman urging people to buy classy stuff like marble columns, chandeliers, and, in this week’s episode, “ceramic busts.” It’s pretty much just one joke, but if more one-joke recurring characters only came back once every year or two, they would seem a lot less intolerable.

I should point out, though, that Johansson seemed to use that Long Island/Jersey-ish accent as a go-to whenever she was unsure of how her character should sound — odd, because one of the very funny promos running this week had Jason Sudeikis prompting her to perform in a couple of reasonably convincing silly accents (English, pirate). I haven’t seen the Millionaire Matchmaker on TV, but some who have tell me that the sketch pretty much nailed her behavior but not her voice, which sounded suspiciously like Lexy which sounded suspiciously like her non-impression of Rosario Dawson in the nonetheless very funny Unstoppable trailer.

But I don’t want to blame ScarJo, because generally she’s a game and engaging comedienne; based on her SNL work, she should mix some more film comedies into her acting gigs. No, the problem with this week’s episode was rooted in the show’s insistence on note-for-note repeats of awful sketches.

The Obama opener is always pretty bad, but if they’re getting to the point where they’re not even writing new bad Obama sketches, but reprising past non-triumphs almost word for word, maybe, just fucking maybe, they could consider not doing an Obama sketch. I won’t qualify matters with “The Manuel Ortiz Show”: Never do this sketch again. No matter how much Fred Armisen loves it and no matter how much Lorne Michaels loves Fred Armisen, which in both cases I’d classify as “beyond all reason” (and I say this as someone who admires a lot of Armisen’s earlier work on the show), stop taking up precious sketch real estate with a sketch about people dancing, sometimes slightly faster or slightly slower.

With better sketches in place of those, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so irritated that the show wasted a good five to eight minutes on that weird, rootless, baseless Disney Channel sketch with middle schoolers with too much faith in the power of positive thinking. I mean, yes, I get it, the power of positive thinking is overstated to children. Kind of funny. But why in the name of all that is even sort of holy did they determine the best way to critique this was to repeat the same obvious joke as slowly and methodically as possible? The sketch felt like it was missing some key piece, a first scene or a last scene that would make it make more sense or drove home the long set-up.

By comparison, the recurring Hollywood Dish sketch seemed almost refreshing. I’m getting kind of a Vinny Vedecci vibe from this bit, where it was kind of tired after a few times, but now they’re actually finding more ways to make it sillier and funnier. I wasn’t expecting to laugh much at the outset (and it’s still kind of a waste of Johansson to have her playing herself; let’s save that for the athletes and singers, guys), but I did, especially at the sustained take of Kristen Wiig covered in slushie and spaghetti while Bill Hader maintained his play-shocked face.

And I did laugh elsewhere, throughout the episode: I loved the “Stars of Tomorrow” sketch with Johansson and newcomer Vanessa Bayer doing pitch-perfect child-star stage acting. The digital short was funny. The Unstoppable bit found a better, more concise outlet for Jay Pharoah’s fantastic Denzel impression. I liked ScarJo’s classy-ladies song in the monologue. It’s just that the dead weight this week felt deader and weightier than it should’ve.

However: Arcade Fire did perform two excellent songs. In most cases, the musical guest doesn’t affect my grading much; I can usually fast-forward or ignore the bad stuff, and even the better performances rarely wash away bad-comedy aftertaste. But Arcade Fire (who also appeared in their second Digital Short) kicks ass, even if I wish they had been the icing and not a decent portion of the cake.

Episode Grade: B-

1 comment November 14th, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

It was a strong night overall, so it’s going to be close.

Community: Cooperative Calligraphy
I’d never heard the term “bottle episode” before, and I’m ambivalent about Community‘s meta-jokes in general, but I dug how craven they were about admitting they were doing a bottle episode. Mostly, I loved how, in addition to the strange contrivances they created to keep everyone in the study room, they nakedly twisted the knife by constantly calling attention to how amazing it was outside. (A puppy parade!) The ending was also really clever—they thought they were pinning the blame for Annie’s missing pen on something bizarre and impossible to save their friendship, but it really turned out to be something bizarre and nearly impossible.

30 Rock: Brooklyn Without Limits
Hot jeans visual gags aside (“I will haunt your dreams”), this episode was entirely owned by John Slattery. “I will clean up this government like the bathroom of a paintball facility.” “If you’re blind, I am the wrestler Steve Austin.” “If you’re senile, I am the Six Million Dollar Man.” “Hand me that shovel so I can dig a grave for her.” And the political ad where he comes out of the woman’s womb and then cocks a shotgun! Who says this show isn’t genius?

The Office: Viewing Party
I feel like this episode advanced a lot of the emotional storylines: with Andy and Erin, with Michael and Gabe, with Michael and Erin, with Dwight and Angela. I also love seeing Andy’s budding friendship with Darryl—and Pam’s with Dwight, too, I guess. (“Remember your concussion?”) There were a lot of sweet character moments. It just wasn’t very funny.

It will never be Outsourced, although last night’s cold open remained novelty-free. Between that and the crotch-joke development from last week, the show may be getting better.

So, who won Thursday?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

6 comments November 12th, 2010

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best?

Another earnest classic, but who did it better?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 4)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 11)

Hint: Only one involves fake tears!

November 9th, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

All the shows were back. Hooray!

Community: The Aerodynamics of Gender
I like how, in its second season, Community is breaking the larger study group apart and exploring how the characters relate to each other in smaller segments. This episode also featured a lot of Troy, who I adore, and it didn’t end with them all vowing to be best friends forever and never do things in smaller groups again, which I appreciate. But the trampoline thing was more odd than funny until the very end, and the funniest thing about the mean-girls plot was Chang’s reaction to it.

30 Rock: Gentleman’s Intermission
First off, the phrase “gentleman’s intermission” is just hilarious by itself—that’s not really a thing, is it? Otherwise, the episode started off exploring thoroughly charted territory—didn’t Salma Hayek also find Liz an intrusion on her relationship with Jack?—but it got stronger and stronger as it went on. For another example, Tracy’s “I haven’t done anything with my life” plot felt too familiar at first—isn’t that why he created a porn video game?—but I pretty much died when his story culminated in him shouting “I left Tracy Junior in Atlantic City!”

The Office: Christening
When this episode got to the scene where Pam had to make sure that Michael knew he wasn’t the baby’s godfather, I thought we were in trouble. I wanted to turn off the TV. Turns out, it wasn’t as painful as I feared it would be. Michael was actually kind of right when he hissed at all the Dunder Miffln/Sabre people to stop being rude at the christening luncheon. (Of course, he took it too far, but no one got hurt.) And I like Jim and Pam as harried parents—it gives them something to do. When they don’t have baby conflict, it seems like they’re just hanging around the show.

It will never be Outsourced. In the one minute picked up on my DVR, this episode started off the same way as the rest of them: one of the call center employees got caught off guard by one of the novelties they sell. (He’ll never suspect a water balloon! Classic.) But then, something totally different happened. The white guy got hit with a balloon in the crotch! (Hilarity!) Yes, they’ve moved on to crotch jokes! Now the show is at least as funny as America’s Funniest Home Videos, right?

So, who won Thursday?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

November 5th, 2010

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