Filed Under: TV Reviews
Preface: I’ve never really watched American Idol. I mean , I’ll tune in to the first few episodes for the sheer humor of watching unassuming retards belt out popular songs with absolutely no idea of how bad they are. I’ve also occasionally watched the final episode, though the drama between the last two standing is generally lost on me, having missed the season. But for the most part, Idol has been one of few instances where my love of all things pop culture doesn’t prevail (over my love of not spending three hours a week watching other people sing).
But I was swayed by the hype surrounding this year’s major changes, specifically the ousting of Simon and Paula for Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. I had always liked Simon—how could any self-respecting fan of reality television NOT like Simon—but Paula was boring, and even Simon had in the last few seasons run out of ways to say “you’re awful.” The switcheroo seemed like a good call: today’s kids know both Tyler and Lopez (let’s be honest, Paula Abdul was lost on anyone under 25) and the change paved the way for Randy to let loose with his inner hater, which for the most part he has.
But now the dust has settled and we’re on the Top 24 (which, what the shit kind of number is that?) and Idol is asking me to spend not one, not two, but FIVE hours of my time watching this week (I’ll generously round down to 3.5 when commercials are excluded). Based on the four hours I’ve already watched, I just can’t see why. Maybe it was always this weak in the beginning; maybe all the hopefuls need Week 1 to find their sea legs and wrap their minds around performing to an audience of hundreds (to say nothing of the 20+ million television viewers) instead of singing at karaoke bars, or into hairbrushes in their bedrooms. But based on the 24 performances I’ve seen, this season is incredibly weak sauce. Here’s why.
Filed Under: TV Reviews
For whatever reason, despite being well outside MTV’s target age demographic, I was really looking forward to Skins. After all, the network knocked it out of the park with Jersey Shore, and I’ve never really given up on stalwarts like The Real World. Let’s just say while everyone was moaning about MTV replacing music videos with scripted shows and reality fare, I was among the few (many?) cheering my support. Besides, what are MTV shows if not extended advertisements for new indie songs you can find (shocker) on MTV-supported Rhapsody.
So it took me a full ten minutes last night to admit something I had hoped wouldn’t be true—Skins is really bad. Having anticipated something like a fresher Gossip Girl, or a My So Called Life 2.0, instead Skins only lived up to the one show everyone has been comparing it to since MTV’s ad barrage started: Undressed. Read More ›
Filed Under: TV
The short answer: not entirely. Since it’s on on Saturday nights, when pretty much nothing else is, and since I have DVR, which means my standards for television are markedly lower than most people’s, I’m actually one of about three people that’s been watching Saturday Night Live in its entirely for the last few years. I had high hopes for this season; after all, the current political environment means comedy shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are flourishing. With a week to prepare each episode (and lately, two weeks, since SNL seems to show a rerun every other weekend), I figured they might be able to knock it out of the park.
Well, not quite. As always, it’s hit or miss. For every well-written adaptation of a weekly news topic, there’s some awkward and half-formed skit that you can just tell seemed funny at 2 a.m. on a Thursday, after 12 hours of work and eight cups of coffee each. Also, I fucking hate Gilly. I HATE HER. Learn to edit yourselves, SNL writers.
So here’s my suggestion: Every week, the group should prepare a 90-minute show, as SNL currently is, and then on Thursday or Friday, knock it back to an hour. Seriously, one hour. One musical performance (i.e. one song) and fewer skits. In 2010, unless it’s a movie, there are very few shows I’m willing to devote more than an hour to (i.e. none). Project Runway, a longtime favorite, is also currently suffering from the delusion that I want to watch 90 minutes each week, and so I’ve found myself fast-forwarding through entire conversations (as well as all weighty pauses before and during elimination rounds) to cut it back down to 60.
Listen TV, you’re surviving, and I’m happy for you. The Internet hasn’t killed you off yet. But our attention spans are getting shorter, or at least mine is. Learn to cull the self-indulgent and keep it snappy.
So here be my curated favorites from SNL this week (So I’m partial to fake commercials. Deal with it).
Filed Under: TV
You don’t know me, but I know you. I mean, not personally, God no, but from television, like everyone else. I’ve been watching your journey along with the rest of the MTV generation and now that your second tour of duty has come to a close, I just wanted to share a few thoughts with you, stuff I’ve been keeping inside, stuff I think you should know.
To start, I should say—I know it must have been weird growing up with that face. Not, I want to clarify, that I’m saying you’re ugly. I’ve definitely seen worse. But let’s not lie to ourselves here—you could have a 24-pack and walk around shirtless every day and I’d still notice the face. It’s weird, sort of like Droopy Dog would look if he was 20 (dog) years younger and, you know, human.
So I have to imagine that growing up, pre-abs and pre-fame, the face was a point of contention for you. In my mind’s eye, you weren’t a bad kid. In fact, you were probably pretty nice. Probably the kind of boy that until about middle school—when we all become aware of things like brand-name clothing and the opposite sex—spent a lot of time with his parents, playing board games. But we all grow up, we all fell victim to the predatory advertising campaigns of JNCO jeans and Adidas jackets. We all had our Sandy-from-Grease moment, when we realized the good was the enemy of the popular, and board games are for losers. Read More ›
Filed Under: Dumb or Dumber
Big news in agriculture today, guys. In case you haven’t heard, the makers of high fructose corn syrup are looking to sweeten the much-maligned ingredient’s name (and reputation) by renaming it “corn sugar.” Indeed, The Corn Refiners Association, which probably has badass holiday parties, applied to the federal government Tuesday for permission to use the new name on food labels. They’re hoping the new moniker will ease “confusion” about the sweetener, which is used in soft drinks, bread, cereal and pretty much everything else that tastes too good to be true.
Calling American’s perception of high fructose corn syrup ‘confusion’ is sort of like saying people who still smoke cigarettes are enlightened. There’s not much to be confused about: If you’ve read any sort of Michael Pollan-esque book, or watched Food Inc.—for the record, I’ve done neither because I choose to live in artfully imposed food ignorance—you’re painfully aware that corn is in everything, and not in a good way.
But hey, who are we to question the powers of advertising. In fact, a number of not-so-great products could probably benefit from a corn sugar-esque overhaul. Here’s a list of RA’s best rebranding ideas.
CigarettesSugar-Free Candy Cigarettes DonutsMiniature Cake (”Minus a ‘Hole’ Lotta Calories!”) VodkaTonic Mix BeerApple Juice For Men Caffeine pillsStain-Free Coffee Alternative BaconAll Natural Beef Jerky HeroinRapid-Release Sleep Aid Tanning oilJersey Shore Home Styling Kit Potato chipsHealthy Choice French Fry Flakes AerosolX-Treme Spritz
Filed Under: Book Reviews
I’ve been writing a lot about television. You could chalk it up to laziness, or summer, or the fact that I seriously watch way too much television. But it’s time to even things up a little. Here are some bookz I’ve been enjoying in the last few weeks. You should enjoy them too. Unless you prefer TV, in which case someone didn’t get enough Reading Rainbow as a kid.
The Handmaid’s Tale I don’t know how I missed this book for so long. All I know about Margaret Atwood, or knew, was my wildly unimpressed response to the first 50 pages of The Blind Assassin. So when I discovered Handmaid’s Tale, by which I mean found it in the backseat of a friend’s car during a nine-hour drive back to the city from Cape Cod, I figured I might as well give her another shot; that shit paid off. Handmaid’s Tale is most often, and most accurately, compared to the George Orwell’s 1984, except with a bit of a feminist twist. In the story, women have been subjugated (vocab word of the day) and serve as either wives, “aunts” (middle-aged teachers and enforcers of the town’s doctrine of female subservience), housekeepers or handmaids (condoned mistresses). Society has been reduced to two goals: eliminate dissent and make babies. The book is told from the perspective of one handmaid, and it’s simultaneously witty, insightful and fucking terrifying. A must-read for fans of hypothetical conspiracy theories that may or may not come true in the next 10 to 15 years.
Dark Tower V: The Wolves of Calla Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to go ahead and get started on Stephen King’s infamous seven-book series by jumping in at No. 5. I just don’t feel like backtracking through the 3 million+ pages of this series I’ve already read. Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying them; the Dark Tower books are, for lack of a better phrase, mad good. Anyone who’s read any King knows his predilection for science fiction meets mysticism meets plain old freaky shit. Add to that a touch of a western, plus a billion nerdy references and an astoundingly developed alternate reality, and you’ve got these books. The only downside? They start off small but gear up (by the fourth installation) to 700-page monstrosities that are unwieldy for subway rides and other long journeys. But Kindle be damned, I will power through.
I Drink for a Reason I’ve never seen or heard anything from David Cross that I didn’t enjoy, so it stands to reason that I’d like his books as well. Well, book. This is the comedian’s literary debut, something he references multiple times in the series of hilarious two-page essays put together to create something of book length. Topics range from “Ideas for T-shirts to be Sold at Urban Outfitters” (example: Punch Me, I’m Pregnant) to “A Free List of Quirks for Aspiring Independent Filmmakers” and I am apparently on page 200 even though I’m pretty sure I only started this book yesterday.
The Northern Clemency Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean often, I am duped into buying some inordinately long and dense novel because of its a) interesting cover b) heaps of praise or c) metallic-looking sticker suggesting a win or near-win of some fanypants book award. TNC got me on all three. It’s one of those novels that’s kind of about stuff, but not enough stuff to warrant 700 pages (seriously, what’s going on with me and the 700-pagers?) so I’m struggling. TNC followers two families in England who live across the street from each other and have all sorts of mundane tragedy and scandal befall them over multiple decades. You can see how this could become tedious. It is beautifully written, and its high points are page-turners, but I am easily distracted from this novel. …I’ve been reading it for four months.
Packing for Mars Mary Roach is probably the best science writer I’ve ever read. Now, she may also be the only science writer I’ve read, (because owning two unread Bill Bryson books doesn’t count, I don’t think) but the claim is still valid. Her previous three books – about death, ghosts and sex, respectively – are more accessible than Mars, which documents historical and present-day preparations for space travel, but this one is still pretty damn good. Did you know, for instance, that men have been on the moon?! No, seriously, the book is chock full of crazy tidbits on everything from astronauts’ hygiene habits to the respective temperaments of space’s first chimps. Most importantly though, Roach is fucking hilarious, which is something I’d find it difficult to be when suspended in zero gravity near a grad student throwing up their lunch.
And that’s all! So now we’ve sufficiently established that I do more than watch reality television (but not much more) and I can go back to recapping the latest shenanigans on Jersey Shore.
Filed Under: TV Reviews
I can’t believe it was only six months ago that I wrote my first post on RA about Jersey Shore, when the show was just a few episodes in and the media/pop culture firestorm surrounding it hadn’t yet reached its peak. Oh, how things have changed.
The first episode of the much-anticipated second season premiered on MTV last night, and unless you live under a rock (or are older than 35) you know that the network’s eagerness to get the now-famous cast back on air led them to shoot Season 2 in Miami when it was still snowing buckets on the East Coast.
So far, the geographic change seems at worst harmless, and at best necessary. Since JS Season 1 only ended a few months ago, it would be exceedingly hard to revive the novelty of the show’s first weeks in the same house and at the same bars. Indeed, it’s not such a bad idea to test the legs of the cast—can they be as interesting, or perhaps more interesting, when removed from the very scene that gave the show its name? Answer: yes.
Watching The Situation, Pauly D, Vinny, Ronnie, Sammi, Snooki and JWoww (more on Angelina later) reunite was like meeting up with old friends again, and even though we know many of the cast members have spent the last four months within arms’ length of one-another, it still felt like they were all excited to be re-living the very experience that got them here in the first place. Sort of like how the three months you spend planning the prom (what, you guys didn’t have overanxious female friends in high school?) didn’t manage to undermine the greatness of seeing your peers in evening wear. (Well, that, and the drinking; everyone’s looking forward to the drinking.) Read More ›
Filed Under: Zero Tolerance
“Bruce Marr just posted a comment for First meeting!
‘Another thought about Other Voices, Other Rooms. Capote’s
complex figurative language and religious allusions give the
narrative a sense of cosmic, or metaphysical significance. For
instance, near the beginning the landscape is described as
looking if it were under the sea. Another work of literature
which has this “metaphysical sense” is Moby Dick.’”
Filed Under: Dumb or Dumber
Filed Under: TV Reviews
So I know I’m several weeks late with the inevitable roundup of summer television, but I like to get a little settled before I pass judgment on hours of programming that I’ll probably continue watching out of sheer boredom after I’ve long since established that it’s making me progressively dumber (see: Rock of Love). I like to catch a few episodes, allow myself to get mildly invested in the characters/contestants/suitors before I decide whether a show is “worth” an hour of my Sunday afternoon, which might otherwise be spent watching foreign films, reading literature or pontificating on the meaning of life. Seriously, I’m a very busy person.
So here’s what I’m watching this summer, and what you should be too, if you know what’s good for you.
THE BACHELORETTE: I’m a little late to this particular line of shows; all I know is both The Bachelorette and predecessor The Bachelor (shit started in 2002!) are the mainstream equivalents of VH1’s romantic contest-based programming. The only difference is there’s more mush—poetry, hand-holding, prolonged eye contact without resulting sexual contact—and fewer strippers. Bachelorette Ali, who is apparently a cast-off from a past season of The Bachelor (sort of the ABC version of Real World/Road Rules Challenge), seems sufficiently generic; she’s the kind of girl you’d pass in a J. Crew with a small dog in her purse. Her eligible men are equally nondescript, to the point that I’ve watched at least three episodes and couldn’t pair names with faces. Fortunately for ABC, the sheer voyeurism of watching people try to fall in love means it’s hard to fuck this one up.
Verdict: Watch with a hand on the remote. Some scenes—like Ali being serenaded by anyone, anywhere—are too perfectly awkward to miss. Others, like the ENDLESS rose ceremony, are easy to skip.
TOP CHEF D.C.: Here’s the thing about Top Chef: it’s getting a little…old. The formula is the same every season and even though they switch cities, unless you’re familiar with the culinary inner-workings of Chicago versus New York versus D.C., the guest chefs and restaurant cameos aren’t going to make much of a difference. It doesn’t help that a lot of the challenges are the same (and then again repeated on Top Chef Masters which, let’s be honest, is just a space filler between TC seasons so you don’t start watching something else in that time slot). That said, this season of Top Chef seems to have the requisite cast of characters: the early front-runner, the power-hungry female, the trod-upon foreigner. Add some spices and voila! Decent television.
Verdict: If you’ve watched the last six seasons, you might as well keep on keeping on. But make sure you have food around; after one particularly tantalizing episode I found myself dipping pretzel rods in butter.
WORK OF ART: In its never-ending quest to find the “top” everything—chef, fashion designer, hair stylist, hair stylist for poodles—Bravo has moved on to perhaps the most subjective of all topics: art. Work of Art throws a bunch of weirdos with artistic inclinations in one room, where they tackle assigned inspirations that run the gamut from portraiture to book covers. To be honest, I had limited hope for this show. I get the Bravo thing, I buy into it, but as someone who’s spent life wishing her technical ability matched her drive to create art, I wasn’t keen on watching people have their work slammed. So far, Bravo has proved me wrong: the ‘assignments’ are broad enough that it’s hard to argue people are being pigeon-holed and the variety in skills is huge; the show includes everything from painters to performance artists. The only weak point: the judges. But to be fair, Tim Gunn set the bar pretty high.
Verdict: If you like Bravo’s other fare, this one is well worth the time. And if you don’t like Bravo’s other fare, why the fuck are you reading my blog?
YOU’RE CUT OFF: VH1 never ceases to amaze. Just when I think they’ve exhausted the possibilities for trashy spin-off shows, they come up with something totally original (and by original I mean “original”) to hold the line until Ray J and another gaggle of hookers can be rounded up. You’re Cut Off follows a dozen spoiled princesses (think My Super Sweet 16, plus ten years) as they’re thrown in a house together with a life coach who teaches them lessons like “Toilets don’t clean themselves” and “Shoes don’t HAVE to cost $4,000.” It’s predictably entertaining to watch women who count tiaras among their casual-wear try to figure out how to grocery shop, or sweep a floor. Unfortunately the life coach/host isn’t harsh enough to make me feel like the ladies are learning anything so much as biding time until they can return home to their pampered lives, a few thousand dollars richer (what does VH1 pay its minions these days?) and decidedly more famous. I would venture to say that a re-casting of Sharon Osbourne, who whipped even sluttier and trashier girls into shape on Charm School, would have made for a much better show. Assuming Monique is booked.
Verdict: When it comes to the on-camera demonization of 20-somethings who have never had to work or think for themselves, I am decidedly in favor.
Filed Under: Politics, Pop Culture, Science and Medicine
Now that it’s become abundantly clear neither man nor machine can solve what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico, I think it’s high time we start looking for alternatives. And no, I don’t mean collecting pounds of hair from the floors of high school gym showers worldwide and shoving them in the still-spewing rig. Rather, we need to think outside of the box, and in this case the box is reality.
It’s pretty obvious the oil spill is a job for a superhero. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of pseudo-natural disaster for which superheroes are uniquely prepared. Can’t get into space on a whim? Call Superman. Need to ascend that skyscraper in 30 seconds flat? Text Spiderman. And if you just need a quick fix of a woman in latex, I’m pretty sure Catwoman hasn’t done much of anything since the early 90s.
So who in our long parade of superheroes and villains is best suited to handle what’s arguably the biggest environmental disaster in our country’s history? Well we at RA thought of some ideas that, frankly, don’t sound all that batshit next to “throw tires in there.” (Note: Aaron thought of most of this. His knowledge of superheroes is unparalleled and, were it not so helpful to this post, I would be mocking him).
BATMAN: BP may have a lock on the advanced technology surrounding offshore drilling, but I’m pretty sure Batman was behind everything from the Hummer to the Internet. Dude has mad gadgets. And the fact that the government (and therefore the massive companies to which the government pays endless lip service) is heavily involved in the industry suggests Wayne Enterprises probably has something up its sleeves for this. Some CIA oil-containing secret weapon that was in development in the 80s and then got scrapped because, well, not containing oil is certainly more profitable. Morgan Freeman would be all over this.
CYCLOPS: All things considered, an optic beam is a good thing to have laying around. After all, the rig is made of metal, and a good blast from old One Eye could probably seal the thing in a few seconds flat. Whether Cyclops can swim that far underwater is another question. I imagine this is where Storm would come in handy; she could probably part the seas for Cyclops and then, to quote Aaron, “make like a waterspout that sucks up all the oil and have like Professor X levitate that shit into space.”
MAGNETO: It’s ill-advised to rely on Magneto for much of anything that involves “saving humanity,” but even mutants can’t live on Sludge Planet. Seems it’d be fairly easy for him to pile a bunch of metal shit on that open pipe (think the electromagnetic/nuclear explosion that killed Juliet in LOST).
THE FLASH: This is a little grim, but so is watching herons and gulls wash up on the shores of Loiusiana looking more tarred than feathered. In one comic, The Flash ran around the world so fast that he went back in time, which would be useful for turning back the clock a month, killing everyone on the rig (whatever, they were going to die anyway) and preventing this from ever happening. As a side benefit, I’m not opposed to canceling out that intoxicated night of karaoke I had last week.
AQUAMAN: It stands to reason that the dude has some expertise when it comes to water-related disasters. That said, he uses creatures of the ocean to help him, which might be a lost cause right now. There’d have to be some sort of global outreach on the part of sea creatures to solicit help from those in far-flung places. Sort of like when Scuttle and Flounder got all the sea animals to ruin Prince Eric’s wedding to Ursula in The Little Mermaid.
SPIDERMAN: Not sure how useful Spiderman would be for the actual sealing of the rig, but assuming he was down for a collaborative effort, the cleanup work here would be massive. Some uniquely manufactured spider webs, designed to pick up oil and filter water, would come in mighty handy over the next, I don’t know, three decades.
SUPERMAN: It’s fair to say getting Superman involved is a surefire way to get this shit taken care of, and in time for him to go home and bang Lois. The options are limitless: traveling back in time, sealing the pipe with heat vision, freezing the whole area and throwing it into space, plugging it with Lex Luther. When you can pull off underwear outside the pants, you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want.
Now I know what you’re thinking—what about Captain Planet? It’s true that the captain, whose job as a superhero is pretty much to prevent or stop this exact kind of disaster, should be on the task force. But to be honest, I haven’t seen him deliver on that whole “bring pollution down to zero” promise, so I’m willing to give everyone else a try first.
Got your own ideas? Let us know. But let’s be honest, they won’t be nearly as awesome.
Filed Under: TV
Anyone who’s been in a corporate meeting …or at least seen an episode of 30 Rock, knows the importance of synergy. After all, what’s better than a great product if not finding a way to integrate it with other great products in the most prevalent business example of killing two birds with one money-scented stone? This sort of big-business sell-outitude is obvious in things like Taco Bell/Pizza Hut combo restaurants and ABC’s prolonged dispute with Cablevision eliminating my access to Disney for an entire day. But in the TV world, synergy has been woefully underutilized. In other words, the day there’s more than one competition show about hair styling is the day we should start trimming the fat—and what better way than by combining some of our favorite programs? Here are RA’s top ideas for the TV equivalent of Taco Bell/Pizza Hut …minus the gas.
1. REAL WORLD/JACKASS
Both of these stalwart MTV franchises have been lagging in recent years—on the Real World, MTV vacillates between self-involved intellectual types and balls-to-the-wall party kids, with little gray area. Meanwhile Jackass, once the symbol of our viral video times, has since the beginning of the decade fallen into a murky audience zone. The 20-somethings who followed the show during its heyday are too old to appreciate it anymore, and there’s something inherently creepy about 13-year-olds watching men their father’s age attach things to their balls.
Combo show: Eight strangers picked to live in a house and have their various attempts to injure themselves or one-another taped.
The “plot” of Survivor is ungodly easy to follow—drop desperate losers off on an island and let them duke it out; each week, someone is given the boot. Lost, by contrast, has long since stopped making sense for even its most devoted followers. Throwing these two together would make Survivor fans moderately smarter (as Lost is prone to obscure literary and philosophical references), and Lost fans slightly less confused. After all, what is an island full of fame-seeking morons if not some sort of televised purgatory?
Combo show: Send a few dozen idiots to an obscure island with limited supplies and plentiful mysteries. Stage random assaults via wild animals and smoke monsters. Each week, someone gets kicked off (and put on a plane that will subsequently crash).
3. REAL HOUSEWIVES/CELEBRITY APPRENTICE
Anyone who’s seen even one episode in the Real Housewives franchise knows housewife in this case is synonymous with “marrying rich so you can start your own line of face cream/cocktails/jewelry/insert other pointless product here.” But what would happen if you actually put the self-absorbed and mildly insane women of RHNY to work for someone like The Donald? Though Sinbad and Bret Michaels have provided no shortage of hilarity so far on this season of Celebrity Apprentice (to say nothing of perennial politician Rod Blagojevich), the two-hour show is quickly wearing thin (at Episode 2, mind you). Some good old-fashioned cat fights would definitely do the trick.
Combo show: Pit two teams of Real Housewives ladies (personally, I vote for New York vs. New Jersey) against one-another in a series of challenges aimed at “raising money for charity” (by which I mean degrading people who think they’re above menial labor).