Now, after I watch a favorite TV show, say, The Office or Flight of the Conchords or 30 Rock, not more then thirty minutes have to pass before I hear back from friends and fellow bloggers about said program's latest episode and where it ranks with other episodes and what grade they'd give it from A to F or stars out of 5, and what was wrong with it, what didn't work and what did. (This is also true of films and music, but seems more frequent and immediate with television.) I'm part of this world, too, I will not throw rocks in this glass house, but it's something I've noticed.
Part of it is the immediacy of our world. Shows are instant, the internet is instant, blogs, social networks, Twitter, text messages, it's all quick and instantaneous.
I have often been worried about critical thinking skills -- feeling that is something that should be required in secondary education nationwide -- so you'd think I'd be pleased that we're all demonstrating such critical abilities. I also appreciate the art of discussion and debate when it comes to art and mass media.
All that said, sometimes I wish I could just enjoy the latest FOTC episode without wondering or hearing about where it ranks with past episodes, how the songs rate, what could have been better. Are we still able to enjoy these escapes if we're analyzing and debating and ranking so obsessively?
I know, I know, just log off the internet for awhile if you need a break from it. But even that is no guarantee we'll be allowed very long before ramming into a cynic's conversation on the same subject matter. But still, this isn't bad advice -- perhaps we can all unplug from time to time, go sit under a tree and meditate, letting that show, film, book, or song, wash down through you, before the dissection begins.
Sounds good, but if you'll excuse me, I have to go post a note about how annoying Kyra Sedgwick is.
HBO will kick off the second season of "Flight of the Conchords" on FunnyorDie.com
Full-length sneak peek of the comedy series' second-season premiere episode will be available for viewing on the site from Wednesday [Dec 17] through Sunday. Select highlight clips from "Conchords' " first season also will be available.
The series will make its official season bow on HBO Jan. 18.
It wouldn't be Christmastime without the... Star Wars Holiday Special! (?) Yes, that infamous, Lucas-buried television special from the late 70s that pushed the Star Wars phenomenon just.. one step too far. It's impossible to find in any legal way these days, but thanks to the boys at Rifftrax, you can watch it online, complete with their mocking commentary.
Tony Award Winner and Oscar nominated Diahann Carroll as a singing holographic prostitute who services Grandpa Itchy. And Bea Arthur stretches her talent by playing a woman. Not only that, there are commercials from 1978 that will come close to convincing you that "1978" is fairly synonymous with "Hell".
"But, Rifftrax," you say, "Rifftrax, please - The Star Wars Holiday Special is not commercially available. How am I supposed to watch this?!" Well, we assume you taped it off the TV back in 1978 using your 130 pound top loading Panasonic NV-9300 U-Matic VCR, just like we did. If not, what were you thinking? Stop right now and GO Out and Get Looking for onE.
Because we taped ours off of the television set, and our NV-9300 doesn't have an "edit" function printed on one of its dozens of plastic piano key-style switches, we just left the commercials in there.
Even though this wonderful Fry & Laurie sketch is on in years now and, of course, English, I can't help but think while rewatching it that it rather accurately depicts the sort of repressive, religious, anti-sex ed thought process practiced by a too-large number of American parents even in this day and age. Watch it and see if you don't agree. Or at least, see if you don't laugh.
After several years of hearing about a wonderfully quirky British show called Spaced, and then hearing still more about it when its creators went on to make the highly regarded genre-busting film comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz,
and then finally seeing some bits of said show on a bootleg DVD someone
had sent me, made from the fairly barebones UK region 2 release, now at
long last comes a proper US release of the entire series. Fans of those
films should rejoice, for herein is the germination of everything
director Edgar Wright and company would subsequently produce, and yet may never quite top.
For those many of us who are already familiar with how sharply funny Simon Pegg and his frequent compadre Nick Frost can be, it is Jessica Stevenson
(who now uses her married name, Hynes) who might be the real revelation
to Americans here. In the UK she's quite well known as a comic
performer on stage and in TV (and has been a collaborator with Pegg for
some time), but it's a delight to see her here at her likable best, a
semi-spastic but earnest wonder, the perfect foil for Pegg's
manchildish character. The show centers around Pegg's Tim and
Stevenson's Daisy, two strangers who meet when apartment hunting and
decide to make a go of searching for a flat together. They discover
it's easier to find a place they love if they pretend to be a married
couple. And if that sounds like the set-up to a terrible American
sitcom, it very well might, but in Spaced it is the perfect set
up for Wright, Pegg and Stevenson's loopy humor and (cornucopia) of
loopy characterizations -- which generously lends itself all the way
down to a rich supporting cast.
Those players include the inimitable Julia Deakin, a tight-lipped, chain-smoking landlady and mother of a troubled teenage daughter (whom we never see in full); Mark Heap's Brian, a moody painter; Katy Carmichael's
Twist, Daisy's fashion-conscious, blunt-mouthed friend; and, oh yes,
Aida the Dog doing fine work as Colin the Dog, who joins the cast
mid-way through the first series.
As in their films, there are the expected numerous pop culture
references but also an impressive number of ingenious sight gags,
filmmaking tricks (zooms and sweeps), flashbacks, cutaways, tangential
but inspired bits (as in the gleeful moment in the clubbing episode in
which their ecstasy-ed-out friend Tyres(!) finds a rhythm in a ringing
phone and from his POV it turns into a deranged musical number in his
head). All the first season episodes are standouts but I am
particularly fond of several: "Beginnings," where it all, yes, begins;
"Art," a delirious episode that lampoons pretentious performance art
and features a bit of foreshadowing for Shaun of the Dead; and the
sweet natured final episode of the first series which even offers a
touching finale (which at the time the creators thought might be it).
And the episode in which Daisy first acquires the dog also features a
memorable paintball battle.
While Season One is arguably (if minutely) superior to Two, the
latter has its share of wondrous moments. The second picks up some
months later (and aired some two years after the first series), and
finds Daisy having returned from a spiritually enlightening trip
abroad. The first two episodes contain very arguably the finest Anti-George Lucas/Phantom Menace
running jokes ever, including a moment in the comic book store in which
Tim works that is almost indescribably funny. The second series also
has a few more (but still very few) bits that don't quite work and
doesn't quite sustain the level of energy as the first, but these are
quite honestly small nitpicks. It remains inspired. Oh, and comic book
geeks in particular will enjoy many of the comic-al in-jokes. (CONTINUES...)
There's a superb episode of the TV series "Rescue Me," toward the end of its first season -- the third from last to be precise -- in which Denis Leary's character's mom passes away, his dad comes to live with him, and several other subplots that can't be done justice in describing here. It was written by Leary and his co-conspirator in "Rescue Me," Peter Tolan, who have written the majority of the show's episodes. It is so much better than the couple of episodes that came right before it. In fact, after watching the three DVDs that comprise Rescue Me Season 1 (2004; it's now into season 5), it's hard not to see the show's initial run as quite uneven. And often brilliant.
Maintaining a high level is a real challenge for a TV series these days. That's why short runs are often better (See: Lost); the writers can really focus on the core of the story, the key characters and plots (and most interesting subplots). At times Rescue Me has felt a little lost itself, sometimes playing up the farcical elements too much, too broadly, at other times going too far over the edge. But when it's on, it's really been on. And in Season 1, when it was still finding its way a bit, basically every other episode leaned into greatness. There were some plot threads that seemed dropped, others that went on too long, but, again, when it hit its stride it was capable of giving us an uncomfortable great hour of television.
The characters are sometimes not just assholes, but nervwrackingly so -- misogynist (and there have been times when the show itself has had no idea how to portray women), selfish, homophobic, abusive. Their antics in Season 1 at least are as often tiresome as they are entertaining. But it's also one of the few shows that willfully, sometimes even gleefully, pushes our buttons, the American taboos, left and right, until we are confronted with our own inner assholes.
In short, at its start, Rescue Me was uneven, often trying to do too much, tackle too many issues and purposely push buttons, but when it finds its rhythm, particularly in scenes with Leary reacting to the nightmares around him (Leary's at his best when he goes off) or in some ingenious black comedy, at its best it's pretty unforgettable.
Rescue Me: Season 1: *** (One episode per disc gets ****)
You can probably teach more about writing a scene for TV (or film) from The Wire, and from this one terrific scene from the first season of The Wire, than from any class or book. Watch it, "read it," know it, live it.
Veteran television comedy writer Earl Pomerantz (Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, among many other fine credits) is now doing his own blog, and it''s a must=read.
Good timing, because on the spur of the moment I bought Season 2 of Taxi the other day at Amoeba Records, great to have around for those slow evenings, during bouts of insomnia or procrastination. And Mr. Pomerantz relates an anecdote about writing for that show and working for Ed. Weinberger. (And the revelation that Tony Banta was original an Irish boxer named Ryan.)
UPDATE 5-5-08: I thought I'd put this at the top because it's important. While it doesn't fully make up for the depths to which he sunk on HBO (more below), Buzz Bissinger's interview on The Big Lead blog goes a long way to make up for it. He is contrite, apologetic, and what's more seems so much more open-minded about blogs, as well as admitting the danger of making sweeping generalizations, that it's almost a relief, especially to those many of us who were fans of his writing in the past. And he makes a good point about the overall dumbing-down of society as well as a general tone of mean-spiritedness and derision in public & media conversations these days (ironic, of course, considering his own behavior). But, still, it's a start.
It's already fairly infamous, and frankly, as I'll point out below, many others have discussed it at length much more satisfyingly than I could at this point. But it ties in with what I've been thinking about for months anyway.
What am I talking about? The latest "attack" on the blogosphere from an Established Journalist™, in this case writer Buzz Bissinger going bananas on sports blogger Will Deitch (Deadspin) and all sports blogs and all bloggers who blog about everything, on Bob Costas Live. In fact, that ten minutes may be the low point of Bob Costas' career. The roundtable consisted of Bissinger, Deitch, and, oh yes, for no reason whatsoever, Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who has no connection to blogging but must have been booked to be on the show that day no matter what. It was all an utter embarrassment, but it's Bissinger, author of a fantastic book on football, "Friday Night Lights," who should be most ashamed of himself.