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Friday, June 27, 2008

Could the Emmy Awards finally be coming around?

Winning an Emmy Award is like being voted "Miss Congeniality" at a beauty contest -- it's a cop-out award that always goes to that likeable but second-rate contestent.

As I lamented in a previous post here, the Emmy Awards are notorious for snubbing good television for mediocre fare (I mean, Barry Manilow famously bested Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart last year for best variety show. Barry frickin' Manilow!).

But the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences released a list of their "top ten" semifinalists for the comedy and drama categories that doesn't seem, well, all that lame: "The Wire," Flight of the Conchords," "Pushing Daisies," "Friday Night Lights" and even "Mad Men" made the cut. Read the entire list -- ignoring the inclusion of perennial Emmy faves "Two and a Half Men" and "Boston Legal," of course -- here.

The final five may yet still contain the Emmy snubs we've all come to expect, but there's some hope the awards are finally recognizing less-popular shows. Guess we'll find out if they can stick to their newfound standards on July 17.

Any thoughts on which shows or actors you'd like to see make the final cut? Any favorites that didn't make it?

-- Malavika Jagannathan,


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Real life "Wire" hard to watch

If you were to ask MJ or myself what we love about HBO's "The Wire," you'd probably regret your decision soon after considering how we'd ramble incessantly about favorite scenes, characters and lines before FINALLY hammering home the show's importance as a cultural document -- one that chronicles the sad and gritty realism of urban decay in modern-day Baltimore.

Season Four -- perhaps "The Wire's" best season, or at least 1b to the epic Season Three -- tackles the plight of inner city schools as a means of showing a starting point for the dead end street life. Turning the show over to four young, unproven actors was a risky venture for David Simon and Co., but ultimately it provided a necessary plot arc that revealed how the Avon's and Bodie's of the world are forced to fend for themselves due to a lack of resources -- something Season Five later tackles in cyclical fashion by following the fragmented unit of Namond, Randy, Michael and Dukie after their lives take divergent paths due to the destructive influences around them.

But while "The Wire" reaches into your soul like no other TV show before, it's ultimately just that -- a TV show. Tristan Wilds, who plays too-old-for-his-own-good Michael Lee, is set to star in the new "90210" spin-off. A few supporting actors have popped up in random commercials, causing a double take on my end. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if Omar shows up next to Charlie Sheen on a bland CBS sitcom soon enough. They've moved on, so should we, right?

Enter the HBO documentary "Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card." I wasn't aware the doc would be airing this week, so I was pleasantly surprised to be flipping through the channels late last night -- past scenes of bombed-out rowhouses that were all too familiar from my time watching "The Wire." Except this wasn't scene setting for the latest Omar stash house robbery. This was actually someone's dilapidated home in Baltimore. And Frederick Douglass High is the oldest African-American high school in the country -- one filled with students who act like Michael and Namond, talk like Snoop and Marlo, and struggle to find their footing like Dukie and Wallace.

As the harsh images stew in my brain today, it was almost too hard to watch. Too real, I guess.

In one scene, a fight breaks out in the hallway between a boy and five to six girls -- the vicious, out-of-nowhere blows resembling a full-on boxing match with no regard for gender or safety. When a fresh-out-of-college Spanish teacher tries to get a struggling student to come to class on consecutive days, the boy can barely lift his head from the desk before saying, "Just pass me for doing nothing" while blankly staring ahead. A once-promising English teacher quits his third year in, saying, "The year that I stopped seeing progress in kids is the year I stopped finding the little joys" before packing two boxes and searching for a new career due to the overwhelming need for discipline before education.

Not all the footage is depressing. Yet much like the hard-knock life of those portrayed in the documentary, the "small moments" radiating through the TV screen hardly seem like enough to get by on. Still, the scene where a bright, wide-eyed senior boy named Jordan takes first place in the Urban Debate League -- Namond, anyone? -- will absolutely move you to tears.

The young man is so effervescent, so filled with hope and promise. With a straight face, he talks about how "it's just life" to be raised by a single mother; his father leaving at age 2, never to come back into the fold. In fact, all the students interviewed never use their broken homes as an excuse, many repeatedly uttering the mantra, "It's that way for all of us here" without batting an eye.

When Jordan's name is called as the first place winner during a Saturday competition, he clutches his trophy as though it'll forever be grafted to his body -- a sign that he accomplished something great, that he might finally become "someone" in life. It offers a real moment of reflection, that winning a debate trophy or graduating high school isn't just a phase or stepping stone that inner city African Americans move past quickly. It's something they truly own because of how difficult it is to reach those heights.

As "The Wire" hammered home in Season Four, the primary complaint about the No Child Left Behind mandate is that it forces schools to "teach to the test" in order to stay off the state's blacklist. That the test is issued at 10th grade levels when the majority of the Douglass student population can't read any better than the average 4th grader would seem to indicate that the system is irreparably broken. It's a daily struggle that Douglass students and administration have to ignore -- a lack of adequate textbooks, unqualified substitute teachers filling the majority of staff positions, the dearth of positive parental influence and support. One by one the obstacles keep piling. As you'd expect, the apathy from students is palpable. After all, why would any of these kids care to hear about logarithms in a geometry class or read Macbeth when it's so far from the reality of "just surviving" that guides their lives in broken homes and drug-addled streets?

While veteran documentarians Alan and Susan Raymond don't spend a great deal of time pontificating about the fairness of No Child Left Behind -- the doc really isn't the least bit politically motivated -- it's obvious that David Simon's "Two America's" isn't just a premise that makes for groundbreaking, scripted TV.

"Hard Times" has unbelievable heart -- more than could ever be adequately described here. You need to see the faces. Hear the stories. Above all though, it proves that if the public-at-large wasn't ready for "The Wire," they definitely aren't ready for the real thing. It'd be worth getting angry about if the sadness wasn't so overwhelming,

"Hard Times" re-airs multiple times on HBO throughout June and July, including tonight at 8 p.m. Also, to read the Baltimore Sun's extensive coverage, go here, here, and here. Or watch the YouTube clip below.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The New Classics, according to who?

When you hear the phrase, "Oh, that's classic," typically the topic of discussion is something original, innovative and of high quality that sets a tone for everything else to follow.

I'm afraid the writers at Entertainment Weekly failed to understand that. This week's issue of EW features what the famed magazine calls "The New Classics" -- a ranking of the best of the best from film to television in the last 25 years.

Never before while reading a magazine have I uttered the word "What?!" in such great succession. (Well, with the exception of perusing the latest Playboy, but for entirely different reasons.)

This being a TV blog, I figure its best to focus on the boob tube classics first. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan. But putting The Simpsons at Numero Uno for the last 25 years may be a bit ridiculous. Sure, seasons three through seven, maybe even eight, were pretty solid, but let's be honest -- any thing after that is complete rubbish. I agree the show should definitely see the Top Five but a show that is riding purely on the coattails of a better era is not deserving of the top rank.

From here, the list finds a bit of sanity, ranking The Sopranos at No. 2 (I've never seen it, but heard it has the goods to support bragging rights) and Seinfeld at No. 3 -- a wise choice. Then out of nowhere, in comes The X-Files at number four -- um, nerd alert! I know the program lasted nearly 10 years on the air but c'mon, really? One of the best shows ever in the last 25 years?

Now, there are 100 shows on this list and so as not to bore you with my analysis of why each one was picked, I would just like to point out a few more that left me scratching my head and endlessly shaming the writers at Entertainment Weekly:

-- 10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
-- 17. The Office (U.K. version) yet 61. The Office (U.S. version)
-- 21. Roseanne
-- 30. Late Show with David Letterman yet 43. Late Night with Conan O'Brien
-- 64. The Osbournes
-- 74. Wiseguy
-- 78. I'll Fly Away (really??)
-- 94. Married ... With Children
-- And finally, barely making the cut off 100. Saved by the Bell (C'mon! That was a great show!)

To see the complete list, plus rankings of the new "classic" movies, music, books, style, technology (I know, what?), videogames and stage performances, click here. Trust me, if you're confused now, it'll only get worse.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can "Next Food Network Star" pick up the "Top Chef" torch?

Despite our collective grumbling about the Bandana-Wearing Chef With Multiple Derogatory Nicknames -- who during last week's largely uneventful "Top Chef" reunion, relayed a story about two lesbians giving her the stink-eye at a recent party -- the Bravo show delivered the goods until the lackluster finale.

Andrew was a quote machine. Dale punched a locker. The Blais remained consistently awesome. Stephanie, charming and inspirational. Spike ... er, soupy.

All in all, it was top-notch TV and probably every Channel Surfer would admit that Lisa's awfulness and subsequent defiance gave us plenty to get worked up about, which led to some rather amusing Thursday morning exchanges amongst our writing staff.

But bacon ice cream doesn't last forever. Which means "Top Chef" fans may have moved on to, somewhat predictably, the latest installment of "Next Food Network Star." On a channel that devotes round-the-clock coverage to food, you'd expect some higher stakes, maybe some brighter personalities that really grab hold of the camera. But while "Star" has filled a decent void during a summer lacking quality entertainment, the show is also a bit of a dud -- and no, not because of overexposed judge/host Bobby Flay, you haters.

Or maybe like "Top Chef" -- anyone remember how awful Zoi, Erik and Manuel were? -- "Star" just needed to trim the fat. After all, it has some built-in credibility. "Star" previously launched mega-personality/current TGI Friday's pitchman, Guy Fieri, and later spawned the Food Network's best show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." ("Guy's Big Bite" is pretty awesome, too.)

But on the heels of watching the Blais and the Izard top each other week in, week out, "Star" contestants still seem like awestruck amateurs who can barely make a bowl of cereal. Sunday night's latest casualty, Nipa, had never touched a dead fish in her life. Granted, her show format was to bring Indian food to the masses, but even with her original, yet one-dimensional concept, you'd think someone with kitchen experience would have handled everyday food items like fish before. (She later embarrassingly tried to fillet her fish, which led her to salvage one tiny piece and throw the rest away. Guest judge "Iron Chef" Michael Symon later called the move, "insulting.")

But it's also my gut feeling that the show will hit its stride starting this Sunday. All the pretenders are gone, and the six that remain have at least one victory to their credit.

Until last week, Aaron, an executive catering chef at a hospital, hadn't missed on a single dish. Jennifer, a self-taught executive chef with tremendous likability, can't stop apologizing for her lack of expertise or skill in challenges. She's the best candidate to drop next. Kelsey, a bubbly cheerleader-type, finally stopped overacting (the judges harshly told her to stop being "annoying") and won last week's Red Lobster challenge to become a legit contender. Uppity Lisa, who has a Posh Spice thing working in the kitchen, was poised to be this season's villain, but has since toned down the elitism and might be the best personality suited for her own show.

My two favorites, however, are Shane -- a former Nickelodeon child star and 20-year-old graduate of the Culinary Institute -- and Adam -- an extremely raw actor/restaurant server who pops on camera thanks to a natural "it" factor, timely jokes and an unpredictable personality. Though he took a huge step back last week on the comedy end (He faked tripping while entering a Coast Guard mess hall, completely killing the vibe in the room), Adam lists "The Wire," "Arrested Development" and "Lost" as his favorite TV shows on, so it's pretty obvious that he has the right outside influences. He also seems like the kind of guy you'd actually want to hang out with -- a good thing if you have your own TV show.

Anyway, if you haven't started watching, this Sunday is your best opportunity to dive in. "Food Network Star" Lisa might not be as evil as "Top Chef" Lisa. And so far, there hasn't been any jicama or sweetbread tossed around the kitchen with reckless abandon. But at least two or three of the finalists seem worth watching on their own Food Network show, and now that the cream is rising to the top, it'll be interesting to see who nabs a coveted spot alongside Giada, Rachael, Alton and the rest of the talented "Food Network" crew.

"The Next Food Network Star" airs at 9 p.m. CST, Sundays.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin and his seven dirty words

There may be seven dirty words you can never say on television, but there was only one George Carlin. The counter-culture comic with the sharp mind and filthy mouth died Sunday (not "passed away"— he would've hated the use of such a euphemism) after a heart attack at age 71. He leaves behind a legacy of insightful, subversive comedy, including one infamous routine about a handful of words that you'll never hear on TV. (Well, broadcast TV, at any rate. He wrote the bit in 1972, keep in mind, just as fledgling HBO was switching on.) The monologue — and the firestorm it caused — led to a series of Supreme Court rulings on decency practices for television and radio.

It all started, where else, at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Carlin was arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed "Seven Dirty Words" at the state music festival. He was released on bail, and the charges were dropped when a judge cited Carlin's right to free speech.

It was when Carlin recorded a similar routine for his 1973 album "Occupation: Foole," and a radio station in New York decided to air it, that the Word No. 1 really hit the fan. The station, part of the non-commercial Pacifica Radio Network, was threatened with sanctions by the FCC after a listener complained about the possible effect the words may have had on his son. The case eventually landed at the Supreme Court, where Pacifica eventually lost, suffering the ignominious fate of a sternly worded letter for airing indecent material.

What followed, however, was a Supreme Court declaration giving broadcasters the right to air quote-unquote "indecent" material between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when children were supposedly in bed. This, in turn, led to millions of American kids staying up way too late watching smut, failing exams the next day, and basically destroying our public school system. (That last part was pure conjecture.)

Carlin, in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this year, professed no small bit of pleasure regarding the whole incident. "So my name is a footnote in American legal history," he said, "which I’m perversely kind of proud of."

But in remembering this comedic giant's life, and his contributions to television in particular, we'd be a bunch of stupid Word No. 6's if we failed to mention how he was the first host ever for "Saturday Night Live," on October 11, 1975. How he appeared on "The Tonight Show" around 130 times, according to the Associated Press. How he played up his softer side with "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Shining Time Station," and had his own short-lived sitcom, "The George Carlin Show," back in 1994. The man basically invented the HBO stand-up special, and recorded 14 in all. And Comedy Central placed him at No. 2 on their list of the greatest stand-ups of all time, losing only to Richard Pryor.

If it's the Seven Dirty Words that he is most remembered for, so be it. Because as long as words like ****, **********, and ************ are banned from TV (and TV blogs, ahem), we're always going to remember George Carlin, and his brilliant, filthy mind.

For more on Carlin's life and comedy, check out these links: Entertainment Weekly, Ain't It Cool News, NPR, and The Houston Chronicle.

Adam Reinhard,


Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer DVD Club: The genius of Joss Whedon in "Angel"

My friends and I have a weekly tradition of getting together on Monday nights to watch "Dexter" and cook dinner. We will often warm up with the latest "Bill Maher" on DVR while trying our hand at new recipes.

Thai peanut spring rolls and New Rules go surprisingly well together.

With no new episodes since December, we resorted to TV on DVD – resurrecting the oldies but goodies. Being that we are big Joss Whedon fans, we started with "Buffy" Seasons 1-3. Alas, unable to bring ourselves to spend the money on purchasing or renting the awful Season 4, we decided to switch our Whedonesque focus to "Angel," Seasons 1-5.

This week, approximately two months after starting this project, we celebrated the season one finale with Buffalo Wild Wings takeout and a sample of microbrews.

In Season One we see Doyle die (oops, Spoiler Alert everyone!), we meet Dennis the friendly ghost, and we even see Wesley try to be a man (which he does not achieve until Season 5, if I believe what I’m told).

The full rundown:

First Impressions:
The makeup jobs and special effects in the early episodes are laughingly amateur, but we deduce this might be a result of The WB (pre-CW for all of you tweens) not wanting to invest too much cash into a show that had not yet proven itself worthy.

Familiar Faces: Sarah Michelle Gellar makes two appearances. One as detailed in the Most Memorable Episode below, and the second when she follows Faith (Eliza Dushku) to L.A. At the end of the season finale (spoiler alert!) we see the return of Darla (Julie Benz, aka: Rita Bennett on "Dexter"). Elisabeth Rohm plays Detective Kate Lockley in the first season, but all are in agreement that when she quit "Angel" to play an A.D.A on "Law & Order" she made a good career move. In the season finale we were delighted to recognize one, David Herman (Michael Bolton in "Office Space").

Most Memorable Episode: In one particularly heart-wrenching episode for all of you "Buffy"/"Angel" fans, Gellar guest stars in a cross-over episode in which Angel becomes human through some ectoplasm-like demon goo. He spends the day in the sun, they make sweet, sweet love, and then the Powers that Be tell him it cannot last for the sake of mankind. You see, Angel’s superhuman, er, vampire power is eliminated when he’s human – as we see when he gets his booty handed to him on a platter by aforementioned ectoplasm goo-spewing demon. Without his strength and quasi-martial arts fighting abilities, he cannot save the innocents in Los Angeles (hm, never realized what an oxymoron this show’s premise was before). The twist? All can be put back the way it was, but for the exception that Angel alone will remember this beautiful, sublime, human day…because he needs more angst.

Most Memorable Episode 2: In the very next episode (not yet fully, emotionally recovered from the last), we are treated to another heart-wrencher in the death of Doyle (Glenn Quinn). His adorable Irish drawl forever silenced by an heroic effort to save the world, he passes his special ESP powers on to Cordelia. If you couldn’t already tell, he was our favorite character of the season. I’m too verklemped to remember the details, but it had something to do with a giant Origami mirror ball destroying humans and half demons.

Season Finale: The first season ends with a bang as we see Wolfram & Hart, the arch nemeses, resurrect a pitiful, shivering, in-need-of-a-shower-but-wouldn’t-you-be-too-after-being-resurrected Darla. Cordelia almost goes insane from a demon-induced onslaught of visions, doesn’t because Angel saves her, and then finally grows a partially selfless heart. Wesley incorrectly translates an ancient scroll that says Angel will die, only to realize at the end that the scroll really says he’ll live, but only after fighting a bazillion demons, surviving innumerable plagues, pestilence, and the end of the world. And by live he means become human. Angel cuts off Lindsay’s arm through impressive axe wielding, oh, and the Angel Investigations building is blown up by an Assassin demon. Watching this a second time, my friends tell me this one episode neatly introduces things that will affect the show throughout the next four years.

Even though it’s a spinoff of "Buffy," "Angel" is intended to be darker and more urban than it’s Sunnydale counterpart. The general grittiness of L.A. helps in this respect, but the more sinister plotlines and undercurrents solidify this goal. I’m excited to begin Season Two, where the one episode I watched in “the year 2000” (Conan, anyone?) has Team Angel traveling to a different dimension in which Cordelia is queen and Lorne is a slave.

-- Recapped by Ms. Quarter

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Get Ur "Freak" On, Yearbook-style

Way back in the day -- like, November 2007 -- I boldly answered the Channel Surfing question, "If you had to save one TV on DVD set from a burning building" by declaring my love for the "Freaks and Geeks: Special Edition."

I take great pride in owning the Yearbook edition of my all-time favorite dramedy. I like the envious stares when people pull it off my living room shelf and realize that it's a comprehensive DVD set and not my own lame high school yearbook filled with photos of me in the Writers Club. (Yes, we had a Writers Club by default for taking Advance Placement Literature. It's a great notch on my resume.)

Quite simply, the "Freaks" Yearbook Edition from Shout! Factory is the finest DVD set ever assembled. People can touch it, but never borrow it -- an unwavering fact of life that has prevented a few friends and relatives from watching the complete series since they can only do so at my house.

For those who don't know, it's a real yearbook with the DVDs, including bonus footage galore, slotted comfortably in the back pages. Inside you'll also find tons of photos, comprehensive recaps of every episode and most important, tons of hilarious inside jokes (for example, classic yearbook messages involving little-used character, Stroker, and all-time "Freaks" fave, Nick Andopolis, complete with poor grammar and first-grade misspellings) that die-hard fans should eat up.

Am I bringing all this up to rub in your face, you sad, sad soul who only recently discovered "Freaks" because of Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen's rise to Hollywood prominence? Man, I wish!

Instead, good news all around as has a re-release of the special set listed for pre-order (Oct. 28) at $119. Yes, it's a fairly steep price to pay for entertainment (the original release also went for $120), and if you're new to the show, it probably isn't the most reasonable route -- though I guarantee it'll be your new favorite series, unless you had feathered jock hair like Todd Schellinger in high school. But if you're a fan and have never purchased the show on DVD -- or even if you already have the 6-disc retail box -- I can't stress this enough. YOU HAVE TO BUY THE YEARBOOK SET. Refuse and you'll be mercilessly mocked like Bill Haverchuck getting picked last for softball in gym class.

Anyway, if paging through your brand spankin' new Yearbook while doubled over in laughter as Millie and Nick sing "Jesus is Just Alright" isn't incentive enough to place an order, here's the rundown:

* Six hours of additional footage on two extra discs, including:

* Three live table reads

* One-hour Q&A with the cast at the Museum of Television and Radio, shot days before the show was cancelled

* Auditions, deleted scenes, promos, and outtakes

* Favorite scenes from producers

* Jeff Rosso and Feedback in concert

* A script that was never shot

* A special music and photo gallery

* 80-page yearbook, embossed and foil-stamped

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Last Comic Standing" provides plenty of laughs, groans and the occasional what-the-heck moment

With the lull of summer TV tempting us all -- seriously, I rewatched the sleep-inducing "Top Chef" finale last night because I was bored -- I'm happy to announce that at least Thursdays are safe from such pathetic behavior.

NBC's "Last Comic Standing" is a more-than decent replacement for "The Office" and "30 Rock" time slots. It's a weekly dose of stand-up comedy that far surpasses anything you'll find on those Friday night specials on Comedy Central with a bonus of seeing some of NBC's past and present comic stars who serve as the talent scout team (best pairing so far: Alfonso Ribeiro aka Carlton from "Fresh Prince" and Neil Flynn aka The Janitor from "Scrubs" -- also, what exactly HAS Ribeiro been doing since "Fresh Prince" ended? Anyone?).

The cross-country search is entertaining -- but often bizarre -- as the talent scouts vet the various crazies who believe they're the next Jim Gaffigan, Jerry Seinfeld or Ellen DeGeneres (or Ru Paul as the case sometimes is). As with "American Idol," the number of William Hung wannabees coming out of the woodwork can get annoying, but the producers do a decent job of editing those down to a blooper reel.

Tonight, "30 Rock" stars Lonny Ross and Keith Powell will head to Miami to hear the aspiring comics from all over the world. Some of the acts, according to Reality TV Magazine, include "Australian twins, an Englishman whose secret weapon is his double bass, and an Israeli comic who does an impression of a stuttering turtle."

Stuttering turtle? Awesome. Sign me up!

With the "Last Comic Standing" tour stopping at the Meyer Theater on Sept. 12 and at Milwaukee's Pabst Theater on Sept. 13, there's no better time than now to get acquainted with the cast and characters. Check it out tonight at 7:30 p.m. at NBC.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ray Combs Didn't Need No Stinkin' Celebrities!

Not to brag, but while playing an online game of "Family Feud" a few months back, I got every No. 1 answer on my first try during the "Fast Money" round. Yeah, let's see Larry the Cable Guy's mom try and duplicate that!

In case you haven't seen the glorious promos, NBC is pumping out a prime time "all-star" edition of "Family Feud" starting July 1. Normally I'd make fun of something like this, but in all honesty, the idea of a pitch meeting involving the words "Hosted By Al Roker," Peter Brady, Playboy Playmates, that Wolf guy from "American Gladiators" and Creed from "The Office" has me downright giddy.

It's no secret. I like my reality TV/game show hybrids to be as outlandish as possible, and already "Celebrity Family Feud" has several things going for it. Among them: Deion "Must Be The Money" Sanders' daughter "Deiondra," a confirmed racist in Dog the Bounty Hunter, Bruce Jenner's Botox-laden alien face, Wayne Newton's Botox-laden alien face, Joan Rivers' Botox-laden alien face, Ice T's wife and her silicone-laden alien ... face, confirmation that Corbin Bernsen is indeed still alive, Margaret Cho's need for TWO assistants, and Larry the Cable Guy's mom, Shirley, who is the only person who has seen both "Delta Farce" AND "Witless Protection" in their entirety.

(Wait, you did, too? Seriously. Stop reading this blog.)

Man, if only they could have assembled all these great ideas for an original reality TV premise called "I Survived a Japanese Game Show!" Oh wait ...

The celebrity match-ups are as follows:

Bill Engvall vs. Larry The Cable Guy

Bill Engvall; Wife, Gail; Daughter, Emily; Son, Travis; Bill's mom, Jeanne

Larry the Cable Guy; Cara the Cable Wife; Tom the Cable Brother; Debbie the Cable Sister; Shirley the Cable Mom

Vivica A. Fox vs. Mo'Nique

Vivica A. Fox; Sister, Alecia; Brother, Marvin; Brother, William; Niece, Sharday

Mo'Nique; Husband, Sidney; Her cousin, Eric; Her cousin, Terrance; Family friend, Rodney

"American Chopper" vs. Christopher Knight and Adrianne Curry

Paul Teutul; Son, Paul Jr.; Son, Mikey; Family friend, Steve; Family friend, Ron

Christopher Knight; Adrianne Curry; Family friend, Andrea; Adrianne's brother, Nick; Adrianne's mom, Christine

Corbin Bernsen vs. Margaret Cho

Corbin Bernsen; Wife, Amanda; Son, Oliver; Son, Henry; Son, Angus

Margaret Cho; Dad, Seung Hoon; Mom, Young Hie; Margaret's assistant, John; Margaret's assistant, Selene

The Kardashians vs. Deion Sanders

Kim Kardashian; Khloe Kardashian; Kourtney Kardashian; Bruce Jenner; Kris Jenner

Deion Sanders; Wife, Pilar; Son, Deion Jr.; Daughter, Deiondra; Deion's Aunt Annette

Ice T vs. The Rivers

Ice T; Wife, Coco; Son, Ice; Coco's mom, Tina; Family friend, Sean

Joan and Melissa Rivers; Joan's nephew, Andrew; Joan's assistant, Sabrina; Joan's niece, Caroline

Raven-Symone vs. Wayne Newton

Raven-Symone; Mom, Lydia; Rondell Sheridan, her TV Dad; Brother, Blaize; Tkeyah Crystal Keymah, her TV Mom

Wayne Newton; Wife, Kathleen; Daughter, Erin; Kathleen's mom, Marilyn; Kathleen's sister, Tricia

Tiki Barber vs. Ed McMahon

Tiki Barber; Wife, Ginny; Mom, Geraldine; Cousin, Geoff; Cousin, Tess

Ed McMahon; Wife, Pam; Son, Alex; Granddaughter, Alexandra; Pam's brother, Sandy

The Hickeys from "My Name Is Earl" vs. The Camden County All-Stars from "My Name Is Earl"

Earl (Jason Lee); Randy (Ethan Suplee); Joy (Jaime Pressly); Darnell (Eddie Steeples); Catalina (Nadine Velazquez)

Tim Stack; Patty (Dale Dickey); Kenny James (Greg Binkley); Nescobar A-Lop-Lop (Abdoulaye Ngom); Tim Stack's agent (Greg Garcia)

"The Office" vs. "American Gladiators"

Brian Baumgartner; Phyllis Smith; Kate Flannery; Oscar Nunez; Creed Bratton

Laila Ali; Wolf; Jet; Venom; Titan

Vincent Pastore vs. "Girls Next Door"

Vincent Pastore; Ex-wife, Nancy; Daughter, Renee; Renee's fiance, Christopher; Family friend, Kathrine

Bridget Marquardt; Holly Madison; Kendra Wilkinson; Sara Underwood; Jayde Nicole

Kathie Lee Gifford vs. Dog The Bounty Hunter

Kathie Lee; Frank Gifford; Son, Cody; Daughter, Cassidy; Frank's granddaughter, Christina

Dog the Bounty Hunter; Wife, Beth; Son, Duane Jr.; Son, Leland; Daughter, Lyssa

"Things you shouldn't call African-Americans when your son is secretly recording your phone conversations?" No. 1 answer, Dog? DING! DING! DING!

Yeah, there really isn't much more to say. This is the new frontier for cheap programming, and for the potential comedy factor, it'll probably draw viewers who have nothing better to watch during the summer. I can only hold out hope for "Celebrity Scrabble" and a long-awaited battle between noted wordsmiths Mr. T and Gary Busey.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

‘The Middleman’ may well save us all ... or at least our summer

Imagine a hybrid of "The X-Files," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Pushing Daisies." Then imagine that hodgepodge actually being good. You've got ABC Family's new "The Middleman."

Yeah, ABC Family. The network with programming so lame it makes The Disney Channel look like friggin' HBO has a serious contender for best series of the summer with this little charmer about a pair of sardonic, supernatural crime fighters.

Created by "Lost" producer/writer and awesome-name-haver Javier Grillo-Marxuach — and based on his own graphic novels — "The Middleman" recounts the exploits of a button-down, clean-cut man of mystery known only as The Middleman. Whenever something freaky happens — usually involving aliens, monsters or possibly Paula Abdul — The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) jumps in to clean things up. He's joined by slacker artist and cutie-patoot Wendy (Natalie Morales), who survived a monster attack during her temp job at a genetics lab, and reluctantly signed up for superhero duty.

The pilot — which premiered last night, but can be caught again Sunday at 9:30 p.m. — was a breezy, witty delight, with the rapid-fire dialogue of "Daisies" or "Gilmore Girls," cheesy, tongue-in-cheek special effects, and a hilariously nonsensical plot involving the Mafia, hyper-intelligent gorillas, and probably the best interrogation scene ever centered around a glass of milk.

If you can swallow your pride long enough to actually tune in ABC Family, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the quality on display with "The Middleman." As far as summer series go, you couldn't ask for more.

Adam Reinhard,

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Get a taste of "Top Chef" in Madison on Aug. 27

That's right, "Top Chef" is coming to town - er - well, the state, anyway.

Bravo TV's "Top Chef: The Tour" will stop in Madison on Aug. 27. (a Wednesday) for four live interactive shows -- three for the fans and one for cable affiliate partners. Check with Bravo's Web site for more details as the date approaches (no doubt we'll post about it here, too).

A more detailed press release with the entire schedule is also posted on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch TV Blog.

No word yet which of the chefs from this season or seasons past will be present, but here's hoping Fatty McDooragerton won't make an appearance. Personally, my votes are for pretty-boy Sam from season 2 and either of the Dales (season 3 and 4).

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Friday, June 13, 2008

"Meet The Press" host Tim Russert dies at 58

Sad news for political junkies and journalists everywhere.

Tim Russert, best known as the host of NBC's "Meet the Press," died today of sudden heart attack at the age of 58 in Washington D.C.

Read NBC News' update here. Former anchor Tom Brokaw announced the news of the death of their colleague on NBC, saying "This news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice."

As someone who grew up watching "Meet the Press" on Sundays, Russert was a far cry from the blowhards that dominate cable television news channels today. He did what all journalists should have done -- asked the hard questions and asked them repeatedly -- and it's hard to imagine a presidential election year without his presence and his trusty whiteboard that made its appearance in 2000 during the election (later upgraded to a PC in Election 2004).

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Racist fruit vendor scores job at new 'Office'

For those of you who maybe forgot that a spinoff for "The Office" was in the works — and in doing so hoped that the whole ill-advised endeavor would simply go away — here comes some news that brings the project one step closer to reality.

Variety reported yesterday that actor/comedian Aziz Ansari is the first member of the yet-untitled sitcom's cast to be hired. What role he'll be playing — doofish boss? lovelorn slacker? a new, exciting stereotype perhaps? — is being kept mum. But executive producer Greg Daniels isn't so tight-lipped as to why Ansari — a member of MTV sketch troupe Human Giant — was picked. "We met him pretty early on and thought he was very funny," Daniels said. "We loved his work in 'Human Giant,' which I'm a huge fan of, as is (co-executive producer Mike Schur), and we have a good character for him."

As good a character as Sinjay, the racist outdoor fruit vendor and certified mutha'ucka from "Flight of the Conchords"? Because I'll admit, I've never watched "Human Giant" (is it on MTV? Yeah, then I've never seen it), and therefore am only familiar with Ansari's portrayal of a prejudiced produce monger, whose misplaced hatred for New Zealanders drove a fruit-deprived Bret and Jemaine to unleash a fury of extended middle digits. But he was funny enough — "You can have fruit from the New Zealand section ... it's for dogs from America and people from New Zealand" — that his involvement in this stupid damn "Office" spinoff malarkey gives me a glimmer of hope that it won't entirely suck.

Also promising is this rumor from E! that the focus of the spinoff will be none other than Karen a-Filippelli, played by button-cute Rashida Jones. Here's what E!!! says: "While one inside source (who has always been reliable) says 'it's true' that Rashida will be a part of the new series, another source inside Rashida's camp says, 'As far as I know, she has not been approached.'" C'mon, E!!!!!!, get your facts straight.

Adam Reinhard,

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Top Chef" finale: bland, boring and a Blais-down

It couldn't have gone to a more deserving chef. Chicago's own Stephanie Izard walked away with the honors on last night's "Top Chef" -- besting the She-Devil and Richard "Faux-Hawk" Blais with a simple and creative menu that wowed the judges -- but the finale was as bland as Richard's underseasoned first course. The create-a-menu challenge felt flat. Where were the fiery hi-jinks? The obstacles "Top Chef" loves to throw at its contestants? The sabotage? Intrigue? Random ingredients no one has ever heard of? Nowhere to be seen. Come on, "Top Chef," throw us some jicama!

Discounting the Doo-Rag-Wearing-Porker's somewhat admirable effort that caused a few panic attacks during the final minutes of the judges' table discussion (Gail's adoration of Lisa was downright frightening), the two-way contest we expected soon crumbled into a clear one-woman show.

Stephanie's win was well-deserved, but the real story became Richard's spectacular free fall that lead him to ruefully admit during final judging that he had "choked" on executing his experimental flavors and had no justification to be named "Top Chef." He was hardly the same guy who confidently mixed wasabi and white chocolate! As Ted Allen notes in his blog, "somehow that loose, improvisational, 'listen-to-the-Force, Luke' spirit unraveled for him in the kitchen. You could see the writing on the wall when Tom visited during prep, and Richard seemed shockingly unsure of where his story was going -- at the worst possible time in the contest."

Someone pass Richard a doo-rag, please. He's going to need it for those tears.

Channel Surfing bloggers Thomas Rozwadowski, Malavika Jagannathan, Sara Boyd and Adam Reinhard would like to present our Top Ten ways to improve the tepid "Top Chef" finale.

10. Food Poisoning. So it may have sucked and it probably would have been edited down, but a fine case of food poisoning could have been just what the doctor -- er -- bored viewers ordered. Watching Ted Allen vomit all over Padma and Gail, then preferably direct it on Lisa would have added a little pizazz where there was none. Plus nothing says creative cooking like a little salmonella poisoning. Tomatoes, anyone? -- Malavika

9. While heading to Puerto Rico was certainly a nice reward for the three finalists – but not the viewers thanks to Saggybottom McFlabbyarms and her lack of fashion sense in the warm weather -- where was the love for the Windy City in the end? Couldn’t they have done something to incorporate the flavor profiles of homebase during the final challenge? While the freedom to do whatever they wanted in the finale seemed like a good idea, oddly enough, the lack of restriction seemed to bury Richard. Plus, they really should have just made She-Who-Spits-On-Those-Who-Eat-The-Food-Of-Peasants work with polish sausage again. Oh, that’s right! She didn’t actually work with polish sausage because it was beneath her during the improv challenge. Rules are for suckas. My bad. -- Thomas

8. In honor of my boy Blais, I would like to say nothing here as a silent symbol to the most poorly timed crap-out ever on Top Chef ... choke on, Brother Blais. Choke on. Better luck next ti ... er, good luck with the new baby! -- Sara

7. A vegetarian menu item. "Top Chef's" focus on proteins is all fine and well, but even the most successful chef is often thrown off by the concept of a meatless dish. Why not require at least one of the courses in the final menu to be totally vegetarian? A less-creative thinker like Lisa would have thrown it away on a crappy salad, but I'd bet Stephanie and Richard could both have come up with a unique twist on veggie fare. -- Malavika

6. Lisa slices off her own hand while trying to dice shrimp and Richard cooks it with liquid nitrogen. OK, that may be a little far fetched, but my point being ... dear God, where was the fight to the death? The thrill? The climax?! (That's what she said.) I'm quite disappointed in the previews because they did make it look like something might have gone down in the finale between The-Bandana-Wearing-Rice-Burning-Hack and Pink-Croc-A-licious.

When Richard said, "I'm just going to come out and say it ... " I thought for shizz he was about to spit some Blaisin' fire at Miss I-Can-Make-Coconut-Soup-So-Give-Me-The-Gold-Medal-Ugface. There should've been a fight. Richard kept talking about how she shouldn't have been there ... my God man, get some danglers and say it to her face! I know, I know ... part of the reason I "hearted" Richard in the first place was because he had respect, he had pride but was humble and an overall good guy. But if there's no drama during the finale, then when? Dale should've been there -- at the very least, he would've punched a wall! -- Sara

5. Where was salesman Richard? EVERYONE on the Internet has pointed out how frazzled Brother Blais looked when Tom made his kitchen visit. And while I didn't want to say it at the time, yeah, the dude looked about as comfortable as Ewan McGregor experiencing a cold turkey heroin withdrawal in "Trainspotting." Remember his corny "Do you like burritos?" pitch back in the day. That's the Blais that needed to show up last night! C'mon, say it with me: "Do you like foie gras?" SOLD! -- Thomas

(From last night's Channel Surfing "Top Chef" gathering: "Do you like burritos? Question of the day." -- Thomas)

4. Food fight. Would it have been too much to ask during that stuffy, WASP-ish dinner party for Colicchio to jump up on the table like the very reincarnation of John Belushi, yell "FOOOOOD FIIIIGHT!!" and proceed to hurl braised lamb medallions and bacon ice cream all over Padma's dress? What better way to transform that dull assemblage of culinary snob zombies (or snombies) into the kind of relatable, down-to-earth food lovers you see every night at your local Applebee's than to see scallops bouncing off heads and clam broth drenching tuxedos? Miss Manners might have frowned, but Bluto Blutarsky would have loved it. Frankly, so would I. -- Adam

3. "Top Chef" veterans -- so, yes, none of my fellow bloggers -- may remember the infamous scandal that ensued in season 2 when Cliff tried to shave heinous Marcel's head after a night of partying and subsequently got kicked off the show. A few well-timed booze-induced college antics -- a simple Sharpie to a sleeping Lisa would have sufficed -- could have at least livened up the snoozefest of a finale. Nothing says reality television like a contestant waking up with "balls" written on their face. Even Bravo's gotta know that. -- Malavika

2. Not to beat a dead horse – and really, I'll stop blaming Frumpasaurus Rex for this one – but Dale needed to be in the finale, and not just at the end of the show in a random shot. Not that Richard didn’t respect Stephanie’s talent. But in terms of technique, I think the Blaisinator only saw Dale as his closest competition. Remember when those two went blade-to-blade in the monkfish portion of the relay race? Game. Freakin’. On. From a creative standpoint, those two pushed each other like no other pair on the show. It was especially evident when they teamed up during the improv challenge and killed it with a ridiculous tofu steak and green curry double-whammy. When you respect someone like that, you want to beat them, if only because it makes you feel that much better to take out the best. So while Stephanie still may have won due to her main course, if Dale had reached the finale – as he should have, butterscotch debacle or not – Richard would have been laser sharp. Or make that, Blais-er sharp. -- Thomas

1. Let Lisa win. OK, before you aim the lamb medallions at my kisser, hear me out. Regardless of how you feel about Ms. Fat Fat Ugly Fat Fat (these nicknames are getting hard to come up with), her meal last night was the most consistent, and, from what I saw, the most lauded. Since the judges had already proven willing to forego past performance in favor of resting a contestant's future on a single dish, then rightfully the "Top Chef" crown should be sitting on that smug, condescending, fat fat fat head today. -- Adam

(Editor's note: four percent of viewers said Lisa should win "Top Chef," according to Bravo's online poll. Adam's cell phone bill will be carefully scrutinized for potential rigging of said poll).

If you're interested, check out this Q&A Stephanie did with the Chicago Sun-Times after her win and a live-chat with the Chicago Tribune in which she graciously sidesteps the Lisa question.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,
-- Thomas Rozwadowski,
-- Sara Boyd,
-- Adam Reinhard,

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"Grey's" Heigl refuses to take Emmy nomination

Props to Katherine Heigl for recognizing that her work on "Grey's Anatomy" is sub-par and should not be rewarded with an equally worthless award.

Heigl has apparently declined to put her name into consideration for a Primetime Emmy nod for playing Dr. Izzie Stevens on the melodramtic catastrophe that is "Grey's Anatomy," saying she "did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization."

Anyone's who's watched the show -- which somehow is still in the top ten despite slipping in the ratings -- knows it struggled this season -- and not just because of the writers' strike. Although it recaptured some of its original intrigue in the season's final episodes, "Grey's" is no longer must-see TV and Heigl's Stevens has replaced Ellen Pompeo's title character as one of television's most annoying.

But then again, the Emmy Awards are well-known for awarding mediocre fare and passing over more subtle material (these are the same folks who failed to ever nominate Lauren Graham for her work on "The Gilmore Girls" -- quite possibly the biggest snub in TV history).

Nominations for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced July 17. The ceremony is Sept. 21.

Any other actors or actresses you'd like to see decline to put their name in for an Emmy? (ahem Charlie Sheen ahem).

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Top" Reasons for Stephanie to win "Top Chef"

I don't know who Misha Davenport is, but I like him. (Unless it's a her in which case I apologize). Here's Davenport's rundown in the Chicago Sun-Times of why Stephanie Izard should be walking away with $100,000 tonight.

A couple of reasons that stood out:

"7. Quickfire challenges are for chumps; winners excel in the elimination challenges. Yes, Izard has won just one quickfire challenge, preferring to show her stuff when it really counts: during the elimination rounds. She has won the elimination challenge five times, placed highly another five times and been in the bottom only three times.

6. She's no Gordon ("Hell's Kitchen") Ramsay. Izard always shows grace under pressure. After her sous chef Dale Talde accidentally left a whole tray of pork belly out all night in last week's show, she calmly swapped the pork belly dish for a salad topped with chicharron (the Latin American version of pork rinds)."


Newsflash: Apparently the Bronze-Medal-She-Devil-Who-Can't-Make-Rice doesn't care what America thinks.

In a Q & A with The New York Daily News, Lisa Fernandes (yes, I used her name, so somewhere a small child and/or kitten has died) says "Oh no, I don't read the blogs – you couldn't pay me to read the blogs. I don't want to know what people who can't even afford to eat in my restaurant, let alone know how to cook have to say about me, and the few comments I did read on a few weeks back because my job asked me to read 'em. The best they could come up with was that I was ugly."

I'm torn between tears and laughter because it's classic Lisa: defensive, shrill and just dumb.

I'd respond, but the Best Week Ever Blog already has stolen my best material to ridicule the founding member of the National Association of Crappy Doo-rags (NACDr).

Compare Lisa's diatribe with Stephanie's recent interview, in which the Windy City chef comes across as humble, confident, and -- how shall I say -- sane. It goes to show that even in a contest of class, Steph still comes out on top.

The "Top Chef" finale airs tonight on Bravo at 9 p.m.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Smurfs movie? Well, that's just ... nifty.

I'll admit it -- I don't really remember much about The Smurfs. Yes, I'm an 80s kid, and lived for Saturday morning cartoons, big bowls of mixed breakfast cereals and couch-cushion forts -- but I'm at a loss to tell you anything I remember about The Smurfs cartoon show. They were tiny and blue, and there was only one chick in the whole village. That's all I got.

So now that Variety is reporting that a live action/animated feature film based on the popular little bastards is in the works from Columbia, well ... let's just say I'm having trouble stifling a yawn. Yes, I know it was a popular show, and that millions of adults who were indoctrinated with its pro-Marxist agenda as impressionable youths still remember it fondly, but I'm not getting very smurfed up over it.

However, I do think Paul Giamatti would make a kick-ass Gargamel.

Meanwhile, here's the theme song. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Colicchio to "Top Chef" viewers: "I'm glad you were next to me eating food. I don't remember seeing you."

Hmmm ... do I like that Tom Colicchio is extremely frank in this Salon interview? Or does he just come across as an elitist a-hole who can't be bothered with the unsophisticated palates of the scrub working class?

With "Top Chef's" highly anticipated finale one day away, Colicchio is certainly a bit -- er, prickly -- in the early going of the interview. He talks about the decision to send Dale home -- you remember that night? Colicchio (some prominent TV critics have accused him of mailing it in this season) was too busy getting his bald dome waxed to be present for the voting -- and further insists that the show isn't trying to rig it so a woman (even a soulless, baby-eating beast-woman like Lisa) is named "Top Chef."

No matter what you think heading into the home stretch, this quote from Colicchio about the growing interest in chefs is pretty hilarious:

"It started, I would say, in the early to mid-'80s, when people realized they couldn't just keep going to discos and snorting coke, and they had to grow up and find another form of entertainment. And it became restaurants. I'm serious about that. I'm not joking."

On a random note, Colicchio would make a darn good Lex Luthor.

More "TC" Lisa-bashing to come ...

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Monday, June 9, 2008

Segel gets things started on a new Muppet movie

It's turning out to be a good year for fans of felt.

If the prospect of a "Fraggle Rock" flick got you giddy, then the idea of a new Muppet movie should be enough for you to have to seek medical attention. After all, the gang has been missing in big-screen action since 1999's underwhelming "Muppets From Space," where Gonzo was revealed to be an alien, and Rob Schneider was revealed to be the most famous guest star Kermit and Co. could rustle up.

But things have been looking up ever since it was reported in March that writer/actor Jason Segel (yes, this is our second post in a row with Jason Segel in it, deal) has been given the go-ahead to write a new Muppet feature. At first the idea struck some as odd -- this is the guy, after all, who wrote and starred in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which introduced the world to Little Jason Segel -- but reading about Segel's enthusiasm for the project is reassuring. This is a guy who seriously loves the Muppets, and look no further than this new interview with IESB for proof.

Segel doesn't drop many hints regarding the plot of the new movie, only saying that he and writing partner Nick Stoller "are trying to bring it back to the early '80s movies where it's not Muppets in the Sahara or Muppets Underwater. It's the Muppets getting back together to put on a show, to save the studio."

Other interesting tidbits include a possible role for songwriter Paul Williams, and the addition of what Segel calls "some great cameos." Since Segel hails from the Judd Apatow camp, we probably shouldn't rule out seeing Steve Carell tangle with Gonzo, Seth Rogen try to out-shag Animal, or Will Ferrell put the moves on Miss Piggy. (Any of which would be lightyears ahead of Rob Schneider, but still a few notches below Bob Hope serving dragonfly ice cream in "The Muppet Movie.")

Any Muppet fans out there wanna weigh in? Think Segel will do a good job? Want us to write a "How I Met Your Mother" post next, to complete the Segel Trifecta? Drop us a line.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Summer DVD Club: "Undeclared"

Ah, the year 2000: A magical time when radical Muslims didn't hate us for our freedom. When Barry Bonds could ingest horse steroids without fear of reproach. When a 16-year-old Sara Boyd was embarrassingly caught making out with a Nick Carter poster at her high school locker.

With Judd Apatow currently on top of the comedy world thanks to box office hits like "40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" -- seriously dude, take a vacation -- my choice of ripping through one critically-revered season of "Undeclared" seemed like the perfect pick to kick start our Channel Surfing Summer DVD series. And away we go ...

Background: If we could set the Peabody-Sherman Wayback machine to 2000, you'll likely remember that Apatow was busy getting over the heartbreaking cancellation of another one-season wonder, "Freaks and Geeks." It's my favorite TV dramedy of all-time, so watching "Undeclared" immediately after that ballyhooed failure probably would have been a bit unfair on my end. In reality, my lack of initial viewing is likely because I couldn't find the damn show on Fox seeing as how it was a "Freaks"-like victim of schedule re-arranging, poor promotion ... well, you know the network drill. Looking back, I'm sure Regis Philbin was also involved.

But all that baggage is gone in 2008, replaced by a brand new comedy climate filled with the following equations. Apatow = Box Office Gold. Seth Rogen = Leading Man, Bankable Star (and apparently, the Green Hornet?) Apatow + Rogen + Dirty Jokes = Much More Success Than Anything the Pair Ever Accomplished On TV. My sensibilities also have changed in the past eight years -- I would have been in college watching a show about college in 2000 -- so my newfound adult (ahem) perspective also framed my viewing of the first three episodes this weekend.

Stray observations: I guess the first and most important caveat is to not compare "Undeclared" to "Freaks and Geeks." But I have to. I'd be stupid not to. And for all the right reasons, knowing that many of the same writers and actors worked on "Freaks and Geeks" helps give "Undeclared" a little brother feel that you want to immediately wrap your arms around and love. (Or maybe just give a noogie to.)

The first scene of the series shows Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel) tearing up an "X-Files" poster as a symbolic dismissal of his geeky high school past. An unexpected growth spurt and perhaps a few curly chest hairs have given Steven a new lease on life as a wide-eyed freshman at the University of North Eastern California. Sorry, but you can't look at Baruchel -- a sci-fi loving, sexually-inexperienced, baby-faced stick figure -- and not think that it's Sam Weir from "Freaks" trying the ol' college reinvention. Baruchel was 19 at the time, and Apatow did say the show had a "geek goes to college" feel, so you figure the similarity has to be somewhat intentional.

The rest of the cast is slowly introduced, with a cool hallway scene that shows the craziness of newly independent freshmen and their overbearing parents descending like locusts upon the same cramped dormitory. Steven's roommate is Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam), a hunky British theater student who looks so much like Heath Ledger that it's downright scary. On day one, he informs Steven of the "scrunchy rule," which basically means he's not to be disturbed while studying female anatomy in their shared bedroom. Ron (Rogen) and Marshall (Timm Sharp) bunk together in an adjoining room, and upon Steven's arrival, are playing a drinking game based on their best guesses ("So how tall would you say you are?") of what they expected him to look like.

Also introduced: Carla Gallo as Lizzie Exley, who may be the character anyone who watches "Undeclared" ends up recognizing the most from their own life. Lizzie has been dating her much older boyfriend, scruffy copy story employee Eric, (hilariously played by Jason Segel, Nick Andopolis on "Freaks" and the star of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall.") since she was a sophomore. While Lizzie craves a bit of "experimentation" now that she's in college, her immaturity is accessorized in the form of Eric-centric photo galleries on her wall, an Eric-themed screen saver and even a "Dreaming of You" pillowcase with Eric's head on it. We all know this girl. We all hated this girl. This is also the kind of girl Steven will desperately fall in love with. (In his defense, she does sleep with him on the first day of school.)

Finally, anxiety-ridden Rachel (Monica Keena) plays Lizzie's roommate, and Canadian folk rocker Loudon Wainwright III -- yep, Rufus and Martha's pop -- rears his head as Steven's recently divorced dad, Hal. Wainwright has the best line of the first three episodes when, in reference to Lizzie wanting to "explore" college boys, he tells Steven she should date, "Magellan. Or Vasco de Gama." A Hernando Cortes shout-out might have knocked me off the couch.

Familiar faces: Poofy-haired Jenna Fischer (Pam from "The Office") has the briefest of cameos in the pilot. The world would come to know you a few years later, Miss Beesly. Amy Poehler also plays a not-so-subtle R.A. that's hot for Lloyd in episode two. Fred Willard makes an awesome appearance as a bored professor who puts on an absurd one-man history show for his class. Finally, Sweaty Ted Nugent pops up in "Full Bluntal Nugety," an alternate episode to "Oh, So You Have a Boyfriend." It's supposed to be the second episode of the series, but in "Boyfriend," Steven and Lizzie attend a screening of "American Pie" instead of a Nugent lecture, which apparently got cut from the original airing. Odd.

Extremely dated, but no less hilarious pop culture references: Ricky Martin. Backstreet Boys. Sublime is playing in the background of one scene involving Lloyd and Amy Poehler's character. I can't wait for a Darva Conger crack in the weeks ahead.

Early impressions: Through three episodes, the secondary plotlines have been a bit flimsy, with the Steven-Lizzie-Eric drama the funniest thread in the early-going. Segel, who doesn't actually make an on-camera appearance until the third episode, steals the show with his outlandish "you think you're better than me" phone demeanor. Just as he did with stalker-stoner Nick Andopolis, Segel can play delightfully creepy with the best of them. He's definitely the kind of long-graduated loser immature sophomore girls bring back to Homecoming, if only because he owns a crappy Honda Civic for hauling friends to the dance.

I'm also looking forward to the Hal-Steven dynamic -- Wainwright has some killer comedic timing -- and the back-and-forth between ladies man Lloyd and his potential protege, Steven, who is still trying WAY too hard to be outwardly cool. Rogen hasn't made much of a splash yet -- though he hilariously defends "You've Got Mail" in "Eric Visits" -- but he was more of a bit-player in "Freaks," too, which is why I've been pleasantly surprised by his breakout status as a film actor. Rogen also helps with the writing, so perhaps that's where he decided to make his mark.

Overall, I'm excited to keep watching. I wasn't expecting "Undeclared" to replace, or even compete, with "Freaks," but I can already feel it pulling away from that inevitable comparison to carve its own identity. In a backwards manner, I also find it refreshing that Apatow -- without other "Freaks" mastermind, Paul Feig, in the writing fold -- can forgo loads of profanity and still maintain a bit of comedic edge. Apatow had previously said that college shows don't typically work on network TV because if anyone showed what college life was really like, it'd be all sex, drugs and drinking.

That's partially true. But a smart college show can also be crafted, and "Undeclared" maintains some of the clever awkwardness of "Freaks" while showing, particularly through newly confident geek Steven, how college independence is supposed to be the reward for those painful adolescent years.

So far, so good, Judd.

(Ed. note: This isn't how the format has to be for all the reader-submitted Summer DVD Club entries, but feel free to use it as a guide.)

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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