I remember the first time I heard the plot for a new HBO show called "The Sopranos," back in 1999: An anxiety-ridden gangster seeks help from a psychiatrist. Immediately I thought, "Wow, they're totally ripping off 'Analyze This,'" that crappy Robert DeNiro-Billy Crystal comedy from the same year. All HBO needed to do was create a series about a nerdy female journalist who poses as a high school student and had never been kissed, in order to replicate the worst movie double-header of my life.
There was just something about "The Sopranos" that bugged me. The subtle stereotype of the title (soprano = opera = Italian = mob. We get it.) The way an upside-down gun replaced the "R" in all the print ads. The fact that, after "Godfather" and "Goodfellas" and "Casino" and "Donnie Brasco," did we really need a new story about gangsters, particularly in a drawn-out, series format?
So I avoided the show. Of course, its placement on pay cable and my inability to afford pay cable probably contributed to my evasion. Yet even if HBO were a viewer-supported PBS-like network (can you imagine the pledge drives during "Real Sex"?), I doubt I would have tuned in to watch Tony Soprano and his dueling family imbroglios. The truth is, the show quickly became more popular than panicking about Y2K, and I'm easily put off by anything that lots of other people enjoy. Tony Soprano may regret his mob ties, but I'd be damned if I was gonna cut my snob ties.
But then the show ended, in a blaze of hype, controversy and onion rings. And an interesting thought hit me (or rather, put a hit on me): Could I enjoy watching a show that, through years of media saturation and dissection, I already knew so much about?
The answer is, fittingly, fuhgeddaboutit.
"The Sopranos," it turns out, is one firecracker of a TV drama. But not even for the reasons I was expecting. Going into it — popping Season 1 Disc 1 into my player — I was expecting lots of requisite gunplay, explosions, tough-guy talk and cannoli. All of which I got. What I was not prepared for was the quiet, introspective tone, the realistic portrayal of family struggles, and the out-and-out quirkiness and heart of the characters. (And all the ducks. But more on that later.)
Consider the opening scene of episode 2, where Tony and the boys are sitting around the back room of mob-run strip club, The Bada Bing. They're counting money while watching a TV interview with a former mobster-turned government informant. After briefly touching on the rat's views concerning the death of the American mafia, the tough guys' conversation veers to, of all things, Princess Diana and cloning. ("You remember that Princess Diana?" Tony's protege, Christopher, asks the room. "You think the Royal Family had her whacked?") In that one throwaway scene, those mobsters suddenly became real people, the kind who have the occasional mundane chat, which makes all their future misdeeds and tragedies much more potent.
Even more powerful, though, and really a lynch pin of the entire season, is Tony's relationship with his mom — the abusive, manipulative Livia Soprano. Played with ferocious reserve by the late Nancy Marchand, Livia is not only one of the primary catalysts that sends Tony to the psychiatrist's couch (as reluctant as he is to admit it), she also seems to be actively pursuing her son's downfall as a mob leader. Nursing a lengthy depression following the death of her mob-boss husband — as well as appearing to enter the beginning stages of Alzheimer's — Livia plays the victim at every turn and makes everyone around her miserable, especially when Tony places her in a nursing home following a fire she caused at her house. Constantly bending to her every whim and whine, Tony can't bring himself to see the damage Livia is causing him, until her murky role in his unsuccessful assassination attempt is revealed.
Makes your mother's nagging about settling down and having kids seem pretty tame, huh?
But it's Tony's interactions with the woman who brings him to these realizations, his patient yet cautious shrink, that make the show work. Dr. Melfi (played by Lorraine Bracco of "Goodfellas") works as a calming agent amid the family drama and whackings, and is often there to provide much-needed context — but she's far from a passive character. Over the course of the season, she develops something in Tony he desperately needs: his absolute trust. Through his revolving bouts of reticence, violence and (hilariously) amore, she remains a consummate professional — something a "businessman" like Tony surely appreciates.
And how about that Tony, anyway? Overweight, balding, definitely a few rungs up the schlub ladder, Tony Soprano is nevertheless a bulldog. While conflicted about his job, can still find the act of chasing someone down with his car supremely enjoyable, when that someone happens to owe him money. He loves his wife, but busies himself with a young Russian mistress (and, one guesses, several dancers from The Bada Bing.) He's fiercely loyal to his crew — Pussy, Christopher, and, my favorite, Paulie Walnuts — and is devastated when he learns that one of them may be an FBI informant.
Yet the thing about Tony that stands out the most, and what the show is smart to focus on, is his love for his family. No absentee father, Papa Soprano is never reluctant to sit down with his kids, daughter Meadow and son Anthony, for a little heart-to-heart. He's terrified that his lifestyle may somehow cause them misfortune or, worse, to shun him. This is beautifully established in the first episode, where Tony becomes obsessed with a family of ducks that have set up house in his backyard pool. Transferring his love for his family onto these feathered interlopers, Tony wades out with bread in hand, giddily calling for his children to come out and watch. But the ducklings grow up, and the flock flies away, and something inside Tony snaps. It was like witnessing his family disappear, explains Dr. Melfi, and it's encouraging to know that inside such a gruff, violent man — and series — there's a heart the size of Sicily.
So in the end, "The Sopranos" turned out to be an endlessly enjoyable, oddly affecting show, and one I feel fortunate to experience now for the first time.
Thank God for new programming of our favorite shows during the summer. It seems like just yesterday we were judging the fierce creations -- and the hot tranny messes -- of "Project Runway" Season Four and now, like a gorgeous couture butterfly, Season Five is spreading its wings.
Forgive our tardiness in posting on this critical, crucial show ... we were still reeling from the fact that Lisa "Suckface" was in the Top Three on "Top Chef." But there's no time like the present, right? So let's get right into the goodness. I, along with fellow "Runway" enthusiast MalavikaJagannathan, have much to cover and much criticism to unleash. On with the show ...
Sara: For the fifth and, tear, final season on its infamous Bravo home, "Project Runway" seems to be in full swing of a talent vs. hack free-for-all. In its first episode -- a shout-out to a favorite challenge of seasons past -- the contestants were asked to hit the grocery store with a few bucks and inspiration/innovation in mind. The end result was more like "Tablecloths on Parade 2008." In a last ditch effort to separate themselves from the pack, a few designers attempted to think outside the box and add creativity to their tablecloth masterpieces.
None were as successful as Austin Scarlett's gem (who was also the guest judge for the season opener -- and appropriately so) but there were surprises, and ideas that brought a few shining stars to the high class fashion realm.
Total disasters included a garbage bag puke-fest created by "leather-toting, make it bad-ass, we get it, you're a biker chick" Stella -- which reminded me more of the disposal of a dead body than a dress for a runway model -- and what can only be described as "a dishwasher on crack" by too-good-for-this-show Jerry. And in the end, "professional designer" Jerry was sent packing. Good riddance.
Malavika, what did you think of the second episode? Did going green help or hinder the designers?
Malavika: First off, thank the "PR" gods for bringing us back some Gunn-a-licious and Klumtastic fun to this drag of a summer. (Also, thanks to whomever told Michael Kors to take it down a notch on the spray-on tanner)
I thought the going green challenge seemed like a fun idea, but the results were pretty weak. Contestants were instructed to only use environmentally-friendly fabrics, but I think combining that rule with giving the designers' models the power to buy the fabrics was a big no-no. Let's be honest: models, not that smart. (Have you watched "America's Next Top Model?").
The winner was kind of a downer: Guest judge Natalie Portman went ga-ga for Suede's baby-formula-colored tutu dress, which was one of my least favorites. And, yes, his name is Suede and if he continues to use the third person to refer to himself, I may have to go fierce on him.
This week's guest judge is Sandra Bernhard, so I hope she'll bring some biting wit to the judging process (or just tell Suede to quit talking about himself like he's Elmo).
Sara: Well said. I wonder if, along with Suede's hideous McDonald's-themed ballerina costume, perhaps they'll sell his self-promoting jewel-encrusted "SUEDE" jean jacket on Bluefly.com as well. Oh the horror!
It may be too early to tell but I think we're starting to separate the winners from the hot tranny messes. Speaking of our dear phrase-coining Christian Siriano (last season's fierce winner), who the hell is this Blayne character and why is he trying to be "Christian Season Five" -- although not bitchy, and just annoying. His so-called catch phrase, "girlicious," is a rip off and ahem, not FIERCE. All I'm sayin' is Miss Thang better get creative and stop trying to imitate our lovable and original Ferosha Couture.
Keep your eyes out for Kenley (who's a bit cocky, but at least can back it up), Kelli (who's a bit of a new twist on Sweet P from Season Four) and Terri (whose blue dress I would buy right now if I could.)
Catch "Project Runway" at 8 p.m. every Wednesday on Bravo.
Green Bay Packers training camp opened today, and having spent a few hours mingling among the fans for a series of stories this weekend, it's always nice to experience one of those rare times when visitors arrive in town, mouths wide open, and our little city is put on the map.
The only reason that little anecdote seems to fit on this blog today is that I realized the opening of NFL training camp also marks the return of one of my favorite programs, HBO's "Hard Knocks." The documentary series is produced by NFL Films, and having been riveted last season by -- of all teams, the boring-ass Kansas City Chiefs -- I can tell you that being a football fan isn't a requirement for getting sucked into the low-key, but highly engaging drama.
The series, as you'd guess, focuses heavily on football, but it also pinpoints several human interest stories that easily captivate. Last season, there was a lot of humor found in rookie defensive linemen Tank Tyler and Turk McBride, though my favorite storyline followed free agent receiver Bobby Sippio, who you couldn't help but root for as he went from camp longshot to hard working fan favorite.
Access, of course, is key. You can watch training camp as a fan or read daily reports in the Press-Gazette. But it's pretty cool to get a (mostly) unfiltered look at what the players, coaches and families go through during the arduous preseason -- which for unknown players is a desperate shot at employment. The best episodes are always right before cutdown day. That's when you get the real sense of competition in camp, and finally, when the axe drops, see how difficult it really is for both sides -- team and player -- to deal with.
While last season was short on any major drama -- Larry Johnson's holdout and the Brodie Croyle-Damon Huard quarterback battle both kinda fizzled -- this year, the series is returning to Dallas Cowboys camp.
And talk about storylines. Perhaps the Favre-less Packers are the only other team with as much fodder for ESPN.com. Let's see, there's Burlington native Tony Romo and his heartthrob status thanks to the always-annoying Jessica Simpson, Terrell Owens and his larger-than-life persona, in-your-face owner Jerry Jones constantly mugging for the cameras, and finally the biggest question mark of all, Adam "Don't Call Me Pac-Man" Jones trying to reclaim his career after flushing it down the toilet while "making it rain."
"It's fair to say this thing should go through the roof," HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg told the Associated Press, while also cautioning in this fine article that despite the Cowboys' star power, only players who "earn" screen time with captivating stories will get it.
The series (check out a promo here) premieres Aug. 6 at 9 p.m. CST.
Even if you aren't into football, give it a chance. As a documentary series, it really pulls you into the world of pro football while admirably showing the human side. Or maybe with all the money these guys make, you don't want to acknowledge that they're actually people, too ...
I just happened to be flipping through the channels yesterday, and stumbled upon a "Golden Girls" episode where Sophia was in heaven. It was a dream sequence, of course, in which Sophia was reunited with long-dead love-of-her-life Sal atop a giant puffy cloud. Sal tells her he has someone he wants her to meet. "Sophia," he says, sweeping his arm behind him, "God. God, Sophia." "Wow," Sophia says. "Now I see where Jesus got those eyes!"
Estelle Getty died today, at age 84. That's around the age Sophia was supposed to be on the long-running NBC sitcom. In truth, Getty was only 62 when "Golden Girls" debuted -- a year younger than both Betty White and Bea Arthur.
The show remains fairly popular, even as almost an entire generation has passed since it went off the air (not counting the lousy "Golden Palace" spinoff) in 1992.
But whereas White, Arthur, and Rue McClanahan all had their moments, it was Getty's sassy octogenarian who was the standout, even if she was never meant to be a regular character. Originally, Sophia was only intended to pop up every now and then, but proved so popular with test audiences that another character from the pilot, a gay live-in cook named Coco, was written off, and Sophia given his place. (I swear I'm not making that up about Coco the cook, either; I am, however, getting the information from Wikipedia.)
Getty was nominated for an Emmy seven times during "Girls'" seven-season run, but only won once, in 1988. After "Girls" ended, and "Palace" met its end, Sophia became a transplant on another "Girls" spinoff, "Empty Nest," for that series' final seasons.
In 2000, she withdrew from the public eye for health reasons.
In the "information that would have been useful to you YESTERDAY" category, History Channel aired a riveting (and highly recommended) program last night called, "Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight."
Seeing as how my older brother almost disowned me for even suggesting that "The Dark Knight" ran a weeeeeeeeee bit too long (in his defense, I did see it at midnight and was ready to strangle some high school students by 12:04 a.m.), I know there are quite a few Batman fanatics out there who would absolutely eat this latest special up.
I stumbled upon it accidentally -- Heath Ledger's smeared, scarred Joker face tends to jump out at you in HD.
But the basic construct of the hour long program was to delve into Batman's psychological origins as a vigilante hero who devotes his life to sweeping the streets of crime after witnessing his parents' murder as a child. Batman's self-restraint and moral code is counter to those who he must lock up -- the Joker, in particular, acting as the yin to Batman's yang. The show does an excellent job of breaking down the essence of Bruce Wayne, and those who've used tragedy for the opposite effect, namely Batman's rogues gallery, possibly the best of any character in the history of comic books (just my opinion).
If you're a fanboy who already knows all this, the special will still be entertaining by way of linking real life psychosis to Gotham's underworld. For example, the show compares the killing patterns of Ted Bundy and Ted Kaczynski to the Riddler and Two-Face while noting how insanity is a legal, not clinical term as it applies to mass murderers like Jeffrey Dahmer. Psychologists and professors also discuss how Batman's appeal lies in his humanity -- the fact that he battles real demons and doesn't possess super powers or weakness in the Kryptonian sense. In one particularly revealing segment, it's noted that President Teddy Roosevelt was director Christopher Nolan's inspiration for much of Bruce Wayne's personal arc in "Batman Begins."
It's a testament to the sense of reality Nolan has created with his two "Batman" movies that a special like this could even be taken a face value while discussing comic book characters. But "The Dark Knight," especially, succeeds on that front -- a far cry from the campy Batman that dominated the '60s, and even Tim Burton's relatively cartoon-ish vision that had Prince doing the "Batdance" with Kim Basinger doubles. The way the special intersperses classic comic book art with movie clips and historic footage is also phenomenal.
Since History Channel (a Batman technology special was also on last night) doesn't have future airings listed on its Web site, here's Part One off YouTube. You can also find all but Part Two (of five parts) on the site ... though that could change as soon as today once someone manages to post it.
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Not sure if you've noticed, but "Family Matters" is on Nick at Nite. A lot.
And while I certainly haven't been going out of my way to look for it, I've regrettably been watching before bed. A lot.
Much like the "Full House" epidemic three or so years ago, the channel has a way of latching onto disposable, cheese-laden shows from yesteryear and running them nonstop until "You got it, dude" is slipping into everyday conversation without anyone batting an eyelash.
If you thought the worst was over after TBS stopped playing "Full House" AND "Family Matters" in one continuous loop during their early syndication days, well, you'd be wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.
"Family Matters" has been on pretty much anytime I've crossed the channel at night, and for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, I can't help myself from watching what might be the single worst sitcom in the history of television.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Tom, aren't you the guy who defends "Saved by the Bell" as being legitimately funny? Yes. In spurts. I also certainly wouldn't put it next to "The Wire" on my living room media shelf, but I do find it eminently quotable and dare I say, entertaining for what it is, a schmaltzy teen sitcom. Plus, Kelly Kapowski is still hot.
But this recent train-wreck fixation isn't something I'm proud of, even while armed with the knowledge that "Family Matters" should be judged according to the same crap-infested criteria as written above. I would have been in fourth grade when "Matters" started it's nine season -- NINE SEASON -- run. Yet I hated the show as a kid and can't remember ever relating to anything that happened in the Winslow household (which is different, than say, relating to a San Francisco household with three dads, one of whom is a lame-ass rocker and another, a "Star Search" performer who sticks his hand up a woodchuck's ... oh nevermind.)
So I can't really explain why I'm not turning the channel when I hear the same shrill, squeaky voice that no doubt haunts Jaleel White as he continues to field offers from VH1 to appear in "Surreal Life 25" and "For the Love of Urkel."
Worse, I've almost been testing myself to see if I know how the episode is going to end, which is really scary to admit anywhere, even on a blog that registers as a blip on the radar screen of the Green Bay Favre Gazette. Full disclosure: I used to do this same exercise with "The Brady Bunch," but that's a rather victimless crime when you consider that knowing the Bradys is standard operating procedure for anyone who wants to don a TV trivia crown someday (and yes, I always figured that knowing Doug Simpson and Clumsy Charlie once fought for Marcia's affections would win me mass approval, or at least some type of cash prize.)
Here's what "Family Matters" has going against it. Steve Urkel might be the most annoying character in TV history. When he was first introduced on the show as a one-shot, Laura-loving social reject, he was effective, and dare I say, amusing. But like anything that gets a head of steam and is forced into a slot it was never intended to fill, Urkel became the entire show. His arrival pared the cast considerably -- even Granny Winslow got sent to the retirement home -- and while "Family Matters" benefited from higher ratings and a longer life span, it's impossible for me to consider that ANYONE (perhaps except Press-Gazette preps reporter Scott Venci) could be amused by a grown-up White forcing that ridiculous voice out of his throat as the show dipped into scientific absurdity with the invention of the Urkel-Bot and a transformation chamber that resulted in the worst atrocity of all, super smooth ladies man, Stefan Urquelle..
Anyway, these "plot devices" were clearly meant to add layers to a one-dimensional dork who never got the memo that real people EVOLVE with age. Plus, White was probably tired of never scoring any "I'm famous" booty because of the high pants stigma. So the writers found a way to have their cake and eat it by forging a ridiculous way to make the Urk-Man a stud and finally get the girl of his dreams. That it completely involved bending the rules of time, matter and space ... well, who really cares, right?
I mean, if they were just going to throw reality out the window, why didn't Urkel invent a serum that would brainwash Laura into falling in love with him and save the trouble of having to transform himself? If he was so smart, why didn't he actually profit from these mind-bending inventions that, apparently, were created right in the heart of working class Chicago? Why didn't he find a way to go back in time and stop Hitler? Why not use your powers for good, Urkel? Why?
I mean, can you imagine a pitch meeting for an episode of "Family Matters?"
Smarmy ABC exec: "So guys, this season of 'Family Matters' has to be the best ever! What madcap antics will lovable scamp Steve Urkel be foisting upon the Winslow household this season?"
Harvard writer 1: "Well, we have a particularly delicious episode where Urkel creates his own line of casserole dishes for Home-Economics class, though when eaten, they unexpectedly turn people invincible thanks to a beaker of scientific-y-looking fluid accidentally being poured in! Carl finds a dish in his fridge after Steve's becomes overstocked, and after unknowingly eating the magic tuna-flavored concoction, responds to a distress call in the city, you know, because he's a blue collar cop. When Carl saves the day, and actually survives a gun shot wound in the process, he begins eating the casserole without Steve's knowledge so that it'll help boost his career and give him greater fanfare in the city!"
Harvard writer 2: "Bloody brilliant, fellow Harvard douchebag! And Carl can then become drunk with power after reading his own press clippings, even having a Superman-like fantasy where he stops a speeding locomotive while wearing red and blue superhero pajamas. I mean, how funny and creative is that?"
Harvard writer 1: "But eventually, Steve gets through to Carl that part of what makes him a real hero is that he puts his life on the line everyday without the need for casserole invincibility! Once Carl realizes that he's always been a hero to Steve and his all-too understanding family, well, it's trash bin time for the Urk-casserole. A gooey group hug played over sentimental string music at the end signifies how dangerously close we all come to believing unrealistic expectations are our true savior, when in fact, real heroism is at our mistake-laden fingertips!"
Smarmy ABC exec: "I want a line of frozen food aisle Urkel casseroles, stat! And somebody, anybody, get me a new Urkel doll prototype to spew annoying catchphrases while I devour this adorable live kitten for lunch!"
Look, there is no honor in surviving back-to-back episodes of "Family Matters." The theme song blows. The way Urkel says, "Hey Ed-O!" is tantamount to water boarding. And if anyone, ANYONE, can replicate the Urkel Dance as an adult, they seriously should be shot on site.
This isn't a trip down nostalgia lane for me. My brain knows better, but it's not telling my fingers to turn the channel. So I can't help but feel as though Steven Q. Urkel is performing a scientific experiment on me, dear blog reader.
Now, I can't lie. Seeing Jon Stewart's beloved face last night was certainly a welcome sight for my weary jet-lagged eyes, so I know I'm not entirely ready to give up the pleasures of the boob tube. But a break from the constant din feels cleansing, leaving me in a much better position to scope out my television choices.
The question remains, though, what will I watch in this dearth of summer programming? Suggestions are welcome.
The Emmy nominations were announced today, and that slightly stifled moaning sound you hear is all of America yawning in indifference.
Apart from a few surprises, it was the same old crap getting nods ("Two and a Half Men" for Best Comedy AGAIN!?), and the same old brilliance getting snubbed (Sorry, final season of "The Wire" ... you'll just have to settle for being Tom's Favorite Show Ever.) Getting the most press is the history-making nominations of AMC's "Mad Men" and FX's "Damages," both for Best Drama, and both the first basic-cable shows ever recognized in a best series category.
Having watched "Damages" from start to finish, I'm a little surprised at its inclusion. It was a good show, don't get me wrong, but it always seemed to try too hard to push boundaries (oh look, here's a guy getting shot in the head; here's Glenn Close saying "s**t"; here's Ted Danson boinking a prostitute) just because they were on FX, and that's how FX rolls. I'm guessing it was Close's star power gave it that extra juice Emmy voters were looking for. (The Oscar winner is also nominated for Best Actress in a Drama.)
But it's good to see "Lost" getting some props again, after a two-season drought without a Best Drama nod. Season Four was as good, if not even better, than the show's Emmy-winning first year, and I'd wager good money our favorite castaways take home the prize again this year. (Token nominees "House" and "Boston Legal" don't present much competition.) And hoo-freaking-ray for Michael Emerson and his Best Supporting Actor nomination. Well done, Mr. Linus.
Perhaps my favorite nomination is Kristen Chenoweth's for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for "Pushing Daisies" (which was robbed of a Best Comedy nod). As tart but sweet pie-shop waitress Olive Snook, the petite Chenoweth stole the show every week -- and that is not an easy show to steal.
For a complete list of nominees, click it right here. And as always, let us know your thoughts on the nominees: Your predictions, favorites, and your vows of vengeance against the Academy.
So the "Office" spinoff ISN'T a spinoff? STOP MESSING WITH OUR HEADS!
Sometimes there's too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. Or, in this case, too much breaking television news about one of our favorite shows. Bloggers Sara Boyd and Adam Reinhard discuss the news that the rumored "Office" spinoff will no longer be a spinoff.
Adam: Apparently the economy is in worse shape than we thought. Not only are Fannie and Freddie nosediving and U.S. dollars are currently worth less than pine cones (adjusted for inflation,) but now comes news that Dunder Mifflin will in fact NOT be opening a new branch come fall.
Yes, it seems that "Office" spinoff we've long been dreading (the one that was supposed to at one time focus on a minor character, then a recently departed character, or maybe an entirely new character, but use the same format, or maybe not, my sister, my daughter, my sister, my daughter) may not be a spinoff after all. According to Variety, "Saturday Night Live" funnywoman and recent "Baby Mama" star Amy Poehler is in "final negotiations" to star in the new show, which will still be produced by "Office" head honchos Greg Daniels and Mike Schur, but won't be a spinoff, "confirming speculation that the show would not be an extension of the original but a whole new series."
What say you, Sara? Happy? Sad? In a state of concussed-Dwight-like confusion?
Sara: As fun as it would be to be in a state of concussed-Dwight-like confusion (minus the car puking, natch) I must say, I am neither surprised nor disappointed. Per the definition of a spinoff, it must be just that. When producers said it'll be an "Office" spinoff, but will not star any "Office" characters and may or may not take place in an office setting I began to wonder if perhaps the pressures of writing something better than the swill they gave us last season had made Mr. Daniels and Mr. Schur a bit nutty. The fact that even when the NBC official fall line-up was released they were still coining it "The Office Spinoff," I knew I shouldn't be holding my breath.
I think this is good news. Replicating the "Office" -- already replicated from the U.K. -- is not a wise choice, especially when the show is still running ... and not that well, at that. "The Office" is its own breed and even if NBC chose one of our brilliant ideas for a spinoff, it still wouldn't be as successful as potentially starting from scratch. Take the "Office" humor, take the sarcastically perfect jokes, even take a few "That's what she said's", but make it a whole new series.
Adam, what are your hopes for this non-Office spinoff? Think it has a chance?
Adam: I think if Poehler signs on as the lead, then it's a good first step toward having a chance. I've been a fan of Poehler's manic, outsized comedic chops since "Upright Citizens Brigade," and was disappointed when she hitched her star to that sinking ship, the SS SNL. I have been waiting for her to break big, especially with her own sitcom, and this looks like her shot. I understand she's kind of a love-her-or-hate-her comedian (as, sadly, most female comedians are) but I for one am delighted she's being considered for this role.
And that role would be...? See, we still don't know. No one has any idea what this friggin' non-spinoff is going to be about. Will it be set in an office? On a farm? Will co-star Aziz Ansari play President Lincoln's butler, with Poehler as Mary Todd? (Wait, I think that's been done...) What I'm getting at is, I've got high hopes for something brilliant, but I'm like "Short Circuit's" Number 5: I need more input, Stephanie. For now, let's just be glad that "The Office" spinoff is apparently dead, and we can get on with our lives.
Nope. The sweetest words in the English language are "From the creators of 'The Wire,'" and the tagline comes just in time as summer TV continues to dig itself into a deeper and deeper hole of unforgiving blackness.
Starting Sunday, HBO is airing "Generation Kill," a seven-part mini-series that "documents the profane, and sometimes profound, experiences of an elite Marine reconnaissance battalion leading the 2003 invasion of Iraq." David Simon and Ed Burns -- who teamed up on the greatest show in the history of mankind, "The Wire" -- reunite for "Kill," which is adapted from the prizewinning book by Evan Wright, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone who was embedded with Bravo Company for the duration of the assault.
Reviews seem to indicate it'll be very "Full Metal Jacket"-ish and open a window into the war experience beyond just intense battle scenes. Not surprising when you consider Simon's M.O. is to deal with subtlety, nuance and slow character development that leads to explosive, unexpected payoffs.
The New York Times writes, "The main people in “Generation Kill” are numerous and hard to distinguish, and even the most basic story lines are blurry and difficult to follow. It’s as if the creators wanted to resist any comparison to HBO’s classic World War II series “Band of Brothers,” by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. That could stem from a desire to stake out a different kind of wartime storytelling. But it is also a way to avoid condoning or romanticizing a war that most Americans no longer view as necessary, or even wise.
"Yet no matter how flat or diffuse its affect, “Generation Kill” is at its best a tale of battle-forged camaraderie, a “Band of Brothers” set not at Agincourt or Normandy, but Iraq in 2003.
"Mr. Wright’s opening conceit in the book, and it is an understandable one, is that these highly trained troops, raised on hip-hop, video games and “South Park,” are somehow a different species from the men who fought in World War II and even Vietnam. He describes them as the disenfranchised orphans of a post-Monicagate society, a generation desensitized to violence, captive to pop culture and more disaffected from authority. “Culturally, these marines would be virtually unrecognizable to their forebears in the ‘Greatest Generation,’ ” Mr. Wright wrote in his prologue.
"It’s a different war, but warriors don’t change that much from one conflict to the next. The men who fought at Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Bulge would probably feel right at home."
The Kansas City Star writes, "the result is almost uncannily the same in “Generation Kill” as it was in “The Wire.” Once again, Simon and his producing partner, Ed Burns, plunge us deeply into the culture of foul-mouthed men, many of them barely out of their teens, who have ready access to firearms and agendas that have little to do with the American dream you and I understood it growing up. And, as before, you can't stop watching it.
"The drama centers on the dozen or so men Wright rode into Iraq with. They are among the most extreme Marines at the disposal of the U.S. These men (they are all men) are trained to run for miles in the desert with 150-pound packs, then jump in the ocean with full packs and swim a few more miles. They are eternally bulking up and beating up on each other, even playing psy-ops mind games on each other (think ethnic slurs on steroids), in an never-ending effort to remain tough and ready for anything. They are what you get when you spend a million dollars training one man to kill. They are, as one of the First Recon puts it, what you get when you breed a pit bull to fight. They cannot wait to get off the leash."
It isn't light summer programming, that's for sure.
No, I didn't watch "I Love Money" during its 500th rerun on VH1 last night ...
But after being warned about its existence, I did flip past it on TV, and regrettably recognized "Whiteboy" and "Midget Mac" from the slap-happy abomination known as "I Love New York." As for how the rest of the episode developed ... well, I moved to a "Saved By the Bell" rerun on The N after I felt my retinas burning.
(It was the "Better Bayside" episode where they drill for oil and Zack suddenly turns into Doctor Dolittle because of his bond with Becky the duck. Oil spills. The animals die. Six kids apparently have the authority to stop an entire school from getting an Olympic-sized swimming pool because they're morally opposed to blood money. Line of the episode by Screech as Zack cradles an oil-covered stuffed animal in his arms: "She's where the oil can't hurt her now." Man, how can you not be moved by that?)
Ahem ... back to Midget Mac.
The premise appears to take no-name losers from several trashy VH1 shows -- or maybe you weren't satisfied with "Rock of Love" Rodeo's MySpace updates? -- and put them in competition with one another for, as the title so admirably suggests, money.
I know it's the pot calling the kettle black thanks to my love of "Real World/Road Rules Challenges," but dude, this was so much more fun on "The Surreal Life." Are there no more D-list celebrities to scrape off the pavement for that express train to hell? I know "The Two Coreys" have their own show ... saw a blurb for "Bromance" with some famous-for-no-reason douche from "The Hills" ... good god, are they really coming out with "Brooke Hogan Knows Best?" (Hmmm ... does little brother Nick get VH1 in prison?)
Damn, I guess the well is dry. I just tried to finish this joke by dragging out a long-forgotten, desperate celebrity as the punchline, and yeah ... nothing.
Anyway, the REAL reason for this post. Like me, the always-awesome Onion seems to have noticed how 2008 reality programming is making "Temptation Island" look like "Touched By An Angel" these days, leading to their clever write-up about a way-too-real-concept that is likely to be stolen by scummy VH1 CelebReality heads. (And yes, I know Peter Brady is a reality TV staple now, but it'd be kinda fun to see Bobby Brady on a show called "Lookinland for Love," no?)
You can't get upset about it, right? (Reaching for gun ...) You just have to laugh, right? RIGHT?
New VH1 Show Canceled For Not Being Pathetic Enough
NEW YORK—In a press release Tuesday, Viacom executives announced their newest hour-long VH1 Celebreality program, Knight Life, with former Brady Bunch star Christopher Knight, has been canceled for failing to reach the wretched depths of the network's low standards. "Despite some really excellent footage of Christopher vomiting into his hot tub, Knight Life was just not pitiful enough to meet our audience's expectations," Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman said of the show, which only featured three unsuccessful attempts to hit on strippers, two drunken brawls, and a single midget. "Unfortunately, the program lacked the petty and reprehensible acts that demean all humanity and make for good, compelling television." Dauman added that VH1 would consider bringing the show back if Knight were to become so distraught by the cancellation that he had to be hospitalized for an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
I'll make this one quick, I promise. (That's what she said?)
This news comes at the perfect time, as being stuck in an office during a beautiful, sunny Wisconsin day is enough to drive anyone to the oversized jar of M&Ms. It seems that a new batch of "Office" webisodes — featuring everyone's favorite rotund cover band drummer, Kevin Malone — will be lumbering onto the internets starting tomorrow. And according to Variety's Cynthia Littleton, who got her hot little hands on an advance screener, they're a good way to wait out the summer until new full episodes hit this fall.
The first webisode (god I hate that word) recounts Kevin's (Brian Baumgartner) lazy attempts to start his own ice cream business, Malone's Cones. Oscar (Oscar Nunez) and Darryl (Craig Robinson) factor in somehow, presumably hilariously.
Check out NBC.com starting at 2 p.m. tomorrow to see for yourself.
Need your TV viewing affirmed or disavowed by pasty wordsmiths who get paid to watch "The Two Coreys?"
TV Week's semi-annual critics poll -- which covers shows between Jan. 6-June 20 and tabulates votes from the nation's top TV critics -- is out. And that Jeremy Bentham guy is gonna be pretty happy with the results.
Despite a dip in ratings the past two seasons, a 2010 end date seems to have given "Lost" renewed purpose in Season Four -- all leading to a pretty solid finale that revealed Locke (a.k.a. Bentham) to be in the flash-forward coffin.
“The most creatively recharged show of the season, ‘Lost’ thrillingly reclaimed its position this year as TV’s most adventurous and emotionally compelling action drama,” TV Guide’s Matt Roush wrote. “Playing with time and with our expectations, the show raised the bar in its fourth season by teasing us with glimpses of the Oceanic Six in their tortured post-island life while continuing to play out gripping intrigues on the island and with flashbacks.”
While "Lost" takes the top spot -- it was second last year to "The Sopranos" -- the rest of the Top 10 is below. I'm pretty certain that "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Flight of the Conchords" ended before the cut-off date, so that might explain their absence. The entire list can be viewed here.
1. "Lost," ABC
2. "The Wire," HBO
3. "30 Rock," NBC
4. "The Office," NBC
5. "Friday Night Lights," NBC
6. "House," Fox
7. "Battlestar Galactica," Sci-Fi
8. "Breaking Bad," AMC
9. "John Adams," HBO
10. "In Treatment," HBO
As for the worst: Fox's "Moment of Truth" has no equal on that front, with "The Return of Jezebel James," "Quarterlife," "Living Lohan" and "Big Brother" rounding out the Top Five. It must have been against the rules to list "MTV" as your number one choice.
In the end, what does it all mean?
Nothing much when you consider more people watch "Moment of Truth" than a now-cancelled Fox show called "Arrested Development." But hey, at least we Bluth fans will have our moment of redemption soon enough, right?
"Friends: The Movie"? Could there BE a worse idea?
Look at what Carrie Bradshaw hath wrought.
Hot on the Manolo Blahniks of the surprisingly successful (to we Y-chromosome types) "Sex and the City" movie, which made more money than any movie based on a recently retired TV show has any right to, London's Daily Mail is spewing this fevered nonsense about the possibility of — God help us — "Friends: The Movie."
According to "insiders," MailOnline says, "Cast members Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer will reprise their roles for a big-screen adaptation 'within the next 18 months.'" The cast is in fact "eager" to revisit their quirky characters, a mysterious "source" tells the highly dubious British fish-wrapping. The idea has been "bandied" about since the show folded in 2004, and Aniston was apparently the one dragging her heels for a big-screen version. But she's now "keen" to get started, says the Mail's phantom fact-finagler.
Basically, take this news with a grain of salt. Whether or not the Mail's "sources" pan out, the idea of watching a movie based a show about six 20-something pals when two of them (Kudrow and Cox) are in their mid-40s (with the rest not far behind) kinda seems ridiculous. Not to mention how the format of "Friends" is totally incompatible with a big-screen treatment. At least "Sex and the City" had the benefit of already looking like a movie when it was on the air (thank you, HBO.) "Friends," on the other hand, was sitcom to the core: laugh-track, multiple cameras, sound stages and all. Wouldn't a feature film be too much of a tonal shift for fans to accept?
I mean, I liked "Friends" all right ... when I was in high school. But let's be fair: Those annoying twits overstayed their welcome by about 4 seasons. You couldn't have paid me to watch those later episodes — there's no way I'm going to pay to see a movie.
"Friends" Movie Pitch No. 1: "I Am Legend ... How YouDoin'?" We open on a deserted and desolate New York City. The streets are dark, the buildings empty ... except for a solitary light emanating from a small, trendy coffee shop. It is here that our six heroes — the last living humans in Manhattan — have set up a makeshift fortress to protect themselves against the bloodthirsty mutant-vampire-zombies that roam the city at night. One by one the friends get picked off — in order of salary — until the dramatic conclusion, when Rachel must choose between sacrificing herself for the future of humanity, or giving herself a new haircut. (She ultimately goes with the new 'do.)
"Friends" Movie Pitch No. 2: "The One Where Ross Just Loses It" Let's face it: Ross has had to put up with a lot of crap. A good-natured shlub with a fairly short fuse, there has always been lurking within him the chance to one day SNAP and go on a rampage, a la Michael Douglas in "Falling Down." So when Rachel decides again that she wants to go on a break, Mr. Geller simply goes bugnuts. He straps on a couple AK-47s, a belt of hand grenades and a capuchin monkey and starts terrorizing the Lower East Side. After a week or so of bloody mayhem, he's captured by Homeland Security, sent to Guantanamo and held without trial.
"Friends" Movie Pitch No. 3: "The Friends Meet the Seinfeld Gang." In the tradition of great crossover movies like "The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones," this movie idea pretty much sells itself. Take the casts of the two most popular sitcoms of the past 20 years, and put them in a movie together! Jerry and Chandler could spend the whole time humorously over-inflecting their words; Kramer and Joey can have a crazy guy-off, and Elaine and Monica can stand within five feet of each other and explode from the force of their combined neuroses. I smell Oscar.
Got your own pitch for this stupid "Friends" movie? We'd love to hear them.
'Office' politics: More Amy Ryan, lots more Steve Carell
Would you believe Steve Carell has signed on for three more seasons of NBC's "The Office"?
Would you believe he's agreed to one more year?
Would you believe he's only coming back for the Christmas episode, two promos and a guest shot on "Heroes"?
Maybe it was my (admittedly surprised) enjoyment of Carell's turn as Agent 86 in last month's "Get Smart" adaptation, or his recent spit-take worthy appearance on former stomping grounds "The Daily Show," or maybe it was the fact that I didn't hate "The Office"'s fourth-season finale as much as the rest of that blechy season, but I'm very happy to hear Carell will be back as inept dunder-head Michael Scott for three more years.
The news — the only place I've actually seen it so far — comes from the blog of Ricky Gervais, creator of the original (and, according to Entertainment Weekly, superior) British "Office." Gervais, also an executive producer on the Yankee edition, sings Carell's praises, saying: "He is the hardest working man in Hollywood and the harder he works the better it is for me. I mean... well done Steve you are wonderful."
Keeping Carell company, at least for a little while, will be former "Wire" star and Acadamy Award nominee Amy Ryan, who made a memorable appearance in the aforementioned not-terrible season finale as the replacement for departing HR stooge Toby. According to Variety, Ryan will be back next season for at least five episodes (or "segs," as those wacky Variety folk call 'em). Ryan's character, Holly Flax, was set up as a possible romantic interest for Michael, until Michael met up with a very-pregnant Dragon Queen Jan in the seg's final moments.
Ryan's return would seem to signal that a romantic triangle is not out of the question, at least for the beginning of the season. But if Ryan knows what's up, she's keeping mum: "I don't know what they're going to do with the character," she told Variety, "but as it was written, there's certainly a lot of potential."
Tambor, Bateman both seem pretty sure about an “Arrested Development” movie
If this turns out to be true, then yes, Pop-Pop gets a treat.
Jeffrey Tambor, who played George "Pop-Pop" Bluth on the woefully underwatched and probably over-blogged-about "Arrested Development," gave some happy news to EW.com over the weekend regarding a possible movie version of the lamentably defunct sitcom.
“After months of speculation, I think we have finally figured out for sure that we are indeed doing an Arrested Development movie," Tambor said Sunday, while at the premiere of his new movie, "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army." "I am very excited about that. I love that cast and crew and I felt like we had more to say."
This follows similar confirmation-y sounding rhetoric from the show's star, Jason Bateman, who, while chatting up his new movie, "Hancock," dropped this in regards to show creator Mitch Hurwitz: "He's got a really, really good idea for the movie version that would not be just simply the equivalent of four episodes back to back to back. It's actually something that would be specific to the medium of film."
Channel Surfing bloggers (well, the two cool Channel Surfing bloggers, anyway) have been damn-near obsessed with these movie rumors ever since they surfaced — hell, ever since the show's series finale, when narrator Ron Howard made his first on-screen appearance during a scene with script-pitching Maeby and opined, "Maybe a movie?"
It's possible that the sudden popularity of now-movie-stars Bateman and Michael Cera, who played Bateman's timid man-child son George Michael, could be pushing this project closer to reality. If so, you can thank me later for sitting through "Juno" twice.