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Monday, November 30, 2009

Family matters: ABC's "Modern" is the funniest show on TV

It's official. Only nine episodes into its first season, "Modern Family" is the funniest show on TV.

Now, I know what you're thinking, valued blog reader. What about "30 Rock" and all those Emmy awards? What about "The Office" finally shedding all that relationship drama and re-emphasizing goofy workplace antics? What about "Hannity" and the gut-busting patriotic debate that stems from "The Great American Panel?"

Still, there's something about "Modern Family" that breaks the mold when it comes to TV comedy these days. It's refreshingly normal.

Unlike edgier comedies that have earned critical raves these past few years, "Modern Family" isn't intentionally wacky ("30 Rock"), subversive ("Arrested Development"), or in-your-face ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"). Instead, it relies on classic plot conventions with a heavy dose of heart.

It can also be sharp and clever in unexpected ways. For instance, "Modern's" funniest bit -- and perhaps this is just because I'm an '80s one-hit wonder buff -- came courtesy of an inspired cameo by Edward Norton as Izzy LaFontaine, bassist and backup vocalist for Spandau Ballet, two episodes ago.

The premise was pretty straightforward: Phil (Ty Burrell) is great at giving anniversary gifts. His wife, Claire (Julie Bowen) is not. In order to make up for this deficiency, Claire tracks down Izzy in the phone book thinking Spandau Ballet's "True" was the song that played on the radio when she and Phil shared their first kiss. Turns out, Phil's heart-melting number is actually "If You Leave" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (which Izzy astutely and frustratingly points out is a break-up song), and well, hilarity ensues from there as Norton (with a great British accent) accuses Phil of being a phony "Fandau" while delivering witty exchanges about B-sides and warlock album covers.

Now, that's just one bit, and believe me, it doesn't tell the entire story of "Modern Family." In fact, that's some pretty obscure humor right there, so I'd understand if you weren't champing at the bit to watch this show based on Spandau Ballet riffs.

But there are so many other things I love about "Modern Family," particularly well-rounded, well-meaning characters like Manny (Rico Rodriguez), Jay (Ed O'Neill) and Phil. Billed early on as an "Arrested Development"-style clone, "Modern Family" doesn't share the same tone or mission as "AD." As much as I love those crazy Bluths, that's a good thing here.

The characters on "Modern Family" are all good, decent human beings with normal flaws and foibles. Sure, it amps up the archetypes in a so-called modern family -- gay couple with a recently adopted baby, well-off patriarch with a Colombian trophy wife and coffee-drinking son, yin/yang husband-wife with three disparate kids. But everyone is likable, relatable and strives to do nothing more than make amends with a family of distinct personalities united through marriage. Even Phil, who might annoy viewers as a sort of "Michael Scott lite" with his attempts to always be the cool dad, is harmless and well-intentioned. How can you argue with a guy who loves roller coasters, has seen "Ghostbusters" seven times and regularly drives through neighborhoods that have only recently been gentrified?

Other characters have similar idiosyncrasies that the show's writers constantly fall back on, but never abuse to the point that it would make viewers turn on them (like, for instance, Michael Scott.) Manny's mind is too old for his body; Haley is superficial and boy crazy; Cameron is overly dramatic and a trained clown (?); Mitchell is safe and self-conscious, so on and so forth.

Since the cameras are never addressed, the mockumentary format also works really well within the show. Like any reality program that gives its cast a confessional booth in front of the camera, it merely provides characters a chance to embellish on the plot as its happening. And while I thought early on it could be a crutch, the camera doesn't serve as a character like the purported Dunder Mifflin documentary crew. Instead, it's just a clever, easy way to present more jokes to the viewer.

Above all though, there's an underlying sweetness to the show that gives me hope about the future of network comedies. Latest episode "Fizbo," in particular, took a pretty standard plot convention -- a boy's birthday party -- and turned it into a clever "who is in the hospital" scenario by presenting multiple plot arcs that promised disaster. That it turned out to be nothing more than a broken arm by birthday boy Luke (after taking a spill on beads at his mom's lame craft table) was a genius touch that poured on just enough sugar without making it too cloying. Luke, whose birthday always gets lost in the holiday shuffle, got the best gift he could have asked for -- a smelly cast that made him the center of attention. And in the end, no one really got hurt and the family came together with cake in the hospital waiting room. Awwwww.

"Modern Family" isn't trying to be anything but a great comedy that all ages and all walks of life can enjoy. It's smart, funny and not the least bit mean-spirited. Hard to believe, but that's a rarity on TV these days.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Is this the real life? Or just the Muppets?

You've no doubt seen this video posted by a million of your Facebook friends, or forwarded to you in a billion co-worker emails. So seeing it one more time won't hurt, right? Especially when it's something as psyche-shatteringly awesome as The Muppets rocking out to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

In case your were scratching your head about tomorrow, this is what you can be thankful for.

-- Adam Reinhard,


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is the "Project Runway" finale the battle of the boring?

Let's be honest -- this season of "Project Runway" has been a bit of a letdown. No, it wasn't the move from New York to L.A. -- which, if anything, livened things up -- or even the move from Bravo to Lifetime. Instead, it was the absence of judging bedrocks Neeenah Gahcia and Michael "Too Much Suntan" Kors and early departures of promising designers like Ra'mon and Shirin that led to a lackluster final three. Still, Channel Surfing fashionistas (OK, aspiring) and "PR" diehards Malavika Jagannathan and Kelly McBride eagerly await the conclusion of the finale tomorrow night. Who will win the all-female head-to-head at Bryant Park -- will it be Carol Hannah, Althea or Meana Irina?

Malavika: Well, Part I of the finale was about what I expected. Tim Gunn visits all three gals at their homes for some one-on-one criticism and family dinner time. Fast forward to the end, when not shockingly, the trio is given ONE FINAL CHALLENGE... DUH DUH DUH. They have to create a thirteenth look! But, hey, they get some help from former contestants Logan, Christopher and Gordana. It's a classic "PR" twist. So classic I was bored by it. But even more, I was a little bored with what the three finalists were presenting as their final looks.

True to form, Carol Hannah -- who gets major points for working while deathly ill and vomiting -- is going the girly, dressy, whimsical route. Althea's love of structure is not terribly apparent in her large knit-wear, and Meana Irina (the greatest nickname ever) is depressing in her all-black drab line of -- gasp -- knits. (I'm sure she'll say Althea copied her, even though Althea lives in Ohio and she lives in New York). If I had to pick a winner based on the final collection, I'd probably go with Carol Hannah's because it seems the most cohesive, but the overall winner throughout the competition has probably been Irina, as much as it pains me to say it. Irina is talented -- even though she's a big fat meanie and not in an adorable Christian Siriano gay man way -- and she has the best chance to go home with the prize.

Kelly, what say you? Were you as bored? Who would you like to win?

Kelly: First of all, I don't know how anyone can even pretend to be shocked when they're asked, last-minute, to create a 13th look. It happens every season, they bring in the kicked-off designers, styles clash, yada, yada, yada, Bryant Park. Secondly, I was way excited to see Papa Gunn's cameo on Tuesday's "Biggest Loser" makeover show. A girl can never have too much Gunn. But I digress.

I agree that this season has been a bit lackluster, and just about every week some aspect of the judges' final decision has given me pause. Ra'mon and Shirin were booted way too early, with nary a second chance from the ever-changing judges' panel, while Christopher hung on for dear life and almost made the finale?! Come ON, Heidi and Co.! I've said it here before -- Christopher showed great promise early on, but should have been auf'd about five episodes sooner than he was (despite being from my homestate. Much love, Minnesota. Much love). Each one of our final three undoubtedly deserve to be there, but one can't help but wonder what would have happened if some of their more worthy competitors had been given the chance to stay.

As for the finale, I think it's still anyone's game at this point. Just like last season (and absent a Christian-like standout), I think any one of the women has what it takes. Irina's stubborn refusal to infuse some color into her black-on-black collection might come back to bite her, but our boy Christian presented a similarly monochromatic collection and won. Then again, "Meana" (you're right, best nickname ever) is no Christian. As for who I'd like to see win, I'm always a sucker for the underdog. And nothing says underdog like preparing for the biggest day of your life when you can't stop puking -- so I'm pulling for Carol Hannah. I wouldn't mind Althea taking top prize, but Meana (this season's Kenley) just bugs me too much. And she's not talented enough to be that cocky.

So Malavika, right back at you -- who do you want to see win? Will the final fashion show be as unforgettable as the hype would lead us to believe? And can we start an online petition to make Neenah Gahcia and Michael "Orange" Kors judge every challenge next season?

Malavika: I think we're on the same page about Carol Hannah. Homegirl deserves a win for being deathly ill, but I wouldn't be upset if either of the other two walked away with it. OK, I'd be a little annoyed if Meana Irina won, but I think I could -- in the immortal words of Tim Gunn -- make it work.

The "Project Runway" Season Six finale airs Thursday on Lifetime at 9 p.m. CST. Any other PR fans want to weigh in?

-- Malavika Jagannathan, and Kelly McBride,


Blame the "Thong Song," or how I lost my glee for "Glee"

I know the exact moment that I lost all desire to ever watch "Glee" again. It came early in the Oct. 21 episode, "Mash-Up," and frankly, it's the most embarrassed I've ever felt while watching a TV show.

Having been behind in my DVR viewing, this only happened Monday night. My wife and I were feeling a little uneasy about "Glee" in recent weeks -- man, Will's not-so-pregnant wife is annoying as crap -- but we decided to keep going because we love Sue Sylvester's (Jane Lynch) sharp barbs and genuinely had interest, maybe even a slight sense of empathy, for characters like Finn and Will.

Then it happened: the moment I had been dreading ever since I decided to give "Glee" a chance. Yeah, its pilot had won me over. And yeah, Lynch is hysterical as a diabolical cheer coach. But once Will (Matthew Morrison) began cheesily rapping to Young MC's "Bust a Move," I knew the writing was on the wall.

Look, I accept that "Glee" is about a high school glee club and therefore is going to have music be an integral part of the show. I can also live with the idea that anyone, at any time, can break into song in over-the-top fashion. When done properly -- you know, with actual plot integration in mind -- it can be quite amusing and clever (see gay Kurt dancing to "Single Ladies" or Will's man-band grooving to Color Me Badd).

But there's also a reason "Cop Rock" is an all-time TV punchline. The idea of watching actors, even highly skilled ones, always gliding effortlessly into song or busting out jazz hands becomes redundant and ridiculous over time. Add novelty songs that no one would ever want to hear again to the mix, and folks, you have a recipe for disaster.

So when, moments after Will finished writhing to Young MC, the suave glee leader busted out a stunningly unwatchable version of Sisqo's "Thong Song" in front of Emma -- wearing a wedding dress ... ugh, don't ask -- I turned to my wife, she turned to me, and we mutually decided that we couldn't, in good conscience, continue on.

And with that, "Glee" was stopped mid-episode, never to return to my DVR list.

Now, part of me gets the joke. "Glee" is so outlandish because, in many ways, it's a parody of high school dramas, musicals and soap operas. I understand that Quinn never takes off her cheerleading uniform. I get that Rachel is supposed to rival the "American Idol" wannabe who really believes that dreams of stardom will come true. And again, I totally get that music is a HUGE part of the show and will help sell countless CDs and spur Gleeks everywhere to make their own YouTube videos.

But as smart and sweet as "Glee" can sometimes be, this show isn't for someone with my discerning taste. The plots are nonsensical (fake pregnancies, secret engagements), the song choices too transparent or intentionally bad. The final nail in the coffin -- Will grinding to "Thong Song," full facial expressions and smoky vocals in tow -- was more embarrassing than watching a bunch of overzealous guests perform a drunken version of "The Electric Slide" at a wedding.

I wanted "Glee" to morph into "Freaks and Geeks" with a few clever music references tossed in, but sadly, it's a song and dance pairing that wasn't meant to be. "Thong Song" made sure of that.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Week 8: "Top Chef" Power Rankings

Talky Talk Robin couldn't talk herself out of elimination last week.

Can I get a Hallelujah?

FINALLY, the thinning field has purged itself of one of "Top Chef's" worst contestants in recent memory. Now, it's a five horse race -- with Eli and Jen fighting for table scraps while Bryan blandly serves as the third wheel to a potentially epic showdown between Big Red Kevin and Michael "I Make Snide Comments Behind Kevin's Back" Voltaggio.

Should be good.

As for our Power Rankings, Evan solidified his top spot by nabbing 10 points, while Adam jumped into second, at least providing Mr. Siegle with some competition down the stretch. How it all shakes out: Evan, 36; Adam, 26; Boyd, 22; Ms. Q, 20; T-Roz, 16; Mary, 11; Kelly, 11; MJ, 6.

1. Michael V.
2. Kevin Gillespie
3. Bryan V.
4. Jen Carroll
5. Eli Kirshtein

-- Evan Siegle

1. Mike
2. Kevin
3. Bryan
4. Jen
5. Eli

-- Adam Reinhard

1. Kevin Gillespie, aka: The Ginge
2. Michael Voltaggio, aka: Chef Slim Shady, aka: Tony Hawk
3. Bryan "I do not smile. ever." Voltaggio
4. Eli "Seriously Jewish" Kirshtein
5. Jennifer "I don't move my mouth when I talk" Carroll

-- Sara Boyd

1. Kevin
2. Michael V.
3. Bryan
4. Jen
5. Eli

-- Thomas Rozwadowski

1. Lumberjack Kevin
2. Badass Mike
3. Bryan V.
4. Jenny Jen
5. Eli

-- Kelly McBride

1. Kevin
2. Michael V.
3. Jen
4. Bryan V.
5. Eli

-- Malavika Jagannathan

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christmas, "Sunny"-style

The gang from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" has never taken the politically correct route in five seasons on FX. So don't expect any warm and fuzzy holiday memories when Dennis, Mac, Charlie, Dee and Frank gather for "It's a Very Sunny Christmas," out on DVD today for around $26.

Based on this preview (which isn't suitable for our blog because of language, ahem, among other things), Dennis and Dee still harbor resentment over Frank's habit of buying Christmas presents they wanted for himself. Meanwhile, Mac talks about his family tradition of stealing neighborhood Christmas gifts, while Charlie gets into it with Santa, presumably because of his mom's heavy drinking.

Oh, and a naked, sweaty Danny DeVito is also prominently featured.

Thought a bit steep in price for a 40-minute special, the DVD should be worth it based on "Sunny's" revival this season. Not that the show became unbearable or anything, but from "Kitten Mittons," Frank's intervention, Gail the Snail, the Birds of War and last week's amazing Dennis and Mac break-up, this season, if not the best, is certainly the most inspired.

So break out the riot nog and milksteak. It's Christmas, "Sunny"-style.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Monday, November 16, 2009

"Remote Control" host Ken Ober dies at 52

Crummy news from the New York Times: Ken Ober, host of MTV's "Remote Control," has passed away from unknown complications. He was 52.

Ober, who grew up in Boston idolizing game show hosts like Bob Barker and Bob Eubanks, went on to host four game shows total, but is best known for his work on “Control." Created in 1987, the show was particularly groundbreaking because it was the first foray into non-music programming for the network whose foundation was 24-hours of non-stop videos.

"Control" also memorably launched the careers of Colin Quinn, Adam Sandler (see second clip below), Denis Leary and a really hot Kari Wuhrer. Cousin Flip, who used to laugh theme songs (see third clip) so contestants could guess them ... well, I'm not really sure what became of him. But as a wide-eyed youngster who was told not to watch MTV by his father (but did so anyway), it was my dream to appear on the show and nail every video on the wall of TV sets. Yes, even ones by Kajagoogoo and El DeBarge.

Ah, good memories. I raise my box of breakfast cereal and salute you, Ken Ober.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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"Curb" pokes fun at Michael Richards fiasco

The recession has hit a lot of people hard -- and this TV fan, in particular, had to give up HBO as a result. Now, I know that's not worthy of your sympathy, but I have missed the entire "Seinfeld" reunion storyline on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as a result. Let's not be so cold as to ignore that important fact, dear blog readers.

Now, the eventual DVD set will make up for this stinging loss, but I have been keeping up with "Curb's" progression by reading the occasional TV review or searching for YouTube clips. By all accounts, it's one of the best seasons in "Curb" history.

And while I can't give you the show-within-a-show context (apparently there's a nice Groat's Disease callback involved), last night, "Curb" finally tackled the elephant in the room known as Michael Richards' racist rant. It doesn't bear repeating what Richards said during his 2006 stand-up tirade -- and whether it was really worthy of the public outcry -- but the fact remains, Kramer had a bit of a black cloud hanging over his head as a result.

Leave it to Larry David to brilliantly twist the sensitive subject by having Richards approach Leon Black (dressed like Louis Farrakhan) and say, "If only there were a horrible name that I could call you that would make you as angry as I am!" The gallery of gawkers with their cell phones out also makes it particularly inspired.

Yep, "Curb" went there. I wouldn't have expected anything less from David.

Because the clip has some profanity, we can't post it directly on our blog. But if you want to see the exchange, take a peek at this link.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Friday, November 13, 2009

Anyone going to watch "The Prisoner?"

No "Mad Men." No "Breaking Bad" until March. What's an AMC fan to do?

Well, there's always "The Prisoner," a remake of the cult '60s British spy series starring Patrick McGoohan, running Sunday-Tuesday.

I have to plead ignorance on the original, and really, everything else about the new miniseries. I only saw the promo during last week's "Mad Men," but its "Lost"-like quality (at least in terms of creepy Dharma Initiative experiments) was enough to keep me intrigued. Either that, or it reminds me a lot of what I suspect goes on behind closed doors at Scientology centers.

So far, reviews on the Web have been pretty mixed, but I'm not sure if that's due to comparisons with the original or the enigmatic, almost Lynchian nature of the show's premise. According to an Associated Press story, "The Prisoner" goes a little something like this:

A man named Michael from New York wakes up in the desert, much to his surprise.

Fortunately, a pleasant-looking village is nearby.

Unfortunately, Michael wants to get back to New York and finds he can’t.

“That’s not possible,” the Village elder tells him. “There is no New York. There’s only the Village.”

“I want out!” Michael says.

“There is no out,” insists the leader. “There is only in.”

From that same AP story, “The Prisoner” is a "sometimes startling, always eye-popping meditation on freedom through the prism of mass thought control. Jim Caviezel stars as Michael, the addled detainee who finds that, on his arrival in the Village, he, like all the residents, is designated by a number, not a name.

He is now Six.

Ian McKellen is the charismatic, delicately despotic boss, Two. With a suave, creepy-reassuring manner, he lords over this realm with its daunting sinkholes, huge white beach ball and compliant, seemingly contented populace.

Here wanderlust is out of the question, the solution to every problem is “More Village” and every home has a pig to somehow guarantee stability.

What’s it all mean? That’s up to each viewer, and it’s fun (and mind-expanding) to surrender to the Village’s enigmas and find out."

For a cool AMC graphic of the original show's pop culture imprint, click this link. Among the shows and movies cited: "Twin Peaks," "Lost," "The Truman Show" and "The Matrix." Even "The Simpsons" episode about The Leader shows up.

Sounds good enough for a DVR spin, right?

"The Prisoner" airs at 7 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday on AMC.
Each episode is two hours.

Also, anyone have thoughts on the original? Let us know if you're excited for the remake or what to expect ...

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fox closes "Dollhouse"; Whedon fans respond with a resounding "meh"

Faster than an infrared neurological personality upload, Fox has cancelled "Dollhouse" only four episodes into its sophomore season. And somewhere in rural Kansas, a solitary Joss Whedon fan is shocked.

"Dollhouse," the fourth series from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" mastermind Whedon, was seemingly always on the verge of getting axed. How it survived its first season -- after a dozen episodes of unappealing characters, limp plotlines, and a really, really annoying theme song -- for a second go-round probably owes more to Fox's lackluster fall schedule than any artistic merits the show mustered (and there were some.)

Don't get me wrong, I liked the show. It really picked up steam late last year with some nice twists, and solid character development. (For those who don't know, it hardly matters now, but the show was about a secret, somewhat shady organization that hired out "dolls," or people uploaded with speciality personalities who could fulfill any number of roles for anyone who could afford them. Thrown into the mix was Echo (Eliza Dushku), a doll who retains flashes of her former, troubled life, and covertly tries to bring the organization down. Actually sounds kinda silly when you hear it succinctly like that.) But the clincher for me was the unaired first season finale, "Epitaph One," which imagined a near-distant future in which the Dollhouse technology goes widespread, with half of humanity reprogrammed into soldiers by the world's governments, and the other half forming an underground resistance. In the pantheon of great Joss Whedon hourlongs, the dark, gripping "Epitaph One" ranks pretty high up there, and that's no small feat.

But it's also, in retrospect, now kind of a bummer, since it got me all hyped for season two. This season has actually been pretty dang good, too -- the tone of the show had settled down and focused, the plots better served the over-arching story, Eliza didn't seem nearly as lost as the show's lead -- but it was all for nothing. First Fox decided to pull the show for the entire month of November, replacing it with reruns of "Bones" and "House" (which, in what was probably the nail in the coffin, consistently got better ratings than "Dollhouse" ever did), and now this. Fortunately, the network is obliging the show's tiny fanbase by actually airing the rest of the season's eight ordered episodes (a non-douche move from Fox? Now there's a shocker.)

While it will be nice to get some closure on a show I was never all that invested in to begin with, I think I speak for many Joss Whedon fans when I say, maybe it's for the best. Maybe now he can be free to find a project that's a little more thought out, something that doesn't feel so haphazard and ungainly. Maybe he can finally put his stubborn allegiance to Fox behind him, and anchor his considerable cache of talent to a network that won't stick him with the dreaded Friday Night Death Slot. (AMC, maybe? They're doing good things, Joss. Or FX? It's just like Fox, only less vowelly.)

Any other Whedon fans out there with similarly mixed feelings about the demise of "Dollhouse"? Drop us a line.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Week 7: "Top Chef" Power Rankings

Sorry, Misogynist Mike. But not only did you get outlasted by two women, one of them (sadly) is Robin.

With a week off -- and Marcel's d-baggery on full display during the "All Stars Dinner" (seriously, how many lockers did that guy get stuffed into while in high school?) -- "Top Chef" is back with only six remaining contestants. As we've already mentioned, one of them is "Your Awfulness Is No Longer Amusing" Robin -- and frankly, we can't believe that's the case at this serious stage in the game.

Evan maintains his Power Rankings lead with 26 points, but with a little help from the Kevin Gillespie Sweep, Sara Boyd and Adam Reinhard are now nipping at his heels. How it all shakes out: Evan, 26; Ms. Q, 20; Boyd, 17; Adam, 16; T-Roz, 11; Mary, 11; MJ, 6; Kelly, 6.

Onto this week ...

1. Michael V.
2. Kevin Gillespie
3. Bryan V.
4. Jen Carroll
5. Eli Kirshtein
6. Robin Leventhal

-- Evan Siegle

1. Kevin Gillespie, aka: The Ginge
2. Michael Voltaggio, aka: Chef Slim Shady, aka: Tony Hawk
3. Bryan "I do not smile. ever." Voltaggio
4. Jennifer "I don't move my mouth when I talk" Carroll
5. Eli "Seriously Jewish" Kirshtein
6. Robin "Seriously, go away" Leventhal

-- Sara Boyd

1. Mike "Don't make me have to do your dessert for you" Voltaggio
2. Kevin "Tremble before my fearsome red beard of flaaaame!" Gillespie
3. Jen "If I want to pout myself out of this competition, that's my right" Carroll
4. Bryan "I'm the Luigi in this situation" Voltaggio
5. Eli "So much lack of talent in such a small frame" Kirshtein
6. Robin Leventhal. Period.

-- Adam Reinhard

1. Jen "Don't Call It a Comeback" Carroll
2. Kevin "Once Ate 130 Wings in an Hour" Gillespie
3. Michael "Picasso Was Also a Jerk" Voltaggio
4. Bryan "The Doormat Brother" Voltaggio
5. Eli "I Still Live With My Parents" Kirshtein
6. Robin "Either You Go or Punches Will Be Thrown" Leventhal

-- Thomas Rozwadowski

1. Bryan V.
2. Kevin
3. Mikey V.
4. Jenny Jen
5. Eli
6. Robin

-- Kelly McBride

1. Jen
2. Bryan
3. Kevin
4. Michael
5. Robin
6. Eli

-- Malavika Jagannathan


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This post is brought to you by the letter S and the number 40

If I weren't at work, I'd probably be wearing my Oscar the Grouch t-shirt and singing "Rubber Ducky."

Today, "Sesame Street" celebrates its 40th birthday.

In some ways, the show has changed a lot over the years -- today's theme song and the structure of the show may seem unfamiliar to many of us -- but its characters and themes haven't changed too much over the last 40 years. Four decades is a record for any television show, but even more so for a show that predominantly features muppets, has a core educational component and showcases a completely urban setting.

Why "Sesame Street" -- originally intended to give all kids a leg up on their ABCs and 123s before they headed to pre-school -- succeeded is no secret, though. It's a hilarious show. It's endless list of parodies -- both in songs and sketches -- are smart and funny even today. From "Monsterpiece Theater" with Alistair Cookiemonster to the "Law and Order: Special Letters Unit" segment, "Sesame Street" is full of references most 5-year-olds don't get until much later when they can truly appreciate it. The cast of beloved characters -- Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Telly, Grover, the Count, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Kermit, Bob (who is still on the show!) -- are as universally recognized as any celebrities out there.

I'll admit, it's been at least 10 years since I've watched "Sesame Street," but I might just have to turn it on today... for old times sake. In the mean time, here are a few videos of my favorite "Sesame Street" moments.

Have a favorite "Sesame Street" clip, moment or memory you want to share? Drop us a line in the comments below.

--Malavika Jagannathan,


Monday, November 9, 2009

"Mad Men," the morning after

There are so many thoughts running through my mind as I cope with my own sense of loss this morning. That's right: "Mad Men" won't be back until late summer 2010. Yeah, it's still 60 degrees in Green Bay ... in freakin' November ... but man, that's a long way off.

Now, let the mourning begin after the shockwaves from last night's Season 3 "Mad Men" finale, "Shut the Door, Have a Seat."

* Divorce was used both literally and figuratively in last night's magnificent closer: Free from Don, Betty is off to Reno with new beau (not in a scandalous way, of course) Henry Francis. Meanwhile, the backbone of Sterling Cooper pulls a Baltimore Colts sneak-off-in-the-middle-of-the-night maneuver to completely sever ties with its new corporate overlords.

* Jon Hamm usually steals the show with his acting (see his bedside Dick Whitman breakdown to Betty), but January Jones really killed it last night in two scenes. First, her assertive calm while handling a drunken Don (who angrily throttled Betty while calling her a "whore") made me feel serious compassion for the stone cold housewife. When she cradled Gene and gave Don the dead-eye stare, there was no turning back.

Second, her resolute, but heartbreaking reaction while Don said good-bye to Bobby was beyond gut-wrenching. All the scenes from Don's "Carousel" pitch in Season 1 kept flooding back to me ... how everything you once knew in life can be so close, yet so far away. Finally though, we see some real emotion from Betty, which begs the bigger question, will she get what she wants from Henry Francis? They look happy now, but I couldn't help but feel that Henry's proposal to "take care" of her will put Betty right back to square one -- beholden to a breadwinner while her children suffer. In TV land, we call this the "Carmella Soprano corollary."

* Speaking of the above scenes, "Mad Men" viewers certainly hold Don to a higher standard (or at least I do.) Why this is the case can be confusing since Don is a full-time philanderer and fails to appreciate the relationships of those around him -- as Roger and Peggy astutely pointed out last night. Maybe it's Jon Hamm's likeability, I dunno. Personally, I tend to side with Don because he's a good father (or at least, a more relaxed parent than Betty) who is always informed by his beleaguered past. And while the "whore" comment shouldn't be condoned, last night's incensed reaction toward Betty stemmed from the blindsided nature of the Henry Francis revelation. Until that moment, Don never thought Betty would be able to move on from him, not when he provided her with everything. Everything except emotional support and stability, which for the first time, Don seems to understand as he makes that dispiriting phone call, sending her off to Reno.

* Hated Pete Campbell in Season 1. Love him now. The difference? Pete finally stopped feeling sorry for himself and stepped up. Pete and Peggy are both tremendously talented individuals, but obviously still insecure -- which is what you'd expect of younger employees trying to prove themselves. But last night showed how important Don's approval means to everyone -- including Roger, who always seemed to know that their friendship could still be salvaged.

* So many wonderful moments: Layne happily getting fired while engaging in the ol' switcheroo; Joan re-entering confidently as office savior; Kinsey opening Peggy's office and realizing he's been shunned; Pete putting out his hand and saying "I'm not really sick"; Bert threatening to lock Harry in the storage room; Harry unable to remember the suite number; Don finally calling out Conrad Hilton, and Connie having the perfect rebuttal; Don recalling his childhood and the lessons of his father about selling out; practically every line out of Roger's mouth; and of course, Don humbly reaching out to Peggy by saying the immortal line, "I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you." Tear!

* Sweet, sweet Joanie. So glad to have her back with renewed purpose.

* Gotta love that jai alai account, eh?

* Loved the pacing of the episode, which really played out like a fun-filled caper. Will Lane help Roger, Don and Bert? Will the gang get locked out of Sterling Cooper before it's too late? Will Peggy forgive Don and join the crew? Same "Mad Men" time, same "Mad Men" channel!

* Sally is gonna have some rage as a teenager. The counterculture is a-callin'.

* And the post-Kennedy era begins with a sense of renewal, second chances. Fitting.

* Where does "Mad Men" go from here? That seems like too much to digest now, but personally, I'm happy with the resolution to the Draper marriage. Part of me wishes that "Mad Men" would follow "The Wire" and know that when a storyline is complete, they can make due without a central character for three seasons (ala Stringer Bell) staying along for the ride. But "Mad Men" probably won't follow "The Wire's" lead even though the magnitude (and sense of closure) to both third seasons feels very similar. Betty will certainly return to the fold, quite possibly in the arms of Don, but as for Duck, Connie Hilton, Ken Cosgrove, Miss Farrell, Sal, Smitty, Lois and others left behind ... I'm not sure I need any of them to be in the big picture anymore.

As always, leave your own thoughts, questions or words of praise for Matthew Weiner's brilliance.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Thursday, November 5, 2009

JFK blown away, what else does "Mad Men" have to say?

Hard to believe that Season 3 of “Mad Men” is already ending. Not so hard to believe that the same fate awaits Don and Betty Draper’s fractured marriage.

Bombshells of all shapes and sizes have dropped during a breathtakingly transformative season of AMC’s Emmy Award-winning drama.

Don’s identity secret — hanging over his head like a dark cloud since Season 1 — finally was forced out of his locked desk drawer. The literal and figurative Pandora’s box seemed to free Don, but it appears too little, too late for Betty — the weight of lies leading her into the waiting arms of father figure flirtation, Henry Francis.

Meanwhile, Pete is battling his own demons at work. Roger is exhibiting signs of growing maturity and longing for Joan. Peggy continues to lead an uninspired love life. And perhaps most disquieting of all, Sterling Cooper is on the block.

Yet all the customary character development has been overshadowed by a dose of 1963 reality in the form of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Instead of dealing with the “where were you?” event in cursory fashion, “Mad Men” made it every bit the centerpiece it was (and still is) for Americans reeling from the shocking news.

Betty’s hysterical reaction upon seeing Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down on live TV sums up the emotional stakes. After all, the pall cast by Kennedy’s death set in motion the fear, paranoia and unrest that would shape the remainder of the decade.

Where that palpable darkness takes “Mad Men” in Season 4 is anyone’s guess, but the life-altering uncertainty promises one heck of a season finale.

My big questions heading into Sunday:

* Are Betty and Don done for good? (If so, are you saddened or relieved?)

* Is Betty reacting to a sense of urgency exacerbated by real life events (the Kennedy assassination) or did Don's "Dick Whitman" lie finally push her past the point of no return?

* There has to be more than meets the eye when it comes to Henry Francis. Any theories?

* What's the motivating force behind Betty's attraction to Henry? Is Henry just promising marriage to get what he wants on a more carnal level?

* What does Conrad Hilton have in store for Don?

* Will Pete resign to his fate or jump ship?

* Will any of that matter since Sterling Cooper is for sale? Will Bert, Roger and Don reclaim what was once theirs? Or is Duck Phillips still around because his new company is primed for a takeover?

* Will Peggy be able to shake her sexual relationship with Duck (especially after he deliberately turned off the Kennedy bulletin to stay in the mood for a "go-around"?) Also, how many showers does she have to take to get his sliminess off?

* What lies ahead for Joan? Will she reconnect with Roger on a more meaningful level?

* Will the post-Kennedy malaise completely reshape the show?

* Anybody seen Salvatore? Miss Farrell?

Did I miss anything? Provide answers, ask your own questions or just leave a general comment below.

"Mad Men" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on AMC.

To see a "Mad Men" photo gallery of memorable characters and the actors/actresses who play them, click here.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"V"ictory for "V" fans

As Adam wrote Monday, WBAY decided not to air the premiere of "V" so that Packers-related program "Tuesday Night Touchback" could run at 7 p.m.

In WBAY's defense, "Touchback" did have Jared Allen's favorite tackling dummy, Aaron Rodgers, on as a guest ... but still, there may have been a few complaints lobbed at the station because today, they announced on their Web site that "V" will be airing at its customary 7 p.m. Tuesday time slot for the rest of November.

In what might be a harder pill to swallow than losing to Brett Favre for a second time this season, that's Sci-Fi Nerds, 1, Packers, 0.

So to recap: the pilot airs Saturday, around 11:05 p.m. after Action 2 News -- though if you're using a DVR, allow extra recording time in case college football runs long. Starting Tuesday, the show will be in its regular 7 p.m. time slot. “Tuesday Night Touchback” moves to 6:30 p.m.

The show will also be available -- with "expert commentary" -- Saturday on

UPDATE: Not having the GB market didn't hurt those sexy aliens one bit. The "V" premiere drew nearly 14 million viewers last night, making it the second most-watched series premiere of the season (behind "NCIS: Los Angeles" and its 18.7 million tally).

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


"Flight of the Conchords" might be over in the not-so-distant future

Like all good things, it looks like "Flight of the Conchords" is coming to an end.

Jemaine Clement told Reuters that the show may not have another season because it requires so much work, adding that "a final decision will be made within a month." Say it ain't so. Rumors of the HBO show's second season being its final were hard enough to bear when they began circulating, but to hear it from Jemaine himself is pretty crushing.

I promise I'm not crying... it's just that I've been cutting onions. Is there hope, "Flight" fans, or do we just have to accept the inevitable?

--Malavika Jagannathan,


TV Potpourri: "30 Rock," "Mercy," "Southland" and other TV tidbits

Amid news that GE -- parent company to NBC/Universal -- plans to sell its stake in the network, NBC is really cashing in on its connections.

-- EW's Michael Ausiello reports that two of the stars of the over-the-top ridiculous season of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" will play themselves in an episode of "Mercy." Alas, the episode will not include Danielle Staub -- the villain of the Garden State crew -- but feature sweet Jacqueline Laurita and table-flipping-phenom Teresa Giudice. Now, perhaps this is a ploy to get people to watch "Mercy," which is pulling in a decent number of viewers in its 8 p.m. Wednesday time slot. Of course, as Ausiello points out, it doesn't hurt that Bravo is owned by NBC-Universal.

-- Speaking of GE's plans to sell its stake in NBC to Comcast... we have to ask... what does this mean for "30 Rock" and its intricate plot connections to GE? Will Jack Donaghy keep his job as Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming? What happens to his new microwave invention?

-- If you were a fan of NBC's "Southland" -- it's police drama/"ER" replacement -- and crushed by its sudden cancellation, good news. TNT will pick up "Southland" and air the season 2 episodes that were completed before NBC pulled the plug. It's not certain whether TNT will produce new episodes, though. Still, something is better than nothing, right?

-- I haven't watched too many episodes of "Castle," but the Halloween episode that aired last week had a great inside joke for fans of Joss Whedon's "Firefly." Nathan Fillion, who plays the titular character on "Castle," dresses up as his "Firefly" character Mal Reynolds for Halloween, only to have his daughter on the show ask "didn't you wear that, like, five years ago? Don't you think you should move on?" Plus Fillion uses the phrase "candy beard." Trust me, it was funny... and here's the clip to prove it!

--Malavika Jagannathan,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No new "Top Chef" this week, BUT ...


The return of Lisa, Doo-Rag Queen of the Damned!

That's right, folks. Our long national nightmare begins anew thanks to "Top Chef" taking another week off -- except this time, instead of showing a repeat from the previous week, Bravo unveils a brand-new all-star dinner featuring "fan-favorite contestants" from seasons past including, Fabio Viviani, Ilan Hall, Harold Dieterle, Dale Levitski, Marcel Vigneron, Tiffani Faison, Casey Thompson (hey, I thought she swore off "Top Chef?"), Richard Blais, Carla Hall, Hung Huynh, Stefan Richter and ... DUN, DUN, DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN ... Lisa freakin' Fernandes.

Yeah,"fan-favorite" contestants. Clearly, the "Top Chef" powers-that-be have never read this little blog of ours.

The "Top Chef" All-Star Reunion Dinner airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Power rankings resume next week.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Monday, November 2, 2009

Be sure to set the D "V" R

Nobody likes tardy alien invaders.

But that's what area viewers are getting Tuesday night, with local ABC affiliate WBAY planning to push back the debut of the hotly anticipated new series "V" until Saturday night. An episode of "Tuesday Night Touchback" will take "V"'s 7 P.M. Tuesday slot, according to a tweet from the station back in August. (The station had originally planned to air it Wednesday at 12:05 A.M. No reason was given for the switch.)

But judging by the early reviews -- and ignoring that ridiculously bad promo photo at right -- "V" will be worth the wait. Variety's Brian Lowry says the pilot "busily races through too much business, but it dangles a tantalizing array of plots, and features a knockout performance (in more ways than one) by Morena Baccarin as the cool, beguiling alien leader."

Futon Critic's Brian Ford Sullivan calls the opening 10 minutes "particularly astonishing, in no small part due to some stunning visual effects. This definitely isn't your parents' 'V.'"

And when he's not spewing crazy talk about the show being a thinly veiled critique of the Obama administration, the Miami Herald's Glenn Garvin calls the show "sweeping television storytelling at its best."

Nevertheless, there'll be more waiting in store for the series after its first four episodes. In a bizarre bit of scheduling, ABC is putting the show on hiatus in December, apparently regardless of ratings, and bringing it back sometime in 2010. Many saw this as a lack of confidence in the big budget remake, which ABC head honchos, and those early reviews, refute.

But for now, what can you do if you don't want to wait until Saturday night? WBAY's Web site helpfully points out that the premiere will be available at on Wednesday. For something that feels like such a television event, though, being reduced to squinting at it on your Dell seems a little anti-climatic. I'd still recommend setting the DVR for Saturday night, when WBAY has it scheduled to follow their evening news. (Note that WBAY is also airing college football Saturday night, and if that runs long it'll push "V" back even further.)

You don't have to wait to see the first nine minutes of the premiere, anyway. ABC made that available online weeks ago:

-- Adam Reinhard,

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