Wednesday, December 24, 2003

TECK MONEY: Last time, we had no warning. This time, we do.

MTV will be re-airing the entire run of Real World: Hawaii on Friday, January 2, 2004, from 6:30 am to 3 pm. If you've never seen the best non-competition season of reality tv ever -- or, certainly, if you have and remember it as fondly as I do, set your VCRs and TiVos now.
TURN GREEN, MOTHERFUCKER: I've been taking some personal time off from the blog, and things will be very slow from my end until after the New Year (I can't speak for my co-bloggers). You'll cope. I know it.

But first I need to pass along word one of my favorite annual lists is back: the Village Voice's annual critics film poll.

Lost In Translation topped in the voting for best film and best performance, but what's really worth reading, as always, are the comments. Here's a sample:
Translation's ugly swipes at them wacky Japanese (not to mention pea-brained American starlets) can be read as a defensive hitting-out, an extremely adolescent mode of cocooning: shut in my room 'cos nobody speaks my language—nobody gets me—but you. The teen spirit of romanticized alienation soon grates because the film reads most convincingly as autobiographical juvenilia. And yet, even Bryan Ferry himself could not have conjured the plangent rhapsody of Mr. Murray singing karaoke "More Than This." Delayed adolescence is largely ridiculous, as is Lost in Translation, but what about the ridiculous sublime? --JESSICA WINTER

I love the scene in Terminator 3 when Claire Danes first uses an automatic weapon, and it's like Nick Stahl notices her for the first time as a sexually attractive being, and then he twists the knife completely by saying, "You remind me of my mother." --CHRIS CHANG

Had no one who reviewed Masked & Anonymous ever heard a Dylan song? The movie worked in the same way: oblique, threatening, funny, pointed. What was shocking about the trashing wasn't the implicit rejection of its politics (its vision of America as third-world dictatorship) as the critics' lazy-ass "Well, this is weird" reaction. The reviews were the equivalent of what you might get if you sneak-previewed La Chinoise at a multiplex. --CHARLES TAYLOR

Overheard, repeatedly, at the packed opening-night show of The Hulk at Loews 42nd Street, from a restless crowd of young action fans who didn't appreciate Ang Lee's reluctant, angsty Bruce Banner: "Turn green, motherfucker, TURN GREEN!" --ED HALTER

Character transpositions would've helped several movies. Master and Commander wouldn't have been so dull, decent, and manly with Johnny Depp's swashbuckler from Pirates of the Caribbean. Will Ferrell would've helped relieve the elvish tedium in LOTR III. From Lost in Translation, Anna Faris's ditzy starlet would brighten the stultifying Last Samurai—enough with the sword stuff, let's go out for sake and karaoke! --BRIAN MILLER

Enjoy.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

MUST BE ATKINS OR SOMETHING: If you compare Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid in real life to his new bobblehead depiction, you may notice something's missing.

Suggested by the Philadelphia Daily News.
THE LENGTH IN EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: In a year where my best idea was "Shattered Ass", Lindsayism presents 2003's Best Porn Titles For Mainstream Movies. If you're the kind of person who finds giggle-worthy titles such as "The Secret Wives of Dentists" and "Barely Legal Blonde 2", this site is for you.

(Obligatory Wife Praise: her 1997 titling of "Men In Black Women" still tops the genre.)

Via A List A Day.

Friday, December 19, 2003

AWARD TOUR, CONTINUED: I know somebody out there is feeling hard-pressed, right this very moment, for a last-minute gift idea. Something low key, but rich and satisfyingly complicated. Something light-hearted, but heartfelt. Maybe something thoughtful, but funky. Yes? Yes. Here it is:

Lyrics Born has a new record out.

If you haven't heard of him, he's a longtime champion of the Bay Area hip-hop scene, working often with the Quannum / Solesides crew that has spun out DJ Shadow, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious and such like. With Quannum cohort Lateef, he also forms half of Latyrx. Like the rest of Quannum, Lyrics Born has and does reliably provide worthy, fun, intelligent tracks that take the time and effort to say something . . . Good stuff that leaves you thinking and feeling better for listening to it. His new disk, the first LB solo effort, is no exception.

It's called Later That Day, and you can find some other positive write-ups here and here. And here's a short interview.

Lyrics Born and Later That Day officially get my 2003 'Bout Damn Time Award for the solo album that I've been waiting for the longest. Ever since I heard "I Changed My Mind", in fact, and more so since I saw him open for DJ Shadow downtown last year.

Lyrics Born is a mellow visionary who can keep it humorous, spirited and insightful in verses about the day-to-day difficulties in real-world America: insomnia, telemarketers, phone trees, insufficient funds and begrudging payment of income taxes. I did not stop smiling the whole way through this disk. Chumps who dismiss this effort as "backpack hip hop" should be forced, A Clockwork Orange style, to listen to Prince Paul's last joint until they wake up and smell who the joke is on. I only wish half of the mainstream was a third this worthy, and await its righteous correction.

If you're in the Bay Area, Lyrics Born will be at The Fillmore on January 10, 2004 with Blackalicious. (I'd give you a link for that venue, out of an abundance of local pride, but all they offer is a chance to get on their mailing list. Punks. No info; no promos; no previews; no schedule; nothing but an address.)
SHORT-FINGERED VULGARIAN WATCH: Just when you thought television had finally evened the gap and put enough rich folks on television to balance out the rest of us, Donald Trump's The Apprentice debuts January 8.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

WHAT A DRAG IT IS GETTING OLD: Defying doctor's predictions and any number of dead pool entries, Keith Richards -- a man who famously once said "I'd hate to have to go around thinking of health and shit like that" -- turns sixty years old tomorrow.

Richards has said he would like his epitath to read as follows: "Fuckers! I told you I wasn't feeling well."

Happy birthday, Keith.
IS THAT NEXT DOOR TO THE ASS-MART? Rob Sheffield does me one better today in explaining the greatness of Panjabi MC's "Mundian To Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys)":
It kicks so much ass, more ass than I have to offer it. In fact, that song kicks so much ass that it totally exhausts my ass resources, forcing me out to the 24-Hour Ass Depot to pick up some more ass, so, like, that song can kick it some more. You know what I'm saying?

On Slate.com.
JUST HAPPY TO BE NOMINATED: There were a lot of excellent contenders in the category of Best Reality Television Host/Judge of 2003. Two veterans of the genre excelled again -- The Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan, still does the best fake-out "actually, you're still in the competition" face on television, and Survivor's Jeff Probst had what may have been the funniest line of the reality year (and please, tell me what I'm forgetting), when, as described by TWoP's Miss Alli:
He levels his eyes at Jon. "Give me the state of affairs of this tribe." "Awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome. Happy tribe," says Jon, every bit the idiotic drunk. Jeff nods and glares at him. "That's it -- good tribe, couldn't be happier," Jon says, grinning like the pickled nitwit he is. Back to Jeff, still glaring. Without breaking his game face, Jeff looks straight at Jon without a trace of amusement and says, "Are you loaded?" It's really hard to explain how totally, preposterously awesome Probst was at this moment unless you saw it yourself -- he managed to pull off a flawless combination of disgust, fury, and...something else I can't quite put my finger on.

But this was not a year for veterans. Six newcomers made their marks this year, and each ought to be recognized. Each set the tone for his or her show, making viewers care about something they otherwise might have ignored, or not appreciated. First, the runners-up:
Tyra Banks, America's Next Top Model. Modeling is hard work. Tyra was professional, demanding, classy, funny and not very difficult to look at. Not only did she host but also exec-produce, making what could have been trashy and exploitative instead completely engrossing.

Debbie Allen, Fame. Even though the show failed down the stretch, becoming a second-rate American Idol rather than a first-rate 21st century show, Debbie never let me down. As I wrote in June, "She's wonderful on the show as its creator-host-denmother. She's supportive yet tough, and always enthusiastic. She's like Paula Abdul, minus all the flaky new-age bullshit, and plus a lot of talent."

Paul Hogan, Joe Millionaire. Why he's listed: season one. Why he doesn't win: season two.

Ted Allen and Carson Kressley, QESG: Yes, we all see the shark. Doesn't matter right now, because both men brought both sage advice and fun to a show that could've been too campy, too stereotypical or just plain boring. Carson was tv's breakout star of the year, and those of you who know me know just how much of a Ted Allen fan I am. So for someone to top them both, s/he had better be good.

And this winner is . . . . (and frankly this is 90% on merit, 10% on You People Need To Watch This Show And I Know You Didn't, Shame On You) . . . Robert K. Oermann, from Nashville Star.

It's easy to be lazy as a music-talent judge on tv -- get a few catchphrases ("Yo, Stevie is hard"), cop a dismissive attitude, or just be uncritically supportive of everything you see. But not Oermann -- or, for that matter, his fellow Nashville Star judges. No, Oermann brought an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, plus a true love of country music, and was thoughtful, supportive and wise all season long.

My favorite example: Week 4, when the competitors were asked to countrify a pop song. Sweet Brandi Gibson, a 21-year-old small town girl, chooses Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You". Yeesh. And this is what Oermann said to her afterwards: "I'm sorry, Brandi. You're not a victim. You're a real live woman and you shouldn't be singing that co-dependency shit."

Brandi cried. The next week, Oermann said after her performance, "Brandi, I'm sorry I cussed in front of you last week. I apologize; you're a lady and I didn't mean it," and put three dollars in the 'cuss jar'. Total class.

All season long, Oermann used criticism to suggest ways for the performers to improve by being true to themselves, rather than just bringing them down and turning himself into the star of the show. And when he was enthusiastic, he meant it. It is possible to be critical without being mean, and to be entertaining without resorting to shtick. Oermann and the Nashville Star crew turned a genre of music I generally ignore into must-see tv, and today's gold star is for him.
SPECIALIZATION OF . . . LABOR? What if I told you an enterprising young obsessive compulsive with escapist, anti-social tendencies could make over $100k a year without ever leaving his apartment? What if I told you he could do it without starting a porn-site or running ebay scams? What if all he had to do was play video games really, really well?
DON'T HATE THE PLAYER: It's been an interesting year for NFL-related controversy, particulary NFL player-related controversy . . . and player ego-related controversy. And fines for player ego-related controversy.

So I would like to present this year's award for best end-zone stunt resulting in a fine by an NFL wide receiver.

"Joe Horn", you're thinking? Naw. Look down at the bottom:

"Also Tuesday, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson was fined $10,000 by the NFL for retrieving a sign from behind a snowdrift and holding it up after a 10-yard touchdown catch Sunday. Johnson's sign read: 'Dear NFL: Please don't fine me again.' "

Mmmmm... now that's a fine worth paying. Delicious.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

BECAUSE EVIL IS BAD, AND GOOD . . . ISN'T . . . Taking this year's awards for innovation in super-heroism and excellence in the use of free time, please welcome Angle-Grinder Man! Would you like to know more?
FREE MUKTUK! (AND/OR WILLY): In a strange end to the strange life of the planet's most celebrated not-a-fish since Moby Dick, reports came in today about the demise of Keiko, the cetacean sensation who starred in Free Willy.

Believe it or not, they buried him. Obviously to prevent ravenous fans from making a celebrity muktuk of his noble remains.

In the grand scheme of things, burying a sea mammal in the frozen tundra strikes me as about as appropriate as knighting Mick Jagger, (and/or using a captive whale to make a movie about why whales shouldn't be kept captive). But actually, it does nicely sum up the contradictions that are layered into our species' all-too-human treatment of this single, long-suffering creature.

Considering the whole sordid story, I speculate that Keiko may have been the first non-human animal to directly experience irony. He may even have died of an irony overdose . . . they just called it pneumonia.

(And if you think this was a tendentious bit of windy commentary thinly linked to it's alleged subject, check this dude out.)

Monday, December 15, 2003

RANDOM TRIVIA: Name the only person to win both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award.
AND THE WINNER IS: Continuing with our absurdly popular end-of-year roundup, I feel the need to recognize a winner in the category of Most Deteriorated Cultural Icon of 2003.

In a year in which an already-deteriorated Michael Jackson was felled by the Bashir documentary and criminal charges, and in which Madonna managed a trifecta of generating a widely-ignored-and-panned movie, book and album in a single twelve-month span, plus the New York Times suffering embarassment after embarrassment after embarassment, it's hard to pick just one winner.

But I'd like to do so anyway, because this was the year that Saturday Night Live fell into the shitter again.

Come on: name one memorable sketch from this season. One that provoked a laugh from actual humor, and not just a smile of recognition.

Two main factors has led to the show's swift decline, so far as I can tell:

1. Will Ferrell. It's been a year and a half, and they haven't been able to replace the most versatile, reliable performer since the late Phil Hartman. Hell, they haven't even been able to replace Tracy Morgan.

At a time when the show has never had as good a group of female performers in Dratch-Fey-Poehler-and-especially-Rudolph (except when they had all four, plus Gasteyer), the men are weak -- and Jimmy Fallon still, especially, sucks. When you don't have talented white guys to anchor the show, you can't do a lot of mainstream topical humor effectively, and it shows.

2. Smugness and Cycles. SNL is cyclical, and every once in a while, you need to dump out the old and freshen the blood. Sometimes you need to start from scratch, as they did in 1985 and 1995, in order to find the new talent.

(At the very least, no one -- and this means you, Darrell Hammond -- has any reason to stick around for a ninth season.)

Because what happens when people stay around too long is exactly what you're seeing now: even talented people like Tina Fey start coasting on attitude and a sense of entitlement-to-laughs, and not good writing. Have you seen Weekend Update lately? She's now playing the role of "Tina Fey, Sassy Anchor", rather than actually being the Tina Fey we all fell for a few years ago.

Cast members now try to make each other laugh (see Sanz-Fallon, any week), rather than the audience, and have totally exhausted their library of recurring characters. I mean, does the world need more Darrell Hammond-as-Chris-Matthews? More Donatella Versace?

Even when new talent is brought in, like Fred Armisen and Finesse Mitchell, it's not like they're given anything to do, given the current star system that says that Jimmy Fallon can do whatever he wants, even if he's not funny doing it. Their SNL stays will be as memorable as those of Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller and Siobhan Fallon -- and that's if they're lucky.

It's time for Lorne to take out the trash and start all over again, again. He's good at it. Let Maya Rudolph have her film career, and let us hope for the best in 2004-05. This season's already as good as over.
LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY SING! Our good friend Sarah Weinman insists that you visit the groovy Frank's Vinyl Museum, which features some of the more outlandish recordings ever committed to vinyl.

Go ahead: listen to Muhammad Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay, Bill Cosby crooning Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or, yes, The Odd Couple Sings.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

MY SPOILER-FREE THOUGHT ON SURVIVOR 7: Second-best of all the seasons, topping even Marquesas and Australia, but not the original. A tremendous final immunity challenge because of what was said, and capped off by a tribe member who played the jury perfectly to earn a victory one might not have expected. (And a winner who, well, see the Comments, and I'll say something spoilerish -- but only peek after you've seen the episode.)

What worked? Two great narrators (Rupert and Jon), one great villain, good twists, and perhaps the season with the most strategic game-playing (and discussion thereof) by the most competitors. Mark Burnett is constantly tinkering with the game to prevent a mass-Pagonging and ensure fluid alliances; this time, as with last season, it worked.

No one was just out there for a vacation, or to make nice. They came to win the game, and knew that doing so meant a lot of mental hustle and an occasional deception. From Savage to Ryno to the woman who reminded me so much of former SNLer Melanie Hutsell that it frightened me, just a fun cast all around. It made for great television.

For those who haven't seen it yet, rest assured that Johnny Fairplay's grandma did make it to the reunion special.

Now, bring on the All-Stars!
AWARD TOUR '03: So, as I mentioned in passing a week or two ago, I figured that rather than wait for everyone else to come up with Best-of-'03 lists, that we could see what we could do on our own in a variety of categories. Some, like today's, will be fairly traditional, but then once Survivor's over, voting for Favorite and Least Favorite Reality TV Participant of 2003 will surely soon commence, and various media/culture related categories (Most Self-Important Blogger of the Year?), plus whatever other categories you might suggest.

Anyway, for now, and until you're bored with it: Song of the Year 2003, and in a year where rock pretty much disappeared, the ones that come to mind for me are as follows:
"Crazy In Love", Beyoncé Featuring Jay-Z. If I'm voting for one song, it's probably this. For the chinchilla, for Van Exel, for Beyoncé's range. And, yeah, for the video.

"The Seed v. 2.0", The Roots f/Cody ChesnuTT. Cody makes it clear that he'll screw anything that moves, and the hook on this song is so catchy that you just might spread your legs for him too.

"Mundian To Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys)", Panjabi MC f/Jay-Z. Yeah, Jigga again, and for all the reasons stated previously.

"Hey Ya!", Outkast. I mean, the song makes no sense whatsoever, but it's got more layers than a wedding cake and just makes me smile.

"Gossip Folks" and "Work It", Missy Elliot. Missy brings it even when she ain't speaking words -- it can be backwards or gibberish, and it doesn't matter. Why you act dumb like "uh, duh"?

"Six O'Clock News", Kathleen Edwards. A woman pleads for her boyfriend to end a standoff with the police. It's heartbreaking. "Peter, sweet baby, where'd you get that gun? You spend half your life trying to turn the other half around." (See the video here, or a live performance here.)

Justin Timberlake. Pretty much the whole album. Clipse and J. Timberlake? Yo, how heavy is that? From "Senorita" to "Like I Love You" to "Rock Your Body" to "Cry Me A River", just a fantastically produced, great pop album.

"Stacey's Mom", Fountains of Wayne. Because it's about time The Cars came back.

Tell us what songs made you stop twisting the radio dial and compelled you to listen this year.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

NO GOOD MOVIE IS TOO LONG: Or so Roger Ebert wrote about Love Actually, which we saw last night, to which he added, "No bad movie is short enough. 'Love Actually' is too long. But don't let that stop you."

(And, okay, it is too long, and there was pruning to be done -- I'd have axed all the Keira Knightley-centered hijinks, I guess, though keeping the wedding scene itself. Or the couple who met on the film set.)

Still, it's a damn cute movie, with multiple interweaving tales of love -- love found, love lost, love sought. Writer/director Richard Curtis stacks ending on top of ending to push all sorts of emotional buttons, each one stronger than the next, and you find yourself moved despite yourself. It just plain works.

For both men and women, eye candy abounds. Especially for the women: between the adult charms of Alan Rickman (oh, but why not a random "Asian Dawn" reference!), randy Hugh Grant, melancholy Liam Neeson and an especially firthy Colin Firth, whatever your tastes in masculinity are, they'll be satisfied here.

(Side note: does Colin Firth have it in his contract that he has to have a scene in every movie where he's moving determinedly through the streets in pursuit of love?)

All of this is merely preliminary so I can related to you something Jen said to me during the movie that is likely the funniest thing either of us has said all year -- though, mind you, it requires that you watched season two of The Amazing Race.

So there's a scene late in the movie, where a character is rushing through Heathrow Airport, and Jen turns to me and says, "Holy shit! Was that The Groanies? What are they still doing there?"

Anyway, see the movie with someone you love, or want to love.

Friday, December 12, 2003

AS LONG AS 'DOUCHEBAG' IS PROTECTED, WE'RE STILL SAFE: This Monday, December 8, 2003, California congressman Doug Ose and Texas's Lamar Smith introduced H.R. 3687, an actual, potential law, which has now been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

The bill reads as follows (go to Thomas, type in "H.R. 3687" if you doubt me):
A BILL To amend section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, to provide for the punishment of certain profane broadcasts, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by inserting `(a)' before `Whoever'; and

(2) by adding at the end the following:

`(b) As used in this section, the term `profane', used with respect to language, includes the words `shit', `piss', `fuck', `cunt', `asshole', and the phrases `cock sucker', `mother fucker', and `ass hole', compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).'.

Still legal to say on the radio: "blowjob", "dickwad", "rimming", "santorum" and "big floppy donkey dick".

Your tax dollars at work. Via Atrios.
82? 85? I BID ONE YEAR: Reach your hand into a happy Bob Barker's jacket pocket today -- it's his 80th birthday.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

GUESS I'M ON MY WAY: The Farrelly Brothers new film Stuck on You has the kind of cast most directors would kill for.

No, I'm not talking about stars Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear -- which, face it, sounds so 1999. And not even the presence Farrelly Brothers fave Lin Shaye makes it noteworthy, even if she did attend high school with Jen's mom.

No, I mean this: how about casting New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Bills safety Lawyer Milloy as "Computer Geeks #1 and #2"? How about the acting debut of a properly-medicated (presumably) Ricky Williams as a high school football coach? And the topper: former Heisman winner Gino Torretta makes an appearance as a "thug".

Can you beat that? Will Cold Mountain have a role in it for Andre Ware? Did Peter Jackson cast Ickey Woods in Return of the King?

No, I don't think so.
WILL EL WINGADOR TRIUMPH AGAIN? Today, this blog officially inaugurates its coverage of Wing Bowl XII, Philadelphia's annual celebration of more than half of the seven deadly sins -- but first, and foremost, gluttony.

As we build towards the January 30, 2004 championship, contested before 20,000+ fans at 6am on the Friday before the Super Bowl, head over to the official website to download video of some of the qualifying stunts -- both the victories (a man inhaling two pounds of brussels sprouts in three minutes) as well as those who failed to qualify, like this gentleman, who had a problem with speed-eating jalapeno peppers.

Philadelphia . . . there's no place like it.

(This blog's previous Wing Bowl coverage can be found here and here, and you can see what Jen had to say about Wing Bowl X via this link.)
TODAY'S PROJECT: It's holiday season. Take a minute and recommend some books that would be of interest to the sort of person who reads this weblog.

More content to come later today.
FELGERCARB: That's what the purists are likely saying about it. But who's a purist? Me, I like Starbuck better as a hottie.
BACK ON THE SCENE, CRISPY AND CLEAN: After an IT-induced hiatus, I am pleased to plunge back in to the sea of alleged information that is the burgeoning world blogocracy. Also returning this week -- perhaps coincidentally -- is the least-censored variety host on nationwide basic cable, Dave Chappelle.

Now, I don't know Dave, but he appears to be my kind of people. (By which I mean that he knows how to roll a joint and use the word "motherfucker" ... even if perhaps he hasn't quite figured out when not to.) It may not be high-brow, it may not be PC, but bless him for providing us with another season of Chappelle's Show! Please everybody, show whatever support you can for this free-wheeling skit comedy enterprise (subject of course to the particular constraints of your respective world-views, finely-honed senses of humor, and general Standard Sphinchter Settings).

Long live the smart end of low culture. It's infinitely preferable to the dumb end of high culture.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

BURROWED AND HID LIKE AN ALBINO GOPHER: The Chicago Sun-Times' Phil Rosenthal evaluates the final six Survivors, saying this "arguably has been the best "Survivor" since "The Australian Outback"."

Some day next week, if I have time, I'll rank all seven seasons, but it'll probably go first season at the top, then the triple-crossing brilliance of Amazon, with dreary Africa and predictable Thailand at the bottom.

Where this season ultimately is ranked depends on how it ends, but it's clearly in the upper half. Thoughts?
BECAUSE WE LIKE ANYONE WHO USES 'AND STUFF' IN A SENTENCE: The NY Observer has a few good paragraphs today on NYT Sunday Arts and Leisure editor Jodi Kantor, about whom I've had many good things to say, even if Sunday's puff piece on the Farrellys was both unenlighening and really, really long.

I mean, what's next -- a double-jump piece on the Wayans brothers?
THANK YOU, JOHN OATES. THANK YOU: It's about damn time: The Onion A.V. Club's Least Essential Albums Of 2003 is now available, including categories like Least Essential Solo Album (Smiths Division) and Least Essential 2PacSploitation.

If that weren't enough, the Least Essential Reality TV Offshoots list should do it, which has this to say about fellow tuffle-headed Delaware Valley native Justin Guarini:
Few "Least Essential" categories were as hotly contested in 2003 as "Least Essential American Idol Cash-In": American Idol Season 2: All-Time Classic American Love Songs may be the most hellish show-choir recital ever, complete with the Idols' calamitous rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The U.S.A." But Guarini takes the prize for his sudden inability to incite passion in the least demanding audience on earth.

More essential Throwing Things "least essential" coverage can be found here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

I HEAR IT CAN BE FRIGID AT TIMES: Apparently, a lot of Google users are coming here seeking a transcript of the Paris Hilton appearance on SNL. While I appreciate your business, this website actually has it.
I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART: We'll be back to the usual silliness by day's end -- yesterday was a day of travel and celebration -- but until then, I feel like passing along one of the more depressing collections of journalism I've seen lately -- the Washington Post's series on troubles at the National Zoo.

We've got administrators changing records regarding animals who died while under their care, elephants suffering from tuberculosis because the Zoo failed to give the required tests, lies, deceit, everything but sex involved in a scandal that has claimed 23 animal lives in the past six years, including two red pandas that died when rat poison was left in their enclosure.

Oh, sad.

In other news, The Hebrew Hammer was occasionally cute, but mostly disappointing. Felt like they never really decided if Mordechai Benjamin Carver was supposed to be a macho Jew or a whiny, stammering stereotype. Missed opportunity.

Finally, you should make this duck dish sometime. Yum.

More later.

Friday, December 5, 2003

NOT BEING SERVED WITH POTATOES: I'm cooking duck for dinner tonight, but that doesn't mean I can't offer you some Quayle.

Blame Pathetic Earthlings.
SURE, BUT A 'POCKETFUL OF MUMBLES' WILL SET YOU BACK $30: According to the NYT's Clyde Haberman, among the tchotchkes for sale if you choose to attend the Simon & Garfunkel reunion concerts is this: "For $25, you could get a Simon and Garfunkel cappuccino mug, inscribed, 'Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.' It has come to this: not a coffee mug but a cappuccino mug, from a duo that once played in coffeehouses."

Sounds like my earlier misgivings were right.
I'M JOHN CARTER, AND I'M HOLDING THE AORTA: We've talked about it enough here: TNT re-airs the brilliant, harrowing ER episode Love's Labor Lost next Tuesday, December 9, at 11am eastern, regarded by many here as the best hour of televised drama of the past decade.

Set your TiVos and VCRs now, especially all you sorely misguided "Two Cathedrals" fans -- unless you or someone you love is pregnant, in which case you might want to stay far, far away from this episode.

Updating a previous story, Rev. Al Sharpton hosts SNL this weekend. What can we expect?
[W]e hear Sharpton will be playing Johnnie Cochran in a Michael Jackson skit. Sources told CNN's Kelly Wallace that he'll also play a "prominent African American," believed to be Jesse Jackson, in a parody of Chris Matthews' "Hardball." His monologue will be a comparison of the old Sharpton, played by former SNLer Tracy Morgan, and the new Sharpton, played by the Rev himself.

But wait, that's not all! He is also playing Brian Fellows' brother Ryan -- appearing on Morgan's talk show "Safari Planet." In yet another skit, he gets into a taxi and the driver asks if he has lost weight. "Keeping one step ahead of Howard Dean burns a lot of calories," Sharpton quips.

Via CNN.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

SHAKE IT LIKE A POLAROID PICTURE: In a stunning move that may cause the earth's core to stop spinning, all five nominees for Record of the Year for the 2003 Grammy Awards are actually good songs:
"Crazy In Love", Beyoncé Featuring Jay-Z
"Where Is The Love", The Black Eyed Peas & Justin Timberlake
"Clocks", Coldplay
"Lose Yourself", Eminem
"Hey Ya!", Outkast

Seriously, I had been contemplating a series of year-end awards voting on the blog, with free-ranging comments from anyone, and one of the first was going to be some kind of Song of the Year award, and three of those would've been up there (Eminem was last year, chronologically, and I'm not a huge fan of Coldplay) along with Missy's "Gossip Folks", The Roots' "The Seed v. 2.0", Kathleen Edwards' "Six O'Clock News" and Timberlake's "Senorita". But, damn, the nominees got that right.

Also right: posthumous, sentimental and appropriate nominations for Warren Zevon's "Keep Me In Your Heart" for best pop male vocal performance and song of the year, plus "Disorder in the House" nominated for best rock song and duo/group performance, plus folk (?) album of the year. And Missy also picked up five nominations, all well-deserved.

But then there's the silly, and the stupid, and that's only starting with the fact that urinating on teenage girls won't stop you from receiving a pair of nominations -- one more nomination that what The Roots received, mind you. (Maybe ?uestlove needs to spice up his social life or something.)

May I list some, and then you can add to the list of errors and omissions?
Album of the Year: Fallen, by Evanescence. Really?

Best New Artist: Fountains of Wayne, alumni of the dark place, whose first album was released in 1997.

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance: just look at the category. Other than Timberpants, the next-youngest nominee is 51-year-old former Doobie Brother (and What's Happenin' guest star) Michael McDonald.

Ruben Studdard, one nomination; Kelly Clarkson, one nomination; Clay Aiken: zero.

In addition, Lucy was thrilled to know that Sandra Boynton's Philadelphia Chickens was nominated for best musical album for children. Cows, such remarkable cows . . .

(My complaints on last year's awards are here.)
PLEASE, HAMMER, DON'T HURT THE GENTILES: You can skip the film festivals and stop praying for a miracle: The Hebrew Hammer is skipping wide-screen release (thus denying Adam Goldberg his Oscar nomination, as was done to Linda Fiorentino years ago), and will instead debut on Comedy Central Monday night at 9pm, with several showings throughout the week.

More, via Sam Adams in today's Philadelphia City Paper:
It's a one-joke movie, but it's a pretty good joke: Goldberg gets to spit out would-be Mickey Spillane dialogue like, "It's your bar mitzvah, Jack -- I'm just reading the Torah portion." What makes The Hebrew Hammer more than an extended SNL skit is the sense that the comedy is just a thin skin over real feelings of alienation and self-doubt; when the Hammer's girlfriend asks him to talk dirty, he chokes up, then whispers that their children will go to Stanford, maybe Vassar. (It works.)

I think we all owe it to ourselves to see what could be Andy Dick's last performance. Hollywood's Angel of Death is due.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

NYT ERRORS AND OMISSIONS: Maybe it's me, but I don't understand how you can write a profile of Djimon Hounsou without mentioning the fact that his first American screen role was as a bouncer in the pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210 -- he lets Brenda into the nightclub, barring Kelly and Donna, and Brenda ended up hooking up with that older lawyer guy . . . c'mon, this is like retelling Genesis for me.

Anyway, you can leave out that ill-fated, if well-acted run on ER as the refugee suffering the triple indignities of post-traumatic stress disorder, erectile dysfunction and being treated by Chicago's wussiest doctor, but to omit the '90210' thing is like profiling Laurence Fishburne without mentioning this crucial early role.
NEVER GAMBLE IN A GAME THAT YOU CAN'T PLAY: Matt from Low Culture wipes the floor with Nicky's older sister today, explaining why Paris shouldn't be calling anything "ghetto". Hit it, Treach:
If you ain't never been to the ghetto
Don't ever come to the ghetto
'Cause you wouldn't understand the ghetto
So stay the fuck out of the ghetto

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

SIMPLE PLEASURES ARE THE BEST: Well, Fox's The Simple Life isn't exactly the 2003 equivalent of RFK's journey to Appalachia, though it may end up wearing out Bunim/Murray's nudity-blurring software to an extent not seen since the Teck and Ruthie's days in Hawaii. (And she was still wearing the jeans. Heavens!)

But it was entertaining enough. Look, putting these fish in this water is going to be fun, no matter what, and Hilton and Richie play to the camera like the media-savvy professionals they are.

Unfortunately, the show underlines and italicizes its points when it should just observe and let the viewers bring the funny themselves. There's no need for the Clampett-esque narrator, the attention-calling editing, or the abrasive musical cues when you've got women who know they're being stupid and know they're out of place acting as expected.

Compare it to something like MTV's Sorority Life, where the Sigma pledges didn't realize how stupidly and self-absorbed they were behaving ("That's not a double, sweetie!"; "Sylvia slapped me!"), and we viewers were just allowed to watch and listen, and laugh for ourselves without a narrator telling us when it was appropriate.

But Fox does this to shows. They overdo it, never trusting the viewer. Remember the ding! sound every time David "the dumb non-millionaire" Smith correctly identified a European country? Or the absurb machinations at the end of Love Cruise to provide twist after twist? So unnecessary.

Roll the cameras, film the funny, trust the audience. Keep 'Simple' simple, and it'll all be fine.
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING: The reason I hadn't blogged about the return of QESG yet was because, umm, I didn't have a chance to see the first return episode until last night -- the one where they took the guy who looked like Joe Eszterhas and turned him into Richard Chamberlain, for those keeping score.

I wasn't that hyped to see the episode, but I enjoyed what I saw. It was sweeter than before -- warm acoustic guitar music, more family involvement, and less bitchiness-for-bitchiness'-sake. This may have been the first episode in which Kyan didn't freak out during the guy's pre-reveal grooming sequence. In fact, he was downright complimentary.

(Also, it was the nicest house they've ever decorated. They didn't have to start off by cleaning up a mess; just taking a clean, poorly-arranged space and transforming it into something really memorable. Loved the verticals, Thom.)

Interesting episode. Was #2 as good?

Monday, December 1, 2003

MY MAIN GOAL AS A FATHER IS TO KEEP HER FROM BECOMING PARIS HILTON: Are we excited for the debut of The Simple Life?

Hell yeah. Full team coverage tomorrow.
SUED FOR FAILING TO MAKE MUSIC 'REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ARTIST KNOWN AS NEIL YOUNG': Via Mike McHone, the 25 albums that should never have been made.

I can certainly add this one to the list, and The Onion does it annually. (And decennially.)

Any more?
NOW, HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY? Okay, now I've seen the infomercial enough to be intrigued: do I really want to own a Showtime Rotisserie Grill? Is this the Ronco product that's worth it?

Sunday, November 30, 2003

HOIST THE MIZZENMAST! Jen and I finally saw Master and Commander yesterday, and, hoo boy, what a nice piece of entertianment that was. Now, it didn't stir me in the way Pirates of the Caribbean did -- it wasn't quite as showy in its pleasures -- but there is much to be commended in a movie that progresses so ably from episode to episode, never leaving the moviegoer lost at sea on any relevant detail.

Director Peter Weir focuses on the action sequences and the issue of leadership. If you're looking for a heavy debate over the impressment of sailors, go elsewhere. By the time you get to the final battle, you'll feel like a spoilsport for even wondering whether the whole thing was horribly unjust. It's a piece of mainstream action entertainment; it's not a movie that wants to make you think too much.

The NYT's Tony Scott beat me to what was going to be my best line:
Winston Churchill once said that the foundations of British naval tradition consisted of rum, sodomy and the lash. ''Master and Commander,'' which is rated PG-13, settles for two out of three.

You can guess which one's missing.

Friday, November 28, 2003

SCHILL-O-METER: Yes, Curt Schilling has signed with Boston. That news, you can get anywhere.

Here's what you might not have known: part of what ultimately persuaded America's best-known Everquest player to join Red Sox Nation was the two hours he spent in an online chatroom with Red Sox fans on the Sons of Sam Horn fansite.

While Schilling asked that the contents of the chat be kept private (and the other twenty-four people in the room have respected that, so far), you can see his public posts memorializing the conversation here and here, as well as frequent poster (and Sox owner) John Henry thanking the fans for their help over here.

Yes, it's legit.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES: The first trailer for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, due in theaters June 4, 2004, is now online.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

HAPPY THANKSGIVING: Why not turn off the computer and spend some time talking to those you feel thankful towards? The Internet will still be here tomorrow.

Best wishes, and enjoy your holiday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

THE ONLY LIST ON WHICH 'REGARDING HENRY' IS DEEMED ACCEPTABLE: You know how most movie credits contain a disclaimer at the end that "No Animals Were Harmed In The Making Of This Movie"?

You might have wondered, at one point, "Says who?" or "What defines harm?"

The American Humane Association, that's who. Go ahead, visit its website, which includes detailed analyses of how animals were used and protected in each film (for example, here's the truth about the filming of The Truth About Cats And Dogs), as well as its 29-page guidelines for proper on-set treatment of animals, in PDF format, containing such helpful rules as:
No drugs, including anesthetics, sedatives, chemical laxatives may be administered to an ANIMAL for the purpose of filmmaking.

Known pregnant ANIMALS shall not be used in action scenes.

The Naphthalene bomb is banned on sets where ANIMALS are present.

Branding of ANIMALS must be simulated. No actual branding is allowed.

Nothing can be done to an insect that will cause permanent harm, or permanently alter its physical characteristics or behavior.

No alcohol will be used around horses at any time.

When an ape is working on set for more than three consecutive full days (six or more hours per day), a play area, empty room, or private park where the ape may exercise and relax must be provided.

Go on, poke around. Maybe you'll stumble across the movie with this scene: "The two chimps that were dissecting the human’s brain and tasting it are named Ellie and Jonah. The brain was made up of methylcellulose, which is a food additive that is added to jelly donuts to make them gel! The two chimps tasted the fake brain and didn’t like it, so the trainer poured honey over the brain right before filming and the chimps loved it!"
KARMA POLICE, ARREST THIS MAN: An anonymous note found on my car's windshield yesterday, after having parked it on the crowded street earlier in the day:
Practice good parking ettiquette

Excerpt from the Queen Village Crier:

I applaud the Neighbors Assocation for all its efforts to add parking to our neighborhood. In addition to those efforts, I would like to find a way to inspire my fellow QV Neighbors to be mindful of their parking so as to allow as many cars as possible to park.

If everyone pulled all the way up to the sign or the line, or parked as close as possible to the car in fron or back of them, there would be more room for all.

Many times I have come home late at night and seen several "almost" parking spots which would have been available if the car owners had parked closer to other cars, or if they hadn't "taken their half from the middle."

Yay! I've tried to practice good car karma as much as possible, but on this instance I know I pulled up close to the car in front of me, rather than back to the sign.

Parking in a crowded city neighborhood is a communal activity, with collective responsibilities. It's good to be reminded of that every once in a while. I once thought about designing "bad parking tickets" like these myself, but never went through with it.

Let Dan Kahan have his public shaming penalties; I'll take anonymous, private guilt any day.

Anonymous Queen Village Parking Scold, I salute you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

SELF-PERPETUATING CORPORATE SUCCESS MACHINES: As promised more than a week ago, I've finally typed up the first half of my recent interview with Jim DeRogatis, music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. DeRogatis' new book, Milk It! Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the '90s, covers the alternative music explosion of the 1990s and its decline, compiling the best of his writing from various publications over the past decade-plus.

From Nirvana to the Pumpkins to P.M. Dawn to the time Jann Wenner fired him from Rolling Stone magazine for writing a negative review of Hootie and the Blowfish's Fairweather Johnson (which Wenner spiked), then calling Wenner "just a fan of any band that sells eight and a half million albums" -- well, it's all there. And then some.

We spoke over the phone about two weeks ago:
Was it inevitable that there would be an alternarock explosion in the 1990s? Or if Nirvana hadn’t come up with a song that catchy and anthemic at that moment, how much of this never would have happened?

That’s a tricky question. Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick" was just as good, just as catchy, and any of the other Seattle bands, or the Replacements or the Huskers could have had as big a hit.

Nirvana was in the right place, at the right time, hitting all at once. And Nirvana was a band with undeniable power. I’d hate to romanticize it and say “you had to be there”, but it was captivating and inspired.

I remember how it felt for me, starting with this song that just the other DJs on my college station kept playing all the time, and then to see it break through into the mass culture. It was something.

Sure, but they would have been just as good musically if they had sold a Mudhoney-level or records, a Ramones level of records.

They never knew how to deal with that level of success.

It was a weird experience for them. Cobain was deeply troubled by the success. They didn’t know what the hell was going on. There’s that Courtney Love quote in my book -- the “no one told us about the thread count” thing, which is so chilling . . . I visited Cobain at his home a few months before his death, and it was like a slum. He’s living on Lake Washington, in a huge house with a thrift-store couch. They didn’t know how rich they were.

On the flip side, you talk in your book about R.E.M. and U2, bands that took their 80s success and kept going in the 1990s and into the present.

Sure, but while losing part of their soul. They’ve both become self-perpetuating corporate success machines, a sad caricature of what they once were. Say what you will about Nirvana, but at the end they were still a band.

I’d think there’s probably a third group that now belongs on that level – the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I guess, but I never thought they were that good. They went from being cocks-and-socks bonehead fratboys to cocks-and-socks bonehead fratboys who wrote hit ballads. My favorite chapter in the book was the one on bands like Pere Ubu, the Flaming Lips . . . bands that are making music for all the right reasons.

What did you make of that whole “don’t let them be your friends” speech Lester Bangs gave in Almost Famous -- is that how you try to operate as a critic?

Absolutely. It’s great advice for any journalist. Whether you’re covering a trial, or city hall, or the health beat, you’re there to report the news, not to be anyone’s friend. You get into music writing because you’re a fan, but your loyalty is to the reader, not the artist.

Bangs said something similar to that to me about ten years after he said it to Cameron Crowe. We both met Lester when we were about 17 years old.

Another topic: is it still possible, given industry consolidation, especially on the radio, for a band to be both commercially viable and artistically innovative?

Sure. Radiohead attracts 35-40 thousand people a night for their arena rock. Anything’s possible. Nobody saw Nirvana coming.

There’s five major labels now, and soon enough there will be just three. They’re brontosauruses marching head into the La Brea tar pits of extinction.

But again, it doesn’t matter: if the music itself is good, it doesn’t matter how many other people are listening to it.

I don’t think enough can be said about Gerard Cosloy and the run he’s had at Matador. You take a look at who they released in the 1990s – Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Liz Phair, Bettie Serveert, Superchunk . . . it’s pretty stunning.

And even before that at Homestead Records, with Sonic Youth, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr. – he has an extraordinary set of ears. He’s still kind of a jerk. [laughs]

Those labels are thriving today – indie music is as good as ever. They’re in this and they’re ready for the internet to completely change the musical landscape. Back in the 1990s, there was a moment when they really believed they could take over the major labels, and with the Capitol-Matador deal, it came close.

Then it looked like real money could be made, and the music became gutted, deprived of its soul. Nirvana led to Bush, and Liz Phair led to Alanis Morrisette. It was horrifying.

More this weekend.

Monday, November 24, 2003

CHEERLESS, NAUSEA-INDUCING OVERKILL: I didn't have the time to do my normal hatchet-job collection on this weekend's Seuss-related atrocity, but, thankfully, Defective Yeti did.

He missed one gem, however: my friend Carrie Rickey's takedown in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which noted at one point that the film's Mrs. Kwan represented "the most loathsome ethnic stereotype since Mickey Rooney played Audrey Hepburn's Japanese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Yikes.
SMILE (THOUGH YOUR HEART, NOT TO MENTION OTHER PARTS, IS ACHING): Every blog has its cultural moment to shine: for Instapundit, it was the immediate post-9/11 period; for Talking Points Memo, it was his Trent Lott takedown.

And now, for Bunsen [dot] TV, that moment has arrived, as Michael Jackson's arrest has prompted not one but two of the more inspired posts I've seen lately. Go.
FEED ME, SEYMOUR: I don't know what kind of arguments you have in your household, but maybe you can settle one in ours:

Is Audrey II, the giant from Little Shop of Horrors, more of a phallic symbol or a vaginal representation?


Pro-Phallic: Well, the plant looks like a giant glans penis, and it's got a deep, male voice.

Pro-Vaginal: Yeah, but think of how Audrey operates. Classic vagina dentata, isn't it? Also, Audrey is a female name.

I report. You decide.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

TODAY, I AM A MAN: Eighteen years ago today, I stood at the bimah, read from the Torah and became a Bar Mitzvah.

Last night, I passed another threshhold in my journey to adulthood: following an evening at the theater (and you all must see Urinetown, if given the opportunity), I got to Drive The Babysitter Home for the first time, while Jen stayed back with a sleeping Miss Lucy.

But before I could do that, Jen and I had to review the rules of the road. We agreed on a provisional list -- call it a Top Five, if you will -- of Things I Probably Shouldn't Say While Drive Home Our Fifteen Year-Old Babysitter:
5. "So, what are they teaching you girls in health class these days?"

4. "You know, when you're 28, I'll only be 44."

3. "Have you ever seen Exotica? I hear American Beauty is a great film too."

2. "I've been working out a lot lately. Can you tell?"

1. "Do you go to a school where they make you wear uniforms? [pause] Well, do you have any friends that do?"

Next developmental milestone: "Adam, have you considered doing anything about your hair color? We could phase it in gradually."
LET THEM EAT STATIC: From today's NYT: Kirk marries Kahn.

I wonder whose table the Romulans were seated at.

Friday, November 21, 2003

COURTNEY LOVE (1964-2003): No, Frances Bean's mom isn't physically dead yet, but that hasn't stopped Seattle's alternaweekly The Stranger devoting full team coverage to her career obituary. Why?
The sad fact is that Courtney Love may be dead by the time you read this. She may be alive when you start reading a piece and dead when you finish it. Or she could carry on for decades, stumbling toward her ultimate goal of transforming completely into Blanche DuBois (Love's recent complaints that her criminal trial dates conflicted with her plans to attend the Academy Awards suggest she's closer than we ever feared).

No matter how the remains of Courtney Love spend the balance of their time on earth, there's no denying that the Courtney who inspired and inflamed a generation as the mouthy, whip-smart little-engine-that-could is dead and gone, leaving only a sputtering, scorched-earth shell, for which we're morbidly happy to provide this eulogy.

You can read a the eight-article package starting here.
WITH PATENTED MOHOLY-NAGY POWER-STEERING: There's a Volkswagen Golf Bauhaus? Design cues aside, does anybody realize how completely messed up this is?

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I'LL DO WHAT I CAN TO KEEP THIS SPOILER-FREE FOR THE WEST COAST FOLK, WHICH IS TO SAY, NOT MUCH: Tonight was not a good night on television to be a gruff white guy with a facial hair.

Most disappointing reality show boot since Team Guido axed these guys in the Beijing episode of TAR1? Perhaps.

Outwitted, outplayed, outlasted. Ouch.

On the other one, well, it was what it was, and I guess it wasn't a bad episode overall, save the return appearance of The Most Annoying Kid On TV Since Sam Joined Diff'rent Strokes. Any episode where Anspaugh appears always gets bonus points in my book.
OR, "CALLIPYGIAN DUDE": I am unable now to see Hugh Jackman's name without replacing the "ck" with an "ss."
ALSO, I HATED 'POINT BREAK': Well, for the first time in what seems like a year I am unable to view full Salon content, because I am unwilling to watch the Hugh Jackman Oklahoma commercial for a third-straight day. Somehow I don't think this is what Salon had in mind. So I ask you: to what should we compare Hugh Jackman's career arc? Is there anybody else who has worked so hard to parlay his breakout role as a brooding tough in a blockbuster superhero action movie into an unconvincing romantic lead in a halfhearted romantic comedy that he used as a springboard to a PBS version of a Broadway musical? As if all Wolverine wanted to do was dance. And by the way, please don't say Patrick Swayze, because his brooding-tough breakout role was as a dance instructor, and because Road House just does not count.
LIKE A GIANT, FIERY ANVIL FALLING FROM THE SKY ONTO AN UNSUSPECTING HEAD: Yes, we've already discussed tonight's big spoiler in what's being billed as THE BIGGEST EVENT IN ER HISTORY, but, really, what do you do if you lack either the time, effort or interest in watching the episode?

Fear not: the loyal posters at TWoP, as they do every week, already have a meticulous scene-by-scene, multiple-sourced account of the episode that almost reads like a transcript, available here.

You know, I'm all in favor of leaks of tidbits -- cast departures or surprise twists on Survivor, say, that make you feel cool to be "in the know" -- but there's a line beyond which such spoilage really does ruin one's ability to sit back and enjoy a show. I might want to know that "someone does come back" on Survivor, but if someone handed me in September a complete and accurate list of the bootees, in order, I hope I'd be smart enough to turn it down. Where's the fun in that?
7305 DAYS AFTER: Twenty years ago today, half the adult population of the United States sat in front of their television sets to watch ABC's nuclear war telemovie, The Day After.

If I'm remembering right, I was so freaked out by how graphic it was supposed to be that I ended up not watching it.

I envy the generation of kids who came of age between the fall of the Soviet Union and 9/11/01. They got to have a childhood where they never had to fear that their whole world might be destroyed at any minute. They didn't have to worry. We did, and do again now.
SISTER ACT II: While Paris Hilton prepares for her Letterman appearance next Wednesday ("Top Ten Reasons Not To Bang Your Boyfriend On Camera"), which may well reverse the Late Night Ratings Wars faster than you can say "Divine Brown", I'm really starting to wonder something: what's Nicky Hilton going to do to top all this? Surely she can't let this intra-sibling publicity deficit grow much longer, can she?

But how? Midget porn? A David Blaine-esque endurance stunt? Will she turn into the second coming of Morganna the Kissing Bandit and molest Ricky Williams at Sunday night's nationally-broadcast Miami-Washington game?

An anxious nation waits and hopes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

SHAKE ME LIKE A BRITISH NANNY: Thanks to its remarkably strong DVD sales and smash ratings success on the Cartoon Network, Family Guy may be coming back with as many as 35 new episodes, starting in January 2005. My favorite recent moment?
Peter: Brian, there's a message in my Alpha Bits. It says "OOOOOO"!
Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.
VIA OUR ROVING REPORTER, PHIL THROCKMORTON: Who writes in from Parts Unknown to say:
"No one is suggesting that the show is high art. But it would be a shame if the network crumbles under the weight of the misguided pressure from forces who aren't willing to acknowledge the obvious: the show is rooted in reality, whether they like it or not."

Nope. That's not Slate on The Reagans, it's SI's Phil Taylor on Playmakers. While Playmakers may not be worth watching, Taylor's point is well taken. ESPN should stand up to the NFL, and CBS should take notes.

It's time for a 1st and Ten revival. Is Delta Burke busy?
LEAST SURPRISING CELEBRITY NEWS SINCE “JERRY GARCIA, AGING DRUG ADDICT WITH STARTLINGLY POOR DIET, DIES”: Michael Jackson is apparently the target of a criminal investigation for child molestation.
AND NOW THE ANTI-PARIS: To balance out the bad-love: Jolie Holland looks like an eco-terrorist, has an accent so inscrutable that she might as well be singing Edith Piaf, plays a guitar that sounds as if its strings have not been changed for six months, and apparently moved to Canada to jump start her singing career. Feel free to scratch your head over that last one.

Unlike Paris Hilton, however, she has mad bluegrass skills. She sings with a piercingly church-bell-clear voice (not so the accent, as I said) and moves sideways into notes that she holds only restlessly, very much like a (hill-)Billie Holliday. If you’re looking for some lo-fi Americana, try Holland’s Catalpa.
BETTER LATE TO THE GOOGLE-TROLLING PARTY THAN NEVER: There appear to be two dominant attitudes toward Paris Hilton right now: (1) She is an insufferable fame-whore who is getting what she deserves; or (2) geez, she’s hot, where can I get the video?

I, on the other hand, fall squarely into Camp 3 (or maybe Camp 2A). Really, how can you not love Paris Hilton (and while I’m on the topic, why isn’t Paris Hilton a gay icon)? Like Robert Evans, Dan Abrams, and Medea Benjamin, everything about Paris Hilton screams: F*ck off – it’s who I am. In fact, I like to think of PH as the pure embodiment of a single concept. What Tinkerbell is to innocent fantasy and Tyler Durden to festering male aggression, so she is to the uncompromising pursuit of fleeting pleasure.

Which is exactly why I find this whole sex tape thing depressing. It’s tough to be the poster-child for unremittingly luxuriant sybarism when you’re suing and getting sued, not to mention getting caught on tape with Shannon Doherty’s sleazy ex, really not to mention willingly getting caught on tape with him. (By the way, do Solomon and Steve Bing pay dues to the same club? Just wondering.)

Anyway, if you’re like me, you would feel just a bit too weird watching the video but were happy to read the transcript, particularly this line: "TV: Call me Steve! PH: (Quick slurp)."

Oh, yeah, still way excited for the Simple Life, especially since the Nicole Richie heroin bust.
NEW ENGLANDERS HAIL GAY MARRIAGE DECISION: And I've got the picture to prove it.
YOU CAN'T REALLY DUST FOR THAT: I know what you're thinking: hey, Adam, "What ever happened to the Dead Wrestler of the Month feature? Don't tell me the industry has gotten safer or something!"

Fear not, friends, and here's a triple-shot of recent sadness for you, all from the WWF: Crash Holly (Michael Lockwood), 33, who apparently choked on his own vomit last week; Road Warrior Hawk (Michael Hegstrand), 46, of an apparent heart attack last month (possibly drug-related); and, finally wrestling patriarch/trainer/promoter Stu Hart, 88, who died of pneumonia in October, but not without first seeing his son-in-law Davey Boy Smith die of steroid-related heart failure and watching his own son Owen plunge to his death on live tv during a stunt gone awry in 1999.

According to one report, as many as sixty current or former pro wrestlers under the age of 45 have died in the last five years, most of them related to drug abuse and steroids. Great business you're running, Vince -- we know it's not a sport, but you're still calling this "entertainment"?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

CHECKING IT TWICE: Learning in her Fametracker audit today that Emma Thompson turned down the Sharon Stone role in Basic Instinct reminded me that I've long wanted to compile a list of Most Interesting Roles Turned Down.

For example, some of my favorites have included Tom Selleck being cast as Indiana Jones (until he couldn't get out of his "Magnum P.I." commitment), Brad Pitt as Russell Hammond in Almost Famous, and Harrison Ford in the Michael Douglas role in Traffic (he insisted on a lot of rewrites, then bailed to do K-19: The Widowmaker, then Kevin Costner was to replace him until 3,000 Miles to Graceland looked to him like a better prospect). And we all know about the urban legend that put Ronald Reagan in Casablanca, right?

So, as it turns out, there's a defunct website out there with a pretty good list.

But it's clearly incomplete. Tell us good ones you know about.
IS 'LIP-SANC' THE PAST TENSE FOR 'LIP SYNCH', AND MORE: I missed the American Music Awards, because I was here, but Uncle Grambo didn't, so let him bring you the snark.

In other news meant to cover up for the fact that I have no original content yet today (the DeRogatis interview is coming), we have this via Gawker: Bunsen.TV's How to Talk to Your Kids About the Paris Hilton Sex Video:
Explain to your children that when two adults love each other very much, they need a special way to express that love. This explanation need not involve a graphic description of how exactly adults go about expressing their love. But it is important to tell them that when the two people that love each other are a party-girl heiress socialite with an upcoming reality television show and a guy who's been burned by a short-lived marriage to a sexually voracious celebrity who coincidentally also had ties to FOX, sometimes you need to capture that expression of love on video and leak it to the public so that people will know there's nothing wrong with your manhood, okay? . . .

Finally, the New Yorker's Roger Angell sums up the past baseball season. Well worth your time.
HE'S BEEN THE PROFESSOR, AND I'VE BEEN MARY ANN: Staring down the shark with all its might. Queer Eye comes back tonight. The Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall wisely suggests five ways the Fab 5 can avoid becoming the Fad 5.

Also, remember Ted Allen? Just making sure. It's been a while.

Monday, November 17, 2003

A PLAN IS HATCHED: Right after the Tennessee Titans win their first NFL championship, All-Star Survivor debuts on Super Bowl Sunday.
SURE, BUT AS LONG AS YOU'RE COACHING IN A SUBURB OF NORTH ADAMS, HOW MUCH FUN CAN IT BE? SI's Tim Layden congratulates retiring Williams College football coach Dick Farley on ending his remarkable 17-year run.

Perhaps most noteworthy is this: "In 118 years of football Williams College has recorded five perfect seasons and all of them have come under Dick Farley. In 1989, 1990, 1994, 1998, and 2001 the Ephs went 8-0-0. Every player that Farley has recruited (and who has graduated) has played on at least one perfect team."

Wow. Farley never lost a home game against my alma mater, and much though I hated the outcomes, you have to respect the program he built in that isolated, desolate pit of hell on the other side of the hairpin curve.

Well, at least there's still one team that can beat Williams.
WITH EXTRA CHEESE? Congratulations and thanks to Maria Accardi of Louisville, Kentucky, who at around 10:05pm eastern last night became the 100,000th person to visit the site.

For her efforts, she does indeed win the free pizza.
"THEY CAN MAKE ME A STAR ANYWAY": Low Culture reports this morning on Fox's curious double standard when it comes to its reality stars appearing in dirty movies.

By the way: those Frenchie Davis photos/videos Fox that was so afraid of, that they were going to scandalize America's youth? Still haven't turned up anywhere. Just bolsters my theory that the only reason she was kicked out of the competition was so that it would be competitive, that she would've destroyed Ruben and Clay on a week in, week out basis, leading to her deserved coronation in the finale, and that the only way to put any drama into the show would be to take out the one singer so clearly head-and-shoulders above the field.

In the meantime, you should know that Frenchie's doing fine, having just left her role in Rent to star in Dreamgirls out west.

Despite Fox's best efforts, she's going to be a star.
365: One year and a shade over 100,000 visitors later (i.e., an average day on InstaGlen), we're still standing.

I started this blog because I had topics I enjoyed talking about and a loving wife who encouraged me to inflict my opinions on others. I am happy with the way this place has evolved over the past year, shedding the politics/law talk to focus on pop culture, introducing the Comments feature to include all of you in the discussion, and adding new contributors in Isaac and Phil who will only help enhance this site in the future.

I wouldn't keep doing this site if I didn't know that people enjoyed it, so thank you, friends, for continuing to come back for more. All I can say is this: it is not that hard to do this, so if you have something to say, go ahead and start your own blog. The more good voices, the better for us all.

And once again, thanks to Jen, for encouraging me to do this and for making everything just that much sweeter. I am blessed to have her in my life, and I just hope that when our daughter is old enough to read these archives, she understands that daddy isn't mean -- he's just particular and vocal about the things he likes and dislikes, especially if Cuba Gooding Jr. is involved.

Enough speeches. Let's get back to the blogifying.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

IT GOES LIKE THIS, THE FOURTH, THE FIFTH: Egads! The WaPo's Jennifer Howard has accused many of this blog's fellow travellers of liking each other a bit too much:
Maybe the back-scratching started as revolutionary solidarity. Now it's a popularity contest in which the value of information is confused with the cool quotient of the person spreading it. Late-night TV has Jay and Dave and Conan; the blogosphere has TMFTML and Old Hag and Choire, only unlike the gods of late night, the gods of the blogosphere really, really like each other -- and say so every chance they get.

Boo. Hiss. Because there's a ton of blogs out there, and the only way people are going to know where the good ones are is through like-minded blogs linking to each other.

I've long tried to do that here, in order to help build up a critical mass of pop culture blogs, to let people know what was out there so as to encourage other people to start their own blogs if so inclined, as I did 364 days ago. Just look down the left-hand side of this page, and you will see people listed there you may never have visited before. Visit one now.

Just as Blogger empowers anyone to proclaim themselves an Official Political Pundit, there's now a space where us mere mortals can be critics of the culture, as well as critics of the critics of the culture. There's a lot more of us out there now than there were a year ago today, and this a good thing, even if the inter-induglence Howard points to can seem a bit much at times.

Then again, the right-center political/legal blogdex (InstaGlen, Volokh, Sullivan, Bashman, etc.) picked up steam post-9/11 because they all linked to each other constantly, sending readers to each other all the time. That's how they became the online political establishment.

For more, go see Terry Teachout.

There's an audience for these blogs. It's growing. Keep coming back -- and, in the meantime, I will continue to lay off Laura Miller.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

EW, BABY BABY: If you're not already an Entertainment Weekly subscriber -- and if not, why are you here? -- make sure to pick up the current issue, the one with that Louisana solitaire player on the cover, for three reasons: (1) Tim Carvell sat through two straight weeks of Wayne Newton concerts, and now you get to read his wicked deconstruction of Wayne's "spontaneity"; (2) Tim Carvell also gets to interview Triumph about his new album, and, oh, Kathleen Turner is not going to be pleased; (3) Dalton Ross compares Survivor 7's Rupert Boneham to "Capt. Lou Albano on acid," and if there's one thing this blog goes crazy for it's good simile; and (4) an interview with Michael Stipe at his most ridiculously defensive. Did you know that if you don't like R.E.M.'s past decade's worth of music, it's because you're jealous he has six-pack abs, and not because a lot of it sucks?

Get this issue.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I WANT TO BE THE GIRL WITH THE MOST CAKE: To commemorate this blog's one-year anniversary (tomorrow), have a little fun and provide a little extra to you, my loyal readers (as well as the people who are just hoping for the free pizza), I decided to seek out Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis, one of this blog's favorites, who was happy to chat with me yesterday about his new book, the alternarock explosion of the 1990s, the contemporary scene and future of rock music.

I think you'll enjoy our conversation a lot, and it will appear here as soon as I have some time to transcribe my notes.

In the meantime, a preview. Because it all comes back to Nirvana, right? (And then back to the Pixies, but you know what I'm saying.)

We were talking about Nirvana, and how troubled Cobain was by the band's success. "They didn't know what the hell was going on," DeRogatis told me.

He visited Cobain at his home a few months before his death. "It was a beautiful house on Lake Washington, but it looked like a slum," he told me. "He had a thrift-store couch in the middle of the living room. They had no idea how rich they were."

Which he then linked to, and I will now for you, a 2002 interview he conducted with Courtney Love, contained in the book, and one particular Love quote which he called "creepy":
[Cobain biographer] Charlie [Cross] has this theory that there was always suicidal ideation, and there was no way around it. I think that's bull; ideation can be replaced with other ideation. Now, I have a theory, and it sounds vulgar, and it sounds shallow, and it's capitalism coming from a capitalist. But if we were around folks who knew luxury, who were our generation, who had money, who were flying on Lear jets, who were drinking fine wines, who were feeling great fabrics, who knew what Ming was, and fine art, and thread count, things might have been different. We didn't experience what [R.E.M. guitarist Peter] Buck experienced when he was living next door. We didn't have STUFF. We didn't know about food. We didn't have a cleaning lady! Wealth makes things nicer -- it does, and that's just a goddamn fact! We were rich people, and we didn't get to BE rich people. And I think that luxury might have replaced [Kurt's suicidal] ideation.

If only Kurt had been introduced to the Pottery Barn in time, Courtney. . . .

More on Nirvana, true rock experiences, bands that have become "corporate self-perpetuating success machines," the importance of Trent Reznor and more, as soon as I have time to type it up.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

ACTINIDE IT IS: Throwing Things has made the Periodic Table of Bloggers. Canada officially has this to say about Throwing Things:
Radioactive [Throwing Things] retains its silvery lustre for months due to a protective oxide coating. The 90th element was discovered in 1829 by J.J. Brezelium and named after the Scandinavian god of thunder, Thor.

This element is attacked slowly by water, but it does not dissolve readily in most acids, with the exception of hydrochloric acid. An important compound formed by this actinide is [Throwing Things] oxide that has a melting point of 3300°C. Laboratory glass and crucibles subjected to high temperature applications are often made from this compound.