Critical Mass 1.0
Please watch Modern Family and Community so they don't get canceled and other notes from the new TV season
With all due respect to the WGA and their fight for fair pay in the age of the Internet, last season's TV pilots sucked and it's all their fault. The ripple effect writer's strike, which also stalled shows for an excruciatingly long time, meant that studios didn't have the time to development their fall slate before putting it on air. Granted, TV isn't an artful medium, but because the there was no traditional pilot/development season, a lot of shows premiered to awful reviews and lower ratings. But this season, the television acolytes among us were given their due: pilots that actually looked good.
'And the best one is Modern Family (watch above, Wednesdays, 9 p.m., ABC) about three disparate families ' a mom-dad-2.5-kids unit, a gay couple and a May-December romance ' in a confessional/mockumentary format (a la The Office, Parks and Recreation). The domestic sitcom certainly isn't new, but this one's got bite. (Come on, Ed "Al Bundy" O'Neill as the patriarch? What else do you expect?) Shows like this live or die based on well-developed, sympathetic characters (even the Bluths from Arrested Development eventually garnered your love, even for lack of admiration or anything resembling respect). But it needs to be well-rounded. Each family/plot thread has to be worthy of its screen time and, at least after the first episode, they are. I love Manny, O'Neill's stepson with a stereotypically saucy Latina mom (Sofia Vergara), who has the soul of John Keats in the body of a chubster 11-year-old. In the tightly written pilot (that, like most shows of its ilk, forgo the joke-punchline set-up), he has the best line: After confessing his love to a 16-year-old who works at the mall, he channels Lloyd Dobler and says, "I gave her my heart ' She gave me a picture of me as an old-time sheriff."
The mockumentary format is becoming like TV's version of the movie voice over. Appropriated from the reality shows it's meant to satirize, the confessional is a cheap device to develop a character congruently with their own storylines. Please, don't tell me you didn't love Jim Halpert that much more because of his stuttered non-declarations of love for Pam in the first season of The Office, or Leslie Knopes' unintentionally insane positivity in Parks and Recreation. But it also works. Half of the reason Modern Family is so good is you can allow your characters to do and say stupid or terrible things, but then cut to a confessional and placate the situation with empathy or further hilarity. And that's why I'm worried about NBC's Community (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.).
Don't get me wrong, I love Joel McHale (even more so after Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!) and Chevy Chase was both Fletch and Ty Webb and is, therefore, a god. The first episode didn't excite me nearly as much as the second (especially after this scene), which was a more fully realized look at each individual character. But can a show about assholes succeed without confessionals interlaced throughout to make the characters infinitely more likable (It's Always Sunny is an anomaly and it's on cable ' whole different ball game)? Obviously, it wouldn't make sense in the format, but I'm worried about a general audience's ability to connect. Community just needs to find its footing, like nascent Office did, and it could be great.
First there are the douchebags, now there are the cougahs. I like trends in TV because it's such a copycat medium ' something works on one network and all the others give it a shot. Shows starring middle-aged women (The Closer, Saving Grace, HawthoRNe, Damages) have all done well on cable, especially TNT, so now it's time for the network facsimiles. I find this inexplicably amusing and end up watching a lot of shit TV because of it.
More on the season after the jump '
Emily Nussbaum, the TV critic at New York mag, pointed out on her Surf blog how depressing a show like ABC's Eastwick (Wednesdays, 10 p.m.) is because it demonstrates how vanilla television insists on being. I have to agree with her. I watched Eastwick because of my affinity for the Updike novel and the 1987 movie but it's a watered down version of its source material, which are, as Nussbaum says, "about women getting high on their own rage, malice, and power. (And then losing it when they fall for the Master of all PUAs.)" It's odd to say that, as a feminist, I don't like Eastwick because it's not as misogynist as its source but that's what made the idea interesting in the first place. Even though they are completely different shows, TV is TV and it's all connected. The entire Eastwick debacle reflects on Community: Producers think that failures, in a sense, can't carry a show. So they switch their modus operandi from misusing their power to gaining a sense of self through their power. It would be a shame if a show like Community didn't catch on because the character weren't likable enough, while Eastwick did well because the characters are so likable they become tofu.
Also, note to the producers: Even though I just referred to her as middle age, I'm sure most 26-year-old men would do inexplicable things to sleep with Rebecca Romijn so making her relationship with that stud who played Kyle XY out all out-of-the-ordinary makes little sense. Please, any free wheeling, bohemian artiste who gets excited about her daughter's first hickey would more likely than not relish her boy toy, rather than be ashamed of her still-active sexuality (believe it or not, post-childbirth, women still have a libido). On another note: Can the network expect anyone, even Candadian TV vet Paul Gross, to fill Jack Nicholson's devilish shoes as Darryl?
Cougar Town (ABC, Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m.), the most blatant of the older ladies getting it on genre, fares a bit better, chronicling the life of Courtney Cox as divorced mom who enters the dating (kiddie) pool. It has it's moment ("This is from that night we got drunk on Amaretto and played dress-up!") and Cox fits much better here as an older variation on Monica Geller than in her dark, short lived FX series Dirt. But you can see where this is all going. Could it be possible that the antagonistic relationship Cox's character has with her attractive, younger-lady-nailing neighbor could turn out to be something more? Gasp! Snooze. Although, I haven't erased Cougar Town from my DVR just yet. I'll be impressed if they can keep it fresh and I like a show where the female leads are allowed to be both ridiculous and funny. But I'm still conflicted. One of the reasons I like Cougar Town is that it simultaneously busts and perpetuates a stereotype that infuriates me: women are either anti-sex or are lushy sluts. New mom Christa Miller bemoans having sex once a month, while Busy Phillips pushes Cox into cougarhood. But Cox's character is both open to exploring her sexuality and afraid of it. I want to see how daring TV can actually be.
Like I said before, I watch a lot of terrible TV in the name of spotting trends: The third in the cougar triumvirate is CBS' Accidentally on Purpose (Mondays, 8:30 p.m.), which looked stupid. It was.
- Modern Family: Awesome
- Community: Getting there.
- Eastwick: Blech.
- Cougar Town: On the (white picket) fence.
- Accidentally on Purpose: No.
I still want to catch The Good Wife ' the Silda Spitzer/Elizabeth Edwards-y drama about the wife of a politician caught up in sexual scandal ' because it got great reviews and Flash Foward ' where the people of the world black out and see the future ' because the concept looks interesting but I'm wary of TV sci fi because it generally doesn't have the budget to back it up. Worth my DVR space? Any good?
Did you guys watch these shows? What else am I missing and should catch up?
As Lauren F. Friedman told us in this week's Agenda, West Philly's The Rotunda is turning 10, and they've got a whole weekend worth of activities lined up to celebrate. Tonight, for example, features VJ Yakov, Dime Universal and HipHop Poeticz, plus a silent art auction (which ends Sunday) featuring pieces from more than 20 artists.
Here's more from man-about-town Shaun Brady:
Who the hell do you invite to a party that features hip-hop and silent films, screaming experimental rock and a silent auction, poetry and ' live screen printing? Well, the Rotunda's essentially been inviting everyone in West Philly and beyond to that party for 10 years now, so a mash-up of celebratory art-making makes perfect sense. In fact, it's about the only way to honor a decade spent hosting sequin-clad musicians from Saturn jamming with Tuvan throat singers, monthly packed-to-the-gills gatherings of sweat-drenched B-boys and law-abiding graffiti writers, free-jazz freakouts and flea markets, puppets and punks. Happy birthday to a venue that not only embodies a certain funky, communal neighborhood vibe, but has done much to define it.
Rotunda Tenth Birthday Celebration, Fri.-Sun., Sep. 25-27, $3-$10, The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., 215-573-3234, therotunda.org.
'Hey remember that time that I would only ' what would I do?'
For a split second I thought to scream out 'READ THE BACKS OF CEREAL BOXES!' with the rest of the crowd in what I imagined would be a fun call-and-response, since this audience seemed to be singing along every word to every song. But then Regina stopped strumming her sea-foam-green electric guitar and put her hand to her left temple, looking perplexed. 'Wow, this is the biggest fuck-up so far on the American tour.'
Herein lies the beauty of Regina Spektor: No one can ignore that incredible voice, but what really makes us swoon is her imperfect charm ' she lets her hair go wild, she doesn't care what you think of her outfit, she fucks up her lyrics sometimes, she is never afraid to sound downright ugly.
In fact, part of the brilliance of her space-cadet moment during 'That Time' was the freedom it gave her to really play with the rest of the song. 'I thought I was gonna be sickghhhhghghhh,' she uttered gutturally, captivatingly uncivilized.
Regina lost it again (briefly and to howling applause) at the end of her 18-song set ' which started and ended with songs from Far, her new album which stretches the boundaries of that infamous quirk factor. Backed by drums and a lovely string duo, Regina performed her first nine songs ' including 'Machine,' 'One More Time with Feeling' and 'Blue Lips' ' seated at her piano; it wasn't till 'On the Radio' that she dismissed her accompanists and broke the Far streak (again, briefly and to howling applause).
This particular audience ' full of couples holding hands and serenading each other (and even, in one holy-PDA moment, acting out her lyrics, 'Remember that time we decided to kiss anywhere except the mouth?') ' was especially pumped for 'Dance Anthem of the '80s' off Far and pretty much anything from Begin to Hope.
Not surprisingly Regina threw in a few curveballs ' 'Bobbing for Apples,' 'Carefully Laid Plans' and her last-of-five (five!) encore songs, 'Love, You're a Whore,' which let us see a whole new countrified version of our enigmatic Bronx-by-way-of-Russia princess of kitsch. Rodeo Regina may be an odd fit, but if history tells us anything, it's that the weirder she gets, the more we love her.
The (Nearly) Complete Set List
1. The Calculation (Far)
2. Eet (Far)
3. Folding Chair (Far)
4. Ode to Divorce (Soviet Kitsch)
5. Machine (Far)
6. Laughing With (Far)
7. One More Time with Feeling (Far)
8. Two Birds (Far)
9. Blue Lips (Far)
10. On the Radio (Begin to Hope)
11. Dance Anthem of the '80s (Far)
12. Bobbing for Apples
13. That Time (Begin to Hope)
14. Apres Moi (Begin to Hope)
15. Poor Little Rich Boy (Soviet Kitsch)
16. Carefully Laid Plans
17. Wallet (Far)
18. Man of a Thousand Faces (Far)
1. Samson (Begin to Hope)
2. Us (Soviet Kitsch)
3. Fidelity (Begin to Hope)
4. Hotel Song (Begin to Hope)
5. Love, You're a Whore
|New York Times|
Or Ardmore, more specifically. The dreamer/psychologist/possible madman's legendary 100-year-old book, which he didn't publish during his lifetime and failed to tell his ancestors what to do with after his death, is biblical for Jungians. In a New York Times Magazine piece published this Sunday, one such Jungian says, 'I want to be transformed by it. That's all there is.' But until this Oct. 7 (for a hefty fee of about $100), no one thought it'd ever be published because of Jung's extremely protective family. That is, until Sonu Shamdasani, general editor of the Ardmore-based Philemon Foundation, labored for three years to convince the family to publish it. Here's a snippet from the NY Times piece about the foundation's director Stephen Martin's first time meeting with the Jungs:
Anytime someone did ask to see the Red Book, family members said, without hesitation and sometimes without decorum, no. The book was private, they asserted, an intensely personal work. In 1989, an American analyst named Stephen Martin, who was then the editor of a Jungian journal and now directs a Jungian nonprofit foundation, visited Jung's son (his other four children were daughters) and inquired about the Red Book. The question was met with a vehemence that surprised him. 'Franz Jung, an otherwise genial and gracious man, reacted sharply, nearly with anger,' Martin later wrote in his foundation's newsletter, saying 'in no uncertain terms' that Martin could not 'see the Red Book, nor could he ever imagine that it would be published.'
Pretty impressive, then, that it was. Read the rest of the piece here.
Thrasher magazine's newest skate DVD, Under the Bridge,' will have its East Coast premiere at FDR Skate Park (Pattison Ave. & S. Broad St., 215-683-0205) tomorrow, Sept. 19 at noon for $5. Under the Bridge (High Speed Production) is directed by Preston Maigetter, and takes a historical look at DIY skateparks. It shows never-before-seen footage of FDR (the only East Coast park in the film, ahem) along with San Diego's Washington Street, San Pedro's Channel Street, Oakland's Bordertown and Burnside in Portland, Ore. The film also features skaters Christian Hosoi, Peter Hewitt and Dan Drehobl as well as plenty of local Philly skaters. The premiere will also include all-day access to live music from local bands like McRad and Vacant Progress, general skater-induced chaos and plenty of beer from Pabst Blue Ribbon. Local skater Johnny Mateu, who provided footage of FDR for the film, stresses that all the money made from the premiere goes directly back into the park. 'Every one of these parks is skater-run, skater-built, skater-designed and skater-funded," he says. "It's just us doing it for the love of it.' Their only requests: Bring beer money and leave your bikes at home.
|wallyg via Flickr|
This guy, one in a series of Jun Kaneko's Heads sculptures, will be up in City Hall's courtyard through October 24. It's massive ' 11 feet tall ' pretty, and super Zen. It's part of a larger, impressive collaboration between the Opera Co. of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Kimmel Center, Locks Gallery and the city to showcase Kaneko's works, titled "On the Wings of Music: Art, Opera & You." (The one in the picture, by the way, was taken when it temporarily lived in New York City.) For more information on his other works showing around the city, check the specific venues listed above. They're not all straight sculpture ' his work with the Opera Co., for example, includes set design and costumes for its production of Madama Butterfly, which runs from October 9-18.
Local gal artist Kristen Stein tells us that her digital collage photo collaboration with Lyse Marion, "Spirit of Autumn Fire" (pictured above), cameoed on the most recent episode of SyFy series Warehouse 13, about a government storage area that holds paranormal objects ' so, essentially, it's about that place where you see stick the ark of the convenant at the end of Raiders. Stein actually has the piece up for sale on her Etsy site. You can watch the episode, courtesy of Hulu, below. It's hung up in Leena's Bed & Breakfast, and first appeared in the episode "Breakdown."
Trying hard against unbelievable odds
|Big Star Keep an Eye on the Sky (Ardent/Rhino)|
Is it 'boxed sets' or 'box sets'? Either way, it's hard to believe the music industry still squeezes out these things. With everything in financial free-fall, you mean to tell me there are still completists and neophytes alike still willing to drop the dollars to pick up physical copies, eager to get their four discs, plus elaborate artwork and design and sundry other accoutrements? In theory, the whole idea of box(ed) sets exists for cultishly adored bands such as Big Star. For many rock nerds, their saga passed into myth long ago. In Memphis, TN, in the early '70s, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel ' aspiring rockers obsessed with The Beatles, Kinks and Who ' hooked up with Alex Chilton, former lead singer of The Box Tops. (Chilton sang that band's big hit 'The Letter' when he was 16 years old.) The quartet made #1 Record (1972), a sparkling, chiming record that all but pioneered the power-pop genre. Commercially, it bombed. Bell quit the band. The remaining trio made the spectacular follow-up Radio City (1974), a darker, more disjointed record. Commercially, it bombed. Hummel quit the band. Chilton, Stephens and an assortment of Memphis players then made Third (aka Sister Lovers), which was even darker and even more disjointed. Record labels wanted nothing to do with it. By the time Third was finally released in 1978 ' four years after it was recorded, and the same year that Chris Bell died in a car accident ' the band had long ceased existing. And commercially, the album bombed of course. However, due to the subsequent bolstering of the band's legacy in the '80s by R.E.M., The Replacements, The Bangles and others, the band's legacy grew, if only in the small-beer world that was indie rock back then. In the '90s, their discography came out on CD, and Chilton and Stephens reassembled the band, this time flanked by two members of The Posies. (The so-far-only studio album by this version of the band, 2005's In Space, is basically terrible.) This pretty much brings us to this week and the release of Keep an Eye on the Sky. First, the good news: The sound quality is amazing, a testament to the brilliance of engineer/band mentor John Fry. The box is beautifully designed, shaped like a seven-inch record sleeve, but containing a lavish, informed booklet and a sleeve containing the four CDs. And of course, any collection of music that has songs like 'Thirteen,' 'September Gurls' and 'Nightime' has got something going for it.
Now for the ambivalent news: The first three discs are dominated by the three canonical studio albums from '72-'78 in their entirety. Many tracks labeled on the box as 'Alternate Mix' are pretty much indistinguishable from the original released versions. Chances are, if you love Big Star, you already own much of the music here. As for the bona fide rarities, they are also a mixed bag. I am partial to Chilton's solo demos for Radio City and Third, showcasing both his plaintive musicality and barbed sensibility. There are also some interesting alternate renditions, like a more chooglin' 'In the Street,' a trippier 'O My Soul' and Big Star versions of songs that Bell took with him when he quit, but sung here by Chilton. But I can't say these are revelatory, in the way certain songs on the Velvet Underground or Byrds boxes may have been. Disc four contains a live show from 1973 by the Radio City lineup. Like most live Big Star releases, it's ragged, spirited and not terribly essential. If you're already a happy owner of Big Star's best work, you may find this box an unnecessary extravagance. But if you've always wanted these albums and want to get them in one fell swoop, Keep an Eye on the Sky fits the bill nicely. There is a depth and a sense of disquiet in the music of Big Star that none of their guitar-pop acolytes ever really captured. I've fallen under its spell many times over the years. For newcomers, this box makes it even easier.
Every February, the Kelly Writers House at Penn connects students and the community with top talent representing various backgrounds, bringing the writers into a discourse about their work during two day events. While students meet with each fellow following six weeks of study of their work, there are also events open to the public, including a reading at night and a brunch the following day. With roughly 100 spots for each reading and 60 for the brunches, spots fill up quickly, especially with a bill topped by prolific juggernaut of American letters, Joyce Carol Oates, and strong support from poet Susan Howe and long time television writer David Milch (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Deadwood). Community is what the Writers House is all about. 'Joyce Carol Oates could fill Irvine Auditorium, but instead we opt to have a more intimate space so as to allow everyone to enter into the conversation,' says program coordinator Jamie-Lee Josselyn. She added that the inclusion of Howe has an added interest since it represents a reunion with fellow Language poet ' Penn's own Charles Bernstein. The idea of drawing people together is enhanced even further by the student and Writers House staff prepared post-reading dinner. The convivial atmosphere it adds to the already relaxed nature of the program. Brunch ain't bad either. Who wants eggs with their great literature. Learn more about the program and listen to podcast of past fellows.
Reading, Mon. 6:30pm, Brunch Tues. 10am, Feb. 15-16, Joyce Carol Oates, Susan Howe, Mar. 22-23, David Milch, Apr.26-27, rsvp to email@example.com, The Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania, 215-746-7636.
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