Wednesday, September 30, 2009

First Impressions of the Fall Season, Ctd

Let's continue our look at the new fall TV season. Part One is here.

*Cougar Town. This is the new Courtney Cox sit-com about a 40-something divorced mother of a teenager looking to get back into the game of Love. Yes, in the pilot episode she went after a younger guy, thereby rendering the show's title ridiculously on the nose (the nickname for the local high school's sports teams is the Cougars, the "real" reason for the show's title). And yes, there was a lot of young guy watching for Cox and her friends, played by Christa Miller and Busy Philipps. This was mildly funny, and there was some overall funny dialogue. But I think there isn't much to explore here. Do I really want to watch Cox bound from guy to guy (young and otherwise) each episode? And will she do it at the quite frenetic pace she was moving in the pilot? I mean that literally: it seemed like she was on speed. Her movement, her speech, everything was like it was in fast forward. Like they were really trying to keep out attention. Anyway, this all seems for not, because the show introduced us to her 40-something, hot, divorced male neighbor, whom, of course, she spars with and "hates" because he's bedding 20-something girls. We all know she's going to end up with him in the end, so to remain interested, the humor has to be really great and we need to be distracted by the supporting players (like on The Office, where they have effectively played out the inevitable Jim & Pam relationship to a T). I'm giving the show one more try tonight, and if I feel the same way as after the pilot, it's good night Irene.

Pluses: Courtney Cox; Christa Miller
Minuses: Frenetic pace; Trying too hard for laughs; Predictable plot
Grade: C

*SNL Weekend Update Thursday: For four weeks, Saturday Night Live is airing live, half-hour Weekend Update specials, as they did during the presidential election season. I always find Weekend Update to be the best part of the regular Saturday edition of the show, I was intrigued when NBC announced plans for this special edition. Moreover, Amy Poehler returns to the WU desk for at least the first two episodes to promote her show Parks & Recreation, joining regular host, and SNL head writer, Seth Meyers. Besides the actual WU news, the show begins with a cold open skit, both of which have been political in theme (SNL's bread and butter). Personally, I have found both episodes to be very funny. In a normal SNL episode, they have to fill 90 minutes with sketches that end of being not very funny. With only 22 minutes (and only one sketch), so far, the show has been clicking on all cylinders. Seth and Amy have great chemistry, and the writing is sharp. The show is only a place-holder until 30 Rock returns in October, but I kind of wish it would stick around.

Pluses: Funny writing; Seth Meyers; Amy Poehler
Minuses: Skits can run a liiiiiiiittle long
Grade: A-

*Community: This show is the latest entry into NBC's Must-See-TV Thursday comedy lineup. And it doesn't disappoint. Joel McHale (from E!'s The Soup) plays a lawyer whose license is taken away due to the state bar discovering his dodgy education. He is forced to go to community college to get an appropriate degree so he can have his law license back. There he meets a number of other misfit students, including a ladies' man Chevy Chase, and, of course, the hot blonde. The writing has been really funny so far, and Chase is doing his best work in years, nay, decades. And here's the thing, as opposed to my problem with Cougar Town, I honestly have no idea if McHale will end up with the blonde or not. I mean, yeah, he probably will, but so far the writers have been balancing the "will they or won't they" dynamic really well. The supporting players, while a bit stereotypical (the sassy African-American woman, the jock, the hyper alpha-girl), they have been given much more interesting characteristics than their stereotypes. Plus, they have some really great dialogue being pulled off by really funny unknown actors. Packaged with The Office and 30 Rock, NBC could actually have a hit on its hands. Well, at least until it moves to the 8pm slot (currently on at 9:30) and faces Survivor and Flash Forward. Overall though, this is probably my favorite new show of the year, at least so far.

Pluses: Joel McHale; Great writing; Funny premise
Minuses: Soon-to-be time slot
Grade: A

*Flash Forward: As is quite evident, I am a big fan of the show Lost. As we Lostophiles know, Lost will be concluding next May. Therefore, we must search for a replacement show that we can watch to satisfy our mystery-seeking, sci-fi-theorizing needs. In steps Flash Forward. This show is about what happens when all of humanity blacks out for two minutes and seventeen seconds at the same time, and everyone sees a vision of the future six months hence. Some see positive things (a reunion with a lost daughter, a pregnancy), some see negative things (infidelity, a return to alcoholism), and even a few see nothing (is the person dead? In a coma?). The action is led by an FBI agent played by Joseph Fiennes. He is married to a surgeon played by Sonya Walger (Lost fans will remember her as Desmond's love, Penny), is partnered with John Cho (Harold and Kumar, Star Trek), and is friends with Brian F. O'Byrne (well-known on Broadway for Doubt). As the world is in chaos after the blackout (what happens if 800 airplanes in the air all have their pilots black out at the same time?), Fiennes leads the FBI to figure out what is behind the flash forwards, while they all try to come to grips with what their futures mean. Can they change the future? Are they bound by it? Do they even want to change it? The pacing of the show felt right on, and definitely has a Lost feel to it (main male character waking up and not knowing what happened after a crash), even including a nice easter egg of an Oceanic billboard. There are obviously a lot of intriguing mysteries (why did the black out happen? Who is behind it? What do the flashes mean?), and the characters seem pretty decent. The effects could use some brushing up, and I kind of wonder if Fiennes is up to the rest of the cast acting-wise. I know that seems like a ridiculous comment after seeing his film work, but he seemed a bit lacking, like he wasn't comfortable with his American accent yet. I'm sure this will get better. Anyway, ABC hooked me with this show. I totally dug it, and see it, so far, as a worthy replacement for Lost. So much so, that I think I will give Flash Forward a similar treatment by posting my thoughts on each episode a couple days after it airs. If anything, it will make sure I come back and post every couple days.

Pluses: Actors; Script; Mysteries
Minuses: Effects; Joseph Fiennes, maybe?
Grade: A-

OK, that's the new stuff I've seen so far. I will post again in the next couple days with my thoughts on returning shows I've been watching. Again, if you have anything to contribute, or something you want me to check out, please leave it in the comments, or email me through the "complete profile" link on the top right of the page. Until my next post,


Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Impressions of the Fall Season

Whenever a new TV season starts, I like to test out new shows and see what I will be keeping on my personal Watch List. I mentioned below what was on my sampler platter for this fall. Most of the shows have aired their first episode, so I wanted to get down some of my initial thoughts. I selected these new shows based on their casts, concept, marketing, etc. I usually give a new show two episodes to hook me so I'll probably go back for more of each of these shows, but here's what struck me:

*The Good Wife: I like Julianna Margulies, and I tend to like courtroom dramas, so I figured this would be a good fit for me. Overall, I enjoyed it, but there was something "off" about it that kind of stuck in my craw. It could be the fact that it is set in a law firm, and I work in a law firm: when I watch TV, I'm looking for an escape from the rest of my day. Also, some of the characterizations were weird. Really? Do we need another cut-throat associate who is willing to throw anybody under the bus to make partner (played by Matt Czuchry)? And what is with the character played by Archie Punjabi? I think she's supposed to be the firm's in-house counsel, but no firm would let one of their attorneys dress like she does. While I don't mind watching beautiful women, this character and her costuming just pulled me out of the show when she was on.

Pluses: Good actors (Margulies, Chris Noth, Christine Baranski); Decent dialogue
Minuses: Some weird characters; Danger of becoming just another courtroom drama
Grade: B

*Glee: Perhaps it's my love of musical theater (I used to work for Les Miserables, and my wife is a Broadway actress), but I think Glee is absolutely fantastic. What they have managed to avoid, for the most part, is a lot of the stereotypical characters that exist in shows about high school. Yes, we have the jock, but he like singing and sticks up for his group-mates. We have the gay kid, but he's on the football team. There's a kid in a wheelchair who's not a source of cheap humor (when was the last time you saw THAT on a comedy?). More important than that, Glee has been willing to address certain issues without a glaring "after-school special" feel. In just the last episode, teen pregnancy, abortion (didn't use the word, but Planned Parenthood was name-checked), and homosexuality. The last issue delivered my favorite line in TV so far:

KURT: Dad, I'm gay.
DAD: Yeah, I know.
KURT: Since when?
DAD: Since you were three. All you asked for for your birthday was a pair of sensible heels.

Hilarious! Of course, you also have all the great musical numbers used in very imaginative ways. The football team dancing to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" to distract the other team? Genius. Beyond that, there are great performances being given by the kids, Matthew Morrison as the teacher leading the glee club, and the incomparable Jane Lynch as the cheerleading coach determined to destroy the glee club.

Pluses: Musical numbers; Actors; Stories
Minuses: Can drag at times
Grade: A-

*Modern Family: ABC ran a whole bunch of promos for this new sit-com about three related families. We have the "typical" suburban family: parents with two daughters and a son, where the dad thinks he's cool because he knows all the dances to High School Musical; a May-December romance where the May is a vivacious Colombian immigrant with a son; and a gay couple who have just adopted a baby girl from Vietnam. This kind of set-up could be perilous if the characters are just wacky for wacky's sake. Fortunately, the writing was so crisp and some of the situations so unexpected (the typical Dad shoots his son with a plastic BB gun to punish the son for...shooting his sister with a plastic BB gun; one of the gay dads presents his new daughter like Simba in The Lion King with full-on "Circle of Life" playing) that the show doesn't fall into this trap. Here's hoping they stay this witty and unpredictable.

Pluses: Great writing; Funny actors; Unexpected plots
Minuses: Risk of being too wacky
Grade: A-

*Eastwick: This is an adaptation of the movie and novel, The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike. In a New England town, three women (played by Rebecca Romjin, Lindsay Price and Ashley Benson) who are down on their luck for various reasons, make wished by throwing coins in a fountain. This action brings a mysterious, wealthy and charming man named Darryl Van Horne (Paul Gross) who starts to make their wishes come true. The women themselves begin to exhibit special powers as well. It's not a big surprise that Darryl is the Devil (get it, Van Horne?) and that the woman are actually witches. The writing was pretty snappy, and Paul Gross is pretty great as Darryl (I mean, he's no Jack Nicholson, who starred as Darryl in the movie, but who is?). I worry that once the women learn how to control their powers and realize that Darryl is actually evil, the show will devolve into a "Darryl does something evil, the women stop him" pattern.

Pluses: Paul Gross; Snappy dialogue; Winsome lead actresses
Minuses: Stories could get monotonous; Possibility of cheesy special effects
Grade: B

OK, that's what I have for four of the new shows. I have to go celebrate my anniversary, so I have to leave it there for now. I will get thoughts on Flash Forward, SNL Weekend Update Thursday, and Community up soon. I'll also have some comments about where returning shows are heading.

Please post your opinions in the Comments. Also, if there is some other show you would like me to comment on, please make the suggestion. I'd like this to be a conversation, and as interesting as I find myself, I'd rather speak with you all out there. Thanks for reading. More TV thoughts coming soon!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Protect the Health Insurance Executives

As we all know, health insurance executives have been getting a really bad rap recently. Well...don;t listen to me. Listen to these brave supporters of the health insurtance industry.

(h/t Funny or Die, HuffPo)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Fall Season is Back, or How to Lose a Wife in Five Days

People who are even casual readers of this blog (and really, how many of you out there aren't "casual" readers?) have seen that I am a devotee of television. Between my dedication to Lost and my other random postings on The Office, game shows, Survivor, and the like, it is clear that I love the boob tube and almost everything that is on it. Well, the holiday season has begun for me again, as the new television season has begun. So, like I did for the past spring season, here is what I am planning on watching this fall (new shows in italics):

Sunday: The Amazing Race, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Desperate Housewives, Bored to Death

Monday: How I Met Your Mother, House, Heroes, Lie to Me, Trauma

Tuesday: The Biggest Loser, So You Think You Can Dance, The Good Wife, Shark Tank

Wednesday: So You Think You Can Dance, Glee, Modern Family, Eastwick, Top Chef

Thursday (The Hell Day): Flash Forward, Survivor, SNL Thursday Update, Parks & Recreation, The Office, 30 Rock, Community, Fringe, The Mentalist, Project Runway

Friday/Saturday: Nada

Obviously, there will be a lot of time-shifting/DVRing going on. Part of the reason I get to entertain myself with this much programming is that my wife is not usually home at night, as she is a Broadway actress (as I mentioned below). What complicates matters now is that while she has off on Monday nights while she is still in Billy Elliot, she will have ALL of her nights off when she goes to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Now, of course, I love my wife and enjoy every minute I get to spend with her, but as she doesn't enjoy the TV as much as I do, well, I might be doing a lot of catching up on Saturday afternoons.

That said, I might try to pick up The Big Bang Theory. I keep hearing how amazing it is, but I've never seen it. I may have to pick up the DVDs so I can catch up. As far as the time conflicts above that my DVR can't handle (can only tape two different programs at once, and you have to watch one if you have the TV on), on Mondays I'm going to tape/watch House, and tape How I Met Your Mother, then catch Heroes on later. CBS holds their episodes a week before releasing them online, so not taping HIMYM is out of the question. Heroes will be up immediately the next day on Hulu. For Thursdays, I'm planning to tape/watch Flash Forward (promising to be the breakout show of the fall) and tape Survivor (my wife actually looooooves this show and we have gatherings with friends to watch it). SNL and Parks & Recreation will get the Hulu treatment too. I'm not sure how NBC will be shifting its Thursday night comedies in a couple weeks when SNL is over and 30 Rock returns, so this may change. Besides these situations, I think I'm clear as the cable shows are always rerun later at night so I can tape those out of conflict with the network programming.

So, there you have it. I will be posting about these shows as they unfold, probably leaning towards Flash Forward (as it is sure to be full of Lost-ian mysteries), The Office and probably Survivor. A number of these have already started (NBC Thursday comedies except 30 Rock, Survivor, Entourage, Biggest Loser, So You...Dance, Glee) so get online and catch up! Please drop comments into the post about what you are watching and what you'd like to talk about. It's sure to be a great season.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shameless Spousal Promotion

Hello dear readers. Those of you who know me know my wife. Kara. For those who don't know her, she is a ballerina, currently performing in Billy Elliot on Broadway (although she'll be leaving soon to be in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, before returning to The Phantom of the Opera). Besides her incredible skill as a ballerina, Kara is also an exceptional baker. In fact, she is known as The Dancing Baker.

Well, she has started a new endeavor -- The Dancing Baker Project. Yes, yes, Kara was inspired by a certain Meryl Streep movie to start a blog dedicated to (what else?) baking. Here's the conceit: everyone has their own opinion as to what the best chocolate chip cookie, cupcake, brownie, etc. is. Kara is going to gather a multitude of recipes for a given treat (let's say chocolate chip cookies). She will then follow each recipe to the letter (including her own), and have a group of Taste Testers grade the results on a numerical scale. The highest scored recipe will be the "best" chocolate chip cookie.

Along the way, Kara will detail the process of finding the "best." She'll discuss the ingredients used, the equipment employed, the cost to produce, etc. Choice comments from the Testers (a la Zagat's) will be included as well. Personally, I think it's a great idea for a blog. If anything, it has a hell of a lot more direction than this blog! And it's sure to actually be updated on a regular basis!

So, please, check out the Dancing Baker Project, whether or not you have any interest in such things culinary. You never know, you may learn something.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So, as you can see, I've changed the look of the blog a little, making the posts wider on the page, and shorter in length. I would greatly appreciate thoughts on the new look. I made the changes because a lot of my posts are long and constantly scrolling was a pain. I tried to eliminate some of that by stretching the page. Does this look too cluttered though? Any opinions would be great. Please drop a comment, about the new stretched look, the colors, or whatever, below.


Watch Me on Millionaire

So, I taped my episode of Millionaire today. As I mentioned the other day, I cannot reveal how I did, but I would like to encourage you to tune in on Monday October 19th to catch me going for a million bucks. Check where the show airs in your area here. In case anyone is confused which person I am, I'm the guy.

I can say that it was a blast being on the show. The production staff (whaddup Kevin! Happy Jail!!) is universally fantastic, and makes you feel completely relaxed and eager to play. Also, Meredith is super sweet and immediately puts you at ease (well, at least she did for me). Once the show airs, I will give a full rundown of my time there. Until then, please tune in on the 19th!

P.S. A number of people there (contestants, production) told me that I should be on TV in a more permanent role. If there is anyone out there who is actually reading this, and watches the show and agrees, please feel free to contact me. That is something that I am greatly interested in.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gratification Delayed

If you read below, I was supposed to tape an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire yesterday, the 11th. I can't get too in depth into my experience there due to contractual reasons, but I can say that they bring in more contestants than they expect to use in a given tape day (five episodes are taped each Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). I was not used on Friday, so I return on Wednesday the 16th, and I will tape that day.

I won't be able to post how I did in the slightest way, but I will be able to say when the episode is supposed to air, with a full debrief on the experience once it does. Thanks for your support and well wishes (unless you're hoping that I lose and totally embarrass myself, then forget you!).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yes, That's My Final Answer

So, tomorrow (September 11th, of all days), I will be filming an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. As some of you may know, I have been on the syndicated version of The Weakest Link and Jeopardy! (the exclamation point is part of the title. I'm not just overly-exuberant today). I have always loved trivia games (Trivial Pursuit chief among them) because I have always had tons of useless crap in my head. I always wanted to be on Jeopardy, to the point that I actually had an electronic scorekeeper that I used nightly. I never thought I would get on Jeopardy, or anything else, though. Then, on September 9th, 2001, oddly, Weakest Link auditions were being held in NYC, and my boss at the time, who was obsessed with the show, wanted to audition, but only would if I went with him. So, I did.

These game shows audition like this: you take a 50-question test, either multiple choice (Millionaire) or just fill in the blank (Jeopardy and Weakest Link). There is a minimum number correct that you must achieve to qualify for the next round of the audition. For Jeopardy and Millionaire, I figure it was about 40 out of 50 as only 13 of the 75 people who took the Jeopardy test passed and about the same for Millionaire. For WL, half the people passed, so it must have been about 25-30 out of 50. Jeopardy had the added wrinkle that as you filled in the answer blanks, you couldn't erase or cross out your answer. Anyway, after they clear out all the people who didn't pass the test, for Jeopardy and WL, the remaining auditionees play a mock version of the game. This is solely to see your personality and whether you would be good on TV. Essentially, if you are auditioning, you want to stand out, but not in a ridiculous way. Here is what I did for WL:

There was a guy, let's call him Phil (because I don't remember his name). He was a HUGE Jets fan. September 9th, 2001 was the opening day for that year's football season. The entire time we were all together in the room, both pre- and post-test, he complained that he really wanted to hurry the process up, because he wanted to get home for the Jets game. Well, during my turn at the mock game, Phil was one of my fellow "contestants." If you are unfamiliar with WL, after a round of questions that the group answers in turn, each contestant votes off another contestant. When you reveal your vote, you give a reason why you're voting for that person. Well, I voted for Phil and gave the reason: "Phil. Because he really wants to get home to watch the Jets game, and I think we should oblige." This sent the room, including the contestant coordinators, into hysterics as everyone was annoyed with this guy. I stood out, but for something funny, improvised and not something idiotic. Essentially, I was good TV.

Anyway, after the mock game, audtionees are interviewed by production staff to get their life-story (Millionaire goes straight to this, without a mock game). This is another attempt to make sure you're not a kook. Pass this, and you are told you are in the "Contestant Pool." Being in the Pool means there is no guarantee you will be invited to be on the show, but more likely than not, you will, eventually. For WL, I was called within a couple weeks and flew out a couple weeks later. For Jeopardy, I didn't hear anything for 18 months! In theory, I should have been dismissed from the Pool after a year, but because of the Ken Jennings phenomenon and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions they held, they didn't use the normal number of contestants they usually do in a season, so they advanced me to the next season's pool. For Millionaire, I got called two years after my most recent audition. I had auditioned before, and was put in the pool, and was called to be on, but it was literally two hours after I booked my ticket to Jeopardy. It was my childhood dream to be on Jeopardy, so I chose that, and was placed back in the Millionaire Pool. Having not heard from them again, I reauditioned and was told I was still in the Pool. Two years after that, I was called last month.

OK, back to my appearance on WL, in short, I was done in by my own lips. As WL is played in timed rounds, speed is a virtue. I tried to quickly say the name "Cameron Diaz" (Who voiced Princess Fiona in Shrek?) to beat the clock, but it came out "Carmenen Diaz." Since we had to stop the whole game to check the tape to see if I got it right (consecutive correct answers build up the money won in the round), the spotlight was white hot on me. I was ruled incorrect, and was voted out. Lame, as I knew the answer, but at least the winner took everyone out for steak dinner that night.

Jeopardy was fantastic, insofar as it was always my dream to be on the show. Jeopardy tapes five shows a day, so 11 people are brought in to be on those five shows (three contestants per episode, with usually one player returning each ep as Champion). Ten people are used throughout the day, with the 11th person there for emergencies and returning the next taping date if not used. The order of players is chosen at random (literally names in a hat). Prior to this though, after everyone is in make-up and briefed by the contestant coordinators, you actually go on stage and play a mock version of the game so you become comfortable under the lights, the distance of the game board, and, most importantly, the buzzer. When Alex finishes reading a question, a series of lights around the game board illuminated a beat after the question is completed. You can't see this at home on TV, but it is very clear to the contestants. If you buzz too early, you are locked out for a quarter of a second. That seems like nothing, but it is crucially important. Further, if Contestants 1 and 2 buzz at the same time, they lock each other out, and Contestant 3 is a tad slower, Contestant 3 is recognized by Alex! This was my downfall. There were a number of times that I knew the answer, but just got beat out on the buzzer. Them's the breaks. I came in third place, but finished with $11,601 (which would have won any other episode that week), and got two Daily Doubles and the Final Jeopardy correct. Listen, just being in Final Jeopardy and not finishing Double Jeopardy in the red (if you finish the second round with negative dollars, you don't get to play in Final Jeopardy) was, seriously, my only real goal. All in all, a very rewarding experience.

Now, tomorrow, I will be taping Millionaire. I'm relatively calm at the moment, and have been doing a little bit of studying (not that you can really study for 15 questions covering all the world), mostly Presidents, composers and authors. I'm hoping I go relatively early; if I sit around all day thinking about how I might have a brain fart, I'll probably pull my hair out before I get on the show. I have a partial strategy: use the Ask the Audience lifeline by $25,000 (the chance a clear majority of the audience knows the very hard top five questions is highly unlikely), don't leave any lifelines on the table, and TAKE MY TIME. Yes, there is a time-limit for each question, but I need to make sure I don't spit out something fast and wrong. The game is weird: sometimes I know the answers without blinking straight through $250,000; sometimes, I get stumped at $16,000. Let's hope I get questions I know.

OK, good return to the blog. Long post. Feel free to comment and ask me more about my game show appearances and audition tips. I'll post here tomorrow about how I did and when you can catch the episode on TV. Thanks for reading, and hopefully we'll chat some more soon.

There Are No Excuses

Again, I have betrayed myself, this blog and you readers (are there any of you out there?) by not posting anything all summer. For this, I again, apologize. It's been a relatively hectic summer. I have actually been busy at my (temporary) job, my wife and I went to Disney World (awesome, as always!), attended a bachelor party in New Orleans, then my wife's grandfather passed away, so a trip across the country was in order. All the while I have been trying to look for permanent work, enjoy a little bit of the summer (no golf at all, which is sacrilege), and am now prepping for the soccer season. Of course, this whole time I've also been watching True Blood, Mad Men, Entourage, Big Brother, Top Chef, Project Runway, play Ghostbusters and Rock Band Beatles, and watch the Mets spiral into the lower depths of Hell. In essence, it has been a busy summer, and has left me unable to sit and think about interesting blog posts. I have one more big event coming up tomorrow (more on that in a second), so after that is over, I will be jumping back on the blog horse. Thank you as always for your patience. Here's hoping for a productive fall.