» Posts in Television
September 11, 2011
For the last three months on Twitter I’ve been counting down to the release of The Only Ones by listing 99 novels, movies, songs, people, places and miscellany that have inspired the book. It has been a way to honor influences and start conversations, but mostly it has been a way for me to figure out where all of this came from. These aren’t necessarily my favorite works of art (some are), but they’re the ones that gave the story its shape. So, without further ado:
December 15, 2010
If you’re coming here for my top 10 movies of the year or my 50 favorite disco singles, I’m afraid I’m aiming to disappoint. Those lists are fun and everything, but I really can’t find it in myself to declare Furry Vengence the 9th finest cinematic experience of 2010, even though after doing all the calculations and checking the denominators and all that jazz, it appears to be true. Instead, I leave you with a miscellany of highlights from this “year we made contact.”
MY FAVORITE QUOTE: While sharing a cab one morning with a woman she didn’t know (you’d have to live in Hoboken, NJ to understand that’s just how things usually work out), my wife heard the quote of the year. It doesn’t really stand on its own like some Oscar Wilde quip, but there’s a certain magic to it. Looking out of the window of the cab, the woman sighed, motioned to a city worker who was emptying a trash can, and said, “That guy must have such an easy life.” Now there’s a chance that this woman had some insider information about the fellow, like she knew he’d recently hit the Powerball or scored the role of the villain in the The Dark Knight Rises or some such, but my wife didn’t catch that vibe. No, this woman had more of a “poor me, sitting in a cab, trying not to be late for a morning webinar with Tony from PR to discuss the importance of Twitter in the pet insurance industry, while this simpleton empties trash cans and whistles his day away before returning to his filthy hovel for a can of Spam and a hearty round of laughs compliments of America’s Funniest Home Videos,” sort of stink about her. Grass is always greener, indeed. I don’t know who this woman was, but my hat goes off to her and her wholly insular view of the world. My second favorite quote comes from a stranger who randomly asked me and friend the following: “Hey, you guys happen to be T-shirt enthusiasts?” Our response: “We wear T-shirts.” His follow-up: “Well, I’m a T-shirt enthusiast.” End of conversation.
THE HARSHEST CELEBRITY BRUSH-OFF: Celebrities don’t care much for me. I present, as proof, my following dust-ups with some high wattage stars. The comedian Dave Attell once blew me off when I approached him in a falafel restaurant and politely gave him unsolicited advice on how to make his TV show infinitely better. Bobcat Goldthwait, the MVP of many a Police Academy film, gave me the stink-eye when I nearly ran my shopping cart into his one snowy Christmas Eve in an empty suburban grocery store. And now, just a few days ago, I was rebuffed by a certain actor who was standing at a bar after a concert, patiently waiting for the barkeep to tender him a drink. He plays an iconic television character, so I tried to be smooth in my attempt to chat him up. “Let us get you a drink ____” I told him, using his actual first name, rather than his character’s name, which I’m sure he hears more often than not. He glanced at me and my wife, pivoted around on his heel, and walked away without saying a word. I keep his identity a secret for the purposes of guessing games and anonymity, because I assume he was just shy and it wasn’t because I reeked of, I don’t know, seaweed and cheese or anything.
THE FINEST STRETCH OF ROADKILL When traveling through New Zealand a few years back, my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I played a game of our own creation called Stoat/Possum. The country is just lousy with stoats (a relative of the weasel) and possums (not this kind, but this kind) and they make up the majority of the roadkill (aside from the hobbits). So when you’re driving along and see a lump of fur on the pavement, the fun thing to do is to yell out either “STOAT!” or “POSSUM!” in a booming Orson Welles voice. No need to keep score. It’s simply good times for the whole family. Driving to see relatives this year, I came across a fair bit of roadkill. The standard raccoons and deer, the occasional skunk or groundhog. A mattress. But on one trip, I scored an amazing quadrella. I’ll break it down for you in order of impressiveness. #1. A coyote, which isn’t all that rare. #2. A fox. That’s right, the proverbial sly fox. Sure, you don’t write home about a fox being roadkill, but then, what sicko writes home about any roadkill? Take it from me. It’s a bit rare. #3. A porcupine. Now you’re getting interested. You’re imagining what it might be like to roll into a Firestone Auto Center with a porcupine sticking out of your rear tire. This is becoming quite an impressive checklist. Add to that: #4. A bear. That’s right. A big old black bear. I don’t believe I’d ever seen a bear as roadkill before that day, and certainly not on the same stretch of road as a coyote, a fox, and a porcupine. I was lucky indeed. It was like some A.A. Milne novel had gotten way out of hand, and I was there for the glorious and gory catharsis.
THE MOST POPULAR PAGE ON MY WEBSITE: By far, it’s a little blog entry I did titled “Five Animals that are Uglier than Zac Efron.” It probably accounts for 90% of this site’s search engine traffic and I’m sure it leaves plenty of girls shaking their fists in anger. Even a few have left comments, including my favorite: “he is hotter than everyone who posted this website.” Everyone who posted this website is just me, Lauren, and I resent what you’ve said. After all, have you even seen me in a pink bunny suit? I’m not sure what Efron has done in the last year other than comb his hair a lot, but his fanbase is going strong, and according to my site stats, they’re entering things like, “animals, not zac efron,” “zac efron is pregnet” and “zac efron clever?” into Google, then stopping in here for a visit. Jeff Kay, who runs the fantastic West Virginia Surf Report linked to the Efron piece and brought in boatloads of traffic as well. In the spirit of the season, I feel I should return the favor. His site is a daily read for me, and should be for you. My favorite of his writings might not be his most celebrated, but heck, it gets me every time, and it’s about something as universal as Scandinavian healthcare. It’s an old gem titled “Sleep is Creepy.” Read it, and rest easy tonight, folks.
May 25, 2010
I’ve been poking my head around the web to see what people thought of the Lost finale. There’s a fair amount of disappointment, but just as many people who thought it was beautiful and touching. There’s also a ton of confusion, and I might as well start by stating the obvious. The island was real. They did not die during the plane crash. They all lived and died on their own timelines and reunited in the afterlife. There is no doubt about this.
I didn’t adore the finale initially, but now that I’ve let it sink in, I’m appreciating it more and more and discovering that the “answers” so many people were looking for have been there all along. They’re all tied to the afterlife concept.
The Island was the gateway to the afterlife. The afterlife needed to be protected, because it contained the dreams and desires of every man and woman. And it was too powerful for the living (and magnetic compasses) to handle. However, it was leaking from the island. Some were trying to escape from it. Some were trying to harness its magic. It healed, but also corrupted. Time travel and ghosts and monsters and miscarriages and Star Wars references and all other sorts of nonsense were born from it. Yet only in death, and only if you put the love of others before the love of yourself, were you granted entrance to it. And that’s how the show ended.
Hokey? A bit. But the theme of the show was always about being lost. And every character, from Jack and Kate to Ben and Locke to Jacob and his Mother, was lost. Physically and spiritually. The viewer was lost as well. Sifting through the mysteries and trying to find a key to solve it all. Turns out, by leaving so many mysteries unanswered, the show is providing the template for an afterlife. And now that Lost has died, the key is to piece together that afterlife in any way the viewer wishes. Why were Walt and Aaron special? Who built the statue? Who was shot in the out-riggers? You decide. It’s the only way the narrative can live on. The only way the light can be protected. The only way the blog posts and term papers and theses can keep coming.
I, for one, am grateful for that, but I won’t be writing about Lost anymore, cause I’m not sure you all care. But in order for you to care about future posts of mine, I give you the following order. Join Netflix. Watch Breaking Bad. Thank me.
May 17, 2010
The latest season of Lost premiered on February 2nd, aka Groundhog Day. It was a joke, a cheeky clue for the audience. Because they introduced a major plot device in the premiere. It’s come to be known as the “flash-sideways” narrative and it’s essentially a big “what-if.” What if the characters had a chance to do it all over again? What if the circumstances were different – no island, no smoke monster, no Geronimo Jackson spinning on the turntable? What would have happened to these poorly reared, trigger-happy pawns of science and faith? The answer seems to be that their pesky destinies would have eventually tracked them down anyway. In a week, the series will come to a close, and hopefully we’ll have a better idea about what exactly is at play. But if Lost peddles anything, it peddles ambiguity. And the faithful aren’t shy about hitting the bulletin boards to shout their opinions and theories. The internet might bust a spring or two in the hours after the finale.
I can say with a certain amount of confidence that most people will not be discussing Groundhog Day. The wink-wink-nudge-nudge premier date will be just another piece of Lost trivia, no more significant than the Hurley Bird. The date was a reference to the movie, of course, and on the surface it doesn’t seem to be much more than that. We’ve all seen the movie. A cynical weatherman played by Bill Murray lives the same day over again and again, until he finally gets it right and becomes a man who can love and play the piano.
I remember when Groundhog Day came out. It was a hit, though it barely beat forgettable fare like Dave and Cool Runnings at the box office. Critics thought it was enjoyable and clever, though they hardly thought it was earth-shattering. A better than average comedy – not much more. Over 15 years later, Groundhog Day has become not just a favorite of the revisionist cineast, but a genuine classic. The Writer’s Guild considers it the 27th greatest screenplay ever written. The New York Times even put it in a list of the Ten Best American Movies. Of the 1990s? No. Of all time! Say what you will about the existential implications of the film, about searching for meaning in our post-9/11 world. It makes for a good term paper, but I don’t think that’s the reason the film has gained such a following of late. The reason is TBS.
If you turned to the cable station TBS in the late 90′s and early 00′s, it’s likely you would have seen Groundhog Day on more than a few occasions. TBS syndicated it and played the grooves off the thing. Over time, the film worked its way into the DNA of many a channel surfer. The more familiar you became with it, the more you enjoyed it, because it was offering you the experience of its main character. You were living the film over again and again. You began to anticipate plot points (Ned Ryerson punch in 3, 2…), and the exact words and inflections of the dialogue (“Too early for flapjacks?” ”I’m a god. I’m not the God.” etc.). In other words, you learned to be one step ahead of it.
Repetition and familiarity have served Groundhog Day better than just about any film in history. It is its essence. Because of the internet and DVRs, people don’t channel surf anymore. So it’s unlikely that any other film will be able to take such a covert route to classic status. Word of mouth will create the cult followings, and blockbusters like Avatar and The Dark Knight will be anointed masterpieces as soon as the Thursday night sneak-preview receipts come in. Another Groundhog Day will probably be lost in the mix.
On the flip side, the legacy of television shows have benefited greatly from technology. With DVRs and Hulu and Netflix and so on, viewers can watch a television show at their leisure. Breaking Bad in a weekend? It’s doable (and recommended!). They can also study a television show in depth and in slow motion and in freeze-frame and every which way they want. No show has been studied more closely than Lost. Check the comment sections at Entertainment Weekly. Better yet, look at Lostpedia. The detail would make a Trekkie (sorry, a Trekker) faint. I’m a fan but holy smokes, guys! Turn off the TV and computer screens every once in a while. Shoot some hoops. Drink a beer. Dance with a girl.
The creators of Lost undoubtedly read these sites. They must if they want to keep one step ahead of their fans. And each week they see how certain ideas fly and if something’s not in the can, they rethink their plan. They adjust. They try again. People complain that they seem to be making it up as they go along, but how could they not? They can’t guarantee whether one actor will stick around for the entire run, or if a character will become a pariah on the level of Jar Jar Binks. For the last six seasons of Lost, the creators have rolled with the punches, and learned, and gone down different paths to get to the end. And now the end is finally here.
It reminds me of that last day in Groundhog Day. Bill Murray’s weatherman takes his well-earned wisdom and he puts it to the best possible use. He lives his life the way it should be lived – naturally, honestly. The Lost finale must do the same. Not everyone is going to love it, but if the creators want to escape from the perpetual “what if’s” that plague shows like Seinfeld and Battlestar Galactica, then they can’t go with gimmick or gotcha. It must be natural, honest and earned. The pressure is huge, but the payoff…well, let’s hope “it’s a doozy.”
March 26, 2010
They will refer to this post in court. Millions of dollars will be at stake. The very foundations of copyright law will be in question. Sonia Sotamayor will chime in. Sean Hannity will call someone a communist. The blogosphere will be ablaze.
Yes, for today I reveal an idea for a television program so revolutionary that someone will not only be tempted to steal it, they will be required to. The world must see this show.
People love (or watch a lot of, in any case) reality television. But it’s not the Real Housewives that make the prime time network lineups. It’s the competitions, the gussied up game shows. We want singing, dancing, feats of strength and knowledge and endurance. Why can’t one show offer all these things?
Round I – Two contestants. One chooses from a variety of categories: History, Art, Science, the standard Trivial Pursuit fare. The other chooses from a menu of food items: hot dogs, chicken wings, blueberry pies, all the staples of the competitive eating circuit. Both contestants must answer a barrage of questions from the chosen category. When they get a question right, they must eat a piece of the chosen food item within a set time period. When they get a question wrong or fail to finish the food in the allotted time, the other contestant takes over. Back and forth, back and forth they go, answering and eating, answering and eating. Vomiting, of course, means disqualification. At the end of ten minutes, whoever has answered and eaten the most moves on. Then the process is repeated with two other pairs of contestants.
Round II – Three contestants remain, and they’re all stuffed to the gills. Now is our moment for the warbling and wobbling. The host of the show, a suited-up Malcolm Jamal Warner, will introduce the finalists via some touching human interest stories. Then they will each perform a fully choreographed song and dance routine before a live audience and a panel of judges. The judges (Mario Batali, Pepa from Salt n’ Pepa, and Anna Wintour) will weigh in. The public will vote. A winner will be crowned. Again, vomiting means disqualification.
There are a lot of ways I might have gone with this. Belly Busters. Food for Thought. The Biggest Dancer. Eh. No, there’s really only one thing this can be called. The greatest television program of our era must be known as: Go With Your Gut!
So there it is. Make it so, TV executives. And when some Joey Chestnut-bellied, Ken Jennings-minded, Carrie Underwood-singing dynamo shows up on the cover of Time as the Person of Millenium, call my lawyers. Because it all started here.