Archive for January, 2011

They’re Baaaack!

Friday, January 21st, 2011

It’s been a long and agonizing winter break, but TV is officially back.  We waited and waited and finally NBC brought back their Thursday night lineup.  Parks and Recreation has been gone forever because of Amy Poehler’s pregnancy but now we’ve got it and we should all be glad we do.  So, with Chuck on Monday night and Thursdays the way they should be, things are back to normal.

Monday is Chuck and Thursday looks like this: Community, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock.  What?  Oh, that’s not the complete lineup?  Are you sure.  I think it is.  Yeah, I just checked and that’s the complete…wait a second.  You don’t count Perfect Couples and Outsourced do you?  You do?  Ha, no way.  Really?  You know that those aren’t complete shows, right?  Each episode is only 30 seconds long.  Perfect Couples is the thirty second sitcom that’s stuck on my DVR at the end of Community and Outsourced is the thirty seconds at the end of my 30 Rock.  Those seconds can tell you a lot and I’ll break down those bits, too.  So, here’s how TV looks these days:

Perfect Couples: A guy that was good in an episode of Pushing Daisies has a stilted and annoying conversation with his wife who is laying really strangely in bed through their whole talk, then we see some uncharismatic no one who I can barely remember and finally a shouting match between some bearded annoyance that is the worst person, the worst person, I have seen on TV in years, shouting at his unattractive wife for taking up too much of the bed.  It’s seriously like the writers Googled “married couples cliched complaints” and picked one at random to be the springboard of their show.  I do not understand it and I wasn’t about to stick around to try.

The Office:  Doesn’t that name look good in print.  That is a good looking name for a show and I’m glad it starting treating itself that way after many mistakes.  Michael Scott finally pulled back and showed that he’s capable of acting human again and that made him totally likable.  Michael films a video to talk himself up or down depending on some news he’s expecting and when the news comes in the scene that follows is the best scene in The Office since Jim and Pam’s wedding.  It was so good.

Parks and Recreation: This is the one.  It was the best show on Thursday all of last year and it came back right in stride this time around.  It was worth the long wait.  The only thing I don’t understand is a real small thing, but really annoying, too.  Just to set up my point, this show is filmed in a mockumentary style just like The Office.  That means that it’s supposed to seem like a real-life documentary, just funny.  Having said that, they made a change in scenery that is really hard to understand.  Parks and Recreation centers around the Parks Department of Pawnee, IN.  The characters often eat lunch in a little courtyard of their building, it’s really nice to see as a viewer.  There are live green plants and sunlight and wind and air and good dialogue.  But somehow while they were away, they took away this picturesque courtyard and changed it to take place in a soundstage that we’re supposed to believe is still the same courtyard.  It looked totally believeable, too…if this was Sesame Street!  What were they thinking?  Did they think we wouldn’t notice?  Cutting corners is one thing, but how could they film a documentary style show on a soundstage?  That’s it.  Great writing, great acting, it’s the best show on Thursday night.

30 Rock:  Well, it’s still 30 Rock.  Not 30 Rock from Season 1 or Season 2, but it’s definitely one of the better shows on TV.  Outsourced doesn’t even deserve to have it’s name written so that will be the last time for a while.  I don’t watch it.  I don’t know why anyone would.

Now for Chuck:  This show is great, but the last minute of this past weeks’ episode is as infuriating as anything I’ve seen on TV ever.  Ever.  Ever!  You can’t stretch a rubberband forever, eventually it will break.  My enjoyment of this show was almost totally shredded by the casual and sudden and obtuse manner in which the writers of Chuck expected us to swallow a HUGE plot change without any setup as if we’re just going to take this and roll onwards.  Don’t tease me, you know?  Everyone has a breaking point, so how about Chuck gives me a break and just gives me what I want.  If you set my expectations don’t be suprised that I’m expecting something to happen.  Man.  The one thing that saved me from boiling over completely was the preview for next week’s episode that gave me some hope that this ridiculous delay tactic will be settled sooner than it seems.

All in all, I’m glad my DVR is filling up again.  Oh, and Go Bears!

Top Chef All Stars

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

“All-Star” reality show seasons are never going to have the perfect cast because the producers of the show pick castmembers as much for the drama they provide as for the talent they bring to the table.  It blows our minds when they bring nobodies from a season full of somebodies.  That’s the worst.  Top Chef All Stars has done a good job of casting overall, but there are definitely a few duds in the mix (Stephen Asprinio from Season 1, see below).  I’m a few episodes behind, so I’m not going to go all out here, I’m really just making some general statements about All Star shows in general, but I will say that Top Chef is a great show, one of the better on TV and definitely near the top of all Reality Television.  Yes, it’s better TV than Jersey Shore.  Since, I’m not too far into it, I’ll just make one observation that I came away with from a DVR’d mini-marathan I had with my friends last night and come back to the show when I catch up.  And here it is:

Doesn’t this guy look a lot like Lois?

Can’t Miss

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Everybody has some can’t miss artists.  People that when they come out with a new album, new book, or new movie, you will be there to experience it as soon as you can.  Here are just a few of mine:

Leonardo DiCaprio – Movies

This is the one guy in Hollywood that hasn’t disappointed in a long time.  Since DiCaprio did Catch Me If You Can he’s been great in everything and everything he’s done has been good.  He’s pretty choosy about his movies which makes it easier, it’s not like he’s pulling a Nicholas Cage and showing up every three months at the bottom of the box office with new hair.  Now this is my one category that has seen the most upheaval in can’t miss status.  First it was Tom Hanks and then I don’t see Tom Hanks anywhere (I only heard him as Woody in Toy Story 3) and at one point it was Matt Damon and Brad Pitt.  I will probably see those guys in just about anything, but I’m not giving them the status, DiCaprio has the status and I don’t think he’s going to be losing it any time soon.  According to IMDB he’s going to be in J. Edgar and Devil in the White City, based off the great book.  Well done, great choices.

David Gray – Music

If you know David Gray at all, most likely it’s because of his 1998 album White Ladder and the hit songs Babylon, Please Forgive Me, This Year’s Love, or Sail Away.  He’s my favorite musician and I’ll see him any time he comes to Chicago and I’ve bought every album and will buy every future release as well.  His sound has become richer over the years and he is always trying to learn something new in his sound but always he has been a lyrical poet as well.  If you think you know David Gray or you know you don’t know him, the absolute best way to experience this artist is to see him live.  He’s on tour again this February and March.  Hint, hint.

Bill Bryson – Books

When I was in seventh grade I got it into my head to find the biggest books in my school library and just start reading.  I’m talking about novels, too, I’m not talking about the Reference Section here.  The first huge book I picked up was The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks (fantasy and as it turns out a total ripoff of The Lord of the Rings, but how could I know that, I wouldn’t read the Rings trilogy for another seven years), then Shogun by James Clavell and Roots by Alex Haley.  I was huge into reading novels, I started reading espionage novels for a long stretch and eventually, I got to the point where I will read anything.  Yesterday I picked up the new book by Bill Bryson titled At Home.  I can tell already that this is going to be a great book.  In At Home, Bryson literally finds objects around his house an delves into the history of these things that we completely take for granted.  In a lesser writer the information Bryson conveys in his non-fiction books would be overwhelming.  If these writers could ever sift through the words in the first place, readers would be completely lost and overwhelmed or bored out of their minds, but Bill Bryson is a brilliant organizer and he enlightens his readers from truly unlikely subjects.  Most of the books Bryson used to write were travel books, through Europe or Australia, North America and they make for the best audio books out there (make sure to get the ones read by the author otherwise I will not endorse them).  I can’t miss Bill Bryson and I’ll keep filling my mind and my book shelves with his work as long as he keeps writing.

Modern Family – TV

If you’re not watching Modern Family do not start now.  We’re in the middle of the second season and there’s nothing I disapprove of more than when people think to themselves, “Well, a show is a show.  It’s not a big deal if I don’t know who any of these characters are or how the previous story lines may affect tonight’s episode.  I’ll just start watching right now.”  It’s about the journey as much as the destination so please rent or buy, you won’t regret it, season one of Modern Family and catch up.  This is the best show on TV right now, for sure the best sitcom.  With a great mix of characters, clever dialogue that plays to the height of the show’s intellect this show should go on forever.  Or until the kids are all grown up and things get awkward.

So, if I’m missing something, tell me.  If you’re missing these…boy…Get on it.

Patronage and the Future of Art

Friday, January 7th, 2011

At the start of a recent This American Life podcast, host Ira Glass reached out to the listeners to ask for donations.  His show is broadcast on Public Radio and donations are important, not so much for this money-maker, but to many other public broadcasting productions.  Ira asks for money in a classy way and because it’s a well-deserving show it’s an easy pitch.  This idea of asking for donations does lead to a thought about where art and the money to fund it may be heading.

With the dissemination of information through the Internet becoming more possible and more persistent every year (content piracy) it’s going to be hard for artists to charge for content that users can get for free from any bit torrent website.  If people can’t help themselves from stealing from their favorite artists, their favorite artists are going to have to charge them up front.  If you want the next U2 album, you’re going to have to write Bono and the boys a check BEFORE they go into the studio, not after.  In essence, Patronage.  This is not a new concept.

In the Renaissance, Michelangelo was paid well for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but he was paid up front and throughout the process.  His patrons didn’t wait to see what Michelangelo produced out of his own expenses to debate about whether the finished work was worth buying.  They trusted the artist and paid for his services ahead of time.  This seems logical to me.

To make your name and have someone appreciate you in the first place, YouTube and a million other blogs or websites are great places to become known.  But then once you achieve a level of success, patrons could donate to have you produce even more work.  Look at any other non-commission job out there.  You go to an interview to prove yourself and if you are hired, the employer will commit to pay the employee before any work has actually been done.  In effect, we the people will employ our artists in the future.  If we want quality art, artists will want to get paid for it, and if it’s increasingly harder to earn money on work you’ve already produced, we will have to reward our true artists with commissioned works through Patronage.  Another benefit of this is that our attention and our money will  go from YouTube “productions” like Charley Bit My Finger, which is really cute, to true artists.

If we’re going to keep pirating, and I’m sure people will keep pirating, then be ready for the day when you’re going to have to start paying for artists instead of art.