Monthly archives: January 2007
One Chance for Borat
By nabbing an adapted screenplay nom, Sacha Baron Cohen and friends pulled one last reveal on the moviegoing public -- and once more, forced people to rethink their Oscar-night expectations.
Save the ... Save the World
Children of Men had a rip-roaring premise and fascinated as it unfolded. But by the end, it left me empty-handed. It's a good movie, but it didn't make me think about much beyond my own mortality - and any number of good movies (and some bad) do that.
There may be a warning sign in Children, or a sign to have faith, or both. But in its so-specific hypothetical, it answered all the questions of its universe, and left me with none for my own.
We need to be good people. We need to be better people. We need faith. We need kindness. When all else fails, we need to survive. It's worth remembering, but I knew all that already. Are there people who don't understand this that this film is meant for? Or is there more to it?
If the movie is just about the ride, then it's like The Departed. It's a good ride, but that's all. My favorite films fill me with pleasure or haunt me with pain or fear, or all of the above. To the extent that Children haunts me, it's the parts toward the beginning that do so.
Andy Bernard vs. Andy Millman. Discuss.
Bonus points for whoever can compare them to Andy Andy from Cheers. Or Andy Renko. Or Rinko Kikuchi.
I admit it - I got nothin' today.
I interviewed pleasant, down-to-earth executive producer Greg Daniels of The Office this week for Variety about how the online producer's cut of the show affects his approach to editing, and whether it poses any continuity problems for the series. Here's an excerpt:
"So Michael had a little chat with Corporate, and they decided to send me to management training. Anger-management training, technically, but still ... management material!"
Update: Jenna Fischer reports that Joss Whedon is directing a future Office episode.
Friday Night Lights Shine Bright
If ratings woes compel NBC to cancel Friday Night Lights before its sophomore season, it will be the most criminal cancellation of a series in its first season since Freaks and Geeks - and perhaps even more disdainful than the abrupt end to My So-Called Life.
Life was an outstanding series but one that depended principally on a lead actress, Claire Danes, who quickly had designs on a film career. The show also seemed to struggle to find places to take its characters toward the end of the season, though most of its fans had faith they would find a way through.
Friday, on the other hand, brings the same remarkable level of sophistication to its storytelling, but seems to be just getting started. And while it has a nominal lead in Kyle Chandler, it is much more of a true ensemble.
At the heart of its ratings dilemma is that many viewers aren't inclined to give the show a chance, because they perceive it as a football show they won't be interested in, or they feel that the book or movie that it is descended from was enough for one lifetime. You could count me in column A when the series began. But the universally enthusiastic reactions from its few original fans convinced me to try it, and immediately I was sucked in.
Right away, I was drawn to the documentary-style look, which meets our contemporary expectations for verisimilitude without seeming at all affected. It just comes across as honest. But chief among the show's virtues are the stories that have no clear right or wrong to them - complicated problems that not only defy easy resolution but make you question your own beliefs.
Combine all that with convincing, unpretentious performances across-the-board, and you're left with a show that demands watching. It has simply become the top one-hour drama on network television.
Though its new network marketing campaign appropriately emphasizes the sudden development of quality programs in its stable, NBC has not found a way to convince any kind of meaningful audience to give Friday a shot. My sense is that the first thing the Peacock should try is moving the show to a 10 p.m. slot. The fact is, Fridays has some storylines that are PG-13 in subject matter, and while the notion of 8 p.m. as a sex-free zone has long since been blown out of the water, I suspect viewers might be more in the mood for some of the Fridays subject matter after they've had a chance to settle in for the evening.
Beyond that, I'd love to see NBC make a bold stab at marketing the show directly to women I'm talking about fashion magazines, The Today Show, what have you. The show offers so many strong female characters and stories, if NBC can get the women of the show front and center, breaking through viewe resistance, the show's audience could double (which, admittedly, isn't saying much).
NBC has an interesting history with struggling but critically worthy shows. Most notably, they stayed with Hill Street Blues during a first season in which it would regularly check in at the bottom of the ratings, and was handsomely rewarded with TV's all-time greatest drama. Cheers and Seinfeld are other examples of patience validated. But the shoddy treatment of Freaks and Geeks, however ratings-challenged, testifies all too well to the network's fallibility. In a sense, it wouldn't have mattered if that show got a 0.2 rating sometimes you need to see beyond the immediate future and give a show more time. This isn't universal, but when something's different, it makes sense that people might not be ready to climb aboard.
But the clock is ticking on Friday now. And so for those who need a primer to feel comfortable tuning in, here's your Friday Night Lights starting lineup:
Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) - the coach who has to look out for himself, his team and his family and who has to navigate when those concerns collide with each other. In the role of his career, Chandler infuses Taylor's struggle with real grit.
Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) - the lone actress who made the journey from the film to the TV show, Britton is key to attracting that female audience. Her character is sexy and strong, a dreamer yet down-to-earth, a rock for her husband and yet given to flights of fancy. The writers have wonderfully integrated her desire to grow with her desire to serve the family, the school and the community she truly seems to love.
Jason Street (Scott Porter) - - the paralyzed quarterback who wrestles valiantly with his own self-image and self-worth. Neither all-saint nor all-sinner, the writers have made him intensely thoughtful at the same time they make him prone to knee-jerk reactions. His depth and search for insight truly flowered in this past week's episode.
Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) - the finest acting Minka in television history? Sublimely pretty, her character perhaps stands as the heir to the Winnie Cooper throne. It's rare to see such a portrayal of true love in a high-school character, and her recovery from her betrayal of that love (for Jason) has been carefully rendered.
Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) - the bookdumb running back who would be two-dimensional in most other shows. Here, we see the slow, patient buildup of self-awareness, along with the emotional pain he faces.
Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) - exhibit B for why people of both genders should watch this show. Tyra has packed a lot of living into her teenage years, but the end result has been a fervent belief in her own empowerment, as well as that of her down-but-not-quite-out mother (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson). Tyra is a role model that teenagers and adults should be able to relate to.
Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) - the Rickey Henderson of this bunch, embracing the third person as he celebrates his own accomplishments, yet faced with his own humbling recovery from being ex-posed as a steroid user. Rather depict his drug use in melodramatic fashion, Friday in typical fashion has just tried to get to some honest truths, examining things from all sides, condemning the sin while still trying to save the sinner.
Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) - the young, short quarterback forced to replace the fallen hero and dealing with a first love (Aimee Teegarden) who happens to be his protective coach's daughter, all while taking care of his mentally deteriorating grandmother with his father fighting in Iraq. This guy's plate is loaded, and sometimes, it drops. But Matt lives and learns, and most of all, endures with quiet dignity.
He's growing up. And maybe that's what the show boils down to it's about how all of us, no matter what our age or gender is, are still growing up. Friday Night Lights is on to something vital here, and if you're not watching, you should be.
Knights Can't Get Much Satisfaction
At Variety, I recapped the windmills that The Knights of Prosperity have been tilting at:
In order to fulfill their mission to rob Mick Jagger, the underdogs known as "The Knights of Prosperity" have needed to operate in stealth mode.By the way, I've cast off In Case of Emergency, the show that follows Knights on Wednesday nights.
Veronica Mars, I've had it with you and your ...
Happy Birthday, Roots and Ernie
Debra Kaufman has a lengthy history of the making of Roots at TV Week. The miniseries turns 30 this year. I saw every minute of it when it first aired.
And speaking of birthdays, Ernest Borgnine will be 90 on Wednesday, notes Bob Thomas of The Associated Press.
At a recent reunion of the cast of the 1960s TV comedy "McHale's Navy," the actors were appalled at the arrival of their former commandant. A driver helped Ernest Borgnine from the car. The once-exuberant Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale was stooped over and walked haltingly, muttering gibberish.
His former ensign, comedian Tim Conway, rushed forward and exclaimed, "Ernie, what has happened to you?"
Suddenly Borgnine straightened up, threw out his massive chest and bellowed, "What's going on here?" followed by his signature high-decible laugh.
Prankster Borgnine shows little evidence of aging as he approaches his 90th birthday on Wednesday. His round, pudgy face is little changed. His only concession to age was abandoning the bus he used to drive around the country, talking with local folks along the way.
"I gave up the bus when I was 88," he said. ...
Marty and From Here to Eternity, anyone?
Oscar Nominations Open Chat
Three of my six favorite films of 2006 were nominated for best picture Oscars today. Letters from Iwo Jima, The Queen and Little Miss Sunshine were in; The Last King of Scotland, Little Children and United 93 were out. I still mean to run my full ranking of my favorite 2006 movies between now and the February 25 ceremony.
Eight of my top 10 2006 acting performances received Oscar nominations.
Soaring in the Polls
If you learned that a candidate for mayor in your fair city could fly, would that affect your vote?
Shelly's Film at Sundance
Adrienne Shelly's Waitress premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, 2 1/2 months after Shelly's murder. Fox Searchlight purchased the distribution rights.
At the premiere, Shelly's widower announced a foundation in her name to support female independent filmmakers, reports The Associated Press.
Update: Carina Chocano of the Times has more:
Adrienne Shelly's debut film, "Waitress," premiered Sunday afternoon to some of the most enthusiastic response of the Sundance festival so far, and under the most poignant and surreal circumstances. Shelly, who wrote, directed and acted in the film, was killed in November at age 40, just after her film was selected for competition but just days before Sundance informed the lucky filmmakers.
Sundance festival Director Geoff Gilmore and "Waitress" producer Michael Roiff were left with the unenviable task of introducing the film, whose tone and spirit is so completely at odds with the circumstances of its debut that it made the situation especially hard to square. A tender, loopy, uplifting comedy about a young woman (Keri Russell) who finds herself transformed by a pregnancy she thought she didn't want, "Waitress" is the kind of film whose giddy festival debut usually proceeds uninterrupted through its theatrical release. (Fox Searchlight bought the film soon after the screening for a little less than $4 million.)
Russell plays Jenna, a waitress and "pie-making genius" who dreams of striking out on her own. The trouble is that she is stuck in a disastrous marriage to the controlling, jealous Earl (Jeremy Sisto), and when she becomes pregnant, she fears she'll never leave. Shelly herself was happily married and the mother of a very young daughter, and had grappled with issues of how to have a child and continue in a demanding creative career. The movie's tone is precariously but beautifully balanced, like a tightrope acrobat, between kitsch, melodrama and comedy, and Russell's performance is funny, sexy, vulnerable and sad, but mostly amazingly resolute in a funny, sexy, vulnerable and sad way. Most notable is its irreverent, hilarious approach to sex, which the movie recognizes as pure comical catharsis.
The story of Shelly's passing she was found hanging in the New York apartment she used as her office, and a construction worker in the building later confessed he'd staged the death to look like a suicide undoubtedly will cling to "Waitress" for a while, but the movie stands on its own merits and is possessed of a singular sensibility. There's a line in the film that sums it up: An old coot played by Andy Griffith, who counts Jenna as his only friend, confesses something and then says, "I submit to your feminine judgment." It's a wonderful line, but it also encapsulates the guiding ethos of "Waitress," a movie whose sensibility is triumphantly feminine in a way that is so rare in American movies as to be endangered.
More and more often, the actor obituaries I see are not of those performers from someone else's childhood, but my own. They are more than just names to me.
I don't know if members of any generations after X got to appreciate Ron Carey, but I just wanted to say that I did.
Carey, who also appeared in scores of commercials, took pride in being a supporting player and a character actor.
"Stars are stars," he told Newsday in 1989. "But without us, the show wouldn't go on."
From the Producer's Cut of last week's episode of The Office - Andy speaks.
So Michael had a little chat with Corporate, and they decided to send me to management training. Anger-management training, technically, but still ... management material.
The course is 10 weeks long, but Andy believes he'll be done in five after a series of nods and smiles.
Other highlights from the extended version of the episode included Kelly's shock that Oscar had not heard of Lance Bass. She urged him to get in touch with his culture.
Also, Creed believed Dwight was no longer at the company because he was decapitated.
Thursday Night Open Chat: January 18
Scrubs Now Likely To Return
Scrubs showrunner Bill Lawrence was told by Touchstone Television not to write a series finale, according to Broadcasting & Cable. NBC is now favored to bring the show back for a seventh season, but if it doesn't, ABC would likely step up because the show is now lucrative in syndication, and ABC (connected with Touchstone) could benefit even more.
No new word on Zach Braff's opinion on all this, though he was quoted in Parade over the weekend as being amenable.
This is a pretty big turnaround from what folks were saying a year ago.
Golden Globes Open Chat - West Coast Version
In case anyone is watching ... but no spoilers for those of us getting the delayed version, please!
Hugh Laurie on his "wonderful" House crew: "They smell of newly mown grass."
Sacha Baron Cohen's speech was hysterical.
At the End of the Tunnel
Among other revelations, the people behind Lost related on Sunday their plans to run all 22 episodes consecutively next season, and to determine in the near future a target for ending the series, reports Michael Schneider in Variety.
According to "Lost" exec producer Carlton Cuse, picking an end date for "Lost" would help the show's creative team to map the next several seasons as they plot the show's thick mythology.
"It's time for us to find an endpoint to the show," said Cuse, speaking Sunday at ABC's portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour. "It's a struggle for us, because we don't know if we have three years, four years or more to go. If we had an endpoint, then we could figure out where everything goes."
Such a move would placate fans of the show, who frequently gripe that they have no indication whether the show's ever-increasing mysteries will pay off. A set timetable would send a message to viewers that all of their questions will be answered eventually.
"Once we figure out when that will be, a lot of those concerns will go away," Cuse said. "The worst point is when a show ends and no one cares. We don't want that to happen. We want to make the shows good for as long as we do the show."
Cuse suggested the show could end once it hits 100 episodes in season five ("Lost" is currently shooting episode 62). But it's far more likely that "Lost" would continue at least through its seventh season, when the show's thesps' current contracts expire.
Among others, Brian Lowry of Variety made this suggestion late last year.
Thursday Night Open Chat: January 11
Enjoy. Remember: no spoilers from upcoming episodes. I'll check in at my usual time.
For pregame pondering: Which current Thursday shows do you like, which do you dislike, which do you ignore?
The Biggest Unsolved Mystery on House
Is Dr. Cuddy really lame?
The chief medical administrator of House not evil or malevolent, not by a long shot. But she's not a leader. She's not particularly clever or shrewd. As a medical practitioner, it's been made clear she is nothing special. Her triumphs are depicted as almost accidental ... surprising, one could say. And most of all, there's no consistency in her actions or responses - she comes across as a cipher, serving whatever purpose the writers need in a given scene. Nothing defines Cuddy except that she's a wall for House to bounce off of.
Spoilers from tonight's episode follow.
No Honors for 93?
The Oscar hopes of United 93 declined when the film's director, Paul Greengrass, did not recieve a Director's Guild nomination this week.
The movie has been considered to be a longshot for best picture honors, because while it has strong performances, it is not really an actors' showcase, and actors form the largest branch of the Academy. However, there has been a belief that Paul Greengrass would be in the running for a best director Oscar, for his achievement in making what many thought to be an unmakeable film. It's still possible, but the chances seem dimmer now.
Stuart Levine of Variety made the case for United 93 getting nominated in an e-mail to me.
All good movies should entertain us, transport us to a place that we've never been before. They may make us laugh or cry, but it's really the journey that matters.
United 93 took us to a place where everyone knew the ugly, terrifying final destination, yet the journey was mesmerizing. Director Paul Greengrass' genius is that from scene one he never let on that this day, this unforgettable Sept. 11, was going to be different.
Unlike World Trade Center, where Oliver Stone made deliberate attempts early on to tell you this day was unlike any other, Greengrass took us to a crowded Newark Airport, where people were fighting traffic and rushing to their flights. Or the aviation command control centers, where flight controllers were just doing their daily jobs until all hell broke loose. Ordinary stuff.
Knowing what we know now, no one would've wanted to be a passenger on that doomed flight, but Greengrass' glimpse into that living hell makes United 93 the most memorable film of the year and a viable contender for best picture.
Among DGA nominees, I would endorse Greengrass, Todd Field of Little Children and Kevin McDonald of The Last King of Scotland over Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose broad Babel shone in places but went out of control in others, the admirable Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of lovable Little Miss Sunshine, and yes, Martin Scorsese of The Departed. I don't see a need to take Bill Condon of Dreamgirls off the list, but he wouldn't make it before those choices that I mentioned - and I might make room for Clint Eastwood's work on Letters from Iwo Jima as well.
Winning in its Last At-Bat
Most of all, My Boys suffered from the voiceover disease that is running rampant throughout television today like some form of unchecked smallpox. It was particularly virulent in the cloying, cheesy way lead character P.J. (Jordana Spiro) force-fed baseball analogies to love and life every time she spoke offscreen. I don't know how any sentient human could not see how tired, unnecessary and undermining this was. Combined with the lip-service the show gave to her job as a Cubs beat writer - this woman appeared to work two hours a week and play poker 80 - you just had to hold your breath.
The show's quality and comedy were inconsistent - and for that matter, so was its tone. In one moment it was Friends, in the next it was Sex in the City, and then, in the middle of its short run, it offered its funniest moments with a Johnny Galecki guest turn that blended Kramer (Seinfeld) and Turtle (Entourage).
But the show did have its moments of genuine levity and cleverity, and one thing the show hung onto almost without fail was an endearing quality. These characters weren't cocky. They were sincere. They weren't brilliant. But they meant well.
And then, in the season finale (an odd thing to come up in a month's run, but that's what happens when you run episodes of a short-season order back-to-back on Tuesday nights), it all came together. It was a joyride. You could argue that it wasn't as good as the worst episode of The Office, but it really was a pleasure to watch.
I don't know that My Boys is completely aware of what worked and what didn't - I'll gladly send the producers money if they ditch the voiceover, for one thing, but something tells me that will be left on the table. Still, maybe this is a case of a show finding itself. It will be back for a second season, and I have to say, I'll be looking forward to it.
(Last month: The Juice Blog on My Boys.)
I think it's pretty clear that Jan has been seeing the Michael Scott of psychiatrists. It's long been clear that Jan is perversely attracted to Michael, but the idea that a medical professional is telling her to indulge her self-destructive tendencies ... that's the stuff that's so crazy that only a fellow Michael could have proposed it.
But the moment of The Office Thursday night was Pam breaking down in tears. She's in touch with her feelings, but what will it take for her to put herself on the line for Jim?
Thursday Night Open Chat
Talk about The Office or whatever you like. Just remember - no spoliers from future episodes, no mention of "scenes from next week."
I might check in after about 11 p.m.
Winnie and Hiro
My latest high school alumni news reports that Masi Oka of Heroes was a 1992 Harvard-Westlake graduate. Oka is a week older than Danica McKellar, who celebrated her 32nd birthday Wednesday, so I'm assuming they were classmates - though both would have to have been among the youngest in the class. Can anyone verify?
Zyzzyxx Trails, Alphabetically and Numerically
That's no typo. It's the lowest tally for any pic since modern record-keeping began in the 1980s.
The vigilante thriller starring Tom Sizemore, Katherine Heigl and Leo Grillo bore the ominous tagline "Dead Ahead." Like many on the dishonor roll of 60-plus titles cuming less than $1,000 over the past two decades, its stint in a single theater had more to do with contracts or four-wall rentals than mass audience desertion. Unheralded, it opened to $20 in February in Dallas, tacking on an additional 10-spot (repeat biz?) before slinking off to the video shelf.
Not to be confused with Zzyzx, California, apparently ...
Update: Devin Faraci had the story a few days earlier at Chud.com.
Screen Actors Guild Nominations
... were announced today. This award has increasing cachet and, like the Golden Globes, offers both film and television for your consideration. Many of my favorites are on board.
Another Hour in Which I Could Have Been Reading a Book Reallocated
First of all, speaking as a happily married man, it has to be said that ABC could have done a lot worse than have back-to-back half-hours with Sofia Vergara and Kelly Hu.
With that out of the way ...
The Knights of Prosperity: Kooky, silly, completely unessential but cringeless, strangely charming and surprisingly clever in parts. I'm on board for another episode.
In Case of Emergency: Better than the reviews suggested, better than that other high-school reunion sitcom this year. Also completely unessential, but I was surprised to find I didn't hate it - especially when Jonathan Silverman kept reminding me of The Single Guy. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm gonna give it another shot as well. I really can't believe I'm saying this.
This level of tolerance is yet another reminder of how awful The Class is.
The quality of Friday Night Lights dominated Wednesday night television viewing, so it's fairly remarkable that these two shows could make any kind of positive impression. I think Knights and ICR had an appealing level of humility and enough of an ability not to insult my intelligence by pretending to be cleverer than they really were. They were, for the most part (Knights more so), sincere.
Update: I meant to add that given the upcoming season premiere of American Idol, neither of these shows has great long-term hope.
Having slept on things, I'm not predicting that ICR will hold me beyond episode two.
Tastes Great, Less Filling
Broadcast networks are preparing to give us fewer commercials, among other changes that may be on tap for 2007, according to Brian Steinberg and Suzanne Vranica of the Wall Street Journal.
Network TV executives are beginning to realize that the dozens of ads and promotions that run during their most-watched programs don't create the best environment for getting a specific ad message across to consumers. Network TV runs an average of about 15 minutes of ads and promotions per hour, according to research from WPP Group's MindShare. Advertisers say research shows that running fewer ads -- reducing what they call the "clutter" -- would make it easier for viewers to remember the marketing message of those that do air.
During the past 18 months, some big TV networks have begun to experiment in earnest with cutting back the number of ads. Several have done sponsorship deals in which a single advertiser buys all the ad time during a show, often using less than the usual amount of commercial time. American Express Co., for example, sponsored an entire episode of "The West Wing" with a limited number of ads. Nissan North America and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Brothers movie studio respectively sponsored debut episodes of "Heroes" on NBC and "Smith" on CBS -- with limited ads.
Media buyers say this technique usually results in better viewer recall of the ads. In the coming year, look for one advertiser to cook up a deal with a network that finds the advertiser buying exclusive rights to a series -- and likely airing fewer ads in the show as a result.
Where Hill Street Blues is kingand Lady Luck is queen
by Jon Weisman
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.