Saturday, August 30, 2008

Can You Go Wrong With A Movie That Has "Cheese" In The Title?...

I may not approve of the Weinstein Brothers' ridiculous business practices, let alone their ethics, but I must admit that they certainly do know how to pick scripts—even if they’re just ones they buy “out of spite” and keep sitting on their shelves so no one else can have them. After popping in the DVD for I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, a completely unorthodox romantic comedy written by, directed by, and starring Jeff Garlin, I found myself leaving the remote on the coffee table for once and actually watching the previews. It all started with Flakes, another 2007 indie with Aaron Stanford and Zooey Deschanel about a musician who works at an all-cereal restaurant. After enjoying that two and a half minutes so much, the others that followed (like 2006’s Snow Cake with Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Carrie Anne Moss), admittedly, just did not live up in the name of quirky and original—but they tried ten fold more than anything I’ve seen a big studio release in the past few years.

The actual movie I had rented—the aforementioned cheese eating film—turned out to be something I had seen before but about which I had somehow forgotten: it wasn’t terribly funny, and it’s score was eerily reminiscent of Garlin’s slightly better-known project, Curb Your Enthusiasm. …Cheese… centers on a loserish actor in Chicago (Garlin) who is overweight, out of work, still living with his mother, and newly single after a woman from his Second City class dumps him in one of the early scenes. After a ridiculously long scene in which Garlin dresses up as a pirate to hand out free hot dog samples and talks nude celebrities in film with a seeming homeless idiot savant, I remembered why I didn’t remember this movie: I had turned it off at this point the first time around. After feeling so inspired by the trailers earlier in the screening, though, I decided to give it a real chance. The dialogue in …Cheese… was banter-like but bordered on first timers’ improv with awkward punctuation pausing that appeared to be a devise the actors would use when they needed to steer the scene back to the matter at hand in the script, which was odd, considering their considerable weight (no pun intended) in the improv comedy arena. The bulk of said dialogue also revolved on a fictional remake of a movie called Marty, in which Garlin’s character seemed to feel he deserved a part, yet for fifty minutes he talked (nay, he whined) about that rather than tried to go out and actually obtain said part. Like an episode of Seinfeld, I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With was about nothing.

Now, I’ve never been one to need high melodrama or the shoot-em-or-blow-em-up action of Hollywood’s typical summer blockbusters to stay entertained, but despite I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With having a sweet line (… of wanting someone to eat cheese with) and an even sweeter meet-cute moment (when Garlin and Bonnie Hunt reach for the same rare album at a record store), it was just a tad on the dull side to hold my attention, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in another few months, I end up renting it again, forgetting again that I already saw it. Like one of the little boys in the elementary school class Garlin’s character visits on career day very bluntly raises his hand and says (when Garlin is talking about the remake of Marty, no less): “I’m bored.” I just need a little something more to happen—or even to anticipate happening—sooner than the last ten minutes of the film… and it would help if the thing that happens isn’t something that feels like a cop-out, afterthought, or obvious formulaic choice.

The best part of the slightly autobiographical, slightly self-reflexive story was, of course, the dry Hunt, but once again she was underused in favor of the gratingly crude Sarah Silverman whose first appearance on-screen in this film was to discuss a “hoagie shack.” It may not have been my cup of tea, but still, it was refreshing to see a pet project come to life due to some very important people who believed it in and the artists behind it. Gives me hope for some of my own “in the works” projects, you know?

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Five Cents: The Live Feed That SHOULD Be...

After the one-two punch of a "surprise" double eviction on last night's episode played out exactly as expected, the show is proving to dry out as much as it's thinning out and winding down, it leads me to believe that the production crew at CBS-Radford should strip the Big Brother house of its cameras and mosey them on over to the jury house. Sure, there we would have to endure more of April and Ollie's showmance-- but let's face it: we fast-forwarded through it once; we can do it again-- but at least there we wouldn't have to deal with the human lollipop that is the Chen-bot. Think about it: in the Big Brother house, these morally questionable people are backstabbing and backdooring in the name of a game-- for a grand prize of half of a million dollars-- but take away the money, the threat of slop, and the asininely larger-than-life carnival games in the backyard, and you’ll just have the same rude and two-faced individuals stuck in close quarters with no line to the outside, real world. Just a handful of bitter, grudge-holding, complaining runners-up, each of whom is probably scheming to shave off another’s eyebrows while they sleep. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly in there!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Five Cents: Next Year's Daytime Emmy Winner For Best Talk Show Goes To...

Move over, Ellen, there's another funny blonde coming to the daytime talk circuit! After making a career of muttering knee-slappingly funny lines in the background and as a supporting character in countless films (Cheaper by the Dozen, Return to Me) and taking a turn as a sitcom star in Life With Bonnie, Bonnie Hunt is returning to screens this fall with her own talk show. Produced by Telepictures, the same company behind Ellen, The Bonnie Hunt Show promises to be just as sharp, witty, and cheery as Hunt herself, especially during variety or "man on the street" segments, in which, if the featured video on the show's website is any indication, Hunt takes to the corners with a microphone herself.

In other news, I have been trying to find a way into this production since I first read about it in Variety back in January. Not only do I find Hunt completely underrated genius, but also I would give anything to be back in such a creative office, working with clever, ambitious, and talented men and women, and with the perks of rotating segments and guests to break up the monotony that can often be office (even production office) life. Plus I just miss the thrill of chasing the "live" clock; now I've been reduced to clock-watching of a different kind lately: I count down the minutes until I can shut off my computer in my sad little windowless VOD distribution cubicle and go home... So if any of you hear of any openings, please forward them my way!

The show premieres in ten days, and the first guest has not yet been announced, but there is a place on the website to submit yourself as a guest on the show for a variety of categories (cool school, heroes, inventors, etc), so maybe if I can't work there, I can at least spend an hour in the studio plugging myself, my book, or even this blog. Stay tuned to see if I make it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Five Cents: The Black Sheep Of The Franchise...

Has anyone else noticed that on Law & Order: Criminal Intent they are not allowed to use certain brand names and thus have to substitute letters or use poorly constructed imitations, like DJL for DHL and V-Boost for Viagra? This is not a problem shared by either the original or the sex crimes permutation of the series. I can only assume this is a new issue stemming from the show’s move to the USA Network; after all, their budget for clearance must be smaller on a cable network than on NBC. Just look at the difference in their marketing budget for this season; I had no idea the show had even begun again until I saw an ad for the season finale airing tonight. Thank God for marathons!

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Pop Culture Edition...

I never thought I would long for the days of school, but the past few months was the first summer season I had a steady job that required me to show up (to an office, no less!) day in and day out even though the sun shone brightly outside our windows (though have to guess; I am not one of the chosen few who have a cubicle with a view of anything but more cubicles) and the numbers on the thermometer soared to triple digits. For the first time, my weekends were treated as real weekends—the only days I could attend events, hang out with friends, and relax on the beach or on my couch, in front of my new HD TV (welcome to 2008… a few months late).

Kicking off the season at the end of May was my trip back to NYC for what was supposed to be the last performance of RENT on the Broadway stage. Starring Tamyra Gray and OBC-member Rodney Hicks, long before I actually hopped the pink-yet-lavender plane of Virgin America, I was informed that the play’s run was extended, and the show I was seeing was not anywhere near its last. I went anyway because the hotel was non-refundable, and I honestly thought I would be moving during that week in September when the new last show was taking place (I will not discuss my brief time in escrow in this essay because the way things turned out is still upsetting to me). That weekend was also the Sex and the City movie release, and I caught an early showing of that in Times Square, which was just plain festive because of the “bigness” (no pun intended) of it all. Dave Annable (Brothers & Sisters) was on my flight home.

Once I returned from NY, I jumped full-force into trying to find a condo or townhouse to buy. I gave up many sacred Saturday afternoons when I could have been lying in the sand, staring at the crisp, slicing ocean waves to instead swelter in ninety-plus heat as I (and my real estate agent, Vicky, also co-owner of Hollywood Knights) drove around the valley. I pretty much had to resign myself to the fact that this would never be the view out of my bedroom window, but I didn’t realize that it wouldn’t be my view on said Saturday afternoons; finding a “perfect” property in my price range has been damn near impossible!

The end of June brought my first production in a long time with the pilot shoot for Conventioneers, a Comedy Central pitch. Starring some amazing improv comedians, Conventioneers is a spin on dried humor like The Office and follows the behind-the-scenes happenings at a convention center through the lives of its employees. Every week, a different convention is in town, offering some prime opportunities for product placement, advertising, and tie-ins, but in the pilot we kept it simple and displayed a job fair… though admittedly some of those jobs were quite wacky. Being on set for even just this two day, “small” shoot slapped me in the face with just how much I do miss being in production-- if just for the chance to work in a creative environment with other artists who all have the same goal and are actually passionate about what they do. I had a professor in college who once said that “if you wake up every morning going: “Oh shit, I have to go to work today,” then the job is probably not worth doing.” That was always my personal philosophy, but this summer I really realized just how easy it is to forget those simple words because I like having a roof over my head (even if I’m not too fond of this roof right about now) and food on my plate.

When I first started this website almost a year ago, I did so with the intention of turning the entries into chapters in a book of personal (and therefore my first foray into non-fiction) essays. “My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture” was supposed to be the title to my very Sloane Crosley/Augusten Burroughs/Chelsea Handler-esque memoir. Very early on, though, I got side tracked by trying to sound more professional—more like a journalist—with the hope that it would become an online portfolio of my writing (reviews and all) and garner me a respectable writing position at a reputable magazine (*cough, Entertainment Weekly, cough*). Months later, I was really nowhere closer to that when I started, and seeing as how my second novel is not being scooped up by a publishing house anytime soon, I revisited the essay book idea. I wrote about seventy-five pages this summer (not all usable, I admit) before getting stuck. Somehow along the way I had crafted the tales to not merely be about how all things pop culture influenced my life growing up but much more specifically how they (and by they, I mean mostly things I saw on television) influenced my dating life. And I seem to have tapped out at seventy-five pages. At least I started, though, and now I have an assignment to carry me through the fall.

July brought two big events to my doorstep… well, close enough. Comic Con San Diego was only a two-day fiesta for me (again, sadly because I do have a day job now), but considering I was only heading down there for another glimpse at Jensen Ackles, it actually worked out quite nicely. His autograph signing was on Saturday afternoon, and his Q&A panel for Supernatural was on Sunday morning. It was definitely an intense, stressful, hot two days—and I still prefer the smaller events, at which I can actually get face-time with the celebrities in attendance-- but well worth it as a general experience, and I do plan to go back next year now that I have the benefit of having some knowledge at how the whole thing works.

Closing out the month, Mariah Carey performed a mini-concert at Hollywood & Highland, in part for her appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, but in part for Samsung and AT&T’s annual Summer Krush Groove concert series. She sang six of her hits from her last two albums, including the never-before-done-live (and my personal favorite) “Side Effects,” to which I sang and rocked along, even incorporating my own verse over Young Jeezy’s, for the first time not caring what those around me thought.

August may not be over yet, but things already seem to be winding down. I attended a Pros Vs Celebs volleyball team for charity, mainly to get one last look at a bunch of Passions actors since as of earlier in the month, the show is officially over, and I have become obsessed with the flair application on, HGTV (namely House Hunters), the second season of Showtime’s Dexter, and “I’m Not Here To Make Friends,” which is a podcast that recaps reality television. JC Penney has been running their Breakfast Club back-to-school commercials for weeks now, so I know these days are coming to a fast end, but since the majority of them have not been nearly as lazy, hazy, or carefree as I would have liked, this is the first time that the end of summer does not sadden me. Honestly, my routine does not look like it will change much just because the days are shrinking; the weather is barely cooling! Nonetheless, though, the time does fly… when you’re out of someone’s life!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes...

My new favorite show is Dexter. I know after such a long time away (and really, I don't even have a good excuse!), I should be delivering something much more eloquent and thought-provoking, but honestly: I've got nothin.' After watching the complete second season back-to-back in only a few days, though I admit the "I am Jack's inappropriate affect"-esque voice over does grate on me, I have really never felt more in tune with a character.

I admit when Showtime first premiered Dexter, I was not immediately sold. I didn't realize the complexity of the character (though I should have guessed, considering some of their other programming), and assumed it would be quite vanilla-- just some forensics investigator who doesn't trust the justice system for which he works, so he takes matters into his own hands to get criminals off the streets. And to a degree, that is true. But there is much more to Dexter Morgan than just the seeming-vigilante that meets the eye.

Whether you believe it was things in Dexter's childhood (sitting in his mother's blood, gripping tight to his brother, perhaps?) or something innate that was just born when he was that makes him the person he is probably gets determined by whether you believe in nature versus nurture in general. Are we destined to be violent criminals or are we made that way, and if we know certain facets of our personalities-- of our psyches-- can we hold them at bay, ultimately becoming someone different? What's fascinating to me is to watch him, already at terms with who he is and what he does, still struggle to make sense of the events (and the people) of his past. He doesn't come out and ask the expositional "Why me; why am I like this?" that many viewers were undoubtedly wondering at the start of the series, but the questioning is still in the little things he does-- like a tick, really.

As meticulous as he is about keeping his crime scenes evidence-free, he is just as compulsively cautious about appearing like any "normal" guy to his friends, girlfriends (save for one who was even nuttier than him!), and co-workers. He does not fit the stereotypical profile of a serial killer; he does not harbor that desire to get caught that pops up with taunting letters to the authorities or cryptic comments to those in his inner circle. Quite the opposite, he is obsessive about covering his tracks and allowing himself the ability to continue his work, even when it means pointing the finger at someone completely removed from his crimes. Therefore, it will be extremely interesting to watch Dexter unravel in the upcoming episodes, when he begins to act on impulse and break his own pattern of kills. It is ensured that as he escalates, he will grow sloppier (as of which we have already seen hints in season two), and Dexter the series will have to adapt as Dexter the man begins to take a new course.

In gearing up for season three, which I have decided to start recapping here (along with 30 Rock, which is hands down my favorite comedy show), I came across a short quiz online. Basically I was asked to look at a few inkblots (something to which I was no stranger as a child, being constantly tested in nursery and pre-school to see if I had what it took to be in the "gifted" program in elementary) and write one or two lines about what I saw and then rate how it made me feel on a 1-10 scale of "sad to happy." When it was all said and done, my results said: "Your answers indicate that you are the kind of person who doesn't generally have violent thoughts, but you're only young; there's still time." Well, duh.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

There's A Special Place In Hell For People Like You...

This week I caught a few things on television that sincerely made me reexamine the salvagability of the human race. It all started early in the week when I watched George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead On Demand; it was the new, post-technology boom version, and of course it focused on self-reflexive elements. At the end of the movie, the narrator attempted to explain what set off the army of zombies, and we saw a few country boy hunters stringing up dead bodies (though where they got the bodies is unclear; it is kind of assumed they were already “turned” when they strung them up) and using them as target practice. As they blew one woman’s head clear off, the narrator asked the audience if we were worth saving. I rolled my eyes at that point; the entire movie was over the top, and honestly it’s kind of hard to feel bad for zombies anyway.

Then Netflix finally delivered Crazy Love, a documentary about a man (Burt) who was so possessive over his ex-mistress, Linda, (in the “if I can’t have you, no one can” sort of way) he hired two guys to throw acid in her face. It’s unclear if his intention was for her to die or just seriously scar, but she ended up blinded; he went to jail and wrote to her often; and when he got out, they got back together and are now married. From interviews with the man, it was clear he was a sociopath; he didn’t have that trigger that told him when to stop talking because he was digging himself a deeper hole and incriminating himself; rather he liked to hear his own stories, however sick they made him sound. He manipulated her, and he manipulated the system. He pretended to be lovelorn, but he was really just calculating: when he took the glass from his spectacles and cut his wrist (he showed off the scars proudly in the interview), his cuts were not deep enough to do anything but give him enough blood to smear around his face (also something he admitted in the interview) so guards would have to remove him from his cell because they couldn’t tell where he was injured. He sickened me, but her situation also sickened me: she was injured in a time when many women still believed they were nothing without a man, and though she managed to be fairly independent, all she seemed to want was to settle down and get married. Sadly, I think she ended up with this nut because she just gave up: sometimes its easier to stop fighting and if he’s in your house with you, at least you know he’s not lurking in doorways or around the corner with a weapon. Linda’s a spunky older woman now, though, and she’s been through a lot, but she’s still standing strong. I only hope she’s with him to this day, just waiting for the right moment to pour acid on his penis while he sleeps.

The final nail in humanity’s coffin, though, was a show I caught on TLC called “Born a Boy, Brought Up a Girl.” It told the tale of a baby named Bruce who had an accident during a circumcision: the doctor burned the foreskin off instead of using a knife, and he ended up burning too much away. The distraught parents saw some infomercial or something else ridiculous with another doctor on television (and yeah, let’s get all our medical advice from late night TV!), and they decided to raise their son as their daughter. They changed his name to Brenda, bought him dresses and dolls, and grew his hair out long. They also began taking him to this TV doctor who apparently was a “gender specialist,” doing a study on such cases. He believed you could train a child to be either gender. I bet he also believes being gay is a choice. In dramatizations (the show said the dialogue was taken from transcripts of the actual therapy sessions), we not only heard the most stereotypical ways of teaching a child the difference between girls and boys—like reinforcing her brother is the boss because he’s a boy so he’s bigger and stronger—but we also heard the doctor get into some very uncomfortable sexual territory. The cap on it all was that when he published his study, of course he only included the positive aspects to make it sound like he knew what he was doing, and God only knows how many countless other helpless children were screwed up because of his practices! Thankfully, though he died in 2004, Bruce/Brenda did get a chance to live as he was always meant to: as a man named David with a family of his own. But he did not come out untouched, and his suicide most definitely was not just because he was depressed over his wife leaving him; he had years and years of past abuse and discomfort which undoubtedly ate away at him.

Seeing these stories-- although very different-- with the same theme and being slapped in the face with the mere fact that these kinds of things go on—that we play with others’ lives just for our own selfish gain—made me to not only not have my own children but children in general because I just couldn’t look them in the eye and teach them that this world is a good place. Because if it truly was—if there was justice in this world—people like Burt and this doctor would be rotting in a gutter somewhere, but instead they thrive, only reinforcing in their own devious little minds that there’s nothing wrong with their ways.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Saying Good-Bye To Passions: I Hardly Knew Ye...

In 1999 when James E. Reilly created and debuted his own soap opera at two p.m. EST directly after Days of our Lives, I was disenchanted-- with him and with the genre in general. He had departed from my beloved Days only a few years earlier, leaving behind him the messy, broken shell of a once-on-top program, and the new project he churned out seemed to be a mockery of everything for which he once stood. Where Days took itself seriously and had a lot riding on the relationships between the families and the couples, Passions appeared to poke fun at such intensity. It was tongue-in-cheek, snarky, and often just plain ridiculous. And coming at a time when I began to shed my own naively optimistic shell, it was exactly what I needed.
During Passions' less than ten year run, I admit I did not watch religiously. I usually only caught the first five or ten minutes (unless I happened to be home sick from school or camp) in its first few years, and once I went to college, I spent most of my afternoons tanning by the pool. However, upon graduation, when I started freelancing, I found many a weekday afternoon at two p.m. when I had exhausted myself of searching for random celebrity news on the internet and tuned in, only to find, in all of my absence, everyone was pretty much still the same. That's what I loved about soap operas in general: people were who they always were, and their objectives remained the same, too. They were strong, and at time ruthlessly devious, but they were dead-set on what they wanted, and they went for it; cost be damned! I admired that. And Passions did it all with a subtle laugh at the genre's own expense, which made its victory (however minute) that much sweeter. Sadly, watching so intermittently does not give one the best picture of the show, and there were many more who just didn't give it a chance at all.

The problem most faithful soap viewers seemed to have with Passions was that they felt it was too out there. Seeing a doll come to life-- or a virgin having to deny herself her true love for the sake of the town's well-being or a giant lion's paw swipe at guests in a basement, the list can go on and on and on-- forced fans to realize how silly soaps can be, and most soap fans just need to believe in their shows. They need to believe these people reflect real people; they need to believe these relationships truly can exist in this world; they need to believe family and love really are all that matter. The problem is: that's just not realistic. And Passions, incorporating a witch, some black magic, and an "underworld" pointed that out as blatantly and bluntly as any show could: it isn't real; it's just TV.

Passions got a raw deal. On one hand you had die hard soap fans turning their backs on it for not fitting into the mold and not being "soap opera enough"-- for using too many supernatural elements, too much humor, too many comparisons to things occurring in the real world (the show's opening scenes in 1999 showed Sheridan as a Princess Diana character in a way that many felt was just too soon after the icon's tragic death)-- and on the other, you had people refusing to tune in simply because it was a soap opera! They deemed it too low-brow without even giving it a chance, when really it utilized a lot of the same allegories and imagery as cult favorite Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Some soap fans seemed down-right offended that this was in the same category as Y&R, per se, or General Hospital, which may explain why the show never got any recognition from the Academy or the news media (though Best Week Ever often liked to highlight a scene on its weekly pop culture round-up, which they have never done for any other soap and therefore should be treated as a high compliment). Too afraid of further alienating anyone, Passions was treated like a lost child: it was rarely talked about with anyone who wasn't already "in the know."

The few times I was on the CBS-Radford lot, working on shows that just happened to be filming on soundstages adjacent to Passions,' I took great pleasure in watching everyone barrel out of their double sliding doors for smoke breaks, cell phone breaks, or lunch breaks. The women were always overly done-up, with so much hairspray their heads looked like lollipops atop their stick-thin figures and their equally stick-thin cigarettes could have set their hair up in flames. Their faces were as colorful as the show's storylines: with bright, blushing cheeks, dramatically dark eyes, and deep pouty lips, one look at them was enough to know the sheer drama they would be encased in at any given moment. But overall, they always appeared like they were having so much fun. And that, in a nutshell, was what the show was all about: fun. It was entertainment in its most original, most basic form: it was there to entertain. It didn't matter what was going on in your life at the time; if you sat down for an hour to catch up with the Cranes or the Lopez-Fitzgeralds, you were guaranteed to smile, laugh (whether it was with or at the show), cry, and just generally escape into their own little world of Harmony USA.

Passions may be gone now, not even allowed to live on in syndication heaven, but its fans are still out there in small clusters, most likely following their favorite actors onto (hopefully) even bigger and better projects. They'll still be there for the August 23rd Celebrity Volleyball Game or the Winter 2008/9 "Cruise with the Stars," as last chance attempts to grab photos or autographs and get the ole gang back together again though their lives have undoubtedly gone in very different directions. And I know anytime I happen to run into Galen Gaering in Fashion Square or McKenzie Westmore in Jerry's Famous Deli, we'll share a warm smile and a nod-- just the simple recognition that we remember how things once were, like old friends sharing a secret and momentary memory after not seeing each other for years. Soap operas come into our homes on a daily basis, and Passions,' run, although trés short by comparison, created those friendships nonetheless. I made the mistake of taking Passions for granted the way many take their friends for granted: I assumed it would always be there, so I didn’t feel the need to see (or even check in with) it everyday, and I guess, for that, I am a guilty party in its premature end. All I can softly say now (in the immortal words of Alec Baldwin) is: "Bow wow, old friend; bow wow."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chicks Are Taking Over Reality TV!...

This year after crowning the first female Biggest Loser on NBC, we have also finally crowned the first female Last Comic Standing. Unfortunately it came six seasons too late, as the show has not been relevant since it switched hosts for the second time. More unfortunately, this season was condensed due to the impending Olympics, which means last week's voting was between a remarkable five contestants, and in tonight's season finale, we were forced to sit through an hour and a half of awkwardness where the comedians got kicked off one at a time. We also had to endure integrated commercials for Deal or No Deal and Kath & Kim (which, by the way, doesn't look so funny anymore) and stand up sets by Jon Lovitz and last season's (pretty unfunny) winner Jon Reep before finally being allowed to hear about two minutes from each of the final two: Marcus and Iliza.
When it got down to them, I figured they were setting it up so she would win. Though Marcus was funny and a killer at impressions (and he was one of my top two from the beginning-- with Iliza being the other one, btw), over the course of the season he started to balloon up and look more and more haggard, like the stress was getting to him, and he wouldn't be able to handle life on a tour bus, let alone life on a press tour, red carpet, or weekly sitcom. Iliza, though, seemed to get sharper with each week. Granted, if the season had its full run, things may have ended up differently... but I doubt it.

What I thought was so cool about Iliza Shlesinger was not just her weird baby girl voices she would do whenever imitating a typical chick you'd see in the bar or club, but how she always looked so nervous when they were announcing who would not be moving on in the competition. She wore the fact that this meant the world to her not on her sleeve but on her face, and when, two straight weeks in a row, she took out two other competitors, she was not even the slightest bit PC about it. She whooped and threw her arm up in victory like the thankful winner she deserved to be.

Though Iliza said it's not really about being a girl but just being funny, after the X chromosomes have ruled show after show, I can't help but wonder if we're about to see an all female Amazing Race team take the million this fall. The late nineties must really be "in" again because I'm about to start shouting the "Girl Power!" lines of once-beloved Spice Girls!

Who I'll Be Watching This Year...

Amanda Righetti has played the bombshell beauty in quite a few style-over-substance programs in television seasons past (The O.C., North Shore, Reunion), but this fall she is finally allowed to smarten—and button—up in CBS’ The Mentalist, where she will star as an FBI agent alongside Simon Baker. Righetti is just one of the many fresh faces gracing the small screen this fall in my Spotlight on TV Stars.

Tristan Wilds, on the other hand, gets to show off his lighter side after dramatic turns in Half Nelson and The Wire with his role as Dixon Mills, a boy adopted into a privileged family who moves back to Southern California to attend West Beverly Hills High in The CW’s new 90210. Wilds has already proven he has the acting chops, but now he’ll catch the eye of new fans for a different reason: his soap star good looks, and the combination ensures he will stand heads above the rest of his class.

Brian Hallisay, too, turned heads in dramatic roles such as Without A Trace, Cold Case, and Strong Medicine, but now he is trading in his sinister scruff and serious face for open-buttoned polo shirts and gel-coiffed hair as Will Philips, the wealthy bachelor neighbor on The CW’s upcoming Privileged. Introduced as a love interest for JoAnna Garcia’s character, with his all-American model good looks and charming smile, Hallisay will undoubtedly have to fight off the two teenagers she is hired to tutor, as well. He’s definitely the eye candy to rope in the female audience, as even if the show's somewhat surreal world is too over-the-top for them, this boy-next-door will keep everything grounded... and of course, interesting, to say the least. This is a guy I've wanted to cast since I first saw him as a con man on a CBS procedural. I didn't catch his name in the front-end credits, but I knew I needed to know more. The next week, though, ironically he was back on yet another CBS procedural-- this time as a gay cop in an era that homosexuality was unaccepted, to say the least-- and this time I IMDbed him and began tracking his success through various other appearances in television cop dramas. It may sound shallow, but I'm glad to see him step out of such a niche area of entertainment and finally be seen as I saw him that very first night: as a heartthrob.

You may remember Lucy Hale as the virgin Katie Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother or the virginal Miranda on the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, but starting in September she will join Hallisay in Privileged, portraying a slightly less good girl as one half of the spoiled socialite sister team on The CW serialized drama. Hale’s performance as Rose Baker is definitely the more in depth of the two, as her character may be an on-the-surface partier, but she very quickly points out that she wants more out of life, and Hale, in turn, very quickly shows there is much more to her as an actress than meets the eye.

And that could really be the theme for the new group of talent taking over airwaves this year: they are not one-note, one-trick ponies; they have a lot of tricks and techniques up their sleeves, and if given the chance (ie: if their respective shows don’t get pulled after only one or two episodes), they have the capacity to become heavyweights. It is no coincidence that everyone highlighted here is a young actor or actress; nor is it a coincidence that their shows are “young” shows, aimed at the tween-to-twenty-something demographic. After all, you have to hook them young so they’ll follow their favorite actors’ careers for many years and spanning many genres, mediums, and projects. It’s definitely what producers are banking on with the 2008-2009 lineup anyway!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What I'll Be Watching This Year: Reality...

For years it seems we have been asking the question of when reality programming will go away; well, with it as cheap to produce as it is, it has never been likely that competition programming would disappear from the network schedule altogether, but ironically after the oversaturated summer, such shows appear to be winding down for the fall.

NBC will debut America’s Toughest Jobs—a cross between Black Gold (truTV) and Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel-- on Monday nights at 9pm. Every week’s episode features a different group of people and a different (manual labor) job, taking corporate drones (or others in comfortable but repetitive positions) and plunking them down in the middle of unreal, and often dangerous, situations. One week will showcase workers on an Alaskan crab boat and another will be on a Southern oil rig, but all will force ordinary (untrained) people to live up to the same standards and conditions as the professionals. If you’re bored with your own cubicle, this is definitely a nice vacation—especially because you can watch the action from the safety of your own home!

Ashton Kutcher uses his fame and network connections for good with Opportunity Knocks (Tuesday nights at 8pm on ABC). Each week, host J.D. Roth will knock on a pre-selected family’s door and offer the chance to win thousands of dollars worth of prizes all on their front lawn. The audience will be made up of the real people in each family’s life: their friends and neighbors, and the questions they will be asked will be trivia about their own lives. Though watching families come together, work as a team, and bond over proving how much they know each other will undoubtedly be touching and even tear-worthy, unfortunately Opportunity Knocks will be no match for NBC’s newest installment of the just-as-life-changing The Biggest Loser: Families, which follows specific journeys and allows audiences to get much more invested in the individuals.

The CW is boasting a Devil Wears Prada-esque fashion-based reality show called Stylista for its Wednesday night line-up (to air on Wednesday nights). Produced by Tyra Banks and intended to be a sister show to America’s Next Top Model, Stylista has budding fashion journalists competing in ridiculously stagey events, like preparing a breakfast tray for their would-be-boss, with the ultimate grand prize being a job at Elle Magazine. My advice? Skip Stylista unless you’re the kind of glutton for punishment that enjoys reliving your first peon internship or assistant position.

Also on Wednesdays will be the so-revamped-it’s-practically-a-new-show Top Design on Bravo at 10pm. Though it is the show’s second season, most missed the first due to its lackluster sheen, and a group of thirteen new designers and fashion model host India Hicks promise to breathe new life into the show. Returning mentor Todd Oldham and judges Jonathan Adler, Margaret Russell, and Kelly Wearstler will decide who ultimately wins the cash prize and editorial showcase in Elle (there’s that name again) Décor Magazine, and Top Design picks up where Project Runway leaves off, boasting some heavily influential names in the design industry, and weekly challenges that include anything and everything, including a full-on design triathlon. It may even inspire you to get up and point the furniture in your own house at something other than the television!

Oddly, Thursdays and Fridays do not seem to offer new reality programs, exhibiting a slowing trend for the first time in years (perhaps networks are just burnt out and taking a break to brainstorm rather than try to rejuvenate past flops (like they did with The Mole). Instead, fan favorites Survivor: Gabon (CBS) and Kitchen Nightmares (Fox) will return with new seasons. Though Jeff Probst has seen better days, anything Gordan Ramsay is a Must See!

Stick around because up next, I'll take a look at some individual stars to watch from all across the fall grid!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What I'll Be Watching This Year: Drama...

Christian Slater has only one facial expression. His eyebrows are permanently arched in a slightly questioning yet slightly sinister gaze; he has a five o’clock shadow that no pancake makeup ever seems to hide; and his eyes are dark and brooding, appearing beady and almost dead without the proper glint from three-point lighting. Yet NBC’s My Own Worst Enemy (Monday nights at 9pm) have him playing two very distinct men: Henry, the slightly dippy family man living in pre-fab suburbia, and Edward, a Jason Bourne-esque operative for a secret society. Edward knows about Henry and can use pre-taped computer messages to warn him of impending danger, but Henry (supposedly) doesn’t know about Edward: is he repressing his dark side or jus schizophrenic? Hedward (let’s call him for ease) consults his best friend (played by Mike O’Malley) and a psychiatrist (Saffron Burrows) to try to sort it all out, but he is racing the demons in his own mind at times, as he seemingly has no waning when the inner wall will come down, allowing one to take over their shared body. My Own Worst Enemy is convoluted and limited, mostly due to Slater’s monotone; it is advised to stick with tried-and-trues on Monday nights-- like CSI Miami-- instead.

For those of you not interested in yet another teenage show aimed at the tween set, Tuesday nights promise more than just the new 90210 when it pits newbies The Mentalist on CBS and Fringe on Fox against each other at 9pm. The Mentalist stars Simon Baker and seems to want to capitalize on the “psychic” fame of Medium or Ghost Whisperer, even though it points out no less than four times in the pilot that the lead character is “not [a psychic; he’s] just paying attention.” Baker is said lead character who works as a private investigator to help the police force solve crimes. Fringe is the newest slightly surreal episodic from J.J. Abrams, centering on an FBI agent who is forced to work with a slightly rogue scientist in order to get a handle on some odd phenomena. Both shows offer the male-female partner dynamic which begs the question of potential romantic hook-ups down the road, but Fringe focuses more on the female’s point of view and therefore might bring in that women demographic that has stayed away from FBI shows since Profiler. Both shows exhibit potential, with Fringe inching out The Mentalist—if you don’t mind the “give a little, take a lot back” reveal of information that Abrams became famous for on Lost-- but both also come up short, feeling like less-developed copycats of already existing television dramas.

Wednesday nights have the new Knight Rider at 8 on NBC, but a flashy, kitschy version of an old campy program can’t match the draw of ABC’s quirky hit Pushing Daisies (especially with Will Arnett being replaced as the voice of K.I.T.T.!). This updated but not really rejuvenated version is like The Fast & The Furious meets Transformers, with K.I.T.T. being the main attraction over pretty people Justin Bruening and Sydney Tamila Poitier. Where Knight Rider tries to rope in the YouTube generation by featuring frenetic energy, sophisticated technology, and high-grades weapons systems and chase sequences, Pushing Daisies is much more a character drama and deals with the intricacies (and often hypocrisies) of interpersonal relationships. It is much more the “thinking” viewer’s show, but it is also of much higher quality. Knight Rider relies on its high-octane to drive (no pun intended) its performance and assumes (or at least hopes) some of the more ridiculous or “out there” moments are glossed over.

With the emergence of Eleventh Hour at 10pm, Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS are planning to keep their hold on Thursday nights for a long, long time. Based on a British miniseries, Bruckheimer’s version stars Rufus Sewell as Dr. Jacob Hood, a biophysicist who gets recruited by the FBI to investigate scientific oddities in the very final moments prior to losing jurisdiction and the chance to save dozens of people from nefarious plans. Marley Shelton is the agent assigned to watch out for Hood, and the two have the will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry made famous by Mulder and Scully (The X-Files) and Benson and Stabler (Law & Order: SVU), which is just tired now after so many variations and copycats. Overall, though, Eleventh Hour feels a bit forced—and faked—as Hood is an even more absolute force than Gil Grissom (CSI), and a lot of what he happens upon just feels too “convenient.” Eleventh Hour is definitely not worth a look over ABC’s Life on Mars (also at 10pm), which sends an NYPD detective (Jason O’Mara) back in time to the pre-digital age of the 1970s and paired up with a rough-around-the-edges old school cop (Michael Imperioli). Life on Mars is a period piece but a cop drama at its heart, and it only uses its gimmicky time period to further the serialized story aspects (for example, back then women on the force had to be a part of a special bureau and could only perform menial, desk tasks). But overall, it is doubtful if either of these shows will stick around too long considering the sheer number of similar programs already successful on-air. Most viewers will probably opt to just stick with what’s established—what’s known and comfortable—instead of giving these new guys a shot because really, how many crime dramas do we need??

We do, however, need a new legal show with only Boston Legal still around and on its last legs, and starting on Labor Day, we will be given just that, as Steven Bochco and Mark Paul Gosselaar team up once again for Raising The Bar. Now, I've already written about this show before, and I think it's worth a look not only because it has the potential to return the law trend to our televisions, but also simply because of said star, who, despite his long, dark hair, is still quite the heartthrob. It will be fun to watch him argue his points in court against some hotshot power attorney and then turn around and (probably... knowing Bochco) have angry hate sex with her in the next scene.

For those that choose to stay home on Friday nights, NBC has Crusoe at 8pm, a spin on the classic tale of Robinson Crusoe that is a fun, fantastical journey for the whole family. Philip Winchester is the title lead, co-starring with Sean Bean and Sam Neill as part of the extended family with whom the isolated adventurer dreams of being reunited. The show is set years after Crusoe is a castaway, but it utilizes flashbacks to incorporate plenty of action and interaction with other cast members. Ultimately, though, this version of Crusoe gets a bit darker and simultaneously duller (quite a difficult feat!) as the season goes on, and with so many tuning in expecting the light-hearted kid’s tale of years past, it may not last long.

Put the kids to bed at 9 and flip over to CBS for The Ex-List. Full of relative unknowns like Elizabeth Reaser, Adam Rothenberg, and Alex Breckenridge, The Ex-List is also a one part fantastical drama, revolving on a single woman in her 30s (Bella Bloom) who visits a psychic only to learn she has already had a relationship with the man she is meant to be with. Though she is a bit skeptical, she is also curious enough to revisit past men in an attempt to make it work—but more often just comes away remembering why they broke up in the first place. In a way, The Ex-List is the female version of How I Met Your Mother, and watching the dating journey program from the comfort of your own living room offers a nice alternative to encountering similar relationships in the the bars and clubs every Friday night.

Though the dramatic options have been a bit disappointing, tomorrow I’ll take a look at what’s new in reality shows—and those results might surprise you— so be sure to come back to find out why!

Monday, August 4, 2008

What I'll Be Watching This Year: Comedy...

With the new fall season just around the corner (where does the time go?), there are a slew of new comedies on the horizon that network marketing execs want you to believe are the most revolutionary things since the invention of color television. And with a good chunk of these being programs that got pushed through to series without networks even first seeing a pilot due to last year’s WGA strike, how can you weed through to find the deep belly laughs amid piles of mere canned chuckles? Well, that’s where I come in! I'll break it down night by night and highlight what is worth a try and what is worth a TiVo Season Pass.

Though Monday nights will boast the premiere of CBS’ Worst Week (airing at 9:30), it looks to be no match for timeslot rival (and Emmy nominee) Christina Applegate’s Samantha Who? Though Worst Week has the fact that it’s a remake of a BBC original going for it (just look at the success of America’s version of The Office, for example), its premise feels short lived at best. A sitcom with yet another hapless husband—or soon-to-be husband, in this case—at the helm (ironically another Sam, but this one played by Kyle Bornheimer), Worst Week focuses on the uncomfortable nature of telling your girlfriend’s parents (Kurtwood Smith and Nancy Lenehan) that she is pregnant and you are getting married, but today that really only warrants one slightly awkward conversation, so what kind of “wacky high jinks” will be forced upon the two couples for the rest of the episodes as they are forced to get very well-acquainted with each other? If we’re using the pilot to determine, then its safe to say there will be an abundance of pale, flabby, upper male nudity, and that can only be funny for an episode or two at best. Verdict? Give Worst Week a shot, but if it lives up to its name after episode two, it won’t get any better, and tune into the already established Samantha Who? on ABC instead.

The CW’s Privileged (Tuesdays at 9) is not your typical comedy: an Ivy-league graduate (JoAnna Garcia) puts her journalism career on pause to become a live-in tutor to a cosmetics mogul (Anne Archer)’s two spoiled granddaughters. Though Privileged is packed with so much melodrama and interweaving of different characters (including an estranged sister, a live-in chef, a next-door-neighbor dilettante, and a typical best-friend-who-harbors-a-secret-crush) that its trailer was five minutes long, it is on a network known for zippy (and often snarky) dialogue, even in its darkest of shows. Some may laugh with Garcia as she lightens the intensity of her own life, and some may laugh at her almost naïve optimism or even the over-the-top situations the sisters get in just because they have money, but either way, Privileged is a fun, light-hearted escapism type show that will leave you smiling and feeling better about your own life.

Wednesday nights will offer two new sitcoms—one from CBS starring Jay Mohr (Gary Unmarried; 8:30) about your typical work-in-progress newly single dad, and one from Fox about the intermingling personal lives of employees at a chic hotel (Do Not Disturb; 9:30). Though the pilot of Do Not Disturb full of broad, somewhat stereotypical humor, this up/down stairs comedy (both literal with the various floors in the hotel as well as metaphoric for the split between employees and guests) boasts perhaps the greatest potential for the fall season, as it stars Niecy Nash, Jerry O'Connell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Molly Stanton; is produced by one of the Arrested Development writers; and is directed by Jason Bateman. Each of these people are so funny on their own, they have legions of fans following them to whatever project they take on next, so throwing them onto one set together, assuming there is some room for improvisation, should be side-splitting. This is definitely the one to watch!

NBC is once again reclaiming its Must See Thursday nights with the addition of the quirky rendition of an Australian hit, Kath & Kim, at 8:30. Smack dab in the middle of already proven successes My Name Is Earl and The Office, Kath & Kim already has the right (dysfunctional) sense of humor to speak to that audience. And boasting actors that are equally as oddball like Molly Shannon, Selma Blair, and John Michael Higgins, Kath & Kim, even in its most outlandish moments, still comes off believable. They are the new Bluth family, and that alone is a huge positive in their favor.

Also on the horizon, though not yet with an airdate, is yet another adaptation: HBO’s Suburban Shootout starring Judy Greer, Rachael Harris, Kerri Kenney, and Kelly Preston. A satirical comedy, Suburban Shootout is one part-Desperate Housewives, one part-Weeds, and one part-Sopranos, centering on a couple who moves to a quaint little town from the big city only to find they are surrounded by rival gangs of housewives. Such comedic genius, paired with the smart style of HBO, makes Suburban Shootout the most eagerly awaited new program for the 2008-2009 season and well worth the price of premium cable service.

Tune back in tomorrow when we offer our opinions on the upcoming fall dramas!