Monday, November 30, 2009

DanielleTBD Completed NaNoWriMo!...


30 Days of Christmas: Theme Weeks Begin!...

My friends tend to roll their eyes at me when I put my tree up and set my ringtone to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" earlier and earlier every year. There are a lot of people who just feel that starting the festivities too soon for a holiday takes some of the magic out of it and therefore eliminates some of the excitement. So for all of those people, I offer a quick alternative to the dozens upon dozens of sappy, sentimental Christmas classics soon to fill the entries of this blog. This week-- the first official theme week for my 30 Days of Christmas experiment-- I present to you: Dysfunctional Family Christmases!

Nothing about 2004's Surviving Christmas quite screams holiday cheer. After all, the movie premiered in early November, to a throng of reporters wearing tank tops and flip flops! It was the quintessential "Now?" moment. The opening of the film features a montage of not-so-happy-go-lucky individuals baking gingerbread men with Xs for eyes, fighting with wrapping paper, and crying into their cocoa, setting up that this is not your typical Christmas film.

However, what follows is a (at times laugh out-loud) funny romp with an imperfect family...though what real family these days is perfect? Drew (Ben Affleck) is a rich advertising executive who wants nothing more than to take a superficial holiday trip to Fiji with his girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison), but she is bothered by the fact that he never talks about his family, and what kind of serious man who may want to settle down someday doesn't talk about his family?? So at her therapist's insistence, he visits his childhood home, and while there decides to make the family who currently resides inside an offer they can't refuse.

Drew draws up a contract that will grant the Valcos (with James Gandolfini and the amazing Catherine O'Hara at the head) $250,000 for allowing him to stay with them through Christmas Day. They agree to participate in last minute shopping, tree decorating, and even toboganning, but things get complicated when Drew learns his new "parents" might be splitting up and a "long lost sister" (Christina Applegate) shows up out of the blue.

Though Drew's efforts are often misguided, his heart is always in the right place, even when he hires a local actor to play his "Doo-Da," forces the family to throw a last minute dinner for his girlfriend and her parents, and twists a little girl's perfect Christmas moment into something ostentatious and ridiculous. And Affleck's wide-eyes, cheeky grin, and pure enthusiasm throughout the film only serves to add to get viewers into the holiday spirit!

Surviving Christmas may not have been very well received upon its release, but it has become a hidden gem amongst Christmas enthusiasts!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

30 Days of Christmas: ELF!...

A lot of people I know-- myself included, if I'm being completely honest-- have become pretty disenchanted, so to speak, with Will Ferrell and his particular brand of humor of late. It tends to be one-note (and a very shrill note at that!). However, the one film of his everyone can agree is clever, sweet, funny, heartwarming, and unique is Elf.

Narrated (by Bob Newhart) just as any Christmas tale would be, the tale of Buddy the Elf (Ferrell) is a fantastical one about a little baby who crawls into Santa's sack one Christmas and gets brought back to the North Pole, where he is raised by the elves as one of them. Of course he grows (and quite literally, too) to realize he is not one of them, and at the age of thirty-something is finally sent back to the "real world"-- still in his elf garb, though!-- to find his real father, who is a titan in publishing.

And it is Ferrell's wide-eyed enthusiasm that makes this film truly spectacular and can excite just about any Scrooge for the wonder of the season. He turns simple lines like "I like to whisper, too" and "I just like to smile; smiling's my favorite!" into eager quotables well past the Christmas holiday and into the rest of the year. His play opposite the equally wide-eyed, if somewhat aloof Zooey Deschanel is endearing, as well. Everything from the magical wonderland Buddy creates in the department store, to the giant sugar breakfast he makes for his new family, to the moment where his little brother gets all of Central Park singing to raise Christmas cheer and Santa's sleigh, can warm even the iciest of hearts on a cold winter's night. Elf transcends age groups and puts everyone in the Christmas spirit!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

30 Days of Christmas: A Muppet Family Christmas...

There have been many, many Muppet holiday movies over the years. Most commonly referenced is A Muppet Christmas Carol, which has Kermit and his little nephew in the (respective) Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim roles. However, other fan favorites include It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas, which spoofs popular films like Moulin Rouge (becoming Moulin Scrooge), and Letters To Santa, which pairs the Muppets up with some favorite live action stars like Uma Thurman and Jesse L. Martin. However, the one Muppet Christmas movie that I have always loved to watch year after year since it first debuted on PBS in the eighties is A Muppet Family Christmas.

A Muppet Family Christmas tells the tale of Fozzie and friends going to surprise his mother for the holidays. They arrive on her doorstep just as she is about to leave for Florida, renting the place out to a man and his dog. Instead of going forward with her trip, though, she decides to make room for everyone at her inn, so to speak, and everyone includes not just Kermit, Gonzo, and Rizzo the Rat, but also the entire cast of Sesame Street! This movie is Jim Henson at his finest (and the late, great creator even has a cameo at the end).

Throughout A Muppet Family Christmas, plenty of classic Christmas songs are sung, but so are some new ones (like "Pass It On," when Kermit and his nephew meet the Fraggles and share in their Christmas tradition). The Swedish chef decides he wants to try to cook Big Bird, but just as quickly is won over by the big yellow guy's sweet holiday sentiments. And Miss Piggy has to race to the house in a snowstorm when her photoshoot runs long and she can't make the road trip with the rest of the gang.

Admittedly, though, watching A Muppet Family Christmas today is not the same as back in the eighties because for some reason, the version available on DVD is an edited version that does not include all original songs (it deletes a duet between Fozzie and the Snowman, for example), and it is also lacking the Muppet Babies old home video footage. :( Still, it is twenty times better than having this modern classic lost in the PBS archives forever! If you're a diehard Muppets fan or just a diehard Christmas fan, this is a must see movie of the season!

Friday, November 27, 2009

30 Days of Christmas: Double Feature Friday!...

There is nothing I like better after a long, hot (I wear Ugg boots every year in honor of the season, even though it's usually seventy degrees outside!) trek around the mall on Black Friday than coming home, putting my sweaty feet up, and watching Christmas movies well into Saturday morning while picking on leftover pies.

This year, since I have had most days and nights free leading up to this holiday weekend, I ended up getting a lot of my holiday shopping done earlier than usual, so I know I'll have more time on my hands today/tonight. Therefore, I am starting "Double Feature Fridays" during this 30 Days of Christmas marathon. First up? Tim Allen in The Santa Clause and The Santa Clause 2!

Eric Lloyd got to live every little kid's dream when Santa Clause fell off his roof and his father (Allen) put on the suit and ultimately "became" the Claus in The Santa Clause. Not only did he get to fly around in the sleigh, delivering presents to other little kids, but he actually got to visit the North Pole, hang out with the elves, and help make Santa more efficient and safe up in the skies. Sure, having your dad be Santa Claus means you only get to see him once a year, but his parents were divorced, and he never really saw his dad anyway.

The film deals with the fine line between believing and just imagining, but ultimately, through the magic of the holiday, it shows that anything is possible. And, of course, it teaches the importance of family, but also the importance of honoring one's responsibilities.

The Santa Clause 2 works as a surprising sequel to a film that came eight years before it-- and never expected to be anything but a stand alone-- because it plays off the mythology of the first film but also of what have always known about St. Nick. Mr. Claus surely needs a Mrs in the most traditional of ways...even though his elves can easily handle filling his sleigh with warm cookies and hot cocoa. Bringing Lloyd back to play the somewhat sullen teenager that many of the fans of the original had grown up to be as well was equally fitting. Once again, though, through the magic of Christmas everything works out for the kid: his father falls for his nemesis (the school principal, played by the underrated-- well, until about two years ago-- Elizabeth Mitchell) and whisks her away to the North Pole.

You can skip the third installment of this film franchise altogether. Nobody wants to think about Santa as being ungrateful (even if he learns a lesson in the end)! Though, if you purchase the 3 movie box set simply because it's more economical, you'll get a nice coaster for your mug of cider, eggnog, or hot cocoa out of that third disc!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

30 Days of Christmas Begins...NOW!...

One holiday. One month. One woman. Thirty individual movies. Readers ready? Go!

You may say it can't be done. You may say I'm crazy for even attempting-- nay, even wanting to attempt. You may get bored halfway through and give up, but I never will. No, Christmas is without a doubt my favorite time of the year. Especially now that I live in Los Angeles and can still spend the "cold" month of December at the beach. I love everything about it-- from the fake-snow covered mall Santa displays to the overpriced gingerbread houses and boxes of candy adorned with red and green ribbons. I love drinking hot chocolate for breakfast and staring at a giant tree (though mine is fake because of how well I can't keep plants alive in my house), on which I notice a new section of memories each day. And I especially love all of the cheesy Christmas movies that come with the season!

And I always have.

Sometimes when I'm feeling particular bored on a hot August weekend, I'll pop in one such holiday film to remind myself that the season of giving is really just around the corner. So needless to say, when I came up with the "challenge" to watch one Christmas movie a day starting on Thanksgiving and leading up to and including Christmas morning itself, I knew it would be a piece of cake. Warm, fresh from the oven, chocolate chip with lots of extra chocolate icing Christmas cake.

My friends raised eyebrows: "How will you find thirty Christmas movies!?" They were skeptical and hesitant, assuming I was setting myself up for failure. Meanwhile, my question was how I'd cut it down to only thirty! I am putting together the Ultimate List (at least to date-- because with the invention of ABC Family Channel we get about half a dozen new ones every year!) of Christmas movies that meant something to me as a child and ones that do (or still do) now. It will be a healthy mix of classics and those more modern. And I'm sure I will have to end up leaving many off the list, simply because society says Christmas festivities must end at the strike of midnight on December 26th. Or maybe if it's going well, and we're all having fun, I'll extend this "experiment" until New Year's-- to keep the hope and joy of the season alive just a little bit longer-- at least as long as I keep up my tree. I've never been one to just blindly follow traditions because those who came before me said I had to, anyway.

My family was never all about baking popcorn balls or wearing matching reindeer sweaters (thankfully!). My mom and I were much more into gift giving (and receiving). We would start the holiday season off early, hitting Hallmark the second they put out their new ornaments for the year, and we would end on Black Friday, finishing our holiday shopping at Bloomingdale's and then walking our way down Fifth Avenue for any straggler stocking stuffers we may need-- a pair of gloves for my teacher that year or boxes of Godiva for the guys in her mailroom.

Nowadays, I use Black Friday-- or rather the day before, which most will traditionally refer to as Thanksgiving, but which I do as Christmas Kickoff! On that third Thursday of November I put up my tree (though this year I found I had to fight myself to wait even that long!), and I begin my annual marathon of classic holiday films with everyone's favorite: Home Alone.

Can you believe it's almost twenty years since that film was released, by the way? That means I have had this tradition for almost as long...oh boy! Anyway, I digress.

When I was a kid, the magic of Home Alone was in what Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) was able to accomplish on his own. I was younger than his character when the film was first released, and watching him rig his house full of booby traps to catch the bad guys was almost inspirational. I found myself digging through my Playskool toy bins after returning home from the theater to see if I, too, could pull something like that off if situation called for it. Plus, Culkin was pretty cute to my elementary-school aged self!

Home Alone spoke to the part of me that was rushing to grow up too soon and just wanted to spend Christmas away from the crazies in my family so I could do it "my way." It featured all of the family Christmas traditions (decorating the tree, ice skating, attending mass-- for those who grew up Catholic, anyway) but without the big, loud, and as we learned from the opening scenes, obnoxious meddlers.

But the film has heart and a message, which is what every one of these films needs to be watched and re-watched year after year instead of just pushed aside like a gimmicky, dated pop fad. Though Culkin truly carried the film, Catherine O'Hara's touching and surprisingly dramatic role as his guilt-ridden mother steals scenes left and right-- whether she's stealing pay phones from French airport travelers or bonding over polka and bad parent stories with the late and great John Candy in the back of a truck.

Home Alone really is the quintessential holiday movie! And for an added laugh, watch it when it airs censored for television. The ADR replacement of "growing on my...butt" is pretty awesome in and of itself!

It's only day one of my 30 Days of Christmas, but "do you guys give up, or are you thirsty for more!?" Grab your hot cocoa-- and maybe a sugar cookie or strand of popcorn-- and sit back, because you're in for one bumpy sleighride!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Favorite Things '09 (What I'm Thankful For This Year)...

This was a rough year for me in a couple of senses of the word. For once I found that while a lot of pop culture and television were good for "zone out" moments, they weren't full-on distractions or salvations the way I sometimes needed (and had grown expectant for) them to be. Therefore, most of the things I find myself thankful for today have to do with those slightly more serious. But in order to spare you a trip to the holiday doldrums, I have managed to dig through it and find the top pop culture moments for which I am thankful-- even if the list may be shorter than usual this year.

The music of GLEE. I'm not going to wax poetic that this is the best written or funniest or even most unique show on television right now. I even think it ties with Modern Family for having the best ensemble cast. However, there is no denying that the music selection (and the new voices that carry the old classics) is inspiring, goosebump-giving, and just generally the perfect tracks to make even the stiffest person (i.e. me) feel like getting up and dancing.

Disneyland at Christmastime.
Even though I kind of miss seeing "the regular" Haunted Mansion when it's all done up as Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion, everything else at this time of year screams extra uber magical! I love the castle all done up in wreaths and icicles, the red velvet robes some of the characters wear to evoke Santa and Mrs. Claus, the snow falling into cups of hot chocolate while waiting for the parade, and especially the stores that devote whole sections to ornaments and stockings.

Stephen King. I know he was on the list last year as well, but two weeks ago he gave reason to be included again (if not every) year when his latest novel, "Under the Dome," was released. Just like the first novel of his I ever read, "It" (at least in the reprinted paperback form I picked up from Borders), this new story is 1074 pages of pure amazingness-- rich characters, and a somewhat creepy but definitely intriguing concept of the government "quarantining off" a town by encasing them in a dome-- and it would have the potential to keep me entertained well into the new year...if I read really, really slowly the way I tend to do when a book is just so good I don't want it to end.

My 'Just Desserts' Original Recipe Cookbook. Okay, unemployment can be a dangerous thing for a lot of people. Some don't learn to curb their spending habits to adjust to the fact that they no longer have expendable income-- let alone any income at all. Others go on vacation and forget to actually look for another (new) job. Some sit around, smoke pot and/or eat junk all day while watching court show after daytime talk show after soap opera. For me, though, I tend to get creative in the most new and random of ways. Case in point: earlier this month I started experimenting with new dessert recipes after craving something chocolately but unable to spend two to four dollars per cupcake. The first three recipes of my new cookbook idea have already been written: Molten Chocolate Loaf Cake (using partially uncooked batter as the "molten"); Hot Chocolate Milkshake (a reverse Serendipity 3 Frozen Hot Chocolate, if you will) with fudge and a scoop of vanilla ice cream coating the bottom and topping off the top, respectively; and Frosting Pie, which I invented in college and consisting of a pie crust filled with chocolate frosting. All things that sound like they should be gross but are really quite delicious. And unique.

But of course, above it all, the best thing about this year (or any year!) was my little baby Madison!!!

Woof Wednesday #28...

I managed to hold off from putting my tree up too excessively early this year, but I have pulled out all of the ornaments in preparation for tomorrow. After all, the purpose of Thanksgiving, for me, is really just the day where I watch a parade, drink hot cocoa for breakfast, and decorate my tree.

Last year Madison had an ornament that looked just like him (Hallmark's annual Puppy Love), but this year he finally has one with his name on it!!

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does The Anticipation Make The Slap?...

Tonight on How I Met Your Mother, the fourth slap finally occurred courtesy of a very special "Slapsgiving Part Deux" moment. You see, Marshall (Jason Segel) accidentally forgot his prize turkey in a cab, but Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) found it at the Port Authority lost and found, and when they returned it to its rightful owner, he was so grateful that he granted them a very special power: they could dole out the fourth long as it was done by sundown that day.

Now, fans of both HIMYM and any social networking site knew this slap was coming as early as last Monday, when an official "Slap Bet Countdown" widget cropped up on, Facebook, Twitter, and dozens upon dozens of fan forums and pages. In fact, fans not only knew the slap was coming in this particular episode but also the exact time code within the episode it would occur.

Questions have been raised within the show before as to whether its worse to know exactly when the slap is coming or to suffer over the "what if it's now?" moments.

For Barney, he appeared to have no problems going about his daily life until he knew the slap was coming, and personally for me as a fan, it is the same. Knowing exactly when the slap is coming just sets the wheels of the imagination in motion. You end up picturing dozens of different ways it could go down-- where, when, how, and most importantly: how hard. But the worst part? The magic is gone because the Slapper has lost the element of surprise.

Mark Salling May Be The Nicest Guy In Hollywood...

Sure, he never smiles when he walks down the red carpet-- preferring instead to take a page out of bad boy character Puck's book and play the brooding and smoldering card-- but Mark Salling is all heart when it comes to fans, co-stars, and reporters alike. A perhaps surprising fan favorite from Fox' not-at-all-surprise hit GLEE, Salling has always had sweet and down-to-Earth things to say about his fellow cast members and the creator of the show, Ryan Murphy, in interviews. Recently, though, Salling has taken his thankfulness one step farther by posting a musical tribute to his new family on his website.

It is rare enough these days in Hollywood for actors to spend so many waking hours a day on set together and come away without at least a little tension, but it is absolutely unheard of for one to go out of his or her way to express gratitude and love for his or her current job. More "overnight" celebrities than not end up letting the sudden attention and fame go to their heads, but Salling truly seems to relish the moment. He is not only talented but also still grounded enough to realize that someday he'll look back and realize "these were the golden days." And he's not taking all of the credit for himself.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of fans already think the GLEE kids have the sweetest job around; Salling is just stirring the pot videos like this! He just may be too humble to point out that he is a huge part of why the job looks so good!

Youth In Bloom At The Diversity Awards...

Last night in Hollywood, many stars of the music stage handed out and received awards at the AMAs, but over on the other side of town at the Luxe Hotel, some very special few others took the stage to celebrate on-screen diversity. Hosted by a barefoot Thomas Jane (see photos below) and Maiara Walsh (Desperate Housewives), the 2009 Diversity Awards honored those who are breaking stereotypes and making great strides in film and television. The casts of Lincoln Heights and Glee were both honored as ensembles, but young stars Justin Chon (Twilight) and Hope Olaide Wilson (Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself) were stand-outs of the evening. Both brought their mothers as their "plus ones," and both got emotional when describing the love and support their families have given them during the often unsteady journeys that are acting careers.


All photos (C) ...TBD Productions/Danielle Turchiano 2009. No reproductions or reprinting without written permission.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Family Portrait...

Family does not begin and end with blood.

A friend of mine recently confided to me that he thinks it's sometimes easier to walk away from family than friends because you had no hand in choosing your family and oftentimes find yourself with nothing in common with said family. The sense of obligation towards them comes from tradition, from rote, and also often from guilt.

But he was using family in the most traditional sense. Families, to me, do not merely include those to whom you are bound by blood and genetics, but rather they are the groups of people with whom you have a deep bond and spiritual connection. A family is who you turn to in times of crisis-- who you know you can always turn to when things get rough. Therefore, I think it is easy to argue that the strongest family bond on television right now is the family of misfits on Supernatural.

Of course, Sam and Dean are actual, blood-related brothers, and we have seen them fight and die for each other quite a few times before. But they have an extended clan who-- although they don't get to see perhaps as often as they'd like-- never hesitate to pick up a gun or a flask of Holy Water and get in the good fight, too. The family was larger once, but though it dwindles in numbers with every passing season of the show, it never seems to come up lacking: Bobby, Ellen, Jo, Castiel, and some could even argue the Ghostfacers. These are the kinds of people I'd want in my corner!

Though for those same reasons, I admit Dean kissing Jo (which for some fans was, like, "Finally!") was a bit like watching a brother kiss his sister and therefore left me with a touch of the "ickies" instead of the "awwww's!"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hottie of the Week: Mark Salling...

Now that Jensen is off the market (or at least for just a little while), I am turning my attention to the sexy crooner bad boy, Mark Salling! That boy may think I'm Twitter stalking him lately, but I think the evidence below justifies why that accusation is worth it. Let's all petition Fox to give him more solos!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Best of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (So Far)...

A few weeks ago, some friends and I sat around a pub not completely unlike the one in our favorite television comedy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, pontificating on our favorite episodes and character moments in the show. Though we all started watching the show at various times-- and one friend wasn't even all caught up yet-- we found that a lot of what we thought were the stand-out moments were the same. We were very different people, from different parts of the country, and at different points in our lives, and yet we had this one very specific thing in common. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: uniting people since 2005. ...No? Too far? Oh well, then just sit back and enjoy-- because you know we do!

#5) "The Waitress is Getting Married" (Season 5, Episode 5):
- Deandra runs into an old high school flame who she dumped, only he's totally hot now and...engaged to the woman with whom Charlie is in love. Naturally, she plots to break them up by infiltrating her in their lives as "The Waitress"' best friend who just happens to spill the beans about her alcoholism and other flaws. Unfortunately for both women, though, this guy is running a scheme of his own. Meanwhile, the guys work to get Charlie over The Waitress by posting his profile on an online dating site and setting him up with various women. This is the episode in which the infamous "milksteak" first date dinner was born! Plus, any episode in which one character uses The Waitress in a scheme to get back at another character is one of pure joy. Mary Elizabeth Ellis is sadly and severely underused!!

#4) "The Gang Dances Their Asses Off" (Season 3, Episode 15):
- Charlie's illiteracy strikes again when he accidentally enters Paddy's Pub not only in a dancing contest but also puts the bar up as the number one prize. Suddenly every supporting character-- from Rickety Cricket to The Waitress to the McPoyles-- shows up to try to stick it to the most hated small business owners in Philly. The gang starts off strong but soon find it is every man (and woman!) for themselves as alliances break down and they fight for the Number 1 and Number 2 spots on Frank's "ranking system" of the most valuable employees.

#3) "The Gang Gets Invincible" (Season 3, Episode 2):
- Mac, Dennis, and Dee decide to try out for the Eagles ala Mark Wahlberg in "that football movie," while Charlie and Frank decide to tailgate the tryouts. Danny DeVito is in fine form here when Frank takes too much acid and gets trapped inside the bathroom of an RV...or so he thinks. We finally get to meet the entire McPoyle clan in this episode; Greenman makes a special guest appearance; and Dee sports some very fancy facial hair. Also, a portion of this episode was filmed right around the corner from my house, so I have a special fondness for it for personal reasons!

#2) "Dennis and Dee Go On Welfare" (Season 2, Episode 3):
- Everyone is sick of Frank's meddling and decide to go their separate ways. Charlie and Mac go on a spending spree with Frank's money upon learning he has stashed most of it in a bank account in Charlie's name. Dennis and Dee, meanwhile, decide to go on welfare "because that's what it's there for," but they learn that being able-bodied adults, they don't qualify. So first they get themselves addicted to crack. And it is because of this episode that Biz Markie's "Just A Friend" randomly pops up into my head about every few weeks.

#1) "The Nightman Cometh" (Season 4, Episode 15):
- We saw glimpses of the cast's musical abilities before, but only in this episode do their true talent shine brightly and ring out loudly, when Charlie writes a musical to impress The Waitress. Naturally the gang tries to "undermine" him by putting their own spin on their characters (such as Mac deciding his Nightman "has the eyes of a cat and does karate across the stage"), but their misinterpretation of his "metaphors" (such as The Princess wanting to bang the Boy) is priceless as well. It's ridiculously hard to try to pick out the best moments in this episode that has since been turned into a live show. Instead, just watch the episode a couple of times in a row, and you will not only be singing along and out-loud but also laughing at different parts each time!

Woof Wednesday #27...

Madison is a bit of a chicken. He doesn't really care for other dogs-- big or small; he really hates cats and barks at them incessantly; and now he appears to be somewhat leery of bugs-- even butterflies, the gentle and sweet ones, and even when they're plastic and inanimate.

"Is it on me? I feel like it's on me!"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Slap Bet Countdown!...

I am so excited, I can hardly stand it! This better not be a fake out!

It's Finally "Sunny's" Year!...

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia started out seeming like just another crude comedy about a few dudes (and one chick) drinking away their mediocrity in some random bar. Airing on the FX Network, its cult following has managed to grow steadily by word of mouth and social networking sites, and now, in the show's fifth season and following a one-of-a-kind live tour for their breakout episode, The Nightman Cometh, the Sunny gang is finally getting some wider spread success as well. For the creator of the series, Rob McElhenney, this recognition is really not surprising: "I personally definitely saw this happening-- at some point. I think it was always just a matter of time."

"There are a lot of guys on the show; it's a very guy heavy cast," Glenn Howerton joked in agreement with his co-star and co-producer. "And you know, men just continue to get more handsome as the years progress, and I think it [the growth in ratings] might have something to do with that."

In all seriousness, though, McElhenney was cognizant of the fact that the show was going to need some time to catch on with the mass audiences. After all, these characters are one giant leap ahead of the Seinfeld or South Park gangs in their escapades, and for some, that might make them irredeemable. "The show is definitely an acquired taste," McElhenney acknowledged, "and that is certainly by design. We wanted to do something that was completely different and that you're not seeing everywhere else."

Howerton didn't necessarily have any expectations for the series, but he was adamant that they had to create something of which they could be proud and that people would enjoy as well. The show, which does often derive a lot of its humor from picking on the shortcomings of its characters (Charlie's illiteracy is perhaps the most obvious example of this, but Sweet Dee's childhood in a back brace comes to mind as well!), has also become a go-to for social commentary. McElhenney pointed out that there are "always interesting things to deal with as long as American culture continues!"

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has grown not only in ratings and fandom since it's premiere, but also its style and its savvy within the television industry as a business. This season alone, the show has seen the addition of some gore, which McElhenney called "a coincidence," with Howerton adding: "the episodes sort of led us to those places in a very natural way. It was never by design that we intentionally set out to say 'let's show gore here.'" Also this season was an episode devoted to the business model of Dave & Busters, which set out to make fun of it in a tongue-in-cheek way, but which of course also served as a very heavy product placement for it. "Networks are always looking for new ways to incorporate advertising," McElhenney explained why the show was ultimately willing to focus an episode on such a concept. Though he and Howerton were quick to point out that following each show break with a commercial from the sponsors was not part of their plan, nor something they knew would happen or would happen again. Sunny and its gang knows the fans would much prefer to see bits about "milksteak" at their own successful restaurant and bar-- Paddy's Pub-- anyway!

Just last week, Entertainment Weekly ran a feature on the cast and creators and their unprecedented release of A Very Sunny Christmas special on DVD (available now in stores and online retailers near you!). It is a bold move for a show that doesn't quite scream holiday cheer! but the perfect move for those slightly darker, slightly more jaded fans who are sick of the same old sap. The guys pontificated on the "Why now?" of this special and its timing but the overall response from the fans really has been "Why not??"

"Every year we come up with a lot of different things we know we're never going to get past the FCC-- just in terms of the censorship of being on...cable television," McElhenney explained. "So we usually just bank them and say 'Well, maybe one day we'll be able to get away with it.' And then this opportunity was brought to us by the people at FX, who said 'Hey would you ever want to do a direct-to-DVD episode where you put all that stuff on?' And we thought that was a great idea. We had knocked around the idea of putting these characters into a holiday situation-- into a holiday special-- for a few years now. As we knocked that around, we thought it could be really interesting as a stocking stuffer to just put all that stuff that we'd been talking about for years into an episode so we can get away with whatever we want."

Since the show has found such a supportive group of fans who take to Twitter quoting their favorite episodes and/or dressing up as Greenman or the characters from Charlie's aforementioned musical for Halloween, it is no surprise that the fans are the ones who are also driving the merchandise releases of the show. McElhenney and Howerton were both animated when discussing the potential of a soundtrack for the show-- featuring all of their originals, of course! "We've been talking a lot about releasing all of the Sunny music, and it's something we're going to be talking a lot about this year just in terms of all of the Nightman stuff, the Dayman stuff, the Birds of War song from this year. There's been a lot of demand from the fans to release a CD."

And hey, if is actually getting sales, there is no telling what else will come next! Lucky fans who were in attendance at the LA stop of The Nightman Cometh tour were screened the season five finale "Flipadelphia." With weeks to go before that episode airs wide, though, pre-orders for the official competitors' tee the gang wears in the episode have already begun! With fan-driven campaigns like these, there should be no stopping the Sunny gang from (finally!) receiving nominations next awards' season!

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs at 10 p.m. every Thursday night on the FX Network.

And come back tomorrow when I pick my Top 5 Episodes from the series so far!!

Fearless Females In Comedy...

Buried under a mountain of dick jokes and sweaty, hairy men, the one shining go-to for laughs in Universal Studios' Funny People was supporting actress Leslie Mann. No stranger to the boys' club, Mann is a graduate from the Apatow school but has proved herself to be more than a worthy opponent when stealing scenes regardless of whether or not the man behind the camera was in her family. Though she has been in this business for almost twenty years, Mann has only been getting the critical acclaim she so richly deserves in the last few.

Mann can be seen playing both funny and surprisingly serious alongside Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in Funny People, out on DVD next Tuesday, November 24th. However, she is not the only fearless female in comedy finally getting their due; she simply leads the list.

Sure, the obvious choices would be Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Kathy Griffin, but let's face it: all of those women have been front and center in the spotlight for at least a few years now. While that shouldn't take anything away from their particular brand of humor or their wicked smarts, there is a whole other generation coming up with Mann who are worthy of sharing her company.

Kaitlin Olson is best known as Deandra "Sweet Dee" Reynolds on FX' It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where she, too, is the lone female in a bar filled with neanderthal-esque man-children. Though the role could have easily become the stereotypical matriarchal type that just rolls her eyes and wags her finger disapprovingly at the boys', Olson's own knack for sick and somewhat twisted jokes at her own expense made her part of an ensemble instead of simply fading into the background. She has more recently parlayed her penchant for zingers into film roles in the independent relationship comedy Weather Girl as well as the upcoming Amy Adams helmed Leap Year.

Wanda Sykes toured the country doing stand-up comedy for years, but though her fellow comics called her one of the funniest in the business, she didn't become a household name until much more recently. Her own, self-titled (Wanda at Large) show was short-lived, but once she popped up on The New Adventures of Old Christine as the sassy best friend and moral compass for the title character, Sykes found herself with legions of new fans. Splitting her time between that sitcom and her own late night talk show just means double the chance for audiences to be splitting their sides with laughter.

Two years ago, there was a comedy on-air about a group of misfit blue collar workers who decide to get rich quick by robbing Mick Jagger (The Knights of Prosperity). The show fell flat amongst most audiences, but one actor stood out among the rest: Sofia Vergara. Now, it is two years later, and Vergara has found herself on another television comedy, Modern Family, playing the second (and much younger!) wife to Ed O'Neill's character. Vergara may be a repeated offender on Maxim's Hot 100 list; she may have a thick accent; and she may be a natural blonde, but both of those things only worked with her to surprise everyone with her natural aptitude for comedy. Thanks to her impeccable timing and ability to hold her own opposite comedy greats, her role on Modern Family is not simply a ditzy, one note trophy wife; instead she steals focus week after week.

Chelsea Handler says what is on her mind whether she is delivering a monologue to a live studio audience, writing a book about past relationships, or interviewing the very person of which she is making fun. Handler manages to ride the line between sassy and just plain abrasive, though, mastering it in a way that certain female comedians before her could not. Always opinionated and never one to fall victim to filters (either self-imposed or imposed by her network), Handler goes up against a handful of other comics on her own show every night and always manages to come out on top.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Modern Day TV Villains...

When speaking with Ken Jeong (Senor Chang, Community) just a few days ago, he made a comment about his character being a villain: "but whenever I play those types of villainous characters," he explained, "I try to play them so that they have no idea they're perceived as bad." Jeong felt it makes the characters funnier that way, but that it also gives them more depth. But considering Senor Chang (an eccentric but not necessarily evil man) as a villain, we have to acknowledge that means the criteria to fit the definition is much looser these days. If he falls into the category, therefore, we have to acknowledge that perhaps for once television is willing to see shades of gray with its characters. Just like with real life people, reel life ones will have touches of good-- even when they're playing the bad guy (or gal)!

Jane Lynch portrays Sue Sylvester (GLEE) with such a dry, biting wit, it is easy to see why so many of her students and even fellow teachers might be slightly scared of her. She rules her Cheerios with an iron fist and is not above bribery or scare tactics to get what she wants. However, after last week's "Wheels" episode, we finally got to see a softer side to Sue, when we watched her visit, and then read to, her older sister, who is living with Down Syndrome.

The entire cast of characters on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia seem-- at first glance-- to just be pretty self-absorbed, lazy, corner-cutting individuals who would rather lie, cheat, and steal than do an honest day's work. Though who in this town wouldn't, am I right??? Eh, anyway...their indiscretions are endless from the time Dennis and Dee (Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson) decided to go on welfare rather than getting real jobs, to Mac and Charlie (Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day) lying on the witness stand about Mac's father claiming he wanted to rape and then kill them. Each week the gang seems to get themselves caught up in a scheme or plan more harebrained than the last (which keeps everyone-- even themselves in stitches), just like the Seinfeld gang of the nineties-- only this time, there's no jail cell in the world that could stop them!

Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) on How I Met Your Mother is the kind of character that (until recently) even his on-screen best friends had to stop and wonder just why they hung out with him in the first place. Sure, he's good for a crazy night of laser tag, cigar smoking, bar hopping, and getting slapped by women of all ages, races, and religions, but can you go to him for a sympathetic ear or shoulder to cry on? No. Can you go to him for advice on anything other than financial markets or the Bro Code? No. And can you count on him to share anything real about your friends, family, or feelings? No! (Unless, of course, you were feeling that you wanted to try The Naked Man that particular evening) Yet his impish smile and zest for life make you want to keep him around, even if only to "liven up" your holiday parties.

...I wanted to include someone from the new Melrose Place on this list, as well, but unfortunately Amanda (Heather Locklear)'s first episode has not yet aired and her quotes from the most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly makes it seem like her character as softened quite a bit since faking her death and moving to a deserted island with the doctor of her dreams. I guess only time will tell who (other than Ashlee Simpson, who has already been booted) at 4616 is meant to be the bad guy (or gal).

So far, Ella (Katie Cassidy) seems the most likely candidate-- for being cutthroat with business but also for getting between Jonah and Riley (Michael Rady and Jessica Lucas), though Jonah and Riley are doing a good enough job on their own of getting in each other's way! There's Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen), who's selling herself to pay for med school (so innately she's the most sympathetic prostitute since Pretty Woman); there's bad boy Auggie (Colin Egglesfield-- who also got canned without us really even learning what makes him such a bad boy); and there's Michael Mancini's offspring David (Shaun Sipos), who although a big time art thief, has not only promised he will stop but has also used the money for good to try and help Lauren pay her way through school. Though, if we can't tell by now who to root for and who to boo in this melodrama that was once known for being rife with b*tch fights, then the characters are leaning more toward victims than villains, and that probably doesn't bode well for the future of the show!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Believe Again: A Celebration of the X-Files...

Now that I am officially a part of the IBG team, there is an obvious conflict of interest with me writing coverage on their charity events. However, as a writer and a sometimes-photojournalist, I can't just sit idly by and not post something! My fan(s?) wouldn't stand for it!

Earlier today-- November 14 2009-- in Beverly Hills CA, cast and crew of The X-Files reunited for charity. The event was billed as a Q&A and autograph session (for those who purchased VIP tickets), but a few lucky auction winners also got to participate in meet & greets with select panelists. Our event was moderated by Erin Fox and proceeds were split between Fezeka, OTSK, Kids Defense Team, and the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA.

IBG Inc officially became a 501c3 of our own this year, so I want to encourage all of you to please visit our website and consider donating a small amount (we know times are tough, but really no amount is too small) so that we can continue to throw great events like this one for other very deserving shows and charities! Also feel free to check back there for information on our upcoming wave of auctions; all of today's panelists signed some memorabilia for IBG to auction off on eBay (as always, proceeds will be going to charity).

I would like to thank all of the panelists, special guests, volunteers, Philes, and our moderator for helping ensure the event ran as smoothly, and as relaxed, as it could. You all made my first official event as part of the IBG Team amazing, special, and of course unbelievable. Please sit back and enjoy some of my photos from the day:

IBG all together and being professional...

for about a minute ;)

Our amazing panel!!

This pretty much sums up the day:
exhausting, exciting, exhilarating!

All photos (C) ...TBD Productions/Danielle Turchiano. No reproductions or reprinting without written permission.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Inappropriate Touching And Unlikely Relationships: A Discussion With Joel McHale and Ken Jeong...

Joel McHale may be one of the funniest men on television today, but he’s eager to pass the title to everyone else in his ensemble of Community before taking credit himself for the success of the show.

“I think the scripts for the show are the sort of the strongest scripts on television…if we just get the scripts, and they’re amazing, but on top of that, the Russo Brothers love improvisation, so it’s like the best of both worlds, and that’s why you do get dynamite performances out of Ken. Because he can do the page or he can improvise; he can do it all.” A very un-Jeff Winger thing to say, McHale!

Sitting down with McHale and scene stealer Ken Jeong (Senor Chang) for a conference call this past week, the actors were cracking jokes left and right, and often at each other’s expense, but they did have a few serious things to say about the show, it’s intent, and their upcoming episode, “Environmental Science.”

“It’s about the characters and not in any way making fun of an actual community college other than just the general education,” McHale explained, after admitting that prior to the show airing, some were skeptical. “They said ‘those bastards are going to make fun of us!’” McHale noted, putting on a typical “tough guy” voice. So how is it for the two men who play, on paper, characters who are completely unlikable, and at times, unredeemable?

“Well, I think Senor Chang is the only likable character!” Jeong joked. “I’m really shocked…I really thought I’m the good guy and everyone around me is the bad guy but whatever!”

“Your character berates people,” McHale got in on the fun.

“Really? But if you saw the context—“

“The context!? …You’re inappropriately touching most of the women in your scenes, and then with the guys, you just insult their weaknesses!”

“But first of all, if I can address the female complaint: that was affectionate. And second of all, to address the male complaint: I don’t care—because I only care what the women think. So…I hope that clears it up!” Jeong announced, clearly expecting such a question.

In all seriousness, though, McHale believes that if Jeff Winger were a real, live person walking around the streets of Los Angeles (or wherever), he would in fact be pretty likable because he’d just “turn on his charm.”

“He came in pretty selfish, but you see in this study group, he’s slowly unraveling—or they’re slowly unraveling it out of him, which is a hard thing for him. But slowly he’s turning.”

McHale admitted that his character’s growth was “glacially slow,” in part due to the kind of character Jeff Winger the lawyer had to be for so many years. It just wouldn’t be believable for him to have an overnight epiphany—though his fellow students (or namely Britta (Gillian Jacobs)) are trying to get him to.

“Starting over again, how would anyone not have some sort of baggage?” Jeong pontificated. “To me, it’s very real, and I would think of these characters not as unlikable but they’re all meeting at certain points in their lives—or maybe certain events have happened to them—that causes them to behave in bad ways.”

In fact, both men feel that Chang’s behavior will be justified and understood once the audience finally gets to see his back-story explained in the upcoming episode. If there is one complaint about the show so far, it is that the comedy comes out of the situations the characters are thrown in, instead of through who the people are. But that is mostly because we still don’t yet know a whole lot about the characters. Come this Thursday, that is promised to be rectified, though!

The next episode of Community (“Environmental Science”) will have Jeff and Senor Chang finally embarking upon the friendship that has been gradually seeded in past episodes. Neither actor finds such a relationship (blurring the line between student and teacher) all that unlikely or inappropriate (though, what on this show is one hundred percent, completely appropriate!?) either.

“Due to my own back-story, you really get to see layers behind it [the friendship]. Joel’s character is really the only guy who really unravels it and gets me, and it’s like “Wow.” Throughout the episode we develop a nice little report,” Jeong teased.

“The only problem was the cigar smoke!” McHale couldn’t help speaking up and taking the nice moment down a peg, ala his alter ego. “I stopped at one point because there was no sort of performance happening. I had entered some sort of spirit world!”

If you’re a fan of Community and have been paying attention thus far this season, though, you have to wonder just what Jeff’s real motivation behind becoming so buddy-buddy with his hapless Spanish professor is! Find out what it is (and learn what exactly the problem with the cigar smoke was) by watching this week’s episode airing Thursday, November 19 at 8 p.m. on NBC.