Saturday, February 28, 2009

March Is The New Mid-Season...

Once upon a time in a magical land called Hollywood, harried, somewhat unkempt writers bit their nails down to the quick awaiting news on if the pilots they pitched would receive full season orders, be given solid No's, or worse: be relegated to the limbo that was "mid-season replacement" territory. Such shows weren't guaranteed to air at all, if the initial fall line-up (the shows that network executives felt had the most potential) didn't fail expectations. And if the shows did get a shot after premature cancellations, there was no guarantee they'd find an audience, considering so many other new programs before them had a few month head start in garnering loyal followers. These days, though, mid-season is no longer something to be feared or shamed, as critically acclaimed programs such as Lost and 24 are now given those premiere dates, making them something of pride. Typically mid-season begins in January, but as the years have gone on, and with cable networks delivering their own original programming without adhering to network timelines, mid-season has begun to mean anything from the winter through the spring. March 2009 will be bringing even more new (and some returning) programming, but not all is destined to stick around to see the light of a second season.

Based on the real life of horror and crime novelist Rick Castle, ABC's new drama, appropriately-titled, Castle, will begin airing on March 9. Starring Nathan Fillion as the title character, Castle follows the writer after he joins forces with Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) to help catch a serial killer who is staging murders based on scenes from his books. Castle tries to be witty, but Fillion's antics unfortunately come off more as goofy, evoking memories of his Dr. Horrible days, which makes the overall show seem bumbling and teetering on the edge of reality. The real life Rick Castle is poker buddies with the likes of James Patterson, Sue Grafton, and Stephen King, so at least there is hope for some cool cameo moments!

Comedy Central and RENO 911! left us with a huge cliffhanger last July when Lt. Dangle and the gang took off on an ill-fated parade float. Did they all survive? Did anyone walk away without their eyebrows? Was it just an elaborate hoax? Was the show even going to come back to give us any answers? Well, we now know the answer to at least that last question, and hopefully we will find out the others come March 12 when the Reno Sheriff's Department is back in all of their misguided glory. Two new cops will be joining the squad, fueling the rumors that not all of the original cast will return, but both new guys (Ian Roberts, playing a by-the-book Sergeant, and Joe Lo Truglio, a big city play-by-his-own-rules type) appeared in the big screen version of the show, so whatever happens, the improv ridiculousness will not miss a step! And it is safe to say that roller-skating Terry (Nick Swardson) will stir up some trouble, as well.

The CW just announced the renewal of six of their shows, but Reaper was not included. Perhaps executives at that baby network are awaiting the success of its second season premiere tonight to make any determinations on its longer-term future. Reaper returns with Sam (Bret Harrison) in the midst of an existential crisis of sorts, wondering if he really is the devil's son or if it has just been elaborate trickery to get him to do some things he wouldn't ordinarily do. Jenny Wade (Feast, Pushing Daisies) will also pop up for at least a three-episode arc, and Sam will have to battle the devil's actual child, who isn't so keen on sharing daddy. Sounds like this once-snarky take on a sitcom family might finally be on its way out with these soap opera-esque antics!

Based on the popular web series of the same name, In The Motherhood begins on ABC on March 26. The slightly larger screen version has different stars-- Cheryl Hines, Megan Mullally, and Jessica St. Clair-- but the stories are still plucked from the headlines of real life mothers' family newsletters and submitted to the show. With such sharp, witty comediennes in the lead roles, the characters are quirky, complicated, and as post-modern as can be, guaranteeing the laughs to keep rolling.

The first television show about a modern day Cupid (starring Jeremy Piven and aptly titled Cupid) went off the air without even a yelp from the stinging sensation of his arrow. The second television show about Greek Gods living in the present-day world, The CW's Valentine of this past fall, made just about as big an impression, even though in this adaptation Cupid was replaced by a shaggy, promiscuous Eros. So what would make ABC think that a remake of Cupid starring Bobby Cannavale, who might always be known as the "funky spunk" guy from Sex and the City regardless of how many other programs he's had larger, longer, even starring, roles, would fare any better? On March 31, we will all find out, though, as Trevor Hale (Cannavale), a man who believes he actually is a Cupid-incarnate is placed under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Claire McCrae (Sarah Paulson) and told he must attend her singles group therapy sessions on a regular basis so that she can monitor his progress. Needless to say, he'll probably make a believer out of her, since this is being marketed as a romantic dramaedy, but the prognosis looks significantly less positive for audiences.

Also premiering this month is ABC's Better Off Ted (March 18) and NBC's Kings (March 19), while also returning are NBC's second season of Donald Trump's The Celebrity Apprentice (March 1), AMC's breakout series Breaking Bad (March 8), and The Tudors (March 30).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Over The LA Moon (RENT Comes To The Pantages)...

In tick, Tick...BOOM! Jonathan Larson wrote that he wanted "to sit down, right now, at [his] piano and write a song that people will listen to and remember and do the same thing every morning for the rest of [his] life." And Larson was blessed enough to be able to do so-- even if it wasn't really paying the bills for the most of his professional career-- until his life was cut tragically short on January 25 1996. His words then should not be taken lightly: they should be motto to live by because life is too short to spend so much time and energy on something you don't completely love to do.

In a similar fashion, I could take part in the performance of Larson's most famous work, the 1996 Tony Award winning take on La Boheme: RENT, everyday for the rest of my life and never get bored or look for something "better." I have written countless times before about what the show has meant to me, but last night truly brought a whole new level to my devotion to the show. Last night was the touring production of RENT's opening night at the Pantages in Hollywood-- a touring production that stars none other than Larson's own hand-picked Roger and Mark, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, as well as Broadway's final Angel, Justin Johnston, and final Collins, Michael McElroy (though original "Seasons of Love" powerhouse soloist Gwen Stewart is listed on the touring cast sheet, sadly she did not make it to opening night in LA).

The Pantages, though still a part of the Nederlander Group, is not as majestic as the just-off-Broadway-enough-to-be-considered-Bohemian New York stage that was RENT's home for a dozen years, but the theater was radiating like it never had before last night, aglow with the excitement and dreams of long-time RENTheads as well as a handful who were seeing the show for the first time. I spied at least a couple of kids in the audience, too-- proudly wearing their RENT buttons and hoping to catch a glimpse of these now-larger-than-life personas. No discredit to the many others who have assumed the roles for the last thirteen years (Manley Pope, you especially will always be in my heart!), but the sheer power of Pascal and Rapp resuming those that made them famous allowed Larson's message to echo so much deeper than ever before.

It was somewhat unreal to see just how big Pascal, Rapp, and RENT in general have blown up commercially in recent years, too. When the play first debuted, won the Tony, and hit the cover of Newsweek, it solidified its place in pop culture history, but it is doubtful anyone expected that so many years later it would be right back at the center of things again. The audience of the Pantages was more anticipatory than any one I have ever sat in before (and I have seen the show three previous times at the Pantages and eight times on Broadway); you could barely hear the knocking on "the door" because of how loudly the crowd was catcalling for the girl they had not yet even met. To make up for any lines or notes that might have gotten swallowed by the audience's enthusiastic reaction, though, this particular touring cast of RENT took some liberties-- with the staging as well as certain specific lines of dialogue. But because it was Pascal and Rapp at the helm, we forgive them that, sort of how parents might forgive their children's newly developed bad habits when home from college for a holiday break. We were just so glad to have them back!

As Mark, the story's sensitive narrator, Rapp is still the anchor of RENT, and though his smile today is not nearly as wide-eyed as it must have been all of those years ago when he first took the stage, his enthusiasm is still that of a young man truly in love with the role he is tackling. To him, RENT is not merely a job but a way of life, and his energy rolls over the audience in waves from the very first moments he bounces out onto the stage. He puts everything he has into every line, every note, every look, delivering an amazingly focused, aware performance. Rapp has as much invested as his legions of fans.

Pascal, on the other hand, brings a natural ease to Roger that has been missed in recent years of the touring and Broadway casts alike. One would never know Pascal just had to sit out the Detroit tour dates due to a herniated disc by his performance last night; his demeanor is calm, quiet, and controlled-- dialing down the frenetic nature one might expect from a character who is a recovering addict-- creating a unique and poignant dichotomy with Lexi Lawson's Mimi. Whenever Pascal opens his mouth to sing, the notes pour out silky and smooth, effortlessly, and the audience falls in love with his tortured soul all over again.

Something must be said, too, for how wonderfully Pascal and Rapp blend with the newer members of the cast. In ensemble numbers, they never overshadowed, and the others never kow-towed to their lead: they were a family, just as Larson always intended.

Though RENT is chock full of beautiful duets, none epitomize Larson's greatest struggle but also his greatest passion more than "What You Own." And similarly nothing can compare to watching Pascal and Rapp harmonize its message. Perhaps I was greatly influenced by the fact that I gave my notice at "the corporation" recently, but when Rapp yelled "I quit" into the payphone and then spun on his heel to break directly into the chorus, I pumped my fist in the air with admiration and understanding. Times may be tough right now, but tomorrow is not guaranteed, so we must make sure that whatever we do, it is something about which we can feel good when we wake up every morning. We must never feel any shame for our art or our choices; they are what defines our lives after all. And if Larson and RENT have taught us anything, it is that life is to be celebrated.

RENT will be at the Pantages through March 8. Tickets might still be available through the Nederlander Group's box office or Ticketmaster.

The L Word...

Yes, last night's 30 Rock was about love, with Elisa unwilling to "take the next step" (you know, sexually) with Jack until she knew where they stood and he admitted he loved her, but more importantly it was about Larry King! (the episode, after all, was aptly titled "Larry King") who had a cameo as himself when Tracy Jordan went on his show to promote something-or-other but ends up commenting on the Breaking! News! that the Asian markets are falling. His words of "stay calm and prepare your bodies for the Thunderdome because that is the law now" seem to have oxymoronic effects on the New Yorkers, as they begin looting and tagging everything in sight (including Kenneth's page jacket, but we'll get to that in a minute).
Jack, giddily in love, agrees to go on vacation with Elisa to Puerto Rico because he can't stand the thought of being without her (and also, they haven't slept together yet which means that in 2009, Liz has already had sex two more times than he has). He leaves at the worst possible time, though: when Geiss goes AWOL and NBC needs a leader. Tempted by the thought of "going again in fifteen" with Elisa, though, Jack tells his flunkies, when the barge into what appears to be a hotel room but could very well be his penthouse, that there are some things "more important than a stock quote crawling across a screen." He did it all for the nookie. Until one flunkie holds out a Post-It with how much they have already lost, and he runs for his coat...and pants.

Still on Larry King Live, Tracy advises the public to withdraw all of their money from the banks and just hide it at home. He admits that is what he does, adding he even has cash stashed at church and at work. Everyone watching in the writer's room hears him say that the amount is "so much if some was gone [he] probably wouldn't even notice," they book it out of there to search for it in his dressing room. After ransacking sufficiently (we know this by the slanted posters on the walls and the air ducts that have been torn down, Pete just calls into Larry King's show to ask Tracy to be more specific. He is, but in a cryptic way: "the safesty place at 30's always dry and warm...the location changes all of the time but the money is always in the same place..."

It appears that Liz, meanwhile, has left her cell phone in a taxi, and the driver who found it went through her address book and saw that she knows Tracy Jordan, so he holds it ransom. She hangs up on him, telling she'll only pay the $800 he wants to give it up on opposite day, but he calls back later, having found an "adult" photo Drew took of her on there as well. He threatens to send it to everyone in her address book if she doesn't bring him two thousand dollars. She panics and agrees to go meet him, but he's in a bad part of Queens and doesn't want to go alone. Naturally the only TGS staffmember who agrees to help her out is Kenneth, and they set out to the boroughs together.

After the tagging incident (see above), Kenneth gets scared and wants to turn back, but being the stellar person that she is, Liz creates an elaborate lie about how there is something of very great sentimental value on her phone: a recording of the German lullaby her grandmother used to sing to her as a baby...made a few hours before her grandmother passed away...on Liz' birthday. Of course there is.

Unfortunately for Liz, the duo gets mugged, and a photo falls out of her wallet as the thieves are ripping it from her person: it is a photo with Nana Lemon on New Year's Eve 2009 (we know this because Nana Lemon is wearing big green novelty glasses with 20 on the right side of her face and 09 on the left. Kenneth knows Liz was born in November and starts to put two and two together. He asks Liz to sing the lullaby again, and he figures out that it is only "99 Red Balloons" so she cracks and tells him there is a "boobies picture" of her on that phone. Once the truth is out, she can't stop herself (it's that word vomit Tina Fey so often talks about), and she blurts out that they're not really friends and she only said they were because he made her. Well; I never! Thankfully, Kenneth grows a backbone and walks away, alone, down the street.

Jack calls into Larry King Live to try to keep everyone from "listen[ing] to Tracy Jordan and panic," but Elisa storms in and points out that this is not a crisis, and no one is going to die from it. Instead, they're really just afraid they may become poor "like everyone else...and have to eat cereal from a bag...and keep the free hand wipes from the casino...and maybe even spend time with your children." She's going to Puerto Rico without him because, like what is happening here tonight, she "is a once in a lifetime thing."

Jonathan rushes in with a VHS tape that Don Geiss had made, apparently in preparation for such a time as this, and Jack is overwhelmed by its message, knowing that if anyone has the answers, it's Geiss. On the tape, a not-so-much-younger but with a bunch more hair Don Geiss urges his people to go be with their loved ones at this time which is certainly the end. Nothing matters more than love. And Larry King, apparently.

Liz makes it to the taxi driver and demands her phone back. She doesn't have the money because of the aforementioned mugging, and he suggests she phone a friend-- but wait she can't because every number in her address is book is a work number. Personally, I think that's an unfair snap judgement to make; just because the numbers listed for people say 'Work' doesn't mean they automatically are. Sometimes people's cell phones double as a business line, so in order to write off their calls, you store them as a work acquaintance. And sometimes you're just too lazy to change the setting from 'Work' to 'Home' to 'Cell.' But in the case of Liz, he's probably right...

Until Kenneth, that is, who has miraculously made his way over here, too. The taxi driver suggests Kenneth try sex trade in order to get the money. I wonder why she doesn't just call up Dr.McHottie Boyfriend Drew. And why isn't his number in her phone? He's not from work! Kenneth, however, figures out the clues Tracy is giving Pete once again on Larry King Live (Pete and the boys have finished ransacking Liz' office to no avail, too). The answer is Kenneth himself: he is the safest place in 30 Rock, and he begins feeling around his body for the cash, finding it taped to the lining of his Page jacket. This time when she calls him a good friend, she means it-- even enough to agree to come to his "asbestos removal party" at his apartment.

Jack finds Elisa out on the street because everything has gone "Cocoa for Kukoo Poops" (her words) and the taxis now want five hundred dollars to go to JFK. Jack is somewhat relieved because now he doesn't actually have to do the whole rushing to the airport thing "like Ross did on Friends and Liz Lemon did in real life." He proposes to her right there, on the street, and she says okay, but she wants a ring "so big that it gives [her] back problems." Now she's his kind of girl!

Things always look differently in the morning, though, as Jack arrives at his office for a "couple's spa day" with Elisa only to find her own VHS taped message telling him she has gone to Puerto Rico because she feels he only asked her what he did out of the panic spurred on by "fearmonger" Tracy Jordan. To his credit, he actually looked crushed. Maybe he should have tried his hand with Larry King instead of love.

Best lines of the night:

Jack: "We're Jack and Elisa-- we're Jelisa." (He holds up a tee shirt with their faces printed in a heart.)
Elisa: "Yeah, that's lame, Jack."
Jack: "Joke, it was-- I was kidding."
Elisa: "I don't mean to get all Marc Anthony on you, but I need to know how you feel."

Kenneth: "I can't leave Manhattan on Page business; NBC's insurance doesn't cover it. I'll have to do this as a friend...say it: say I'm your friend."

Liz (about the photo on her phone): "It's a boobies picture, Kenneth, and I only kept it because for once they were both pointing in the same direction!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why I'm Agro Today: Facebook Edition...

Recently, Good Day LA (Fox 11's morning news in Los Angeles) reported a story that with the growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, today's teenagers' attention spans are decreasing in length. The report cited the "instant gratification" of sites like Facebook for the fault here, much like how MTV and their fast-paced editing in music videos was blamed for a similar epidemic in the eighties and nineties. The reasoning here is that teenagers are spending inordinate amounts of time in front of their computer screens on such sites, opting to communicate through Wall posts and "Super Pokes" instead of natural, one-one-one, in-person interaction. Now, admittedly, Good Day LA's report seemed to be only looking for the negatives, but it definitely got me thinking: for as much as I'm on Facebook during the day, there are quite a few features to it that bug the hell out of me!

It has been quite a few years since I was a teenager, so I don't exactly fall into the demographic of those profiled on Good Day LA's report, but seeing as how when Facebook was first created, it was a social network for those in college (one had to use an email address at an accredited .edu in order to sign up for a profile, which I do admit is actually quite annoying for me now that I am years past graduation but still have to display on my profile, as well as use to log in, a now-defunct web address), this inundation of "kids" seems to be straying from Facebook's original purpose in general anyway. Now just about everyone and anyone (including some of my friends' parents! and some of my friends' kids!) have a profile and can connect to you through it. Even if you have your profile set to private, long-lost friends, exes, and family members (maybe ones you lost along the way on purpose) can enter your name into a search and click Add As A Friend. Suddenly you're faced with a dilemma: do you hit Ignore, because this is someone maybe you had no desire to ever see or talk to again, or do you choose Confirm and simply hope that granting them access to your profile is enough and they'll never actually message you or want anything more out of this new development to your "relationship?"

More often than not, though, once you add a new friend, you start to receive dozens of messages from said person who has "thrown a sheep at you," "challenged you to an 80s Movie" or "One Hint Wonder Music Lyric quiz" or requested you add the Lil' Green Patch application. And if you click ignore on those once, that is never the end of it, as your new "friend" will not get discouraged and instead just send the same message again a little later. There is a certain courage that the computer grants many people: hiding behind a screen allows them to say and do things that maybe they are too shy or tactful to do in person. Social etiquette does not really apply there!

There are degrees to friendship on Facebook. There are the people who you went to school with years and years ago and with whom you may have reconnected recently; Facebook, therefore, allows you to catch up whenever you deem fit, rather than waiting around for a five or ten or twenty year reunion to arise. There are the people you work with, and perhaps even your clients, creating a one-stop shop to send mass messages about what it is you're working on now (great for artists, writers, actors, etc). There are your close friends, who presumably you hang out with all of the time, and can be filtered into a "Top Friends" rating box on the side of your profile, if you're so inclined and exclusionary. There are even the celebrities-- though some profiles are obviously fake-- who you can stay up to date with simply by becoming their fan. Facebook allows instant access to just about anyone, though, which is paradise for a stalker but can be quite upsetting for the Average Joe who likes to keep his or her friends separate ("worlds are colliding!") and some other aspects private from everyone.

Facebook allows for as much privacy as you want, despite it being a very public forum. You can disable the Google Searchable function of your profile, and you never have to update your status with anything that you don't want people to know. But most people don't think that way: most people (or at least my FB "friends") update their statuses liberally, at least once or twice a day, creating a News Feed that is never ending and quite frankly not all that news worthy. I have to sift through tons of annoying "Jane is eating cereal for dinner" and then later "Jane's cereal did not fill her up-- is now looking for cookie dough" messages to get to the one or two "stories" that might actually interest me. In this way, Facebook statuses seem to have been the crash-test dummy to allow for Twitter, and really, that in and of itself is quite annoying!

Really, though, none of these less-than-perfect features are truly Facebook's fault but instead the fault of the Facebook users. After all, everyone has a choice to send a message instead of posting on a wall, but most opt to send their thoughts the public way, treating any subsequent commentary they are garnered from it as the tiniest amount of fame and validation that they, and what they have to say, matters. At least for a fleeting moment until a dozen new photos you have been tagged in flood your wall, bumping their comment to the very bottom. And don't even get me started on those tagged photos; sometimes we have days we want to forget, and our so-called "friends" decide to share them out in cyber space where Facebook can do whatever they want with them forever and in perpetuity!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The George Bush of American Idol?...

I have a confession to make: I voted for American Idol tonight. But I didn't vote for Kris Allen, who was the cutest contestant of the night, or even Allison Iraheta, who the judges agreed was hands down the best vocalist of the night—and please don’t even get me started on everyone’s wunderkind Adam Lambert; he is a musical theater cartoon, and that’s all he’ll ever be! Instead, I cast my vote for the contestant with a split personality. The reason Nick-or-Norman, whoever he is, won my vote is three-fold:

1) I genuinely had fun watching him slide and writhe and serenade his way around the stage. When he "vamped" during the song, altering the lyrics to fit his life and this competition, I chortled with glee.

2) He reminds me of Nick Swardson, who provides me with some of my favorite moments on RENO 911! week after week, season after season.

3) The show has become an increasing joke season after season of its own, sending through the likes of Sanjaya and Jason Castro, both of whom were just as weird (looking) but had less vocal chops than the clown that performed tonight.

I know diehard American Idol enthusiasts, like my friend Amanda, hate Nick-or-Norman They think he ruins what the show is supposed to stand for and runs the risk of giving the show, and anyone involved with it, a bad name. But personally, I think he has the right attitude: this is just a TV show, people! And Nick-or-Norman is just having as much fun as he can with it; he's not taking it too seriously (Mishavonna, I'm looking at you!!). The show can change lives (and surely for some it has), but more often than not, the contestants fade to obscurity as quickly as they shot up during their fifteen minutes, and Nick-or-Norman is just going with the odds here. He is not buying into the whole philanthropy side to American Idol-- which means he is too much of a liability for Idol Gives Back week, but that is waaay off from now anyway-- and he is not allowing us to either. He is taking us back to music in its rawest form: he is there to entertain. We are given far too many sob stories every season (as much as I love Danny Gokey, I do think the show has exploited his wife's death a bit, and unfortunately I think that is going to cloud public opinion of him for the long run), and it's just nice to laugh for once!

Besides, in seven seasons of Idol, the best singer has really only won once...maybe twice.

If Simon, Randy, Paula, and the new chick thought Nick-or-Norman was making such a mockery of their precious institution, they didn't have to put him through in the first place, but they did, and he makes for entertaining TV, and that is something the show has lacked recently. So call it supporting the "Vote For The Worst" (who, perhaps not so ironically, are pushing for votes for him, too) conspiracy if you want, but personally I'm curious to see just how far Nick-or-Norman can get in this competition...and if he'll ever change his shirt or lose the 80s workout video sweatband!

Wednesday's Where Are They Now: Robert Iler...

Though The Sopranos only ended two years ago, its stars have been popping up on everything from Entourage (Jamie Lynn Sigler) to 30 Rock (Edie Falco) and even getting their own new series (Michael Imperioli in Life on Mars). One who has slipped by, virtually unnoticed, though, is Robert Iler, who literally grew up before HBO's eyes as young A.J.

As a child star, Iler pulled double-duty during his time playing Tony's slacker son: he also attended public school, where he enjoyed playing football but probably had to forgo dreams of playing varsity due to his hectic acting schedule. During the eight year run of the critically acclaimed familial drama, Iler appeared in only handfuls of scenes, morphing from chubby kid to slick businessman.

For the last two years, though, Iler has been living in New York and probably making up for lost time by spending as much of it with friends and family as he currently can. This season of Law & Order has brought him back to the small screen for the first time with a guest starring role on an episode entitled "Lucky Stiff." Call it typecasting, but Iler hasn't strayed much from the crime genre-- though it's been so good to him, it may just be hard to mess with a sure thing!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Surf Dude WIthout Attitude...

In 1992, NBC announced the expansion of its Saturday morning “kid-friendly” programming while simultaneously dropping its cartoon line-up; instead they boasted a companion piece to the already popular Saved by the Bell, which was sadly on its last legs and making way for a new freshmen class that could never quite capture the shine of the original. Also set in a fictitious Southern California high school, California Dreams took off where SBTB only dabbled: in the creative and entrepreneurial talents of its lead characters. Sure, Zack Morris was always looking for new get-rich-quick-schemes, but the Dreams gang managed to find an outlet that worked to not only bring them together as a group of friends (whereas Zack’s exploits usually had the rest of his buddies mad at him for a time before “Aw shucks”-ing and playfully punching him on the arm) but also to show me that unsigned musicians were sometimes worth taking a second look.

To this day the “Zack Attack” episode of SBTB is my favorite of the series, hands down, if only because of the somewhat badly lip-synced original songs. California Dreams, though, featured a “performance” in every episode, and these were teens who were playing outside of the comfort of their own garage and at the real (and moderately trafficked!) arena of a local restaurant. They showed no reservations, and they were always in it for the fun-- despite cousin Sly’s best efforts to get them paid gigs-- and that was the kind of “laid back” cool that I wanted to be around. They were comfortable with themselves and their passions, and they were uninhibited about sharing them with the world. That was something I strove to match. Problem was: I had no musical talent whatsoever-- though after tireless afternoons of rewinding my The Little Mermaid soundtrack cassette to “Part of your World” over and over, I’m pretty convinced I nailed those vocals!-- and my personal collection consisted of all fancily-coiffed and packaged artists like NKOTB, BSB, Madonna, and Mariah Carey. I wanted a lifestyle I didn’t think I’d be able to truly adopt unless I brought someone else in with me—someone else who had the ear that I lacked.

My Second Boyfriend (trademarked, like My Little Pony!) was in the school band. For someone who admittedly has a pretty limited and specific library of personal music interest and knowledge (“to answer your earlier question, we’re straight-up hardcore gangsta rap”), the irony of how many musicians (no matter how small potatoes) with whom I have hooked up is most certainly not lost on me. It wasn’t exactly the Dreams-- My Second Boyfriend played the unsexy instrument of the flute-- but it would do.

In my simple and stereotypical checklist of tall? dark? and handsome?, My Second Boyfriend earned three solid check-pluses. The problem was that we were well into high school by the time we starting seeing each other, and such a sophomoric grading system would just no longer cut it. Luckily for him, he had other musical aspirations, even if his own band, in which he planned to be shredding guitar, wasn’t fully-- or even partially-- formed. Like me, he scribbled furiously in class, and again like me, his notes were all lines from original pieces he was working on. He sometimes doodled musical notes in the margins of his notebooks, too, but since I couldn’t actually read music, I assumed they were nothing more than a bored kid’s drawings, the way I sketched eyes or hearts with arrows piercing them on my own sheets of looseleaf. For all I know, though, he could have been composing hit melodies in second and third period.

My Second Boyfriend was not a burnout by any means, but he did hang out on The Wall (a quite literal concrete slab just in front of the tennis courts next to my school where most kids went when they needed to meet their dealer), guitar case slung over his shoulder, even when he wasn’t playing it. Though his Upper West Side (and Upper Middle Class) Wasp-y last name begged to differ, whenever I looked at his shaggy, sandy brown hair and lightly freckled face, I saw a west coast bohemian—one who belonged on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, strumming the same guitar in the same carefree manner. In fact, My Second Boyfriend first caught my eye when he slid into the desk opposite me in our semi-circle set-up of English Humanities class because he looked like a lighter-haired Brent Gore, the lead singer in the fictitious California Dreams band, and I even started humming the theme song in the halls on my way to that class for a full two weeks before he finally came up to me to ask if I’d want to see a movie sometime. As a non-threatening and somewhat shy guitarist, My Second Boyfriend was one part Matt Garrison and one part Mark Winkle, and just like the easy success of Paradise Cove's resident entertainment, it felt slightly unreal.

(an excerpt from my upcoming collection of personal essays, "My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture."

What Defines A Genius?...

"Artistry leads to anguish, or is it the other way around?"

I can't say I agree with everything Elizabeth Gilbert preaches in this twenty minute speech courtesy of TED, but she makes some very valid points and offers an extremely interesting take on creativity and artistry. Here are her inspirational words on fear, writing, and genius from the author of "Eat, Pray, Love:"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Women My Friends Are Talking About: Week One...

My friends have been talking about Amanda Seyfried long before she sashayed down the Kodak stairs behind Beyonce, despite past publicly admitting that she isn't "into" public performances and considers her vocal talents to be "private." Perhaps a modest thing to say, coming from a girl who starred in the movie musical Mamma Mia opposite Meryl Streep! Seyfried has been working since she was eleven years old and appearing on some New York based soap operas, but in the last few years she really started to make herself a household name. In 2004 she put her college plans on hold after being accepted to the prestigious Fordham University in order to pursue this little thing called acting a bit further, and her career really took off.
Why My Friends Are Talking About Her: As an actress, Seyfried is a true renaissance woman! Her portrayal of ditzy Karen in Tina Fey's Mean Girls is still highly quoted-- at least around my watercooler. She nurtured that teen girl demographic by appearing on Veronica Mars, but then blew it out of the water with a star turn in HBO's Big Love. And if her upcoming Jennifer's Body, Dear John, and A Woman of No Importance have anything to say, it is that she may have the widest range of any member of Young Hollywood today. And the fact that producers and casting directors are actually acknowledging that is pretty damn buzz-worthy, too!

Men My Friends Are Talking About: Week One...

Last week when I posted the "Men My Friends Are Talking About" piece, I had every intention of showing a photo and printing a blurb underneath it to explain who the guy is and just why he is the topic of so many conversations. Unfortunately after narrowing my list down to what I thought was a manageable ten names, I realized that adding words would probably break some sort of record for length of a single blog post when the blogger wasn't getting paid by the word. So a pictorial had to do. However, I enjoyed the concept so much (and had to leave so many names off the initial list anyway) that I decided it might be fun to continue the column for at least a few weeks, switching off between male and female celebrities, highlighting those who may be up-and-comers, current "it" stars of the moment, or classic character actors who have been around forever but perhaps never celebrated as widely as they deserve. Today that person is Simon Pegg.
Pegg very nearly made my initial list when I considered bumping either Clooney or Duchovny (mostly because it is the same friend who talks about both of them interchangeably, and I wasn't sure it was fair to have her get two representations on the list), but alas he ended up as only an alternate (though it appears he is the real winner because neither of those other guys is getting a full column out of it!). Pegg shot to "overnight success" stardom with 2004's Shaun of the Dead release, after having only been working as a writer and actor for nine years prior. Born on the other side of the pond in Gloucestershire, Pegg's own form of dry wit risked getting lost in translation here in the formulaic toilet humor of the States' comedy genre, but his innate "every guy" quality quickly gathered him a strong and loyal following for his follow up projects Hot Fuzz, Run Fatboy Run, and How To Lose Friends and Alienate People.

Why My Friends Are Talking About Him: Pegg is a huge film nerd! He loves sci-fi and supernatural programming like Star Wars and The X-Files and often sneaks references to them into his films, giving the fans that share his taste some fun little "inside" nods. Pegg is also an extremely hard working, writing and starring in at least four new projects within the next two years, all while he preps to expand his family; his wife of three and a half years is set to give birth this summer.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What Defines A Life?...

Bonnie Hunt was on The View recently (like sometime last week-- do a YouTube search for the clip; I'm sure it's on there somewhere), and Barbara Walter's cracker-jack interview skills had her asking Bonnie about the fact that Bonnie's own producer called her out for "not having enough of a life" to have a talk show. Okay, first things first, Barbara: not everyone gets invited to the White House for parties and dinners and horseshoe matches, okay?? And second of all, Bonnie hit the nail on the head when she snapped back: "Well, what kind of life?" It is one thing to be a funny and interesting low-key woman like Bonnie appears to be, and it is quite another to be a crotch-flashing, falling-down-drunk, paparazzi-calling-on-themselves attention wh*re (...perhaps like a certain Real Housewife of Atlanta that Bonnie often portrays?). The comment didn't anger me, but Barbara's callous and accusatory tone did because I, too, often find myself wondering if my readers wonder if I truly have a life.

When my ex-literary agent (I am now looking for new representation and a publisher, in case any of y'all are connected and can refer me) was having trouble selling my second novel, she suggested I begin working on a book of autobiographical essays, not unlike the vein of Sloane Crosby, Cindy Guidry, or even Chelsea Handler. After all, she knew I kept this blog and figured I could parlay my pop culture knowledge into some cautionary (hopefully comical) tales. With the advent of web series and Twitter, attention spans have truly dwindled and no one seems to want to invest too much time in reading a three hundred-page book in one shot anymore. But collections of essays, each of which can stand on its own, are thriving, perhaps mostly because someone can pick it up, read eight or nine pages (the average length of one "chapter), and then come back to it weeks later without worrying he or she has forgotten pivotal plot points needed to continue on in the work. I took her advice and quickly started drafting what I hoped would be my first Best Seller. However, after drafting eight such essays, I just as quickly ran out of things to say.

I'm single. I am in my early twenties. I live in Los Angeles (well, just over the hill anyway), one of the busiest, brightest, most-thriving cities in the country. I work in the entertainment industry. I have friends who are actors, producers, musicians. I get home from my office at 5:15 at the latest every weeknight, leaving me ample time to attend screenings, networking events, dinners, and parties. I'm a confident, out-going (oh okay, loud) girl. I recognize even the D-List celebrities when they are strolling around the Galleria, in the checkout line at Ralphs, or in their cars on the 101. The typical assumption, then, is that my life would provide tons of fun and funny stories, anecdotes, and experiences. I have all of the makings for it! But I am nothing but atypical.

I don't really drink. I don't do drugs (nope, not even pot...not even once in awhile...not even when I'm writing...seriously...why don't people accept it when I say it the first time??). I don't dance. Therefore, I don't go out to clubs or bars or any of the stereotypical hotspots for Young Hollywood-- not even if I call it "research" for a piece I'm writing. I don't believe in one-night stands (for me; I don't care what other people do). You're probably already raising your eyebrows, wondering what the hell I'm doing in this town, in this business. I don't even really casually date. I'm extremely opinionated, but I don't set out to change anyone else's by sharing my own. I don't have kids. I don't own a home, so I don't have any tales of renovation woes or maintenance emergencies in my bank.

I love to spend quiet weekends on the beach with my dog and a good book. I love to spend quiet nights at home, in a warm bubble bath, with some TV on DVDs. I prefer hanging out with my friends one on one or in small clusters at lunch or while shopping, rather than at large parties where I feel obligated to wander around the room, mingling even with those friends of friends I barely know and perhaps don't even like. But let's face it, even I can admit that translating those onto the page does not a quippy, exciting story often make!

Do I think that all of these factors mean I do not have a life, though? Not at all, though Barbara might disagree. I have a life that I consider quite unique to fit my own personality (quirks), desires, and goals. I am quite comfortable and content because I am always true to who I am and I never do anything I don't want to do simply to give myself something more "interesting" about which to write (because let's face it, even if it drove traffic up for that one post, it would be like false advertising). I don't want to ever fit a mold of what people think I "should" be. Just because the average attention span now wanders without something flashy, glitzy, or glam (or even equally trainwreck) doesn't mean I'm going to cater to it if it's not really "me."

This blog is not equivalent to the opening monologue in a talk show. I never set out to give you five to six minutes a day of my daily happenings; I have always been very honest with myself that what I find most interesting about my life is completely subjective. I write primarily about television for a reason: it is in the stories I find within that medium that have made me into the person I am today and had a greater influence over my life than anyone I hang out with on the weekends or call or Facebook chat with after a (not-so) hard day at work. It is not just a throwaway (though catchy!) line, flippantly typed into a pre-made template field because eBlogger told me I needed a heading for my page: my life (good or bad; boring or not!) truly has been made possible by pop culture. Maybe to some it sounds like a passive way to go through life, but quite frankly, in a post-Sex and the City world where everyone and their sister still feels compelled to be the “real” Carrie Bradshaw, spilling all of their (and their friends’!) sordid secrets to strangers online, I think my life of restraint seems even more special!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Watch Out Andy Samberg!...

The guys of "Back of the Class" are gunning for you!

Growing Up With 90s TV (Sort Of)...

If you’ve ever heard the term “heard around the water cooler” you know a few things. One, it’s dated! and two, you can automatically remember the things that were popular enough to be discussed in such a place. Melrose Place, The Simpsons, Dallas, 30 Something, Married With Children…shows that spoke to generations of people. Shows that had the potential to become classics-- and some that actually made it to that status-- because they stirred something within their audiences. They were relatable, but most importantly, they were often controversial; they got people talking, and in turn, that got even more people interested in them. These shows were chock full of new spins on old ideas-- witty, clever, creative, and unique. You don’t see much programming like that nowadays. And unfortunately for me, I didn't get to see much of that programming when it was on the air either.

Now, don’t worry: I’m not about to break into a rant about what makes a classic and why some of today’s biggest hits will be tomorrow’s pile of trash. This isn’t a blog of critical essays about production value or the quality or content of writing, after all: this is about my life. And in my life, sadly, a lot of things were verboten.

Even in elementary school, we had a water cooler of sorts: it was called the schoolyard. Every morning my group of friends and I would gather and talk about the coolest music (New Kids on the Block), cutest boys (Mark-Paul Gosselaar and J.T.T.), and what we watched on television the night before. And that’s where we all varied. Though I was allowed to buy the NKOTB cassettes with all of my other little girlfriends—hell, I even had the complete set of trading cards and some buttons to match!—for some reason, my mother drew the line at owning the Jordan doll that would have gone so nicely with my fashionista Barbie. I mean, who better to date a singer than a model, right? But no. To this day, I don’t know if my mother nixed the doll idea because she feared they might be anatomically correct or what-- she claims now she doesn’t even remember saying no when I asked for one for Christmas or my birthday—but it was just one more thing in the long line of fads in which I was not allowed to partake. Super ironically now, television just held the majority of those examples.

I must have had a bedtime, but I don’t remember what it was. It was during primetime, at some point, but even then it was a tentative plan at best. More often than not, even if I made it into my bed at the appropriate time, I could still hear the television through my bedroom wall-- which was simply a louver door (the kind that slides open and has slots in it so sight and sound carry in long thin slits), and I would lie awake longer than I should have, straining to make out the dialogue in shows that were strictly off-limits. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what my parents were so worried about me picking up from television: when I was three years old and riding in my car seat in the back of my father's old Buick, my mother tells me a car cut us off, and I yelled out “@$$hole!” as we swerved around the guy. Apparently I had already been learning enough from my father. How badly could television screw me up???

For my friends, the current obsession at one point was a combination of The Simpsons and Married With Children (later they got into 90210, too, but I never cared enough about that one to fight for viewing rights). Kids would come into school bursting to talk about the latest funny thing Kelly Bundy said, or what Bart Simpson referenced that they didn’t quite understand but maybe one of the rest of us did. The thing about that kind of humor is that most of it goes over the heads of little kids anyway (like with the episode of Friends "Where Ross and Rachel...You Know:" they're kissing on the museum floor, and she stops him abruptly and says: "Oh, honey, that's okay," and he tells her that he just rolled over the juice box-- well, I was ten when that first aired, and without sex education in my New York City public elementary school, I had never heard the term "premature ejaculation" before, so I just assumed she thought he had accidentally peed on her). Yet my father still feared it, and thus it was banished from me. So he would sit in the living room alone, cackling heartily, as I feigned sleep, attempting to imagine the faces that went along with the few words I could make out. When one of my good friends went as Peg Bundy for Halloween when we were ten years old, I even had to pretend not to know who she was so my parents wouldn’t get suspicious! So perhaps it's ironic now, then, that I am trying to make my living writing about and for television when I wasn't allowed to partake in so many culturally defining programs...

Image courtesy of Charles Fazzino (original sketch of custom "Growing Up With 90s TV" piece)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Women My Friends Are Talking About...

And since the girls of IBG are planning a female counterpart to their photo shoot as well, I figured I'd once again throw in my picks here.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Other commentary? Leave a message in the comments!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Men My Friends Are Talking About...

The fabulous girls at IBG are back at it again! They are hard at work to bring you quite a few more charity events, one of which will be a photo shoot* featuring some very famous men in tuxedos, all standing side by side and posing for some very worthy causes. Needless to say, that is one cause I can certainly get behind! And in honor of that, I have been inspired to assemble my own version of the list right here.

Leave your own picks in the comments. Who knows; maybe the IBG girls will choose some of the same!

*More details coming soon

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Please Support...

Just because I don't personally believe in marriage doesn't mean I believe others shouldn't have the right to decide for themselves whether it is for them. Sign the pledge. Don't allow anyone's rights to be taken away.

Pick A Dream!...

It has just come to my attention (after her face loomed in my mind, nagging me that I knew her from somewhere and first assumed she had just grown up in my suburban New York neighborhood-- but then went through the painstaking IMDb research) that American Idol contestant Jackie Tohn has had a lucrative career as an actress ever since the 1990s whiny hit The Nanny. The minute I saw that credit, it hit me instantly who she is: you might remember her as Cousin Tiffany and also Little Francine-- in different, but equally memorable, episodes. She could do the Fran Drescher laugh before (and better than!) former AI contestant Mikalah Gordon.

Tohn has worked steadily since then, appearing on programs like cult classic Veronica Mars, critical favorite The Sopranos, and more recently, cable gems It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and The Closer. She was even one of the actors contracted to appear in the short films of the budding Hollywood directors on Fox' much less popular reality show On The Lot, and her independent straight to DVD, feature film Postal pit her against comedy stars Dave Foley and Zack Ward.

To her credit, Tohn has just called herself a "performer" on AI, never seemingly trying to deny her success on the small screen without a mic in her hand-- and while I did appreciate the scratchy, soulful quality to her voice-- I still couldn't help but think she seemed a little greedy to want to not only reign over scripted programming guest star roles but also take the title in a reality competition. Needless to say I'm not shedding any tears now that she has been voted off!

From Daytime To Daily Philanthropy...

When Port Charles went off the air in 2003, Kiko Ellsworth's Jamal made the full-on transformation from man to wolf. He morphed before the eyes of his current lover, giving long-time viewers an ending that was either sweet (assuming he finally felt comfortable enough around her to reveal his true self) or savage (assuming she would fall victim to an animalistic attack). Needless to say, it left me wondering if Ellsworth himself made a transition within his own life or career since that life-changing role.

I found Ellsworth this past week through a mutual friend on Facebook after he tagged her in one of his vlogs, which he seems to post for his family, friends, and fans on a daily basis. Now this could start a whole other tangent for me because so much as been said about Facebook in the news and media lately-- from SNL poking fun at the "25 Random Things" note that circulated to the Today Show talking about the annoyance of friends who update their statuses with every little thing-- but everyone who knows me knows I love the FB (find me! friend me!) because of how easily I can get connected to famous friends of know, so I can keep up with their careers (read: live vicariously through their on-set photo albums). Just by clicking "confirm" instead of "ignore," Ellsworth has given himself direct access to my life, just as he granted me access to his, and in doing so, he will now receive a direct link to this article I am writing about him. It helps me to open up my readership and get eyes on this page who may be able to help me get ahead, but at the same time, it's also a great tool for them to share a little bit of publicity with those who will care but perhaps not seek it out too actively.

What I learned from Ellsworth's Facebook page, then, was that he has gotten married since his soap opera days (he appeared on General Hospital and General Hospital: Night Shift after PC came to an abrupt end), and he and his new wife, fellow actor Christine Carlo, have completed a feature film called Staunton Hill, in which Ellsworth appears on screen but has also produced. Ellsworth will be doing double duty for the feature, I Am, as well, which appears to be another passion project for the actor who is a lot more serious than his days as a man/wolf might allow you to believe. In those ways, Ellsworth has transformed greatly: he is now a family man who is taking control of both his personal and professional life.

Ellsworth's Facebook profile is humble and modest, though, so to understand just how much he has been doing with the past decade, one would have to Google him or visit his IMDb page. Or really just be an avid television watcher. He has appeared on cult favorites like Logo's Noah's Arc and TBS' My Boys and managed to squeeze in quite a few other independent films, alongside guest starring roles on critical hits that include Dexter, Heroes, and Without a Trace. Ellsworth also keeps his own website where he writes about and offers advice on all of the things that are close to his heart, like acai, meditation, and The More Project. The site, especially his Inspire Me column, really shows just what a long way Ellsworth has come from his days of eyecandy status. Now Ellsworth can instead be known for the beauty within that he is trying to share with friends and fans.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day Love Massacre...

Thursday night is one for the Dr. Drew's of the world, it seems; not only does Mr. Pinsky himself own VH1 with Sober House but now Jon Hamm's 30 Rock character has been bumped up to recurring. Picking up after last week's surprising turn of events, he and Liz are in the lobby of their building, trying to come up with a time that is good for the both of them to have their first date. His life is complicated-- with his medical practice and a sick mother-- and she has "a stupid show" to do on Friday, so she suggests Saturday night. It might be the logical thing for most singles, except for the fact that this particular Saturday just happens to be Valentine's Day. No pressure!
Liz asks Jack what she should do, but he is clearly not the best person to dole out relationship advice, considering he and Elisa have bonded over their shared love of McFlurries, and yet the plans he has made for them on "the big day" include dining at Plunder, an upscale restaurant that boasts a thousand-dollar dessert. Elisa, though, has plans like "any good Catholic" to go to church because it is, after all, a holiday for Saint Valentine. Somehow (read: with a low-cut blouse) she convinces him to go with her even though he only "used to be" of the faith.

While in church, everyone is reciting the Lord's Prayer, but Jack has his own version, where he asks that Plunder will hold their table, even if they are a little late... Elisa shoots him a dirty look, but she tells him that after they go to confession, they can leave the service a little early to go to dinner. He obliges, and he slowly starts to break the priest with all of his tales of bad deeds past, such as "turn[ing] a blind eye when his Wig parent company turned some children orange" and "almost letting a man choke to death on a football field." Jack finally breaks him, though, with a discussion about being intimate with Elisa. She watches the priest storm out of the confession booth in horror, and she starts yelling at him in Spanish "Ricky Ricardo-style." If he doesn't care about her religion, it must be a sign that she shouldn't be with him, so she sends him off to Plunder alone.

Liz decides to cook Dr. Drew a simple dinner in her apartment, but in true Liz fashion, she replaces the water in the stew with cheddar cheese which causes a slight burning situation in her kitchen as well as in her stomach. Needless to say, things go awry when Dr. Drew opens a window that seems to be magically connected to the bathroom door, causing him to yell out "Too soon!" in surprised horror. Since he has a doctor and has seen worse (or at least, things that are the same), he doesn't run away...though he does take a call from his ex-wife, who ends up dropping off their daughter (a firestarter!) with him a little bit early. It's a lot for anyone to handle all at once in a new relationship, let alone a first date, but considering the bathroom incident took them to "about date twenty" and fast, they both just roll with it. Dr. Drew gets a call about five minutes later from his sister who informs him that their mother has taken a turn for the worse, and he and Liz rush off to the hospital.

Liz manages to get left alone in the room with Mama Dr. Drew, who pulls her down to bed-level and confides in her that she is not actually Dr. Drew's birth mother but his grandmother, and the woman he was raised to believe was his sister is actually his mother. She asks Liz to tell him "or I won't get into heaven." And Liz thought meeting his daughter was heavy!

Jack can't enjoy his decandent dessert without his lady love, so he ends up at McDonald's (where I still can't believe he would ever eat!) for a much more simple McFlurry, and Elisa meets him there. It turns out someone dropped a coupon for one into the collection plate, and she took it as a sign that maybe they can make it work. As they walk out, arm in arm, they spot Liz and Dr. Drew walking down the street in a similar I guess he took the shocking revelation about his family surprisingly well. And it looks like that for once, the saints may be smiling down on the 30 Rock gang...even if just for a little while. Well, maybe not everyone:

Frank recruits Kenneth to help out a new blind employee, but Kenneth finds her so beautiful, he can't even speak to her, so Tracy stands beside him and does all of the talking for him, in a slightly higher pitched, nasal "imitation white man" voice. He asks her out (even though he calls her Ms. Magoo) but ends up just taking her to a table set up on the TGS stage after "circling the block fifty times." Grizz and Dot Com are even recruited to act as the maitre'd and waiter, speaking in faux French accents to give off the illusion that it is one of New York's nicer restaurants. Tracy, in the fake-Kenneth voice, tells them he even has one of the "best singers in the world" to perform exclusively for them, and Jenna blushes, but he adds: "Michael McDonald!" and she has to do a fake voice of her own. The blind girl mentions "he doesn't sound so good live" because let's face it, her ears are working just fine-- perhaps that sense is even a little bit heightened. At the end of the dinner, though, when Tracy suggests that the night doesn't have to end just yet, Kenneth finally comes clean. He talks about how when he's around her, his heart jumps "like a frog on the [hot] asphalt before it's about to die," and she tells him he has a beautiful soul and wants to feel his face. He eagerly lets her, and her face slowly falls as she moves her hands around his, and she uses the old "well, look at the time; I've got to go" excuse. Poor Kenneth.

Best lines of the night:

Liz (about Elisa): "If I had those knockers, I'd be religious, too."

Jack (about the priest blessing the pregnant women in the congregation): "This is a Catholic church; we'll be here 'til morning!"

Jack (on perhaps his worst sin of all): "I may have sodomized our former Vice President while under the influence of weapons-grade narcotics."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Please Pardon The Interruption...

Do not adjust your browsers, and this is not a test.

DanielleTBD is at her mother's house in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she only has access to rabbit ears' television and dial-up internet. She will be back in civilization, and therefore this blog, early next week. Please pray that missing so many episodes of so many Viacom reality shows will not kill her and that she will be able to catch up quickly upon her return.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wednesday's Where Are They Now?...

In an effort to streamline this blog a little bit more, I have decided that along with my weekly recaps of specific shows (which have sadly dwindled down to just one right now as the others have all ended their current seasons), I will be re-introducing past favorite columns and making them a more consistent feature. The first one coming back is "Where Are They Now?" which I will feature bi-weekly on Wednesdays. After posting about it in my Facebook Status, I received half a dozen names of people my loyal readers (err... or just some friends) were wondering about, so I will welcome any and all suggestions for upcoming profiles in the comment section here.

With all of the recent talk about a remake of Melrose Place, not to mention the latter seasons just FINALLY getting their DVD releases, I thought it would be fitting to take a look at where one of my favorites from that show has been, but for the most part, they've all stayed pretty relative in the spotlight. Sure, Locklear may be better known now for playing Hilary Duff's mom or for getting a DUI, but Rob Estes has been consistent with stints on Gilmore Girls, Women's Murder Club, and now 90210, and Marcia Cross has become even more famous than she was in the nineties for her turn as WASPy homemaker turned business woman/brand Bree Van De Kamp on Desperate Housewives. One that I have been left wondering about, though, is fellow Stuyvesant High School alum, Thomas Calabro.

Melrose Place's Dr. Michael Mancini was a little bit conniving and a little bit swarmy, but somehow through it all, he remained a fan favorite-- most likely due to Calabro's wide-smiled portrayal. The actor's kind eyes always kept his "rough around the edges" doc from becoming too evil and have probably since allowed him to shake any typecasting from those days. Calabro has gone on to show his powerful side as everything from an A.D.A on Cold Case to a Senator on Greek but also show his softer, family-friendly side on Touched by an Angel and Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus.

I guess it turns out that Calabro has been working pretty consistently since his days as a popular series' castmember have come to an end, but he has been involved with the kind of "blink and you missed them" parts in programs that are (unfortunately when it comes to mainstream) equally small potatoes. Currently, Calabro is filming the experimental feature film Locker 13, which consists of seven vignettes featuring varying storylines and actors, which are all connected to a mysterious locker number thirteen. The film, which has rotating directors, including Jason Marsden and Rick Schroeder, is expected to hit the festival route and then probably go straight to DVD. Well, I'll be back in New York for a little while, so if Calabro finds himself without a next gig immediately lined up, perhaps he would be interested in narrating my documentary, Stuyvesant: The Sh*t Behind The Scenes... I guess I better get "people" so I can have mine call his.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Future Of Film...

Ryan Fox is a rare breed of Hollywood personality. For one thing, he is a hybrid (writer/director, in this case) whose projects are actually better for his ability to multi-task. For another, he is a true artist—someone who “takes what life gives [him]” and not only draws inspiration from it but also creates something raw, unique, and pure that will inspire others.

Fox’ directorial debut is one such creation: an experimental feature film, Railed, that blurs the line between reality and narrative by dropping two actors on a cross-country Amtrak train ride and arming them with the direction to erupt in a lovers’ quarrel aboard the sightseer lounge and then turn to the other passengers for comfort and guidance. Ultimately, then, the stars of Railed are really those unsuspecting strangers who were all shot with hidden cameras and just spoke from the heart about their own experiences and perspectives.

A favorite moment for both Fox and producer Kelly Brown was when the train rolled into the station in Chicago and their lead actor was able to steal a few moments with a homeless man, discussing life and love and loss. The innate wisdom and soul that comes from this man could not have been scripted better, and the impact on the narrative of the film is completely organic, which, really, is indicative of Fox’ filmmaking style in itself.

"Looking back, it could have been a complete failure," Fox acknowledges with a laugh. "Someone could have sniffed us out or...I didn't even know if they had plugs for chargers! One of the camera guys asked me if there would be outlets, and I just said yes, but we could have gotten on there and been surprised. I really should have taken a train trip first to scope it out." But that is just Fox' style: he has a vision, and he just goes for it--"filmmaking without a net," he calls it. And that kind of “no risk, no reward” attitude is exactly why he will be successful at what he does.

The idea for Railed came to Fox while he was traveling and less than a month later, he was putting together the feature film. He rented a few sleeper cars on the train and got lucky with their location being downstairs. “We had, like, four compartments right next to each other, and the only other thing down there was the bathroom, so we pretty much had our own little base camp.” Fox was able to watch the dailies at night and regroup with his crew and even his actors, planning out the next day based on footage he had already banked and planned to use in the final cut.

There was a lot on Fox’ side during the production of Railed: not one person who was secretly filmed had a problem signing a release to be featured in the film. “They were all proud to be a part of it; it was kind of like ‘you caught me trying to be a good person…where do I sign?’” Fox recalls. In a time where viral video usually focuses on capturing celebrities at their worst, Fox ' film showcases what can be accomplished when you set out to tell a heartwarming story for a change.

“It used to be that you needed a lot to make a movie—a lot of people, equipment, and organizing,” Fox explains. “If you were blessed you got to make a movie, but now we’re on the cusp, and things are going to change. There is much more of an audience for intimate stories.” Fox doesn’t deny that in a lot of ways, Railed is “the little movie that could.” It doesn’t have the draw of big name stars to get distributors interested, so he and Brown are taking it down the festival route because “buzz [there] can equal the draw of a B actor.”

“We’re letting what’s going to come to us, come to us through positive word of mouth. It’s a grassroots campaign… [for the] little, small filmmaker with the little, small film,” Fox explains. And so far it is more than working: Railed has done extremely well, winning Best Experimental Feature at the Festivus Film Festival, and will screen next month at the D.C. Independent Film & Music Festival.

The success of Railed does not come as a surprise to Brown, who admittedly “would love to produce everything [Fox] ever does.” When speaking of him, she has the tone of pride in her voice that one might use toward a beloved sibling: "That kid is unbelievably talented. He is just creative and doesn't conform to the commercial; he loves the process.” And his love for the art translates on-screen in the best way possible: through truly rich characters and performances, making Railed one independent film-- and Fox one independent filmmaker-- to be reckoned with.

Check back in two weeks for my official review of Railed!