Monday, October 31, 2011

"30 Rock" Halloween

Tonight I was watching a re-run of 30 Rock's fourth season Halloween special.  This happens to be a very special episode, not just because Halloween is my personal High Holy Day, but because in it, Jack and Liz travel to Stone Mountain, Georgia, which is like right next to where I live, y'all.

First, this episode contains one of my very favorite exchanges between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy of the whole series.  In it, they're looking for a new comic for their SNL-like NBC sketch comedy show:
Liz: I saw a few good alternative comics in San Francisco.
Jack: San Francisco? I asked you to find an actor from middle America; a real person. You're not going to find him in the People's Gay-Public of Drug-ifornia.
Liz: Jeez, relax! I'm also setting up auditions in Toronto -- 
Jack: Canada? Why not just got to Iraq? The television audience doesn't want your elitist, east-coast, alternative, intellectual, left-wing -- 
Liz: Jack, just say "Jewish," this is taking forever!
But that little anti-Semitic, homophobic bit of genius can't redeem the offense that the remainder of the episode caused me.  30 Rock portrays Stone Mountain as this redneck hick-topia full of Kenneth Parcel clones, when in fact Stone Mountain is a metropolitan Atlanta suburb!  For those of you who aren't from these parts, Stone Mountain is actually a very civilized city.  Despite its eponymous granite landmark carved with a memorial to the Confederate States of America, and its famous summer laser-and-fireworks show that culminates in "Proud to Be an American" sung by an animated Robert E. Lee and a stars-and-stripes cowboy boot, it's really very cosmopolitan.  I promise.

By day: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis
Stone Mountain at night, right after The Devil Went Down to Georgia.
I just don't see where the elitist 30 Rock New Yorkers get off perpetuating such groundless stereotypes.

Go home to your fancy "subway," New Yorkers!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flicky Friday (ft. Halloween Costumes)

This video is one of my absolute favorite Halloween staples. It's creepy and hilarious and will sneak into your brain and have you quoting it every time you see a "sexy" costume this weekend.  Please enjoy:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Flicky Friday (ft. Walking Dead)

AMC's groundbreaking show "The Walking Dead" premieres this Sunday at 9pm.  Get in the mood with AMC's "Ten Ways to Get Ready," read my reviews, and watch the Season 2 trailer, below.

I'm a little sad that the trailer hints that the cast might be leaving Atlanta; it's been awesome seeing my city infested by zombies, and there's no better approach to zombie-preparedness than visualizing the attack in your own neighborhood. (Atlanta's Center for Disease Control agrees with me: they published this zombie survival guide that was so popular it crashed their website.)


Addendum: it's too bad it's not Tuesday, because there is a great See You Next Tuesday moment I just found out about. Apparently Bing, the annoying Microsoft search engine, was desperate for some product placement that would reach Walking Dead’s coveted young audience. The New York Times reports,
 “We pitched them last year where maybe the characters could find a library with a generator and do a Bing search,” said Sean Carver, a marketing director at Bing, who acknowledged the scene was a stretch.
AMC’s advertising department gently (and presumably, slowly) explained, “The thing is that it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie concept, where all power grids have been destroyed. . . So people aren’t using their computers or phones in the show.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Death by Pilot: the End of the Playboy Club and What Could Have Saved it

It's no secret I'm obsessed* with Mad Men, not least because it lends some legitimacy to my admittedly-antiquated Hollywood entertainment knowledge (having Mad Men around has made people my age, for the first time ever, give a slight look of recognition when I mention Ann-Margret).

But, more than the personal satisfaction Mad Men and its allusions give me, it's just a damn good show.  The writing is theatrical -- equal parts wit and silence, the latter of which is almost entirely new to good television in post-Sorkin world. (Meredith Blake from The New Yorker went so far as to call it, "the television show that sometimes thinks it’s a novel.")  The acting embraces some dramatic conventions from Hollywood's bygone Golden Age (it seems no article on Mad Men can ever avoid using the word "bygone;" if I make it through this piece without saying "Tinseltown" we can all be amazed together), toned down to accommodate the more modern subtleties of the small screen.  Creator Matthew Weiner is a stickler for historical accuracy, which, as Bruce Handy put it in Vanity Fair, "grounds" the show in reality, no matter what drama is spinning around it.  Its scenes are composed beautifully, and, as numerous interviews with the entire creative team show us, there is nothing on the show that happens by accident, no outfit, no underscore, no backdrop, that happens without thought and reason and purpose. And Mad Men is just that: so purposeful, no matter how minute the story lines are, no matter how personal and isolated the drama is, it's consistently forward-moving, inexplicably universal, and forever bolstered by purpose.

This all being said, I had wanted to spend a blog comparing the nearly-flawless Mad Men to the two other new 1960s acolyte shows that have premiered this season, NBC's The Playboy Club, and ABC's Pan Am.  But every other critic in the entire world beat me to it, and then, Playboy Club was abruptly cancelled after just three episodes.  So, instead of doing "Alison's '60s TV Roundup" like I'd planned, I'm going to take a moment to defend Playboy Club and all of it's critically-panned comrades whose pilot episodes cursed them with an unshakable anchor, and dragged them into the murky oblivion of "cancelled-dom."

The Playboy Club was awful, just awful.  But I don't think it deserved to be cancelled.  It was everything everyone said about it, for sure, but surely it wasn't as terrible as some of the drivel still on TV, and it was at least something different, right?  Certainly, it had neither the high-writing nor high-culture of Mad Men, but if Mad Men were the standard to which we held our programming, there would be about six shows on television and you'd really be overpaying for your digital cable.  Playboy Club was at least tawdry, campy, guilty-pleasure fun, and, despite its cringe-worthy "Bunny" puns, strained mob backdrop, and its anachronistic treatment of everything from race to women's lib, I'd planned to watch every episode.

The hot one, the black one, the gay one. Oh whoops, I just ruined the plot.
So, how you gonna go cancelling the show after three episodes, NBC?  I understand it wasn't going to get picked up for another season, but if the episodes are already shot, edited and ready to go, why not move it to a less-coveted time slot for the remainder of the season?  There are lots of low-premiering shows that pick up steam over time.  (Remember how bored I was with the first few episodes of The Wire?)  We've barely even had enough time with the show to really judge it!

At least one critic, Nancy Franklin, agreed with me, and expressed dismay at having to review shows based only on the usually-shaky, heavy-handed, formulaic pilot episodes. Pilots are almost never unbelievably great (notable exception for the cinematic Walking Dead pilot, which then, of course, had to deal with a major second-episode sophomore slump). Because pilots are less-than-perfect attempts at setting a tone for a show that may morph and grow and add layers over time, she writes, "the tone of pre-season commenting tends to be waggish and dismissive." Depressing for everyone, right?

I think the death of The Playboy Club owes to the too-high expectations surrounding it. It's no secret that major networks and HBO turned down Mad Men, leaving it to be picked up by the underling cable channel, AMC (which was completely revived by the Emmy winner, and now occupies a new, respected niche). Based on the success of Mad Men, I assume, NBC gave Playboy Club a chance.  Playboy is/was no worse than such soapy, silly fare as The O.C. or Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill, but those shows don't survive on Networks -- they live on Cable.  Playboy's high profile and older target audience was its downfall from the beginning.

Luckily for us, there's still Pan Am, which -- if we're judging on pilots -- was certainly the superior of the two shows.  We can cling to that shiny, bright-eyed show with our little, gloved 1960s fingers until 2012, when the rightful heir, Mad Men, finally comes back.  So long, Playboy Club.  I'm sorry Kim Kardashian has a show and you don't.

"Bye, Bye, Bunny?"
*As Nancy Franklin said, "we say that we “love” certain sitcoms, but we become “obsessed” with dramas."