Sunday, November 29, 2009

TV in the 2000s, or How let's name ABND's Best Comedy Actor

Best Performances (TV Comedy) Part 1

Narrowing the performance/actor categories was HARD. But I went with two things:
1. Do I like the actor/actress?
2. Do I like the performance?
Okay, maybe that didn't help 'em narrow them down at all. But I do have a crazy math system in the back of my head. Just don't make me explain it to cause I'm sure it would blow you away with its awesome and accurateness.

Best Performance by an Actor (Comedy)

Sean Hayes - Jack McFarland (Will & Grace)
"They say Jack is a wise man, Jack is a dangerous man, Jack is a great man, no. - Jack is just a man. A man who knows men who like men."
Sure, Will & Grace was about that eponymous dysfunctional gay man/straight woman couple but we all know the laughs belonged to Jack and (see below) Karen. Is 'Jack' the ultimate gay stereotype? I don't know, but if he straddles the line between stereotype and accurate depiction (Oh, the many 'Jack McFarlands' I've met!) it must have worked that this character never took itself too seriously. Emmy Winner Sean Hayes embodied this character to the extent that seeing him play a hick on 30 Rock jarred me in a good way. From 'Just Jack!' to 'Just Jack 2000!' to 'Student Nurse Jack' to OutTV executive who sing-ed his eyebrow (one of my favorite moments of the show in the season 8 premiere, and no he doesn't mean 'singed' he meant 'sang'), Jack was always an adorable gay man who for all his (alleged) gay sexual philandering, had his heart in the right place. Just be sure to not distract him with polysyllabic words or shiny objects.

Alec Baldwin - Jack Donaghy (30 Rock)
"You go to that house and work it like a Chinese gymnast: wear something tight, force a smile, and lie about your age."
Two-time Emmy winner Alec Baldwin is that rare thespian who turned a solid movie career (including an Oscar nomination) into a great comedic vehicle (okay, so maybe it's not so rare anymore now that the Sally Fields and the Glenn Closes of the world have their own TV show). To cast Baldwin against a rag-tag of crazy secondary characters on 30 Rock and to make Jack Donaghy as the political opposite of Baldwin himself makes for the greatest reasons why he shines so much in his role. He is at once playing an exaggerated foil of himself and playing it straight to an army of crazy though we all know how crazy a comic Baldwin can be (he has hosted SNL 14 times, only one short of the record held by upcoming co-Oscar host Steve Martin). From 'El Generalissimo' to his therapy sessions to Tracy, to his one-liners, to his incredible affairs with women as distinct as Phoebe (a feeble-boned Emily Mortimer), a crazy Bianca (Isabella Rossellinni), la viuda negra (Salma Hayek) and CC Cunningham (Edie Falco), Jack has a spot in the greatest 'bosses of comedy' Hall of Fame (suck it Michael Scott!).

Will Arnett - GOB (George Bluth) (Arrested Development) & Devon Banks (30 Rock)
"Dad asked me to do this on the day he pleads not guilty, as a spectacular protest. A protestacular!" (Bluth)
"Celebrity snuff. Reality content made exclusively for your mobile phone: Oh what's that? MC Lyte just murdered Danny Bonaduce? Thanks, PHONE!" (Banks)

Does anyone play odd-ball better than Emmy nominee Will Arnett (aka. Mr Amy Poehler)? He has given us two characters this decade that merit mention. The first (GOB Bluth in Arrested Development) showed an actor that could go wherever the writers took him (and they took him to very very wacky places - need we say more than "Franklin Delano Bluth"?) and whose physical chops for comedy (whether as a magician failing at an escape trying to help his father escape or attempting to hang himself with a belt) were always in service of the crazy world of the Bluth family.
With Devon Banks, Arnett created a character (some say based on Ben Silverman) who will go any length to get to the top of the GE chain of command and get back at Jack Donaghy (including hiding his sexuality, marrying a woman he doesn't even stand, attempt to clog Jack's arteries with beef and wine and charm the Obama girls). HIs Banks is sleazy and power-hungry but also hysterically overblown, especially when using his 'gruff voice' to intimidate employees or seduce Kenneth the page while wearing a tiny hotel robe.

Neil Patrick Harris - Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)
"Legen - wait for it... hope you're not lactose intolerant cause the second half of that word is -dairy!"
It's not just the catch-phrases ("Self-five! Phone-five! High five!" "Have you ... met Ted?") and it's not just the suits ("Suit up!") or about the seemingly aimless womanizing of a certain Barney Stinson. It's how effortlessly multiple Emmy nominee (and 2009 Emmy host!) Neil Patrick Harris marries Barney's nonchalant approach to women (let us remember he keeps cameras in his bedroom, the recent 'Playbook') and his high-dork factor (he does after all love laser-tag, owns a Star Wars stormtrooper and makes scrapbooks of the girls' he's slept with). Barney is a character that can romance a girl while wearing old-man makeup - he's as corny as he is awesome. Barney - for all its blatant heterosexuality might be the queerest member of this NYC group of friends (not because NPH is gay) but because he becomes the stand-in character in a marriage-plot driven sitcom for anti-marriage, anti-monogamy and anti-family. As a character, Barney is a foil to Ted's marriage-driven plot/life (which might explain why the greatest tension of the character was his coming to terms with what he felt for Robin including several spastic and schizo moments of 'I love her!' 'I want women still!' we saw and enjoyed last season and why their getting together felt at once earned and yet unsatisfactory).


The Friends boys (Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer) for making come back to Central Perk every week be it for their awkward humour, their adorable idiocy or their love for paleontology. Erick McKormack (Will & Grace) for giving me a gay NYC neurotic as a role model so early on. Bret & Jemaine (Flight of the Conchords) for making Kiwis so folksy cool and writing 'Leggy Blonde' for to hum along on random mornings. And Ricky Gervais (Extras) for making awkward so funny and stellar.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First! or How the image will speak for itself

The following is an actual conversation via Adium with someone who I've no real contact (via blogs or otherwise) with and yet who thought giving feedback about this blog was his prerogative:
I appreciate constructive criticism as much as the next one (heck! the college writing course I teach basically depends on it) but this was... not quite what I have in mind. The internet, twitter, facebook, etc. have opened a world where everyone's opinion can be heard and distributed and that's great - but this (at least in my mind) went a bit far beyond mere "opinion." I don't even know why I'm posting this other than I found it an incredibly odd conversation to have had and thought I'd share it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

George & AJ, or How I love few things in life as much as PIXAR

Seriously. Not joking. I love PIXAR with an obsession that could only be put on film by Glenn Close or Demi Moore on an 80s or 90s "female be crazy" plot. Without harming rabbits or Michael Douglas, of course.

Here is an extra short film from Up (recently released on DVD). I love that even in its simplicity (and without the CGI feel) the short feels purely PIXARIAN:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rated GaGa or How I'm Seeing Double

Young pop goddess tries to make lightning strike twice by having a black and white album cover where she sports a crazy hairstyle and only makes one of her eyes visible.

It's violent. It's scary. It's a throwback and overly stylized but in a minimalist way for full effect.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spirited Lilo, or How I'm Seeing Double

What do these two animated girls have in common?
Other than having very interesting friends, of course.
They were both voiced by Daveigh Chase
(the former in its original incarnation, the latter in its English dubbed version)

Friday, November 13, 2009

30 Rock, or How it's aboot time!

Off to a slow start this a season (did they really have to spend so many episodes milking the 'Real America' jokes, funny as they were?) 30 Rock managed to crank out an episode that introduced the new guy (Jack/Danny Baker), saw Kenneth at his Emperor-worst, found Jenna and Tracy trying to solve problems and strengthened the (business) relationship between Jack and Liz. Basically: classic 30 Rock.

Things I loved about the episode:

dealbreaker. the books for you man no good by lesbian yellow-sour-fruit

Solvers. The Problem

Kenneth: Yes, embrace your anger.
Danny: WHAT? You know, of all the weirdos I have met around here you are the worst. With your creepy Don Knotts face. That ridiculous Hitler Youth haircut.
Kenneth: What about my chin?
Danny: What about your chin? I have seen bigger chins in premature babies!

And of course, Liz's sleeve on fire:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

TV in the 2000s or How Let's name ABND's Best Drama Series

Best Drama Series
To say I don't watch too many dramas is an understatement. Maybe this is in part due to the fact that networks rarely stray far away from doctors, lawyers and cops (notice only one of the 8 shows I am about to mention fall into one of those categories), so while everyone this decade was entranced by a mob family (which I hear I really should give it a chance), a plane crash (which I'm scolded for not having given it a chance), McDreamy, all the CSIs and all the Law and Orders, I found a couple of shows that struck a nerve: a blond girl, an AdMan, a rag-tag fleet and a shark-lady lawyer are for me the best drama series this past decade. Find out why:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon's gift to the world came in the figure of a slender blonde girl from California who was a regular misfit (and occasional cheerleader) by the day but who was the 'Chosen One' by night (and also sometimes during the day). "Into every generation a slayer is born" might have ticked off a lot of people who don't see genre as a valid way to make quality TV, but for us geeks every season of Buffy gave us a newfound respect for the writers and actors in this show who took a metaphorical premise (demons in high school) to a new level, making Sarah Michelle Gellar a star (and spawning, among others, current TV staples both in front of the screen: Bones's David Boreanaz, Robot Chicken's Seth Green, How I Met Your Mother's Alyson Hannigan and behind it: BSG/Caprica's Jane Espenson, Grey's/Mad Men's Marti Noxon) way before Twilight, True Blood and every other vampire franchise that paired a young girl with a vampire as her romantic interest was even being gestated. Buffy's mix of humour, pathos, camp and drama can best be summed up in the episodes that have cherished by fans years after the show went off the air: 'The Body' gave SMG a chance to show her acting chops as Buffy dealt with the death of her mother, 'Once More With Feeling' will always be the 'musical episode' every TV show who ever attempts one will be compared to, and the Emmy-nominated 'Hush' (an almost-silent episode) is a master-class in writing and acting. For blending all of these aspects together and breaking new ground in terms of what it means to have a strong female role and spawning a franchise that extended to a spin-off show, several comic book titles, novels and infinite amount of forums around the internets, Buffy should be considered one of the greatest achievements in TV of the decade.

Mad Men
Is there a show on the air more elegantly crafted than Matthew Weiner's two-time Emmy winner Best Drama Series Mad Men? It may be the time period (1960s NYC) but the allure of the show doesn't stop there. Following the elusive and mysterious Don Draper as an Madison Avenue advertising man, Mad Men feels at once like a look back to simpler times and a stern look at how nostalgia itself does wonders for hindsight. Tearing apart the American quaintness of the period (with scathing social commentary ranging from critiques on femininity, marriage and class), the show in the three seasons it has aired, has shown that the American dream might have been at its most nightmarish while it rode high on the Camelot myth. Punctuated by nation-shattering events (Marylin's death, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK's assassination, the riots in the South after MLK's murder) the show has never lost track of its nuanced and well-paced style, favoring character studies over plot developments, creating simmering build ups rather than explosive melodrama. Emmy nominated thesps John Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery, along with (sadly snubbed) January Jones and Christina Hendricks keep us entranced by these characters as they have been moving through the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, a time of change in America, not of course, without looking slicker and more glamorous than any other ensemble cast on television this past decade.

Battlestar Galactica
In a Hollywood world intent on remaking, rebooting and recharging failing and fading franchises, we should all look closer to Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica to see how it can be done. Taking the premise of the 1970s show of the same name (where a group of cylons - self-aware and intelligent robots - annihilate the entire human race save for one Battlestar), Moore's show took the concept, tweaked it (cylons in this version have managed to look like humans) and carefully constructed an allegory of America in a post-9/11 world dealing with issues of terrorism, suicide-bombers, torture, faith and spirituality in a way that never seemed derivative or exploitative. While many took issue with how the series was resolved, there's no denying that for 4 seasons (and two made for TV movies), BSG was one of the most engaging television series to grace the screen. That it featured a great cast (including Oscar-nominated Mary McDonnell & Edward James Olmos, as well as Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Katee Sackhoff and Tammoh Penikket didn't hurt either as they each brought a visceral vulnerability to characters that, in hands of lesser writers and actors, might have been lost in between the cylon/human fights and all the spaceship stuff worthy of a good Sci Fi show.

Not since Ally McBeal had I cared more about lawyers and their crazy shenanigans. But while that David E. Kelley worked the whimsy into courtrooms, Damages takes a slightly more terrifying and electric look at what happens behind close doors (mostly, in random alleys and under tables). From the first frame of the pilot you're hooked. But you stay for the great writing, editing and acting. Close and Byrne play to their strengths as Patty Hewes and her new associate Ellen Parsons, the former evoking the great crazy-ladies of Close's Oscar-nominated past and the former playing the ingenue (though as season 2 showed, us - not for long). With only two seasons under its belt I considered not placing it so high up, but its first season was so perfectly crafted and gripping that I couldn't not think of it as one of the greatest pieces of television I have seen this past decade.

Runners up:
Six Feet Under (a great cast, pitch-perfect dialogue and a somber and macabre mood sprinkled with dry humour made this a gem of a show - I'm sure it'll rank higher once I finish the entire series - confession: I'm only on season 2), Big Love (because this is what families are: a mixed-bag of crazy held together by the common filial bond of marriage(s)), Skins (showing that the Brits do it better - and sexier and edgier - this show gives us a glimpse of high school life without sanitizing it), Alias (sorry Zoe, I know this isn't the JJ. Abrams show you wanted me to shout out, I never truly watched Felicity) (not only for giving us Jennifer Garner, but for creating a fast-paced female centered show that rarely sacrificed storytelling for big bangs).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Banner, or How let's welcome the actressexual banner!

Say goodbye Meg!
I didn't intend the new banner to turn out like it did (an Actress sandwich on a PIXAR bun), but as I kept thinking of what I wanted to showcase, I just kept coming back to actresses.

On either side, PIXAR's Ratatouillean Remy and Nemoan Dory & Marlin are horrified by what a world without actresses would look like while in the middle we have (from left to right) an enchanting Amy, an Almodovarian Penelope, a conniving Ms Roberts, an adorable Boo, a Baby-bringing Kate, a damaged/ing Rose, a gleeful Jane and a mad January. I love them all and they'll be keeping me company for the rest of the year.

Spangel! or How Joss gives us what we want

How had I missed this? And how did the bf find it before I did and generously posted it on my Facebook wall? And how awesome is it? Too many questions.

Anyways, head to DarkHorsePresents to find what this Spike/Angel slash fiction is all about and how I am considering it canon since this was penned by Joss himself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

TV in the 2000s, or How let's name ABND's Best Comedy Series

Best of the 2000s Next Door

The decade is coming to a close and we all know what that means: TOP [insert arbitrary number here] LISTS! Not one to be left out of the bandwagon (cause, really, what better way is there to travel than in a bandwagon with random people?) I have decided to count down my favorite (read: best) things from this decade.You'll see posts counting down my favorite TV shows (Comedy/Drama) as well as my favorite films and performances (TV/Film) from the decade. These are totally biased choices based on what I watch (I'm not aiming for an objective perspective - not just because I don't watch EVERYTHING on TV but because this is my blog and I cater to no "masses" (so if you were hoping that comedies centered around an overweight male and his hot wife or films based on bromantic situations with crass humour... this ain't the place for you).

Best TV (Comedy)

I've always been a comedy guy. Dramas (as you'll see when I count them down) are not my forte at all. But comedies - situational or otherwise - are what I grew up on: The Nanny, Seinfeld, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, Mad About You, I Dream of Jenie, etc. all helped raise me to be who I am today. Comedies are where I learned about New York City (even though they were filmed in Los Angeles), where I learned what a family was (even if they were ten times crazier than my own) and where I learned that friends will there whether you cast a black man in your show, say someone else's name at a wedding, bring the love of your life back from the dead, decide to become a nurse on a whim or decide to go Yale instead of Harvard. And so, I give you my Top 5 Comedies from the 2000s:

30 Rock
This one is for the books (and not just because of its Emmy-nomination record) but because its absurd hijinks, its rat-tat-tat dialogue full of witty one-liners ("Lemon, it's after six-o'clock; what am I a farmer?"/ "I want to go there") and its great ensemble (including Emmy winners Alec Baldwin & Tina Fey as well as Emmy nominees Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer) would usually relegate this comedy to cult-status (see Arrested Development) but 30 Rock, while not cranking out NCIS ratings numbers, manages to hit the zeitgeist in a way no comedy in recent memory has. From its scathing social commentary on celebrities ("If there were no actors, how would people know who to vote for?") to its political satire of neocons and the bailout, 30 Rock has carved a niche for itself as a quotable water cooler comedy that can easily swing from the asurd ("Werewolf Bar Mitzvah") to the topical ("Greenzo" and Al Gore) without losing a beat.

Probably 'the' sitcom of the last 20 years (sorry Frasier fans, and Seinfeld fans, if you're curious I'd brand that Larry David produced show as 'the' greatest anti-sitcom sitcom of well...ever), Friends managed to turn a dull-like premise (6 Friends in NYC!) and turn into a wonderful jumping board from soap-like storylines (it wasn't surprising that vaguely half of its season finale hinged on either marriages, births or relationship issues) to hysterical twists on those same ones ('We were on a break!'). Through 10 years we fell for Rachel's hair, Phoebe's 'smelly cat,' Monica's OCD, Chandler's jokes, Ross's 'dinasours,' and Joey's endearing/irritating idiocy. Was it a bit white-washed and representing a wholly implausible NYC life on their salaries? Maybe, but who wants 'reality' in their sitcoms? Friends focused on relationships and the strongest one was the one created between its character and its audience and even while working formulaic sitcomy situations, this series is still a gem when you consider how much we really cared about whether Ross and Rachel would end up together (hint: they did).

Pushing Daisies
If there was one series in my lineup that I wished had lasted longer, it'd be Pushing Daisies. Bryan Fuller's tale of a piemaker who can wake the dead was a brilliant blend of humour, schmaltz, candy-colored visuals and gum-shew plotting. With an impressive cast featuring Swoozie Kurtz, Ellen Greene, Chi McBride, Anna Friel, Lee Pace and Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies created 22 episodes in 2 seasons that offered a world that was as cloying as it was funny, as heartwarming as it was slick. It was a bit Tim Burton-ish, a bit Roal Dahl-esque, and in a sense reminded me of the 'magical realism' that marked my childhood: characters don't freak out or overanalyse Ned's power, and that in itself makes for a very magical world where symmetry, bright colours and fairy-tales are evoked, invoked and reworked into the very fabric of the world. As Chuck says in the pilot: "I guess dying is as good an excuse as any to start living." And despite not living long, they truly all did live very well.

Will & Grace
Is it overly sitcom-y? Does it straddle the line between LGBT visibility and gay stereotypes? Maybe, but in a TV landscape that so rarely presents LGBT characters as central to a show, we have to remember how groundbreaking (as well as funny) this show was. Featuring one of the strongest ensemble casts in recent memory (Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally, Eric McCormack and Debra Messing deserve all the hardware they picked up - from Emmys, to SAG Awards to Golden Globes, etc. etc.) Will & Grace took a tried and true formula (a sitcom about roommates!) and spun it into hysterical look at gay life, straight life and everything in between. But in particular, we have to reward a show that gave us Karen Walker - a pill-popping, alcohol-swigging, money-squandering, retort-ready 'secretary.' This is truly a character for the ages with a number of one-liners that put to shame much of what's on TV right now. I'm sure if she could hear the things the likes of Charlie Sheen, Jay Mohr or even Leno, she'd say "By your inflection, I can tell that you think what you're saying is funny," Amen.

Gilmore Girls
I remember watching the first episode of Gilmore Girls on the WB the day it aired and I realised I had watched something incredible. When I watched the series finale, I found it hard to say goodbye to Lauren Graham's Lorelai and Alexis Bledel's Rory whom I had shared so much with (boyfriends, college, marriages, hospital visits, you name it). This unlikely (and some would say implausible) mother-daughter relationship, grounded in an obsessive consumption and relentless re-quotation of popular culture ("You lost me at carrots, which was the first draft of 'you had me at hello'."), was everything I want in a 'family show' especially as every week it disavowed any schmaltz in favor of witty-one liners and the fastest-delivered dialogue in TV... ever. That Amy Sherman-Palladino surrounded her two protagonists with a wide array of amazing supporting characters (in particular Lorelai's mother Emily and all of Rory's suitors over the years, including a pre-Supernatural Jared Paladecki and a pre-Heroes Milo Ventimiglia) only served to heighten my desire to visit Stars Hollow every week.


Sex & the City (for giving us Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha and a version of NYC we all wished existed!), How I Met Your Mother (for trying to resuscitate the sitcom through post-modern storytelling, in such a legen-waitforit-dary way!), Arrested Development (for making us feel a little bit saner by watching the crazy antics of the Bluth family), Desperate Housewives (for a first season which is almost flawless in its blend of intrigue, soap-opera-plotting, master comedic acting and sparkling dialogue), Flight of the Conchords (because Bret and Jemaine make for a odd Kiwi couple pairing whose hysterics are only matched by their crazy folk songs).

Nick Hoult, or How can I please watch A Single Man now?

With talk of Colin Firth snagging an Oscar nomination for his role in Tom Ford's adaptation of Chirstopher Isherwood's A Single Man (following a win in Venice and an upcoming 'Performance of the Year Award' at Santa Barbara fest), it's great to see his co-stars getting some press.

In particular, Nicholas Hoult (that adorable kid from About A Boy, and that conniving teen from BBC's Skins) is having quite a week: he was spotlit by the New York Times as one of four 'Breakout Performances' and was featured in Variety as one of '10 Actors to Watch.' Which is all an excuse for me to keep amping the anticipation for this film and to post a pretty picture of Mr Hoult:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Penelope and Pedro, or How they're a great pair aren't they?

While their latest collaboration (Broken Embraces) doesn't soar as high as their last outing (the beautifully and buoyantly effervescent Volver), there's no denying Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz make for a great cinematic pairing.

Their joint interview over at the New York Times is a joy to read. My favorite passage (mainly because it solidifies my idea of Penelope as coy and cunning, keenly aware of her disarming charm, but not without a sharp edge [in my head Penelope is part Maria Elena and part Raimunda]):

The chemistry Mr. Almodóvar, 60, and Ms. Cruz, 35, share would almost seem romantic if he were not one of the world’s best-known openly gay directors and she were not linked in the tabloids to the actor Javier Bardem. (Asked if a wedding is in the works, she said, with a pleasant smile and eyes of cold steel: “You are a writer for The New York Times, yes? I think maybe you are not supposed to ask that kind of question.”)