Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2050? I say March, at the latest

"We will start to see some forms of robot sex appearing in high-income, very wealthy households as soon as 2025"

I think we've been seeing some forms in lower income houses for decades.

Going to the member

". . . one person, identifying himself as a 26-year-old male working for a 40-year-old female chief of staff, to share his own situation. “She has slapped my ass, talked about her vibrator, and has asked me sexual questions. I have ignored them but I am thinking about going to the member,”

That whistleblower better be careful. That's not much of a data mining problem.

And he should realize by now, doing so might feel good for awhile but it never solves anything.


I recently read a short essay on punishment in our criminal justice system.  Unfortunately, I can't find it any more, so I can't link to it, but I remember its essence well enough.  First, it noted the five reasons for punishing criminals:

1.  Retribution
2.  Incapacitation
3.  Deterrence
4.  Rehabilitation
5.  Restitution

There are a few other reasons sometimes given, but they tend to be sub-reasons of these five.

Anyway, the argument was that though retribution is often considered primitive and not worthy of a modern society, without it, there's no point to the other reasons.

I disagree.  It's easy to imagine taking action without a hint of retribution.  Imagine a machine that has flying blades that cut off people's heads.  We'd turn that machine off, and perhaps lock it in a room, to make everyone safe.  No retribution involved, just getting it out of everyone's way.  Same with a wild animal that eats people. We can treat humans the same way, if we choose.  We're not getting even with you, we just recognize you're too dangerous to live among people.

I'm reminded of a thought experiment that tries to separate retribution and deterrence.  We gather all our worst criminal in a stadium and blow them up in front of all society.  But it's actually a magic trick where they're transported to a paradisiacal island that no one knows about (except a few people in charge), and that they can't escape from, where they will live out their natural lives.

Does this bother you?  Apparently it's supposed to, but I never had too much trouble with it.  Seems to take care of the problem quite well.  The dangerous criminals are gone from society, and we get maximum deterrence from their disappearance, even though there's no retribution involved.

I've always seen retribution as collapsing into deterrence.  Retribution is a primitive but very understandable instinct.  When someone does you wrong, you've got to take action (just as when someone does you a favor, you owe them something). If you don't have this tit for tat, bad people will go around figuring they can do anything they want.  Thus this instinct develops as a form of deterrence.

But, perhaps, once we recognize where the need for retribution comes from, we can move beyond it.  The fear, though, is if we don't include a large dollop of retribution in our punishment, then no one will understand why it's wrong to do these things.  A good point, but one which breaks down into another deterrence argument.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Meghan plays her cards

Meghan must be Anonymous--that, or you've got some competition, LAGuy. Meghan thinks Boehner was the last best hope against President Rodham, too.

It's really true. Why can't these nimrods just follow the compromising, generous style of Barack Obama?

Credit due

Much as I have mocked Geoff Stone over the years, this is something truly remarkable. The reason we have such slipshod institutions and such fools as Obama in office is because too few leaders stand up for principle when it is called for.

Doubtless Stone supported Obama, I understand, but everyone is entitled to support fools, and Stone's having been foolish doesn't take away from standing up and doing the right thing. (Nor has Stone repented, since he cites Obama's obviously bad faith lines against the very sort of bullying that made him what he is. Oh, well.)


I just checked out the new drama Quantico.  Some have called it the first Shonda Rhimes show not created by Shonda Rhimes.  It's hard for me to say, since I don't regularly watch Rhimes' shows, but it is full of beautiful young people involved in mysteries and scandals, so perhaps ABC is expanding that franchise.

There'll be spoilers ahead, though they can't be that bad since I've only seen the pilot, designed to pique your interest.

We start with protagonist Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) awakening from a smoldering pile in the middle of New York City.  There's been a major terrorist attack.  Then we cut to nine months earlier.  (It's funny, since the Rick And Morty episode shown the same night discusses scripts that have a teaser followed by a title saying "Three Weeks Earlier." Rick says just start the story where it starts, and gets so annoyed at the screenwriter that he pushes him down the stairs to his death, saying "You like that? You want me to cut to three weeks earlier when you were alive?")

The flashback, which seems to be the main story--at least we spend most of our time there--is Alex and a bunch of others coming to Quantico to become FBI agents.  They're going through boot camp, and many in the class will likely wash out.

It's a diverse group, in every way--race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation.  The only thing that ties them together is they're young and incredibly good-looking.  We get to know several of them, though how many will be regulars I'm still not sure, especially since one shoots himself.  It's that kind of show, where the twists and turns are fast and furious (like a Shonda Rhimes show?).

All the students have secrets. We even get flashbacks (flashbacks within a flashback).  In fact, their first assignment is to discover something secret about a fellow classmate--a chance for plenty of easy exposition, and the cause of that suicide.  We also get to meet the two main instructors, who've got their own problematic history.

But back in the present of the show, Alex is being questioned by the FBI.  It becomes clear to her that she's the main suspect, and soon after that she's being framed.  So she's apparently going to have to spend the rest of the season uncovering who among her class actually did it.

There's a lot to like about the show.  Above all there's Chopra, who is beautiful, of course, but also projects intelligence and resourcefulness. It's easy to believe she could hold the center of the series.  The rest of the cast, so far, is getting lost in the shuffle, but the action is lively and clean, and there's enough mystery to keep it going, at least for a while.

On the negative side, this is essentially a whodunit.  A lot of people like whodunits, but they tire me out.  I don't mind them if I know I'll discover who did it at the end of the play or movie, but to have to wait an entire season or more to discover something that's already happened can get tiresome unless done really well.

Worse is the back and forth in time.  This, along with the whodunit aspect, may be what sold the series, but I like my action in the present.  That way, things can move along and we discover them the same time the characters do. In the Quantico type of set-up, it looks like the main story has already happened, and we'll have to revisit all the pre-ordained action that everyone in the present already knows.

So, in general, a thumbs up.  But Quantico better watch it--I already have a bunch of shows I check out on Sunday, and if they expect me to add one more, they can't afford to slip.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Movie Motive

There's a documentary on the Black Panthers just out. Haven't seen it, but it's been getting great reviews.  Of course, looking at the squib review by Alan Scherstuhl in the LA Weekly, you've got to wonder if the critics are reviewing the film or the politics:

What do you think scared the powers-that-be more, the Panthers' allure or their avowed program, which called for the end of the ongoing "terror, brutality, murder and repression of black people"?

I'm not sure what "scared" the powers-that-be--you remember those powers-that-be, the ones that passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 just before the Panthers were born?--but maybe it was something else, like the threat of violence.  Perhaps they misread the Panther's motives, but if Scherstuhl thinks they did, all the more reason not to assume the worst motives on their part.

Since J. Edgar Hoover declared the Panthers the John Dillingers of the late 1960s, Official America has found black anger a useful excuse to crack down on blacks and keep whites terrified. Never mind the Panthers setting up breakfast programs for local kids, or Bobby Seale himself proclaiming, "We don't hate anybody because of their color. We hate oppression."

No matter what you think of this argument (excuse me, "argument"), please note that Scherstuhl isn't even pretending to review a film any more.

The film, with its traditional mix of talking heads and vintage footage, is honest about schisms between party members favoring armed insurrection and those who found community improvement a more satisfying and achievable goal than the overthrow of the U.S. government.

So Scherstuhl is aware that some of the Panthers favored armed insurrection and the overthrow of the U.S. government.  Why was he wasting our time noting they had breakfast programs and said they only hated oppression, as if that meant no one should be worried?

There is reason to hope here. Compare the on-message clarity of #BlackLivesMatter, and it's easy to see that the revolution remains a work in progress — and that it had a clear vanguard.

He's not even editorializing about the past any more, he's editorializing about the present.  Mr. Scherstuhl, your political acumen is wasted on the film pages.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Boehner's leaves, Obama attacks Republicans, I hope they don't shut down the government.

Boehner leaves, attacks Republicans.

Class acts, both of them.

What happens when the Democrats lose the speakership

The Post-Boehner Congress and Washington’s Sense of Dread

Well, there's dread at the New York Times, anyway.

Born Again

I watched the first two hours of Heroes Reborn.  It's not a reboot of Heroes, but takes that series as history and tries to start again. I'm not sure if there's that much call for this show.  The original series started great--it's had a flashy character, a lively plot and a comic book sensibility (as opposed to Lost, which some fans felt was getting slow an heavy in its third season)--but by the end of the season, the wheels started coming off.  Every season after that--there were four--just got worse, and the ratings dropped as well.

It was a show that delivered--you didn't have to wait long for confrontations and payoffs.  But it almost seemed as if the show's creator, Tim Kring, just figured if things were exciting enough, there was no need for it to make sense. Has he fixed that problem in this go-round?  It's hard to say.

The show starts, as you'd expect, with a lot of action--a year ago a big bomb destroys a whole bunch of  evos (people with special powers) at a gathering.  It's clear some people don't want to live in peace with them.  Evos go underground to avoid being picked off.  Then we cut to a bunch of specific characters, working our way up to the present, and, still before the credits, get another big slaughter of evos.

While most of the characters are new, the best news is Jack Coleman is back as Noah Bennett, one of the most intriguing characters in the original show.  He lost his evo/cheerleader daughter in the explosion, and is now trying to live his life as a normal person, selling cars. But someone seems to be following him.  It turns out to be a guy who sees a conspiracy behind the explosion--an explosion that's pinned on another characters from the earlier show, Mohinder Suresh, though he's probably a patsy.  Soon enough they're on the road going trying to discover what's up, and finding conspiracies behind everything.  For all we know, Noah's daughter is still alive.

In general, there are implications that huge conspiracies are behind everything, and that some big event is going to happen.  This can work as long as Kring keeps the story straight, and not just a series of ridiculous coincidences to keep the action going.

Other characters include a mysterious couple who just want to kill evos (and succeed); a high school kid who can teleport people away and who has to keep moving so no one catches him; a Japanese girl who has superpowers inside a computer game, and the Japanese boy who's a master gamer and can help her; a kid in East Los Angeles who has his own special power, but also a dead who secretly helps create an underground railroad to get evos to Canada, as well as an uncle (I think it was his uncle) who's going to have to take over; a nasty couple with special powers who want to capture Molly Walker, a valuable evo who can find others; and a mysterious man who has the power to mesmerize people with shiny coins he keeps in his briefcase.

The story certainly moves.  But sometimes seems to have the old problems.  For instance, Bennett goes to a place that he thinks is part of the conspiracy, where the receptionist holds him at gunpoint.  And old friend, the Haitian, tells her to put down the gun, he's an old friend.  He then tells Bennett to meet him at a bench outside.  They meet and the Haitian tries to kill him.  So why stop the woman who had the gun on him. Or the evo-killing couple, who shoot first and ask questions later, pick up the teleporter kid and calmly march him away, giving him plenty of time to teleport them away.

Another problem, like the original, is too many characters are revealed to be evos.  Kring perhaps believes this just makes the story more exciting, but there's such a thing as diminishing returns.

I wouldn't call it much, but if the returns don't diminish much more, I might make it through what is advertised as a 13-episode miniseries.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Sun Sets . . . no, no, wait, The Sun Rises Higher

I'm off to do a small errand and thought I'd check the scores, thinking that Michigan was probably having its head handed to it, and here it is 31 to 0 Big Blue in the third quarter.

I don't see them choking, so where will they land? OSU and Michigan both tend to accelerate like rocket ships into the rankings on the slightest excuse, but I think the rankings will go reasonable. I say 14th. (I know, still sounds high.)

The Sun Rises

Boehner out, Kasich dropping down to fifth place in New Hampshire, the New Yorker thumbsucking about why we can't just warm up to Hillary. Life is good, life is good.

Ferry Dust

The ultra-modern singer Bryan Ferry turns 70 today.  Has he become post-modern yet?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich

With Heroes Reborn debuting last night (haven't watched it yet), by coincidence somebody sent me an essay by Mark Tapson about heroes: "How Have Our Heroes Changed?"  It's actually a discussion of Tod Lindberg's new book The Heroic Heart--which I haven't read--where he looks at the meaning of heroes in ancient and modern times. I don't think there's much question that our view of heroes have changed as our morality has changed, but I wonder if Tapson, or Lindberg for that matter, haven't bitten off more than they can chew.

We can see major changes in our heroes in just the last century, but do we need to go back to the ancient world, and if we do, are we shortchanging those people?  Here's Tapson:

The model hero in ancient times was of the conquering, killing sort, a warrior earning renown by slaying piles of enemies on the battlefield. Think of Homer’s Achilles, whom Lindberg examines at length: a self-centered, petulant demigod, perhaps, but a warrior of superhuman caliber.

Achilles was certainly seen as heroic in ancient texts, but the opening line of the Iliad lets us know we're going to hear about Achilles' anger and how much trouble it causes his own people.  This is not how you normally praise a hero.  Achilles was the greatest warrior of his time, but he does come across as a jerk, and it's intentional.  It's easy to read the Iliad not so much glorifying war as showing how horrible it is.

In general, the Greeks don't come off that well in the Iliad. Their leader, Agamemnon, is a moron.  The guy who started the whole mess, Menelaus, is weak but well-connected. Ajax is a dolt.  Odysseus is smart but sneaky.  And so on.  Considering they're the "good guys," is Homer telling us something?

And then at the end, Achilles, who has given up everything to win honor in war, discovers how much he's lost.  King Priam begs Achilles to return his son Hector's body for a proper burial. (If there's a noble hero in the book, it's probably the Trojan Hector.) Achilles relents.  So what he's learned, perhaps, is everything he wanted, especially glorious victory in battle, may be hollow--at the very least it's perhaps not what he thought it was.  Achilles may have been a hero to the ancient Greeks, but he's a complex one.  And just because we're all sophisticated modern people doesn't mean we should assume the Greeks were less sophisticated.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Happy birthday Gerry Marsden. He's the first part of Gerry And The Pacemakers.  They were the biggest competition the Beatles had in the year they conquered Britain.   Indeed, their first #1 was a song the Beatles turned down.

Then the Beatles conquered America and Gerry's sound didn't travel quite so well as the Fab Four's.  But these days who remembers such things.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Going out on a limb

Did Walker Peak Too Soon?

Er, yes?


Today is Yom Kippur, so enjoy this explanatory video.

Not sure if that was too helpful.  I doubt my rabbi would approve.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

K is the funniest letter

Krack Kadres of Kampaign Konsultants is pretty good. Reminds me of Col. Klink, for some reason.

But I'm not sure I take the guy's point. He sounds like he's blaming the Konsultants for their Konstant idiocy.

That's fine, they no doubt should be blamed for that and more, but who hired them? If Walker didn't feel secure enough to deal on his own, well, you live and die by the nimrods with whom you surround yourself.

Too bad. But this was precisely the failing that I feared in Walker. Tremendous success, but not quite enough self character.

The good news is Cruz seems to have it, and he was always the stronger character. We'll see if Jeb or Jeb Light can take him out. So far his best endorsement is Boehner calling him a jackass. That's good enough for me. Make that man president!


I just watched the season nine premiere of The Big Bang Theory, "The Matrimonial Momentum."  It fascinates me that the little show that could, has become a powerhouse, as big a hit as TV has to offer.

This season will feature the show's 200th episode.  Very few sitcoms remain at peak efficiency that long, and I fear BBT has already gotten a bit stale.  You start out with fresh characters, and then add some into the mix as you go along, but pretty soon it seems you've tried every permutation.

Sitcoms used to end the season and start up again like nothing happened, but now they've all got to have cliffhangers, so let's catch up, shall we?  At the end of last season, Leonard and Penny were driving to Vegas to get married while Amy said goodbye to Sheldon, who was about to give her an engagement ring. I dreaded both these developments.

The whole show has been about Leonard going after Penny, and if he's caught her, isn't it time to call it quits?  A sitcom marriage, as interesting as it may be to fans, is often a jump-the-shark moment. (When I watched Friends I felt Chandler and Monica falling in love sidelined two good characters.  By the time they married, I'd stopped watching.) It's the chase that's the fun part.  I didn't love Howard and Bernadette getting married, either, but at least they're secondary characters.

As for the other main couple, it had been fun to see Amy pine after an essentially clueless Sheldon, occasionally getting her little victories.  To see their relationship in trouble, and to see Sheldon really care about it, threatens to turn the show from comedy into soap opera.

In the premiere, Sheldon and Amy clearly break up, and I'm hoping we don't have to watch a bunch of episodes where Sheldon tries to win his way back into her heart, though that's what the signs point to. As for Leonard and Penny, the results are even worse.  They married, but immediately started fighting and were separated before the wedding night was over.  I know you've got to have conflict, and want to keep the relationship moving forward, but why get them married just so they can fight like they often did before?

The only that that would be worse is if the cast start having babies.  I hope the show is canceled before that happens.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Emmys, Live On Tape

I'm going to liveblog the Emmy's, but I won't post this till hours later.  And please note I won't be commenting on the show itself--not the jokes, not the tributes, not the acceptance speeches, not the big names (Mel Brooks, Tracy Morgan)--just the awards.

Supporting Actress in comedy.  A lot of good choices.  Eight, in fact.  Didn't it used to be just five?  Allison Janney wins--her seventh Emmy.  Enough already. And I don't think she deserved it.  I'd have picked Kate McKinnon, and after that, say, Anna Chlumsky or Mayim Bialik.  Janney is talented, but she's too much the TV Academy's sweetheart.

Writing in a comedy series.  The Veep guys win.  Fair enough.  I'll give them credit, at least, for the highest joke density, and a reasonable number of hits against misses.  (And it's British guys who mock American politics.) Is this a warning that Modern Family is not going to win best comedy for the first time ever?

Supporting Actor in comedy.  As always, a tough competition.  Tony Hale wins.  His second win for Veep--he trades off with the Modern Family guys.  Can't complain, but will a sketch artist, such as Keegan-Michael Key, ever win in this category?

Directing for comedy. Not as important as writing in TV (which is as it should be.) The winner is Jill Soloway for Transparent.  Some thought it might be this show's night.  We'll see, though right now Veep seems the one to bet on.

Best Actor in comedy.  Jeffrey Tambor is strongly favored.  And the winner is...Jeffrey Tambor.  Haven't seen the show, so I can't comment.  But I should note at this early point in the Emmys, Louis C. K. has already lost four times.  That's got to be a record.

Best Actress in comedy.  Some fine and venerable names. I think it's time that Amy Poehler finally wins for Parks And Recreation, but it goes to Julia-Louis Dreyfus, who's won for Veep four years in a row.  She's good, but she's not that good.  (I believe that once you win for a role in a certain category, the rule should be you can't be nominated in that category again.)

Best Reality show.  Guess we're done with comedy.  The Voice wins.  Who cares.

Writing for a limited series (or movie).  Most think Olive Kitteridge will win.  And sure enough, Olive Kitteridge wins.  Seems reasonable.

Now it's Supporting Actress for limited series.  Regina King wins for American Crime.  I haven't seen most of the nominees, but why not?

Directing for a limited series.  Lisa Cholodenko for Olive Kitteridge.  She was nominated for an Oscar once, but it's a long road to the EGOT.

Supporting Actor for a limited series.  Will the big name Bill Murray take it?  Some of the big TV names?  Or a nobody?  Bill Murray, sure enough.  Another EGOT in the making?  He's not there to accept--too big for TV?  I bet if they knew he wouldn't be making a speech, they'd have voted for Michael Kenneth Williams or Damian Lewis.

Best Actress for a limited series--can there be any doubt?--Frances McDormand for Olive Kitteridge.  She's already won an Oscar and a Tony!  I smell EGOT.  Start doing spoken word recordings or liner notes or something--they give out so many Grammys you'll probably win one by mistake.

Lead Actor in limited series.  Ricky Gervais is up for it--any chance?  The winner is...Richard Jenkins.  Nothing can stop the Olive Kitteridge bandwagon.  (Spoiler) He dies before the show ends, but it was enough to win for male lead.

Best Limited series.  No suspense.  The winner is Olive Kitteridge.  (American Horror Story gets shut out of the big awards.)

Best Writing in a variety series.  Is it Colbert's people?  Jon Stewart's?  Hot new movie star Amy Schumer's?  Key And Peele?  Or John Oliver's?  It's Stewart, yet again.  How tiresome. (Should have been Oliver.)

And now best Variety Sketch Series (as opposed to talk).  The winner is Inside Amy Schumer.  Really?  SNL has won enough, but what about Key & Peele?

Now Variety Series Directing.  The Daily Show wins. The regular love for this show is bad enough, but for directing?  It's a guy at a desk!

For best Variety Talk Show, we've got Fallon, Stewart (last chance), Kimmel, John Oliver, Letterman (last chance) and Colbert (last chance).  Stupidly and predictably, The Daily Show wins.  I'm not sentimental--John Oliver should have won for beating Stewart at his own game.

Now is the drama section of the evening.

Best Writing for drama.  Benioff and Weiss finally win one of these for Game Of Thrones.  They take it for the Walk Of Shame episode.  Shame they never won it before.  Does this mean GOT is going to take it for drama?  Mad Men was the favorite coming in.

Best Supporting Actress in Drama.  Goes to Uzo Uduba, the overrated character from Orange Is The New Black (which is considered a drama, apparently).  Sorry Christina Hendricks, it's never gonna happen.  Sorry Lena, having a body double walking naked won't do it, either.  Sorry Downton Abbey, no one cares any more.  The age of streaming is here.

Best Directing for drama. Two GOTs.  Will they cancel each other out? Also, Steven Soderbergh is nominated--TV loves movie people.  David Nutter wins for "Mother's Mercy"--another award for the Walk Of Shame.

Best Supporting Actor for drama.  Will Peter Dinklage win again?  Jonathan Banks, finally?  Makes sense to me. He hasn't won in a while, but he's always good on Game Of Thrones.  Looks like it's gonna be a GOT night.

Best Actor in a drama.  Tough competition, but also a tense moment, since this is Jon Hamm's last chance.  By all rights he should have a few of these already.  Don't see how he can lose this time.  Sure enough, it's Hamm.  About time.

Best Actress in a drama.  An anticlimax after Hamm's award.  I don't see Elisabeth Moss taking it.  Is it Empire's big chance with Taraji P. Henson?  Or the deserving Tatiana Maslany?  Or the much-awarded Claire Danes?  None of them. It's Viola Davis for How To Get Away With Murder.  A fine actress, but I don't think she deserves it for this dopey show.

Okay, time for the last two big awards, top comedy and drama.

Modern Family has won five years in a row, but it feels like it's time for the streak to end.  Veep would seem the most likely, winning so many awards already.  Though there's Silicon Valley and Transparent, also hot.  Not to mention the always-intriguing Louie and the last chance for Parks And Recreation.  Veep wins.  I don't know.  A good show, and Modern Family is getting a bit tired, but I'd rather have seen Silicon Valley or Louie or even Parks And Recreation take it.

Best Drama.  Based on what we've seen so far, you've got to go with Game Of Thrones, even if Mad Men ended strong.  The winner...Game Of Thrones.  About time--and some have noted it's George R. R. Martin's birthday.  Still, it's odd it finally won for what seemed to me the weakest season.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

While Waiting For Star Wars

Here's a decent roundup at the AV Club of the films that will be coming out in the next couple months.  I question their take on some stuff, but one that that really stood out was the discussion of the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks Bridge Of Spies.  It's about diplomacy between America and the Soviet Union in 1960--a ripe formula for lecturing the audience.

But we'll see how it turns out. On the other hand, I already know how previous Spielberg films have turned out, so it was odd to read this:

Best-case scenario: After a brief lull, Spielberg starts another streak of excellence to rival his Saving Private Ryan/ A.I./ Minority Report/ Catch Me If You Can/ War Of The Worlds/ Munich run.

That's their idea of a great streak?

Saving Private Ryan is pretty special, so sure.  But A.I. is a disaster, almost from start to finish.  (I say almost, because I consider the ending, which is generally reviled, to be fascinating.) Minority Report is a decent but not great action film. Catch Me If You Can works pretty well, even if it has the classic Spielberg extended ending which shouldn't be there to begin with.  War Of The Worlds is a fairly ridiculous film.  And Munich is another one of those muddled, hectoring pieces about still-in-memory political issues that Bridge Of Spies threatens to be.

You can pick any six films Spielberg films in a row and find a mix of good and bad like this.  I'd say the best run is actually his first six theatrical features--Sugarland Express, Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (overrated), 1941 (underrated), Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E.T.  Perhaps Spielberg believes he's gotten deeper, but has he gotten better?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Right direction

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is third among GOP presidential candidates in a new poll of New Hampshireby Monmouth University released today. . . . Kasich was second in an NBC News/Marist poll of New Hampshire voters about a week ago.

 Satisfactory. Highly satisfactory.

. . . his biggest danger is that people think he’s another Jon Huntsman, and he’s not. He’s not even close.

True dat. Huntsman was Ronald Reagan by comparison.

Sing Out September

Three, count 'em, three major names in pop music turns 75 today.  In alphabetical order, we'll start with Bill Medley (what a perfect name for a singer) of the Righteous Brothers. Some say he was the more righteous one.

Then there's Sylvia Tyson of Ian & Sylvia.

Finally, there's elfin singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who, though many aren't aware, is still with us.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Give that man an Oscar

Have to admit, I'm hooked on the Johnny Depp Whitey Bulger trailers.

Has to be better than 'She's Funny That Way,' doesn't it?

He Killed Many, You Bastard

Kurt Sutter created Sons Of Anarchy, which I've heard good things about, but haven't watched a second of.  From what I understand, it's about a gang of motorcycle outlaws. So it seems a bit odd that his new show, The Bastard Executioner, is set in 14th century Wales.  I just watched the first two hours and I think that might be it.

I guess I could end the review there, but let me fill you in just a little bit.

The backdrop is the struggle the Welsh are having with the oppressive British.  The title character is Wilkin Brattle, a former warrior who, due to a vision, lays down his sword, but before you know it, has to become an executioner.  There are a whole bunch of other characters, such as his pregnant wife, not to mention Katey Sagal (Sutter's wife) as some sort of healer witch with her own special accent.  There are also a bunch of men, some royal, some common, some cruel, some kind, though no matter who you are in this world, you better be ready to fight.

The drama, on FX, features a lot of violence and gore, and not a little sex, which I guess means they're going for the Game Of Thrones crowd.  You might hardly notice the difference, except GOT has compelling characters, witty dialogue and smart plotting.

Perhaps I'm not being fair.  I admit my attention flagged after the first half hour, and maybe it needed closer attention.  Perhaps, overall, the show will take the audience on a big adventure. That's fine, but I'm not going along.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

For A Song

Everyone is talking about the latest debate, but I want to talk about a Donald Trump controversy--does he have anything else?--that happened last week.  At a rally he used R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." The band tweeted its outrage, making clear they didn't support Trump and didn't want him to use their music.

It's only the latest in a series of such foofaraws--this campaign alone we've had Neil Young, Survivor and Dropkick Murphys complain about Republicans playing their music.  This sort of thing goes back at least to Bruce Springsteen being unhappy with Ronald Reagan using "Born In The USA."

Note these controversies only seem to go in one direction. As far as I can tell, no right-wing act (who--Ted Nugent or some country singer?) has complained that a left-wing politician played their song.  Indeed, most bands seem tickled when Democrats play their music--such as Bill Clinton's use of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop."

Mostly it means nothing.  It's a chance for the musicians to make some noise, but otherwise no one would care. When Scott Walker played Dropkick Murphy's version of "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" at an event, no one thought "Gee, the Celtic punk band that recorded this song must really be anti-union." They didn't think that of Woody Guthrie either, who wrote the song.  If they even recognized the recording, they'd think "hey, Scott Walker's playing that song from The Departed" and that's about it.

These stories last a day or two and then everyone forgets them--which is too much attention already.  But I expect more from Donald Trump. Doesn't he answer every slight?  I thought we'd hear something like this:

I recently heard R.E.M. complained I played one of their songs--a song, by the way, that didn't make the top forty.  It's sickening to hear this washed-up band, that was never that good to begin with, and which Warner Brothers paid way too much for, try to hop on my bandwagon to get some free publicity.  The truth is someone on my staff liked this song, and though I personally loathe their politics, I was open enough to allow it to be played.  Too bad they can't show similar tolerance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

KP Duty

Earlier this year I saw a documentary about today's birthday boy Korla Pandit.  He was an organist who became known as the Godfather of Exotica--a type of Asian-African lounge music popular in the 50s and 60s.  You don't hear it that much today, but with the help of YouTube, we can celebrate it any time we choose.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hunt Hunt

Nicole Kidman is appearing on the London stage in Photograph 51, a piece about Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who played an important part in discovering the structure of DNA.  Kidman says one reason she's doing it is to correct the injustices of history, but, as the Hollywood Reporter review by Stephen Dalton notes, that history has long been corrected.  Franklin and her contributions to science, not to mention the hurdles she faced, has been the subject of books, a documentary and  a TV movie, as well as this play.  If anything, she may be given too much credit these days.

What bothered me, though, was in Dalton's last paragraph:

But sexism in science remains a live issue. Recent off-color jokes by Nobel Prize-winning professor Tim Hunt about the dangers of allowing "girls" into laboratories became a major news story in Britain, helping to generate an extra blast of free publicity for Kidman's stage comeback.

This story spread quickly, and Tim Hunt's reputation was ruined, but it was mistaken.  Even so, when some started questioning the narrative, the press doubled down.  Hunt was forced to resign from a number of boards and committees.

Eventually, a summary of his remarks, made to a group women scientists, came out.  The press had claimed his remarks were meant to be taken seriously, but it was clear he was telling a joke, mostly on himself.  And a joke that was apparently well-received at the time.

It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls? Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.

And now Dalton is dragging Hunt's name though the mud yet again.  It's a sign of how far the pendulum has swung.  Nicole Kidman might be pleased, but I'm not sure how Rosalind Franklin would feel.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Throne Zone

The early Emmys are in--the technical ones not ready for prime time--and to no one's surprise the big winner is Game Of Thrones.  It's been three months since season five ended, so I thought it'd be a good time to look back and see how it turned out.  There are more than six months till the next season, so there'll be plenty of time to argue about it until then.

I'm sorry to say that season five appears to be the weakest so far.  Why I can't tell you.  Maybe the show is getting tired.  Maybe they killed off too many good characters.  Maybe they ran out of original story from George R. R. Martin and had to create their own stuff.  Maybe the original was simply moving into weaker areas from a strong beginning.  In any case, the question is has the show peaked.  There are only, supposedly, a few more seasons to go--we're past the midpoint, so it's time for the story to rally itself (even if the ending is, as threatened, bittersweet).

Let's look at the various areas of action and see how things turned out.

The Wall And Beyond:  Most fans thought this was the most successful part of the season, especially with Jon Snow finally facing the White Walkers. I find the Wall one of the less interesting places in the show, and the big battles among the least interesting things about the show, but "Hardhome" was a pretty good episode.  And I liked the interplay with Jon and Samwell and a few others.  Do I think Jon is dead?  Not completely--too much has been set up about his past for the storytellers to end it all here.  But the show is just perverse enough that maybe he is gone--you breathe nothing, Jon Snow. In general, some good stuff here, but still some listless moments, considering how many people were in and out of Castle Black.  (And while we're at it, what's up with Bran?)

The North:  There's Winterfell, which had a few good moments, but not enough.  Ramsay Bolton is the new most hateful villain, but he doesn't seem that tough, so I don't understand why he wins so easily.  Perhaps he'll get his comeuppance, but even so, the "new" Sansa didn't do that much at her new/old home until the last episode.  Perhaps she and Theon, who took long enough to do something, will finally get some action next season.  Worse was Stannis.  We spent a lot of time with him, and his fate, after all this, was to perish over very little.  (And killing his daughter was the most wrenching thing the show ever did.) What was the point of getting all that gold from Braavos?  What was the point of the Red Lady doing all that magic?  What was the point of appointing Ser Davos as Hand?  What was the point of setting up a match between Brienne and Stannis when he's about to die anyway? (Brienne takes on some big names, though generally when they're not at their best.)

King's Landing:  King's Landing has been the center of action for a long time, but something was missing.  Perhaps it was the fact that all the main Lannisters except for Cersei either died or left, so it seemed a hollowed-out place.  Letting the religious group get the upper hand was a tactical error, and a sign that Cersei isn't in control, but it seemed much ado about nothing. It led to a famous Walk Of Shame, that might even with Lena Heady an Emmy, but really was that whole plot necessary?  Not unless it leads somewhere.  Meanwhile, the Tyrell's were pretty tamped down, too.

Dorne:  Pretty much everyone agrees this plot was a total washout.  The new characters of Dorne weren't half as good as the ones we saw in Season Four in King's Landing.  And while you'd think Jaime and Bronn would make a good team, their plan wasn't much, and didn't add up to anything.  The whole season's plot was pointless except for the killing of Myrcella, which could have happened any time.

Braavos:  This wasn't bad but was probably the most disappointing plot of all. Arya was the one character who never failed, but they grounded her. The whole season was about her learning a trade (killing people) but by the end, she apparently hasn't learned and will have to start all over again next season.  Arya has always been on the move, going from one mentor to another, but she returned to Jaqen who had a lot less to do and even less to teach her than usual.

Slaver's Bay:  As long as Daenerys is on the move, learning things and circling Westeros, she's doing fine. The whole idea (which I gather is Martin's) that she should stop and learn how to rule is dumb.  Even if she figures out how to rule Meereen, who cares? Nevertheless, the action around this area was probably the best part of season six.  I could have done without the Sons Of The Harpy (even if it was the main plot) but Dany trying to deal with an unhappy populace, and having to deal with her dragons as well, was good stuff. Even better was what was happening on the way to Slaver's Bay.  Good old Tyrion, first with Varys, then with Jorah, trying to get to Dany, was fun.  Better than that was when they finally got there, and both Tyrion and Jorah had to prove their worth.  This is the kind of material that makes Game Of Thrones the best show on TV.

So overall, while entertaining, still somewhat disappointing.  They only have ten hours in a season, yet they seemed to be stalling. Too many characters would sit and wait for several episodes before anything happened.  I only hope they solve this problem next season, and also start contracting the ;plotline--it's gone as wide as it needs to go, time to start pulling the actors back to the essence of the story.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Happy New Year

Tonight is the start of Rosh Hashanah, so let's start the new year right and have a happy 5776.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

That Old Black Magic

Singer Billy Daniels was born exactly a century ago. If that isn't a reason to celebrate, I don't know what is.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Those Who Live Downtown Should Never See The Ocean

I don't ask a lot of politicians. All I ask is they don't actively try to make life worse.  This, however, is too much to ask in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a city where anyone who can, drives.  As the population has grown, this has meant bumper-to-bumper traffic, which can make life miserable. The solution of the Mayor and the City Council?  Make life more miserable (the link is to The New York Times, which only allows ten free views a month).   You'd think they'd build more lanes, but instead have instituted a 20-year plan (so they'll be receiving pensions before the worst happens?) where they'll be removing lanes to make room for bikes and buses.

I support people walking or biking (though bikes can be dangerous) to places they need to go.  I regularly walk to get groceries, and even to nearby movies. But having a car is the most convenient way to get around in a wide, flat area like Los Angeles, and that fact won't change.

Mayor Eric Garcetti:

The old model of a car-centric different-neighborhood-for-every-task city is in many ways slipping through our fingers whether we like it or not.  We have to have neighborhoods that are more self-contained.  People want to be able to walk or bike or take transit to a movie.

Where to start?  First, it's "slipping through our fingers" because you are changing the system, and not trying to make it better the way the people would prefer. "Whether we like it or not"?  We don't like it, you do, so you and the City Council have decided the high taxes and poor services the city offers isn't enough, you've got to make it even tougher.

Second, we have to have neighborhoods that are more self-contained?  I'll believe that when you take a pledge to never leave your block. Heck, I'll make it easy on you--just promise to never leave the city.  People will mostly stay in their local areas if those areas offer what they want.  Why not programs to make those areas better, rather than make it more of a hassle to leave?  And anyway, what's the point of living in a big city if you can't try out the many things it offers?

Third, biking and walking short distances are no trouble, but once it gets over a few miles, cars are generally better.  And I've got no objection to mass transit, but in a place as widespread as Los Angeles, it will never be as convenient as a car, and I'm not sure if the subways we've got now are financially successful.

As a final argument, the mayor notes that car traffic is going to get worse no matter what he does.  So his solution is to make it worse right now rather than wait?  Apparently the only traffic the Mayor wants to see is people leaving town for good.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Latest

Stephen Colbert's Late Show premiered Tuesday night on CBS. It's sort of ridiculous to review the first show, since the idea is it will run for years and thousands of episodes, changing along the way.  But Colbert is a seasoned entertainer who had plenty of time to prepare, so the show at least gives us an indication of where he wants to go.

I didn't regularly watch his previous show The Colbert Report. I thought he was a talented performer, but his egomaniacal conservative pundit seemed like a one-joke character.  On this new show, he's going naked--presumably we'll be seeing something a lot closer to the actual Colbert.

The show opened with a bit where Colbert sang the National Anthem in locations around the country, making us wait for the big reveal--the new set.  He's in the same Ed Sullivan Theater that housed David Letterman, but he's prettied it up.  It's a lot more bright and shiny, as well as multi-leveled and featuring huge video screens.  And then there's the big question all talk shows must answer: turns out the interviews are done stage right and the band is stage left.

Perhaps most notable was his huge, C-shaped desk, with him sitting in the middle, fairly removed from the guest.  I'm guessing he wants a lot of space underneath for props.  Following the Letterman tradition, there are also only two seats for guests.  Most talk shows have more, and it seems paltry compared to the grand desk.

He came out and did a monologue, but not an especially political one, or even a particularly jokey one.  It was more about his new show and how it's going to work.  Fine with me.  I would be happy if most talk shows dispensed with the monologue altogether, even if hosts seem to think it's important.  He also did a bit with CBS head Les Moonves in the audience, ready to switch to The Mentalist any time the show flagged.

One thing hard to miss--the audience was made up of fans.  They were, to put it nicely, highly demonstrative. No matter what the bit, they'd scream, once even starting a shout of "Stephen!, Stephen!." Hopefully they'll calm down by the end of the week.

Once he sat down, he did more bits.  Like most talk shows these days, it looks like there'll be a half hour of comedy followed by a half hour of guests.  One bit was with Jimmy Fallon--they're friends now, but will it last?  He also did a tribute to Letterman, which only seemed fair (though Leno famously didn't mention Johnny Carson in his debut).

Some of the stuff was showing off the new theatre, some of it was a little weird, such as a routine about a cursed amulet forcing him to do product placement. It was okay, but I wouldn't say he was hitting it out of the park (though based on audience reaction he was).  You might expect more from the first show, except it's hard to gauge how things will work till you've been at it a while.  In his old show he had down to a science, but this is a different scale and he can no longer rely on his old character.  He's certainly got plenty of energy. The question is will the content follow.

His best material was a run on Donald Trump when he came back from the first commercial break.  This is in his wheelhouse, and I expect his first few months to be filled with Trumpmania (and every now and then something about the other twenty people running).

George Clooney was his first guest.  Certainly an A-lister, but not exactly a Bill Murray.  Colbert's first question was about Clooney's activism.  Not a good move.  They eventually got to a bit based on Clooney having nothing to plug--he promoted a fake movie shot cheaply backstage.  Not bad, exactly, but it didn't compare to the stuff Letterman used to do with a Steve Martin or Tom Hanks.

Jeb Bush was his second and last guest. I believe in a separation of politics of entertainment.  Anyway, we get quite enough of politicians elsewhere--I don't need to see their "human" side.  Bush (or "Jeb!", as Colbert noted his campaign calls him) was as boring as you'd expect, and Colbert, in his new manner, wasn't particularly edgy.  That's fine with me, since I find political guests just as boring when talk show hosts try to challenge them. That the first show featured a political guest, and that Colbert is so famous for interviewing them, doesn't bode well.

The last major segment on most talks shows is a musical act, and Colbert followed suit, featuring his band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human.  They did Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People," joined by various singers including Mavis Staples and Colbert himself.  Nothing wrong with it, but not especially stirring.  The hour (which ran over a little) had next to no interplay between Colbert and Batiste--perhaps Colbert will use him (or someone else) as a second banana in the near future.

So overall, okay.  In a world of Jimmys, it promised to be a helpful alternative.  I'm sure there'll be plenty of viewers this week due to the curiosity factor.  The real question is how will it look in a few months after they've worked out the kinks.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Hack Attack

Over the last week, while waiting for the new TV season to start, I've been catching up on Mr. Robot.  I'd heard good things about the USA network series, created by Sam Esmail, so figured I'd check it out.  Turned out to be pretty good.

The plot follows Elliott Alderson (Rami Malek), a super-hacker with mental problems who works at a cybersecurity firm.  He's contacted by fsociety, an anarchist group who plan to take the economic system down by hacking into a giant conglomerate--served by Elliott's company--and erasing all the debt the corporation owns. 

Representing the anarchists is Mr. Robot himself (or so it says on his cap), played by Christian Slater in a tailor-made role--i.e., he gets to rant a lot and act crazy. Other characters include Elliott's coworker Angela (Portia Doubleday), hacker Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and tech exec at the evil corporation Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom).  I don't think I'm giving too much away in saying the characters are not always what they seem.

There's plenty of intrigue and the occasional act of violence.  Though the plot sounds political, that doesn't get in the way of the action too much--though the clichéd speeches from rich people putting down the poor get tiresome, as do the anti-consumerism rants that one starts to feel are meant to be taken seriously.  Though the show is smart enough to never simply state who's right, it is mostly told through the eyes of the characters invested in the scheme, and thus doesn't seem to say it would be that bad to erase everyone's credit card debt.  It's an intriguing thought experiment--my guess is that any celebration would be short-lived, and in the immediate aftermath, at best, the things people want would be much more expensive, if available at all.*

Mr. Robot vaguely reminds me of Orphan Black, where there are all sorts of people involved in the conspiracy and you're never sure where you stand.  But OB, while a great showcase for lead Tatiana Maslany, got too elaborate for its own good, while Mr. Robot, as complex as it is, keeps moving straight ahead  The plot may remind you of other TV series and movies dealing with rebel groups, but in particular owes a lot to Fight Club.  And the show isn't ashamed to admit it, using a piano arrangement of "Where Is My Mind?," memorably featured in the movie, in one of the later episodes. (In general, Mr. Robot uses outside-sourced music quite well.)

The cast, for the most part, does solid work.  It's interesting to see Doubleday and Chaikin, both of whom I'm familiar with from sitcom work, in more serious roles. Above all, holding it together, is Malek, both canny and crazy, in a performance that deserves Emmy attention.

As good as the show is, I found the finale a little flat.  But not so much that I won't be watching next season.

*Purely by chance, Megan McArdle recently watched Mr. Robot, and here's her article about what it would likely mean if all debt were wiped out.  As you'd expect, it's not a pretty picture.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Great Pretender

Yesterday was Labor Day, but just as important, it was Chrissie Hynde's birthday.  At age 64 (and still controversial) she's not ready to retire yet.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Work Fascinates Me

Today is Labor Day, which means summer is over, no matter what they say.  Anyway, let's enjoy some songs about working while we take it easy.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

The Need For Reed

Happy birthday, Jimmy Reed, the great bluesman who flourished in the 50s and 60s.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Back To Bach

Composer Johann Bach was born 280 years ago today. Not the famous one, with Sebastian in the middle. No, his youngest son, Johann Christian Bach.  His music isn't a well known as his dad's, but it's not bad.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Being Alive

Dean Jones has died.  A generation of kids remember him as the lead in a number of Disney features--That Darn Cat!, The Ugly Dachshund, The Horse In The Gray Flannel Suit, The Love Bug and so on--but to Broadway musical fans he's also the original lead in Stephen Sondheim's breakthrough musical Company. He left the show early due to a painful divorce he was going through, but his performance was captured on the classic cast album.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Edgy Dialogue

I've written about how Tom Cruise's 2014 film Edge Of Tomorrow is one of the best action films in recent years.  But that doesn't mean it's perfect. I've watched it (or parts of it--it's on cable pretty regularly) and there's a moment that always bothers me.  Spoilers ahead, but really, you should have seen the film by now.

Tom Cruise keeps repeating the same day of battle against aliens that have invaded Earth.  Every time he dies, he wakes up the day before.  At a certain point he meets Emily Blunt, a war hero, on the beach during a battle and tells her of his situation.  What's happening to him has happened to her, and just before they both die, she tells him to come meet her when he wakes up.

He's transported back to the previous day and goes to her. She's by herself, preparing for battle.  She doesn't know him, since only he remembers what happened when the day resets.

He approaches and she, disturbed, says "who said you could talk to me?"

He just stares.

She continues.  "Is there something on my face, soldier?"

He finally replies.  "You did.  You did. Tomorrow.  At the beach."

The problem for the screenwriter and the director is they want to do two things.  They want to set up "Is there something on my face?," which they'll use later.  But they also want the snappy comeback "who said you could talk to me?" ""you did." So they mix up the two, having Cruise stare like an idiot when he should offer up the punchline.

This is a problem that happens a lot in screenwriting. You've got two or more ideas you want to get across, or two fun things you want to do, and they get in each other's way.  You've either got to figure out how to make them work, or, as painful as it may be, cut one.  Here they just threw them together and lost the full effect of one.

I wonder if the filmmakers wish they could go back to before they did this and try it again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Say The Words

Don't know if I can recommend The Beatles Lyrics by Hunter Davies.  It does have numerous reproductions of their original handwritten drafts--often including lines not used in the finished versions of the songs--and Davies, the group's first major biographer, does include behind-the-scenes stories of how they came up with the words.

But the writing is horrible.  Much of it is simply too idiosyncratic.  I don't expect formal rigor, but what can you do with this from his description of "Drive My Car":

I could remember the words--at least, I thought I did, but on listening again, I realized I'd got the story all wrong.  I'd thought the singer, Paul, was asking a girl to drive his car--a sexual euphemism perhaps.  In fact, it's the girl who's inviting the boy to be her chauffeur, and maybe then she will love him.

Yes, Hunter, that's what the song is about.  We don't care if you didn't remember at first.  Yet he constantly tells us such personal things, though they mean nothing to us.  And even when he attempts to be more straightforward, his analysis is rarely penetrating.  Sometimes it even misses the obvious.

For instance, looking at John's original manuscript for "If I Fell" we get:

He has marked the verses 1 and 2 and has written "Into" at the beginning, suggesting there would be no opening chords, just straight into it.

Perhaps.  Or perhaps, because it's a section at the beginning of the song that will not be repeated, John meant to write "Intro" and left out the "r."

Even worse is his discussion of the tunes.  Davies seems to be musically illiterate.  He'll often claim the singer's going high or low as if it's some sort of choice, not the tune as written. And then you realize when he uses these terms he's not necessarily discussing pitch, but rather whether the voices are thin or resonant. Either way, it leads to stuff like this description of "I'm A Loser":

[John's] singing is a bit strange, deliberately going low on the last word of each chorus, almost out of tune, sounding a bit embarrassed...

The low notes are a memorable part of the song, but this description is just weird.  I don't know if John's singing sounds strange, but describing him as "deliberately" going low makes no sense.  It wasn't a wilful act on his part--he wrote the song, he decided what the notes should be, and now he's singing them.  And calling it almost out of tune?  Either it's out of tune or it's not.  On top of which, he goes low on the last word of each couplet in the verses, not the chorus.

So if you're a Beatles completist, by all means, check it out.  But it's hardly the first book about them or their music you should buy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Unreliable Nathan

Nathan Rabin often writes about flops.  In fact, he has a whole book on them. But those are cinematic disasters.  In a recent A.V. Club post, he writes about a TV flop and misses the boat.  The show in question?  The ill-fated sitcom Mulaney, canceled earlier this year.

Rabin starts with a discussion of how talented and popular John Mulaney was before he created his show.  No.  He wasn't that well known, much less beloved. As for talent, he'd been a decent writer for SNL, not much more. Neither his material on that show nor his standup were especially impressive.  Perhaps a small group had heard of him, but he was less famous than most comedians who get sitcoms--Cosby, Roseanne Barr, Tim Allen, even Seinfeld or Louis C. K.  Essentially, his name meant nothing, and if he was to make it in a show, the show had to sell him, not the other way around.

Everyone knew Mulaney was in trouble when NBC turned it down, even though it had SNL producer Lorne Michael behind it.  Fox picked it up, but it was already damaged goods. Still, if the show was okay, it had a chance.

Each episode featured Mulaney doing a bit of standup in front of the studio audience (or so I'm told--I bailed pretty quickly).  Here's what Rabin has to say about it:

In the first illustration of the show’s colossal miscalculation, these stand-up comedy bits are way too short, often hovering around the one-minute mark. It’s a testament to how little Fox understood Mulaney’s appeal (or maybe to how Mulaney misunderstood his own appeal) that the network somehow assumed that audiences would be in a hurry for Mulaney to stop doing stand-up (something he’s very good at) and start acting (something he is, to put it diplomatically, not quite as gifted at).

Completely wrong.  This was a sitcom. People were tuning in for enjoyable plots with entertaining characters and funny lines.  Killing the action dead with some standup, just because you think you've got a funny comedian, was a bad decision.  Seinfeld started that way, but he was a well-known comedian and the concept of the show--that we'd see how his stand-up came from his real life--was how it was sold to the network.  But even that show soon realized that's not what an audience wants in a sitcom and dropped the angle.  If Mulaney wasn't as good at acting as standup, tough, he'd better learn. Seinfeld wasn't much of an actor either, but that's the part of the show that mattered.

Worse is Rabin's main thesis--that doing the show live, three-camera style, doomed it as a throwback.  This is nonsense.  It's true that TV has gone crazy for one-camera shows shot like a film, and there's a lot you can do with that format.  But a live show, which used to be the norm (Norm!), is still around. In fact, the most popular sitcom of the past decade, The Big Bang Theory, is done that way and still going strong, as are several other hits presently on air. Critics may care about the format, but the audience doesn't.  And seeing as how Mulaney's main TV experience was on SNL, a show that's a live as can be, doing it that way was probably the right decision.

What doomed the show was weak writing and clichéd characters.  NBC saw that, so refused to put it on the schedule even after developing it.  It's exceedingly hard to create a good show, no matter how much talent is behind it.  But the "problems" Rabin mentions didn't matter at all.

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