I see that a large portion of the tiny traffic that this blog is getting is coming from people googling for stuff like "Nike Battlegrounds Chinese guy". His name is Darren Jiang and he made the team.
I just watched Everybody Hates Chris, which is an attempt to bring back the conventional family sitcom by the UPN, of all networks. There was a good piece in The Observer awhile back about this show and how some were hoping it would be a classic show in the mold of The Wonder Years or The Cosby Show in that it would be actual broadcasting as opposed to narrowcasting while some were saying in effect "Let's be real, it's on the UPN. It's aimed at a particular demographic." I'm watching, due to the incredible critical notices the show got, but I have no idea how many non-African-American people are watching. The title makes fun of a show that was widely watched by people of all colors and creeds obviously. It will be interesting to see if there can possibly be a show which is watched by all people in that way in the age of a zillion specialized channels and people selecting their content ever more narrowly through TiVo etc.
Anyway, the show is funny and charming. It's not as sophisticated as an HBO comedy like Entourage or Extras but for a conventional network TV sitcom it's about as good as you get. It's like The Wonder Years minus the cloying sentimentality. The adult-Chris voiceover really works too. He's not nostalgiazing everything like the narrator of The Wonder Years, just telling you how it was in a really funny way. There are some playful surreal touches, such as the theater kid who was dancing on top of that car and the fact that his middle school is called Corleone Junior High, but it's grounded enough in reality that you get a real feel for early 80s Brooklyn as it's portrayed in the show. It's far more grounded in New York than The Cosby Show ever was.
It's also refreshing to see working class people portrayed in a positive light in the sitcom. It's good to see people with at least somewhat realistic money problems in a sitcom as opposed to the enormous apartments and bottomless bank accounts of Friends and the like. And their interactions are real and unvarnished but the family still have a basic level of love and respect. The show avoids the over-idealization of The Cosby Show without reveling in dysfunctionality like Roseanne.
Everybody Hates Chris is certainly a winning show, but that's still probably not enough to resuscitate the broad audience family sitcom form.
There's apparently some buzz. Ross Douthat is watching, which means that people who are friends with Kurt Andersen might be watching too. Douthat immediately does what all intellectuals insist on doing with every new HBO show and compares it to The Sopranos, which he deems "a work of singular genius", as opposed to the tiresome, dreary, predictable mafia retread it is. (What is it with The Sopranos that makes intellectuals so crazy for it? Is it somehow similar to baseball?)
(And that reminds me of a great Saturday Night Live skit from the 80s around the time when George Will's baseball book came out. Dana Carvey I think played George Will and he was on this Jeopardy-like show, but all the questions were quotes from his book. The other players were real baseball players and they were missing all the questions and Will was getting them right. They were real quotes from the book I think, involving phrases like "a fit of Byzantine whimsy" and something about how the infield and the outfield were representations of "being and becoming". Finally, the real baseball players get sick of the whole thing and they ask Will, "Have you ever played baseball" and he's all "Um, um" and one guy throws a ball at him and he can't catch it.)
Anyway, aside from the predictable Sopranos tunnel vision (There's no single breakout character like Tony Soprano because it's more of an ensemble show) Douthat makes some good points in his post. One of things that makes the show good is indeed how good of a job it does at showing how different the Romans were from us. The show is definitely "bloody and sensual", but I think it's lacking a bit in the "vivid" department. As I said in my post below, the world of Rome seems a bit small and flat and like it only has a few sets. Compared to the rich, textured worlds of Deadwood and Carnivale it's not vivid.
He's also right the highlight the creepy work of Max Pirkis as the ultra-cold,shrewd-beyond-his-years young Octavian. It's strange to see an actor so young in an atmosphere of so much sex and murder. I wonder if this role is really going to screw him up.
The shocking event that had never before happened on Top Model referred to Cassandra's getting eliminated mid-episode for refusing to cut her already short hair an extra inch. For some reason, I was hoping for something even more cataclysmic, like something crazy in the judging room, but technically this was pretty crazy. A girl had never been eliminated anywhere but the judging room before. It was a foregone conclusion that she was going to go out like that from the minute she got her haircut. It was so obvious that she didn't want to be there and wasn't willing to suffer for her art, or something. She would have been useful to have around as a villain though.
The sleaze factor in the Kim/Sarah relationship continued though. I am so glad that they sent poor Sarah home instead of keeping her around to keep the girl-on-girl action going. She was so obviously going to get hurt, since she (Sarah, who's straight) was really falling for Kim (who's gay) even though it meant nothing to Kim. The fact that Sarah was hooking up with Kim yet had a boyfriend and thought of herself as straight made me think of this post on The American Scene from awhile back regarding the latest CDC data on American sexual behavior where Ross Douthat was wondering if there no longer is any taboo against casual female homosexual experimentation and wondering if we're moving to a future of there being no taboo against casual male homosexual experimentation in the next ten to twenty years.
Some of the best lines were when Sarah said "I used to be a good walker, I guess I'm just thinking about it too much," and Cassandra's mom gravely intoning to her over the phone, "You just have to think what's more important: this inch of hair or this opportunity." The challenges and photo shoots this week were unusually ridiculous. I mean, interpretive dancing with a hat and a weird old-fashioned swimsuit get-up, and then that 50s horror movie/running on a treadmill/wearing clothes that I guess were supposed to look bad on purpose thing at the end. They are running out of ideas here. I liked that Asian kimono-designer judge though. Very dignified.
There still isn't any standout girl. Lisa continues to do well, but apparently she gets even more unlikeable according to the scenes from next week, and the judges are turning on her. Nik won the Cover Girl viewers pole, which for the past two seasons has been a perfect predictor of the winner. I see Nik and Bre both coming on strong. They're just the kind of girls Tyra likes: black and proud but not too in-your-face about it and not too ghetto. There are a lot of girls who are very beautiful, like Kyle and Nicole, but have no personality. Kim is insanely beautiful I realized today after seeing her made up for that weird runway challenge thing. With Sarah gone she'll have less of a distraction and could come on really strong. She has personality and uniqueness and a great look.
What I really want to know is does anyone actually stick around and watch Veronica Mars after ANTM? That show has the best possible lead-in and I've never heard anyone talk about watching it ever. When you watch somethig on UPN you realize just how week the rest of the programming is. It's like Love Inc. after Everybody Hates Chris. God, did I ever think I'd be regularly watching two UPN shows?
America's Next Top Model will be on again in under 10. The ads promise something "shocking" that's never happened before in the long history of ANTM. The teasers on ANTM are historically usually somewhat accurate. Like when they said Tyra was going to lose her mind on some girl she really did. So this should be good.
(Yes I realize that as my girlfriend said Dan Renzi is the only other person who blogs about ANTM this much. What's your point?)
I'm sure Rome is one of those shows which Kurt Andersen would claim doesn't have "buzz", and he might be right, but that's a shame because - with Battlestar Galactica not currently airing new episodes - it's the best drama now going. How does it rank in the pantheon of HBO shows? Well, in my weird pantheon which places the two most popular and critically acclaimed shows, The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm at the bottom and Carnivale at the very top it's somewhere in the middle. It's not as good as The Wire or Deadwood but it's definitely better than the overrated Sopranos. (Six Feet Under was so different in tone and genre that it's not really comparable to any of these shows.) Rome will inevitably get compared to both The Sopranos and Deadwood, perhaps unfairly, because it has multiple factions playing off against one another and intrigues etc. It's also similar to The Wire in a way in that it shows the dysfunction and scheming of an entire polity. But, it should be viewed on its own terms. As such, what it's lacking is the sense of drawing you into a rich, textured created world. Somehow, despite all the money that was apparently spent on mise-en-scène Rome itself kind of flat and chintzy and small. The characters are not incredibly deep or well drawn. What keeps the show compulsively watchable however is simply the plot. The intrigues are so complex and fast-moving that they themselves are enough fodder for a show, even if there's not much psychological complexity in the characterization. This is what keeps you coming back. Also, like I,Claudius the show is good pornography and the good possibility of seeing something fascinating and grotesque, or of seeing a very attractive person naked (hopefully Polly Walker as Atia) is always there.
Next up is Curb Your Enthusiasm which I skip. Larry David is the source of all his troubles and the instigator of all the horrifyingly squirmy situations on that show. I could see how it would be funny if sometimes the uncomfortable situations were created by others or by bad luck, but there's nothing funny about seeing someone act like an asshole and cause non-stop misery both to himself and others. Perhaps if he got his comeuppance, but at the end of each episode he still has his beautiful wife and his house in Beverly Hills.
After CYE is over I watch Ricky Gervais's new show Extras, a show which is a little too Curb Your Enthusiasmy itself for my taste. I saw a great blog post somewhere about how it was fitting that the show is called Extras, as everything Gervais does now is just sort of an extra, a little bit tacked onto his masterwork, The Office. Though the show is funnier than 90% of the sitcoms out there, it's still impossible not to compare it to The Office and find it wanting. The character Gervais plays in this one is a bit smarter and more competent than David Brent was. In fact, the character as I said is somewhat Larry David-like, causing uncomfortable situations through his own crazy or obsessive actions rather than through his sheer cluelessness. He and the other main character both are actors who do a lot of work as extras on film, but there's no real insight into or satire of actors or the entertainment world, unlike in the underrated and underwatched HBO series Unscripted. The film-sets where they work are presented as just backdrops for them to hang out with seemingly infinite down time, not as places where anyone seems to be doing anything. While they hang out on endless break the plots are generated in a surprisingly conventional sit com fashion, driven by misunderstandings etc. The funniest part of the series thus far has been seeing Gervais's collaborator Stephen Merchant playing his hapless agent.
Here's a pic I forgot to post:
(click to enlarge)
I've determined that the frighteningly young girls who went into the party at the same time I did blog here. They unwittingly zero in upon the reason their youth freaked me out in that post. I am indeed a white guy around 30 with a paunch and a social disorder and seeing Gen Y represent is not something I'm accustomed to. Also, they accurately describe the incredibly weird bollywood/bordello surroundings we were all in, and the fact that everyone was standing awkwardly. Why the hell where we all standing? We were all supposed to be lounging on banquettes and such. Anyway, these girls do sound like they're pretty cool, according to this Dawn Summers write-up. Remembering individual Encyclopedia Brown books is pretty crazy. Now Choose Your Own Adventure on the other hand . . .
It's funny that they mention Sisters and how the show got no press. I never really watched it, but I remember the show existing. However the show remained so obscure despite its apparent five year run that it often felt like something I'd imagined or dreamed because no one else remembered it when I talked to them about it.
Because no one else seems to be linking to the poor guy and I appreciate his initiative, I'll link to Barry Popik, a candidate for Manhattan Borough President on both the Republican and Liberal lines who smartly came to the party to campaign. I should say he didn't really campaign, his charismatic handler (Karol says she was his fiancee) did the campaigning. He just kind of stood there looking dorky and uncharismatic, even by New York politician standards. Despite how clueless she seems to have been in dealing with Dawn Summers, the flack seemed pretty cool.
To make sure that the snake completely devours its tail I'll link to Karol's roundup of accounts of the night.
I had a copious, almost Dawn Summersesque recap of last night's New York blogger party here, but I lost it due to being on very little sleep and putting something in the wrong browser tab. I'll try to summarize it here as best as I can.
"K Lounge" was above an Indian restaurant which was weird. Four absurdly young seeming girls who I could immediately see were geeky enough to be bloggers arrived at the same time as I did. As we went upstairs one of them was actually sent home for not being 21, poor thing. We were led to the party room, which was this crazy scene of blankets, and pillows, and banquettes out of bollywood, but we were the only people there, and just sat there awkwardly in this room built seemingly for decadence. Finally, bloggers I knew showed up and all was well. First was Mary of Exit Zero drinking her usual martini. After that the room filled up pretty quickly with way too many bloggers to keep track of. There was of course Karol, and her coterie of Ari, Jessica, and Lisa. I talked with Jessica about what she did. She's an actuary! Who knew? I've always been fascinated by actuaries because my high school math algebra and geometry teacher was always telling us we should work hard at math so we could become actuaries, which was supposedly the best job in the world because of high job security or something. Also, actuaries have made recent inroads into popular culture in films such as About Schmidt and That horrible movie with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston and the Ferret Whose Name I Can Never Remember. We generally feel that actuaries get a horrible rep as being anal retentive, obsessive crazy people. Lay off everybody!
Ari had a hilarious story of actually talking at length to the poor woman who got arrested for sitting on a playground bench. Apparently, Ari recognized her immediately from TV by her poor makeup application. Also, according to the woman the cops called for backup and approached this hippy-skirted dance instructor with their hands on their guns.
Also there was the aforementioned crazy ol' Dawn Summers (who never seems that crazy or "ol'" in person) I can't stop linking Karol. It's the blogad that did it. I've got Dawn Summers fever. And I'm being ravaged by its ugly symptoms!
Ken Wheaton, who is in training for the New York City marathon, was in attendance. And Judith Weiss was also there. As far as meeting bloggers, I didn't collect as many new URL's as I hoped and it got overwhelming. So, big ups to Experimental Insanity and to Ron Lewenberg.
There was one bona fide blogging superstar there, the supremely beautiful and awesomely intelligent
Megan Mcardle. She sat still in a corner of the room the entire time, perhaps attempting to harness the power of her mind and looks to somehow make objects levitate.
Also impressive were regular Alarming News commenter "someone" and his friend Christina, who both knew an absurd amount about film.
At any rate, everyone's buzz got harshed because they started kicking us out at the absurd hour of twelve. There was a talk of finding another venue, but there was a split in the grand coalition, so Judith, Ron, Mary, someone, and a blogger whose URL I don't remember all ended up scrounging for somewhere in the area, which, since it was midtown meant some absurd tourist trap where it cost something like 12 dollars for french fries. (I then learned some harsh truths about the late night LIRR schedule, but that's another story.)
Oh, and it was good to see Steve Silver, who's moved to the Philadelphia area. Check out his site. A lot of good stuff there.
Since I got invited to comment I'm petrified to make any comments because I'm afraid my comments won't be up to snuff. It's no like you can be disinvited, but it's intimidating to leave a comment in front of so many witty and mean people. I have to say, however, that not everyone seems to have the same scruples and there are already some pretty lame comments going up.
Like, here's a comment I've been thinking about leaving, "I like to make comments". You see, it's a meta-joke about the commenting process that parodies the snobbishness of the whole enterprise. While we're supposed to be leaving the smartest comment possible I'm pretending to be ignorant of that and leaving the most inane comment possible. I'm not afraid that anyone would really think I was being that inane but I am afraid that the joke is too weak.
I'll probably keep leaving my comments here. Someday I'll have the self-confidence to actually comment on Gawker, after lots more therapy/more meds, that sort of thing.