Friday, May 20, 2011

I have ranked the top 68 television shows of the '00s, and will be presenting them, one-by-one, starting with 68 and working down. The rankings are more or less based on the show's popularity, it's cult status, it's critical acclaim, and my personal liking of it, with a heavy dose of arbitrariness added in. If a show was a big enough phenomena, I'll keep it on the list - but if I don't like it, I may drop it some spots. One other caveat - these are primetime shows (I apologize if I put a cable show that wasn't, I thought they were all primetime shows - the main point of this is just that no talk shows, no Colbert and Daily Show that would be on otherwise).

7: Family Guy

Admitted, this show serves a limited demographic. I doubt most people over, I don't know, maybe 40 or 45 know much or anything about it. But nowadays, or really more, in the early 2000s, it reached classic Simpsons episode of devotion, of memorizing and repeating classic lines, and not just a few, but many, especially from the first couple of seasons. Some quotes have simply become part of my friends' speech patterns.

Family Guy is famous amongst other things for having a first run which was phenomenally popular amongst a certain crowd, being cancelled, and then a couple of years later, against all odds, coming back. I was one of those people saddened by its cancellation and excited by its return; I remember during freshman year signing and passing around a petition my friend was distributing requesting Family guy get back on the air and then senior year watching a bootlegged version of the first episode back before it actually aired which opened with Peter mentioned that Family Guy had a shot of coming back only if the legions of Fox shows which had aired and been cancelled in the meantime, each of which he named, were gone. The show was revived due to a combination of crazy good ratings as repeats aired on Adult Swim and crazy high DVD sales, parking it as the second best selling TV DVDs ever, right behind Chapelle's Show.

Family Show wasn't the first to use it, but it was certainly noteworthy for its over featuring pop culture references leading to random cutaway sequences, and using these so much that often even die-hard fans can't remember which particular sequence goes with what episode - plots in Family Guy episodes are often beside the point more than in any other show I can think of.

When it's at its best, these clips are as funny as anything on television. My friend invented a game we used to play called "Family Guy" game in which someone would call out a word, and we'd type "Family Guy" an then that word into youtube, click on what came up, and then keep following links until we dried them up and then called out another word. When Fox eventually decided to take everything off youtube, it kind of killed the game, but just enjoying those clips in and of themselves, was probably the best way to enjoy family guy - context isn't important, and while I wouldn't want that for all my shows, I'm fine with that for this - there's a place in television for this.

I've always thought there was a great animated show battle between Family Guy and South Park. Most people like both at least a little, but I feel like you're really a fan more of or the other at heart, and for me it will always be Family Guy. South Park viciously took on Family Guy in two episodes, Cartoon Wars part I and II where it basically bashed Family Guy left and right and then left again. Some of their points are valid - plots really are inconsequential to Family Guy, so sure, there's absolutely room to make fun of Family Guy. In my personal opinion, however, instead of teasing Family Guy lightly and funnily, South Park comes off as self-righteous, full of itself, and unable to deal with the idea that Family Guy could in any way be funny, and ham-handed, sour, and mean, in the worst way. I'm glad Family Guy took it in good humor, and I think if you work on a comedy show you can't take any kind of insult too seriously. That doesn't mean it's not stupid though. There's a lot of different kind of ways to be funny, and I'm not sure why South Park can't deal with that.

I could go on about Family Guy at length, but I'll note here that it resuscitated the career of former Billboard Hot 100 #1 artist Walter Murphy, best known for "A Fifth of Beethoven" which appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. He also had minor hits with his take on "Flight of the Bumblebee" and a "Theme from E.T." medley. Murphy did the theme for Family Guy and some of the songs, and even won an Emmy for one of the worst - "You've Got a Lot to See."

Okay, these were a few random asides, but all said, Family Guy is huge. It's now been on for a ridiculous 9 seasons and 164 episodes, the vast majority after its revival. And though it remains as much of a fixture on fox as ever, along with two other Seth McFarlane projects, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, it feels in a way the same way current Simpsons does - just not as relevant as it once was (I don't even mean the quality, which I've heard various reports of, and is up and down when I watch - and with Family Guy, consistency isn't really as important - even in most bad episodes, you're guaranteed a great gag or two) in that I can't assume almost everybody I know has seen the past episode and can quote it verbatim.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I have ranked the top 68 television shows of the '00s, and will be presenting them, one-by-one, starting with 68 and working down. The rankings are more or less based on the show's popularity, it's cult status, it's critical acclaim, and my personal liking of it, with a heavy dose of arbitrariness added in. If a show was a big enough phenomena, I'll keep it on the list - but if I don't like it, I may drop it some spots. One other caveat - these are primetime shows (I apologize if I put a cable show that wasn't, I thought they were all primetime shows - the main point of this is just that no talk shows, no Colbert and Daily Show that would be on otherwise).

8: House

House has been Fox's scripted mainstay (and second only behind American Idol in importance to Fox) through the past decade, anchoring its lineup with a show that, for the most part of its run, has been both critically lauded and commercially successful.

I watched most of the second and third season of House, and while I enjoyed it very much, it being 85% procedural and 15% serial led me to feel less compelled to watch it weekly - this could instead be the stuff of Sunday afternoon marathons post-football season like Monk and Law & Order: SVU.

Of course, if Hugh Laurie didn't do such a good job, the show could have run out of legs a long time earlier. The formula really isn't all that wonderful - it's one of those situations where, if I described the show to you - a crack medical team led by a moody arrogant savant assisted by his three acolytes take on a strange medical case every week and figure out what's wrong with the patient, often some ridiculous disease you've never heard of - it doesn't sound all that great (to be fair, it actually sounds better than I thought it would sound before writing it out). However, the cast, mostly Laurie, but with a shout out for his only friend, fellow doctor Wilson, portrayed by Robert Sean Leonard, takes it to above average.

I'd like just a quick word about the CSI-like super up close shots of medical organs and other fairly disgusting parts of human insides, and that word(s) is(are), stop showing them, they add absolutely nothing to the show, and seem strange and out of place - the show is not really stylized like CSIs in any other way.

The show has certainly by now reached grand-old-man status - it's a legend in its time slot, but more for what it did, than for what it's doing now. And although most of what I know about the recent episodes comes from reading articles and other people's opinions, I don't find it hard to believe that the show, while perfectly acceptable I'm sure, has passed its prime (and believe me, I do hate those people who are so quick to jump on shows from being passed its prime - but of course, it does happen). As if to give new life to the show, a whole bunch of new characters were introduced in the fourth season. His three helpers all were either fired or quit, and through a gradual winnowing process House chose three new ones.

One of the three new doctors chosen in season 4 was portrayed by Kal Penn, who left House, and well, acting, to join the Obama administration after the election of 2008. The writers of House deigned to do something creative with his leaving the show, and instead of having him get fired, or some other way leaving open the door for later reappearances, decided to have him hang himself and pose this as something of a mystery, regarding why he did it. While I appreciate the going for the gold approach to story telling - there can be no doubting this is a bold manuever - it never made a whole lot of sense for me. Yes, I suppose there's some potential character-mining to be had here, and that was the idea - can House deal with there being no reason, no rationale, blah, blah, blah, I think that benefit is outweighed by the forced feeling the whole action generated.

The newest out of camp House is that Lisa Edelstein will not be returning next season as Cuddy, and if the wheels weren't already spinning, they are now, and although next season will probably be the last, it seems as if, if it could have been better planned this season should have been. While sometimes cast changes work, it's always unfortunate to have one of those last seasons that just seem one season too far, when some actors and actresses wanted to carry on and some didn't, and you end up with kind of a muddled mess and an end that doesn't do justice to a show's beginning and middle.

Still, House is the big medical drama of its day, bigger I think overall in impression than Grey's Anatomy (though with less impact on the pop charts) every decade needs at least one defining medical drama (90s - ER, 80s St Elsewhere to start), and House is the '00s.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This is a relatively old commercial, I know, but recently I've become a little bit obsessed with it. And not because it's terrible, or so great, or so absurd, but for two main reasons. (Okay, changed me mind after watching it again - it is so great - just not particularly revolutionary or influential or anything)

(Quick sum up: Basically, for his father's 60th birthday, his son takes me on a trip to Norway, where presumably their ancestors had come from - they have a fucking amazing time, paying with their citi credit card all the way, only to find out at the end that they are actually Swedish, rather than Norwegian.)

1 - It makes Norway look like the coolest place on Earth (no pun intended there). How is Norway not paying some money for this, the best reason to visit Norway since the 1994 Winter Olympics? I would like to plan a vacation based solely around this commercial. I literally want to go to Norway, and in order, visit the places the father and son go - the museum or whatever it is with that giant boat, the pint at Ibsen's favorite pub (can that possibly still be around? I hope they're not shading the truth here), the sampling of local cuisine (that fish looks delicious), the fjords, the jumping in the water, the rowboating. Literally, I would sign up for a tour group whose reason for being was reenacting the trip from that commercial. It was the trip of a lifetime, the dad said! What else do you need?

2 - Probably more minor point, but that old guy looks awesome, and has an awesome beard. He's got great sunken eyes and sly smile. If I look half as cool when I am that age, I will be thankful. (Apparently he is portrayed by Norm Golden and I now need to see his SVU episode - it looks like the son may be a guy named Scott Organ but it's harder to definitively confirm this)

Humorously, in the youtube comments, there's a weird occasional back and forth between pro-Norway and Swedish forces - mentioning how terrible it would be to find out that you were Swedish.

Also, when looking up things about this commercial - I found this amazing article of a guy who seriously can't handle the possible inaccuracies of the commercial - such as the fact, that Ibsen would have been more likely to drink in restaurants. Yes, you apparently can't take a ferry to Stockholm, and yes, the music is clearly not Norwegian, but who cares?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cold Mountain

I watched Cold Mountain the other day. It's one of these films that kind of snuck up on my netflix queue. Once upon a time, in the early days of having netflix, I made a fairly long queue of random movies I was vaguely interested in seeing for one reason or another, and I hit "add" to just about any movie Netflix recommended that held any interest. As time went by, I found myself largely ignoring most of this list, and picking out movies I really wanted to see as I went; generally once I send a movie away, I find a movie on my list to move into the first position. A couple of weeks ago maybe, I sent a movie away, and fresh off the death of Elizabeth Taylor, I picked Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf to be my next film. Yet, the next day, I get an e-mail telling me Cold Mountain is coming - bullshit, I thought, naturally - sneakily enough Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf had a wait, pushing the second position movie into first. Anyway, so I had it, it won an Oscar, might as well watch it, I figured.

I told my friend that I had seen the movie, and he asked me, something along the lines of, "was it exactly what I expect it to be?" After which, I thought for a second, and replied affirmatively. After thinking about it some more, there isn't a much better way to describe the movie if you know anything about it - it's a big, long, romantic, star-studded Civil War epic (Jude Law and Nicole Kidman play the leads, with Renee Zellweger winning an Oscar for Supporting Role) about a guy trying to get back to his love in the South vaguely based on the Odyssey and all about terrible toll of war (not a lot of war movies endorsing war these days). Take a moment to think about that in film form, and I would wager that what you're thinking is just about what the movie is.

What I didn't realize is that the film is positively loaded with acting talent - four academy award winners - Nicole Kidman (The Hours), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Renee Zellweger (none other than Cold Mountain). After that, only one other nominee, Jude Law, nominated for Cold Mountain as well as for The Talented Mr. Ripley, appears, but plenty of other actors of note, who, because of the journey format of the story often come into the film for just a couple of minutes - Giovanni Ribisi pops up for about five minutes, Jena Malone and Cillian Murphy are in the movie for what has to be a couple of minutes at most and Emily Deschanel and James Rebhorn are on screen for a matter of seconds. It also contains Jack White's only real acting role (Elvis Presley in Walk Hard barely counts, I suppose).

Lastly, is it wrong, that as a northerner, I always route against the southern soldiers in these films even when they're supposed to be the good guys? I mean I'm not going so far as to root for the northern soldiers who (spoiler!) try to rape Natalie Portman, but still in the battle scenes, death to the South! Nice try of all these southern stories to try to make heroes who were southern but don't have slaves - as long as they wear that rebel grey, to hell with them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Most irritating sports radio trend #61 (not ranked in terms of irritation)

The "Straw man False Negative"

Let me explain to you what I mean. Sports talk radio host wants to make a BOLD statement, which often isn't really all that bold, so he tries to enhance the boldness of said statement by letting people know before saying it that either absolutely nobody out there listening agrees with what he is about to say (without naming names of course of anybody who actually has this opinion) or noting how crazy you, the listener may think he is after hearing this wild statement.

I find this happens more on single person radio shows rather than two or three person shows, as with multiple people there's always someone to comment on your BOLD statements and act as a sounding board and disagree or agree as needed. With single person shows, the hosts seem to feel as if there's a need to create a dialogue with the listeners, and thus these hosts foist opinions onto the listeners without asking and pat themselves on the back for disagreeing with the opinions they gave to the listeners.

Colin Cowherd is the king of this maneuver - I've heard it many times from him - specifically, today, he was talking about the Lakers and he talked about how Lamar Odom, as the third or so option for a multiple championship team a la James Worthy could garner serious Hall of Fame consideration. To get you ready for his percieved out-there-ness of that statement, Cowherd spent a couple of minutes before actually saying it letting the listeners know that "NOBODY is thinking this" and that they may disagree vociferously once they hear what he has to say (though I don't think he actually used the word vociferously.) Now whether you think that statement is actually a bold one or not is at least mostly beside the point.

Just say what you think, man. If it's actually bold, listeners will take it that way, and they can disagree with you when they call in, or guests can disagree with you on air. It's just unfair to set up a statement as one no one will believe, when you have no actual evidence that no one will believe it other than you saying so because it suits your purposes.

Michael Kay does this all the time as well - spend more time talking about how the next thing he says YOU will disagree with and YOU will think he's crazy than actually saying whatever he thinks.

Of course this all ends up to another good reason to simply not listen to sports radio, but then that would be no fun.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

NBA basketball is on TNT.

MLB baseball is on TBS.

TNT knows Drama.

TBS knows Comedy.

Does this mean basketball is drama and baseball is comedy?

Ponder on that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Today, I read of China's amazing decision to ban time travel on television - or in full - "Fantasy, time-travel, random compilations of mythical stories, bizarre plots, absurd techniques, even propagating feudal superstitions, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous moral lessons, and a lack of positive thinking" - which eliminates viewings of Back to the Future, or 12 Monkeys or Timecop, among others.
(Of course, Chinese people everywhere should thank the government for preventing them from being embroiled in Lost - which basically contains every single element which the government wants to ban).

So, while plodding around the internet in the wake of this decision I found a Washington Post 2006 list of banned keywords on Chinese internet. Now, it's a super long list with tons of political figures and things like that, but here are a couple that I felt stood out as highlights (being aware that as a not-as-political-astute-as-I-should-be citizen, I may be missing some obvious political implications from one of these):

"Indonesia" - I'm honestly curious about what Indonesia did to raise ire in China so much more than every single other country on Earth

"Night talk of the Forbidden City" - Only at night? talking during the day is far less dangerous?

"News Blockade" - well this just starts some levels - the Chinese people can't even look up the fact that they can't get news

"Armageddon" - I'm not sure if this refers to the movie, or the place of the final conflict between divine good and divine evil, but I don't think the Chinese government can prevent the power of either just by banning it online.

"Hire a killer to murder one's wife" - well, I suppose if you're working on the premise that you're going to ban any combination of words, this is as good as any

"Bug" - this one I assume is the recording device and the not the member of the animal kingdom, but this could still cause a serious problem for Chinese entomologists