Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My stuff on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog this month included a review of ScholarMan's new album, Free Spirit Of A Troubled Soul, and live reviews of Reina Williams @ Peace & A Cup Of Joe, Balti Mare and the Baltimore String Felons @ the Sidebar, and Bossman and Mullyman @ the Black Hole Rock Club with DJ Booman, DJ 5Starr, 100 Grandman, TestMe, Smash, Pork Chop, Skarr Akbar and others.

TV Diary

Monday, March 29, 2010
a) "Sons Of Tuscon"
That FOX slipped this into their Sunday night lineup of otherwise all animated shows, and that 3/4ths of the main cast are children, makes it very easy to assume this show will fall too far on the side of cutesy/wacky "Malcolm In The Middle"-type material. But I gotta say, I'm really enjoying how dry and even mean this show's humor is at times, and that they're willing to kind of put the characters in a totally risky illegal situation for the sake of the premise and milk it for laughs (basically three kids pay some sketchy random guy to pretend to be their father so they can live with no real rules). I kinda pegged Tyler Labine as an off-brand Jack Black early into his run on "Reaper," but I gradually warmed to him and he's definitely a funny, talented guy and has the right tone to carry this kind of show. The youngest kid gets some hilarious lines.

b) "Who Do You Think You Are?"
This is one of the many filler shows that NBC seemed to rush on the air after the failure of the Leno in prime time experiment, with random celebrities researching their family history on a feelgood chicken soup for the soul tip. But I was really bored one day and watched the Lisa Kudrow episode On Demand, and I have to say I enjoyed it, she learned about her great grandmother who'd died in the Holocaust, and tracked down a long lost relative that they didn't even know was still alive, and it was pretty emotional and affecting. I can't see most of the episodes of this show having anything nearly so dramatic, though, and even if they did I really just don't give a damn about Sarah Jessica Parker or whoever.

c) "The Music Video Exposed"
I can remember when MTV first started running a director credit on videos in the early '90s, and how quickly directors started gaining cachet as brand names in and of themselves, and using that as a springboard into features. And that's why I love that this show on VH1 Classic has been primarily profiling directors from the '80s, before the credits and all the name recognition, particularly just to realize that guys from that era had videographies just as varied and impressive as Jonze or Gondry or whoever. I mean, it blew my mind to see that one guy, Steve Barron, directed "Take On Me" AND "Money For Nothing" AND "Billie Jean." And this guy doesn't have his own Director's Series DVD? Get the fuck outta here.

d) "Men Of A Certain Age"
The show really had a solid first season with interesting and not too predictable storylines for all three major characters, really interested to see where they take it next year.

e) "The Middle"
As "Modern Family" continues to come into its own as one of the best new shows of the season and ABC runs 2 episodes almost every week, I keep trying to give the show that usually airs between them a chance, especially since I like the janitor dude from "Scrubs," but I dunno, I can't get into it. It might be the name, but this reminds me of "Malcolm In The Middle" a lot, except unlike "Sons Of Tuscon" it doesn't dodge wacky/cutesy enough. A few times it's made me laugh pretty hard, though, it has potential.

f) "Cougartown"
Another one from the same night that I'm iffy about. I mostly like the cast, Courtney Cox aside, and the writing's occasionally snappy, but man it's got the really dead vibe that a lot of single camera shows have, where they remove the laugh track but don't know how to get a rhythm going without it or have the dialogue resemble a real conversation in any way.

g) "FlashForward"
This show has a cool premise and the ads made it look exciting and all, but I missed the first run of episodes last fall, and I thought about renting the catch-up DVD in time for the new episodes and didn't. So I tried to watch the recap show, which I know from watching "Lost" recaps or whatever rarely are good or enticing, but I'm pretty sure even from what I saw that this show is kind of crap and am feeling discouraged about ever catching up. I shouldn't bother, should I? I mean it's not "V" level bad, but what is?

h) "Tool Academy 3"
"Tool Academy 2" was decent and watchable, but enough of a letdown from its predecessor that I thought maybe this show would turn out to be a one season wonder, doomed to a couple years of diminishing returns. But "Tool Academy 3" was pretty much legendary from the first episode, with the introduction of 2 female tools (one straight and one a lesbian tool), the guy who cries in every single episode, and more than one couple pretty much self-destructing and leaving the show without being eliminated. I think the only way they could make this show any more entertaining is if they did "Tool Academy: Celebrity Edition" and started bringing in all the tools who are on other reality shows where their behavior's encouraged. I mean, the fact that VH1 has this in the same block of programming as a show where women compete for the love of Frank The Entertainer is just insane to me.

i) "Seven Ages of Rock"
This is a miniseries the BBC made a couple years ago that VH1 Classic runs now and again, and I always watch bits and pieces of it, and their version is narrated by Dennis Hopper so I often don't think about the British perspective informing it. It's definitely kind of dumbed down and not as good as, say, PBS's '90s "Rock & Roll" miniseries, But watching the first and last episodes more recently, it's kind of hilarious how much the UK has its head up its ass in this. The series basically begins with the Stones and The Who, etc. 'inventing' rock'n'roll out of American R&B, glossing completely over Elvis and Chuck Berry and so on, and it ends with shitty NME bands like the Libertines leading our way into the future of rock. At least the punk episode didn't ignore The Ramones or something.

j) "Rules of Engagement"
It's weird to think that this show is in its 4th season now, especially since CBS keeps bringing it in as a midseason replacement -- it's at around 40 episodes, when usually a show that's been on the air this long would have about twice that many by now. And it's still kind of a mediocre weak link the Monday night lineup, with only Patrick Warburton keeping it watchable -- I love that last week they had him drop an extremely oblique "Venture Bros." reference ("Is it like that dream when me and Lee Majors are chasing Bigfoot in the forest?"). The weird thing now is that Timmy, the minor character that started showing up last year, is now a full fledged cast member, completely with an awkwardly photoshopped presence in the opening credits. I'm not that surprised since the actor, Adhir Kalyan, is pretty funny, charismatic guy that was solid on the short-lived "Aliens In America," but it's disappointing to see him get tied down to a show like this. He frequenly seems to play ridiculously broad or offensive stereotypes (a gay guy in Fired Up, a kid talking hip hop slang in a thick Indian accent in Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and the buttoned-down nerd in "Rules"), and I was kinda hoping he'd move on and start getting better roles before he ends up being his generation's Bronson Pinchot.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Firewater megamix part 2:

1. Weird To Be Back
2. Ponzi's Theme
3. Get Out Of My Head
4. Drunkard's Lament
5. Snake-Eyes And Boxcars
6. I Still Love You Judas
7. The Circus
8. Mr. Cardiac
9. Bad, Bad World
10. The Beat Goes On
11. Borracho (Ponzi's Relapse)
12. Hey Clown
13. Refinery
14. Caroline
15. Six Forty Five
16. This Is My Life
17. Hold On, Slow John
18. Ponzi's Revenge
19. Psychopharmacology
20. Isle Of Dogs

A year or two back, I made a mix for J.G. of my favorite Firewater songs, and since she really loved it and wanted more, and they easily have more good songs that would fit on one disc, I decided to make a sequel. Whereas the first one had a kind of high concept sequencing, designed to weight more towards the early albums, this one is more freeform, filling in the blanks the predecessor missed. It's still pretty heavy on early stuff (betwee the two mixes, 11 out of 12 songs from each of the first two albums are included), but I got to include a lot more from the most recent album, The Golden Hour, which is aging well. Plus this time around I got to cover more of the variety in the band's catalog, using all three of the "Ponzi"-themed instrumentals as kind of buffer interludes, and all of the great guest vocal turns by Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields on tracks 7-10. Man this is such an awesome, awesome band, such a great unique mix of meat-and-potatoes rock, instruments and influences from around the world, downtrodden Tom Waits-y story songs and goofy wordplay, I wish more people listened to them.

The 2010 Remix Report Card, Vol. 3

Thursday, March 25, 2010
"In My Head (Remix)" by Jason Derülo featuring Nicki Minaj
The original version of this song sounds like absolute dogshit, so the change to a new beat, even a pretty generic one, is a total improvement. Adding Nicki to anything is whatever, though, ugh.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Lemonade (Remix)" by Gucci Mane featuring Trey Songz, Fabolous and Nicki Minaj
Gucci really went in on the "Wasted" remix and came up with a whole new flow for that beat, so it's doubly a bummer that he isn't around to drop a new verse the remix of this, my favorite rap single of the year so far. Still, I'm glad someone got together a few people to do a remix and keep "Lemonade"'s momentum going,. Trey Songz doesn't really know what he's doing here, which is weird because remix guest spots are probably my favorite things he does usually ("Addiction" and "I'm The Ish" especially). But the whole thing picks up and gets pretty crazy when the whole beat changes, same piano clang but new drums, for Fab's verse. The new beat stays for Nicki's verse, which again, is whatever. Altogether nowhere near the energy or the lineup I was hoping for, but not bad.
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: B+

"My Chick Bad (Remix)" by Ludacris featuring Diamond, Eve and Trina
It's pretty lame that after all of Luda's talk of featuring female rappers heavily on Battle of the Sexes, most of them got shuffled off onto the bonus cut remix of the terrible-ass single featuring, once again, the annoyingly ubiquitous Minaj. There's not much you can do to save a song this lousy, but they make a decent effort, and the pitched-up chorus helps. Trina, as usual, is the only one who gets as filthy as the song warrants, though.
Best Verse: Trina
Overall Grade: B

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Chin-Yer of The Baltimore Scene started a pretty good blog, My Baltimore Diary, a while back, and she asked to interview me for it. So this week I answered a bunch of her questions about Government Names, writing for the City Paper, and my history of covering the local hip hop scene in Baltimore, and I think it came out pretty interesting.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I reviewed the new album by Thee Lexington Arrows for MobtownStudios.com.

Saturday, March 20, 2010
New blurbs and scores on The Singles Jukebox:

Gucci Mane – Lemonade [9/6.45]
Selena Gomez and the Scene – Naturally [3/6.55]
Gorillaz ft. Mos Def and Bobby Womack – Stylo [2/6.14]
Mariah Carey ft. Nicki Minaj – Up Out My Face [2/6]
Kris Allen – Live Like We’re Dying [6/4.1]
Train – Hey Soul Sister [6/3.57]
The-Dream – Love King [7/5.22]
Black Eyed Peas – Imma Be Rockin’ That Body [3/4.57]
Avril Lavigne – Alice [3/3.5]
Erykah Badu – Window Seat [6/7.62]
Ludacris ft. Shawnna – How Low [8/7]
B.o.B. ft. Bruno Mars – Nothin’ on You [5/6.14]
Trey Songz ft. Fabolous – Say Aah [8/6]
Orianthi – According to You [3/4.43]

Movie Diary

Friday, March 19, 2010
a) Tyson
Even though Mike Tyson is an almost a mythic figure to people of my generation, I've never really given the guy much thought or really followed his ups and downs particularly closely. So this movie was an interesting ride for me. And though I thought some of the artsy/contemplative direction felt a little forced, and that that and Tyson narrating his own story were the only things separating it from a really good episode of A&E Biography, the latter choice really made the movie something special. I mean the guy is just fascinating to listen to, especially now as he's getting older, still has that weird voice and speech impediment and flair for flowery word choices, and it's clear he's kind of thought about his own life as much as anyone else by now.

b) Rachel Getting Married
Generally speaking, movies that end up functioning primarily as showcases for 'gritty' roles that get glamorous actresses Oscar buzz are usually shit, so I don't know if I was expecting much from this. But it was really really good, and one of the few times a handheld/doc-style movie really immersed me to the point that sometimes I felt like I was just watching someone's wedding videos. Sometimes the plot and the Hathaway performance were the least interesting things about it, though she was good, a lot of times I just enjoyed the atmosphere and how lived-in and natural it all felt.

c) Lower Learning
This is the kind of flick that you watch on cable for a few minutes expecting the worst -- it was barely in theaters and its biggest stars are Jason Biggs and Eva Longoria -- but it hooked me and I have to say it was pretty funny. It's a really dark satire about public schools, and though a lot of the jokes are crude, there's an element of it that's total over-the-top farce and there's a pretty good supporting cast of mostly underrated funny people.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My latest review on MobtownStudios.com is of Beach House's Teen Dream.

Monthly Report: February Albums

Saturday, March 13, 2010

1. Butch Walker and the Black Widows - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart
Butch Walker is an interesting guy in that he’s straddled a lot of different musical worlds, and how you feel about him might depend on which one you’ve encountered him in. He fronted the alt-rock one hit wonder Mavelous Three, developed a successful gig as a songwriter/producer-for-hire for both other rock bands (Weezer, Fall Out Boy) and for pop stars (Avril Lavigne, Pink, Katy Perry), and he’s got a cultish solo career going too. I didn’t really take the time to listen to him until his new album popped up on eMusic, and I thought about how much I loved his work on the last Pink and FOB albums, and I’m glad I checked it out. This is one of the best power pop records I’ve heard in a while, big hooks and silly self-effacing lyrics and ELO-ish string arrangements, just addictively listenable. “She Likes Hair Bands” is the kind of song I might roll my eyes at if it were a big mainstream hit, but as is I just listen to it over and over wishing it was a big mainstream hit.

2. Styles P. & DJ Green Lantern - The Green Ghost Project
Styles is one of the few middle-tier NYC rappers left that’s really worth a damn and seems like he still has music in him that’s as good as anything he’s ever done, and Green Lantern is one o fthe few mixtape DJs/producers who actually has some serious skills in the latter department. I kinda almost wish Green Lantern did every beat and made it an old fasioned MC/producer duo album, but then I can’t complain about the beats by Alchemist and Scram Jones.

3. Freeway & Jake One - The Stimulus Package
Obviously, given my assembly of the top 30 Freeway tracks of 2009, I was looking forward to this album, but after hearing so much music from the guy in the last few months, and one of my least favorite of those releases being the mixtape with Jake One presumably full of leftovers from this, The Beat Made Me Do It, I have to admit I wasn’t in a rush to check this out and didn’t have super high expectations. But this is really dope and maybe his best full-length project since Free At Last, really came together well. “Never Gonna Change” is just crazy.

4. Sade - Soldier Of Love
I’d never listened to a Sade album before or really given them much thought beyond the big singles everyone knows, but “Soldier Of Love” is just so totally badass that it seemed like a good idea to check out the whole LP, and it was, even if there’s obvioulsy nothing else much like it on there. What are the best older Sade albums to check out?

5. The Superions - The Superions EP
I’m a huge fan of Fred Schneider, both with the B-52s and his solo work, so I was pretty excited recently to get thrown an opportunity to interview the guy, which will hopefully happen in a few days. But if that hadn’t come up I probably wouldn’t have even heard that he has a new band that just released a new EP. It’s kind of a synth pop thing, with Fred doing his usual weird sing-speak monologue, some tracks dancier than others (there are 3 songs plus 4 remixes of those songs on the EP), and all you really need to know is that the highlight is called “Who Threw That Ham At Me?”

Monthly Report: February Singles

Thursday, March 11, 2010

1. Rihanna - “Rude Boy”
I liked most of Rihanna’s early singles, but in my opinion she kinda fell off the moment she dropped any pretense of Caribbean-flavored tracks that made good use of her voice/accent, even if that decision coincided with her ascent to total blockbuster pop star status. I didn’t really like any of Good Girl Gone Bad’s bazillion singles besides “Don’t Stop The Music,” and Rated R seemed to be a wash with the first few songs released being horrible miserable bullshit that felt like it was done out of some vague obligation to make ‘dark’ music appopriate to the problems in her personal life, more than any legitimate inspiration to make something 'more' than pop hits. But maybe she’s done with that now, because she’s finally got a sunny sexy catchy single that actually brings back a little of that long neglected island flavor (actually, it doesn’t so much, but it’s called “Rude Boy” and the video has a very Jamaican aesthetic, so that has to count for something). This might be the best vocal performance of her entire career, so many expressive little moments of inflection that she never even seemed capable of before.

2. Cavo - “Crash”
My prediction is that Cavo are the next Three Days Grace, the band that are going to be absolutely huge on active rock stations but not remotely famous in any other sense, who nobody that doesn’t listen to those stations will know of and even some of the listeners won’t know by name. That’s just based on their first two singles being big anonymous hits, and me not bothering to find out who they were by until the 2nd, “Crash,” totally hooked me in with its big irresistible chorus. And Three Days Grace don’t have any songs this good, so that’s something.

3. Alicia Keys f/ Beyoncé - “Put It In A Love Song”
I like to think that when these two women, who are each among their generation’s most popular practitioners of the love song, got together, they got to talking about how their significant others, who are both also popular musicians, have never written them a love song. And Alicia said hey, let’s write a song about that, and see if they take the hint! I’ll even use one of my boyfriend’s beats to really get his attention! And when they heard that Jay and Swizz were going into the studio to work on a new song, they thought alright, it worked! And then they heard “Onto The Next One.”

4. Pink - “Glitter In The Air”
Funhouse is one of my favorite pop albums of the last few years, so it’s been really gratifying to see it have an incredible long commercial shelflife, with its sixth single racing up the charts 15 months after the album’s release. This is a great song and a great way to end the album, but I really didn’t think it’d ever be a single, especially after the other ballad, “I Don’t Believe You,” was released a few months ago, but then she showed up at the Grammys playing this and suddenly it was a big hit. If her label just wants to go ahead and release every song off this album as a single, “It’s All Your Fault” or “Mean” should be next, just sayin’.

5. Fat Joe f/ Young Jeezy - “Ha Ha (Slow Down Son)”
I’ve learned to never totally count out Fat Joe, but even I was starting to doubt his ability to make bangers year after year by any means necessary after his last couple albums. So it’s nice to hear him back with something this strong, and even if it’s predictably got an assist from a Southern rap star, the song still feels pretty Joe, really moreso than “Make It Rain” or whatever.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This week in the City Paper I have a feature about CJ, the Baltimore R&B singer who got a Grammy nomination last year for his song with Raphael Saadiq and Stevie Wonder, and is working on a solo album for J Records. The above video is for "It Ain't Easy" off of his recent mixtape, and J is getting ready to release his official single soon.

Monday, March 08, 2010

My bones wish to escape
and run along an alien expanse
to collapse from the heat
in a cartoonish heap
to sleep
oh to sleep

- Sparklehorse, “Box Of Stars (Part One)”

The worst feeling I had upon learning of the death of Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, by suicide on Saturday, was the total absence of shock. The first paragraph of everything written about him while he was alive tended to mention his 1996 near-death experience after an overdose of anti-depressants, and his music often communicated a deep, fragile sadness. So it wasn’t so much surprise to get over but numbness as it sunk in how much I loved his music, how much he’ll be missed.

I really liked the band’s debut single and only charting U.S. hit, 1995’s “Someday I Will Treat You Good,” but didn’t get around to picking up an album until I heard some interesting things about 1999’s Good Morning Spider, which ended up being a real object of obsession for me during probably the hardest 6 months of my teenage years. That album is still a masterpiece to me, 17 tracks where no two of them feel similar enough to render one or the other redundant, and the whole messy assortment adds up to an improbably satisfying whole. And of course I went back to hear “Someday”’s parent album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and it was nearly as good, and I’ve come to kind of marvel at the fact that this band, whose career started on a major label and had no indie cred-building early records, could be so brazenly lo-fi, and never get dropped despite never being particularly popular.

My fanatical adoration of those two albums hasn’t really dulled over time, although I think Sparklehorse itself kind of lost its luster for me -- his label finally made Linkous hire an outside producer for 2001’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and the Dave Fridmann polish just made all the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev comparisons retroactively hold more weight and made Sparklehorse less the singular, distinct entity they were in my mind. I’m happy for the guy that he got to collaborate with so many other artists he liked, including heroes like Tom Waits, but none of that stuff got to me like the weird shit he came up with on his own at his home studio, Static King. I never even heard that Dark Night of the Soul record, because of my general aversion to both Danger Mouse and all-star collaboration projects. I also resented the fact that he so rarely toured that when I missed the D.C. show on the last leg of the Good Morning Spider tour, I’d end up waiting almost 8 years for him to play the Baltimore/Washington area again, despite the fact that he was from just a few hours away in Virginia (although the show I finally saw was great and heavy on Vivadixie songs). I know he was more successful in the UK, but I remember being totally galled that he'd tour there and then just play perfunctory New York/L.A. shows in America when Wonderful was released.

I’ve always been wary of the rock’n’roll impulse to romanticize depression and self-destruction, to the point that I’ve developed kind of an aversion to most sad bastard bands. Sparklehorse was one of the few that really connected with me, though, partly because there was so much more going on in his lyrics, so many ineffable and arcane turns of phrases that contributed to the overall atmosphere of strangeness in his records (that each of the first three albums contained a reference to Captain Howdy, the little girl's name for the devil in The Exorcist, was always a subject of interest to me). In my review of the last Sparklehorse album, 2006’s good but underwhelming Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, I described some of the sonic elements I loved so much in his music as: “Ghostly halos of distortion and static hover over practically every instrument and vocal track, making even the most pastoral bed of lap steel and pump organ sound like a raw nerve.” In an age when it costs nothing to make crystal clear recordings, lo-fi so often sounds like a pose or a lazy default to me, but Linkous made his fuzzy, inscrutable productions sound as meticulous and deliberate as any slick industry producer's handiwork.

The last time someone whose art I cared greatly about did something like this, when David Foster Wallace committed suicide 18 months ago, I wrote about how I was disappointed that someone whose work spun so much beauty and profundity out of their personal problems could give into them instead of continuing to fight and create new things. I’ve never dealt with depression, real depression like these guys had, and when things like this happen I almost feel guilty for enjoying their art, like I was a tourist in the sadness they lived with all the time. And I feel guilty for wanting good things for them partly to satisfy my own worldview. I don’t want the tortured artist cliches to ring true, but also I want those guys to win some happiness for themselves after all the great things they’ve given me and their other fans. Elliott Smith’s death felt much the same way -- it was too on the nose, to obvious, something for detractors to snort and make obvious jokes about. At the time of Linkous’s death, the main page of Sparklehorse’s official site linked to a fundraising page for the family of Vic Chestnutt, another singer-songwriter whose music communicated a deep sadness and fragility who took his own life in December. Maybe these guys just weren’t made to last into old age, maybe they held on longer than they ever expected to, but for the rest of us it just feels like a waste, a huge and unnecessary loss to the world that could’ve used more of them.

A lot of Linkous’s lyrics lend themselves easily to an epitaph in a situation like this (“it’s a sad and beautiful world,” “all I want is to be a happy man,” etc.), but I think I prefer to remember those lines from “Box Of Stars (Part One)” above, which are the complete lyrics of that beautiful 33-second song. Maybe he finally escaped, and is off sleeping in a cartoonish heap somewhere.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

As I mentioned a few days ago, this week was the NOVO instrumental music festival that my friends at Mobtown Studios put on at the Windup Space. I think at one point I thought it'd be cool to try to go to all 5 nights of the festival, but since I had just finished a month of temping and was catching up on deadlines all week, that just didn't happen. Really I'm still trying to get back in the groove of seeing shows since my son was born, and getting used to the idea of just leaving him at home with his mom and getting out of the house for my own sake. So Thursday was the only night of the festival I checked out, because I was already out covering another show for Noise and wanted to swing by and see my friends' show too, and it turned out to be a good night to go.

The 2/3rds of the night's bill that I saw were Yeveto and Nathan Bell. I didn't know anything about Yeveto other than that they're Windup Space owner Russell de Ocampo's band, and I'm happy to say they were great and totally deserved to be on the bill regardless of one of the festival's organizers being in the band. It was pretty, patiently unfolding guitar/keybs/drums/cello music, and really any band that opens with a song in a 11/12 time signature like "Untitled (Remote Unelectrified Villages)" has me hooked pretty quickly. Aural States is going to start posting the live recordings from the festival in the next few days, but in the meantime the Mobtown site has audio from Yeveto's Microshow last year and that stuff sounds really good too. I'd never heard Nathan Bell before either, at least outside of the context of his playing in Lungfish, but his band was a pretty cool combo, with him switching between banjo and trumpet, and backed by a sitarist and a drummer/guitarist. I wasn't as rapt during their set as I was with Yeveto, but the sound combinations Bell's band came up with were just bizarre and beautiful. Right now the last show of the festival is starting, and I'm sure it's gonna be awesome, but I think I'm gonna stay in again.

(Yeveto photo by Al Shipley)

TV Diary

Thursday, March 04, 2010
a) "Parenthood"
I've always liked the original Parenthood movie and when I saw it was gonna be a new TV show (as opposed to the old failed one 20 years ago) I was vaguely interested, moreso when I saw how good the cast is, although I'm bummed about Maura Tierney dropping out and being replaced by Lauren Graham, who I've always had an irrational dislike of. It's weird, though, they've not only changed all the character names but there's not really any correspondence between the movie and the show even to the extent of, say, all the different international versions of "The Office." There's a couple vaguely similar family situations with lots of details changed (one brother has a weird/neurotic kid, one just found out he has an illegitimate black son, one sister has an unruly teenage daughter, etc.), but basically this is just a generic ensemble family dramedy with a known brand name slapped on it. But that's OK, because, again, good cast, and having just become a parent I'm in more of a mood for sappy ruminations on thereof than ever before.

b) "The Marriage Ref"
So much of the humor on "Seinfeld" was derived from arguments, and treating social situations like games with all sorts of arcane rules, that this is kind of an interesting continuation of it, even in the context of a weird talk/reality/game show format. And I have to say, even though it was kind of corny at times, and they pick arguments that are really goofy and easy to settle and take sides on so far, I laughed really hard at the first episode. As has been pointed out elsewhere, though, there's something kind of messed up about Alec Baldwin telling anyone else what to do in their marriage, though.

c) "The Kids In The Hall: Death Comes To Town"
I pretty much worship "KITH": favorite sketch show, favorite show of the '90s, maybe favorite TV show of all time. I got the 2nd season DVD for Christmas, and spent basically a month watching that and the first season all the time and they're virtually perfect to me. So it's with no small amount of anticipation that I've been looking forward to their new mini-series, even as I'm apprehensive about them leaving the sketch format for sustained storytelling -- I'm just not a big fan of Brain Candy or a lot of the longer pre-taped sketches from the later seasons. Still, it's just great to see these guys on TV again, even if it's only on TV in Canada and I have to stream episodes online. The first couple episodes set up a weird tone and sometimes it feels like they're going for the easy laughs of gore and vulgarity (seeing Bruce in a fatsuit is just kinda ugh) more than they ever did on the old show, where they'd kind of tiptoe around things in more clever ways, but then I'm generally pro-horror comedy and there's some great twisted moments so far.

d) "Funny Or Die Presents"
In a weird way, sometimes I think the biggest obstacle separating good and great sketch comedy shows from weak ones is the presentation and the overall feeling of the ensemble and its collective sensibility. Aside from "Monty Python," I've always preferred the kind of simple presentation of a series of unrelated sketches, like "SNL" or "KITH," over attempts to bridge stuff together with segues or callbacks or weird concepts. So the way they introduced this show with the stupid fake TV channel and the host guy, just made me roll my eyes. I've never looked at the Funny Or Die site a whole lot, but the one thing on there that's always cracked me up is the Drunk History sketches, and once again that was my favorite thing here. And again, even though Atapow and Ferrell know virtually everyone in mainstream comedy and pull a lot of them in to do things here, the lack of a cast or unifying aesthetic just makes it feel even more scattershot and inconsistent than it already is.

e) "Archer"
If this was just a regular live action show starring H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell and Judy Greer, I'd probably love it. But honestly, the whole Adult Swim aesthetic, even taken to another network, has just been done to death by now and I'm kind of tired of funny voice actors saying funny things in the kind of stilted rhythm of poorly directed cartoons while I watch shitty flash animation drawings dance around. If the people that do these shows are more into dialogue than visual design, and aren't even on the Cartoon Network anymore, really the only point I can think of in doing this show animated is that it's cheaper for when they do the action/special effects kind of stuff, but that's kind of a lame rationale.

f) "The Forgotten"
I'm still trying to get into this show, watching it here and there, and I think it's well done but not really appointment viewing. But an old friend of mine, Danielle Syslo, will be on the March 9th episode, playing the murder victim of the week, so I'm pretty excited to watch that. It's weird how Elisha Cuthbert just kinda suddenly showed up on this show after 10 episodes, like she just kinda started popping up in the promos and I was like "wait, I don't remember her being in the cast?"

g) "Lost"
It's hard to know how to feel about the last season so far, and even though it's easy to be harsh on it and criticize the clunkier elements (the boring temple stuff, the unengaging flash-sideways plots, the seemingly endless new twists they keep adding just when you think they're finally going to untangle the old ones), I'm still just so excited to see new episodes after spending the last few months re-watching most of the first 5 seasons. "The Substitute" was pretty great, though, and I feel like this episode is setting us up for some real cool shit to start happening. I've never been a huge fan of Locke as a character, so what they're doing with 'him' at this point is just fine with me.

h) "American Idol"
As usual the last couple years, I've been half-assed in my attempts to follow "Idol," mostly because I hate the audition episodes and then forget to pick up on it once those are over, so this week was really the first I've watched it much this year. The guys seem weak overall, but the girls were mostly good last night, I really liked Siobhan and Katie, and hated Lilly, so it's good to have some immediate gut reactions on who to root for/against. I don't mind Ellen as a judge, because while she knows nothing about music or singing, she at least is good at thinking on her feet and improvising on TV, and I just got really tired of Randy and Paula, who rarely say anything that betrays any musical knowledge anyway, stumbling over themselves and botching jokes every week. Simon is still the rock, though, sometimes I really do need him to just sit there and be blunt after everybody else tries way too hard to sugarcoat everything.

Monday, March 01, 2010

I recently wrote my first piece for The Urbanite Magazine, and the March issue that hits the streets of Baltimore today features my article on the Out Of Your Head collective, which hosts improvised music performances every Tuesday at the WindUp Space. This Tuesday's concert is a special one year anniversary show for OOYH, and is incidentally also the first night of the NOVO Instrumental Music Festival that my friends at Mobtown Studios are putting on this week from Tuesday to Saturday (conflict of interest ahoy, but I didn't know OOYH was going to be part of Mobtown's festival until after I wrote the article, so go figure, it's a small world around here).