Thursday, December 23, 2010

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #7

7. Deadwood - Season 1 - In 1997, HBO revolutionized television drama with Oz, a show set inside a maximum security prison.  Because the series aired on premium cable, it could go places that the networks would never dare.  Oz had nudity, violence, profanity, rape, and most of the characters were vile, detestable people.  And it wasn't just the subject matter that set it apart from pretty much every show ever to air on American TV.  Oz borrowed from the British school of emphasizing quality over quantity by having shorter seasons with focused writing, film-quality direction, and serialized arcs that told stories with a beginning, middle, and end, like chapters of a great novel.  HBO took the Oz model and used it to create the best gangster show of all time (The Sopranos) as well as the best cop show (The Wire) and the best Western show--Deadwood.  The inaugural season of Deadwood tackles large themes--what makes a civilization, death, the existence of God, greed, friendship, loyalty, love--using distinctly profane dialogue that could best be described as Shakespeare by way of David Mamet.  The other two seasons of Deadwood are excellent as well, but season 1 reigns supreme because of the way it introduces the colorful characters and then logically details how they are pushed together to form a society despite their best intentions.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #8

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 2 - Larry David's influence was felt so heavily during the run of Seinfeld that it often seemed as if he were the fifth cast member.  He co-created the great sitcom, wrote many of the best episodes, voiced the beloved "character" of George Steinbrenner, and provided the basis for the character of George Costanza.  Thus, when the world was deprived of Seinfeld in 1998, it made perfect sense that Larry David would be the one to star in (and write) a show that continued the legacy of "nothing" -- even though he never really acted in anything before.  Striving for a more realistic and brutal sense of humor, David took Curb Your Enthusiasm to HBO, which allowed him to push the boundaries that he could never touch on his previous show.  Curb is amazingly still on the air now 11 years after the initial hour-long mockumentary functioned as a back-door pilot, and it has solidified its status as one of the funniest shows of all time.  There are seasons of Curb that have more of an overall story arc, but season 2 stands out as the best because it contains ten episodes of pure comedic brilliance.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #9

9. Northern Exposure - Season 4 - Northern Exposure premiered in July of 1990, just 3 months after Twin Peaks turned TV upside-down.  And like that groundbreaking show it found an audience almost immediately to the surprise and delight of the nervous executives who rolled it out with a trial season of just eight episodes.  The pilot of Northern Exposure was fresh, smart, and funny as it introduced our hero Joel Fleischman and the lovable residents of fictional Cicely, Alaska.  The cast and crew were all on the same page from the start and Northern Exposure was one of the best shows on television for five and a half seasons - until Rob Morrow left and the series became merely ordinary.  But up until that point, the show was amazingly consistent.  There were no changes to the principal cast and there were no stretches of bad episodes.  Thus, any of the early seasons of the show could have been named on this list of the best seasons in TV history, but I give the nod to season 4 on the strength of its best episodes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit

We interrupt the countdown to bring you this video I found:

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #10

10. Twin Peaks - Season 1 - The rise and fall of Twin Peaks has been dissected ad nauseum and I agree with the general consensus that the show began brilliantly only to run out of steam halfway through season 2 after Laura Palmer's killer is revealed.  Everything that made Twin Peaks so original and entertaining is encapsulated in the 8 amazing episodes that comprise the show's first season.  These episodes are all build-up, inviting us into creator David Lynch's mindscape.  They pay attention to music and atmosphere while keeping the pace humming along, introducing us to the myriad strange characters and mysteries of the quixotic small town.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Every Kiss Begins with...Death!

Kay Jewelers debuted this commercial during the 2009 holiday season, but I saw it for the first time the other night.  Did anyone think that this would sell jewelry?

The Golden Age of John Cusack: 1985-2000

Some actors have a shelf-life. The passion that drives them wanes over time and they begin turning in tired, listless performances, one after another. They become stuck in a rut that is impossible to break out of. Sure, there have been actors who have staged comebacks after years in the wilderness, but these are exceptions rather than the rule. In a perfect world, actors whose hearts aren't in it anymore would retire like baseball players, leaving the heavy-lifting to those who are still burning with energy. With this in mind, I want to highlight the golden age of one of these thespians who I feel has fallen off the cliff: John Cusack.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Missing Liquid Television

There was a time not too long ago when MTV was a channel worth watching.  As recently as the early 1990s, it had a lineup full of music videos that could be like great short films featuring bands that occasionally played great music.  Between the blocks of music were some fantastic, though often bizarre, original programs.  A pre-fame Ben Stiller had his own sketch comedy show that ran for a season before moving on to FOX.  A pre-fame Jon Stewart had his own talk show for two seasons long before The Daily Show.  There were scores of strange game shows.  But, without question, my favorite MTV original was Liquid Television, an animated anthology show that ran on MTV from 1991 through 1994.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Great Performances: Jason Segel in Undeclared

From time to time, I want to highlight a performance that I find truly remarkable.  This may be from film or TV and could be a leading role, a supporting role, or even a guest appearance.

I first noticed Jason Segel in the little-seen film SLC Punk! (1998) playing Mike, the only non-punk friend of the punk protagonists.  The character was a hilarious mixture of sweet and crazy and Segel was so comfortable in the role that he has basically played these notes over and over in every performance he has given since.  In the late, great TV show Freaks and Geeks, Segel played stoner teenager Nick Andopolis whose heart was always in the right place, but couldn't help but take his crush on lead character Lindsay too far.  Judd Apatow, the executive producer of Freaks, loves boosting the careers of actors that he works with (see also: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, etc.) so it is no surprise he found a place for Segel on his post-Freaks sitcom, the also short-lived Undeclared.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Music in the Films of P.T. Anderson

P.T. Anderson is one of the best filmmakers working today, and one of the reasons that his films are effective is that the director is so creative in his use of music.  Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997) is a panorama of the late 70s/early 80s San Fernando Valley porn scene and has a soundtrack full of hits from that eraThe film has an energy that comes from a constantly roaming camera and non-stop music that transitions from 70s disco and R&B to 80s pop.  It often feels like the movie is one long musical montage showing the passage of time and making sure that we always know what each character is up to.  This isn't particularly original, but Anderson's genius in Boogie Nights is in the song choices.  Consider the opening scene set to The Emotions' "Best of My Love."  This disco tune perfectly sets the scene of the film - it is pulsing, rhythmic, and fun. In a long take worthy of Orson Welles, the music draws us in and captures the optimism and care-free nature of the characters.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hey, it's...Whitby "Whit" Hertford!

Who?  Whit Hertford?  You know, he played Alice's son in Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child.  What's that?  You don't remember the one where Freddy Krueger attempts to enter the real world through the dreams of the unborn child of the girl-next-door heroine who survived Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master?  Fine.  How about "Volunteer Boy" from one of Jurassic Park's most famous scenes:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dropping Out of Community

I eagerly anticipated the premiere of NBC's Community for one reason: Joel McHale.  The hilarious host of The Soup (one of the best shows on TV for years now) was finally breaking out into the world of fictional comedy and it sounded like he had a decent premise to back him up: an ethically-challenged lawyer is forced to go back to community college.  No doubt hilarity could ensue...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hoosiers: A Fall Classic

I love Autumn.  I love the way that the season makes cold weather pleasurable, even preferable, with the crisp air that seems fresher than at any other time of the year and the clouds that hang low to create beautiful sunsets.  I love the leaves and the breezes and the apple cider.  Autumn is a time to slow down and look around - to quietly regroup and reflect.  For me, the movie that best captures the feeling of Fall is Hoosiers.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Soup: Mmm-Mmm Good

I first started watching Talk Soup on E! back in the early 90s when the host was a charming young man named Greg Kinnear.  The show had a very basic premise: present clips of daytime talk shows and make fun of them.  At that time, the number of such shows was insane.  We had Oprah and Jerry Springer, but also Sally Jesse Raphael, Donohue, Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake, and a host of forgotten classics like Leeza and Vicki.  These shows had not yet descended into a series of on-stage fights and paternity tests, but they were indeed ridiculous and the public needed a place to come to watch these shows be ridiculed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

In Defense of Keanu

Keanu Reeves has been the go-to example of a famous actor being completely terrible at their chosen craft since he landed a supporting role in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula 18 years ago.  I know that his first major role was Ted "Theodore" Logan in the Bill & Ted movies, but Coppola's film was his first large-budget A-list gig - and he completely sucked in it.  He was wooden, awkward, and spoke in the worst British accent that I have ever heard.  That being said, I don't think I don't think people give Reeves enough credit.  There are plenty of other famous actors that are more worthy punching bags.  Cameron Diaz comes to mind.  Outside of There's Something About Mary and Being John Malkovich, Diaz has jumped from one bad performance to another.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Problem with the American Office

As soon as I mention that the British Office is high on my list of best comedy shows of all time, you will most likely jump to the conclusion that I dislike the American Office because it suffers in comparison with its superior source material.  I may be in denial, but I firmly believe that I would have given up on the American version after two episodes if the original had never existed.  Among my list of complaints:

9 Good Horror Movies Made in the Last 10 Years

I am of the opinion that the late 1960s and early 1970s were the pinnacle of the horror genre.  The 80s and 90s definitely had some good entries, but the endless sequels and copycats drove the genre into the ground.  I have been patiently awaiting a rebirth, but the new trend seems to be producing sacrilegious remakes like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, which just makes me feel depressed (and old).  Yet, in the spirit of the season, I present a list of 9 good horror movies made since 2001.  Why only 9?  Because I honestly couldn't think of a 10th.  (Possible spoilers ahead)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hey, it's...David Patrick Kelly!

I noticed the voice first.  This was the first scene of the fourth episode of Louie on FX.  Louie CK was talking to his psychiatrist about his sexual problems.

"Listen," the shrink explains.  "Sex seems very complicated...and confusing, but it's very simple.  The man takes his penis, puts it into the woman's vagina, he ejaculates, and she dies."

"She dies?" Louie asks.

"Oh, no.  I was thinking about something else."

Pulling the Plug on House

I'm done with House.

House, M.D. was one of my favorite shows for the first 3 seasons.  There has been much written about Hugh Laurie's central performance as the brilliant and sardonic diagnostician, but it is true that when House debuted, there was nothing quite like him on network TV.  He wasn't exactly another anti-hero in the vein of Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey, but he was deeply disturbed nonetheless.  How many TV protagonists can you name who are drug addicts and frequent customers of prostitutes?  And he is a doctor- the venerable profession of such upstanding gentlemen as Marcus Welby and Mark Greene.  Laurie embraced these contradictions and made House eminently first.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Decaying American Family

In honor of Halloween, I wanted make an observation about one of my favorite genres: 70s horror.

Movies exist as a sort of window into the subconscious of the society in which they are produced.  They reflect people's hopes and fears - both purposefully and accidentally - just like every other form of artistic expression.  This has always been especially evident in the American horror genre where clear connections can be drawn between the subtext on screen and real-world events shaping American society.  When Universal released films such as Dracula and The Mummy during the 1930s, there was fear of exotic terrors from far-away places.  In the 1950s, at the height of the Red Scare, Americans were afraid that their neighbors could not be trusted.  Fear had moved to U.S. soil and films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out.  Then, it the late 1960s, another shift occurred.  American horror films began depicting terror as coming from within people's own families.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hey, it's...Deep Roy!

 A little backstory....

In 2001, I was sitting with a cute redhead in the dorm lounge watching Blind Date in the middle of the night having a conversation about the pleasures of recognizing little-known actors in TV shows and movies.  I was born with a great memory for faces and names, but the skill unfortunately only translates to the faces and names I care about: people on screen.