Archive for November, 2011

We did the whole Thanksgiving Parade thing last week. I was expecting it to be kind of enjoyable but mostly miserable (parades aren’t my favorite thing to begin with, let alone the million people packed into a few city blocks) but it actually turned out to be great. We got there good and early but not so early that I wanted to die, which gave us a semi-front row spot to see the balloons above, the bands below and everything in between.

I have trouble standing for long periods of time. I’d love to say it’s the result of some hardcore biking accident or that time I rushed into a burning building to save a liter of kittens (never happened) but in all actuality I’m just getting older, and my back hurts. So it was that after a while I threw caution to the wind and sat down on the sidewalk. Once I did I discovered that I wasn’t alone and that I kind of loved the vantage point.

The entertainment can mostly be divided into three categories: float-based, marching-based and balloon based. For what it’s worth the bands all sounded great, but they definitely had a noticeably better wardrobe budget compared to you average local high school on the fourth of July. The other march-based groups were just random performers, mostly adorned in vibrant pastels (see above).

I didn’t get too many pictures of the floats. There’s only so many ways you can put people in a vehicle and have them wave. Some notable guests, however, were Cee Lo Green, Miss America (underneath the giant liberty arm), Mary J. Blige and the man, the myth, the legend Neil Diamond.

And then, of course, there were the balloons. They ranged from the size of a Volkswagen beetle (a sad, sad little semi-inflated globe) to about the size of my house in Huntsville (Spiderman was particularly large). They were a lot of fun, and there’s something eerily ominous about theses smiling mammoths bobbing down the city street. It’s like a smiling Godzilla. The Pillsbury Dough Boy especially reminded me of the climax of Ghostbusters.

A notable inclusion in this year’s parade was a Tim Burton balloon, sewn together from the scraps of parades-past. It looked exactly like what you’d expect — the offspring of Sally and Jack Skellington.

We were in a great spot but a nearby traffic light kept ruining some of my angles. Plus an 8-foot-tall man in front of me had a tendency to stand up right as I opened my shutter. Every. Time.

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I didn’t want it to come to this. I had hoped that I could just enjoy the USU victory from afar, read about some of the Aggie shenanigans and then enjoy my Thanksgiving (#SixServingsAndAMovie). I knew that Wood’s Stock was due for a rant but USU/BYU? Too subjective, to biased, to pointless to anyone that doesn’t attend either USU or BYU.

But, I can not resists. The coverage simply will not go away. Recently, news breaks that USU President Stan Albrecth and USU AD Scott Barnes have issued an apology, adding one more log to the fire of vitriolic hyperbole spewing across internet comment boards and facebook profiles. The same tired diatribe (Aggies are just mad because they couldn’t get in to BYU. I breastfed until I was 7) that we hear year after year is, right now, making it’s ugly rounds at dinner tables, church functions, parks and of course, the world wide web.

First things first, Stan’s apology means nothing. It’s his job to be diplomatic, to shake hands, to make speaches, and to issue apologies. Likewise, it’s the student’s job to make the opposing team’s visit to the Spectrum as nightmarish as possible.

To be clearer, I appreciate Mr. Albrecht’s (one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet) decorum and tact in handling this issue. As an institution it was the right decision. I also support the students for using every available weapon in their wheelhouse to torment the star player of BYU’s men’s basketball team. No insult is off limits, no act is to vile (as long as it does not disrupt the game i.e. dumping buckets of blood Carrie-style from the rafters).

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Last season Brandon Davies was suspended from the team for having sex. With a girl. For the uninitiated, BYU is a private school that espouses an Honor Code that forbids — among other things and on pain of punitive academic measures — unwed sexual relations.

USU students, during their most recent matchup with the Cougars, focused their taunts on this specific aspect of the BYU men’s basketball team, chanting things like “Pull Out Davies” while the player was shooting free-throws. A host of BYU fans — and some Aggies, shame on you 2011-2012 Statesman Staff — cried foul, leading to the aforementioned institutionalized apology.

The most common defense I’m hearing from the Cross the Line school is something along the lines of “It’s inappropriate to directly and personally attack a player” and more specifically “for doing something that is done in universities across the country.” By that they mean, having sex. There’s also the cries of “lewdness” and “vulgarity” which, let’s face it Utahns, telling a man that’s had sex that he’s had sex is hardly lewd, much like how it’s no insult to say that a dead man…is dead. Also, the actual language used would hardly scratch the surface of being classified “adult” there’s much more profane ways they could have gotten the message across.

Yes, university students have sex. The kicker, however, is that at BYU university students are not allowed to have sex. In my humble and (admittedly) heartless opinion, by choosing to attend that school you not only pledge to live by the honor code, but you also take upon yourself the unwanted consequences (academic, physical, social) of breaking said honor code. In a similar vein, by being a member of the basketball team you get the good (fame, cheerleaders) with the bad (ridicule, public scorn).

There are players on USU’s team that have had pre-marital sex. Would it have been “beyond human decency” for the Cougar fans to chant and wave signs that said as much? No. Why? Because:
A) our students are free to have as much sex as they want — as well as grow facial hair, be under the same roof of a female regardless of t.o.d., and receive an education that makes them confront and challenge their ideas and beliefs — and
B) Because Utah State won the game.

That’s what this is about. Had BYU won, the Internet would have been a storm of Joshua-esque “Our God is greater than your’s” boasting and scoffing at the Aggie fans’ foolish attempts to distract Davies with their sad little signs. However, because USU won the personal attacks and taunting have the appearance of kicking someone while they’re down. Like doing a victory dance after carpet-bombing an indigenous people.

This is sports people. Love it or loathe it we all know the rules of the game. One team’s fans will always clash with that of their opponent and the only thing that matters is the score at the end. All’s fair in love, war, and collegiate athletics and as many Aggies will happily point out, if you’re not willing to take the ridicule for breaking the Honor Code you have two choices. Don’t break it, or don’t go to a school with an honor code.

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I’ve been looking over the list of highest grossing films of 2011 and, as usual, it is an interesting look at our combined consciousness. Check out the full list here. Here’s some of my quick takes:

• The top 10 only has one non-franchise movie, ‘Bridesmaids,’ coming in at number 10 with $169 million.
• The top 6 are all sequels, the next 3 are prequels. Like I said in my last post, studios bank on Americans wanting more of the same instead of something fresh. Of the top 6, only 2 — HP7-2 and Fast Five — are greater than or equal to the quality of their original predecessor.
• The Smurfs made $141 million. I don’t care if NPH and Jayma Mays are in it, THAT is just not ok.
• It wasn’t all good news for sequels. Harold and Kumar has plateaued around $30 million and Scream 4 mustered a paltry $38. Compare that to Paranormal Activity’s $102 million take and remind yourself that PA3 was made for around $5 million.
• Super 8, with it’s mostly unknown cast of child actors scored $127 million. Score 1 for America.
• Monte Carlo (no. 93) and Larry Crowne (no. 74) bombed. America receives a pat on the back.
• Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, a concert movie with no actual plot or purpose, made more than Drive and 50/50 combined.
• The Lion King, a 17-year-old movie reissued in 3D was the 29th highest grossing film of the year, beating Crazy Stupid Love (no. 30) and Real Steel (no. 32).
• The Green Hornet made $98 million dollars, or 2.4 Hannas ($40 million).
• The Ides of March comes in at number 61 with $39 million, behind Jack and Jill (no. 59) and Final Destination 5 (no. 58). Remember that point America scored earlier? Take it away, and two more while you’re at it.

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Those of you who know me personally — by the way if you don’t, I’m Ben, how are you doing today? — have likely heard me proclaim the title of this post on a number of occasions. Whether brushing off the latest fad, dismissing some new pop star or, far more frequently, proclaiming in a state of exasperated despair like the howl of an injured animal when yet another great creative work dwindles into oblivion while mindless drivel flourishes.

I’ve said a lot recently about Community and Prime Suspect so for the sake of redundancy I won’t waste more time there, suffice to say that in the most recent week Community rose 10% to just under 4 million viewers. It’s great that the fans are rallying in response to the midseason hiatus but it’s hardly enough. Rules of Engagement still scored 11 million viewers and NO ONE likes that show. Not even the 11 million people who had their TVs on (I suspect they had fallen asleep after Big Bang Theory, or left the room without turning off the tv, something NBC fans should do more often).

Fact is, the problems at NBC are just a recent example of America at large choosing bad over good. Take for instance the premiere of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. In midnight screenings alone the movie raked in more than $30 million dollars. Contrast that with critically-beloved flop Serenity, which pulled in $28 million in its entire domestic run. You could point to the shows being marketed to different target audiences (Serenity to people that like to be entertained and BD to prepubescent girls and women in midlife crises), but the fact remains that the Breaking Dawn is a bad movie (C- on EW, 27% on RottenTomatoes) and Serenity is a good one (B, 81%). Advocating for Serenity, EW’s own TV critic Ken Tucker said “Go out and see Joss Whedon’s witty whizbang of an action movie, or we will kill a kitten.” America did not, and part of me hopes he followed through. DWYSYWD.

You could also argue that Serenity’s cast of relatively unknown actors dampened it’s mainstream appeal, which it did, but you should remember that when the first Twilight premiered, Robert Pattinson was just that guy that died in Goblet of Fire and Taylor Lautner’s only acting credit was Shark Boy. Yes, women the world over, the man who fills your night time fantasies is Shark Boy.

The fact is, Twi-hards don’t care if the movie is rubbish. Bill Condon could just as well have decided to rush through the wedding and birth scenes and spend 45 minutes watching the human-vampire hybrid do the Ally Mcbeal dance to “Hooked on a Feeling” with a swastika tattooed on its chest. They would still camp out for days and the movie would still make 7 bajillion dollars.

It’s not just Twi-hards. I just barely got around to seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (C, 33%). Why so late? Because after sitting through parts 2 and 3 of the one-great-but-mostly-not franchise I decided part 4 wasn’t worth my theater patronage. That’s what a rational person does after being spoon-fed excrement. They don’t ask for seconds and they darned sure don’t ask for thirds.

But America did ask for thirds, to the tune of $234 MILLION. Since we, in a capitalist society, vote with our dollars, what message does that send Hollywood? It was “Dear Hollywood, we LOVE it when you make crap movies. Please give Mr. Bruckheimer our love and remember to hang the script writers, who needs them anyway. Best, America.”

Other examples. Why is it that the mind-numbing and utterly uninspired Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (B, 31%) makes $352 million when the surprisingly heart warming and fresh, family friendly Real Steel (A-, 58%) makes a paltry $80 million? Why does the exquisitely brilliant Crazy Stupid Love (A, 78%) which practically boils over with chemistry between its stars and genuine emotion makes an “ok-but-not-great” $80 million while the crap-bomb that is The Proposal (B+, 43%) walks away with $163 million?

Speaking of Ryan Gosling, remember Drive (B+, 92%)? You probably don’t since the movie only clocked $30 million dollars but it’s actually one of the best movies of the year. It’s kind of like The Transporter (D+, 54%), if, instead of being completely ridiculous, The Transporter was a retro-cool film noir and, you know, really really good.

But it’s not just movies. Remember back when the only Reality TV was The Real World, Survivor and Fear Factor? Those were the good days. Now we have multiple singing competitions, multiple dancing competitions, a generic talent competition, cooking competitions, modeling competitions, shows that make stars out of the dregs of society and a whole network devoted to the “real” housewives of various cities. There was a time when you actually had to be a decently talented human being to get famous on TV, those times are over.

How about scripted? For every decent show on television there’s at least 2 CSI, NCIS or Law and Orders. Not that those shows are intrinsically bad, but the reason that spin-offs exist is because the networks have figured out that the average viewer would rather see more of the same dumb thing than try something new. They’re betting their paychecks on the theory that we, as a society, are lazy mindless sheep and you know what? It’s working.

Yes, Playboy Club was a colossal failure and Terra Nova and Pan Am are all but done for. Are those shows any worse than the average episode of Unforgettable? Don’t know, I’ve never seen it nor do I know anyone that has but the thing still pulls in 11 million viewers. Keep in mind, as well, that the reason Terra Nova is boring is its attempt to be all things to all people (family friendly, teen-bop romantic, action-thriller, sci-fi fantasy) and in its haste to open the umbrella it forgot to put pants on before walking out the door.

So, at least there’s been some victories. Lost made it 6 seasons after all and more recently the guilty-pleasure-tastic Revenge is pulling in decent numbers. Cable dramas like American Horror Story, Psych and The Walking Dead are still managing to find the niche audiences they need to survive. Happy Endings was recently picked up for a full season after being ABC’s whipping-boy for more than a year.

On the cinema front, there will always be great movies coming out. Hollywood is a business that runs on the model of making $10 for every $9 you spend and as long as studios have their aces-in-the-whole like Paranormal Activity they can still fund their awards fodder and feed our hungry stomachs (by “we” I’m referring to those of us that actually consider quality as a necessity). Still, the fact remains that we vote with our money so please, please, consider the implications of your next ticket purchase and if you love a TV show, watch it live. If you don’t, we’ll be stuck with Whitney, The Middle, and Last Man Standing for the rest of our lives.

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As those of you who pay attention to the Nielson ratings, or if caught today’s article in the New York Times, know, NBC is currently perched on the edge of a precipice. The latest numbers have it tied with spanish-language network Univision for viewers in the key 18-49 advertising demographic and were it not for Sunday Night Football, the Peacock would not have a single program in the Top 25.

Now, as I have pointed out before, that is by no means a judgement of the quality of programs on NBC. In fact, on look at this year’s Emmy Nominations shows that the network’s critical and industry appeal is staggeringly disproportionate to it’s commercial success.

Why? The short answer (as I have stated before) is that America loves crap. The longer answer is a blend of of advertising dollars, habitual viewership habits and the fact that the 18-49 demographic (like CBS viewers) skews to an older crowd. Meaning that for every non-hipster like me that can’t get enough Community there’s four 45-year-old housewives that don’t watch anything but NCIS and The Good Wife.

Since I am a glutton for punishment (I’m a USU fan after all), it’s only natural that NBC is my favorite network. I was raised in the 90’s heyday of Must-See-TV and I’m a nostalgic son-of-a-gun and America’s oldest national broadcasting network just seems to have a certain Class to it, no matter how many seasons of Celebrity Apprentice they choose to air.

So, what to do about their misfortune? I have a few suggestions.

1. Enough with two-hour-long reality shows

Sure, counter-programming against CBS Mondays and Fox Tuesdays is a daunting task, but NBC has all but laid down and died on those two days by devoting 4 of the 6 prime time hours to The Sing-off and Biggest Loser. NBC’s only other Monday-night offering is the new Rock Center with Brian Williams which has about as much 18-49 appeal as reruns of The Golden Girls and also means that the first time in the week that you get scripted programming on NBC is Tuesday at 10/9c with Parenthood.

As far as I’m concerned NOTHING on prime-time television take more than 1 hour. The Sing Off isn’t half bad but it’s getting destroyed in the ratings and devoting two whole hours to it when you could have a one-hour drama or two half-hour sitcoms to compete with the CBS comedy block. On that note, for whatever reason Whitney has actually pulled in more viewers than it deserves but is provoking viewer’s wrath by feeling out of place in the Thursday line-up. I say, trim Sing and Loser to one hour, add Whitney to Monday night as a counter-point to Mike and Molley (so everyone grossed out by the plus-size love has skinny yet similarly un-funny people to look at) and use the other 30 minutes for a new show. Preferably, something that’s actually good.

As for the new hour on Tuesday nights, it’s not ideal but it could be the window for the resurrection of Fear Factor, or for the January premiere of The Voice, NBC’s one and only hit. In either case, make sure that each week showcases beautiful people in various states of undress (sex sells like chocolate-covered heroin, and this is no time to take the high road).

2. Cut the Dead Weight

When deciding which shows to cut from the lineup to make way for bigger (and hopefully better) fare, the temptation would be to look towards Community or Parks and Recreation which, despite their passionate fans and critical acclaim have underperformed. The smarter move, however, would be to put past-their-prime shows like Law&Order:SVU and The Office out of their misery. Both shows have been running on fumes and have seen their symbolic stars fade and their literal “stars” vanish. Both leads on SVU are either gone or leaving and Steve Carrell has long since set sail.

While both crews are putting in a good effort to keep things lively, the fact remains that this late in the game and without their core cast members, you’re not going to attract new viewers and, more likely, you’ll just hemorrhage in the ratings for one, maybe two seasons, before fizzling out in obscurity. Take a cue from Seinfeld and get out while the getting is good.

Besides room on the calendar, that also allows NBC to devote attention on their under-performing but otherwise fantastic shows. Prime Suspect, a phenomenal show, would be the logical successor of SVU’s viewers and by scrapping the office, NBC could…

3. Reinforce the Must See TV Thursday comedy block

With The Office gone and Whitney moved to Mondays, NBC would be able to repackage Community and Parks with two other comedies for a new block of Thursday comedy. I’ll do you one better, Up All Night, NBC’s most successful (and promising) freshman show could lead out the pack at 8/7c followed by Community, then the return of 30 Rock and finishing with Tina Fey’s buddy Amy Poehler on Parks and Rec.

There is some danger moving UAN to a new night as you force viewers to move with it but NBC isn’t going to beat out ABC on Wednesday’s any time soon. Thursday are, and always have been, NBC’s night to shine. Up All Night, unlike the other shows, offers a more conventional and positive chuckle that mainstream viewers tend to gravitate toward, essentially tricking them into staying around for Community while they wait for the always-fantastic 30 Rock to start. By then they’re relaxed and don’t feel like changing the channel, so why not stick around for Parks and Rec (it’s the peak-and-valley technique).

30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin has hinted that this will be his last season, but he’s also been saying that for years. NBC’s new owner ComCast has reportedly increased the programming budgets so pay Baldwin whatever he wants (seriously) and market the hell out a brand new era of Must See TV Thursdays.

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I feel somewhat hypocritical writing this. Generally, I would say that next to Reality TV, the world needs another Crime Procedural like it needs a kick in the head (actually, the world COULD use a kick in the head, but you get my point).

Even being conservative and not counting syndication (where the original Law and Order is going strong) we still live in a world with two NCIS, three CSI, two L&O, Hawaii 5-O, Castle, Unforgettable, Body of Proof, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, and Bones.

Broadening the parameters to include more alternative, comedic, or serialized fare, you could add to the pile Psych, Burn Notice, Grimm, Fringe and COPS. And, I’m sure there’s plenty more that even I don’t know about.

I watch a lot of tv, and have a finite number of hours to do so. To meet that balancing act I have a soft rule of only patronizing one crime procedural from Column A. I used to watch CSI until I realized that after about 4 seasons they were essentially telling the same stories over again. I watched scattered episodes of L&O:SVU (the best of the L&O franchise) but the show’s 101-ways-to-rape-underage-girls central point was just too much of a downer.

I had sworn off the genre altogether until a couple of years ago when I decided taking two from Column B (Psych and Burn Notice) didn’t break the rule and then simultaneously I got hooked on Castle because, well, Nathan Fillion is just so darned charming.

And so it is that NBC’s prime suspect arrives this season, hoping to break into the pack and bring some viewers back to NBC. It’s not doing well, which prompts this post as yet another Save Our Show.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, PS is a cut and dry case-of-the-week procedural, but even as such it manages to avoid some of the pitfalls of the genre. Case in point, there’s no murder sequence opening intro of a jogger running through central park getting ice picked or a teenage girl walking home alone from a party, etc. Even Castle dips into that well too much.

Secondly, every show will tell you about how their particular brand “is about the people and not the cases,” and, bless their hearts, they try to live up to that. That’s why in season 6 you meet the protagonists ex-wife (it’s a metaphor for how much their job has stinted their personal growth) or in season 5 two co-workers begin dating (oooh, a workplace relationship, how edgy). Prime Suspect, on the other hand, walks the walk. The show is as much a feminist manifesto as it is a cop show. Maria Bello’s detective Jane Timony is recently transferred to her precinct where she encounters the hatred of her male co-workers, who assume she slept her way to the top and who, faced with a woman in their ranks, feel the need to exert their dominance as top dog.

Slowly and surely, Bello is beginning to win them over with her I’m-a-b****-but-I-solve-f***ing-cases attitude but she’s got a long way to go before she’s one of the gang and frankly, she doesn’t care. Bello’s Timony is what every feminist should be. Instead of burning her bra and screaming about how evil men are, she carries a gun, will beat you like you stole something and, in a brilliant move, is in a stable loving relationship with a civilian.

Then there’s the look and feel of the show. Most of the genre has a cheap, we-don’t-need-to-polish-this-because-only-old-people-watch-our-show hue and texture that either make the world look like Gotham City on a rainy day (CSI and L&O) or where retirees go for vacation (NCIS, Hawaii 5-o). Prime Suspect, an adaptation of a British miniseries starring the impeccable and equally B.A. Helen Mirren, comes with the steady hand of Writer-Director Peter Berg (Friday Nigh Lights — movie and tv show–, The Rundown, Hancock) who is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated directors in America.

Simply put, this show is what every other Column A crime procedural should be (except Castle, they’ve got their own thing going and they’re doing fine). It’s real people solving real crimes. There’s no man-fell-from-the-sky gimmicks (CSI) or every-teenager-is-a-rapist memes (L&O). They solve burglaries and murder suicides in the grimy rat-infested hustle and bustle of New York. The supporting cast is an incredibly orchestrated tapestry of personalities with special awards going to the Tim Griffin/Kirk Acevedo pair that figure it’s easier to arrest a guy AFTER he breaks his legs jumping from a window (a la Meet Joe Black) and figure that even in the middle of a murder case there’s time to screw with a jumpy snitch or engage in some healthy wagers.

It’s a great show, better than 3/4 of the trash that occupies the airwaves right now. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do so and even if it’s not your style, record it on your DVR and let it run while you wash dishes in the kitchen (next-day DVR views are included in the Nielson live+7 ratings). You may, like me, already have your crime show, but PS is worth breaking the rules for.

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