Wednesday, November 23, 2005

*something brief*

I see now that I promised a short post after my thesis on Laguna Beach, and instead I returned with a dissertation on TV. Whoops. Here, then, a short update:

Pat Kiernan and Roger Clark were both singing yesterday. In a desperate attempt to make a story out of the weather (it's called winter and it ain't news) Roger Clark was in Herald Square asking people to name songs with "rain" in the title. Most people said "Singing in the Rain" or "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head". Pat wondered why nobody had mentioned "Purple Rain" and launched into a rendition. HEE! Roger Clark joined in and it was about the funniest thing you'll see on the news except those times when British journalists go to interview ducks and end up getting chased around and falling into the pond. Oh, and seriously, I could probably name 15 songs with "rain" in the title. Once as a wedding shower game we were asked to list songs with "love" in the title. Two weeks later, my list finally petered out at about 140.

Why TV is awesome

It is immediately apparent to anyone who gets to know me even a little bit that I am a TV fanatic. I used to conceal this fact or at least get defensive about my preferred medium of entertainment, but no more. Read a lot of books and you’re “intellectual”. Watch a ton of movies and you’re “cultured”. But admit to religiously following any show not on HBO and you’re “an idiot”. Well, today I bring you my reasons why TV is awesome.
A novelist has almost complete control over their work. Certainly, an editor may make changes or contributions, but ultimately Philip Roth puts out the exact book he wants to put out. A singular achievement, in every sense of the word. One artistic voice impervious to meddling. Want to write a short story? That’s cool. A mid-sized chick lit beach read? Good on you. An epic masterpiece thick enough to be its own coffee table? Best of luck selling it but it’s your call.
A movie director usually has majority control over their work. That is, once they have a script they like, actors approved by the studio and enough money to execute their vision. For the purpose of my argument, I’m specifically referring to movies where the director has been afforded the ultimate luxury: final cut. Where they may begin with a good script or a shaky one, have Oscar-caliber actors or be forced to cast Denise Richards, at the end of the day the product that leaves their hands is the culmination of their best intents and efforts. Even when they do not have final cut and the studio comes in with test marketing results calling for a new ending, once the movie is done it is done and you have a completed piece of work, if not always a piece of art. You have somewhere between 90 and 150 minutes, unless you are Peter Jackson, with which to convey your full creative statement.
But who controls a TV show? To an extent, the creator/writer/producer a la JJ Abrams, or Rob Thomas (the genius behind Veronica Mars-you saw that coming).
They have the initial idea, usually write the first few scripts and oversee the arc of the show should it continue. Aye, there’s the rub. Because the life of a TV show is almost directly controlled by the audience or lack thereof. We all bitch and moan when brilliant shows like Arrested Development or My So-Called Life are taken off the air prematurely, but the upshot is if people were watching them, the networks would have kept them on the air. As an exec producer, you have no idea if you are writing something that will be on the air for three episodes or three years. What if MSCL had stayed on the air as long as Buffy did? Would it have had rough patches and a mildly unsatisfying ending? Do we love it more because it was like James Dean-young and full of amazing promise that was never really put to the test? What if the X-Files had ended two or three years earlier? Would people now be talking about how much they miss it or how great everything wrapped up? The push and pull between making something that is ostensibly meant to continue as long as possible but always being ready to wrap it up neatly if need be is what makes TV the most difficult and awesome form of entertainment. A novelist or screenwriter has a complete idea; beginning, middle, end. An EP has to be ready to continue the show as long as people are watching and the network will allow. Rob Thomas mostly had everything mapped out for the first year of VM, but then the show continued. I’ve seen various arguments on the merits of S1 vs. S2 but my feeling is you have to give the have to give the advantage to Season 2 if only because the degree of difficulty is so much higher – keep loyal viewers hooked, attract new viewers, don’t repeat things from the first season and be ready with a meaningful conclusion if (god forbid) it ends early. Thus far, they have managed to walk that tightrope with dazzling precision and I have total faith that the many questions raised thus far will be answered in due time. Unlike say, Lost, where I have no belief whatsoever that they can plausibly dig themselves out of the hole anymore. There is a perfect example of why TV is so tricky. The first season was well balanced between back stories and unraveling mysteries but now it has devolved into an increasingly ridiculous puzzle with no end in sight. And that’s exactly it - from the producers’ perspective there is no end in sight. Lord knows if I had the number 5 show on TV my focus would be, “how do we keep this going?” not “how do we wrap this up?” The artistic choice is gone and they are now beholden to the audience to continue even if it could all be brilliantly and best concluded at the end of this season.
To a lesser extent, the audience response can also determine the detailed direction a show takes. More specifically, character pairings, or “ships” as we internet-savvy folks like to call them, are often steered according to fan desire. Would anyone have been satisfied by Friends ending without Ross and Rachel getting together? As a Dawson-Joey shipper, my heart was broken in half by the ending of that show, but the overwhelming fan base seemed to be Pacey-Joey shippers. (I could go into why it is completely unacceptable to have the titular character of the show not get the girl…but I won’t). The second facet to this theory is that audience response is almost directly correspondent to the actor playing the role. Here again is where the EP loses control over his or her baby. You cast an actor based on several auditions, a screen test and maybe a reading with someone already hired. How on earth can you really be sure that this person will be able to handle any twists and turns that come up? What if you decide a protagonist should turn bad or a villain become sympathetic? Here again I turn to Veronica Mars for an example. At the onset of the show, you have two boys, Duncan and Logan. Duncan is the sweet, if distant, former love of Veronica and distraught brother of the murdered Lilly. Logan, to use Veronica’s words, is the school’s “obligatory psychotic jackass”. So why after the course of a season, are the internet boards overwhelmed with Logan-Veronica devotees (LoVe shippers, as we like to be known) and only meekly populated with fans delusional enough to support VD? As Jon Lovitz would have declared, the reason is “Acting!” Throughout the first season, Jason Dohring as Logan crafted a charming, layered and magnetic character whose on-screen chemistry with Kristen Bell’s Veronica was smoking. Whereas Teddy Dunn, as Duncan, is so robotic in his responses and inscrutable in his intentions, the writers had to give him a fake type of epilepsy complete with emotion-numbing medication to explain his bizarre lack of characterization. Fans have taken to all sorts of speculation about the reasons for Duncan’s behavior, willing to believe it is all part of a carefully constructed plot. But here again is where Rob Thomas, EP extraordinaire, cannot control everything in his universe. Teddy Dunn is just a weak actor and now, no matter how much the writers would like to craft a magnificent storyline for Veronica and Duncan, the majority of the fans are protesting anything that stands in the way of LoVe. Yes, my opinion is sure as heck biased, but I would direct you to TWoP for full Backup. (hee. That’s the name of her dog)
My point is (I heard that. Yes, I have one) that with several crucial factors beyond their control, TV EPs have the most difficult task to create something great. Clearly, there is a lot of crap on TV. But there are also shitty movies and lame books, too. When a TV show is well-written, convincingly acted and sustains a consistent level of quality over the course of years, that is truly awesome.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Laguna Beach recap

So Entertainment Weekly has already pointed out why LB: TROC is better than The O.C. this season. (Which I can totally not link to! Sorry) Since my expectations for The OC were greatly diminished, I myself have mostly been digging this season. However, some rumblings have been making me nervous. I know show runners around the world (I’m looking at you, J.J. Abrams) might have a heart attack to hear this, so I’m going to go slow and emphasize this point: I LIKE it when main characters, i.e. Seth and Summer, stay TOGETHER. I DON’T LIKE it when there is constant breaking up and getting back together. I know the show is called a “drama” but contrary to standard notions and practices, that does not automatically mean every couple must break up once a season.
However, the exception to that rule is reality shows, like our beloved Laguna Beach. If those people could break up and get back together once every month or so, that would be pretty much ideal. And the good news is, they usually do. After the first season’s archetypal Kristin-Stephen-LC triangle, I was fully convinced they would not be able to produce a compelling second season. What could possibly live up to it? And at first, I think I was right. When the season one finale aired, MTV had Kristin on as a guest host in the TRL studio. They show preview clips of the second season which totally focused on Casey, the new drag queen, I mean student, at LB High. Even from those short clips I knew she was too weird and not nearly slutty or conniving enough to be interesting, though not from a lack of trying on her part. So while I didn’t watch all of this season of LB, from what I did see there was mercifully little Casey and a continued focus on K-S-LC, until Jason started making things interesting. What a giant tool that guy is. He looks older than Luke Perry did back in the Bev-9er days, but apparently the chicks dig him. Why he was ever dating perennial wing-girl Jessica to begin with entirely escaped me. You all are totally thinking this, but I’ll go there-she had bad skin, fuzzy hair and always wore unflattering tops like she had raided Kristin’s closet unaware that the two of them are not the same size. Dieter was in her league; Jason not so much. Their spectacular break-up was arguably the highlight of this season. It was satisfying in that you were rooting against both of them. Inevitably, when he got together with Alex M, I was rooting for Jessica to mess that shit up. It’s the opposite of being a shipper-you don’t want to see either of them happy, alone or together. And then came LC.
Digression: there are two distinct camps of Laguna Beach watchers-team Kristin and team LC. I was always Team Kristin during S1. Maybe LC’s narration was too harsh, maybe it’s like the Yankees and I enjoy rooting for winners, but I could never get behind LC’s pathetic pinning away for Stephen. However then S2 began, and Kristin seemed a bit over the top. There’s bitch and then there’s Bi-Yaatch! and she was setting up camp in the second category. And LC seemed over Stephen enough to hook up with him in Mexico and not really care too much. Kinda cool. Still, I felt myself wanting to slap I’m-too-pure-to-wear-makeup Taylor and realized I was still Team Kristin, though perhaps with a little less disdain for LC.
Back on topic: even though I am not on Team LC, I still like her enough not to want to see her with Jason. She did turn him into a high-pitched-baby-talking idiot when he was around her (“You’re cute. Hee.”) which funnier than it should have been. But, inevitably, back comes Jessica. Did I miss something or were they both drunk at the fashion show? Or is Jason that much of a monumental blockhead that he managed to kiss J in front of LC while sober? My favorite moment of that episode actually came before the kiss, when Jessica was getting her makeup reapplied and LC went just slightly psychotic on her. She was literally unable to control her annoyance and frustration despite a really valiant effort and that’s when the magic happens. It’s so much less interesting when someone is all set to throw a hissy fit, but I really think LC wanted to play it mostly cool and snarky but she failed. That moment totally turned me on LC and now I am able to love her and Kristin. Though not together. Or, together, if that’s your thing.

Wow, this was totally longer than I meant it to be, and it actually took me three days to finish! Without actually making a point about anything. Christ on a bike. Next time: something brief. (There I go with the underwear again)

Friday, November 11, 2005

why I'm lame, #42

Yesterday while walking back from lunch, the heel broke off my boots. My three-inch heel snapped entirely clean off of my favorite black knee-high square-toed Nine West boots in the middle of crossing 45th St. A total Mentos moment. Yet, did I write a funny post about it? Did I have some hi-LAR-ious story to regale co-workers and my worldwide fans alike? Um, no not really. It's a situation that completely lends itself to humor and I got nothing. Well, at least it was better than the time that I tripped walking on the LES. Stone cold sober and I toppled over on my cork wedges to skin an exposed knee. I brushed the gravel off and kept walking until I noticed the blood. But somehow (and it MAY have had something to do with the 4 hurricanes I consumed in support of New Orleans) I didn't notice the full extent of the injury until much later that night. Folks, I still have a red mark there and this was early September. But at least that was a funny story. No wonder I don't have a book deal from this blog yet...

Underwear: Overthought

Every pair of underwear has a specific category-a purpose in life, if you will. There are your low-rise-wear-with jeans pairs, your low-low-rise wear with those ass-crack-showing pinstriped Dickies, your thongs for those last remaining Gap khakis with no back pockets, your A-team boy shorts for nighttime, your B-team granny panties for bed time, your varsity starters and your JV benchwarmers. And because I know that you’re wondering, yes mine are sorted by category and then stacked in priority order in my drawer. Cheeky monkeys.
Much like a mind, a pair of underwear is a terrible thing to waste. One must select the correct underwear genre and application for the correct outfit. Sometimes, however, in the dark confusion of the early morning it is possible to make a mistake. In a drawer overflowing with clean undies, somehow I managed to grab an are-these-kids-sized-low-rise pair rather than the no-VPL all-stars I should have gone with. I chalk it up to underestimating the rise on these trousers. I thought for sure I’d be in pre-baby-Britney land but besides sitting comfortably above my hips, they are also fully lined. So here I am, wasting one of two impossibly tiny pairs normally reserved for my Sevens when one of my mid-rise HappyFunPink pairs would have served just as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Arrogance and Asininity

Just how bad is this Keira Knightly adaptation of Pride and Prejudice going to be? Where to begin?
a.) They’re making it “rougher, dirtier, more realistic”. I hate this revisionist crap when people remake something-it always has to have a “dark edge”, even if it’s flippin’ Oklahoma! I want to see pretty people in pretty dresses, god damn it. If I was looking for dirty or realistic, I’d be across the theatre in North Country.
b.) Judi Dench. I’m over her. She won’t be funny, and Lady Catherine DeBurgh is meant to be funny. Blah blah, James Bond, blah blah, Shakespeare in Love, blah blah - save it. If she can win an Oscar for 8 minutes of screen time, I can judge her entire performance in this movie from the trailer. Which brings us to…
c.) Ah yes, the trailer. Which makes oh so judicious use of the Howie Day song, “Collide”. HOWIE DAY. I will even risk losing all street cred here to say I sort of like that song, but not for Pride and Prejudice! I’m guessing Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” was too expensive. And they give the whole damn movie away. Yes, I recognize that it’s not like Jane sees dead people or Elizabeth turns out to be a man, but would it kill them to build some tension? I mean, considering the couple in question don’t even like each other for the first half, you’ve got some ground to cover before you can throw in the whole, “Their worlds kept them apart…but love brought them together” or whatever. I think I just vomited a little in my throat.
d.) The scruffy, unwashed, fugly dude playing Darcy. Yes, I get that they didn’t “shower regularly” back then, but that doesn’t mean they walked around with bed head either. That pretty people in pretty clothes thing extends to dudes as well.
e.) Last but certainly not least, Keira Knightly. She is so wrong for the part of Elizabeth Bennet, it makes my fingernails hurt. Even her teeth are wrong! Miss Bingley concedes that Eliza Bennet has good teeth and I guarantee you someone with her snaggletooth would never garner that generous of an allowance.

I’ll give you an update after I see it. Which of course I will.

so not cool

Part 2 of 2 in the series, continuing the exploration of the dichotomy between things “cool” and “not cool”
What is up with Gwen Stefani’s obvious obsession with her ex-boyfriend and current bandmate Tony Kanal?
Disclaimer up front: I love the video for “Cool”. I love the video so much that I wanted to cut and dye my hair to look just like hers in the flashbacks with the beautiful Italian boy. (Does anyone know if it is based on a movie? La Dolce Vita or Roman Holiday or some other classic I should have seen?) I love the video so much that I didn’t even pay attention to the lyrics the first 20 or so times I watched it. Which for me, is super rare. I am a fanatic for lyrics. But the video was just so damn pretty!
However, I find the message a little disturbing. Sure, it’s all well and good that he calls you by your new last name and you’re hanging out with his new girlfriend, but seriously, didn’t they break up like 10 years ago? I am not kidding-IIRC from Behind the Music MC Hammer was on the charts when the two of them were together last. Granted, she got a lot of mileage out of “Don’t Speak” which was also about their break-up, but doesn’t anyone (Gavin Rosedale, for starters) find it odd that she is still writing songs about Tony? Move on!