Entertainment news and musings from a pop culture geek

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You Mad?

If you're not a TV geek such as myself then you're probably unaware that Mad Men, AMC's critical darling about 1960s ad executives is undergoing major behind the scenes negotiations. They've already pushed the fifth season to 2012, when the show normally resumes late summer. Fail. Now, in return for the $30 million for three seasons creator Matt Weiner is asking for (You can't blame the guy for asking for a raise after his show won Best Series three years in a row.) AMC is requesting some ludicrous shit from their end too, including and most notably the axing of TWO main cast members. For a show so specific in its vision, this has many fans worried. Let's examine who the series might be able to afford to lose, paper scissors rock. Rock is an undeniable no, Paper maybe, and well, you know what that makes scissors. *Mild spoilers follow*

 Don - Duh. Unless you'd prefer Henry Francis. Yea, Didn't think so.

 Peggy - Not a chance. Don's our guy but while he drinks and bad-decisions himself into antihero oblivion, season 4 more than any other saw the Peg rise up as the de facto heroine of the show, smoking weed, busting balls and straight killing it in the office. Plus she's a necessary mirror for Don to look into.

 Roger - You mean, the guy who routinely walks away with the line of the episode?

Joan - Nope. Just as heroine-ish as Peggy, just as boardroom-badass as Don. And way too easy on the eyes. Roger wouldn't allow it.

Betty - If you've seen season 4 you might disagree. But I think she's necessary. We can't stay in the office all episode, and not one of Betty's upstate NY C-story detours was wasted. And for the first three years, we spent so much time with Betty that we can easily say we're watching her story just as much as Peggy's. Plus, s4 seemed like just the tip (II) of a very huge and dramatically entertaining mother vs. daughter iceberg. Team Sally, in case you were wondering.

 Pete - Not for my money. Necessary foil to Don, Peggy, and Roger, and just like Betty, we've spent enough time away from the office with him that we're just as invested in where he's going as the   others.

 Ken - On the surface, he may not appear to add much. But         his early s4 absence was definitely noticeable.

 Harry - On the flipside, this guy is purely atmospheric at this point. He's gotten really unlikeable, personally. Although his continued presence would be a nice nod to the whole concept of stumbling upwards in corporate America [he's head of TV, before agencies like this really had heads of TV], he's a far cry away from the guy who ran out of Don's classic slide carousel pitch...crying.

Bert Cooper - Much as I love the guy, he doesn't add much significance these days. And that's by design. They pretty much paved the way for an easy exit last year anyways.

 Lane Pryce - I mean I guess. But not so fast. First, s4 highlights like "The Good News" and "Hands and Knees" made him an audience favorite. Not only that, but in-show his job as CFO is revered on an episodic basis, with Don himself remarking that no one can quite crunch the numbers like he does. Personally, I wouldn't wanna see him go.

Paul Kinsey - Still gone. And stay gone, you chump mwahahahaha.

Well thats it for the main cast. By my count, I don't see this as a very easily solved problem. There isn't much fat to cut. Who could you stand to lose?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Worst New Series of the 2010-2011 TV Season

There's a few duds in every year. Here are the few especially awful ones.

Mr. Sunshine, (ABC) - After bouncing around and appearing in some movies post Friends, Matthew Perry came to ABC with Mr. Sunshine. The show centers on Perry, Ben Donovan, who is the manager of a sports arena. The concept is interesting enough, following Ben through all the craziness involved in running this arena, but the show just never comes together smoothly, and is rarely funny. The rest of the cast, including Allison Janney, just don't seem to add anything to the show. Janney, who I normally love, is way to over the top in a way that the humor would mostly appeal to a toddler that is easily amused by loud noises and bright colors; she's simply not believable. None of the other characters are really used, instead they kind of blend in with the crowd. While the show does tend to serve up a chuckle or two an episode, the jokes mostly fall short of their mark. Hopefully they'll bring on some new writers. Mr. Sunshine is a show I DESPERATELY wanted to love, but with each ep I'm growing more and more detached. *Guest-written by Justin "JT Money" O'Reilly*

Undercovers, (NBC) - Talk about really wanting a show to work. It had all the elements in place. Spies: my favorite genre. Exec producer J.J. Abrams: one of my favorite modern-day auteurs. And the leads were BOTH black! Yay progressiveness! Slam dunk, right? Nooooooooo! This series was more lifeless than Rebecca Black. Potential sure, but there are only so many hours in the day, and I stopped devoting some to this even before it was officially cancelled. Just a big, fat dud. Good luck in the future to newbie actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw though, she's a real, ahem, talent.

No Ordinary Family, (ABC) - Yet another show that sounded great on paper. Vic Mackey back to beating up bad guys? Darla/Rita as his wife? Comedic talents Romany Malco (The 40 Yr Old Virgin) and Autumn Reeser (who provided many of the highlights of the final years of The O.C.) are their sidekicks? Sign me up! Too bad this show never had the ambitions of being the kick-ass comic-book show that I wanted it to be. It was way more interested in being 8 p.m. fare that the parents, pre-teens and the dog could all sit down to enjoy. And I could've adjusted to that...if it was good. Pardon the easy pun but I've never seen more ordinary writing. I could literally call the whole episode by the first commercial break. The kids' plotlines: even worse. Somebody fill the superhero TV Void, and soon please.

The Cape, (NBC) - I didn't even bother. Like, seriously? No. Good Riddance. What was I saying about a superhero TV void?

Body of Proof, (ABC) - Dear, networks

At this point, we have seen it all before. Doctor shows, lawyer shows, cop shows, the procedurals come and go. You know which ones stick around? The ones with great, rich, characters. We don't really care about the cases. We want fun banter or good character beats in between them. So, ABC, congrats on the success of Castle, which has all those things courtesy of the man, Nathan Fillion. Now, this new show ya got? The lead's no Rick Castle. Excruciatingly bad. "Lost my surgeon's license, wahhhh." "Put work before family, now they hate me, wahhhh." "Now I'm a morgue examiner, aaaaand I solve crimes!" Big woop. What the fuck city does this take place in? What self-respecting cops woud let the fucking morgue doctor run around solving cases for them? Do yourself a favor, my 15 or so faithful readers. Don't watch this show. No disrespect to the MILF Dana Delany.


*The Connoisseuraus saw a screening of the Body of Proof pilot a few weeks ago. It premieres March 29th at 10 p.m. See for yourself if you're feeling masochistic.*

Can you think of 5 more awful seasons of television this year?

The 15 Best Shows of the 2010-2011 TV Season

*Where's Community? Terriers? Breaking Bad? The Good Wife? Well I don't watch those shows. Yet. I'm only one man. Plus fifteen shows?! I watch more than enough.*

The Chicago Code, S1 (FOX) - Warning: they share the same creator but this is not The Shield, the trailblazing, box-breaking roller-coaster of a cop show that put FX on the map. And it's not trying to be. Shot on location, the basic premise involves the Chicago PD superintendent, played by still sexy Jennifer Beals, and her top cop aiming to take down a dirty alderman (Delroy Lindo). That's the season/series long story arc anyway. In between it's normal cop show stuff - bank robberies, culture clashes, class clashes - but enriched by engaging characters far from the cardboard cutouts you're likely to find over at CBS. Not perfect but brimming with potential, and an easy candidate for best new [broadcast] series. Here's hoping it gets a chance to grow (ie, a renewal).
Grade: B
Standouts: Pilot, "Gillis, Chase & Babyface," "The Gold Coin Kid" 

30 Rock, S5 (NBC) - It doesn't live up to the hilarious insanity of the first two seasons. But it makes me laugh a whole lot more than last year's limp episodes did. Plus, the Angie reality show.
Grade: B
Standouts: "Live Show," "Brooklyn Without Limits," "Mrs. Donaghy"

The Walking Dead, S1 (AMC) - probably the most buzzed about premiere of the season, more viewers than AMC's ever seen sat down amidst their Halloweekend hangover to watch the debut of Frank Darabont's (The Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile) series about the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. And they were definitely pleased, with Dead delivering a contender for a Best Pilots of All Time list. Still it was hard to digest the stilted, six-episode season  that followed. While not matching ep 1's quality, the rest were definitely entertaining but the exploits of Sheriff Rick, his family and a few other Atlanta survivors felt more like one big pilot episode for the real season. Oh well. Don't stay out all night at the parade this year. New season coming on, you guessed it, Oct. 31st.
Grade: B
Standouts: "Days Gone By," "Guts," "Vatos"

Dexter, S5 (Showtime) - It's not hard to hate on this show. It's the mind of a low-aiming CBS procedural trapped in a thought-provoking cable drama's body. Afraid of change, even though this season started with a big one. The supporting cast still sucks. But anytime Dexter or season guest-star Julia Stiles were on screen it was undeniably engaging. The conservativeness of the finale may have been infuriating, but the body of this year had every element that makes this show [occasionally] great. Dark humor: the gay guy escapes out of Dexter's van...while still wrapped in plastic *DEAD*. Nail-biting action: the hotel chase. Genuine heart: see any scene with Dexter and his step-kids. And yet I can't really point out any story advancements or risks this season actually took. As long as it's churning out episodes chock full of those elements it's content. It was still better than season 3 though. And I'll still be there for season 6.
Grade: B+
Standouts: "My Bad," "Everything is Illumenated," "Take It!"

Chuck, S4 (NBC) - Some shows get better with age. Others fall in a rut. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with each breath this constantly 'on-the-bubble' show gets. But the misses come as often as the hits this season. Toeing the line between spy drama/and goofy comedy is tough, and some of this season has been a bit too goofy. Still it's hard to be mad when a banger like Yvonne Strahovski is the main female lead (no one can pull of funny and badass like her), and once-James Bond Timothy Dalton is killing as a hilariously unhinged arch-villain. The stunt-casting doesn't stop there, everyone from Eric Roberts to the Old Spice guy shows up. When this show's on it's on though, marrying broad humor, great action, and drama into a neat little package. They still have time to close the season out strong.
Grade: B
Standouts: "Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror," "Chuck vs. the First Fight," "Chuck vs. Phase Three," "Chuck vs. the Push Mix"

Californication, S4 (Showtime) - Unlike the other Showtime show that made this list, this one doesn't have an identity crisis. It's fully aware of the wool it's pulling over your eyes. See, it seems like a comedy, with a lot of funny sex, crazy situations, and unbelievably bad women. But you can't watch this season and not be aware that amid all the hilarity and sex it's actually a really dark, bleak family drama. Actually that was made painfully aware in the season 3 finale, a series best, which propelled us into the story for this season, centered around Hank's trial. I've been hard on this series for being too over-the-top at times and failing to come close to it's near pristine debut season. But they may have done it with this one. It's an astonishing feat to go through a season and laugh your ass off ("Monkey Business") and then just feel really depressed, and very worried ("The Last Supper"). That damn Karen (and now, Becca) still piss me off though.
Grade: B+
Standouts: "Monkey Business," "Lights. Camera. Asshole.," "The Trial," "The Last Supper"

Supernatural, S6 (The CW) - Most shows never get to realize their full dream before they get cancelled. So imagine the Supernatural team's amazement when they wrapped their entire series arc last year in terrific fashion, and The CW bosses came calling with new checks and contracts in hand? What's left for the Winchester brothers to fight? How do you top Lucifer? Well now they get to play around. What if Sam returns from hell, but without his soul? Well then he's a hilariously, sometimes scary, amoral douche bag (Jared Padalecki, enjoying not being the boring brother for once). What if the brothers start battling classic monsters instead of just demons? It's been an odd, clearly different season but it still has all the brotherly drama, crazy-gory-scary action, and bleakly dark, well supernatural, stuff. And we're getting to see cool plots they never could've sqeeuzed in before, like an episode from fellow hunter Bobby's POV or the recent new classic where the brothers get transported to a world where...they're on the set of their own show. It's as self-deprecatingly hilarious as it sounds.
Grade: B+
Standouts: "Weekend at Bobby's," "Clap Your Hands If You Believe," "Caged Heat," "The French Mistake"

The Vampire Diaries, S2 (The CW) - Hold off on the angry mob and pitchforks. Twilight for TV this is not. Is the title ass? The promos gay cheesy? Male lead rocking too much hair gel? Yes, yes, and definitely. But if you sit down for an episode you'll see that no other show is fucking with this one when it comes to momentum. Not feeling a particular arc or character? No worries, the plot moves quicker than 24. No sparkling here either, throats, hearts, they all get ripped out when shit pops off. The women are bad. Baaaaaad. And Boone (remember him?) from Lost suprisingly owns every scene he's in with the perfect amount of ham, to the point of commanding $40k an episode. Fuck a True Blood. The heir apparent to the late great Buffy is here. Lacking in intelligence, probably, but making up for it with pure fun and suspense.
Grade A-
Standouts: "Kill or be Killed," "Masquerade," "The Descent," "The House Guest"

Fringe, S3 (FOX) - It only took Fringe 1 and 3/4 of a season to live up to the mantle of being a J.J. Abrams Show. To make up for that, once it finally kicked in high gear it skipped good and went straight to great. After a strong s2 finish, season 3 opens as the series' most confident ever. Tired of vampires, werewolves, and/or aliens? Meet this decade's X-Files with a dash of Twilight Zone. Settle in for an epic saga of alternate universes and the heroes caught in the middle of it. When we open, our heroine FBI agent Olivia has been kidnapped by "the other side," where everybody has a double and the world is wacky. (J.F.K. lived? Twin Towers stood?) Meanwhile, her double masquerades as the real Olivia on our Earth, a literal double agent. And the narrative conceit? One episode takes place here, and the next on "Earth-2." Do I even have to say more? This is low-key one of the coolest series on TV. Maybe that's why it just pulled off a hail mary renewal.
Grade: A-
Standouts: "Oliva," "The Plateau," "Entrada," "Immortality," "6B."

Modern Family, S2 (ABC) - The best new show of last year continues it's hilarity streak, despite not quite matching the consistent highs of season 1 Critics have complained about the drop-off, but at this point the show's earned my loyalty; I'm content even if it's only mildly funny. The cast is still in top form, but extra MILF Julie Bowen doesn't get as much cred for killing it as the straight woman as she should.
Grade: B+
Standouts: "Halloween," "Chirp," "Manny Get Your Gun," "Slow Down Your Neighbors"

Justified, S2 (FX) - Possibly the best dialog to be found anywhere on television this season. The basic premise could make things sooooo procedural -US Marshall with an itchy trigger-finger moves back home to lay down the law- but even in episodes that don't feature an arc this show is a cut above all the other badge shows on the tube. It's hard to decide who deserves an Emmy more: Tim Olyphant as the lead, slick-talking and swagger personified Marshall Raylan Givens, or Walton Goggins as his equally sly childhood friend who may or may not be fated for arch-villainy.
Grade: B+ (Season still continuing)
Standouts: [so far] "The I of the Storm," "Cottonmouth," "The Blaze of Glory," "Save My Love"

Sons of Anarchy, S3 (FX) - How do you top what critics and fans alike hail as a near perfect season of TV? The writers of this bikers-meets-Hamlet epic family drama sure gave themselves room to with that finale, which I won't spoil here. The end result is quite far from a step down. But it's not a knockout either. Way too many new characters. Creator Kurt Sutter's persistent no exposition policy leaves even the most faithful viewer like myself a little disoriented from time to time. Definitely a plot hole or seven to make the story go where it needed to, narratively and physically (Ireland!). Still a damn thrilling ride though, and a very satisfying arc. Katey Sagal continues to steal the show as the badass matriarch of the fam (Threatening a baby at gunpoint...a little silly but still hardcore.) And by season's end the Hamlet overtones kick into gleeful overdrive. It looks like Kurt is going to get to paint his 7-season masterpiece (the show's a ratings powerhouse), and this was a necessary part of the journey. Can't wait for season four.
Grade: A-
Standouts: "SO," "Turning and Turning," "Widening Gyre," "Bainne," "June Wedding," "NS"

Boardwalk Empire, S1 (HBO) - my vote for best new series. It's everything you wanted it to be when you saw the promos. No character is wasted. Bullets fly over illegal alcohol. In between it all Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt deliver tour de force performances. The Sopranos may be over, but all its writers are still running TV. See #1.
Grade: A
Standouts: "Boardwalk Empire," "Family Limitation," "Home," pretty much every ep from there

Mad Men, S4 (AMC) - Sheeeesh. Who's fucking with this show? I'm still amazed at how entertaining a show about ad executives, and moody rich suits with identity crises is. This is hands down the show's finest season, from start to finish. Abandon all assumptions and guesses. The finale's a jaw dropper. The journey there, just as awe-inspiring. There's nobody on TV right now more interesting - or cooler - than Don Draper.
Grade: A+
Standout: Every episode

Disagree with a grade or placement? Are you loving any of these 15 like I am? Mad Jersey Shore didn't make the cut?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hidden Treasures or The Art of Being a Fanatic

Say what you will about the God MC but you can't deny he's got a laundry list of hits. But for every "Empire State of Mind" and "Big Pimpin" there's an album cut or standout collaboration that may not make the concert setlist but features an equally five star beat laced with some of the illest wordplay courtesy of the self proclaimed "man who writes checks with the hand that don't write." Cut off that Odd Future and scroll down and educate yourself. Ya Philistines.

Lobster & Scrimp (w/Timbaland)
The chemistry between these two, both legends in their own right, is a little off these days. (See what I did there?) But late 90's, early aughts, sweet Jesus. Super fan bias non-withstanding how the hell did this fly so low under the radar? Probably because Tim's Bio: Life from da Bassment, Timbaland's little heard debut album that houses this and a few other notable songs flew even lower. Maybe it's the odd way they spell 'shrimp.' Maybe the average listener wouldn't be pressed to give a song called "Lobster and Scrimp" a spin no matter how they spelled it. Which is a shame because this is golden. The beat is a classic fast-tempo Tim banger, and hoo boy does Jay ride it (II). Fuck a quote, I might have to type a few bars to sell this point:

Initials on the headrest
It's official, style so sick I need bedrest
nigga I got issues
I hate fake bitches, 'you gotta wait' bitches
'I don't know you; I don't fuck on the first date bitches'
hotshot niggas, talk to the cops niggas
'money that's my girl!' cock-block niggas
see-you-in-the-club-and-scheme-on-your-watch niggas
talk-a-lotta-shit-with-no-glock niggas

Not to mention the retrospectively hilarious line "She stressin me now, sayin 'no-no-no then yea-yea-yea' like she Destiny's Child. But don't take my word for it. Just click play and see for yourself. *Just listen and avoid the epileptic video*

So Ghetto
The Jiggaman's last collabo with the legendary DJ Premier, for reasons unknown. Can be found on the underrated Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter. Hov may be the ambassador of hip-hop now, but he's always had a little thug in him.

I'm from the M-to the A baby, R-C-Y
so it's hard for me to let the larceny die
niggas see me in the street with no bodyguards
just two big guns that'll body ya squad
cuz niggas be schemin on me, prolly y'all
think Jigga's a joke nigga?

These are just two of many. Go do your homework. Watch the Throne and the 12th album coming soon. Y'all other rappers got a few months to get y'all thing together. Good luck.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Do you know Big Sean? If not you soon will. The Detroit MC has been signed to Kanye's G.O.O.D. Music team since before Kid Cudi (who has already released two LPs)  and after cultivating a steadily growing internet buzz and playing his position on group features he's ready to drop his debut, Finally Famous: The Album this spring. The first single, "My Last," just came out on iTunes this week but I'm not going to post that here. Instead this post is dedicated to two songs of his that have already came and went online by way of leakers, but deserve so much more. In these days of rampant hackers, rappers are quick to leave a leaked song in the dust to keep the album fresh, cause after it hits nahright everyone's heard it. But isn't that over-exaggerating things a litte? Here's my appeal for my two favorite tracks of his that are heretofore homeless but shouldn't remain so:

What I Do
Like a much better version of Based God (30x better), Big Sean's main concern is letting you know he dresses better than you and fucks badder chicks. Sean the don has no qualms letting you know what he's in this for, given the album title, and a song like this one, about the intoxicating effect of bright lights and hot groupies would be perfect for it. Plus, clocking in at an unfinished 1:23 minutes, the song is cruelly over just when it feels like it got started.

Way Out, ft. Mr. Hudson
"What I Do" would be a nice album cut and maybe even get a few radio spins but this right here is a Billboard hit waiting to happen. Not only does this prove Sean's range as he switches up content to tell a tale of heartbreak, but it also showcases how much of a musical threat the G.O.O.D. Music team is with Boss Kanye providing the cinematic beat and Mr. Hudson (of Young Forever fame) contributing yet another epic, scene-stealing hook. Sure this song's made the rounds by now but it's too colossal for that to matter, and there's a whole world beyond rapradar, nahright and the like.

Thoughts? Are you checking for Finally Famous: The Album?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Songs of the Week

Stan (Live) - Eminem Ft. Elton John

The Dido version is just fine but these days this recording of the live 2001 Grammy performance with Elton John handling hook duty is in constant rotation. Easily one of the best hip-hop songs of all time, the intensity and emotion is maintained, maybe even enhanced live and John's keys add a slightly different but welcome punch-up to the beat. Plus the unexpectedness of these two collaborating makes the whole thing quietly colossal.

Is That Your Chick? - Memphis Bleek & Jay-Z Ft. Missy Elliott & Twista
Been awhile since you heard this one hasn't it? This has been popping up in shuffle like it's new recently. Classic rap at its misogynistic best. The Jiggaman, while being one of the coolest people alive, also has something of a mean streak, highlighted the most in this instance. Knowing what we know now--Jay fucked Nas's baby mama (mean streak)--this song is without a speculative, gossip-mongering doubt three verses of thinly veiled I-took-your-girl shots missiles at Nas. Just vicious. And if you think Jay didn't [try to] take care of his Roc fam, here's a prime example of why you're wrong, as he gifts this to Young Memphis the apprentice to use as his own single. It's also a prime example of why I scratch my head during the frequent Bleek trashing here and there. Of course Hova flows on this the nastiest, obviously, but Bleek does damn good too: "Close the door/act like you been in a drop-top on the open road before/fix your weave, then fix me/ever gave head doin 160?" Fuck the haters Memph, I'm checking for your comeback. Just make sure you kick it off with something as flame as this.