Archive for the ‘Pop Reviews’ category

Tuesday Pop Review- Modern Family Season 3

October 25, 2011

Good afternoon all, and welcome back for a Tuesday Pop Review.  Last week, we discussed the new season of The Office, which is struggling through life after Steve Carell.  This week we discuss ABC’s hit Modern Family, which airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.  Modern Family is in the midst of a third hit season and shows no sign of slowing down.  For those unfamiliar with the show, it revolves around three related households in L.A.  Ed O’Neill (a/k/a Al Bundy) is the wealthy patriarch, who lives with his much younger second wife, a Colombian bombshell, and her young son Manny.  O’Neill’s two kids include a daughter who lives with her husband and three kids and his son who lives with his life partner and their adopted daughter. 

The show is consistently stellar and so versatile that a panel of 20 random fans would likely reveal at least 6-7 different favorite characters, though I would estimate that most fans think that the homosexual couple steals the show.  I couldn’t disagree, as Cameron and Mitchell are excellent.

It leads me to a broader discussion of how prevalent gay characters have become on television.  Approximately 10-12 years ago, ABC’s Ellen became the first show to have a gay lead character.  It was a highly publicized and I even recall a public “countdown” to the episode where Ellen DeGeneris’ character emerged from the closet. 

Since then, the number of gay characters on TV sitcoms and dramas are too many to count.  Just off the top of my head I can think of key characters on Will & Grace, The Office, NYPD Blue, Mad Men, and others.  My question, and unfortunately I do not have a lot of homosexual friends (or at least those that I know of), is whether the gay community considers the movement progress toward the goal of acceptance and equality.  I ask this, not to be controversial, but more because it seems like the characters that I see on television generally create laughs through stereotypical humor.  In other words, should the gay community be happy that millions of American homes are laughing at gay characters for “acting gay?”  Maybe it’s the first level of progress — awareness, and at some point it will not be used as a comedy source. 

It reminds me of similar issues for African-Americans and Jews during the celebrated run of All in the Family, featuring the bigoted main character Archie Bunker.  Fans celebrate this show as a groundbreaking “parody” of our society’s once more widespread ignorance toward diversity.  I would argue, however, that All in the Family, was nothing more than pure marketing brilliance.  It catered both to those who celebrated it as a parody AND to the still signficant segment of the population (especially at that time) who continued to hold a bias or animus toward minorities.   You can’t convince me that half of All in the Family’s viewers cracked up at the show because they shared Archie’s views.

Is there something more to this expanding phenomena of gay characters or is it simply history repeating itself?  I’d love to know your thoughts on it…

 

Tuesday Pop Review- We Need Some Time Away from The Office!

October 18, 2011

Hello all, and welcome back to Pop Review Tuesday here at the blog.  The Fall season is about a month underway.  As I may have mentioned in a prior post, my wife and I take in very little network programming.  Our television viewing is primarily sports, movies, and a potpourri of cooking/home design/Jersey lowlife stuff.

One of the few shows that we DO watch religiously, however, is The Office.  [SPOILER ALERTS BELOW!].  We are especially tuned in to “Life After Steve Carell,” since the show’s foundation decided to leave the show last year.  After about a five-episode season closing arc centered around who his replacement would be, a windy road that had us flirting with the likes of Will Ferrell, James Spader, Jim Carrey, Ray Romano and Ricky Gervais (reprising his role from the original British version of The Office), we learn early in the first episode that James Spader has become the new omnipresent CEO of the comedy, while Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms), has taken over as new Regional Manager of the branch. 

While we did know in advance that Andy and other current employees (i.e., Darryl and Dwight) were vying for the position, I think it was a pretty weak move to make a cliffhanger out of it, only to simply promote someone from within when viewers have no expectations of the move having a significant impact on the show.  Also, Andy was known from prior episodes to be one of the weaker sales employees, so it really just makes no sense all around.  To make things even more weird, Spader’s character’s a little too omnipresent for a company with multiple branches, yet I digress.

The season’s gotten off to a rocky start, with some episodes being real downers, such as one where Darryl had to be talked out of quitting when his former buddies in the shipping warehouse jointly won the lottery, as well as another recent episode where we learn that Andy has some daddy issues.  I mean c’mon, let’s just move it to 10 pm and make it an hour if we want to turn it into a drama. 

I would say that The Office has about 2 episodes left before it loses DVR status.  Anyone have another show they would suggest I try?  The only other network show we watch is Modern Family… 

Tuesday Pop Review- The NFL Red Zone Channel

October 4, 2011

Welcome all to your Tuesday Pop Review!  So you have probably noticed over our first several months that I am a pretty big sports fan.  The enthusiasm that you saw as we broke down sporting events like NCAA’s March Madness and the NBA Finals pales in comparison for my Fall football craze.  From September through December, my dream weekends include literally nothing other than watching football.  For the NFL, I am in three fantasy leagues, I do those fun “Survivor” pools and yes, I have an occasional wager on an occasional game.  I also have been a fairly devoted Miami Dolphins fan for the past 20 years.  (No need to send sympathy cards, but thank you). 

Over the last 10 years or so, football has become increasingly difficult to watch on television.  Sure, I love the HD era, but my real problems are the excessive commercial breaks.  In an era where television rights contracts cost networks multiple billions of dollars, networks have pounded us with excessive commercial breaks at an insulting rate.  Breaks used to be relatively manageable.  Typically, the game would go to commercial after most possessions (either scores or punts), at the end of quarters, the two-minute warning at the end of the half, and some timeouts except those that occurred at critical stages where the analysts would actually analyze something important.  Networks would also be reasonable with us and not do things like go to commercial after a punt with 40 seconds left in a quarter, knowing that we would be going to break after the next 1 or 2 plays.     

The only typical exception of this pattern was Monday Night Football, where ABC used to sneak in about 1 additional break per half after kickoffs.  As in, Team A scores, kicks the extra point, commercial, back from break, kickoff to Team B, commercial again.  We accepted this for a variety of reasons, including that we were probably 3 beers in. 

Now, with billions in advertising revenue needed to make up for the absurd contract prices, the old exception has become the norm.  Every single pause in the action is greeted with 2 minutes of commercials, including about 50% of all kickoffs, any coach’s challenge, any injury, and about 95% of all punts.  FOX is more than happy to take you to commercial after a kickoff with 30 seconds left in a quarter.  ESPN treats us to the “GMC Monday Night Launch,” which gives is really just code for “We’re gonna get 2 commercial breaks in before we even shove Hank Williams, Jr. down your throats,” and NBC loves giving us a 1992 Tom Petty jingle on the way to break at the first sight of a coach’s challenge flag. 

The result?  Watching a single game on television is one of the most disconnected feelings a sports fan can have.  If you get 5 consecutive plays in without a break, it’s a bonus.  You also couldn’t pay me to go to an NFL game live.  The idea of being squished into a seat in 95 degree heat while nothing is happening 70% of the time except drunk obnoxious fans trying to coach from the 400 sections?  No thanks.   

The only savior left is the NFL Red Zone Channel.  About 4 years old, Red Zone is on from 1 pm on Sunday until the final 4:15 game ends, with zero commercial breaks and a host (the witty and knowledgeable Scott Hanson) taking viewers to each game live at all key moments.  For fantasy football players and folks who are more football enthusiasts than diehards of a single team, Red Zone is the only way to go and the only reason why the NFL is still watchable.  With most cable packages, the Red Zone is a $5/month add-on and comes with a bunch of other decent sports stations (i.e. Big Ten Network, Fox Sports [insert region here]).  If you’re as jaded as I am about watching the NFL and don’t have the Red Zone, I highly recommend it! 

Tuesday Pop Review: “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN”

September 27, 2011

Hello all, and welcome to Pop Review Tuesday here at the blog.  Today we look at the relatively recent non-fiction biography of ESPN, or as I like to call it, my television’s “home page.”    The authors, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, previously did a similar piece on NBC’s late night franchise Saturday Night Live

The book, which we will refer to as Inside ESPN, is an in-depth cover to cover documentary of the company’s history, from its initial start up phase, to the days of Australian Rules Football, the breakthrough programming of NFL Football and Major League Baseball, to its present day global icon status, which includes a hand in virtually every single major sporting event, multiple television stations, a radio station, websites, restaurants, video games, etc. 

The layout of the book is in true documentary format, with portions of interviews stacked together with minimal monologue from the authors which is used for little other purpose than to transition from topic to topic. 

The book has a little bit of everything, from giving us behind the scenes looks at how ESPN was first formulated and put together, to chronicling some of the more notorious incidents at the network (i.e., the Jim Rome/Jim Everett altercation and the drunk Joe Namath pass at Suzy Kolber, to name a few),  to giving us a behind the scenes view of the brand’s personalities. 

These authors literally interviewed everyone, including Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Bob Ley, Craig Kilborn, Mike Tirico, Erin Andrews, Kirk Herbstreit and dozens more. 

The book is truly all access and for fans of the network or sports in general, a must-read.  Now, granted, I do have a handful of nitpicks, including a dislike for 80-100 page chapters (the book is over 700 pages and only has 9-10 chapters) and at times, the discussions of some of the revenue issues relating to cable operators tend to drag. 

Still, these minor flaps are no reason to pass on this book, which also makes a great gift.  (I know I know, you’re waiting for me to say “Now HERE’S how to order!!”). 

 

Belated Tuesday Pop Review- The Millionaires, by Brad Meltzer

August 26, 2011

TGIF all, and welcome to what I hope will be three posts today at the blog!  We owe the fans a pop review, so I want to discuss a book I just finished — The Millionaires, a 2002 novel by best-selling author and host of The History Channel’s Decoded, Brad Meltzer. 

I should start by mentioning that I have had the pleasure of meeting Brad Meltzer a few times, as he is the brother-in-law of one of my best friends.  Brad’s a helluva guy and funny as hell.  I don’t mention this as a shameless plug, but more to mention that it’s a very interesting dynamic to read a book written by someone you know, as you can see their personality reflected in their work.  The Millionaires is the second Meltzer novel I’ve read and it’s fun to see his dry/quick wit jump off the pages.  The stories aren’t bad either!

Millionaires centers around two brothers, Oliver and Charlie Caruso, eeking out a fair living in the Big Apple at an exclusive bank.  As mentioned early and often, you don’t choose the bank, they choose you.  The brothers, struggling to support not only themselves but also their sick mother, come across a “can’t miss” opportunity to pull off a victimless crime which could set them free for life.  No more rat race, no more bill collectors from their mom’s hospital expenses, no more anything but beach front property. 

As expected, the perfect crime turns out to be too good to be true, and the brothers Caruso quickly find themselves running for their lives while also trying to unravel a mystery.  The story eventually makes its way down to Brad’s hometown of South Florida (mine too) which adds some more fun as I could basically picture all the locations he chooses.

My favorite part of Brad’s work is that he tells stories you can relate to.  In both books I have read, the real main character is not an individual, but really more a relationship we can all relate to, in this case the relationship between two brothers a few years apart.  One responsible, one a little more reckless, but a closeness between them that allows them to communicate without words.  Brad’s also good at using real-life people, places and things, as Disney becomes a central figure in this twisting plot.

I recommend you give this book a try.  It’s a smartly written page-turner.

Tuesday Pop Review- The PGA Championship and the Lack of True Sports Heroes Out There

August 16, 2011

Hello all, and welcome back to your Tuesday Pop Review!  This past weekend was the PGA Championship, golf’s fourth major of the season, which was won by relative unknown and tour rookie Keegan Bradley in a 3-hole playoff against tour journeyman Jason Dufner.  The tournament was most notable for the lack of “star” power anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. 

Normally, my sports pop reviews would discuss the event itself and break down the television coverage, since I am someone who’s spent more than a lifetime’s worth of watching sports on television. 

This week, my post tracks the real story of the tournament, the continuing fade of the golf star that is Tiger Woods, who shot 9 over par in his two rounds and missed the cut by 5 strokes.  Sure, Tiger was playing just his 2nd tournament since May and he should not have been expected to contend.  Still, it’s hard to overlook that Tiger hasn’t won a tournament since 2009, and not since before his infamous “car accident” on Thanksgiving evening in 2009, the incident that led to the revelation of his mass philandering, his temporary leave from golf, his divorce and now, finally, his apparent descension to mediocrity.  The karma police in all of us is no doubt nodding approvingly. 

It leads me to the real topic here — the modern day media phenomenon and the likelihood of there being a large number of sports “heroes” from this point forward.  We all know the sports hero when we see one — a first-class athlete with a first-class personality off the field.  Nowadays, real stories like Tiger Woods’ personal mess or the baseball steroid era become epic sagas on the back cover AND front cover of newspapers, and even non-stories like bad quotes in magazine interviews make headlines.  There is no longer anywhere to hide for athletes.  The result is that almost every superstar athlete over the past 10 years carries a tarnished reputation.  Consider the following list of once admired superstars:

Tiger Woods- Reputation destroyed by public adultery scandal

Kobe Bryant- Once accused rapist and admitted philanderer

Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens- Baseball legends found guilty of steroid use by the court of public opinion.

Alex Rodriguez- Admitted steroid user, philanderer

LeBron James- Despised for exercising his right to switch teams via free agency, announcing it through a televised broadcast where the proceeds were donated to charity, and making bold predictions at a pep rally for Miami Heat fans that were broadcast to the world.

Ben Roethlisberger- Multi-time accused of sexual harassment

Michael Vick- Convicted animal abuser

Plaxico Burress- Convicted gun-toter

Even once squeaky clean Derek Jeter has had haters question his character during this offseason’s contract dispute, his decision not to attend this year’s all-star game, his alleged mediocrity during this stage of his career, etc.

This list could go on and on and on.  If you look at this list, some of these guys have clearly made their own bed (i.e., Vick, Woods, etc.), while some of these assassinations of character seem less self-inflicted (LeBron, Jeter, etc.), to the point where it’s clear that 10-20 years ago, before we had 50 national beat writers for every sport racing to break the latest scandal on the internet or Twitter, these “stories” would not have been stories at all. 

This makes me wonder two things — 1) how many of our past heroes would have been exposed for something we never heard about if they played today (i.e., maybe Cal Ripken cheated in his day, or maybe he would’ve received non-stop criticism for continuing his streak when he was barely an effective player anymore); and 2) whether any current star athletes will survive their entire career without significant controversy.  Here is a short list of untarnished superstars as far as I can tell:

1) Tom Brady-  Resented more than anything for his success on and off the field, but no major scandals that I can recall. 

2) Peyton Manning- Constantly in the public eye for his many commercials but has not faced any significant character questions.

3) Drew Brees- Seemingly liked universally

4) Kevin Durant- Still in his early 20’s but always says the right thing, signed extension with small market Oklahoma City rather than jumping for brighter lights.

5) Phil Mickelson- Maligned at times for his conditioning and his failure to win the big one for much of his career, Phil’s still probably the most popular golfer on tour and a devoted family man. 

6) Grant Hill/Steve Nash- Ultimate nice guys finishing out their careers together now in Phoenix.

How long will it be before the media vultures its way into tarnishing these guys?  How clean must these guys be for it not to have happened already?  I hope we still have sports heroes 25 years from now, because we are trending downward. 

Pop Review- Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 8

August 11, 2011

Welcome back all for a Pop Review!  Today we will take a look at the first four episodes of the new season of a show that should go down as a Top Ten sitcom of all time — Curb Your Enthusiam.  As most of you know already, Curb is HBO’s comedy written by and starring Larry David, co-creator and writer for Seinfeld and the real-life inspiration for Seinfeld’s George Costanza character. 

Curb, true to its Seinfeld routes, is basically another show about nothing, with legendary curmudgeon Larry David engaging friends and total strangers in his observations about life’s everyday situations.  Though usually backed by some brand of logic, Larry is often the villain as he is never afraid to engage total strangers in a fracas over a minor faux pas or slight.  In true HBO fashion, we are usually treated to full 30-minute commercial-free episodes, but only about 12 of them per season.  On top of that, mega-millionaire David seems to teeter on the brink of ending the show each season Brett Favre-style, so we never seem to know when the show will cease to exist. 

Each season a new show “arc” emerges.  For example, other past seasons have included Larry partnering with some other B-list celebrities to open a new restaurant in Los Angeles, another season revolved around Larry attempting to pitch a new sitcom to various networks with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and last season involved the writing and shooting of a Seinfeld reunion show.  This season’s arc was late to emerge, but at the end of the season’s fourth show we see Larry flying to New York with best friend Jeff and his wife Susie, Larry’s arch nemesis, another hint that this may be the final season as Larry returns to his New York roots. 

What amazes me about the show is how each new “life situation” that Larry encounters seems as fresh and familiar as those he commented on in Season 1.  Unlike Seinfeld, which had to continue to stretch reality, particularly with some of the silly situations that Kramer and Costanza encountered, Curb has stayed relatively true to its simple formula.  For example, some of the minor situations Larry has faced this year was a pair of women weeping and consoling each other at the grocery store right in front of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream section while Larry impatiently awaited an opportunity to grab a pint of “Chubby Hubby.”  Another situation involved Larry identifying and thwarting an attempted “chat n’ cut,” where someone tries to cut in line by finding someone they barely know ahead in line.  We laugh at the show because we can identify the situations we see and Larry says the things we want to say and can’t. 

If you are a stranger to the show, I recommend buying seasons online and starting from the beginning.  You will find yourself ripping through whole seasons within days.