Sunday, 20 May 2012

New Pilot Watch: J.J. Abrams' 'Revolution'

May I present to you the first pilot for next season that I'm excited about, J.J. Abrams' Revolution.

Oh man, you guys! As you can see from the trailer, it looks to be Abrams at his high-concept best. I like the possibilities of a character-driven sci-fi quest show set in a dystopian future after all electronics are rendered useless. I read a review (on Vulture, maybe?) that said that for every 10 network sci-fi shows, usually only one is good. Fingers crossed for this one. I'm going to need something to fill the void Fringe is about to leave.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Renewals and Cancellations: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Network upfronts have been going on the last week or so, and we now have news about which bubble shows have been unceremoniously cancelled, and which ones the network execs in their infinite wisdom have decided to maintain. As per usual, there is lots of good here and lots of bad. Among the good/great/spectacular news: FOX renewed Fringe in spite of its ratings for a final tie-up season; NBC renewed Parks and Recreation for a full-on 22-episode season (!!); and NBC is keeping Smash around in spite of some frightening creative flaws in the addictive musical drama. The bad/ugly/evil news came in the form of CBS renewing a boat-load of crappy, high-rated procedurals and horrible comedies; and The CW cancelling The Secret Circle (Sad trombone. You would think a show like that would be able to survive poor ratings on THE CW, right? Wrong, I guess).

Anyway, here are some updates on shows I watch and/or find myself midly invested in.

30 Rock (13-episode final season, which is sad, but it's a great testament to NBC that it lasted seven seasons!)

American Idol (Hopefully will produce more of this, and less of this.)

Blue Bloods (I drop in and out of this one, but am glad for my parents that it's still around.)

Cougar Town (And moving to TBS, which is good news for three reasons: 1) TBS will actually promote the show; 2) The move to TBS was contingent on all of the principle cast members returning; and 3) Producing at least 40 more episodes (to get to 100) is in the best interest of TBS, who retains syndication rights.)

Fringe (YESSIR! Only for 13 episodes, but I'LL TAKE IT!!)

Glee (Silly, stupid fun.)

Grey's Anatomy (And Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh, Justin Chambers, James Pickens, Jr., and Chandra Wilson have all also renewed their contracts for two more seasons! One guilty pleasure dies, while another lives to fight another day.)

Grimm (Is anybody watching this show? Has it moved away from the procedural format and towards some kind of mythology yet?)

Happy Endings (For 22-episodes! Yessir!)

How I Met Your Mother (For probably its last season.)

Law and Order: SVU (Why is this show still on?)

Modern Family (No surprise here.)

New Girl (If you're not watching this show because of the early season hype attack, you're missing out. This.)

Once Upon a Time (Good, wholesome fun on my Sunday nights.)

Parenthood (Glad NBC is sticking by this show. It's pretty great. Only 15 episodes, but that's better than none!)

Parks and Recreation (22 new episodes! 22 new episodes!!!!)

Pretty Little Liars (CAN'T WAIT for new episodes this summer!)

Private Practice (Renewed for [probably] a 13-episode final(?) season, which is about all the room in my life I have left for this show and its "special crossover episodes".)

Revenge (Rich people soap fun!)

Scandal (Yayness! Really enjoying lots of things about this newbie, btw.)

Smash (Come on, Smash: live up to your pilot episode! You can do it!)

Southland (TNT continues to stick by one of the best dramas on TV period.)

Suburgatory (Great news, as this show keeps getting better. Maureen Ryan's loving it, too.)

The Good Wife (Obvs. Dot com.)

The Office (See note for Law and Order: SVU, above.)

The Vampire Diaries (TVD lives on in infamy!)

The Voice (Glad NBC has a hit, but airing this show in the Fall and the Spring seasons is going to be a bad move.)

Up All Night (Uneven, but has potential.)

Alcatraz (A decent show in spite of hemorrhaging ratings. In usual JJ Abrams fashion, it would have gotten better with a second season.)

Awake (Conflicting emotions: I like this show okay, but I'm okay deleting the backlog on my TiVo.)

Bent (NBC dropped the ball on this charming comedy before it even aired. We've all missed out.)

Chuck (My feelings were hurt by the finale. Why did they end it like that?!)

GCB (This one hit me surprisingly hard, and I'm sad to see it go. I think this show would have worked better, and perhaps survived, in half-hour instalments rather than hour-long episodes.)

House (Probably a couple seasons late.)

Make It or Break It (Disappointed, but not surprised to see it go. I'm going to need another girls-in-sports show ASAP, though.)

One Tree Hill (There's a good possibility that I watched all but, like, 3 episodes of this entire series. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!)

Pan Am (Got better as it went, but uneven. I'll miss the occasional bouts of Goran Visjnic on my TV.)

Prime Suspect (Wish this had been a midseason replacement show, as lower expectations for this really good procedural/character drama might have kept it around.)

Ringer (So many awful things here, but was good fun for the majority of its run. Sad to see it go.)

The Secret Circle (Booooooooo! How do 90210 and Hart of Dixie get a pass over TSC? Y'all, I am NOT OKAY with that!)

Monday, 7 May 2012

'The Voice' Pre-finale!

I haven't posted much on NBC's The Voice this season, but I've been enjoying a lot about it lately. It's sort of a shame that the press for both The Voice and American Idol have focussed on this cockeyed "competition" between the two shows, because, frankly, there's room for both in our TV-verse -- especially since NBC's scheduling of the former didn't force us to choose (well done, NBC)! While I have been enjoying The Voice a lot in recent weeks, I have to admit that it took me a while to get into any of the contestants. The coaches are so much more interesting than the contestants (the opposite is true on Idol, incidentally) that it was hard to remember many of the "voices" we saw in the blind auditions. Then it kept getting weirder when about half of the battle rounds went to contestants with seemingly stank personalities. Hmmm.

The "live shows", though, are where the real magic started to happen. They started off a little slow, but when the sing-for-you-life thing kicked in on results shows, desperation started making people awesome. Namely, Ashley de la Rosa with this performance of Grace Potter and the Nocturnal's "Paris (ooh la la)"! (I also LOVED her version of Jewel's "Foolish Games" because it made me hear that song differently, which is all I really want my reality singing contestants to do!) Additionally, some people who were pretty good during the auditions started getting a lot better in the live shows. I'll miss Jamar Rogers, even though I like Juliet Simms better.

After all was said and done, we ended up with Tony Lucca (Adam's new BFF, and Xtina's punching bag**), Jermaine Paul (Blake's protégée who is amazingly not a teenage girl), Chris Mann (Xtina's opera singer with the frightening gaze), and Juliet Simms (CeeLo's whiskey-voiced murderer). If you know me at all, you'll not be surprised that Juliet is my favorite of this bunch, and, really, of the whole season. I tried to like Tony Lucca, but can't see much past the MMC nostalgia thing; Jermaine Paul is fine, but he's not exactly going to set the world on fire; and, seriously, would you buy a Chris Mann record? I don't think you would. Juliet's performances of "Roxanne" and "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World", however, are some of the best reality show performances this year! It would be a real shame to see her lose out to one of those three fellows. I'm also really curious to see if a woman can win The Voice, because I don't think a woman can win Idol any more (not just this season, either).

It will be interesting to see what happens tonight on the final performance show! Who are you rooting for??

** The real fun starts in this clip around the 2:12 mark during the night that will forever be known as "Honesty Night". Wowsers.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

More Randoms

Short post to say that I really like this Droid Razr commercial right now.

Idol's Final Five: What Needs to Happen, What Probably Will, and What We Can Do About It (Nothing!)

We're finally down to the final five, that austere moment in the Idolverse where we start widdling down the really great contestants to get to the okay contestant that will win the show. I kid, I kid. (But seriously, let's be honest with ourselves about the quality of the last couple of winners of this show!) With Elise's unceremonious departure following two of her better performances, Skylar's SHOCKING appearance in the bottom three after one of her very best, and Phillip's amazing ability to skate by on sub-par jam band songs with a wink and a smile I'm starting to feel a little nervous about where we're heading. I really don't know who that second person in the finale is going to be for the first time in a while, and I don't think anyone can beat Phillip.

Don't get me wrong: I rag on Phillip/Dave, but I like him okay. I'd probably buy his record if he proves astute in song-writing, but how depressing would it be to see another cute white guy with a guitar win the show and sell 150,000 copies of his debut record? For singing reality shows to continue (and there are some of us that still like them!), shows like Idol and The Voice need to produce popstars with radio-friendly potential. I genuinely love a lot of the singer-songwriters that Idol has produced (I'm thinking of the underrated post-Idol efforts of Crystal Bowersox, Brooke White, Michael Johns, Katelyn Epperly, Tim Halperin, and even David Cook and Kris Allen), and I look forward to future releases from the likes of Elise Testone, Colton Dixon, and Phillip Phillips, but I want someone with pop potential like Skylar, Hollie, or Jessica to win the show. Scotty McCreery, in spite of the boring way he played Idol, has been good for business; David Cook, Kris Allen, and Lee Dewyze have not. Idol needs another Jordin Sparks, pronto. (Btw, is anyone else REALLY excited about Jordin's new movie remake, Sparkle? Seriously, watch the trailer! "Why would the Lord give me this gift if I wasn't supposed to use it?" Get it, Jordin! I digress.)

I would never leave you without a solution to the problem of this season's deserved Idol winner, though, now would I? As I see it, that solution is Skylar Laine. No matter what happens in the next four weeks of this show, it seems almost a sure thing that Skylar's going to have a music career, post-Idol. Frankly, she's the kind of artist 19 has been looking for. She's only (just) 18 (as the show likes to remind us), but she's a more mature singer/performer/show-woman (not a word in my computer's dictionary, although "showman" is. Hmmm) than many Idol teens that have come before her, and according to Jimmy, she writes, too. She hasn't had a bad performance in weeks, and her performance of Queen's "The Show Must Go On" last week was kind of legend. As J-Lo pointed out last week (and I pointed out six weeks ago. Just sayin'), she's a great storyteller, which is 90% of why she's believable as a country singer. Plus, anyone that can make me like/download "Wind Beneath My Wings" must be an evil genius.

I shouldn't have to sell Skylar to you at this point in the competition, though. If you're like me, you've probably already chosen your favorite, and it either includes the country vixen or it doesn't. These kids aren't earning more fans at this point: they're simply trying to keep their fanbases from getting apathetic. I'm just saying that Skylar is crazy-marketable and she's going to have a huge career no matter what the speed-dialling teens do this season. According to Billboard, Kellie Pickler is the fourteenth best-selling Idol artist ever, and she finished in sixth place.*** Also, lest we forget, Miranda Lambert got started on a reality show, too. On the USA Network. And she was third. (If you haven't seen Miranda's Nashville Star performances before, this one is fab.) It probably won't happen, but my point is that it would just be awesome to see a winner in the Skylar mould. Dare to dream. Fangirl rant over.

Before I wrap up this little soapbox (and if you're still reading, good for you!), I also wanted to add a little word about the other three contestants, any of which would be fabulous winners this season, as well. I'm still waiting for Joshua to sing something I want to listen to over and over again, although that India.Arie song was lovely. I can't really fault him for being himself, though. He's undoubtedly a great singer, and I look forward to seeing what he can do with it next.

Jessica is definitely getting better, post-elimination/save, showing (probably!) real emotion with that wonky "Dance with My Father" song (the horrible silhouette behind her did no one any favors). Whether you like her, find her robotic, or both (I think that's where I am with her), you can't deny how special her voice is. With the right songs, she could have a huge career after this thing is done.

I saved Hollie for last because she's become a little bit of a loveable underdog for me lately. I think her "Rollin' in the Deep" performance last week was shockingly good, and I actually loved both of her performances this week. "The Climb" is the PERFECT (pehr-fehct?) song choice for her because she can sing over it rather than up to it. She's finally starting to show some of her adorable personality in her performances (even though her wardrobe situation is still a strange mix of business casual and pageant-wear), she no longer looks terrified onstage, and she's singing really well. It's likely too little too late to compete with the others, but I wouldn't be upset to see her stay a couple more weeks. She should be right at home with this week's British Invasion theme, in any case.

Sorry for the essay, you guys! I get a little carried away sometimes. I take my Idol-watching a little too seriously :) I'm also really bad at conclusions, so, the end.

***Btw, you guys, Kellie Pickler's new record 100 Proof is so good! I finally caved and downloaded it, and it's been on non-stop iPod rotation since. Her voice is smoother and lovelier than I've ever heard before from her, and the songs have that great Pickler-esque blend of hillbilly spunk and heart. Instant classic.

When Our Eyes Roll: TV and the Perpetuation of Bad Theology

Your facepalm TV moment of the week comes to you courtesy of April Kepner (Sarah Drew) on the latest instalment of Grey's Anatomy (ever the bastion of intelligent commentary): "I was a virgin because I love Jesus; now Jesus hates me."

Ugh, Chagrin.

Always nice to hear that a TV Christian who believes in her faith enough to stay a virgin into her late twenties (presumably?) could get through university, med school, and residency without understanding the grace and love of Christ. Oh, Shonda Rhimes, your characters make me sad.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

'Make It or Break It' Officially Cancelled

After ABC Family's promo department not-so-subtly let the cat out of the bag after this week's AWESOME episode of Make It or Break It, the show's creator has officially announced its cancellation. Although this is not exactly news (since rumors about this one being its final season were endemic to talks about it even being picked up for a third season), I've still got to give this news a sad trombone.

And yet, somehow Secret Life soldiers on.

Monday, 23 April 2012

'American Idol', Top 6

With last week's relatively shocking elimination, we're finally down to six. In one fell swoop (and two very underwhelming performances) Colton Dixon, who was considered by many (including yours truly) to be a lock for a hometown visit, leaves, and we suddenly have quite a race on our hands. Idol history tells us that the winner probably won't be someone who has spent any time in the bottom three, which at this point leaves us with Phillip Phillips as the perennial favorite. Fantasia and Kris Allen are the lone exceptions to this bottom three rule, but season three (Fantasia's season) is a universe away from the Idol we currently know, and Kris's appearance in the bottom three came during top five week, when the horse race was almost too close to call.

I'm not willing to call Phillip the winner just yet, though. I would like to believe (even though it's probably a delusion) that someone besides a cute white guy with a guitar can win this show. Hmmm. If Phillip finds himself in the bottom three just once, it truly is anyone's ballgame. (Sorry, I'll nix the sports metaphors from here out.)

The strangest thing about this season for me is how much I genuinely like all of the contestants. I think they're more evenly matched than nearly any season in recent memory. Season five also had an amazing top six, except for, oddly, its winner Taylor Hicks. Rounding out the top six that season? Katharine McPhee, Elliot Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, and Paris Bennett. This season has an oddly reminiscent air about it. Most of them are performing so well that contestants aren't going home because of "poor" performances, but rather because of slightly dull ones. It's been really interesting to watch.

To do something different, then, here the strengths and weaknesses of the remaining Idolestants in alphabetical order:

Strengths: Likeability; powerhouse pipes; charisma when she lets loose; teenager-ness; spunky accent.
Weaknesses: Stuck in the boring, powerhouse diva vocal category, otherwise known as the "Pia Zone"; often seems unnatural and robotic; boring and overly ambitious/old song choices.

Hollie's greatest asset at this point is her likeability. It's not surprising that on a week many saw her going home (the first top seven episode), she survived after an adorable clip package showed her goofing around with Joshua. Her personality has finally started to emerge in the last couple of weeks, and, with that little rebirth, she's started to sing better. Her cover of "Rolling in the Deep" was grrrreat! Adele covers are terrible ideas, but she owned this one and showed some confidence in the process. I don't see Hollie winning, but she very well could scrape by to the top four, maybe three, with a couple of good weeks. Voters love to see growth.

Strengths: Consistency; showmanship; personality; ability to tell a story in a 90 second performance; song choices; authenticity.
Weaknesses: Some people don't like country music; range often overshadowed by the other teens in the competition.

Skylar is everything we wanted Lauren Alaina to be last season. She's authentic, smart, a true performer, and has one heckuva voice that she somehow manages to keep surprising us with. I'm constantly impressed with her ability to own her performances, with so much natural charisma. And she hasn't had a bad performance in weeks. Her only trip to the bottom three, after she covered Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead", was probably, as Jimmy rightly pointed out, because she sang a song with a lot of character but not a lot of emotion. She hasn't made that mistake again. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I'm rooting for Skylar to steal this thing from Phillip. I think she's the dark horse.

Strengths: That voice; ability to tame his voice when needed; humility; onstage charisma; excellent selection of slightly-too-small-but-somehow-just-right jackets.
Weaknesses: Song choices tend to somehow all be oldies; post-Idol album potential; the fact that he's not a white guy with a guitar (a quality which frankly applies to all but one in this competition).

Joshua has been a real surprise for me this season. I'm constantly floored by his ability to perform like a freaking pro! I think it was his performance of "When a Man Loves a Woman" that first made me pay attention to his natural charisma and performance instincts. His transformation from mild-mannered teenager (yes, teenager!) in real life to sixties-era soul singer onstage is still shocking to me every week. I think his biggest hurdle is song choice, though. He seems like a singer that was born 40 years too late, and except for the Bruno Mars song he did two weeks ago, he has yet to show that he can sing contemporary pop hits believably. Love Joshua, but would be surprised to see him in the top three.

Strengths: Cute, white boy with a guitar; "unique" voice; natural sexiness; song re-arranger; personality; sticks to a winning formula.
Weaknesses: Does the same thing every week (!!!); not great with melody; aversion to change.

I know I sound grumpy about him, but I really do like Phillip! Unlike the other contestants, though, he doesn't need my encouragement. As I said earlier, I think he's the frontrunner, and it would be surprising to see him land in the bottom three. As someone who likes Phillip's potential, I'm frustrated by his inability to change up his shtick every week. Even Crystal Bowersox, who arrived on the Idol stage every ounce the musician that Phillip is, tried new things and experimented with different kinds of sounds. When I think back on Phillip's performances, I hear one long jam-band tune accented by a signature growl. Last week's "U Got It Bad" cover was great, but somehow still the same as his other performances. I guess the argument is that if it ain't broke, there's no need to fix it (much like Scotty did. The. Whole. Season.), but I'm just bored with him at the moment. Rant over.

Strengths: Best voice in the competition; ability to control and finesse her vocal runs better than anyone else; excellent at taking advice; marketable.
Weaknesses: Has already been voted off by America; falls into the "singing-by-numbers" category; too young.

"Too young" may seem slightly unfair to rail against Jessica, but the charge is not to do with her vocal maturity, but rather her emotional maturity. Her instrument is incredible, and her vocal prowess unmatched by anyone in the competition, but I don't know that I believe her all the time when she's singing. On the radio, this is not something that makes a massive difference, but when she's performing on TV, I never feel like the beautiful runs she's doing reflect a connection to the song. Her Whitney Houston cover was an amazing vocal performance because Jessica is a great student with an uncanny ear, not because she was feeling the emotion of the song. If she can have one or two truly emotional, affective performances, she's got a shot at being in the final two.

Strengths: Most downloadable voice in the competition; seasoned musician; best potential for really high highs ("Whole Lotta Love"; "Vienna"); not afraid to try new things; sang "Dreams" with Stevie Nicks!
Weaknesses: Personality on results shows is perceived by some as "stank"; occasionally questionable song choices; "vacation home" in the bottom three; age.

I hate to put "age" in there as a weakness (mainly because Elise is younger than this blogger), but women over the age of 20 do not do well in this competition. Melinda Doolittle was the closest "old lady" to ever get to the finale (she was 29), but she of course was eliminated instead of Blake Lewis (a cute, white boy with a kind of instrument. See a pattern?) for the finale. At this point Elise, with her fabulously smoky rasp and refreshingly adult point of view, will be lucky to make the final four. Sad trombone.

'Make It or Break It' and Maintaining Balance (heh.)

This is a laudatory note to say that after a 7th Heaven-level awkward season premiere, I'm so happy to report that Make It or Break It has returned to form. I was seriously doubting my allegiance to the ABC Family fan favorite after its wonky season three premiere a few weeks ago, which followed the three main Rock girls as they checked into a college-like camp for Olympic hopefuls in Colorado Springs away from their meddling parental figures. It was uncomfortably awkward and laced with saccharin from start to finish. turns out that all the annoying squeeeees from our three leads was actually a kind of excellent way of setting up one of the central conflicts in this season's early episodes, namely, how the girls will go from BFFAEs to competitors on the Olympic team. Well played, show. MIOBI usually lets us live in the fantasy world that all of the main girls will be successful in their sport, so there's little reason to doubt that they'll all make the squad, but that's okay. The show is about the journey, the training, and how the dream effects the friendships.

I think this show really thrives when it's offering a balance between soapy intrigue and actual gymnastics, and the last three or so episodes have done that really well. When it gets too soapy, it's usually at the expense of showing the girls being athletes, which undermines the whole trajectory of the show. I like that the climax in the episode "Time is of the Essence" was the girls coming to an understanding with their clueless coach about his methods, rather than Payson's cute crush asking her to be his girlfriend (which is an adorable-in-every-way puppy love situation, but not the point of Payson [Ayla Kell] as a character). In fact, those of us who have been on semi-competitive teams with adolescent girls can attest to the drama that can develop naturally between athletes and other athletes, and athletes and their coach. I really like when MIOBI goes there, but manages makes the drama palpable.

I also really like all the character additions. It's nice to see Kelly Parker (Nichole Anderson) getting to do things other than backstabbing, and Chelsea Tavares is doing a fabulous job of keeping Jordan Randall interesting with a vulnerable glance here and there. For the record, I still think what happened with Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbes) is uber-shady on the show's part, but I hate to admit that the new set-up has kept me from missing her.

All this is to say that I'm really liking Make It or Break It these days. It ain't gonna win any Emmys, but it knows how to please its audience. Well done, show!

Monday, 26 March 2012

'Make It or Break It' Finally Returns!

In case you weren't aware (and why would you be with ABC Family's lax advertising budget for this show?), Make It or Break It is returning to our TVs tonight.

According to Josie Loren (who plays Kaylie Cruz), the show's had a huge makeover this season, too. The girls are training at the Olympic Training Center now, which means Sasha and probably the parents drama are gone. Chelsea Hobbs's Emily is still unfortunately gone, as well.

I hope the changes are for the better, though. The network really kept MIOBI on the back-burner for a long time, and this season is its last, so soak it up, teen drama fans!

This Week's Random TV Thoughts

Re: Idol. Agree with this 100%.

Ringer has gotten A LOT better. Has anyone else been watching this? It was one of the worst new pilots this season, but it has wiggled its way into priority viewing for me each week. It's a show defies intelligent commentary (not that I do that here anyway!), but is a blast in a One Tree Hill kind of way. Sarah Michelle Geller has finally figured out what she's doing with these characters, and I'm also loving the addition of Sean Patrick Thomas to the cast. Unexpected, but fabulous. One question, though: how could Kristoffer Polaha be so wonderful on Life Unexpected yet so horrible on this? They need to figure out what they're doing with that character.

Speaking of One Tree Hill, I've been enjoying most of OTH's swan song. [SPOILERS!] Nathan's kidnapping and Dan's mission to spring him have been excellently OTT in the way that I like from OTH. You may disagree with me on this, but I actually think Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Galeotti have emerged from this show as pretty good actors. They both offer the most compelling subplots because of how well they carry them. I cannot say the same for Clay and Quinn. Wow, I so don't care about his quest to rediscover his son!

It's a little post-hype, but I totally saw the Pretty Little Liars reveal coming! [SPOILERS!] I mean, duh, Mona was involved! I loved how they handled the big revelation of A (well, one of the A's), but kept the stakes high for next season. Regarding Maya's death, I've been reading message boards, and apparently some people are/were actually fans of Emily and Maya. I thought most PLL fans were unanimous on two points: 1) That Spencer would be a really good friend; 2) That Maya was crazy-cakes. Very strange.

NBC's Awake is freaking fantastic! Have you guys been watching this? Jason Isaacs is the perfect actor to take on this character, and he's extremely compelling in this psychological mind-twister. Loving everything about it so far.

This almost made me pee in my pants.

The episode of Once Upon a Time entitled "Heart of Darkness" (how many times did you have to read that book in college, btw? For me, it was a least three.) featured several really great ACTING! moments from Ginnifer Goodwin, but especially in the scene in which she [SPOILERS!] tries to shoot the Queen, but hits James/David instead and then remembers love. The way she played that scene reminded me of why I loved her so much Big Love. That single tear was devastating. Still really enjoying OUAT, btw.

Happy Endings is getting funnier and funnier, if that's even possible. If you're not watching it, you're missing out!

Not loving this new subplot about Grayson having a kid on Cougar Town. The same thing pretty much ruined Luke on Gilmore Girls for me.

'Idol''s Top 9 and EVP Rage

Let's start with the EVP rage. I don't have to tell you that Erika Van Pelt's elimination last week was a travesty, another disturbing example of collective Idol voter lady-hating. But we're used to this by now, aren't we? The last FOUR winners of this show have been "cute" (even in my teen years, I would not have found Scotty cute), straight white guys with guitars. Voters always pick off the women early on, and Erika was just too awesome with her perfect vocals and fearless last minute makeover for the voters to relate. Erika ended her Idol run with a great swan song performance (in spite of Randy's awkward "nah" response to Ryan's obligatory question about whether they were going to save Erika), a rad haircut, and a spot on the Idol tour.

EVP, I salute you, and since your votes will likely transfer over to Team Elise, know that your sacrifice is not in vain.

Here's a really good recap of the results show injustice, along with a hilarious screen shot of J-Lo caught mid-mean girl. I wished he had mentioned the infamous women-with-tattoos Idol conspira-theory, though. It's a real thing, and it's ruining the record industry.

Never forget.

Moving on. I didn't post last week because I frankly had very little to rant about. I think we ended up with a Perfect Top Ten this year, which softens the blow of Erika's premature elimination a little bit for me. I don't think a top ten (now nine. Sigh) has been this full of legitimate talent since maybe season seven. And that year, we still had to endure this (bless her). Instead, then, of listing all of them in order by favorite this week, I've split them into three categories.


Colton Dixon: Colton has been quietly contending for the Idol crown since Hollywood Week. His skinny jeans and skunk hair may bug some people, but he came into the competition already packaged to be a certain kind of artist, and I think he has done an excellent job in the competition so far. His voice is radio-friendly; he writes his own music, which from the snippets we've heard sound pretty good; and he performs well. He has also, arguably, been the most consistent contestant in the competition this season. I don't see him going home any time soon/at all.

Skylar Laine: Skylar is such an exciting performer to watch, and she seems to have a great personality to match. The energy she brings to her performances seems genuine, and, like Philip, she seems unable to contain herself from feeling whatever she's singing. It's freaking mesmerizing! My favorite thing about her, though, is that, like all good country singers, she is masterful at telling stories through her songs. She made me believe that Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" was a country song about, well, a broken heart, even though of course I knew better! She's great, and the voters seem to be recognizing that, as well. It's hard to imagine her being in imminent elimination danger even with a bad performance.

Phillip Phillips: This might seem hypocritical, but even though I love Phillip's performances (in spite of the Dave Matthews-ness and the shouting), I don't want him to win the show because he's a cute white boy with a guitar. I want a woman to win the show to prove that it's still possible. Frankly, after his reluctance to take the advice of Jimmy, Puffy, and Tommy Hilfiger (not a bad thing! It was awkward advice!) it seems like Phillip would be miserable if he won the show and had to be marketed by 19 as a Pop Idol anyway. That said, I think he really could win this show. I love the authenticity of his performances and even the liberties he takes with melodies. Last week's "Movin' Out" almost seems like a song he could have written. No question that Phillips' got the potential to go all the way this season.

Jessica Sanchez: When the gospel choir came onstage this week during Jessica's performance of that random song about dreams (did that song only have, like, one lyric repeated to infinity?), I didn't even notice they were there for a while because she was singing so well. At no point has she ever let the music or background vocals overpower her singing (no small feat on the Idol stage), and when she's onstage, she displays such control over what she's doing that it's hard to believe she's only 16. Every week, I find myself shocked anew by the power in her voice and the strength in her lower register. I think she's the best out and out vocalist in this competition, and as long as she keeps making us believe that she believes what she's singing, I think she's the perennial favorite for this year's title.


Hollie Cavanagh: I love Hollie's what-the-what?! belter voice, her weird but cool (English plus North Texan minus British inflected) accent, and how she somehow resembles a Disney woodland creature, but the ballads are hurting her. Last week, I would have put her in the above category, but then she sang another ballad, and this time it wasn't as well executed as the others she's done. I think of all the contestants on the show, she has the best shot at experiencing a true "Idol journey. I don't think she can win, though, unless she proves she can sing something 1) up-tempo; and 2) contemporary. And at this point, she may be in the Pia zone.

Joshua Ledet: It pains me a little to put Joshua in this category, but unless he can choose better songs, I don't think he can win this. Do I even need to talk about how freaking fantastic his performance of "When a Man Loves a Woman" was two weeks ago? My roommate is a casual watcher/occasional hater at best, but we were both more than a little mesmerized/sent into a frenzy with that performance. I want more of Joshua showing that kind of insane charisma and less of last week's intrusive gospel choir in his performances. I think/hope he's got a real shot at getting to the top three, but unless he can be a little more consistent with song choices, I don't see him winning.

Elise Testone: Elise is my favorite contestant in this competition, and if my history with these things proves consistent, I will be downloading whatever records she releases in the future. I love everything about her smoky rasp, and I love love love the fact that she is a musician who has been working at this for a long time. Her performance this week of "Vienna" was so perfect, I can't believe more people aren't talking about it. She even started in the pit of destruction, and walked through the crowd to the stage without losing focus! No one ever does that successfully! I don't think she can win the show, though, because frankly she's a 28 year-old woman, and she's already been in the bottom three twice. If the triumphant top 3 march of Haley Reinhart taught us anything (LOVED Haley's results show performance last week, btw!), though, it's that sometimes the voters can actually surprise us. I hope they surprise us with Elise.


Deandre Brackensick: Deandre seems like such a sweetie, but I find the hairography and the bouncy bouncy stage presence odd and off-putting. His voice is so beautiful and even mature, but what is he trying to do onstage? He really doesn't have amazing stage presence, which is a shame because his voice is attention-grabbing on its own. He also falls into the questionable song choice category, even more so than everyone else. I really like him, but I think his Idol days are numbered.

Heejun Han: Last week's insane "I was just having fun" performance "My Life" was horrid, and takes me back to horrible Sanjaya places in my Idol memory that I thought I had locked away forever. It was a terrible vocal and performance in the grand tradition of Josh Gracin's "Jive Talkin'" and John Stevens' "Crocodile Rock". Ugh, Heejun. Just, ugh. It's so wrong that Erika went home last week. Love Heejun's tone, but he's out of his league.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

American Idol, Top 12!

You guys, I'm really excited about American Idol this season. There are about 10 contestants remaining that I actually like! In the last three or four seasons, I'd say that I have actively disliked at least half of each group. This year's crop for the most part seem to have what I like in an Idolestant: Vocal chops! Personality! Musical taste! The ones I don't like, well, they're pretty much of the season 9 mould (excluding Crystal Bowersox, who is AWESOME): Vocally unsteady. Overly confident. Not ready for primetime. I think, and you may disagree with me on this, that Whitney Houston/Stevie Wonder night was among one of the best openings to the finals that I can remember, and obviously with the Whitney juggernaut looming, it could have been a disaster. Going into it, I would have described last week's theme as the Hunger Games arena of theme weeks: only one or two will be left standing. Thankfully, that was not the case. I can't remember liking so many performances in one performance show since season 7. Let's just hope the contestants can build on previous performances and get creative with their songs from here on out. I'd love to have a crazy combination of vocal powerhouse Idol and song arrangement Idol smacking us in the face each week for once. Here's to early season hope!

Here's my list of favorites in descending order:

12. Jermaine Jones: Ugh, this guy. I know his initial pre-top 24 elimination was "emotional" for the judges, but they should have trusted their initial instinct about him. His voice is certainly interesting, but not necessarily in a good way. His performance last week was all over the place, and if I'm being honest, I don't like the sound of his voice anyway. Plus, his stank, entitled attitude during the elimination episode, coupled with Ryan's constant description of him as a "Gentle Giant" (do we need one of those?) have solidified his standing at the bottom of this season's talent.

11. Shannon Magrane: Poor, tall Shannon. Kid's just out of her league. She seems like a sweet girl, and I like the personality she's shown in the non-singing portions of the program, but her ill-advised attempt at "I Have Nothing" last week showed all her flaws. It was also a little troubling when she told the cameras backstage that apart from the one note, it was a good vocal. Mmm, girl: it was not.

10. Joshua Ledet: I think this is controversial. I can't deny that Joshua's voice is awesome. It's objectively great, in fact. Something about him, though, is not connecting for me. For one, I'm not crazy about his song choices, but at this point in the competition, that's not totally fair. In the Hollywood rounds, I was still suffering from PJLSD (you know, Post Jacob Lusk Stress Disorder), and it seemed like Joshua, as a gospel singer with an ability to go way over the top with his vocals, might be reviving horrible Lusky memories. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case either. I'm optimistic about Joshua, but for right now, I'm going to need something more to draw me in.

9. Deandre Brackensick: He seems like such a sweetie! It was nice to finally see him come out of his shell a little bit when Ryan questioned him about his cry-reaction to making the finals, and it seems like he's finally gaining some confidence. I really liked his performance last week, even though I would never be able to tell you without cheating 1) the name of the song he performed; or 2) any of the words from it. I also liked that he put his hair back for the performance: a subtle, but significant styling choice that made all the difference. Like with Joshua, what could potentially push Deandre over the edge for me is song choice. I'm a fan, though!

8. Heejun Han: Ha! What a goober! I love this guy's personality and think he actually has a shockingly beautiful voice. I don't think it's as strong as Joshua's or Deandre's, but when he's in his pocket, it's lovely. My fear for Heejun is that he'll survive in this competition too long, at the expense of some people who are a bit more versatile as vocalists. Until he sings something up-tempo or even something that reflects his personality, Heejun is going to be a question mark. Love him, though!

7. Hollie Cavanagh: The adorable little woodland creature! Hollie is so good when she's confident. Of all the contestants on this show, I think she's got the greatest shot at having a true "Idol journey this season, and if she keeps singing solidly, revealing a little bit more personality (and her fantastically bizarro hybrid accent!), she's got a legitimate shot at the title this year. I'd love to see something like that!

6. Colton Dixon: Loved, loved, loved his performance of "Lately" last week. He David Cooked it a little bit with the arrangement, while managing to maintain the integrity of the melody. His vocal wasn't perfect, but the changes in that song are brutal and I thought he did an admirable job. If Colton could fix his hair, I'd probably consider myself a fangirl. I really like the way he sings. I think he's extremely radio-friendly right now.

5. Jessica Sanchez: Her vocal on the Whitney Houston (ahem, Dolly Parton) Beast last week was undeniable. Wowsers. I think that song requires more of a build than 90 seconds can give it, but no one has ever sung it that well on Idol before, and previous seasons are littered with the eliminations of those who have tried. My favorite part of the performance occurs in this video at about the 1:30 mark. In spite of how well she had sung up to that point, I was nervous about the final "And I-ee-I-ee-I..." bit. At that point in the song, however, she got this little smirk on her face that alerted us to the fact that she was in control of what she was doing. I've heard that she's been criticized for being too robotic/unemotional when she sings, but I'm not too bothered by that when she delivers a vocal like last week.

4. Elise Testone: I'm so sad she got turned into a punching bag this week. How quickly we forget that she was the Katniss in the Adele semi-final arena two weeks ago (y'all, I'm really excited for Hunger Games next week. NEXT WEEK! SQUEEEEEE!!!). Her vocal was still solid on the song she didn't choose to sing, but almost resulted in her elimination nonetheless. Last week, Elise had Carly Smithson syndrome: she tried to please, when she should have stayed true to her instincts. I think she'll win back voters, but I'm so sad that one of the most interesting vocalists in the competition almost got voted off in week one.

3. Phillip Phillips: What can I say about Phillip? That his voice sends me into a frenzy every week? That I find his spazzy performance antics adorable and I love them? You've heard all that before. I think I'm liking Phillip right now because of how much he seems to love the music that he plays, and the way it spills out of him in every performance. So glad he's doing well on this show, but I want the winner this year to be a lady, so I'll enjoy him in the meantime.

2. Skylar Laine: Skylar's the real deal. J-Lo's made the apt Reba comparison a few times, but I think Miranda Lambert needs to be thrown in there as well. There's something very un-Idol about a country girl singing with authenticity. I liked Lauren Alaina last year, but I didn't think she was ready to be a country star, and Skylar's performances show exactly why not. Country music is at its best when singers tell a story and you can believe that they're telling the truth. Skylar gets that in a way that neither Scotty (ugh) or Lauren did last season. To take Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and to turn it into what sounded like an actual country song was genius. I believed the story she was telling. Actual vocal chops to go along with the whole package certainly help matters, as well!

1. Erika van Pelt: EVP! I'm such a fan! The restraint she shows every single time she sings is so refreshing on this show. I love her vocal power, but I love that she knows how to harness it for what the songs need. Her performance of "I Believe in You and Me" was my favorite of a very good night because of the vocal choices she made with it. Rather than the nervous fumbling that often characterizes Idolestants early in the season, I felt like I was watching a pro. She's fantastic! Now, if we could just get the Idol stylists to quit hating on her....

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Idol Pre-Season Wishlist

Tonight the real season of American Idol begins. With the first half (plus one. Why Idol?) of the Top 25 performing for votes, we get to hear complete (albeit pared down to 90 seconds) performances by the Idolestants, and the chance to finally see how these kids fare on the big stage! I love the semi-finals! The potential for break-out stars and exciting new performers is just too enticing to turn truly cynical about the ageing Idol formula.

Going into the season, I wasn't totally sure how I was going to feel about this season of Idol, given the reality singing competition overload we as a collective viewing public have been smacked with this past year. I wasn't sure if X-Factor's awfulness would have left a permanently bitter taste in my mouth. After the Vegas episode, though, I realized that I'm invested. This year's top 24 - umm - 25, is (dare I say it?) one of the most exciting in recent memory. Wowsers, this could be a cool season!***

So, before the season officially gets kicked off later, I wanted to provide my own little pre-season Idol cover wishlist. I've always had a wishlist; I've just never shared it before. In the past, only a few contestants have sung my wishlist songs, but whenever they have, it's been awesome (Crystal Bowersox singing "Up to the Mountain" springs to mind).**** Two of my all-time favs have already been covered this season ("Dedicated to the One I Love" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"), so I'm optimistic that anything awesome could happen. If any of the Idolestants sing any of these songs this season without sucking, they get major points from me (btw, the artists listed are not always the original artists. I'm not a musical history moron ;)):

"Dream a Little Dream of Me" by Mama Cass
"My Man" from Funny Girl (it would have to be a theme night)
"In My Life" by the Beatles
"I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor (but closer to this version)
"Droplets" by Colbie Caillat
"All I Wanted" by Paramore
"Truth No. 2" by the Dixie Chicks
"Long Ride Home" by Patty Griffin
"Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor
"I Know" by Fiona Apple (it could be a moment for someone!) (also, this is a wishful thinking list at parts)
"I'm Movin' On" by Rascal Flatts
"Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" by Garth Brooks
"Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" by Lauryn Hill
"Young Blood" by the Naked and Famous
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" by the Platters
"Somewhere" from West Side Story
"Breakin' Up" by Rilo Kiley
"Be My Baby" by the Ronettes
"Very Last Country Song" by Sugarland

If anyone covers these songs this season, we all lose:
"Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" by Phil Collins (kiss of death song)
"Alone" by Heart (Carrie owns it, and she lent it to Allison Iraheta, but no one else is allowed to partake. Sorry)
"I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston (even singing the Dolly version will invite comparisons that should be best left alone)
"Up to the Mountain" by Patty (nope. It began with Kelly and ended with Crystal)
"Daydream Believer" by the Monkees (we all have Shrek to thank for killing that one)
"Fallin'" by Alicia Keys
"I'll Be" by Edwin McCain
"I Feel the Earth Move" by Carole King (song that never seems to go the way the Idolestant thinks it will)
"(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas
"I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith (I just can't stand this song any more)
""Ain't Goin' Down ('Til The Sun Comes Up)" by Garth Brooks (kiss of death song. Avoid)
"Imagine" by John Lennon (I don't think the Idolestants really get this song when they sing it. They should just not sing it anyway)
"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley (Done. To. Death.)

***The only elimination I was truly upset by was Lauren Gray's. I still don't really understand why they gave her the axe, and the whole post-top-8-Lauren-Alaina (e.g., lacking in self confidence) edit they gave her felt extremely forced. I'll probably pout about her for a little while this season. She may have been my favorite going into this round.

****With one exception: Ramiele Malubay maimed my all time favorite song here.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Concerning the Return of 'Idol' and 'The Voice'

By now those of you who watch reality singing competition shows (moi aussi!) are probably revelling in the excitement of not just one, but two pretty good ones on your TV these days. Don't know about you guys, but I found X-Factor painful. It took all of the most obnoxious qualities of shows in this genre, used them, and then threw its own over-the-top ridiculatta in the mix. There were so many ill-used tropes that I can't even list them all here. Feel free to rag on it as much as you wish in the comment section with my full support.

I use X-Factor as my example of how not to do a reality singing show because it excellently highlights all the things American Idol and The Voice are doing right. I admit that I was not on the Voice's hype train last season. I watched it out of crush devotion to Blake Shelton and to see the multitudinous ways Xtina tried to make us believe she's just a real gal (she's never let me down). In general, though, most of its debut season, like a scrubbier version of X-Factor seemed too forced to me -- namely the disingenuous jump-cut editing of the blind auditions to the rapid-fire elimination of contestants to TRL's Carson Daly -- and I wasn't very emotionally attached.

This season, though, they've worked out the kinks, and the result is a much smoother, more enjoyable ride.** Where on Idol I want to see and hear less from the judges, the opposite is true on The Voice. Judge chemistry has reached new levels this time around, and now that they've all got a season under their belts, it's fun to see the various ways the judges are playing the game. Nothing exemplifies the fun, light feel of the season so far for me like Cee-Lo Green, who, as a friend so wisely pointed out to me one time, somehow looks a little like Verne Troyer, stroking his Dr Evil kitty while doing confessionals. LOVE.

I can't say that Idol has really done anything to reinvent the wheel this season, but last week's group round and Vegas performances made me really excited about what's to come this season. I recently read an interesting article by Mark Harris in Entertainment Weekly, arguing basically that The Voice is more in touch with viewers in the way that initially made Idol a huge success, and that Idol has lost its touch. While this was an easy thing to say after the terrible first two Hollywood Week episodes of this season's Idol (you remember: a girl fell off the stage and we had to see it about 17 times in an hour, and then we got nary a note of singing after group night drama), last week's Vegas episode packed in about 50 above average to excellent singers singing clever arrangements of songs from the 1950s. It also gave us plenty of heroes (Erika van Pelt; Lauren Gray; Philip Phillips), villains (Randy; "Cowboy" Richie), and aggressive hipsters (looking at you, Reed Grimm) to give us people to root for and against. The Voice is certainly more bent on welcoming a truly diverse range of singers, and is more tolerant and open about different lifestyles, something Idol should learn from, but generally speaking, Idol can be darn good TV when it wants to be.

Also, and this may just be my own projections, it seems like Idol has fewer precocious teenagers left than it did at this point last year. Yay!

Now, because I like to make lists, here are the contestants from both shows I'm most looking forward to this season. It's too early to go negative, so I'll wait until Idol whittles it down to 24 for that. At this point in the season, it's a little hard to remember all the people I like on The Voice, so these are just a few standouts. More to come.

The Voice:

Tony Lucca (Team Adam): I totally remembered him from MMC and, oh yes, Malibu Shores!

Sarah Golden (Team Cee Lo): The "ugly girl" edit she got was super weird. I think she's got a great set of pipes and an artist vibe. Plus, she sang my fav Gaga jam, "You and I".

The Line (Team Christina): For some reason, this is one of the auditions I remember the most because they remind me of the awesome country duos that came out of the depressingly short-lived CMT series Can You Duet (from which came Joey and Rory, Steel Magnolia, and the Stellas). I hope we get a lot more of their harmonies.

American Idol:

Baylie Brown: Loved her audition in Galveston, but am a little worried about why they're keeping her under wraps during the crazy pre-semis. I hope it's because they expect to drop a "where'd she come from" bomb in the semi-finals.

Hallie Day: After going full-on "Backstory Idol" with her during the auditions, they haven't showed her singing much in Hollywood. I'm sort of hoping she'll make it to the top 24 and wow us all in the first round.

Lauren Gray: Yeah, so they gave her the Carrie Underwood edit when she auditioned. That's not her fault! Her controlled, raspy instrument is so up my alley. She handled herself hilariously with "Vocal Coach from Hell" Peggy Blu to then give this performance. Mmm, girl.

Heejun Han: Controversial. I like his voice (even though he needs some work), and I like his personality. It's not often we get that much sarcasm past the cheesy humor-prone Idol editors. I hope he sticks around for a little while.

Jenn Hirsch: This performance was sick. "Georgia on My Mind" is quickly becoming the new "Fallen" of the Hollywood and semi-final rounds, but what Jenn did with it was undeniably amazing. She came out of nowhere, but has emerged as one of the best voices on the show.

Skylar Laine: It was the attitude and stage presence she brought to this solo performance that made me sit up and listen. There's a maturity about her that I think Lauren Alaina could have really learned from last season. In Vegas she was in the group that sang one of my all-time favorite songs, "Dedicated to the One I Love", and as much as I tried to resist, I found myself completely sucked into that performance. She's on my watch list.

Aaron Marcellus: I thought he was the best thing about this Vegas performance of "Sealed With a Kiss". Idol needs his voice.

Erika van Pelt: She has been amazing from her audition when she sang another one of my all-time favs, Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow". Artist alert.

Philip Phillips: You guys, I'm in love. Along with 15 million other women. Yeah, his performance antics are a little spazzy, but he gets so into the music that it's hard to fault him for it. There's something really wonderful about his little-boy-at-Christmas love for playing music, as well as his ability to turn me into a puddle with a :15 second solo in this performance. I'll be really disappointed if we lose him early.

Jessica Sanchez: When she opened her mouth in this version of "It Doesn't Matter Anymore", I almost did a spit-take. Like, what the WHAT?! She and Deandre Brackensick are CHILDREN, but they and Candice Glover sang the ever lovin' funk out of that thing with attitude. I would download that performance.

**That's so something I would say about a new pair of running shoes. I'm running in the K-Swiss Blade Max Stable these days, by the way, guys, and they are a much smoother, more enjoyable ride.

Monday, 13 February 2012

'The Secret Circle''s Awesomeness

This weekend, I caught up on the last three episodes of The Secret Circle, which I had been intentionally saving up for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I'm pleased to report that the scars of my early addiction have been reopened. I don't have anything insightful to say about this show, but I wanted to reaffirm how much I'm enjoying it. Like The Vampire Diaries, it offers the perfect blend of YA drama (the school dance! the mysterious loner dude! BFF love/hate!) and high-stakes supernatural thrills. The "Valentine's Day" episode (excellently recapped and reviewed here. "Cassie is no Pokemon, Jake.") was simultaneously verrry creepy and believably adorable.

To pile onto the awesomeness this show is spewing out, Joe Lando, who played Sully on one of my first favorite shows ever, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (pause for nostalgic sigh), will be playing John Blackwell (at least we think that's who he is) in upcoming episodes! I KNEW I recognized that voice in the ad! Yesss.

Loving my teen shows right now.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Track and Field on TV recently posted an interesting op-ed (essentially) on how track and field is presented on TV, and some ways it could be improved (to put it nicely). I don't normally comment on sports on this blog because they tend to fall just slightly outside my made-up parameters for my posts. I can also get a little competitive with teams I follow, and so sometimes it's best to just let things go. I found this particular commentary from Flotrack really interesting from a TV programming perspective, however, and I wanted to add my two cents.

Let me preface this by saying I'm a big running geek. I ran cross country and track in college, and these days I try to follow what the pros are doing as much as I can. Let's be honest, though: to seek out info on professional runners, you have to want it. The interwebs have made it exponentially easier to follow the sport, and sites like and the pot-stirring have given track fans the opportunity to come out of the woodwork much more than when I was in high school. But it's not exactly the NFL.

US TV coverage of track meets and high-profile marathons has increased in the last decade, and it seems to me that track fans are actively trying to raise the profile of track events and American track and field athletes. It's fantastic to see athletes like Alyson Felix and Lolo Jones appear in national TV ads and on the covers of non-running magazines; Kara Goucher has also been a great national spokeswoman for distance runners (pro and amateur alike) who are also mothers. They're still not exactly household names, but at least some track and field athletes (who not coincidentally happen to be really pretty) are getting some advertising love for the sport. NBC's network Universal Sports has also given track fans the opportunity to watch international meets on TV, usually only 3 or 4 days after the meet actually happens. Because coverage of running events has previously been so sad, we tend to take whatever we can get!

The Flotrack article I cited above, however, makes some really valid points about the health of TV track coverage as we currently know it. It's an Olympic year, which is traditionally the one year in four that regular folks (e.g., not track geeks) actually pay attention to outdoor track, so the way broadcasters choose to show track meets proves especially important this year. When, as Ryan from Flotrack argues, announcers slag off the athletes in these meets, constantly harping on what they view as technical flaws, the announcers inadvertently create a kind of sport narrative that only gives credit to the best of the best athletes, while tearing down the ones not setting world best times and marks. I've noticed this on track broadcasts, as well, and have found it to be a bit disrespectful to these professional athletes who are at the top of their game. I guess one could argue that it's the same with football, basketball, and baseball commentators, but even if an NFL or college quarterback is having a rough game, you'll rarely hear the commentators rag on his lack of skill. It seems like a weird, critical double standard that we let slide because we don't have much track to watch.

This kind of approach at the very least does nothing to draw people into the sport. Sure, people who are watching a track meet on ESPN2 are probably into it already, but, like I said, in an Olympic year the track narrative broadcasters construct should be at least a more positive than a negative one to help people get excited about the sport. These athletes all deserve more respect for what they're able to do, even when they have inevitably rough seasons along the way. If average viewers rely on the announcers to tell them what they should be looking for, the announcers should be taking that responsibility seriously.

The Flotrack post also suggests that track broadcasts should follow through with their coverage of certain athletes they profile. I found this annoying during the World Champs this year, when they would build up certain athletes, giving us stories about them and interviews with them, only to forget to tell us that athlete failed to medal in the final. When you force me to emotionally invest, I want to share in both the triumph and the tragedy! I love athlete profiles because they humanize what can be a really technical (some small-minded folks might say "boring") sport. The human emotion at the core of competition, that primal urge to push through pain to win, is what makes this sport special. Humanizing the competitors is an excellent way to help viewers care.

As Ryan from Flotrack seems to argue, this sport can be extremely entertaining even if it's not built for entertainment first, and you don't have to be a runner (or sprinter or jumper or thrower or vaulter...) yourself to get it. I do hope that the Olympics this year opens up viewership of future track/running events, even though I know it probably won't. In the meantime, I agree that TV coverage could be a lot better.

Monday, 6 February 2012

NBC's 'Smash' Deserves to be Watched!

There are plenty of really stupid headline puns on the title of NBC's newest musical drama Smash that I won't make here. Instead, however, allow me some space to rave about a really fantastic pilot that kept me as engaged and excited as I was when I first watched the pilots to some of my favorite shows, such as Southland and The West Wing. Yeah, I'm comparing it to those pilots. This one was that good.

I've already spent a lot of e-ink blogging about what I see as characteristics of a good pilot, and why so often a series can't live up to a great pilot. Yes, I'm fully aware that Smash could be another Studio 60: a fantastic meta-theatrical pilot that maintains momentum for a little while before losing its mind and alienating its audience. But, y'all, this pilot was really great. It's smart and well-written without being pretentious; it's well-cast with dynamite performances; and it has that whole American dream/underdog thing at its core. I already wanted to like it, but I liked it so much more than I thought I would. For what it's worth, Smash gets a pass from me for a while.

For a smart, incisive review of the show, check out Maureen Ryan's rave review here. She rarely steers me wrong.

For my two cents, here's a list of things I LOVED about this pilot [SPOILER ICEBERG, DEAD AHEAD]:

- Katharine McPhee's opening audition scene, which her character Karen imagines herself singing on a big stage in lights. It's magical! It's her moment! THEN a cell phone rings, and the stage on which she imagines herself becomes a bleak audition room. The bubble bursts. Audition over. I love the tongue-in-cheek riffing on McPhee's Idol experience, and her most iconic performance on my admittedly favorite reality show. Classic!

- Characters I already root for.

- Snappy pacing: a show set in NYC needs to move quickly.

- Debra Messing back on my TV!

- Behind the Scenes musical theatre-ness! I love BTS-type shows, anyway, which is why Aaron Sorkin's shows have always struck a chord with me. This one is right up there with them for me.

- The fact that the centrepiece of this show, a Marilyn Monroe musical, requires us to think about Marilyn sympathetically. Much like the musical within the show, there's a sense that there's something special about this concept. Frankly, it made me want to watch All About Eve, How to Marry a Millionaire, and My Week with Marilyn again just to be on the same page as the characters.

- The whole "it's okay to dream big" theme that Glee has started to make us resent.

- The fact that I like both Megan Hilty's character Ivy and McPhee's Karen, even if they are being set up as rivals. I like the fact that one of them not getting the part is going to be disappointing for me as a viewer, but that I'll be happy for the other one. It's gotta be Karen at the end of the day, though, right?

- The baseball number! So. Fun. Did it remind anyone else of this?

- The Chicago-like flashes of the future show. It’s a show not yet realized, but gradually coming to life. The point is that imagination is creating something, and we’re allowed in on the process.

- Katharine McPhee's vulnerability. Turns out she's a pretty darn good actress (I thought she was kind of hilarious in this movie. Just sayin'.)

- As Maureen Ryan points out, Jack Davenport has finally found a great US TV role. He's positively perfect as the cocky, sort of sleezy director here.

- That Karen isn't Norma Jean, but she's not quite Marilyn yet either. I can't wait to watch her grow into the role!

- The original songs are fantastic. No really. I'd download that junk.

As you can see, I think this pilot was superb, and I think you should watch it. It'll suck you in. NBC has been producing some great TV that nobody's been watching, and it's time to reverse that trend! On the arbitrary grading scale that we all seem to like, I give it an overachieving A.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Breaking Down the Guilty Pleasureness of 'Pretty Little Liars' and 'The Lying Game'

So I've been on a bit of a Young Adult fiction kick lately since reading The Hunger Games about six weeks ago, and I've noticed that since this latest fixation began, I've gotten more and more into both Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game. I'm not sure if my surging interest in those shows is correlative to my current YA obsession, or if I'm just appreciating them anew after four long months without them. Maybe a little of both?

Now, the former should come as no surprise to loyal readers. I listed the revelation of "A" as one of the things I was most looking forward to midseason this year. Since the first ten episodes, PLL has managed to keep me interested in these characters in spite of multiple POV violations and the annoyance of not really bringing us closer to solving the mystery. Take note, The Killing. Against all odds, I like these characters and care about their well-being (the same goes for Make It or Break It, which is why the banishment of Emily Kmetko to the dregs of teen pregnancy is still 100% not cool. I digress).

Like in last week's episode, as bad as I felt for poor Toby (who gets the Candice Accola Award for Best Character Turnaround in season 2), I felt even worse for Spenser, who had to hurt him to save him. So sad, you guys. The same goes for Hannah with her Dad's wedding earlier this season, Emily with the swim team 'roids debacle, and even clueless Aria, who doesn't realize that dating a teacher is just a sad Freudian response to her father's infidelity with a student. Even if said teacher looks like this (nevermind, I can't really blame her. Look at him!).

Pretty Little Liars is somehow a very solid teen mystery drama, and like with The Vampire Diaries, I'm not ashamed to admit that I like-bordering-on-love it.

My enjoyment of The Lying Game, however, has surprised even me. Has TLG actually gotten better, or have I lowered my YA TV standards to where it was this summer? I really don't know. Let's take a look, shall we?

My main problem with the show over its ten-episode summer run was that I didn't really care about the "mystery" about Emma and Sutton's birth mother, and because they wanted to keep Sutton as a main character (look, viewers: twins!), they kept forcing it down our throats. Add to that the fact that the adult characters had way too much to do with the teen characters, but not in an interesting way (Ted and Kristen Mercer are no Sandy and Kirsten Cohen), and you've got yourself into a bit of a mess. Plus, it was just obnoxious that the only person to figure out "Sutton"'s secret was Ethan. You can't see, but I'm rolling my eyes right now. You know you've got problems when you're less interesting than the now defunct Nine Lives of Chloe King (which, admittedly got better in its season/series finale. Poor Brian).

Fast forward to the "fall finale" (a term and a practice that I've grown to loathe, but that's another post for another day): Sutton returned to Phoenix and things suddenly got interesting. In spite of the show's early problems, I've always thought Alexandra Chando has done an admirable job with the two characters, keeping enough of a distinction between them in disposition that it's always pretty clear what's going on with each of them. Having both twins in Phoenix, and not knowing what loose cannon mean girl Sutton might do next to Little Orphan Emma suddenly raised the stakes. Over the last three or four weeks, it seems to have held on to that momentum, first by keeping everyone guessing about Sutton's whereabouts, what she might do next, and just how evil she might actually be; and second by clumsily adding an "A"-like mystery villain to blackmail Sutton and Emma. Perhaps not the most original way to go about things, but for whatever reason I'm loyally tuning in every week now instead of letting the episodes collect on my TiVo until I have to watch them before they disappear. Point: show.

I should probably also mention that I think the episode a few weeks ago where Laurel was invited onstage to sing with her fav band initially made my cynic-dar go wild, but it was, dare I say, kind of charming? Allie Gonino, who plays Laurel, is as it turns out a pretty decent musician in real life, and it was a nice break for her real-life Americana band The Good Mad to get to play one of their songs on her show. Giving an unknown band a break is the best kind of synergy in my opinion.

So what's the verdict? I guess TLG is getting better after all. ABC Family shows tend to do that from time to time (even PLL wasn't amazing in the beginning). I am, dare I say, invested in what happens to Ethan and Emma's adorable little relationship after he ran off with Sutton at the end of the last episode. Wow. Well done, TLG: I didn't think you could get me there.

Monday, 23 January 2012

'Glee': 'Yes/No' Love/Hate

I have a love/hate relationship with Glee, as in I love watching it, but I hate to admit to it because the show's so insipid. It's one of those shows, like Grey's Anatomy, that takes itself a little too seriously in spite of the fact that it's not a very smart or very quality. It's got some talented performers and some really fun little tangents, but for the most part it kind of sucks.

But I still freaking love watching it in spite of all reason.** I mean, they sing and dance! Jazz hands!

Like with any show, some of its episodes are better than others. I finally caught up with last week's episode "Yes/No" over the weekend, wherein [SPOILER ALERT, as if you care at this point] Shu proposed to Emma. Whatevs. This show isn't really about plot anyway. There was something kind of magical about this episode, though. I can't place my finger on it, but there was a lot of awesome to go around. Here's a chronological list of the things in the episode that I loved and the things I hated.*** Just for funsies.

Oh, one thing you should know about me is that I tend to skew all my conclusions about Glee in a positive direction toward Rachel, Blaine, Santana, Mike Chang, and Brittany because I like them the best.

1. 'Summer Nights' totally worked for me. Santana is TOTALLY the Rizzo of that group. We were all waiting for Sam to go for that note at the end, and I appreciated the attempt. The Grease theme this episode started with and then totally abandoned was fun, even if Sam and Mercedes have no chemistry. At all.

2. This episode was directed by former teen idol/Meg's husband in Little Women Eric Stoltz.

3. 'Wedding Bell Blues'!!!! You KNOW I love love love that song. And I've always liked Emma's muppet-ness anyway. It reminded me of that great number in Hairspray with the toilet paper veil.

4. The synchronized swim coach. She's got a chip on her shoulder about the stereotype about African Americans and swimming, and she's not afraid to use it.

5. Lea's tears in 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face', which was a 100% beautiful number by all involved. Chills.

6. Emma's weird ginger-supremacist parents. Is that even a thing? They make me laugh.

7. MS. LEA. MICHELE. I thought I hated that David Guetta song. It turns out all it needed was Rachel Berry to make it a goosebumps ballad. Wowsers. Wow. Sers. Rewind.

8. Synchro proposal! I want one!

9. Thinking about the logistics of Artie going head first into the pool, wheelchair and all. That's a mind puzzle.

10. Finn's adorable little proposal (but see #5 below).


1. Anything involving Coach Beiste's love life. *Shudders*

2. 'Moves Like Jagger/Jumpin' Jack Flash'. Gross. Two songs I do not like in one evil little package. So bad.

3. Just let Finn join the Army! Holy crap, people.

4. Will Shuster being lame. Don't make Emma cry, Will. Ugh, he sucks so bad. (He redeemed himself a little with the synchro proposal later in the ep.)

5. Rachel CANNOT marry Finn. Good bye, NYADA ; hello, Ohio School of Dramatic Arts? Boo. No.

For a real recap and commentary of this show, you should read Because We Watch Too Much TV. For some reason, I felt compelled to write about it this week! Here's to hoping we get more Blaine next week, and a "no" from Rachel!

**This paradox is what I like to call One Tree Hill Syndrome.

***My younger sister will recognize this very list as the body of a Glee fun rant email she received last night.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

ABC Puts 'Cougar Town' Back on the Docket!

And all Cul-de-Sac Crew swimfans rejoiced! After Work It's inevitable early cancellation, ABC has returned to its senses and announced a premiere date for Cougar Town's long-anticipated third season: February 14th. Woo!

The only bummer, as EW's James Hibberd suggests here, is that Bill Lawrence's awesome show now has to follow Tim Allen's dumb show (yeah, I said it) on Tuesday nights, instead of its former lead-in, Wednesday's wildly popular Modern Family. It would be surprising to me if CT and Last Man Standing share much of the same audience.

Oh well. I welcome Cougar Town back to my TiVo's loving arms no matter what show it follows. No complaints, ABC: you've done good!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Midseason TV To Look Forward To

This week, my sister and I came to the conclusion that 2011 was a horrible movie year. I mean, really bad. Good luck to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as they attempt to find ten Best Picture-worthy nominees this year. Think about it: can you think of ten films that deserve special recognition alongside classics like (for instance) On the Waterfront, Gone with the Wind, Chariots of Fire, and Schindler's List? That's what I thought.

TV, on the other hand, had a banner year. In spite of the fact that both Big Love and Friday Night Lights ended their excellent runs this year, both delivered stellar final seasons: in BL's case, erasing the tepid memories of a super-weird fourth season; and in FNL's case, giving fans the perfect, sweet, nostalgic farewell that they hoped for. At midseason, ABC cautiously introduced the hilarious Happy Endings and NBC rolled out a shortened, but pitch-perfect season of Parks and Recreation. The summer brought a new slew of charming cable dramedies for us to enjoy, such as USA's Suits and Necessary Roughness (for which Callie Thorne just scored an excellent WTF? Golden Globe nomination). But best of all, the fall season introduced us to Homeland, Once Upon a Time, Suburgatory, and (yes I'm including it) The Secret Circle, while still promising an imminent end to Desperate Housewives! Yessirrie, things are alright in TV land these days.

You know what the best part is, though? The start of 2012 promises even more fun! Here's what I'm looking forward to as the new year kicks off.

The return of 30 Rock and Cougar Town! The former is happening this month, while the latter is still TBA, but with at least a few episodes in the can already, I don't fear an untimely end to Cougar Town just yet. While I don't relish the idea of trading Happy Endings (e.g., instead of Modern Family, of which I've grown to be a little bit of a hype-hater) for Cougar Town's survival in mid-March, I can't wait to welcome the Cul-de-Sac Crew back to my TV. 30 Rock replaces Whitney on NBC's Thursday night comedy block. Win-win.

Southland's fourth season! With Homeland going on hiatus, TNT's brilliant Southland should fill the serious-minded drama void nicely. Odds are pretty good that Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, and Regina King will each find new ways to be freakishly good at their jobs.

NBC's Smash. NBC has been holding this one out on us, hopefully because they think they've got a hit on their hands. It's a terrible shame that Prime Suspect wasn't a hit, because NBC's scrambling desperately for a scripted TV hit (they've got The Voice and the NFL, after all), and if Smash doesn't live up to expectations, we might lose what looks like another quality drama. I'm really interested to see what happens, though. The show itself looks like the kind of meta-showbiz thing I love to watch (don't even get me started on Studio 60), and it features one of my favorite shunned [American] Idols, Katherine "McPheever" McPhee in her first major starring role (I love to see the Idols succeed!), along with Debra Messing and Angelica Houston. Come on, y'all, this show looks cool.

Speaking of former Idols (segue alert), American Idol returns at the end of January!
Has America's fascination with singing reality shows finally peaked? If the whole Voice-X-Factor-Sing-Off overload has finally set in, will viewers continue to tune into Idol? Frankly, I hope Idol still emerges as the favorite. I like The Sing-Off, but The Voice and The X-Factor were both unsettling for me in their first seasons. While watching the latter for a while this season, I found myself craving the simple joys of the Idol way: a capella auditions for the "judges", the shy contestants who take a little while to get used to performing for a crowd (I'm looking at you, Carrie Underwood), the out-of-nowhere semifinal surprise (Allison Iraheta's "Alone"; David Cook's "Happy Together"; even Alexis Grace's "I Never Loved a Man [the Way that I Loved You]). Neither The X-Factor nor The Voice (which is only watchable because of Blake Shelton) allows any room for this kind of reality show magic. Come on, Idol: you've got this.

Pretty Little Liars is returning, and they've promised to tell us who "A" is before the March 19 finale! [This news does not require an explanation because it is objectively awesome.]

Chuck's series finale.
It'll be sad to see Chuck go, but it seems like the right time. The show has been in perpetual cancellation limbo since its 2007 debut, so it's nice to see it go out on its own terms, with a full season to tie up loose ends. With [SPOILER ALERT!] Chuck and Sarah finally getting married at the end of last season, it's the perfect season to give Casey a chance at romance. I predict a saccharin, but not sickening happily ever after for everyone in the gang. Awww, I love Chuck.

FOX's new JJ Abrams show, Alcatraz.
DON'T read the description of this show before you watch the trailer. You'll think it's ridiculous. As any JJ Abrams fan knows, though, the man who invented Felicity (that's right: I chose Felicity to illustrate why he's awesome) can make almost anything (last year's Undercovers awesome, and this show looks like no exception. It falls right into the Abrams sweet spot -- e.g., realist, sci-fi fantasy that doubles as a character drama -- and it's got Sam Neill acting spooky. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

The inevitable early cancellation of ABC's offensive-looking drag comedy Work It.
Any show that manages to simultaneously piss off LGBT advocacy groups, "family" media watchdogs, and critics who think it's "duuuuummmmb" doesn't deserve a healthy TV run.

NBC's Awake. Even though its premiere date is still TBA, this trippy Jason Isaacs thriller actually has the makings of a niche hit for NBC. I wrote briefly about the cool trailer here, and after watching it again, I stand by my initial fangirl excitement. Let's see it, NBC!

I hope 2012 turns out to be an awesome TV year!