Archive for July, 2011

Nostalgia: It’s not just for Boomers anymore!

Every now and then, the New York Times likes to check in on the mystifying attitudes of These Kids Today. Case in point, this piece from Tuesday in which the Old Gray Lady reports on Nickelodeon’s (stupendously awesome) plan to revive a handful of beloved early ‘90s programs – including Clarissa Explains It AllAll That, and Doug – in a late-night bloc on its Teen Nick channel.

It’s clear, if baffling, that the headline – “The Good Old Days of 20 Years Ago” – is shooting for ironic juxtaposition. To the Times‘ brass and much of its target demo, anything that post-dates the Pentagon Papers probably seems like last Tuesday. When he declares, “That’s right: classics from the 1990s,” writer Brian Stelter (a member of the generation Nick is targeting) probably anticipates plenty of readers harrumphing incredulously into their Sankas.

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Categories: Commentary, Pop Culture, TV

2011 TV Preview Part Four: The Network from Whence The Premise Came

Round four of America’s newest favorite way to kill ten minutes at work brings us to the network that started it all: NBC. It gave the world both The Cape and Community, without which this entire gimmick wouldn’t exist (for background, see the installments for FOXCBS, and ABC), and without which I might be forced to actually put some thought into what I write on this blog rather than falling back on half-assed jokes and YouTube embeds.

A dozen new programs are tasked with resuscitating the once-proud Peacock from its perennial place in the ratings cellar. Proving itself to be a fount of originality, NBC’s line-up includes a modern day spin on classic fairy tales (…wait…), a sitcom developed by popular stand-up comic Whitney Cummings (no, not this one, a different one), a coming of age tale set in the world of musical theater (but not, y’know, THAT one), and a moody 1960s period piece centered on a brooding, nattily-attired anti-hero. Yup.

Eh, to hell with originality. I just want to know if any of these new shows will give us 2011’s answer to this guy!

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Categories: Humor, Pop Culture, TV

Breaking Bad: Box Cutter


Been a busy few days, but I wanted to register a quick reaction after the jump to Breaking Bad, which began its fourth season this week in a confidently low-key fashion.

After a year-long layoff, Breaking Bad returned with a grab bag of signature nerve-jangling elements. Walt chased a brutal, cold-hearted decision with a soberly dissembling rationalization of why it was someone else’s fault. Jesse, truly and completely hollowed out now, sits numb amidst the fallout of his latest bout with punching above his criminal weight class. Only alone with Walt can he yet again begin rebuilding an armor of curdling nihilism.

Toss in a healthy helping of casual deceit, in this case courtesy of Skylar, who continues to inch with unsettling ease down the path Walt blazed (enlisting her infant daughter in her manipulation of the law-abiding locksmith was some truly veteran sliminess). And of course Saul, wonderful Saul, injecting the requisite dose of comic, sneering paranoia.

Breaking Bad’s brilliance, and its audacity, is in the way it maintains a racing pulse throughout an episode so pitched in silence: Skylar calmly relocating Walt’s abandoned car, Hank atrophying in his bed pan, Walt and Jesse helplessly awaiting Gus’s reaction. The violence is notably brief, startling for its sangfroid cruelty despite its obvious necessity to the plot. The real centerpiece is the air around that violent moment, as Gus slips out of his cerebral, respectable exterior and back in again with complete deftness, his languid movements pumping up the tension in the room like a bellows.

Lastly, let us pour out a batch of aluminum for poor meek Gale. You could pack a whole support group full of people whose faith in Walter White (even unknowing, in Gale’s case) is repaid in tragedy. Or you could if half of those people weren’t either corpses or functionally shattered individuals.

Categories: Pop Culture, TV

Self-Interest ≠ Selfishness; A Brief Response to HBR

The current issue of Harvard Business Review features a somewhat frustrating piece by Yochai Benkler called “The Unselfish Gene.” It’s quite engaging in places, particularly when discussing some of the research regarding how context shapes people’s motivations, and in the resulting prescriptions for restructuring business environments to promote collaborative behavior. Unfortunately, the arguments are weakened by two fairly key misinterpretations central to his thesis.

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2011 TV Preview Part Three: Separating ABC’s "Meh" Wheat from its "Meh"-ier Chaff

Continuing to raise the bar for shallow, gimmick-based criticism everywhere, my highly scientific assessment of next season’s network TV schedule rolls on. See here and here for the first two entries in this series, in which I watch the trailers for a few new shows and predict whether they are bound to more closely match the creative nadir of The Cape, or the hopes once held by Mr. Nadir for The Cape. Today I take a gander at some of the whopping 13 new programs to be unleashed by ABC in 2011-12, while categorically refusing to suffer even a second of Work It, lest I pop a few veins and activate Dark Willow mode.

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Categories: Humor, Pop Culture, TV

2011 TV Preview Part Two: In which CBS knows what CBS do

Yesterday, I took it upon myself – dedicated servant to the people of the Internet that I am – to predict the fates of some of next season’s new television hopefuls. In lieu of pilot screeners or genuine critical talent, I’ve opted to approach this task with the next best thing: a preposterous gimmick: Which shows will wind up on the scrap heap before finishing out a season, like last year’s poster child of ineptitude, The Cape? And which will become the sort of Nielsen-slobbering stalwarts that run for six seasons and a movie, as a normally wise man once predicted for that selfsame The Cape?

Today, I check in on CBS, which continues to dance with the fluffy multi-camera sitcoms and moody procedurals that brung ’em to the network TV catbird seat.
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Categories: Humor, Pop Culture, TV

A Look At The 2011 TV Season, Through The Lens of The Cape

No sooner does the current television season come to close than do the five (four? four and a half?) main networks begin directing our collective gaze to the awesome and amazing new shows awaiting us next season.

Some of these offerings may approach the sort of cultural ubiquity that renowned TV guru Abed Nadir imagined was in store for The Cape (i.e., six seasons and a movie). Others will turn out to be risible, misbegotten calamities that crash and burn in a blaze of anti-glory, like what actually happened with The Cape. Most will probably fall somewhere between those extremes, but I’m going to ignore those cases because they don’t conform easily to this admittedly strained joke premise.

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Categories: Humor, Pop Culture, TV