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Review: Shark Tank, “Season 4 Week 4”

October 8, 2012 1 comment

Two or three different shows exist within Shark Tank, and a solid episode uses its segmented structure to balance and benefit from the strengths of each. “Season 4 Week 4” follows this approach, with the contrast standing out most sharply between the first and last segments.

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Studs’ Place offers a little-seen angle on a medium and an icon

September 11, 2012 1 comment

Last week I was fortunate to attend the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ screening of Studs’ Place, a short-lived TV program from 1950-51 starring an ensemble led by Chicago media icon Studs Terkel. Over at This Was Television, I’ve written a reflection on the show and how it fits with Studs’s legacy and with the history of television’s earliest days:

It’s impossible to grow up in Chicago in the 20th century, as I did, without at least glimpsing the legacy of Louis “Studs” Terkel, even if it’s only his vapor trails in your periphery. As beloved by his adopted hometown as any local media figure anywhere in America, the mononymous Studs was a broadcasting fixture for half a century, inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame posthumously in 2009. He was a prolific author, oral historian, and champion of economic justice. He was a scene-stealing sportswriter in John Sayles’s 1988 film Eight Men Out.

He was also, briefly, a TV star.

Continue reading at This Was Television.

Reading Roundup: Everyone Hates Your Ads Edition

May 26, 2012 2 comments

1. Meet the new media ad-based pay model dilemma, same as the old media ad-based pay model dilemma.

Why has Google Plus failed to make a dent in Americans’ social media habits? According to the terrific tech writer Alexis Madrigal, it’s because Mountain View got its approach to social completely backwards. In The Atlantic, he prescribes a solution based around embracing the corners of the Googleplex that users adore but the company ignores.

If G+ is on nobody’s agenda, Facebook has the opposite problem. The din surrounding its IPO—and subsequent share price plummet—is inescapable. Chalking up a $100 billion valuation has a way of intensifying the spotlight, particularly from those skeptical that you can sustainably monetize a service devoted to checking forgotten birthdays and posting grammatically catastrophic rants inspired by Fox News.

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Why the urge to align with the good guys persists, even when the good guys don’t

May 25, 2012 1 comment

Alyssa Rosenberg has a characteristically thoughtful post on the trend of TV shows which return to the clear designations of good guys and bad guys. It’s got me thinking about how some of my favorite characters who fit this bill actively serve as anti-anti-heroes within their own morally grey universes.

Sometimes we need the stark simplicity of white hats and black hats—if only to remind us of the first principles on each side, the values that continue to give “good” and “evil” meaning and set the boundaries inside which the grey areas exist. Just as we instinctively search our stories for the people to root for, sometimes, so too do those stories’ inhabitants.

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Mad Men: “Christmas Waltz” – The Kinsey Fail

May 22, 2012 1 comment

The bad news is, the senior partners here at the Barker Chappell Daglas Reviewing Firm must forego our holiday bonuses this year. Turns out there’s not as much money in writing online for free as you’d think.

The good news is, that won’t diminish our commitment to bring you our takes on this week’s episode! Put a quarter in the jukebox, don your best Jimmy Durante fedora, and enjoy this week’s installment of the Mad Men roundtable review after the jump.

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV

Firing up the USA Show Generator 8000

Common Law, the latest model from USA’s light-hearted-mismatched-buddy-based-professional-procedural factory, rolls off the assembly line tonight at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. CST). You can read more about it, and the network’s model, in this CNN story that quotes noted USA Network scholar and friend of the blog Cory “Coriander” Barker.

We here at The Vast Wasteland are much more interested in the future than the past. That’s why our crack staff of intrepid reporters have dug up these synopses of upcoming USA Network hits. Get ready to enjoy them on a Saturday early afternoon when you’ve flipped through like a dozen channels already and why the hell not land on this.

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Categories: Humor, Pop Culture, TV

The shared M.O. of The Cabin In The Woods and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

Having experienced them both for the first time recently, I can confidently say that My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is an awful lot like Cabin In The Woods.

Stay with me on this.

(WARNING: Spoilers after the jump for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Also for the cabin thing.)

Cabin In The Wood / My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

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Mad Men blogging at The Vast Wasteland – and around the web

As you can clearly see, updates to this side of the site have been, er, sparse so far this year. I hope to rectify that soon, pending a couple of ongoing projects. But in the meantime, much of my writing each week is being spent with the Barker Chappell Daglas Reviewing Firm: critical discussions of each week’s Mad Men episode, in the the form of a roundtable with my friends Cory Barker of TV Surveillance and Les Chappell of A Helpless Compiler. We’re taking turns hosting each week’s full discussion on our respective blogs, and you can find each week’s review (or my excerpts thereof) at The Vast Wasteland.

Below the jump, an excerpt of my take on the April 15 episode, “Signal 30”:

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV Tags: ,

Am I A Cylon?

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m not a fan of the board game adaptation of Battlestar Galactica, but I am an ardent fan of one particular running joke that it’s spawned. In the game, the players are all working together as a unit, except for one or two who are secretly designated as the Cylons.* One of the central goals of the game is for the humans to identify and neutralize these hidden saboteurs in their midst.This leads to many spirited accusations—“So-and-so’s the Cylon!”—which are enough fun to bandy about that they become part of the group’s running banter even absent the game (the way such context-free running jokes ingrain themselves in the lingua franca of any circle of friends).

*If you’re still reading a blog post that began with the phrase “board game adaptation of Battlestar Galactica,” I am going to respect that your nerd quotient is high enough to obviate a explanation of “Cylons.”

This story is not about a game of BSG, however. It’s about a game of Risk Legacy, a new and unorthodox twist on the conquer-the-world-through-the-power-of-dice-rolling stalwart. I and four friends have been playing it each weekend for the past few weeks.

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The Best, Worst, and Somehow-Best-AND-Worst TV of 2011

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

The end of the year naturally brings reminiscences – fond memories, shared moments with loved ones, arcs of personal and professional growth. Of course, my brain is way too addled by thousands of hours of television to remember any of that other crap. My reminiscences extend (for the purposes of this barely breathing blog) to the best and worst things I watched in 2011.

The usual caveats of course apply – rankings are arbitrary, how can you compare a manic comedy to a deliberately paced drama, yada yada, harrumph harrumph – and I doubt I’m going to surprise anyone by compiling a “best of” list that mainly comprises the very shows I’ve taken the time to write about throughout the season. But of course, I am bound by Internet Directive #543 to nevertheless present a year-end Top 10 list of some fashion. So here we go after the jump:

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV