You really should be watching ‘Breaking Bad’

Posted in Breaking Bad by Diane on April 19, 2010

Early Walt

Last night’s ep started with a flashback to the milquetoast Walt we first met, and for a moment I feared it was a repeat. Oh no, it wasn’t — just an intro to raucous backstory featuring Jesse Pinkman.

But don’t take my word for it: Read Tim Goodman’s recap here. Warning: It’s full of spoilers.


Let Us Now Praise: Sara Gilbert on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Posted in Let Us Now Praise, TV by Diane on March 29, 2010

Sure, he's tormented, but what about the dying girl?

Yes, I know it’s not cool to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” these days, let alone single it out for praise. But I must salute the writers for the Dying Cancer Girl storyline and Sara Gilbert for her performance as said patient.

Dying Cancer Girl has made her peace with death wants the doctors to grant her Physician Assisted Suicide. As usual, the case is used for character development of a series regular: While Iraq war veteran Teddy is fine with the request, Owen Hunt is not. Turns out he never got over the time he went along with a similar request on the battlefield.

This aspect was all very moving, but it was nowhere near as compelling as the patient’s plight. D.C.G. spoke exactly like my father did near the end of his long struggle with the Big C. He did all that he could to beat it, railing when the doctors at Sloan-Kettering told him there was nothing more they could do for him, but eventually he, too, made his peace with death, and did all he could to prepare us for it.

Owen’s guilty torment seemed a tad overwrought in comparison to Dying Cancer Girl’s concerns. Almost intrusive. Nothing like a Life or Death struggle to put things into perspective.

Conan’s all right, he’s just a little weird

Posted in LAT, media, TV by Diane on January 24, 2010

Contrary to Neil Gabler’s incredibly wrong-headed essay in yesterday’s L.A. Times, Conan O’Brien wasn’t too cool for “The Tonight Show.” Rather,  he was too quirky.

And, judging by comments from the network, and O’Brien himself, both parties had been arguing about what the host should do about it: Defang his comedy further, in an attempt to draw mainstream auds that once watched Jay Leno and Johnny Carson before him, or to let Conan be Conan.

This was not, as Gabler argues, a battle between cool hipsters and dorks. The labels simply don’t fit. It had everything to do with splintering audiences and changing media consumption patterns.

NBC decided to go broad as possible and bring Jay back after his disastrous run at 10 p.m. And Conan decided to be true to himself and the traditional “Tonight Show” timeslot. His musical choices on the  last “Tonight Show” said it all: Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” on his video montage, and “Free Bird” closing out the show courtesy Will Ferrell in ’70s regalia.

Consider the “Surrender” refrain:

Mommy’s all right, daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird/Surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away

and the story about leaving a relationship that wasn’t working in “Free Bird,” that 70’s anthem requested as an encore at so many concerts:

But please don’t take it so badly/Cause Lord knows I’m to blame

But if I stayed here with you girl/Things just couldn’t be the same

Cause I’m as free as a bird now/And this bird you cannot change

Add Neil Young’s acoustic rendition of “Long May You Run,” and you’ve got a pitch perfect score for Conan’s last “Tonight Show.” Can’t embed video here, so click over here for a vintage rendition of “Surrender,” and to Hulu for the montage, and Conan’s last show.

For now, that is.


Conan: Free at last

Posted in TV by Diane on January 19, 2010

Getting effed-over by NBC has been the best thing that ever happened to Conan O’Brien’s comedy: The departing “Tonight Show” host has been looser and more at ease than I’ve seen him in years. He actually seems like he’s having fun.

NBC’s treatment of him certainly serves as a reminder of the perils of biding your time and playing the good corporate citizen. In this sped-up culture, networks are less inclined than ever to give shows time to develop on-air.

Here’s hoping that O’Brien doesn’t hold back on his next show. In the meantime, tune in this week for more zingers and high-spirited giddiness as he and his cohorts prepare to exit the show that Johnny reigned over so long. I never thought I would see Colin Firth relate scatalogical anecdotes, but there he was last night. Tom Hanks is up tonight.


Jersey boys: the Sheik and the Situation

Posted in movies, TV by Diane on January 18, 2010

You don’t need me to lobby for “Jersey Shore” — you’ll either succumb to MTV’s trashtastic reality show or you won’t. But I would like to put in a word for an earlier look at Garden State class relations that never fully got its due.

Improbable as it may sound, the shenanigans of Ronnie, Pauly D and Mike the Situation reminded me of “Baby, It’s You,” John Sayles’ third movie. Set in 1960s Trenton, the doomed romance stars Rosanna Arquette as Jill Rosen, a nice Jewish girl desperate to break free from her sheltered existence, and Vincent Spano as a snazzy dresser from the wrong side of town who calls himself the Sheik for reasons you’d probably prefer not to know.

After high school, the snob gets a taste of her own medicine at the hands of her Sarah Lawrence classmates and preppie boys that woo them; the Sheik has his own adjustment problems in Miami, where he’s lipsynching Frank Sinatra tunes. Naturally they take comfort in each other. But can they overcome their growing differences? I think you know the answer.

Among the movie’s many charms is its soundtrack, rich with song by Bruce Springsteen. Which brings me back to “Jersey Shore.” The show, which concludes its first season on Thursday, was filmed right off the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, a short drive down the coast from Asbury Park, Springsteen’s old stomping grounds.

Most of the cast isn’t actually from the Garden State, but no matter. In many ways they are straight out of central casting, Italian-American style: There’s Mike the Situation, a confident fellow fond of referring to himself in the third person, Vinny the mama’s boy, and Ronnie, the burly swain who’s quick with his first. Pauly D, an amiable DJ with open door policy to all ladies, has a signature ‘do, while pint-sized Snooki makes up for her diminutive stature with outsize personality.

MTV is airing the shows steadily, so there’s plenty of time to catch up if you’re so inclined. Or you can just check out the New Yorker’s dissection, which quite frankly, isn’t nearly as much fun — or trashy — as the show itself.

Oh, and if you do catch up with “Baby, It’s You,” be on the lookout for cameos by Matthew Modine and Robert Downey Jr. Tracy Pollan, aka Mrs. Michael J. Fox, plays a pivotal role in the film.


Stieglitz as Paris Hilton: Georgia on our minds

Posted in art, NYT, TV by Diane on September 18, 2009

georgiaokeefeHolland Cotter’s NYT review of the Whitney’s new Georgia O’Keefe exhibit is very fine, to be sure, but no match for colleague Ginia Bellafonte’s delicious review of Saturday’s Lifetime movie named for the painter.

The TV movie, not too surprisingly, revolves around O’Keefe’s juicy affair, then marriage, with mentor and promoter Alfred Stieglitz. Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons fail to adequately convey such messy emotional characters, the reviewer notes before observing that Stieglitz is depicted “as a sort of publicist who today might hatch a higher-brow Paris Hilton.”

This is the guy, after all, who “shepherds O’Keeffe to the altar of celebrity by displaying his nude photographs of her alongside her own work.”

My favorite line, however, comes at the very end:

The unintended effect of “Georgia O’Keeffe” is to leave its audience wondering if a painter who prized integrity madly loved a man only because he could play Phil Spector to her Ronette.

For more, check out Bellafonte’s review, Independent Protegee and Needy Starmaker, and Cotter’s take on the Whitney exhibit, which is accompanied by a slide show of O’Keefe’s formative abstract work. There’s another O’Keefe slideshow at NY mag’s Vulture blog.

Above postcard of O’Keefe circa 1948 has been hanging in my home office for years.


We’re fine with clips only, YT says. Oh really?

Posted in digital media, Gossip Girl, TV, Warner, YouTube by Diane on August 20, 2009

gossipgirlBlame it on my head cold if you like, but last night I misread news about YouTube’s deal with Warners to include full-length episodes of “Gossip Girl,” and was simultaneously impressed and pleased. Impressed because the CW has been so stingy with online streaming of “GG” and pleased because, well, I’m ridiculously fond of the show. Heck, maybe I just wanted it to be so.

Further reading today dashed those hopes, alas. But what really got me was YouTube’s insistence that it’s just fine with clips of Warner TV shows or news programs for now. Jordan Hoffner, YouTube’s affable dealmaker, told the NYT that the vid-sharing site is very happy the conglom is starting small, er, short, noting that is, after all, YouTube’s core business. “The important thing is to get them on the platform,” he said.

However, it’s not clear to me how useful those clips tend to be. Sure, they work as promotional devices — and they don’t cannibalize TV on DVD sales or iTunes downloads. This is why studios willing give the Google-owned site access to them. But the site has been beefing up longform video to entice advertisers, who tend to prefer Hulu.

I examined this conundrum a while back for Variety, in a story on Hulu’s rapid rise, and another on Google’s Hollywood charm offensive.

Photo: the CW


Blowing chunks onscreen: Slattery explains how

Posted in Mad Men, TV by Diane on August 13, 2009

slatterymadmenGotta love a Q&A that dives into the mechanics behind onscreen vomiting, as does Vanity Fair’s Q&A with “Mad Men” star John Slattery. He also talks about Roger’s issues, Jon Hamm’s artistry and the difficulty of acting cool for the camera. But the ending exchange about hurling really seals the deal. It’s funny, graphic and precise. Read it


Brennan on Chappelle: ‘I felt beyond betrayed’

Posted in comedy, movies, NYT, TV by Diane on August 9, 2009

Neal Brennan, tyro director of “The Goods,” tells the NYT that things ended very badly between him and Dave Chappelle, co-creator of the hit Comedy Central show. By the time the comic fled for Africa, their friendship was in disrepair; Brennan didn’t even find out Chappelle had left until after the fact. “It was painful,” he said. “It will probably be the biggest personal disappointment of my life.”


Barack, the comedian

Posted in NYT, TV by Diane on August 9, 2009

homerobamaBarack Obama’s sense of humor sometimes gets him in trouble. But aren’t we glad to have a President who has one? In today’s NYT mag, Matt Bai strains to label Obama’s comedic sensibility as distinctly postmodern and Seinfeldian, born “perhaps” of the same deconstructionist ethos that gave us “The Simpsons” and The Onion. Can’t we just agree he has a fine sense of the absurd?

Photos: Fox, White House


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