Posts Tagged ‘Television’

WordHappy Reader “Best of 2008” List: Thinking Caps On

December 24, 2008

j0396070Now, you know and I know that these next few days are going to be a haze of wrapping paper and too much food. And no matter what holiday you celebrate, the fact remains that almost everything will be closed – and if you’re getting hammered with snow like much of the country – you don’t want to go out anyway.

So reflect – ponder, if you will – on your top-of-the-line choices for the best of 2008. What movies did you see that knocked your socks off? What music did you listen to and actually notice the words? What books did you read that made you stay up way past your bedtime? These are the things I want to hear about.

I will be taking your choices in the areas of:

  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Television
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Other

The “Other” category is for anything else that gave you goosebumps that somehow isn’t included in the above. Please post a comment with your recommendations below. I’d love it if you’d forward this post to your friends as well, so we can get even more participation.

I’ll take comments up until December 31st. Then I’ll compile a list of everyone’s choices and make it the first WordHappy post of 2009!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and  Best wishes to you all!

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A Colbert Christmas: What Would Santa Think?

December 21, 2008

stephencolbertI watched Stephen Colbert’s A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All last night, and today, every time I think about the show, it still makes me laugh. From start to finish, the show had an inspired lunacy that managed to mock Christmas specials without mocking the holiday itself. And oh, my, is it funny. At one point, I was so helpless with laughter that my spouse asked me if I needed a Heimlich maneuver.

‘Cuz here’s the thing. The show is filled with song, with lyrics to all written by David Javerbaum. And the songs skewer virtually every genre out there. There’s a patriotic country Christmas song, “Have I Got a Present for You,” sung by Toby Keith:

Christmas is as American as apple pie
It’s a late December version of the Fourth of July
And they may go by a different name
But Uncle Sam and Santa Claus are one and the same

Then, Willie Nelson, dressed as a wise man (!), sings a song that is so pretty that, until you hear the chorus, you would swear belongs in the canon of classic Christmas songs. But then you hear the words and you know that it must never be so (except in NORML households):

And like the child born in this manger
This herb is mild yet it is strong
And it brings peace to friend and stranger
Good will to men lies in this bong

There is also a lovely duet between Colbert and Jon Stewart, “Can I Interest You in Hannukah?” But my absolute favorite, the one that prompted the Heimlich offer, is the sexy ode “Nutmeg,” sung by John Legend. Probably not one to sing in front of the wee children:

Girl, I’m going to rock you like a cradle
You lick the nutmeg off my ladle
It’s pure, it’s refined
And it’s ready to grind

Nuttiness this good does not come around often. If you missed this Comedy Central special, don’t be sad. It will show again on Christmas day.

I will never drink eggnog again with the innocence I once did.

All I Want for Christmas: Nifty Gift Ideas 2008

December 11, 2008

elkaAll I want for Christmas is world peace, an end to homelessness, some cute ankle boots that will fit over my high instep, and a really good 2009 television season.

But if you’re not shopping for me, and you need some tried-and-true gifts for people who know the power of words, I can help you out. Even better: most of these gifts fall in the $25 and under range. Disclaimer: I carry no affiliation with any shopping powerhouse like Amazon or Target or anyone, so I’m not going to include links to these places. You will have to do a little of that work yourself. Sorry.

BODACIOUSLY BRILLIANT BOOKS

The Likeness by Tana French: For mystery lovers, this is the jackpot. This is the book that makes you call in sick to work so you can read more of it. Cassie Maddox, a former undercover cop, gets thrown into the investigation of a woman’s death – a woman who bears the name of her old undercover identity and who could be her own twin. French is an outrageously good writer, and I could not find a false step in the intricate plotting of this novel.

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey: This book is for the armchair traveler with a taste for fabulous writing. The editors assigned writers of reputation with varied styles, such as Ann Patchett, Tony Bourdain, and Sarah Vowell to contribute essays on every state in the union. The result is a smorgasbord of delicious writing that gives a real sense to the place (not all of it complimentary, incidentally). I’m only a third through my copy; it must be read in small doses, like eating flourless chocolate cake. Are you hungry yet?

Run, by Ann Patchett: In a season that revolved around politics, this quiet novel managed to combine politics, family, and race in an enormously moving and engaging way. It may not be as showy as Patchett’s Bel Canto, but it may be her best work yet.

DIVINE DVDs

For the discerning couch potato in your life, you can’t go wrong with these picks:

Mad Men, Season One: Time travel back to the early 60s when advertising was king, and people smoked and patted women on the behind and never had a second thought about it.  It’s a mad trip, almost Shakespearean in its psychology, with Don Draper as its tortured Hamlet. Great writing with an obsession with detail makes this a must-see.

State of Play: This BBC miniseries aired in 2003, but the DVD was just released in 2008, so technically, it counts. And a darn fine thing, too, since this was great drama. The series follows journalists of The Herald as they try to uncover the story behind the death of a young political researcher who may have been involved with a high profile Labour MP. The plot crackles, and the acting by terrific performers like James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, John Simm, and Kelly Macdonald, makes this a drama that doesn’t leave your consciousness easily.

The Wire, The Complete Fifth Season: Since no one apparently watched this other than me and about 10 other people (yes, still bitter about that), what better way to catch up on the best series in the history of television – SERIOUSLY – than by picking up this DVD. Season Four was probably its best, but its fifth and last season still packs a powerful punch. Actually, DVD may be the ideal way to watch this series and really appreciate its attention to story and detail.

SINFULLY STUPENDOUS CDs

Finally, a few picks for the music lover:

Break Up the Concrete, The Pretenders: This CD is filled with songs you would swear that Chrissie Hynde wrote and recorded years ago, they have such a timeless classic feel. Add a driving beat and it’s a keeper.

Rattlin’ Bones, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson: Australian Kasey Chambers has been one of the most distinctive voices to emerge on the folk scene in many years. This latest CD, collaborated on with her husband Shane Nicholson, is an addicting listen.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Flying High for Flight of the Conchords

December 4, 2008

fotcI just saw a commercial last night for the upcoming season of HBO‘s Flight of the Conchords, and I was filled with a glee that has been, sadly, almost entirely absent this television season. This show is a big part of why I still have an HBO subscription, truth be told. It’s that good.

Flight of the Conchords follows New Zealand’s (self-billed) 4th most popular digi-folk parody duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as they try to find success in New York City. Aided by their manager and New Zealand cultural attache Murray (Rhys Darby), adviser Dave (Arj Barker), and single obsessed fan Mel (Kristen Schaal), they achieve what New Zealanders might consider success (one of the running gags of the series addresses the lowered expectations of Kiwis).

I’d first heard Flight of the Conchords on the radio, where I had to pull over while driving because I was laughing so hard at their song “Business Time,” which deals with the nuances of the scheduled Wednesday night intimacies:

Conditions are perfect for making love.
You turn to me and say something sexy like, “I might go to bed. I’ve got work in
the morning.”
I know what you’re trying to say, baby.
You’re trying to say “Aww, yeah. It’s business time.”

What the HBO show managed miraculously to do was to take that same sense of low-key absurdity and translate it into a half-hour comedy. Since the show isn’t overpopulated with characters, it can exploit them by letting them play out silly situations extremely seriously, so that the dialogue sounds as if it could come out in one of their songs:

Murray: Be careful with it. Don’t stand next to any big magnets.
Jemaine: Why would I stand next to a big magnet?
Murray: I don’t know what you do in your personal life.

See what I mean? Brilliant.

The new season of Flight of the Conchords starts January 18, 2009 on HBO. If the second season is even half as good as the first season, it’ll be the best show on television.

Congrats, Emmy Writing Winners!

September 22, 2008

And the writing Emmys go to. . . . (sound of ripping envelope)

For Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series30 Rock – “Cooter” – written by Tina Fey

For Outstanding Writing in a Drama SeriesMad Men – “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (Pilot) – written by Matthew Weiner

Ahem, ahem – must I remind you all that these shows were celebrated here first? Thus adding credibility to my outrageous claims of having the best taste in writing of anyone you don’t know but read on a blog.

Congrats, guys!! Well deserved.

SNL Palin/Clinton Skit: When Satire Hits the Bullseye

September 14, 2008

I am jumping on this bandwagon as surely as the leaves are gonna fall, but I cannot help myself. In the past 24 hours, there have been a flurry of Twitter tweets and links to last night’s Saturday Night Live opening skit, even on the NPR website itself. So, in the event that you, like I, are happily dreaming on Saturday nights like the good nerds we are, I refer to you SNL’s spot-on national address by Sarah Palin (Tina Fey) and Hillary Clinton (Amy Poehler). In a Presidential campaign that seems to be deteriorating before my very eyes into mean-spiritedness and outright lies, it is so refreshing to be able to take a step back and laugh at the whole thing.

Here’s the thing about satire. In the political arena, it can be more potent as a tool to expose the truth about the fictions that the parties and/or politicians are trying to feed us than any other form of writing. I don’t know if Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wrote this particular opening skit (and they well may have), but props to the writers of this address for highlighting some of the biggest absurdities of the campaign to date.

The Best Medicine: Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog

August 24, 2008

Since, y’know, I’m always right on the pulse of this whole Internet thingy, I actually DID hear about Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, an Internet-only musical film, before the film went live, as it were. After all, it’s a creation of Joss Whedon, genius behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Of course, the date the first episode was released, I had something going on – don’t even remember what – and (shamed head-hanging here), I missed it.

I was prepared to take my lumps and wait for the eventual DVD release, since I don’t have a video iPod, when like angels singing from heaven, a friend told me I could watch the three episodes (or one 42-minute video) on hulu.com for FREE! I gotta say, this project made me happier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. The film is written by Joss Whedon and his brothers Zack and Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, and features the same kind of quirky, enhanced-everyday speak that the residents of Buffy’s Sunnydale spoke so well.

This time, the protagonist is Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), who, true to the title, blogs about his trials and tribulations and breaks into song every once in a while. But while he is an evil genius, he has dreams just like the rest of us: to have his application accepted by the Evil League of Evil, and to work up the courage to talk to the girl of his dreams, Penny (Felicia Day). If only his nemesis – because there must always be a nemesis – Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) wouldn’t keep interfering.

Did I mention the dialogue? It’s a hoot (and the songwriting is top-notch as well):

Dr. Horrible: A lot of guys ignore the laugh, and that’s about standards. I mean, if you’re gonna get into the Evil League of Evil, you have to have a memorable laugh. What, do you think Bad Horse didn’t work on his whinny? His terrible death-whinny?

or

Captain Hammer: Stand back everyone, nothing here to see. Just imminent danger and in the middle of it me. Yes, Captain Hammer’s here, hair blowing in the breeze. The day needs my saving expertise. Man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Seems destiny ends with me saving you. The only doom that’s looming is in loving me to death. I’ll give you a second to catch your breath.

Great writing, great acting, great songs. This one’s just what the doctor ordered.

Mad Men: Insanely Good TV

August 4, 2008

I got taken to task a little after my kvetches about the 2008 Emmy nominations by readers who astutely asked where my acknowledgments were of the 16 nominations garnered by Mad Men, the terrific AMC series. To be sure, the Emmy people did not screw up with the show as badly as they did with, say, The Wire. Yes, still bitter about that one.

But Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner (who’s also written the overwhelming majority of its episodes) deserves every single one of its nominations. And the only reason I didn’t crow about it in my Emmy post is pure timing. I started my blog in October, after the first season of Mad Men had wrapped. Thus, my failure to write about it, since it was off my radar. I have only myself to blame that I can take no credit for all its Emmy nominations.

Still, we’re talking about a series on AMC. Which means that more people probably watched the Geico Cavemen series than any of MM‘s first season. And that’s a shame, for that first season set up the complexities of the hero (?) Don Draper (Jon Hamm), an advertising executive who keeps himself very tightly in control, but who is starting to unravel; his Hitchcockian blonde of a wife Betty (January Jones); and a large ensemble cast of characters who revolve around the Sterling Cooper ad agency. The setting of the series in the 60s means that we can shake our heads in self-righteous shock at all the things that today are no longer PC or otherwise acceptable: smoking in public, sexual harassment, even having one’s children prepare the evening Tom Collins.

The strength of the show, even more than the loyalty to be true to the times, lies in the depth of each character portrayed. These people are literally deciding how the public thinks, what it will buy, and yet these are deeply troubled individuals. The first episode of Season Two jumps right into the fray, showcasing the flawed diamond that is Betty Draper. Titillated by the idea that a former roommate is now a call girl, she tiptoes to the edge of the idea of sex as commerce, toying with a mechanic who comes to her aid when her car stalls.

If you already haven’t started watching Mad Men, set your DVRs now. It will take you to a place and time that seems as foreign now as futuristic sci-fi. Except with better clothes.

Hits and Misses of the Emmy Noms: Clearly, They Don’t Read WordHappy

July 17, 2008

The Emmy nominations are out! The Emmy nominations are out! I can’t wait to see my favorite shows on here. But, wait. . . I see some, yet there seem to be some rather gaping holes – dare I say, abysses (abyssi?).

Let’s recount the television shows I have hailed this year:

30 Rock: Okay, the Emmy people love this show as much as I do. Included among their 17 (!!!) Emmy nominations: Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actor (Alec Baldwin) and Lead Actress (Tina Fey), and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (for TWO episodes).

Pushing Daisies: Despite its shortened season due to the writers’ strike, this show scored pretty well in the Emmy nominations, mostly scoring nods for acting and its arty look. But wait – what’s this I see? A writing nomination for the pilot episode. Hooray!!

In Treatment: BOO!! Bad Emmy people! Only four nominations, with a deserved three for acting (Gabriel Byrne, Dianne Wiest, and Glenn Turman) – where’s the love for Sophie (Mia Wasikowska), people??? And no writing nominations. For shame.

The Wire: I can barely write this. One. Lousy. Nomination. A show that virtually ALL television critics hailed as maybe the best, most intelligent series on television, EVER – and it scores one nomination. Granted, it’s for the writing in the series finale. But please. That’s an insult.

LOST: I’m still bitter about The Wire, frankly. Yeah, whatever. Outstanding Drama nomination. Big whoop. Where’s the writing nomination for “The Constant,” the brilliant and emotional time loop episode featuring Desmond? I’ll tell you where. In the crazy time warp that the island apparently went to, because it’s sure not here.

So. Some hits. Some misses. Some egregious errors. There’s always next year.

Slings and Arrows: Right to the Heart of Good Writing

July 11, 2008

I had for a couple years now been hearing about a Canadian series about a Shakespeare Festival that had been shown on the Sundance Channel and had a mad cult following. The series was called Slings and Arrows, and people talked about it as if it were the best thing to come out of Canada since Anne Murray. So, obviously, I had to check it out.

All three seasons are available as a boxed DVD set, which I obtained under guise of an anniversary present, and my better half and I have been having a fine old time watching all the episodes. It has been such a joy to watch that it’s one of those times when you’re sad when you’ve reached the end.

In a nutshell, Slings and Arrows follows the misadventures of the New Burbage Theatre troupe of actors and administrators during three seasons of plays. Its main characters are Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross, one of the handsomest men ever, second only to Ewan McGregor – and my better half. . . – dodged THAT bullet!), the new artistic director of the New Burbage who sees ghosts and may or may not be completely crazy; Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney, formerly of Kids in the Hall), hapless manager who loves musicals more than the Bard; and Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), the reigning diva actress whose diva-ness masks deep insecurities. In each season, the subplots of the cast resonate with some of the same themes of the Shakespearean play being produced. The series, created and penned by Susan Coyne, Tecca Crosby, Bob Martin, and Mark McKinney, expertly weaves the stories in and around Shakespeare‘s plays, and manages in the interim, to bring the Shakespeare itself to life as well. The final season’s performance of King Lear is about the most gut-wrenchingly good acting I’ve ever seen.

And lest you think that a show about Shakespearean actors would be serious and dull, consider some of these random dialogue moments:

Guard: Are you a suicide risk? Geoffrey Tennant: Isn’t everybody?

Richard Smith-Jones: What the hell are we going to do? I mean, I know what I’m going to have to do. I’m going to have to go to the Minister of Culture and beg for money like some kind of blind hurdler.

Richard Smith-Jones: Darren, everybody cries when they get stabbed. There’s no shame in that.

Mull that over for a few, then run, don’t walk, to rent or buy this wonderful series. It will be time well spent.