Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thursday roundup - 12/8

No. 1 Parks and Rec


PnFnR is back on top with a terrific episode about Leslie as a private citizen. The stuff with Ron getting choked up all the way through is perfect.


No. 2 The Office





The absence of Steve Carrell still weighs heavy on the The Office. This episode was good, but not great -- the Erin/Andy stuff just isn't interesting, but the Jim/Dwight reverse pranking was hilarious. Especially the bit with Henrietta the Porcupine.


No. 3 Community




This is a pretty good episode ... and I do appreciate that they're pranking Glee, but the episode is all pledge: no turn, no prestige. Also there's a rule in parody that you have to love the thing you're spoofing ... and there was no real love in this. (PS I hope they make it to Regionals!)






Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Am I "crack"ing up?

So I had an article in Cracked yesterday. Available here. I've been pleased with it. As a test, I added a link to Whitleypedia -- in the last 48 hours the site has gotten 1,450 hits linking in from the site -- which is about a quarter of the hits this site has gotten since I started it. Hah!

My original draft of my article is on the Cracked forums here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thursday shows roundup - 12/1

No 1. - Community



This episode was a great example of how great embodying the standard Community model: two or three storylines with rotating groupings of the seven principles; comedy based off of the interplay among the characters' personalities, a couple over-the-top gags, and just enough touching stuff at the end.

The Dark Knight storyline on this is the best viral advertising for The Dark Knight Rises that I've seen so far -- everything else has been really weak. (Oh? Another picture of Anne Hatheway on a bike? Neat!)

Community seems to have gained some of its former glory, albeit perhaps too late?

No. 2 - The Office



Without Steve Carrell, the show lives or dies by Robert California. This episode thrives ... including a guest appearance from WNYX's very own Lisa Miller as Mrs. Robert California.

No. 3 - Parks and Rec



The whole Ben/Leslie/will they or won't they hasn't been working. Just put them together and let them be in a relationship. The best comedy from that pairing has been watching them do silly stuff together (ie role-playing as Reagan and Thatcher) and NOT on the tired "they must but they must not" business. Hopefully this episode signals the end of it ... not even a cameo by Tami 2 could save and episode that was begging for a second (and third) storyline.

Exception: Ron's business with the Internet in the cold open was brilliant as was April's attempt to sabotage the court proceeding.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Muppet Caper, Albeit Not A Great One


In Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a space ship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It take
s us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called a wheel, it’s called a carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and a round, and back home again. To a place where we know we are loved.

- Don Draper (video here)

The Muppets are the one thing from my ch
ildhood for which I feel genuine nostalgia, the

refore it was with a skeptical eye that I viewed the new movie “The Muppets.” While a film like this has the advantage of a built-in fanbase and material, it also runs up against the challenge of competing against all of the pre-established Muppet canon: ie in order to be successful this movie has to be better than watching three back-to-back episodes of “The Muppet Show” on DVD.

It is not. The film is a failure, albeit an admirable one.


What they did right

The smartest thing the filmmakers did was with their protagonist, Walter. Using him,
a was a very clever idea. And his serving as the impetus for Kermit to “get the band back together” and host a reunion show, with hijinks along the way, was a great premise. There were also a ton of great in-
jokes and references to reward the long-time fan. long-time Muppet fan, as the vehicle through which we rediscover these beloved characters

The music is terrific, particularly the opening song (“Life’s A Happy Song”), which is wonderfully catchy, upbeat, and non-ironic.



The movie left me expecting a cameo from the Flight of the Conchords (which of course would have been perfect), though I didn’t know that FotCC’s Bret McKenzie was the music director. That is an indication that he’s succeeded in setting the same tone with the film as his TV show.

Pixar’s opening short “Small Fry,” a cartoon showing the “Toy Story” cast with their new owner, is the best part of the whole film. (This is, I will freely admit, a back-handed compliment.)

Kermit has a robot butler named 80s Robot. I found this hilarious.

What they did wrong

Well, basically everything else. First off the movie is horribly paced, dragging through an unusually long 98-minute run time full of too many maudlin sequences and too few actual jokes. Like an episode of the old timey “Muppet Show,” this movie needed to be jammed with sight gags and throw-away lines that the director hurls at the audience at a frenetic pace. Instead we got a lot of filler, much of it involving some falling out between Piggy and Kermit that wasn’t funny the last 12 times they did that.

The human characters were not terrible, but they also added exactly nothing. What was the title of the movie? The Muppets not The Humans. Every scene with them was an unnecessary distraction from the huge cast of Muppet characters, the movie’s villains, and our protagonist Walter. Gonzo, who was basically the star of every Muppet movie from “A Muppet Christmas Carol” on, has maybe five lines in the whole thing!

They did a lot of breaking of the fourth wall (“This is going to be a short movie!”, etc.), but they don’t really go all the way with it. One of the beauties of this kind of Muppet humor is the way they would always make fun of themselves and their own reliance on stilted clichés … and yet for a movie that is full of clichés and hackey plot contrivances, they leave a lot of jokes on the table. The movie is full of product placement, but they never make fun of it. The villain’s scheme is eye-rollingly uncreative (oil? really?), but never gets made fun of.

Also the cameos could have been cooler … while they have a lot of great cameos, they’re a bit mismanaged:
  • Jim from The Office doesn't even have a line
  • As mentioned above, a Conchords cameo would have been great
  • David Grohl appears but not during the Nirvana song
  • Elmo should have volunteered as their celebrity guest star
  • Tina Fey needed to appear alongside her Muppet alter-ego



  • How they could have fixed it

    OK so apart from cutting out the massive amount of filler and replacing it with jokes, the main thing they needed to fix was the climax. The idea of doing a show as the climax is great, a la “A Mighty Wind,” but they made some crucial mistakes. Rather than just feature a series of cool musical numbers, the third act is full of plot twists, villains coming back yet again, and some stupid relationship crap with the humans.

    The stupidest part is how the show-stopping finale is this whistling number that the Walter character pulls out of his Muppet-behind at the last minute, which is performed right after this show-stopping rendition of “Rainbow Connection.” WHAT THEY NEEDED TO DO was have Walter backstage, unable to find his confidence, until he sees some old interviews with Jim Henson, a montage that reminds us the Muppets ran out of popularity because this man was taken 25 years too early, leaving the entire audience in tears. Something in the same spirit as this:



    (Henson's name isn't even mentioned in the film, and we just see a photo of him for a fraction of a second!)

Then Walter sings “Rainbow Connection.” You’d have to establish along the way that he had learned to play the banjo, which would have made sense if he hero-worshipped Kermit. It’d be easy to do something like that … which of course they didn’t with his bizarre, super-human whistling abilities. Then right after “Rainbow” cut straight to the denouement without any more business with the villains.

Also they go to copious lengths to set up that Animal’s anger management prevents him from playing the drums, but it never delivers. He just starts playing the drums at some point, and nothing happens. Animal should have lost control and wiped the villains out in one stroke, instead the day is saved by this random character from the episode with Vincent Price...


...a character who has an oddly large presence in the film and more lines than Gonzo.

Conclusion

I do not understand how this movie is getting such good reviews. Rotten Tomatoes has it at an astonishing 98 percent, but it’s a cinematic failure. However, you can definitely tell that the people who made it love the Muppets, which is why it’s less obnoxious than you might expect. I really wanted the film to be good, and if they’d made some changes it could have been great. But if people enjoy something that I didn't, it doesn't bother me and if it gets a few more kids watching “The Muppet Show” on DVD, then that’s a success.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thursday shows roundup - 11/17

OK so this is going to be pretty weak, but that's what it deserves. The only one worth watching this week was Parks and Rec, and even then that wasn't great. The will-they/won't-they with Ben and Leslie isn't working. We've seen this a million times before and we don't want to see it here. We want Leslie to be happy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

TV show round up - 11/10/2011

#1 Community




So in an unusual turn of events, Community wins this week. The episode relies on eccentric interplay between the different characters in an everyday situation without becoming gimmicky. We see the classic "Jeff is kind of a rogue and has to learn lessons" and the Britta/Shirley interchange in the car works really well. Note that they seem to have completely forgotten that Shirley got pregnant, had a baby, and remarried her ex-husband -- a storyline which was completely forgettable. Allison Brie is perfect in this ep too.

#2 The Office



The antics between Dwight/Pam and Jim are hilarious. Robert California owns every scene he's in.

#3 Parks and Rec



So this has gotta be the only time Parks and Rec came in last place on this ... the episode isn't terrible, but the Ben/Leslie "they want to but they musn't!" is such a played trope and it's not much fun to watch. All the stuff with Ron and Tom is terrific, of course, and April insisting that she's "the moon" hits just the right tone for the character.

I do love how the typically self-effacing, modest Leslie can finally brag on herself talking about Model UN.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Thursday shows roundup - 10/13

#1 The Office




Robert California continues to be a great addition to the line-up, and is doing a journeyman's job of filling the space left by Michael Scott. Truthfully, since the character's shtick is new, he's actually a refreshing change of pace from Michael.

The exploration of Andy's character was good too, showing some insight into the reason for the character's quirks. Also the scene with Oscar and Darryl arguing about "Citizen Kane" was terrific.

#2 Parks and Rec




This show where Leslie and Ron have competing boy/girl scout troops was a great set-up, but the execution isn't great. Having all the boys leave Ron's troop because it wasn't any fun was fine, but having Leslie throw together a pity party for him because of it was a bad way to resolve it. Instead the Goddesses should have been presented with a problem (like a fire or a bear or a malfunctioning fire alarm or anything) that only Ron could swoop in and fix. We don't want to see Ron as pitiable. He's everyone's favorite character - we want to see him as the g.d. hero.

It's ok for him to be pathetic in fish out of water scenarios (ie with his ex-wives) but not when he is in his element (ie survivalism). The lesson, particularly with the ongoing meme of the fall of men/rise of women in American society, should have been to show the value/necessity of a traditional expression of masculinity.

Far better than the A story was the B story. The bit with Ben learning to relax with Donna and Tom was a lot of fun, continued the Leslie/Ben romance-line, and smartly showed how to do nerd humor on TV. Ben's insistence that Game of Thrones will never be cancelled "because it's a cross-over hit" was more clever than anything ever done on Big Bang Theory: you can make good nerd jokes without making nerds retards.

The C story with Jerry and Rob Lowe was ok too, but more for the chance to see the two characters interact with each other rather than for the delivery of a fairly obvious punchline at the end.


#3 Community




This episode isn't terrible, but it certainly isn't great. The show is continuing to suffer from the problem of needing gimmicks to get through an episode. This episode is the antithesis of the backwards Seinfeld episode, which used the backwards gimmick to great humorous effect, but would have been a funny story even without it.

The episode also reminded me of one of the highlights of last year's season of Community, where the gang all goes a bar for Troy's 21st birthday, which consisted of a bunch of random character-based scenes without much of a connecting plot. There this narrative format worked; here it doesn't.

Since Britta smokes pot in the episode, it would have been more interesting to make that the focus, and the episode is about how she sees the world when she's tripping balls OR do more with the different timelines several months/years down the road. The "alternate timelines" thing isn't awful, but serves to actual purpose and feels more like filler than a clever storytelling device.

Plus side? No Chang. Downside? Show is still struggling to justify the existence of the Shirley and Pierce characters.











Friday, October 7, 2011

Thursday shows roundup - 10/6

OK here's how Our Favorite Shows did last night

#1 Parks and Recreation



The story about Leslie writing a book about Pawnee is beautiful. The way the secondary characters and interwoven throughout the story affords them all the exact right amount of time while still maintaining that Leslie is indeed the star of the show. Ben's speech about ascendant nerd culture is something I've been saying for days!

#2 The Office



The Office is (so far) succeeding without Steve Carrell. The "upstairs/downstairs" aspect of the story with our characters unable to figure out how to run the warehouse was terrific.

You can definitely feel something's missing, and there's the pitfall that Andy might just be Michael Scott-lite.

#3 Community



This episode was ok. But there's still too much Chang. Making the weakest part of the show the star of an episode is a bad idea. Also the constant infighting in the group about who's popular and who's gonna get kicked out is played. Soooo played ... (The Todd guy was funny though.)


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

2011 Summer Movie Recap ...

Here's a list of the films I saw this summer, from what I liked best to what I liked least. Note that I (bizarrely) avoided movies that I thought I wouldn't like.

Super 8 was the best film I saw this summer. It was both a creative concept and a loving homage to kids-adventure movies that came before it. JJ Abrams justified to me his delaying Star Trek 12.

Cowboys and Aliens deserved better reception than it got. It was a solid Western, clever twist on the alien invasion trope, and great character vehicle for a terrific ensemble cast.

Thor and Captain America are mostly equal in my mind – no doubt a product of how the films' designed synergy. By and large, I enjoyed the Captain America story more, but I am going to put Thor slightly over Cap because 1) better use of humor, 2) better romance element, and 3) I didn't feel like anything was missing. I prefer Chris Evans as an actor and Cap as a character, but the film lacked any kind of actual patriotic sentiment (like, say, American flags) or a great speech by Cap speaking to the current meme of declining American primacy.

X-Men First Class was just ok in my mind. It certainly wasn't bad, and the two leading actors were perfect as Xavier and Magneto, but my biggest problem with the film was that it wasn't about how Charles Xavier became Professor X. We don't see him learn about how to use these powers or develop his ethical code. From the first scene, as a 12 years old boy, has already done all that.

Pirates 4 could have been better than the other three, because they'd dumped the dead weight of the Orlando Bloom/Keira Knightley romance business. But instead they introduced a replacement lame romance. Weak.

Films I missed I want to see: Harry Potter 7.2, Horrible Bosses, 30 Minutes or Less.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Slate on Community: Paradigms of Human Memory - the season that wasn't

Interesting article today on Slate about "Community," namely how the episode "Paradigms of Human Memory" is "the most insanely self-referential 22 minutes in sitcom history."

In this episode, Jeff hallucinated a talking fish, and we all learned a valuable lesson about mercury poisoning.o

I recommend the article to "Community" fans -- the writer makes some very insightful comments, about how the show is a sit-com about sit-coms and such, but he misses the main point of the episode.

Oh - what's that? You'd like me to
explain? Well ok.

This was probably the best episode of the show's second season, which crashed hard after it's fantastic first season, going from the show that I was most excited to watch on Thursday nights to the show I was least excited to watch. They even acknowledge the precipitous drop in writing quality in one episode with a clever (albeit sad) sight gag:



In its first year, show always had a fun, engaging formula where there were two or three different storylines that all converged beautifully at the end. The best example was the "Somewhere Out There" montage (available here).

But the show's creators moved from that format to a very soap operatic one and an increasing number of gimmick-shows (meant to replicate the success of the paintball episode), including TWO MORE PAINTBALL EPISODES. The worst thing that happened was the mismanagement of the Ken Jeong character, as Slate points out here.

Ken Jeong

(Note that given that he appeared in two of the three most successful films of 2011 (Hangover 2 and Transformers 3), the reaction will no doubt be to use his character more rather than less.)

So this episode, "Paradigms of Memory," was IMO the effort for them to make the episode that showed the season they wished they'd made. By saturating the episode with a litany of no doubt VERY expensive flashbacks to stories we've never seen, they were trying to wipe the slate (ah hah) clean and provide retroactive continuity (or "retconning").

(Also I appreciate that when the author of the original Slate articles talks about flashbacks and cutaways that he mentioned "30 Rock" and "ARD," but -not- "Family Guy," although "Family Guy" is easily the show that has popularized cutaway gags __however__ the show's creators stole the trope from early episodes of "The Simpsons.")

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Avengers teaser trailer leaked!

No, alas, I do not have video footage of the Avenger teaser trailer leaked online. But I did just see it at the end of Captain America ... and indeed it did rule.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Office Top 10 List: #9 – Boys and Girls


So a frequent criticism of the American version of The Office is that it owes too much to the British version. I agree with this criticism. The stuff that the US version cribbed from the UK version sucked because the UK version isn’t really that funny. Case in point: Jan. The whole dynamic with Michael and Jan was only OK, but they did it because they had to from the UK version. But it works in this episode as we see Michael oddly trying to compete with her by forming a “men in the workplace” breakout session to counter Jan’s with the female staff.

Pam loses it when she realizes she isn’t strong enough to chase her dreams, even when the company she ostensibly hates offers to help her achieve them. (Remember: Pam is a loser, but Jenna Fisher is an INCREDIBLE dramatic actress.)


This is also the breakthrough episode for the warehouse (notably Daryl).

Highlights:

Michael: What is more important than quality? Equality.

Kelly: How can someone so beautiful be so sad?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Thursday roundup

#1 Parks and Recreation



Yes, I know that this was Michael Scott's last episode of The Office, and you'd think that'd get him the win. But it doesn't Parks and Rec had a fantabulous episode which, while a silly premise (Jerry being a master painter), was executed in a hilarious way gave many of the characters the chance to shine, particularly the show's star, Leslie, who - because she is the show's "straight man" - often does not captivate the audience like Ron or April.

Great product placement with the B story at Bed Bath and Beyond.

#2 The Office



This was an episode full of both humor and heart as we bid farewell to Steve Carrell. Real opportunity for Carrell to demonstrate how the character has grown, particularly in the last year. The thing the episode suffered most from was the presence of Will Farrell. A big guest star should not detract from the most important episode of the show's anchor.

#3 30 Rock



30R also had a dynamite installment, with some excellent meta humor ("Who was the white guy in Invictus?'"), good continuity humor (bringing "back" Condi Rice), and some classic Tracy hijinx which were, while not terribly new, not terribly old either. The "three kinds of heat" that have made the show great.

#4 Community

I watched the first five minutes and gave up -- non-teacher Chang has been a dismal failure and they need to get rid of him. The storyline with him and Shirley has been even worse -- and that's what this episode was about. Let me know if it was any good.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Last Call - Trib op-ed

OK so yesterday was the first day my op-ed slipped out of the top 10 on the Trib website -- but four days was a pretty good run. The comments are up to about 450 now, which is probably where it will top out.

At this point I'm like, "Everyone I know has probably read it. Probably." And you wonder how many higher-ups in Salt Lake City have read it and if it will have an effect. One hopes that at least the Dollahite guy will realize, "Oh yeah - duh - feminism," and change his rhetoric ... and one likewise hopes that the "lack of initiative" girl will calm down a little bit and remember that "Nagging is nowhere near as charming as, say, charm."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trib article follow up #2

OK so as of right now:

My article was No. 2 most read on the Trib's site yesterday and it's No. 2 again today -- behind only an article with "porn" in the title and the Bagley cartoon respectively. This is indeed a good thing.


There are 423 comments. I'm still on the first page of results on a Google search. That's good Internet.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trib article follow up

SO! My Trib article has been very heavily read (note that because some have reacted negatively, I did not say "popular).

Metrics:

#1 Most read on SL Trib on Saturday


#3 Most read on SL Trib on Sunday


and #7 Google result when you type "lds"!!!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Trib published my LDS marriage article

Greetings, friends. The Salt Lake Tribune published my article on LDS dating/marriage habits. Tis indeed awesome. Article here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday shows recap 3/18

OK so here's the roundup of our favorite shows. Note: there was no new episode of "The Office"

No. 1 Parks and Recreation



"Parks and Rec" hits it out of the park with this fantastic episode, which is so dense with character moments, intersecting storylines, and jokes that I thought it was an hour-long episode once I'd finished. Great conclusion to the Harvest Fest storyline, good use of supporting characters, and a winner all around. Leslie Knope is impossibly loveable, and Ron Swanson is a rock star of traditional midwestern moustachio'd manliness.

Best line: "You know with Pawnee's history, it's difficult to not be offensive."

No. 2 30 Rock



Season 5 of "30 Rock" has been a success so far methinks. While not as hilarious as the first three seasons, it's still been very good. This episode spoofs the reality TV show model extremely well, lampooning not only the theatrics of reality show "stars," but small details like the title sequences, transitions, and even the editting. Jack owns the episode of course, struggling against the idea that he might be portrayed as clumsy, unathletic, or gay.

No. 3 Community



This episode of "Community," like most this season, was so dull, lifeless, and unfunny that I stopped half-way through. While the bit with Britta and Troy/Abed was nice (especially since they've never really had a storyline with the three of them and I love Gillian Jacobs), everything with Chang/Shirley and the rest fell flat, and the show's soap operatic nature is continuing to advance in exactly the wrong direction. The only good joke was this sight gag:


which is actually, if you think about it, kind of sad.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The End of Hollywood Story-telling?

Just in time for the Oscars, here's a great article from GQ about how marketing demands has turned Hollywood from an institution that creates films to one that adapts reliable brands. Here's an excerpt:


For the studios, a good new idea has become just too scary a road to travel. ...
With that in mind, let's look ahead to what's on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children's book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title .*
* Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, Green Lantern, and Thor; X-Men: First Class; Transformers 3; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; Rise of the Apes; Cars 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2; The Hangover Part II; Winnie the Pooh; The Smurfs in 3D; Spy Kids 4; Fast Five and Final Destination 5; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Now I understand that people want to feel like the creative environment is one in which, y'know, creativity can flourish. But let me play devil's advocate here for a while.




Simply because an idea is new, it is not automatically better than something which is adapted. Let's remember that:

Now I'm sure we could all go on about this ... but would the first "Pirates" have been better if it hadn't used a pre-known name and a couple images from the ride that people only know because they're in the movie?

No.

People like familiarity. The expectation that people can only enjoy something that's new speaks to a predilection for ADD and infidelity. Also if something is new, and is good, is it too much to expect that people might want to see more of that? Or does something have to be new to be good?

No. "Cars" was new when Pixar did it ... and it was drastically inferior to "Toy Story 2" or "Toy Story 3."

Having said that ... they are releasing "Cars 2." So ... well, maybe these people have a point.

But then again WHO CARES? If you want creative films, go to the Sundance Film Festival. If you just want quality story-telling, there is more better writing on TV than ever before: were there dramas as good as "Mad Men" in the 1990s? No. Were there comedies as good as "The Office" in the 1980s? Hardly.

Or forget about traditional entertainment entirely: if you want to find creative work, there is the whole g-d Internet. Movies are the laziest, greediest form of entertainment we have. If that medium has one foot in the grave, I say push the rest of it in.


Note: The Red Letter Media review of the Star Trek reboot has some good insights on this subject.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book of Mormon musical? I believe

The one thing I like most about “South Park” is the fact that it’s based in Colorado, neighbor to my home state of Utah. It’s probably too much to hope for a show based in Utah that isn’t overtly, sappily religious (“Touched By An Angel”) or that isn’t overtly, scatchingly anti-Mormon (“Big Love”) – so Colorado is going to have to be good enough.

And growing up in the Mormon-concentrated Intermountain West, it’s no surprise that show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker would show some examples of the faith in their show. What’s surprising, though, is how much of the show has been dedicated to the LDS Church. This includes items such as Joseph Smith’s membership in the “Super Best Friends” (where he uses his ice powers to help save the day) and the fact that in the South Park-verse, although Jesus is Catholic and God is a Buddhist, only Mormons go to Heaven.



Matt and Trey have gotten a good amount of press coverage lately because of the Broadway musical called “The Book of Mormon.” (This Slate article on the subject is great.) Exactly what that entails remains to be seen; obviously the LDS leadership doesn’t like anyone else branding them … but if the episode “All About The Mormons” (available for viewing on the South Park site here) is an indication of their perspective, the musical will treat the religion favorably, which is why predictions that the LDS Church will boycott it are ridiculous.

If you (or someone you love) are LDS, I strongly recommend you watch this episode before forming an opinion about the musical. The basic premise is any religion’s super-natural tenets will look bizarre to outsiders, but the important thing is how those tenets affect their members’ behavior. The LDS family in the episode is portrayed as somewhat silly, yes, but overwhelming positive, loving, and civic-minded, whereas Stan and his family are portrayed as dysfunctional, intolerant, and violent. The episode’s closing lines speak for themselves:


Gary (the Mormon boy): Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life. and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you're so high and mighty you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

Cartman: Damn, that kid is cool, huh?

From a rhetorical standpoint, the message of this episode is a more authentic, convincing advocacy of LDS teachings than anything church PR could come up with, because it's their job to say nice things about Mormonism, but it isn't Matt and Trey's. Modern-day audiences are too sophisticated to accept PR as anything other than PRopoganda, no matter how well it’s packaged, whereas an endearing portrayal by outsiders, set against the backdrop of a message about religious tolerance, reaches audiences that would never watch a church PSA. It sounds like "The Book of Mormon" is going to be in a similar vein, in which case I can't wait to see it.

And hey -- at least we have people talking about something other than Prop. 8.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thursday shows recap 2/17

Well it shouldn't be a surprise who came out on top this week.

No. 1 The Office



Returning to an idea that had been mentioned once in season 2, The Office debuts Michael's movie, Threat Level Midnight. It was a departure from their standard fare, in that clips of the movie were intermingled with their standard mockumentary style. Worked brilliantly with lots of laughs, and gave the show some great cameos from Karen, Jan, etc.

No. 2 Parks and Recreation



Also a clever episode, developing the character of that one guy they appear to be grooming as a love interest for Leslie. The creation of a small town pair of shock jocks, Crazy Ira and the Douche, was clever and felt painfully authentic. Also the Alta Vista jokes? Brilliant.

No. 3 30 Rock



Pretty clever business with Liz sleuthing at the end ... they have been building up to this with her dropping hints about her obsession with The Mentalist for a while. Well done.

No. 4 Community



This episode was cool in that a) it hopefully resolved the Pierce-as-dirtbag storyline and b) had Levar Burton, but no big laughs. Also good work from Abed as the documentary filmmaker. The show is still too soap operatic, but this was a pretty good installment.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thursday shows recap 2/10

Couple days late, but you can all forgive me. Here's the round-up of Our Favorite Shows from last Thursday.

No. 1 - Park and Recreation



Impudently grabbing the No. 1 spot is this week's "Parks and Rec," which beats out the other shows by bringing back whatshername from "Will and Grace" as Tami Swanson. While it can be tricky to bring back a guest star and without just recycling the script from the guest's original outing. "PnFnR" succeeded admirably by having Tami Swanson remarry Ron to become Tami Swanson Swanson. Good dynamic between Ron and Tom, and the other characters all had great moments too. (Especially Rob Lowe when he asked his assistant to join him in Indianapolis, but not his girlfriend.)

No. 2 - Community



"Community" puts in a great sophomore Valentine's episode, with hilarious jibes at Britta's faux-tolerant liberalism, a cute love story for Troy and Abed and some hot librarian, and lots of John Oliver being oh-so British. They still have no idea what to do with Shirley, and the problem is it's rapidly becoming obvious that's not a problem for the show. Hopefully they figure something out. But until they do, hope their episode quality stays this high.

The Barenaked Ladies debate was brilliant. Especially when Annie calls them "BNL."

No. 3 - The Office



This episode was also entertaining, as the office has to deal with Michael and Holly's PDA. The show continues to successfully balance its many characters. Good episode - not great - but highly watchable and very Valentines-propriate.

No. 4 - 30 Rock



"30 Rock" has grabbed the bottom slot on my weekly countdown and just run away with it! There is no stopping the levels of mediocrity this once-great show can satisfy itself with. The jokes about Canada were predictable and trite (except the ones about meth labs -- told by former stoner Harold). There were a couple other storylines, but they were likewise uninteresting. C'mon, guys! Do you think they gave you all those Emmys so you could scratch your backs with them?!?!?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekly Thursday comedy redux

OK I haven't been as diligent on this as perhaps I could have been, but here's your weekly Thursday evening NBC comedy redux:

No. 1 "The Office"



Yet again The Office steals the top spot. This unquestionably beat the rest of the shows this week, as it makes use of its remarkably deep bench of primary, secondary, and tertiary characters. Everyone had something to do but it didn't feel jammed. Further proof that the series will survive without Michael Scott, as Steve Carrell is only in a few minutes of the episode.

Great Dwight-isms ("I can't take my car - it's full of fox meat.") and a happy resolution to the Erin-hates-Holly runner before it ran out of gas.

However, this show did violate its own rule about acknowledging the presence of the camera crew: if Michael were really lost, they could have called the camera guy trailing him.

No. 2 "Parks and Recreation"



Very funny episode that plays to the show's strengths (Leslie's overeagerness, April speaking Spanish); a few good jabs at Twilight, and Leslie's great line "I'm more of a Harry Potter girl." Also I love her trying to armchair quarterback the reporter on what her headline should be ... as an award-winning small-town newspaper headline writer (cough, ahem, pats back), I got a huge kick out of it.

No. 3 "Community"



Community has been suffering from some serious sophomore slumps, with the writers demonstrating no idea what to do with about half the characters (Shirley, Pierce, Chang, and half-ways Britta). This season has featured far too much soap opera and not enough humor, and this episode is no exception.

Also, I have to point out that they wouldn't be playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. A college-student in 2011 would have been born in the late 1980s or early 1990s, after the game had switched to second edition. If he had started playing the game when he was 10 - 12, he would have played Third Edition D and D, or far more likely, Everquest.

The main problem:

This episode is about a character we've never seen before, and therefore less relevant, and Pierce is completely out of character as a selfish a-hole. (In the first season he was clueless but always avuncular.) These two problems are exacerbated by the fact that it's heavily implied that this new character is one step away from suicide. Not funny.

Chang in drow black face was funny, but that lasted about 5 seconds. Making the episode so serious made it unpleasant to watch -- it would have worked much better if it had been revealed that Jeff had played AD n D as a kid, which thing Troy and Abed stumble across and decide they should play together as part of a research project FOR THEIR ANTHROPOLOGY CLASS. That way they could have had a cameo from John Oliver, the bright spot of this season, and cut out the new character entirely. Oliver, or the Dean, could have done the voice over --- they have talented actors and should use them.

Note that this idea of mis-placed nostalgia was also a problem with the Scott Pilgrim movie: 20-somethings in 2010 would not feel nostalgia for 1980s-era video games, even though their 30-something creators would.

No. 4 "30 Rock"



Strange that an episode featuring Tina Fey tromping around in nothing but a bra wouldn't win No. 1, but the key to comedy is comedy, which this episode mostly missed. The quality of 30 Rock has been sinking like, well, a rock. Turning Jenna into a duplicate of Tracy hasn't worked anytime in the last two years that they've tried it, but that hasn't stopped them. Jack's struggle with the new corporate leadership was OK, and Avery's trying to conceal her pregnancy from a rival broadcaster was funny -- but they shouldn't be getting their best (only) laughts on an episode from a supporting character.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Time To Mourn And A Time To Dance

Recently I attended another in a long-line of parties populated by fellow saints from my singles ward – a dance party at the home of a group of reasonably high-profile girls whom I’d previously home taught. I thought it would be fun to support my former home teach-ees and eat their brownies.

My roommates, however, disagreed, noting that Mormon dance parties are pointless. “Why should we go to a party just to watch all the girls dance together?”

I hadn’t thought of things that way, but my friends’ prediction proved uncannily accurate: About 20 girls were dancing in a big, impenetrable glob – getting oh-so worked up when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” came up – while the half-dozen attending men shuffled in the corner, talking amongst themselves about sports and eating brownies.

An utterly bizarre phenomenon, an outsider might observe: why would so few men come to an event where women are literally boxed in for them, and why would those who did come be so timid?

But to the Mormon single, particularly the male, this is a quintessential Kobayashi Maru, the no-win scenario.

Dancing is a casually intimate event, potentially enticing to continued romantic pursuit – a perfect ice-breaker in a typical setting. But even something as harmless as trying to initiate a non-threatening dance in a church-confined situation such as this can make a man seem too aggressive physically, and LDS girls are brought up to spurn physical aggression of any kind. So any girl a boy approaches will no doubt reject him publicly (either on the spot or amongst her friends after he’s departed).

In fact, the only thing more repellant to a girl in this scenario than being approached boldly by a man at this party is not being approached boldly by a man at this party. He’s got one shot with one girl, and then he’s ruined any hopes with the other 19.

It’s lose-lose. Because of this, many men will simply blow the event off, regardless of the fact that they would much rather carouse with girls on a Saturday night than stay home and play video games with their friends. Given this, the surprising thing to me is not that so few boys come to a Mormon dance party, but that so many do. It reminds me of a line from my favorite romantic comedy, “Annie Hall”:

This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don't you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”

Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.

Mormon men need eggs. Oh boy, do they need eggs, but when they can’t get that, most will settle for brownies.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

No Gays On Trek? Oh Behave

So this week my Google alert for "Star Trek" picked up the following article from afterelton.com, where former Trek writer/producer Brannon Braga bemoaned the lack of outed gay characters on Trek during its entire 40-year run. A not uncommon observation about the franchise, this complaint has rung loudly for years, and was featured prominently in that awful "Trekkies" documentary.

Now before we proceed, I need to mention that Braga, although he has more Trek writing credits to his name than ANYONE ELSE, is also generally regarded as one of the worst things to ever happen to the franchise. (Strange that these two facts coincide.) He presided over Trek's fall from unprecedented popularity in the mid-90s to its utter ruin by the mid-2000s.

This ski slope graphic is the ratings of Enterprise: Braga's brainchild.

And he wrote the teleplay for what is widley regarded as the "worst episode ever" -- Voyager's "Threshold." Yes, this is the one where the Voyager crew somehow comes up with the ability to travel at infinite speed, which evolves Tom Paris and Capt. Janeway into lizards who then mate.



SFDebris hates "Threshold" so much, he did FOUR videos on it.

Now of course I don't say that to invalidate Braga's comments, but I think it's important to remember that the guy who had more free rein inside the Trek universe than anyone else does not remotely understand that universe.

Yes Star Trek dealt with the subject of sexual minorities on multiple occasions BUT yes it always in the context of an alien race -- never regarding humans. I think if I were gay I would find that somewhat patronizing: it's like saying "oh, I know you exist but you're so weird I can only think about you if you have blue skin, goop on your forehead, or a slug in your belly. They did one episode of DS9 with the franchise's first "same-sex kiss," but - I'm sorry - when male producers have two attractive, white females kiss it's not a proud statement of sexual identity: it's soft-core porno. (See also "Vampire Slayer, Buff: Diversity check list.")

Also to those who object, I would hope most would forgive Trek because so much of its content was generated before the on-screen gay liberation of shows like "Will and Grace." However, those installments which came after that liberation were "Voyager" and "Enterprise" -- the shows for which Braga was himself the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER. In his interview, he explicitly blames the lack of gay characters on affiliates "you know, in Salt Lake City" rather than you know, HIMSELF.

So while we're talking about diversity and Salt Lake City, Mr. Braga, how many Mormon characters were on Star Trek? Zero. Okay. Well, how about more mainstream Christian religions like Catholicism or Methodism? Oh? Zero again? Wow -- in 40 years? You couldn't even ret-con Chekov to being Russian Orthodox, or say that Deanna Troi's human father was Greek Orthodox out of respect for Marina Sirtis's Greek heritage?

Now before someone thinks I'm, like, a whining Christian who thinks his value system is only portrayed negatively in popular culture (the type Kevin Smith is begging will revitalize his career with protests), let me expand this diatribe to include ALL Earth religions.

In the entirety of its run, Star Trek did not feature a single character who expressed a religious predisposition -- except again, as with gays, aliens: Kira (a violent terrorist) and Worf (a violent barbarian). And when I say religions, I am also including atheism and agnosticism! This show that was all about exploring the human condition completely ignored one of the biggest aspects of human existence. (It did the same to economics, but that's another matter.)

According to my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek, I can recall only two conversations about religion in the entire run of Next Generation. Both involved Data.

In this one, Nagilum has threatened to kill the crew, so Picard is blowing up the ship. Data asks him what death is (starting at 1.45), and Picard gives him a big speech wherein he admits that he lacks any spefic beliefs about the after-life (that is, a religion), but he hasn't even really thought about it!



(Actually it's not even Data, it's a holographic version of him.)

Okay and then in this bit, Data confides in Worf that he had a "crisis of faith" about his own existence. It's actually a pretty cool scene, but again -- doesn't really say anything about human religious experience. (Starts at 5.57.)



Loyal readers will recall my redux on TNG, in which I outline how every space show since then has positioned itself by what TNG was not -- including religion. Because of Trek's failing in this regard, other space shows have gone out of their way to portray religious characters more, I would speculate, than any other typical drama does specifically to distance themselves from Trek.

  • "Firefly" featured a free Evangelical preacher (Sherpherd Book), a Jewish Internet superstar (Mr. Universe), a disillusioned ex-Catholic (Mal), and a high-end Buddhist prostitute (Inara).

  • "Babylon 5" featured not only standard Earth religions, but a religion which were started in the future (Foundationalism - named after Asimov's book series).

  • "BSG" was entirely about religion, though of course it was all otherworldly.
And I can understand that sexual minorities might feel left out of the Roddenberrian perfect future, but let's also remember that Roddenberry was himself pretty prejudiced against religion and specifically crafted a John Lennon-esque utopia that is insultingly built on a premise of a-religiosity. And yes, I can understand that in the 1960s he didn't want to alienate (haha) Catholics by making Kirk a Protestant (which he almost invariably would have been, at least culturally, as a small-town hick from Iowa), but if we're going to start bemoaning the holes in Star Trek's perfect future, let's bemoan all of them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Oscars Grouch: "Social Network"

OK so I really am not a movie guy. I recall a line from an episode of "News Radio" where Joe says "I don't go to movies, most movies suck." Frankly I think movies are long and boring and do not fit as well into my life as, say, an episode of "Parks and Recreation" that I can watch during dinner.

Now having said that, I also don't get too caught up into movie awards, mainly because the kind of movies I like typically go unnoticed. (Example: the first Star Trek movie to receive an Academy Award was the 2009 reboot.) The anti-elitist in me tends to bristle at the, uh, elitism of honoring films because they're supposed to be honored. A glowing spoof of this phenomenon is last year's brilliant "Movie Title" from my friends over at Cracked.com:




Of course by the same token, I don't really go in for awards to popular movies because they're popular --- that's what, after all, the box office is there to prove. But I am nonetheless fascinated by the zeitgeist informing what constitutes "best" every year.

So we come to it at last: the Whitleypedia grouchy analysis of this year's Oscars (before the nominations are announced). I'm not literate enough in all of 2010's films to go through everything bullet-point by bullet-point, but I will say that I hope "The Social Network" wins best picture.

It was an extraordinary film with no weak points, at least that I detected when I saw it last fall. It's a film that everyone can identify with -- not just because 500 million people are on Facebook -- but because everyone can identify with the protagonist: a sort of loser who thinks he's better than everyone else and, after having been pushed around, has extraordinary success and is basically able to say f--- you to the world that ignored him.

This move is, in effect, a super-hero film. "Mark Zuckerberg" is a Peter Parker-esque nerd who gets super-powers that both ruin and exalt him. His arc is portrayed with a more realistic assessment of how the supernatural affects the mortal than even "Watchmen" could possibly have done.

The other leading contender for best picture is "The King's Speech," a very conservative, traditional Oscar heavyweight. I am sure that everyone involved in creating and promoting the film is brilliant -- and I do believe that Geoffrey Rush is probably the best actor alive today. But the King's arc is far less interesting than "Zuckerberg's," regardless of how well it's portrayed, and as this EW article points out, we don't need yet another best picture about the awesomeness of Great Britain.

The Academy is full of old people, so they may not recognize the significance of "The Social Network," but this year, they may not be able to ignore it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book list 2010

This year was a pretty good year for me literarily. I believe that I read more this year than ever before – including perhaps in college. Certainly I read more books of my own choosing than any other year. 2010 – the year of the book (or if you will book on CD).

I read the following books:

Swords Against Death
Treasure Island
The Road
Wishful Drinking
Death Troopers
I Am Spock

I read only the following Discworld books – frankly I think I'm tapping out on those. But there are 35+ books in the series, so that's understable:

• The Last Continent
• The Wee Free Men
• Witches Abroad
• Interesting Times


I read or reread all of the Chuck Klosterman books:

• Downtown Owl
• Fargo Rock City
• Killing Yourself to Live
• Chuck Klosterman IV
• Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa-Puffs
• Eating the Dinosaur

Because of time spent in my car on the daily commute, I've been able to "listen" to a lot of books this year, including:

My Life
Earth (The Book)
Freakonomics
Superfreakonomics
Outliers
I, Robot
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 4
Anansi Boys

And I reread the following books on CD:

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Restaurant at the End of the Universe
The Old Man and the Sea
A Christmas Carol
The Hobbit

I read a lot more nonfiction this year than is typical for me, because I've found it's easier to absorb on the commute. I think my favorite book this year was Freakonomics, certainly in that nonfiction category.

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