January 29, 2008

Alison in My Mind

Sad to report, my TV addiction rolls on unabated. The writer's strike is killing me - killing me, I tell you. New episodes of my favorite shows (all 26 of them) are beginning to dry up, and I'm not big on the reality shows which carry on unaffected by the strike. (Which I don't quite understand; the so-called reality shows are scripted as well. I think the Writer's Guild may have granted an exemption.) If pressed, I will watch "American Idol" but only because I consider it my duty as an American.

Anyway . . .

We just went through a period of fund-raising for the public TV stations, yielding a cornucopia of fabulous musical concerts. I've seen concert footage of Eric Clapton, both solo and with his old buddies in Cream, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Roy Orbison - the list goes on.

One of those fund-raising shows featured a tribute to James Taylor. Many of his admirers, major singer-songwriters in their own right, took the stage to play a James Taylor tune, and every performance was inspired.

My favorite brought on stage the inimitable Alison Krauss, an angel, I'm convinced, who has graciously descended from the higher planes to lift our hearts with her voice and music. Along with her slide guitar player, she performed an early tune, one of those James Taylor compositions that makes you want to weep with heartache and joy at the same time. This version by Alison is, to me, moving beyond belief. Enjoy:

January 29, 2008 at 12:41 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 15, 2007

Police Gone Wild

From The Keystone Cops to the Police Academy movies, wacky cops have been a fertile well for American comedy. Following in this fine tradition is my new favorite TV show (I am truly addicted to it), Reno 911! (Don't forget the exclamation point!)

This is a series that has been running on Comedy Central since 2003, and we're now getting 2 rerun episodes a night at 10pm in Burlington on the CW, Channel 20. The show is a take-off on another TV show called Cops, a for-real documentary of police officers in action. (Hilariously, Cops airs on the same station right after Reno. The irony alone is head-spinning.)

Every episode follows a squad of the Reno, Nevada police force in the station and on their daily calls. Needless to say, they are utterly and cluelessly incompetent.

What makes this show so original and compelling is the improvisation. The scenes obviously have "beats," as they call them in improvisational theater exercises: certain actions that need to occur to move the plot, such as it is, forward. But, other than that, the dialog and action is improvised by the actors, and each cast member, including the marvelous collection of minor players, is sterling at this most pure form of acting.

An actor once told me the basic rule of improv:  never deny. Whatever your fellow actor puts out there, that becomes your reality and you go with it. So improvisational theater is akin to a great jazz band, jamming after-hours, going where the muse takes them.

The wikipedia site lists the all the characters on the show and their ridiculous personality traits and back stories: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reno_911!

(A year or so ago, a movie version of the show was released, but I found it less funny than an average TV episode. The TV show has a certain jury-rigged, low-key charm that was lost when it was blown-up to feature length.)

So, if this is your cup of tea, and you want to laugh your ass off before bed, check it out.

November 15, 2007 at 12:39 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 09, 2007

Still Tubing It

It's been a long while since I posted under the category, "My TV Addiction." It's not that I have stopped or even cut down on my viewing. I wish. No, the reason is my belated discovery that blogging about television represents the hands-down corniest, dweebiest - all right, let's say it - lamest use of weblogs since they came into existence. Who knew? Well, everybody I guess, except me.

But, what can I say? My TV addiction continues unabated. I figure I might as well put it to some, if not good, use.

Two new comedy series were introduced late last season: "'Til Death," and "Rules of Engagement." Both of these shows are semi-funny and semi-watchable. In other words, if I have the TV on and there's nothing better, I'll tune in.

What strikes me about these two sitcoms is their identical plot. Both feature a middle-aged couple, married for quite a while, who are friends with a twenty-something, newlywed couple. The older couple is cynical and jaded about marriage (quelle surprise!), while the younger twosome is - you got it! - bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I guess the TV wizards wanted to hit both demographics.

The older husband on "'Til Death" is played by Brad Garrett, late of "Everybody Loves Raymond," and on "Rules of Engagement" by Patrick Warburton, who played "Putty" to hilarious effect on "Seinfeld." These guys are pretty much the named stars of their shows, although "R of E" also has the ever smarmy David Spade as a regular.

Isn't TV amazing? The plots on these two shows could be switched with each other any week because the premise and characterization are the same. Either one of these shows could be much better; I find the writing just too predictable, never daring or deep.

Ah well - anybody out there digging either one of these series? What are you watching this fall season?

November 9, 2007 at 07:24 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 15, 2007

Hands Off The Mute!

For a full-bodied TV addict like myself, those who mute the commercials don't know what they're missing. To me, skipping the commercials is like eating at a fine restaurant and passing on the condiments and the side dishes. OK, this is a weak analogy, but you get my point:  TV commercials are tasty!

My current favorite ad campaign is for Geico, the on-line insurance company. Here's the premise:  In order to demonstrate the ease of signing up for a policy, they've come up with this kicky tag-line - "So easy, a caveman can do it!" It turns out, however, that there's still a few caveman out and about, and, man, they are indignant. So the ads explore the cavemen's various encounters with callous and indifferent people who are basically telling them to just get over it. Here's the first one which sets up this storyline.

The  brilliant conceit of these vignettes is in the portrayal of the cavemen. They appear as typically neurotic 21st Century guys, albeit with a slightly lame 1970's fashion sense. Other than the thick burrowed foreheads, they're just like us.

One of these ads finds a caveman in the middle of a therapy session. (He's texting on his cell phone while he's exhanging with his therapist which is hilarious in itself.) The therapist is advising him to chill out. He counters with, "Well, what if the ad said, 'So easy, a therapist can do it!'"

The therapist retorts, "Well, that ad wouldn't make sense."

"Why?" the caveman says, dryly. "Because therapists are smart?"

The therapist responds with a weak half-smile covering up a grimace. (It's a precious take.) Just then, the caveman's phone rings. He glances down at the screen and says, "It's my mother. I'll put it on speaker."

I never get tired of this ad. I would watch it daily for the next year.

Another one of these ads currently in rotation shows two of the caveman in a conversation on a porch outside a house where a party is underway. Apparently, one of the cavemen has actually signed up with Geico for his own insurance. (The irony!) As his friend chides him, he says, "What? Do you think it makes me less of a caveman?"

At that moment, a third caveman comes out on the porch, nearly beside himself with delight. He interrupts the other two friends with, "Guess what? Tina's here. We're getting back together."

One of his caveman friends says, "Hey, can you give us a minute?"

The interrupting caveman's head falls in disappointment and he slinks away.

Postscript:  These Geico commercial have become so popular that the caveman are getting their own sitcom come September, thereby giving me something to live for.

July 15, 2007 at 08:00 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 06, 2007

The Houdini of Cuisini

Television gets weirder than normal during the summer when the regular shows are on hiatus. Most of the original programming revolves around cheap-to-produce reality shows. For example, one of them features 20-something women competing with 40-something women for the affection of a winsome 30 year-old guy. This is not exactly Death of a Salesman, though I'll probably watch it. My standards are tragically low.

This is especially true when it comes to sports. I will watch any sports competition, from curling to sumo wrestling, if they put it on the tube. (The one exception is car racing, the lure of which I don't grasp. Somebody explain it to me.) Which brings me to the "sports" feature I watched form beginning to end over the 4th:  The world hot dog eating championship, sponsored by Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs and held at their flagship restaurant in Coney Island Brooklyn.

I have great affection for Coney Island - the rides, beach food, side shows and amusement park games - having spent a fair amount of my childhood sneaking off to Coney Island on the D Train from my Flatbush neighborhood with my ruffian friends.

Coney Island was what amusement parks used to be before Walt Disney realized there was a fortune to be had in cleaning up the experience, providing a safe, antiseptic environment for the growing middle-class and their families. Coney Island was a lot of things, but not in the realm of antiseptic. Coney Island was real and raunchy, sexy and ripe with possibility. The difference between Disney World and Coney Island is precisely the difference between Pat Boone and Jerry Lee Lewis. Me - I preferred things with a whole lotta shakin' going on.

Tens of thousands of Brooklynites flock to Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island to watch this event every year, which has been held since 1916. The first year the winner ate 16 hot dogs in 12 minutes. This year's winner ate 66. Yes, 66. That's a lot of hot dogs.

The TV announcers presented the event only slightly tongue-in-cheek. Mostly they used traditional sports jargon, exploring the training regimens and background stories of the various competitors. I was riveted.

Picture the stage in front of the hot dog stand, replete with a couple midgets in American flag-patterned tuxedos and top hats, old men in bowlers, pretty girls in short shorts and halters and various vaguely official-looking judges. After an endless series of introductory speeches and hokey presentations, they came to the introduction of the competitors, my favorite part. Each one sprung onto the stage to the screams of the wildly cheering Brooklyn crowd. Here's some of them:

Kamil "the Hague" Hamersky, a Czech native who holds the world record in plum dumplings and honey-cake. (Everyone of these guys holds the "world record" in one food or another. There's more belts than professional boxing.)

Crazy Legs Conti, a professional magician from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, who holds the world record in green beans. Among his gustatory feats was eating his way out of an 8' box of popcorn. He's also known as the Houdini of Cuisini. (I love that.)

Kenji Oguni from Japan, who holds the record in all sorts of noodle dishes. His nickname is "Darkwater." Oooooh . . .

Allen "the Shredder" Goldstein from New Jersey, who holds the bologna record, of course.

Tim Janus, who competes in modified Kiss make-up.

Rich "the Locust" Lefevre, from Nevada, who, at 60+, is the eminence gris of the competition. He holds the records for Spam and chili. God love 'em.

"Humble" Bob Shoudt, the only vegetarian on the circuit, but "he strays to compete in these major events." I don't know, Humble Bob - there's still the karma.

Patrick Bertoletti, the sweets specialist, holding records in ice cream and key lime pie.

Sonya Thomas, from Japan, known as the "black widow," who holds records in oysters and, oddly, sweet potatoes. I think she must have weighed 80 lbs. wet. As a rare female competitive eater, she's also known as the "Gloria Steinem of the Gullet." Feminism continues to change our world for the better.

Eric "Badlands" Booker, an African-American guy, who weighed easily 375 lbs. You'd think these master eaters would all be huge, but most of them are quite thin, go figure. Eric's specialty is donuts, big surprise.

Chip "Beef" Simpson holds the tamale world record.

Takeru Kobayashi, the Japanese Tiger Woods of competitive eating, he had won this hot dog contest 5 years running. Among many world records he holds is the consumption of calf's brains. Yum. He often competes with orange hair.

Joey Chestnut, America's Great White Hope to steal the title back from Kobayashi.

Spoiler Alert:   Joey won, beating Kobayashi 66-63 dogs! God Bless America !!!

July 6, 2007 at 02:28 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 31, 2007

A Case of the Crabs

The Discovery Channel is an odd and wonderful TV channel. It's part of a larger company (surprise, surprise) which owns a network of cable stations, including TLC, Animal Planet, the Military Channel and a bunch more. Our own Church Street Marketplace has a "Discovery Store" derived from the general concept of the channel, featuring products based on specific shows.

You'd think, from the name of this station, that the concept is earth, nature, exploration, science - that kind of thing. But, in fact, many, if not most of the shows fit only tangentially into this category.

For instance, there's a show (near and dear to my heart) called, "Cash Cab," in which unsuspecting customers in a regulation NYC Yellow Checker taxi are asked questions by their cabbie/host along the route to their destination. They can win hundreds of dollars if they're sharp. The flip-side is, if they get three questions wrong, they're unceremoniously booted out of the cab. Kind of harsh, but - hey - they were dumb.

Probably their most popular show is "American Chopper," in which a father and his two sons operate a motorcycle customizing shop. The family is at once heart-warming and dysfunctional, and don't think the three of them don't play up the dysfunctional part.

But my favorite Discovery show, the one that truly invokes my TV addiction, is "The Deadliest Catch." This show stations video crews on a a number of the 100 or so fishing boats that ply the fishing grounds of the Bering Sea, an unforgiving body of water bordering on the Arctic circle. Every year it seems that a boat goes down and seamen die in the frigid waters. It's said that this is the world's most dangerous job. The men go out, they risk their lives, because they can earn many thousands of dollars for a couple of break-backing weeks with barely any sleep.

The lure for me is related to cabdriving, my chosen profession. I'm drawn to work that I can fully understand, and, in this increasingly virtual world, there's more and more jobs I simply cannot fathom. I have friends who work at IBM and I really can't grasp what they do. Guys tossing half-ton metal cages over the rails filled with rotting cod as bait, letting them "soak" for a couple days, and then hauling them back on board filled, hopefully, with clicking-and-clacking king or opelio crabs - this I can understand.

I enjoy watching men working together under extreme conditions. This appeals to me. (Sure, you think - sitting on my easy chair eating a pizza. But anyway.) It relates to the one aspect of cabdriving that leaves me unfulfilled: Hacking is a solo endeavor. I think I could dig working in concert with other people on a joint mission, a dangerous mission. "The Deadliest Catch" satisfies these fantasies of mine.

May 31, 2007 at 09:56 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 07, 2007

Going Six Feet Under

One would think an individual who spends an inordinate amount of time in front of his TV set would have a cable or dish package offering gazillions of stations. But I - who is (am? editor?) that individual, BTW - purchases only the minimum cable deal. The way I figure it, if I had 200+ channels to choose from, I would eventually end up on life support, staring blank-eyed in front of the tube, an IV in each arm. With a mere 20 stations, at least I get up to work and eat every so often.

All of this is by way of explanation as to why I don't get HBO or Showtime, home of some of the most innovative TV series of all time. But this is why God made video tapes, and later came up with DVDs, even better, because DVDs begat Netflix as well as the Blockbuster version of Netflix, which is what I get. And over the past six months, I have watched - DVD by DVD by DVD - the entire five-year run of HBO's "Six Feet Under."

This posting is, in effect, my paean to "Six Feet Under," the saga of the Fisher family, and, for my money, the most entertaining and insightful TV drama of all time. The Fishers own a funeral home, the dramatic springboard for brilliant explorations of - you got it - life and death.

To take nothing away from the amazing ensemble of actors who graced this show, the hallmark of this series is, for me, the sterling writing, never hackneyed, always incisive and unexpected.

To highlight just one element of the show that has stayed with me, one of the main characters is gay, and a number of story-lines incorporate this aspect of his life. Although I have known and been friends with gay people, I feel as if the show taught me something real about the challenges of being gay in contemporary America, something beyond the cliches and what I thought I knew. And, for me, that's what great drama accomplishes: one learns something about being human.

One final note:  the series-ending episode is considered by many to be the finest final episode of any series, ever. It is simply an amazing piece of TV drama, not to be missed.

Postscript on the Gilmore Girls:  Yes, it's true. "The Gilmore Girls" is ending, just two more episodes to go. Good-bye Lorelai; good-bye Rory; good-bye Starr's Hollow. Excuse me whilst I sob.

May 7, 2007 at 07:31 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 27, 2007

The Gilmore Girls - Am I the Only One?

It’s my intention to go through the TV shows I regularly watch, and discuss same on this blog. This should take, say, a couple of years.

I am a TV addict. I’m not proud of this truth, but nor am I ashamed. That’s the great thing about middle-age: you start accepting and stop apologizing for who you are. I will never understand the mechanics of an automobile and I am a TV addict. I can live with both these things.

For seven years, I’ve (breathlessly) watched the Fox TV show, “The Gilmore Girls.” For this offense, my brother regularly refers to me as "the girlie-man.” I accept this appellation. He’s a younger brother, and I teased him relentlessly through his entire childhood, so he’s entitled. Anyway, I don’t mind being a girlie-man.

Why “The Gilmore Girls?” Well, it’s about 3 generations of women: the middle-aged grandmother, Emily; the thirty-something daughter, Lorelai; and the, now, 21 year-old granddaughter, Rory. (When the show began, Rory was just 15. Awww.) The show is unique in this regard: Lorelai is a terrific, if unconventional mother, and Rory is a smart, well-adjusted kid. How often do you see that dynamic on TV, or movies for that matter?

This is not to say that the show is realistic. It’s set in the fairytale town of Starr’s Hollow, where everyone knows, loves and respects each other. Another conceit is the dialogue: every character speaks in the quick, witty repartee of a ’30s screwball comedy.

But the show is heartfelt and extremely well-written. The characters feel like real people and, by now, I care about them. Ah, the magic of drama. When the show ends – perhaps this season, it’s not yet been decided – I fear I shall have to weep.

Any G-Girls aficionados out there?

April 27, 2007 at 08:42 AM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack