Friday, February 29, 2008

"If I have to hear "Yah Mo B There" one more time, I'm gonna "Yah Mo" burn this place to the ground..."

If you'll allow me to shill for my other blog just this once (note: promise not binding), check out the wedding blog for a brief post on some of the music we're planning on playing on the big day, complete with reasons why. Feedback welcome.

While we're at it, I've thought it over, and here's my expanded list of the Top 20 Movies of 2007.

Outside Looking In...

25. 30 Days of Night
24. Rescue Dawn
23. There Will Be Blood (I honestly can't it any higher...)
22. Spider-Man 3
21. Beowulf (IMAX 3D version only)

Revised Top 20 Movies of 2007

20. Breach (totally forgot about this one until someone mentioned it this week. Great flick that didn't try to do too much.)
19. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (not to steal my dad's pet complaint or anything, but there was no need for this film to be as long--160 minutes--as it was. While it didn't hold my interest for the entire time, there's more than enough here (strong performances by Pitt, Affleck, Rockwell, and Paul Schneider) for me to comfortably recommend it. And, if you have seen it, let me know, because I'm desperate to talk to someone about it.
18. Grindhouse (if you take the first hour or so of Planet Terror and combine it with about twenty minutes--i.e. the two car chases--from Death Proof, you'd have a pretty kick ass movie. Unfortunately, the movie is actually closer to three hours...complete with lots of (I'll be honest: tedious) dialogue. Ambitious and (deeply) flawed, it's still a fascinating movie-going experience.)
17. 300
16. Transformers
15. Atonement
14. Knocked Up
13. Juno
12. Hot Fuzz
11. Zodiac
10. Gone Baby Gone
9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. The Lookout
6. Into the Wild
5. Eastern Promises
4. Superbad
3. Michael Clayton
2. Once
1. No Country for Old Men

Oh, and file Margot at the Wedding in the "unaccountably bad" category. My this really the same guy that wrote and directed The Squid and the Whale? Prove it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"A lot of the people here don’t get trophies very often, like Meredith or Kevin. I mean who’s gonna give Kevin an award? Dunkin’ Donuts?"

Oscar Post-Mortem: Attached is my pick sheet for posterity's sake...and lest anyone think I'm petty enough to lie about my selections in an effort to make myself look better (Note: I am, but I didn't.)

I ended up hitting 16 out of 24, thanks largely to making some different selections than the ones I wrote about on Saturday (Diablo Cody for Original Screenplay, Compass for Visual Effects, "Falling Slowly" for Best Song; but then I also switched away--erroneously and foolishly--from Ratatouille for Best Animated Film). As a result, I took home the coveted "Wasko Family Academy Award pool" title for the second consecutive year (and netting $6 in the process--bam!), although, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm compelled to point out that my mom managed 6 out of 24--and guessing at random should, mathematically, get you close to 5--so the talent level wasn't exactly at its peak last night.

I'm including this video because it's just so bizarre (and, intermittently, funny).

Anyway, all things considered, I thought it was a pretty entertaining evening. What I liked/what I could've done without:
  • Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway presenting Best Animated Film....Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill...Josh Brolin and James McAvoy.
  • Harrison Ford continuing to display absolutely no enthusiasm as a presenter. Now, don't get me wrong, I love him...and I can't wait to see the new Indiana Jones, but, year in and year out, he's a complete dud on the stage. Remind me again why they insist on doing this?
  • Jon Stewart's monologue, especially "Gaydolf Titler." You could see it coming a mile away, but it was still a great line.
  • Too damn short. I wants me some more Stewart! A regular non-strike Leno monologue might've gone longer than last night's opener.
  • Stewart in general. I don't think that it was so much that he was bad last time (he wasn't) but rather that the audience simply wasn't responsive. This time around, it seemed like his kind of crowd...and it showed. I think he's staked his claim to be in the rotation (every third year?).
  • With all due respect to Robert F. Boyle: that speech was interminable. No doubt he's earned the right, but, man oh man...
  • Tilda Swinton winning for Best Supporting Actress. This seems to have come out of nowhere--though Shuk more or less predicted it--and was a pleasant surprise.
  • Marion Cotillard winning for Best Actress. Meh. Now, I haven't seen the film, so this is speculative at best, but: if you're not going to give this to the frontrunner (Christie) or the upstart (Page), why not turn Laura Linney--who is always excellent; see especially: You Can Count on Me and The Squid in the Whale--instead of the relatively unheard of Frenchwoman? (This complaint appears considerably more xenophobic in print. Damn.)
  • "Falling Slowly" winning Thank God. A wonderful was Irglova coming back out to give her speech.
  • Having to sit through the three (three!) songs from Enchanted. Good Lord, that was painful. Now, Hansard and Irglova's performance (awesome) more than made up for it, but, wow, couldn't they have lumped them together into a brisk six minute medley? (Also, what year is this? That last song seems like it came straight out of Beauty and the Beast. [Insert Peabo Bryson joke here.]
  • All five Best Picture nominees getting some hardware (screenplay for Juno; supporting actress for Michael Clayton; cinematography and best actor for Blood; original score for Atonement; and No Country in four categories). It's always nice when that happens. Plus: three technical awards for The Bourne Ultimatum--nice.
  • Into the Wild, Eastern Promises, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly getting shut out. Not at all surprising (only seven nominations between them...three of which were in virtually unwinnable categories), but disappointing nonetheless. So it goes.
  • No Country For Old Men getting it done. The best movie won last night...and it's not often you can say that about the Oscars (see: In The Bedroom and Memento losing to the wildly overrated A Beautiful Mind in 2002, for but one of many examples).
  • This. Really? That's the explanation you're going with?
  • Late addition: watching the Oscars on a non-widescreen, non-HDTV, which resulted in the titles during both major montages being seriously cropped (unless I'm mistaken and lish Patient, sblanca, and rash all won Best Picture). Very annoying. What the fuck, ABC? I'm all for HD, but you do realize that at least 80% of the population is still using the regular old variety of the cathode ray tube, right? Just keep the titles towards the middle! I don't ask for much...

I haven't read this liveblog from TWOP yet, but I'm willing to bet it's worth reading. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"You know, I always thought that Matt Damon was a bit of a Streisand, but I think he's rockin' the shit in this one."

Academy Awards Preview: aka, "Kyle picks 'em all....even the loser categories."

Dammit, Shuk, I thought we were supposed to coordinate this shit...

To get things going and to calibrate my film tastes, here's my top five (or more) films for 2003-2006, plus my top 15 for 2007:

2006: 1. Pan's Labyrinth, 2. Brick, 3. Little Miss Sunshine, 4. The Departed, 5. The Prestige, 6. Little Children, 7. Borat, 8. Casino Royale, 9. Children of Men, 10. V for Vendetta. 11. The Descent

2005: 1. King Kong, 2. The 40 Year-Old Virgin, 3. Crash, 4. Sin City, 5. Munich, 6. Good Night and Good Luck, 7. Batman Begins, 8. The Squid and the Whale, 9. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, 10. The Constant Gardener.

2004: 1. Sideways, 2. Team America: World Police, 3. The Motorcycle Diaries, 4. Primer, 5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 6. The Girl Next Door, 7. Kinsey, 8. Closer.

2003: 1. Love Actually, 2. Capturing the Friedmans, 3. Shattered Glass, 4. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, 5. In America, 6. The Fog of War.


Should Have Been Better: Live Free or Die Hard, Ocean's Thirteen, Across the Universe, Sicko, Sunshine, American Gangster, There Will Be Blood.

Unforgivably bad: Lucky You (grrrr), 28 Weeks Later, Blades of Glory, Premonition, Hostel 2, Wild Hogs (saw this last one on the plane back from Cuba. My only thought was: this is what happens when they drive up to your house with a dump-truck full of money. So unfunny that I actually felt embarrassed for the cast. Passes the Bobby test. (i.e. it's so bad that I think I could've written a better film.)

Honourable Mention: Beowulf (IMAX 3D version only), Rescue Dawn, Spider-Man 3, 30 Days of Night.

My Top 16 for 2007

16. Transformers
15. Atonement
14. Knocked Up
13. Juno
12. Hot Fuzz
11. Zodiac
10. Gone Baby Gone
9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. The Lookout
6. Into the Wild
5. Eastern Promises
4. Superbad
3. Michael Clayton
2. Once
1. No Country for Old Men

OK...onto the nominees. Format: should win in blue; will win in red; should've been nominated (or, at the very least, considered) in green. (If will win and should win are the same, purple will be used.)

1. Best Picture

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Into the Wild
Eastern Promises

Comment: ...that was fast. Now...I know some people were left cold by No Country's ending (the more I think about it, the more I like it, but I see where people are coming from), but please don't say that and then back TWBB in the next breath, because--MINOR SPOILER--that film goes completely off the rails in the final half-hour.

Anyway, if grading the nominated films out of 100, No Country is a 98, Michael Clayton a 90, Juno an 81, Atonement a 75, and There Will Be Blood a 66 (awesome first 120 minutes, disjointed and baffling final 35 or so). No Country deserves (and will take) this award.

2. Best Director
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (but the film isn't up for Best Foreign Film! Impossible!)
Joe Wright, Atonement (mostly because I've come to revile the annual Oscar tradition of one best picture nominee being snubbed in the best direction category)
David Fincher, Zodiac (maybe not a best pic-caliber film, but the degree of difficulty in making this one was pretty high. Plus, Fincher deserves some recognition.)
Sean Penn, Into the Wild (a no-brainer, frankly. The film was shot entirely on location! And, as much as I'm going to look like a hypocrite here, Penn is far more deserving than, say, Reitman, who does a perfectly serviceable--though not terribly memorable, I'll argue--job in Juno.)

Comment: I think the Coens take this one, since many (myself included) likely feel they should be rewarded for some of their more daring filmmaking decisions here--no soundtrack to speak of, faithfully transcribing dialogue directly from the source material, incorporating McCarthy's anti-ending, etc.--though I have a sinking feeling that P.T. Anderson (though certainly not an Academy darling) could steal this one. Personally, I hope this doesn't happen.

3. Best Actor
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, The Lookout (it's official, the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun can act).
Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men (arguably the protagonist...even if he doesn't quite get the amount of screen time that most leading men receive. Great, great performance.)
Glen Hansard, Once (look, I don't care that he's not an actor. He was both believable and moving in his role)
Mathieu Amalric,
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (underrated)
James McAvoy, Atonement (given that TLJ's nomination came out of nowhere, it's reasonable to conclude that he took the spot McAvoy had at the Golden Globes).

Comment: I still haven't seen Sweeney Todd, unfortunately, so I can't comment on Depp...though I'm sure he's terrific. Let me also say that DDL is virtually a mortal lock (Bodog lists him as a preposterous 1/20 favorite--i.e. you need to be $20 to win $21) to get the statue on Sunday...and I won't be unhappy when that happens. Despite my issues with the film, he's terrific (as he always is)--you can't take your eyes off of him, even if his actions disgust you. All of that said, I'm throwing my hat in for Viggo, who blew me away in Eastern Promises. Yes, he was solid in LOTR, but it's not exactly an acting showcase, is it now? And because I haven't--impossibly--seen A History of Violence yet, this was my first exposure to him displaying his acting chops (no, I'm not including 28 Days), and my verdict? Impressive. But, let me re-iterate: he has a zero percent chance of winning. Zero.

4. Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose (La môme)
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno
Keira Knightley, Atonement (sorry, Carrie!)
Naomi Watts, Eastern Promises (For my money: the best actress in the business. Never bad in anything. Prove me wrong.)
Marketa Irglova, Once (awwww...)

Comment: Rough category for me, as aside from the names I've added, I've only seen Page's performance, which I liked just fine. (Quirky...but not too quirky, Sean!) Do I think she's deserving of a Best Actress trophy? Um, no. Off the rest of them, Christie has the best shot, though I'm a not sure how comfortable the Academy is about giving this award out to card-carrying AARP members in consecutive years (though technically Mirren's a BARP). Maybe that's not something they consider. The other thing is, if Diablo Cody doesn't win for her screenplay (and her victory is by no means assured), this could the only shot for Juno (aka, "the little movie that could"--which can only be news to you if you've been living in a cave...on Mars for the past twelve months) on Sunday. I'm playing a hunch and going with Page here. (Note: this comment will be swiftly redacted late Sunday night if this doesn't come to pass.)

5. Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Armin Mueller-Stahl, Eastern Promises

Comment: The best category of the night, in my opinion, with nary a Travolta to be found. Wilkinson deserves to be here on the basis of his opening monologue alone--riveting stuff. Holbrook, too, was terrific--he absolutely breaks your heart in the film. But, with apologies to Hoffman and Affleck--who, if you combine this performance with his work in Gone Baby Gone, had a great 2007, much to my brother's dismay (he thinks he's the worst actor in Hollywood....mostly by virtue of his wooden performance in American Pie 2)--this is Bardem's award. Chigurh could've easily been a dull, even robotic, character, but Bardem brings him to life...while completely skeeving me out in the process. Great, great stuff.

6. Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton,
Michael Clayton
Catherine Keener, Into the Wild

Comment: Another excellent category--although I object to Dee's presence (I've seen American Gangster and I still had to look up who she was in the film). Amy Ryan, who I'm in the tank for because of her work on The Wire, gives an unrelenting and often uncomfortable performance in GBG. Swinton is also strong as a big city lawyer just barely keeping it together. She, like Wilkinson, has one outstanding scene early in the film (standing semi-naked in front of mirror, she awkwardly rehearses her meticulously prepared answers for a TV interview) that crystallizes her character for the audience. In a perfect world, they'd both win. (They won't.) Blanchett is allegedly sensational in I'm Not There and has this one all but sewn up.

7. Best Original Screenplay
Juno by Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl by Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton by Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille by Brad Bird
The Savages by Tamara Jenkins
Superbad by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Once by John Carney
Eastern Promises by Steven Knight

Comment: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that LatRG has the lowest Metacritic rating (69) for a film nominated in this category--generally regarded as one of the most consistent year in and year out--in some time. Juno is disqualified because of how fucking annoying the first twenty minutes were--think "honest to blog" and "Phuket, Thailand." The previous sentence also to applies to the thoroughly irritating Diablo Cody (except replace "the first twenty minutes were" with "she is...always"). Anyway...this is the only thing stopping Michael Clayton from going 0-for-7 tonight (unless there's some sort of freaky Blood/Country proto-western vote-splitting and it sneaks in as the sleeper best pic winner), so that, coupled with the fact that it's actually tremendously well-written, gives the nod to Gilroy.

8. Best Adapted Screenplay
Atonement by Christopher Hampton
Away from Her by Sarah Polley
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men by Joel and Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson
Into the Wild by Sean Penn

Comment: Another very strong category (come on, people, this is supposed to be the Oscars!). Hampton deserves high marks for taking tricky source material (McEwan is especially prolix in that one) and turning it into something that, arguably, exceeds the original. Polley (I'm told) and Harwood (I know) both get the best out of their respective stories. Anderson should really be in the previous category (where he'd likely win), as Blood is only extremely loosely based on the opening section of Upton Sinclair's Oil! The Coens, meanwhile, change almost nothing from McCarthy's outstanding novel, and look like absolute geniuses as a result. This is shaping up to be their night.

9. Best Animated Feature
Surf's Up
The Simpsons Movie

Comment: it time to retire this category? Surf's Up over Simpsons? That's wrong on many levels (or maybe just the one). I get it, Academy! You can be wildly unpredictable when you want to be (and beholden to none), but don't be petulant.

I can't help but think that there's more to Persepolis (a film I'm eager to see) than Ratatouille, but it's a Pixar world (you know the rest).

10. Best Cinematography
Roger Deakins - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Seamus McGarvey - Atonement
Janusz Kaminski - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Roger Deakins - No Country for Old Men
Robert Elswit - There Will Be Blood

Comment: Haven't seen Assassination (hoping to tonight), but it'd have to be pretty dazzling to eclipse Deakins' other project this year. High marks to Elswit, too--despite my issues with Blood, it looked phenomenal.

11. Best Art Direction
Arthur Max and Beth Rubino - American Gangster
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer - Atonement
Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock - The Golden Compass
Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Jack Fisk and Jim Erickson - There Will Be Blood

Comment: Compass is crippled by the fact that approximately seventeen people went to see it (and this includes Daniel Craig...twice), but it looks visually arresting (I, of course, was not one of the select few). Sweeney Todd is likely to swipe this one, with Atonement the possible spoiler.

12. Best Costume Design
Albert Wolsky - Across the Universe
Jacqueline Durran - Atonement
Alexandra Byrne - Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Marit Allen - La Vie en Rose
Colleen Atwood - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Comment: Sigh...I think I say this every year, but: dressing people up as dirty, dirty hippies doesn't qualify as costume design! Accordingly, I'm voting against Across the Universe. The Academy lovvvvves period flicks in this category (enter: Atonement and Elizabeth: The Golden Age), but they also prefer if the film is good, which knocks TGA out of contention. That said, I recall La Vie en Rose winning the BAFTA here...and it was a posthumous award (Allen--who is listed as the costume designer on the upcoming Justice League movie, which earns her 1,000 cool points--died suddenly of an aneurysm in November), which might prove irresistible to voters.

13. Best Documentary
No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Taxi to the Dark Side

Comment: Alas, Sicko's the only one I've seen, which was good...but a little underwhelming. It never ceases to amaze me (even though it no longer should) that Michael Moore is the most cynical person in the entire world when it suits his purpose (questioning K-Mart executives, confronting bewildered Congressmen on the street, etc.), yet stunningly naive when it's convenient ("golly gee. I cannot believe that these war veterans that I've illegally brought to Cuba AND ARE HAVING THEIR EVERY STEP FILMED are getting the standard medical treatment from this fleet of suspiciously handsome and telegenic Cuban doctors! What a wonderful country!") I know he's a propagandist and he can hardly be faulted for representing one side (specifically: every country that isn't America) in an overly favorable light, but, jeez, even Leni Reifenstahl dialled it back on occasion (see: Olympiad).

No End in Sight is, by all accounts, a towering achievement, so let's go with that.

14. Best Documentary Short

La Corona
Salim Baba
Sari's Mother

Comment: no clue. None. Freeheld sounds like the most interesting (although La Corona is about a beauty pageant run inside a Colombian prison...which I believe was a rejected plot point for season three of Prison Break).

15. Best Animated Short
I Met the Walrus
Madame Tutli-Putli
Even Pigeons Go To Heaven
My Love
Peter and the Wolf

Comment: York University shout out! (Although the press release says he went to Ryerson--oh, well, we'll claim him for ourselves.)

16. Best Live Action Short
At Night
The Substitute
The Mozart of Pickpockets
Tanghi Argentini
The Tonto Woman

Comment: applying my highly scientific "which title sounds coolest?" test, the winner is...

17. Best Film Editing
Christopher Rouse - The Bourne Ultimatum
Juliette Welfling - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jay Cassidy - Into the Wild
Roderick Jaynes - No Country for Old Men
Dylan Tichenor - There Will Be Blood

Comment: There Will Be Blood--all 157 minutes of it--had an editor? (Thank you...I'll be here all week.)

18. Best Makeup
Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald - La Vie en Rose
Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji - Norbit
Ve Neill and Martin Samuel - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Comment: I'll be honest, I'm not entirely comfortable living in a world where Once gets the same number of nominations (one) as Norbit. La Vie won the BAFTA in this category.

19. Best Original Score
Dario Marianelli - Atonement
Alberto Iglesias - The Kite Runner
James Newton Howard - Michael Clayton
Michael Giacchino - Ratatouille
Marco Beltrami - 3:10 to Yuma
Johnny Greenwood - There Will Be Blood (the reason it was deemed ineligible--the score wasn't, as mandated by the Academy, completely original--is so profoundly stupid that I had to include it here.)

Comment: Howard's one of my favorites (see: Unbreakable), but the Atonement score--complete with typewriter staccato in the background--is all kinds of awesome.

20. Best Original Song
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - "Falling Slowly" from Once
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz - "Happy Working Song" from Enchanted
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz - "So Close" from Enchanted
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz - "That's How You Know" from Enchanted
Jamal Joseph, Charles Mack and Tevin Thomas - "Raise It Up" from August Rush
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - "Lies" from Once
Eddie Vedder - "Hard Sun" from Into the Wild
something from Sweeney Todd

Comment: Really? Three songs from Enchanted? This happened last year with Dreamgirls, I believe, and I said the same thing: no film is so good as to warrant 60% of all nominations in a given category. That's just stupid. I have absolutely nothing against Enchanted (...yet), as it's supposed to be delightful, but if it (or, worse, the what-has-to-be-dreadful song from August Rush) wins over "Falling Slowly" (a wonderful, wonderful song), I'm going to lose my shit. End of story.

21. Best Sound Mixing
Scott Millan, David Parker, and Kirk Francis - The Bourne Ultimatum
Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter Kurland - No Country for Old Men
Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, and Doc Kane - Ratatouille
Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Jim Steube - 3:10 to Yuma
Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, and Peter J. Devlin - Transformers

Comment: I'll be honest, I'd be happy if either one of these films won, but I'm wondering if voters are concerned about "Michael Bay" and "Academy Award winning movie" being in the same sentence from this point forward.

22. Best Sound Editing
Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg - The Bourne Ultimatum
Skip Lievsay - No Country for Old Men
Randy Thom and Michael Silvers - Ratatouille
Matthew Wood - There Will Be Blood
Ethan van Der Ryn and Mike Hopkins - Transformers

Comment: Wait...didn't we just do this? Oh. Well...I have nothing new to add. See above.

23. Best Visual Effects
The Golden Compass
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Spider-Man 3

Comment: Doesn't this category seem especially weak this year? Running out of gas...

24. Best Foreign Language Film
Beaufort (Israel)
The Counterfeiters (Austria)
Katyń (Poland)
Mongol (Kazakhstan)
12 (Russia)

Comment: in case you were curious: number of nominations for these five foreign movies (not including this category): zero. Number of nominations for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the foreign that is inexplicably not in contention here: four. Are you serious? Is there something I'm missing? Was it co-financed by an American company? This. Makes. No. Sense. (Note: I did some digging and apparently this is so because--for reasons beyond my comprehension--each foreign country is only allowed to nominate one film and France elected to go with Persepolis. In fact, Diving Bell was the country's third choice, behind La Vie En Rose. Whatever.) I'm tempted not to pick this category out of protest, but that's pretentious, so I'll go with The Counterfeiters, which sounds pretty intriguing.

Check back Monday for a brief Oscar post-mortem.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Don't. Praise. The. Machine."

Best of the Decades Project, Part 1: The 90s.

Best TV Shows

Oh, 90s (or, as I prefer, "80s Jr."). Has it really been eight years since you ended? My how the time flies....

Methodology: I've decided to use five metrics to evaluate these shows (and now I can cross "metrics" off of my "1,000 Words to Use in My Blog" list--score!). Each category is worth five points for a total of twenty-five--though the ranking has not been determined on the basis of lowest score to highest, you'll note. A bit on each, though they're mostly straightforward:

Timelessness: Really, this amounts to a "rewatchability" rating, which boils down to the following test: if this show is on in syndication, to what extent am I compelled to watch it?

Has it been done before, done before but with a twist, or totally novel?

Highest Highs:
at its absolute best, how good was it?

Lowest Lows:
at its worst, how terrible was it? This also doubles as a consistency rating. Please note that the higher the score here, the less painful the low was.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters:
How quotable is the program? Note: most dramas are not inherently quotable so, in those cases, I’ve gone with: how memorable are the characters?

Shows that I admittedly didn't watch (much or at all) and would likely rank on another person's list: Homicide: Life on the Streets (what I saw I liked, but I didn’t see enough of it to justify putting it on the list), NYPD Blue (aside from The Wire, I don't really do police procedurals), The Real World (I didn’t start watching it until the Vegas season (in 2002-03), so I can’t really include it here. Consequently, everything I know about the seasons from the 90s comes from Chuck Klosterman and Bill Simmons).

Shows that I did watch that simply didn't make the cut: Party of Five (at one point my favorite show on TV, this one rapidly ran out of steam—when, you ask? Just after Bailey’s intervention, I think); My So-Called Life (a great show, there’s no disputing that, but nineteen episodes simply isn’t a big enough body of work to qualify), Northern Exposure (Carrie’s a big fan…and I found the show to be generally enjoyable, but, looking back, it might have been too quirky for its own good).

Onto the Top Sixteen:

16. The Practice (16.5 points)

Timelessness: 3.5. Um...I suppose this one holds up fairly well, though it never seems to air in syndication before 2 a.m., which is a bit of a kiss of death.

Originality: 3.5. Yes, L.A. Law pretty much had the courtroom drama/comedy market cornered at this stage, but The Practice had a couple of things going for it: (1) they played it totally straight. (I recall the show being deadly serious most of the time), and (2) the writers weren't especially hesitant to depict the partners in an unfavorable light, to the point where Bobby and Co. often resorted to morally questionable tactics at trial. Sure, most of their stunts--I later found out--would get them disbarred in a heartbeat, but it was an entertaining ride. Interestingly, only the faintly ridiculous (but highly watchable!) and ill-fated Justice has tried this particular angle since The Practice went off the air. (I refuse to acknowledge Boston Legal.)
Highest High: 4.5. The major murder trials in S3-5, when Bobby got really personally invested then would be utterly crushed whenever he lost. Good times.

Lowest Low: 3. No real drop off here...though after a while, it did become repetitive. Of course they would lose the case when their client was actually innocent....and of course the acquitted client would immediately confess (for no apparent reason) to the team as soon as he left the courtroom...and of course the Court of Appeal judge had a personal vendetta against the firm...and of course Lindsey would inexplicably shoot her stalker in the face. Hmmm...come to think of it, I guess it did drop off a bit. I'm lowering this score to 3.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 2. Unless you count talking about "Plan B"-ing someone or making the Bobby Donnell face (aka, "I'm so angry with this judge's decision/jury verdict/what-my-client-just-told-me-after-I- got-them-acquitted that I may cry" face), it's not terribly quotable. In terms of memorability...meh. I mean, I know all their names, but I don't exactly miss their presence on my television.

15. Saved by the Bell (20. 5 points)

Timelessness: 5. and how! If we’re still around 500 years from now, I guarantee you that some channel will have the Bell on three times a day—or they’ll, you know, beam it into our brains upon request. (Note to future occupants: If this blog is around 500 years from now, please adjust my comments in this section to suit current trends. Thank you.)

Originality: 4. Strange as it sounds now, I think it was fairly original (Zach breaking down the fourth wall, summer season on location, very special episodes, etc.), and it spawned countless imitators (the atrocious California Dreams, the charming Hang Time, and the I-can’t-believe-I-actually-watched-this City Guys).

Highest High: 4. The awesome Malibu Sands summer episodes with Stacey Carosi (featuring a young Leah Remini—unbeknownst to her, this would be the high point of her career); Jessie on pills; the incomparable “Rockumentary” (where Zach essentially dreams an entire “Behind the Music,” complete with the price of glory section, and featuring Casey Kasem as the narrator); the one where they struck oil at Bayside; the one with the movie star that came to Bayside to shoot an anti-drinking PSA but actually tried to get the kids drunk.

Lowest Low: 3. Let’s ignore the New Class altogether. The only thing I can think of is that Max (the owner of the eponymous diner that, without explanation, served as the school’s de facto cafeteria) was kind of useless (seriously, dude: magic tricks? They’re not seven.) Thankfully, he—curiously—simply stopped appearing partway through S2.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 4.5. “I’m so excited…I’m so excited…I’m so…scared” is always a party favorite, as is singing the lyrics to “Friends Forever” from the indescribable dream episode (less so: dumping oil over all sorts of things while shouting “is THIS what you want for Bayside, Mr. Wealthy Oil Prospector? Is it?”) Beyond that? Precious little. But from a memorable character standpoint, it’s pretty tough to top Zach, Kelly, Slater, Screech, Jessie, and Lisa (though isn’t it somewhat dismaying that Mario Lopez is arguably the most famous of the bunch at this point? Would you have bet that at least two of the original six—likely Gosselaar and Thiessen—would’ve become hugggge stars? I mean, he’s not even all that famous.) See Chuck Klosterman’s excellent essay on the show (“Being Zach Morris” in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) for a far more thorough analysis of the show’s personalities (my favorite, as observed by CK, is—perhaps because eps aired out of order or possibly just out of sheer laziness—in some episodes Zach and Slater would be BFFs and in some they’d be bitter rivals…with no apparent connection between the two and no explanation ever offered.)

Fun Fact: 1. What's more disturbing: The episode where Zach met a girl in a wheelchair and, to prove how tolerant he was, went over the top to shelter the girl, in the process making her feel way more sensitive about being in a wheelchair, culminating in an impossibly embarrassing wheelchair basketball game featuring Zach et al.; that Screech, by any real-world legal definition, actively stalked Lisa with no repercussions; that Zach could stop time; that Bayside only had 14 students yet routinely won state titles in any number of athletic and academic competitions; that the school evidently had only one classroom (watch it again); that Belding had a secretary who would buzz visitors in, yet his office opens directly into the hallway; that Mark-Paul Gosselaar was typecast as a date-rapist for years after his run on the show ended (seriously, check his imdb profile); or that MPG and Lark Voorhies dated in real life (IRL, baby!) for nearly the show's entire run?

(Personally, I'd vote for the secretary, although the MPG-Voorhies thing, which I stumbled upon last week while researching this, blew me away.)

2. After our Band of Brothers marathon on Family Day and many, many glasses of red wine later, Ryan and I caught an episode of Boy Meets World and it occurred to me that, on practically every level—better writing, funnier, more subversive (for reals!), general awkwardness (remember when Cory and Topanga eloped? Wow!), more adept at handling serious issues (see Fred Savage—in a bizarre yet brilliant casting turn—sexually harassing the wife of his real-life brother), positive role models (SBTB had Mr. Belding, who was kind of a walking joke, while BMW had Mr. Feeny, Mr. Turner, and Cory’s parents…who actually brought something to the table--BMW is superior to SBTB. This, then, begs the question: why is SBTB fondly remembered and BMW more or less forgotten? Originally, my answer focused on the hot girl quotient, but really, aside from Kelly (and, to a lesser degree, Tori), the Saved by the Bell girls weren't anything special and Topanga in the later years probably offset this (CREEPINESS ALERT, time to move on...), so it can't be that. I think, ultimately, it comes down to one thing: Ted Turner. That's right. Mr. UN himself, since it was his network (TBS) that chose to rerun the show easily six times a day for eight years, which, in turn, compelled all teenagers (who were probably too old/too self-conscious to get up to watch episodes at 10 in the morning on Saturday) to tune in, even if only as background noise. Boy Meets World, on the other hand, airs at 2 in the morning on the Family Channel, where it is watched by upwards of 75 nostalgic insomniacs, NORAD employees, alcoholics, and drug addicts on any given night…

3. …you know what? Screw it. I’m declaring a tie for 15th between SBTB and Boy Meets World. You’ve finally made it, Ben Savage!

14. Quantum Leap (20 points)

Timelessness: 3. I’m sure it would seem silly now (Space stopped re-running the show a few years ago, no doubt for this very reason) but the concept is still cool.

Originality: 5. oh, my, yes!

Highest High: 5. The evil leaper stuff; Sam being electro shocked; Sam leaping into Al’s body; Sam’s leap home; The three-parter with Lee Harvey Oswald (some were annoyed with the ending—Sam “saves” Jackie instead—but, realistically, how else could they have resolved it? JFK surviving and serving a second term? How wonderfully offensive! Take that, real life Secret Service!).

Lowest Low: 3. Sam repeatedly leaping into a woman’s body (“hey, it’s Scott Bakula in drag! …again”—it got a little boring eventually); the series finale, while entertaining, seemed a bit contrived and wasn’t altogether satisfying (remind me again why they couldn’t have let him leap home?); the Marilyn Monroe episode (totally unnecessary).

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 4. though it’s always fun to cite random probability stats like Gushy, the only thing I can think of is “oh, boy” (every episode), which was pretty lame to begin with and has gotten approximately 5% lamer every year. On the plus side, Sam and Al were great characters and their interactions essentially made the show.

Fun fact: the Wikipedia entry on the show is a preposterous 10,000 words long (longer, even, than this post!). By contrast, the entry on quantum mechanics weighs in at 6,200 words.

13. The Wonder Years (19.5 points)

Timelessness: 4. Tough one, since the show, being set in the late 60s/early 70s, is MEANT to be dated. There’s no doubt that it holds up very well upon re-watching.

Originality: 4. Lots of it. The narration thing, the use of historical clips, the use of classic music. Really, a pretty daring idea.

Highest High: 4. Seasons three though five, particularly: “Frank and Denise,” the one with Jim Caveziel as basketball phenom Bobby Riddell, the one where Kevin’s caddying for his dad’s boss, Chocolate Mousse girl (who I had a big thing for at the time—which was perfectly age appropriate then but seems kinda pervy now, so let’s move on…), the one where Kevin meets Cara on his summer vacation, the one where Kevin steals Wayne’s girlfriend. This period corresponds roughly to the time between Kevin being too young (and thus not having interesting problems) and Kevin being too old (and thus being kind of awkward to watch roaming the halls of McKinley high).

Lowest Low: 3.5. the last couple of seasons weren’t exactly appointment television. But even its lowest lows were still highly watchable. Slight deduction for the show—incomprehensibly—revealing in the series finale that Kevin’s dad died two years after the events depicted in the episode. This was necessary why exactly? To see if a 14 year old boy would cry about the off-screen passing of a fictional character? Mission accomplished!

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 4. Amazingly weak in the quotes department. (The fake narrating bit might have had legs, but it was used in a Simpsons episode…and then shamelessly ripped off by Family Guy years later.) Seriously, the most memorable line is probably Wayne calling Kevin a butthead. For characters: Kevin and Jack Arnold, Paul (“seriously, for the last fucking time, I am NOT Marilyn Manson) Phieffer, and Winnie Cooper were all fleshed out. Bonus marks for Kevin’s math teacher, who would pop up once a season (until the episode where he died) and never failed to deliver the goods.

Several additional points: 1. In September '06, TVTropolis began airing the Wonder Years at 4 p.m. Carrie and I were of course ecstatic, and taped it whenever we couldn’t be home to watch it. Then, abruptly, it was moved to 4 a.m. (almost as if they’re was a programming error) in January 07. So, fine, we’re not up at that hour so I set the tape. Then, about a week later, they stopped airing it altogether without a word of explanation. What the fuck, TV Tropolis? (I have no point here—I just wanted to vent.)

2. If the show is ever brought back into syndication, I suggest the following experiment: count how many times an episode revolves around Kevin horribly disappointing a middle-aged or elderly character. It happens surprisingly often--his dad (repeatedly), the hardware store guy, his math teacher, the choir instructor, and so forth... (It’s also fun to keep tabs on Fred Savage’s ever-expanding waistline throughout the show’s run. By season six, those vintage Levis have to be at least 42s to support his ample rear…)

3. I’ve always loved this bit of trivia (from, though I profess that I’m somewhat amazed a 90210 producer didn’t utilize this strategy with Jason Priestley: Part of the show's running storyline is a falling-out between Kevin and Winnie, who becomes a background character for several months, until she and Kevin reconcile. The main reason for this part of the storyline was that actress Danica McKellar had had a growth spurt, and she and star Fred Savage, already shorter than McKellar, didn't look right standing together. The characters reconciled after Savage began to catch up in height.

12. Law & Order (18 points)

Timelessness: 3.5. Many of the older episodes look pretty dated but they’re still very watchable. Plus, it’s always fun to spot current cast members playing other roles (such as the lieutenant being a crack whore).

Originality: 4. There had been cop shows before and legal shows before, but L&O was the first to combine the two (unless that’s not true). High marks for that.

Highest High: 4. the last two years of Moriarty’s run and the first four of Waterson’s—those were the golden years, with the absolute best being the episode where the mob systematically wipes out all the witnesses in the final ten minutes.

Lowest Low: 2.5. Right around the time they started “ripping stories from the headlines” (which quickly became a none-too-subtle code for “our writers have become profoundly lazy and no longer have any interest in creating their own plots and from this point forward will copy stories in their entirety from the New York Times).

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 4. aside from “she doesn’t have an aunt” and “is this because I’m a lesbian?” (which is always fun to drop into conversations), the show isn’t quotable in the slightest, but, to its credit, it does have several memorable characters: especially Schiff, McCoy, and Briscoe.

11. Beverly Hills: 90210 (18.5 points)

Timelessness: 4. God! Carrie and watch it every day at 4 p.m. and everyone on the show, to a man, looks like a total jackass, but dammit if it isn’t still addictive after all these years. It’s Mystery Science 3000 wisecracking potential is off the charts.

Originality: 3.5. Sort of. They did a pretty good job of incorporating cliffhangers in later seasons (at the start, most episodes were self-contained), which few, if any, shows were doing (meaning that it owes a debt to Dallas—which is fine by me). Focusing on teenagers in primetime was also novel. Ah, simpler times!

Highest High: 5. Dylan; Steve (unintentionally hilarious…always); Brandon (hell, he was an executive producer from S5 on, so they did give him the good stories); Kelly in the cult (wildly funny in retrospect—embarrassing if they intended to play it straight back then); the S3 Summer Season (Why don’t more shows do this??) where Kelly hooked up with Dylan while Brenda was in Paris; Dylan and Toni Marchette (bar none, the best thing 90210’s ever done).

Lowest Low: 2. anything involving Andrea; when they clearly ran out of ideas for Claire (around S6) and blatantly recycled plots (at this point, she’s flipped out on Steve for EXACTLY THE SAME REASON—sadness over her mom’s death when she was very young—a half-dozen times); the fact that Ray Pruit performed at the Peach Pit After Dark every other episode for nearly two seasons; Nat; Emily Valentine; David and Donna making “music videos”; Donna; mostly everything after Dylan left the first time (mid-season 6). I’ll say this: when the show fell, it fell HARD. The season 7 stuff we’re into now is BRUTAL.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 4. Plenty of quotes—“Donna Martin Graduates!” “I choose me,” anything mean that Dylan ever said about the Walshes, and (my personal favorite) “squash it”—though most of them are embarrassing to drop in a convo…unless you’re being ironic. Lots of characters to choose from, but only a select few were remotely memorable: Kelly (for having everything awful that is imaginable happening to her. Seriously, check out her Wikipedia page), Steve (for being pathetic), Brandon (though many knock him for being—almost comically so—too much of a goody-goody), Valerie (for being evil personified…and the whole weight fluctuation thing), and Dylan (who was so much of a badass—did you know that his character was a heroin addict when he came back a second time?—that it often seemed like he had his shown that just happened to overlap with the 90210 universe on occasion). A special anti-memorable shout out to Andrea who NEVER ONCE had a single interesting thing to do on the show yet remained a cast member for six SEASONS.

10. Dream On (20 points)

Timelessness: 4. pretty high, I assume, though I must admit that this show is LITERALLY never on in syndication, so…

Originality: 5. Off the charts. The conceit was that Martin (played by Brian Benben) would go about his daily life as an editor but his inner monologue was replaced with old-timey film clips. (Yes, I know full well this sounds dumb). For whatever reason, this really worked, and never ceased being amusing.

Highest High: 4. Martin’s rivalry with Richard; the first show I ever watched that had nudity (so much of it, in fact, that, for a time, it aired on SexTV in Canada, and the show’s imdb page lists the following four keywords, and nothing else: “nudity,” “female nudity,” “erotica,” and “sitcom.” Great work there.).

Lowest Low: 3.5. hmmm…I guess you have to suspend a whole lot of disbelief to not question Benben’s character getting so much ass. Also, the show didn’t so much end as simply stop (I think, but am by no means certain, that they thought they might be coming back for a 7th season), but that’s it really.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 3.5. …not unless you can readily incorporate film footage from the 50s into your day-to-day life. As far as characters: Martin, Eddie, Judith, and Richard (the best sitcom character never to have appeared on screen—take that, Maris and Vera!) were all believable and (at times) sympathetic. Deduction here for Martin’s son, Jeremy, who, sweet as child, ended up being a giant douche as a teenager on the show. (Variety calls this the “Jody Sweeten effect.”

Other notes: Sorry, Ryan. I thought I had more to say about this one.

9. Sports Night (22 points)

Timelessness: 4. Yes...though one might question Aaron Sorkin’s decision to use fictitious names for the sports stars (for legal reasons, mind you, this might have been his only choice).

Originality: 4. Allegedly, Sorkin stumbled upon the idea for the show—behind the scenes of a Sportscenter-type show—when, while holed up in a hotel working on The American President, he realized that the 11 o’clock highlight show was the best written thing on TV. A pretty cool idea, actually.

Highest High: 5. “Eli’s Coming”; the apology in “The Apology” ; the speech that Casey gives his son in “What Kind of a Day Has it Been” (lovely); “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee”; “Shoe Money Tonight”; anything involving Isaac; the opening montage in “Special Powers” (featuring “She Will Have Her Way”—one of the best songs ever); William H. Macy’s speech in “Cliff Gardner”; “Draft Day, Parts I and II”; Dan’s slow disintegration. Lots and lots of high points. This was a fabulous show…and had it lasted longer than 45 episodes, would probably have cracked the top 5.

Lowest Low: 4.5. given that it ended too soon (damn you, Paula Marshall!), going after the show seems kind of cruel, though: Dana could be annoying on occasion, and the way they artificially kept Casey and Dana apart during S2 was kind of brutal). Also: Shuk will want me to point out that every single time Jeremy and Natalie (who were dating for most of the show’s run) got in a fight, Jeremy always won, which is a fair point. Finally: a slight deduction because the strength of this show led me to believe that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip would also be awesome. Oh, how wrong I was…

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 4.5. “Eli’s coming,” “shoe money tonight” (shouted, preferably), “quo vadimus,” and…not much else. But, then again, this was the thinking man’s sitcom, so, unless you’re prepared to cite densely-worded paragraph-long passages, you won’t be referencing Sports Night all that often. On the plus side, the big six (Dan, Casey, Dana, Jeremy, Natalie, and Isaac) were all fully-formed characters. Probably only Friends can make a similar claim (and probably not even successfully as, there, at no point were more than three of them actually being developed at one time—with Phoebe, Joey, and, in later seasons, Monica getting short-shrift)

8. The X-Files (21.5 points)

Timelessness: 3.5. Some of the first season effects look remarkably shitty now, but, that aside: still lots of fun to watch.

Originality: 5. I suppose it did ape The Twilight Zone to a certain extent, but this show, with its rich (if often befuddling) mythology, is in a class of its own.

Highest High: 5. “Hollywood A.D.,” “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,’” “The Unnatural,” “Home,” the one where Krycek gets locked in the silo (“Apocrypha”); the early conspiracy episodes; anything involving the Cigarette Smoking Man; most of the Lone Gunmen episodes (but NOT the Lone Gunmen series); the one where Mulder and Scully are stuck in a dream world; Doggett’s backstory; Doggett and Reyes in S9.

Lowest Low: 3. (The second half of the movie—but that may not count.) I suppose it was around season six that most viewers realized that Chris Carter was never really going to pay off the conspiracy storyline in any sort of a satisfying way, which was, of course, a major disappointment. It was also around S7-8 that the show started to spin its wheels, but, as mentioned above, it came back with a vengeance in S9. Pretty consistent from start to finish.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 5. aside from “The truth is out there” (and pretty much anything else that popped up during the opening credits), not much here. But we’re talking Mulder and Scully! And Skinner! To this day, those three are responsible for roughly 65% of all erotic fanfic on the internet.

7. ER (22 points)

Timelessness: 3.5. I can’t say that I’m too keen on watching reruns. Case in point: I bought Carrie S2 of the show for her birthday in September ’06, and it’s still in its packaging (sob). That said, if it was on (which it never seems to be), I’d probably tune in.

Originality: 4. meh…not especially. I guess you could call it Hill Street Blues in a hospital—with a large group of characters working together with semi-overlapping stories—although it doesn’t approach HSB in terms of grittiness. Misha has always referred to ER as “indoor Baywatch,” a description I’ve never embraced, but one I’m including for full disclosure here.

Highest High: 5. Doug saving the kid during the rainstorm (“Hell or High Water”); in fact: anything involving Doug; Mark getting jumped and then becoming a colossal asshole for half a season; the one where Gant (played by Omar Epps) kills himself; the one where Carter and Lucy get shot stabbed [thank you, Ryan]; Carter addicted to painkillers arc; the one where Mark and Doug go to bury Mark’s dad; the one where Mark lets the rapist die when he’s alone with him in the elevator (S7’s finale—“Rampage”—which was awesome); Mark having cancer (though I still wish they hadn’t killed him off); the backwards episode with Luka (S9’s “Hindsight”); anything involving Archie now.

Lowest Low: 4.5. In the 1990s? None to speak of. (Maybe Clooney leaving in ’99…or the live episode—that sucked pretty bad). Edwards departure in ’02 really hurt the show. Around 2004, it ceased to be even remotely interesting for me, but I jumped back on in ’06 and I can safely say: it’s…not bad. (One running subplot that continues to drive me insane is that every single male character falls in love with Neela. Enough already!)

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 5. ZERO quotability, but all the first run characters—Ross, Benton, Carter, Mark, Carol, Jeanie—except, arguably, for Susan Lewis, who never quite clicked with me, were very interesting, especially in comparison to the largely forgettable current crop of docs and nurses on the show (Archie being the major exception).

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (22 points)

Timelessness: 5. I imagine that the season one episodes look very dated at this stage, but this is just a guess, as BtVS isn’t on anywhere at this point, to which I can only say: attention every network everywhere: there are more shows available for syndication than Two and A Half Men, Frasier, Seinfeld, Friends, According to Jim, The King of Queens, Family Guy, and The George Lopez Show. I swear to God. You can even look this up…

Originality: 5. Well, yeah, there was the (if we're being honest: rather bad) movie first, but aside from that, this was a very original and, at times, wildly inventive show.

Highest High: 5. Seasons 1, 2, and 3, with the show getting stronger each season. At its best, I don’t think any other show before or since could be both consistently laugh-out-loud funny and heart-rending, often in the same episode. My four favorite episodes remain “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (which I later found out was a song), “Hush,” “Once More With Feeling,” and “The Zeppo.”

Lowest Low: 2. This is where it gets sad, as seasons 5 and 6 were virtually unwatchable; “Beer Bad”; anything (ANYTHING) involving Glory; nearly everything to do with the Dawn retcon.

I’ve been tinkering with something called the Our Lady Peace theory for a while now and its as follows: if you really like something or someone (as I did, with OLP) and this group churns out quality material (Naveed, Clumsy) and follow their exploits (three concerts) and then they release a so-so album (Happiness…is Not a Fish You Can Catch) and you start to make excuses for them (“everyone’s entitled to one subpar album), but then they start to suck more and more (Spiritual Machines, Gravity) and eventually become pussified (now, see in particular Rain Maida’s objectionable solo work) and you start to hate them, to the point where you’ll listen to their old stuff, but have to turn off their latest single (while making a pained face) if they’re on the radio. (I had a point here, I swear. One sec…) ANYWAY…you end up being intensely critical of this now-mediocre band, even though, in most ways, their still vastly superior to lots of the other crap out there (Nickelback, Creed, etc.) not so much because they’re lousy (though they are), but because you know that they’re capable of so much more…and so it’s really about them letting you down more than anything…

…THAT’S how I feel about BtVS, which was, at one point, my favorite show, but started to slump in S4 (focusing around the uninteresting “Initiative” and the frankly bizarre Adam as the major villain) and then went completely off the rails in S5 (the truly awful Glory year) and S6 (Willow as lesbian/possessed witch and the amusing-enough-but-hardly-worthy-of-Big-Bad-status “Troika”). S7 introduced us to the Slayerettes (banging my head against my desk), but was a significant improvement on the previous three years and at least delivered a semi-effective send off.

So you’re #6, Buffy. Someone could make a convincing argument that you should be four places higher or five lower and I’d probably agree. But let it be known that legendary status was completely within your grasp…

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 5. Very, very quotable…although I have to dock it half a point because it sent me scampering to the internet to find them. This leads me to believe that there were: (a) lots of good lines (basically anything Xander, Spike, or Giles said, frankly), but that (b) they were context or scene-specific and thus don’t translate especially well to your day-to-day life. Case in point, my all-time favorite Giles line—to Spike: “if I wanted your advice, Spike, I'd of asked fo--never mind. I'm never going to want your advice…”—can’t ever be used, unless you want to look like a dick. But the show more than made up for this with its outstanding cast. Think about the following stereotypes (which might’ve been cardboard cutouts in terms of development in less capable hands) and what the show did with them: the stuffy professor, the bombshell, the prissy cheerleader, the bookish good friend, the best friend that’s not-so-secretly in love with the bombshell (some might say that John Hughes perfected this character-type in the 80s. No. It was Nicholas Brendon here. End of discussion). Add to that—and, remember, this is only the first three seasons—two wickedly compelling (for wildly differing reasons) villains (the Mayor and bad Angel) and one pretty good bad guy (The Master in S1) and you have a show that, for a time, was firing on all cylinders.

5. Friends (22.5 points)

Timelessness: 5. Sigh…look, I have my issues with this show (mainly: it never reached it’s potential after the first two seasons…which were admittedly outstanding and that people perennially overrate it), but the reruns are downright addictive.

Originality: 4.5. Seinfeld-light with life lessons, I suppose. That’s pretty trite (and not wholly accurate), but it was a pretty original idea, which only one show since (How I Met Your Mother) has come remotely close to matching in terms of feel.

Highest High: 5. Seasons 1, 2, and 5; Chandler and Monica (pre-engagement); Richard and Monica; Paul Rudd; The One with the Prom Video; The One Where No One’s Ready; The One the Morning After (where Ross and Rachel break up—absolutely gutting…even 11 years later); The One with the Resolutions (paste pants!); The One With All the Embryos (the quiz, aka the bet for the apartment); The One Where Everyone Finds Out; The One Where Ross Got High; The One Where They All Turn Thirty—look, it had its moments, I won’t begrudge it that, but…

Lowest Low: 3. …most of Seasons 4, and 7 through 9; Joey being in love with Rachel; the show going to the “Monica in a fat suit” well wayyyy too many times; Monica becoming less of a real person than a caricature (compare her in S1-2 to S6-10). Friends, I’ll argue, around 1996, decided that it was content to be a regular sitcom with overly telegraphed punchlines and contrived scenarios (while raking in massive ratings) instead the daring/revolutionary sitcom it appeared to be on the verge of becoming after its first two seasons. Yet, somehow (and this has never really properly been explained to me), people kept treating the somewhat pedestrian post-S2 Friends (the awesome 5th season being a notable exception) like it was still had its S1/s2 fastball. This bothers me more than it should because of a behind the scenes documentary on the show that I saw five or six years ago which prominently featured the insanely arrogant Martha Kauffman (writer, producer, and co-creator) behaving like they’d stumbled upon the cure for cancer. There’s a reason the show only won one Best Comedy Series Emmy during its run (oddly: in 2002): it wasn’t nearly as funny as everyone involved wanted to believe it was.

I also think that they should’ve done a 9/11 episode (NYC being such a key part of the show), but if this prevented another “Isaac and Ishmael,” I’m probably OK with their decision to ignore the matter altogether.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 5. Oh my yes. Almost annoyingly so, really. What’s always rankled me is that roughly 80% of Chandler’s good lines came in the first two seasons, while, for the latter eight, he was mostly (and, I’ll add, inexplicably) de-balled. All things considered, the entire “paste pants” exchange probably goes down as my favorite.

One Last Thing: Because I think came off kind of prickish in the “lowest low” section, let me reiterate: I do love this show…I just feel like it could’ve done more for the genre.

4. Frasier (23 points)

Timelessness: 5. reruns remain highly watchable (even if Grammer’s early season hair is hide-your-eyes bad) as the dialogue is incredibly sharp.

Originality: 3.5. Really, if you think about it, this is standard sitcom fare…but done extremely well. Now…being a huge Cheers fan, I watched Frasier from the start and, for the longest time, it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite place my finger on. It wasn’t until the hijinx in the Ski Lodge episode (a classic) that I hit upon it: it’s a classy Three’s Company. Think about it. (Seriously: think about it.) If you replace that seedy bar that Larry and Jack used to go to with the sherry station in Frasier’s apartment (and, you know, replace the smut of the former with the highbrow wit of the latter) the two are eerily similar. (And yes, I realize that one show won five consecutive best comedy Emmys and one…didn’t.) Anyway…I probably have to dock Frasier slightly in light of this observation, but not a whole lot.

Highest High: 5. some of the great set pieces, like the aforementioned ski lodge, the one where Niles and Frasier run a restaurant, and “Three Valentines,” a season six episode which consisted entirely of three eight-minute scenes (the first one—with David Hyde Pierce channeling Mr. Bean—remains one of my favorite sitcom moments ever); most of the Niles and Daphne stuff prior to them getting involved; anytime Frasier had a tormenter (often).

Lowest Low: 5. Not a whole lot, frankly. Frasier hooking up with Jean Smart never made much sense to me and the arc where Niles had a heart-attack was perhaps a tad overdramatic. But, all things told, the show was remarkably consistent over its 11 seasons.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 4.5. Aside from doing the Frasier Crane voice (rapidly escalating in pitch and intensity), the show isn’t quotable, which, given that it’s generally held as the best written sitcom ever, is, if you think about it, kind of unusual. But the show more than made up with it with highly memorable characters.

3. The Simpsons (23 points)

Timelessness: 5. the reruns are spectacular. Enough said.

Originality: 5. um…yes. Not only was it the first animated show to thrive in primetime since the Flintstones, but it was also one of the first shows (I’ll argue) that grasped the inherent hilarity of metafictional references (three quick examples: “I knew we shouldn’t have watched him open the mail,” the end of “Homer Loves Flanders,” and probably all of “Homer’s Enemy”). Now, did this metafictional stuff contribute to its precipitous decline in recent years? Undeniably. But, in its heyday, this was mind blowing stuff.

Highest High: 5. From “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” (ep 3.11) through to, say, “Homer to the Max (ep 10.13) this show enjoyed an unprecedented run, with only a handful of weak episodes over that 171 (!) episode stretch. If forced, I go with “The Flying Hellfish,” “Monorail,” “Homer’s Enemy,” “You Only Move Twice,” and “Behind the Laughter” as my five favorites.

Lowest Low: 3. Anything featuring a Simpsons anthology set in a different period (“Simpsons’ Bible Tales,” “Simpsons Tall Tales,” etc.); Mostly everything from S15 though 19. Here’s the thing, that 171 episode stretch is phenomenal. Unfortunately, the show has now aired 412 episodes. So…yeah.

As for reasons for the decline: Shuk is way, way, way more qualified to deal with this than I am (and I hope he does!). Maxtone-Graham is, by all accounts, part of the problem, but I think the biggest issue is that the Simpsons, circa 2007, seem like less of a family than an assortment of characters living under a shared roof (ironically, this was the very concept that made “Behind the Laughter” possibly the funniest episode in the show’s history).

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 5. Totally off the charts. With all due respect to Seinfeld, this is the most quotable show ever (I think roughly half of my post titles are Simpsons references).

2. The Larry Sanders Show (24 points)

Timelessness: 4,5. Sadly, these episodes aren't being show anywhere that I'm aware of, but I have them on DVD and I can tell you: the show holds up extremely well. When I started this list, I was pretty much certain that Seinfeld would be number one, but, having thought about it, it's actually much closer than I anticipated.

Originality: 5. A behind-the-scenes look at the life of fictional late night talk show host (and the talk show itself) with celebs willing to come on and spoof themselves? It's novelty is off the charts. It should also be noted that Extras and 30 Rock owe--and, to their credit, acknowledge--a significant debt to TLSS.

Highest Highs: 5. "The Roast"; the episode where Phil sexually harasses Brian; "Adolph Hankler"; and pretty much the entire bittersweet sixth season. The writing was insanely good and--because the show had no problem sending up celebrities and making the star look like an asshole--wickedly funny. (And the series finale--"Flip"--was pitch-perfect. As good of an ending as one could possibly hope for...Seinfeld, I'm looking in your general direction!)

Lowest Lows: 4.5. Season One; the episode where Artie gets drunk at the studio after-hours, Larry dating Roseanne. The first season was clearly its weakest, with the show still trying to work out it kinks: Larry was married (which hampered Shandling from a comedic standpoint), and Hank was actually likeable (instead of--as he was in later years--a profoundly fucked up sycophant who desperately wanted to appear likeable).

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 5. The show actually wasn't especially quotable (save for the entire roast episode and everything said by Phil in "Putting The Gay Back in Litigation"--neither of which are printable), but the characters left an indelible mark. The insecure Larry, the pathetic Hank, and the gruff Artie may all be sitcom archetypes, but they're archetypes at their absolute strongest. High marks too to the supporting cast, in particular: Stevie, Beverly, Brian, Sid, Mary Loud, and Phil.

1. Seinfeld (24 points)

Timelessness: 5. Staggeringly high. Ten years since the show ended and the re-runs are as relevant (and funny) as ever. I'm willing to bet this will also be the case ten years from now.

Originality: 5. "no hugs, no lessons" and "a show about nothing." Enough said, really. No show before or since has come close to matching this show's irreverence.

Highest High: 5. Anything from the 7th season onwards, excluding the lamentable finale, is absolute gold. The idea for season seven (George getting engaged) likely would have killed a lesser show (think Friends) but it actually took Seinfeld into a different stratosphere of hilarity. Episodes like "The Soup Nazi," "The Sponge," and "The Rye" are sensational, as are later classics like "The Dealership" (my personal favorite), "The Betrayal" (the highly underrated backwards episode), "The Merv Griffin Show," and "The Little Kicks." I've always been of the opinion that the shows that real put Seinfeld on the map--mainly: "The Chinese Restaurant," "The Parking Garage," and "The Contest"--have always been a little overrated...the first two because they're slightly too gimmicky for their own good (and don't really hold up as well on repeat viewings) and "The Contest" skating by on its high degree of difficulty (NBC censors not letting them "masturbation") despite having fewer laugh out loud moments that literally dozens of other episodes. But from S7 through 9, when the plots got more and more absurdist, the show could basically do no wrong.

Lowest Low: 4. I don't really care for the first two seasons (even the third, while entertaining to watch, isn't something to write home about). It's interesting to note that a lot of these early episodes are pretty forgettable, if not--in some cases--outright bad (see for instance: "The Keys," "The Library," "The Heart Attack," and "The Dog") and it's actually not until surprisingly late in the game (episode #43: "The Pitch") that the show hits its stride. The series finale was also a rare misfire--a glorified clip show made even more inexplicable by the fact that they had already aired an exceptional actual clip show immediately before the last episode. Nevertheless, these eps are still perfectly watchable...except for season two's "The Statue," which is flat out bad.

Quotability/Memorability of Characters: 5. Next to The Simpsons, probably the most quotable show ever. There's no point in mean re-hashing them, so I'll just end with the one that's always been my favorite: "all I want is an apology, my 75 cents back, and for him to be fired."

In the words of Mr. Peterman, "this certainly looks like a lot of words." Count on all future decade- related lists being more pithy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Ah, you've been all edgy and suspicious ever since I gave you those pep pills..."

The Moment of Truth Running Diary: not to be confused with the ill-fated Milli Vanilli follow-up album of the same name...or the ELO album...or the Whitney Houston song....or the Hardy Boys casefile (#109--I believe it involved smugglers), this Moment of Truth (or, as I prefer to call it: "Mr. Walberg's Fantabulous Break-Up Machine") is a FOX game show airing Wednesday nights at 9.

My buddy Sean suggested that I give it the old running diary treatment and, while I think the show does an excellent job of parodying itself--it does, after all, refer to itself, proudly (it seems), as "the simplest game show on television"--well, I kind of enjoy piling on...

Off we go:

9:00 PM: We're joined tonight by a somewhat baffled Carrie (Carrie: "I thought you hated this show?" Me: "I do!"). As the show recaps last week's episode, let's quickly go over the rules: potential contestants were asked a series of 50+ questions while taking a polygraph. Whether or not the machine deemed their answers true or false was never revealed to the candidates. Those chosen to go on air are asked 21 questions based on the answers provided earlier. Six truthful answers earns you $10,000, five more gets you to $25,000, four more to $100,000, three to $200,000, two to $350,000, and a truthfully answered 21st question gets you a cool half a mil. If any answer is deemed a lie, you lose everything, though you can walk away (and keep the money you've earned to that point) prior to hearing a question. Also, the friends and family of the contestant have access to a button that can be pressed once to swap out the asked question for a different one, though there's no guarantee that the replacement Q will be any less mortifying. In other words, it's a lot like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, if Millionaire had no soul...

9:03: ...and we're treated to a recap of George (who appeared in the 1st and 2nd episode), who, given that he confessed to (a) stuffing his shorts to impress his wife, (b) stealing from his company and blaming it on someone else, and (c) making a(n unsuccessful, no doubt) pass at his wife's friend, has to go down as the most pathetic game show contestant ever. He was knocked out last week, so he won't be back tonight. A shame...

9:05: Tonight's contestant is Christie Youssef, a former Miss Ohio and Miss California participant. Along with her, we have her mom, her younger sister, and her "friend" Cole. Host Mark L. Walberg (no relation) goes over the rules. Last week, Christy answered nine questions truthfully, leaving her two away from $25,000.

9:06: Question 10 (coming from Christie's friend Jackie, who was actually a former Miss California winner but looked positively frumpy, which appears to have the pageant cognoscenti up in arms) is "have you ever tried to sabotage another pageant contestant?" Juicy! I'm thinking something like Drop Dead Gorgeous (an underrated flick). Alas, Christie spoils everyone's fun by saying (truthfully) that she hasn't. Boring.

9:07: if she wasn't guilty of anything, I have no clue what the point of that question was, really. However, a quick Google search reveals that Christie is at the center of a heated controversy. I'll let M (who, according to her Blogger profile, is 251 years old) from Every Girl Dreams set the stage:

So, it's looks as though we may all finally get an answer to the burning question at Miss Ohio last year: Did Christie lie about her residency/full-time work status to compete in Ohio, a state she thought easier to win than California? We may just find out the answer to that next week.

Oooooo! Wait...that's super lame.

Here's a better question, Christie's talent used to be "monologuing," but, since she moved to Ohio, it's now "playing the harp." What's the deal, Christie? Gotten too cool for monologues? Explain yourself!

9:08: #11 is "have you ever been secretly attracted to one of your sister's boyfriends?" Christie hems and haws before answering yes and collecting 25k. Which...big deal, really. Even her sister is barely able to pretend to be semi-pissed. That one could've been considerably tougher ("did you ever dream about fooling around with one of your sister's boyfriends?" or something of that ilk.) Anyway, we're off to a commercial break...

9:10: ..and let me go on the record that, while I like Abigail Breslin and Ryan Reynolds, it's unconscionable that they're appearing in a film called "Definitely, Maybe." Whoever greenlit that title should be punched in the face.

(Writer: [snapping fingers] "I have an idea: let's name this crappy romcom after one of the most distinguished and influential albums of the past twenty years!"
Executive: "Well, I was thinking something like "The Story of Us" or "Once Upon a Romance", but yours is much more sacrilegous! Let's do it!")

9:14: the tease for Q12 makes it seem like it has something to do with Christie's dad (who is a doctor and suscpiciously not present tonight), and it's: "do you believe your father has used money to control you?" Meh. Again, that's kind of weak. Christie thinks about for roughly two seconds before answering yes. She's right. Walberg reveals that Christie's parents are divorced.

9:16: Q13: "do you blame your father for tearing your family apart?" Another yes, another right answer. Walberg keeps making it seem like they'll get tougher, but I'm not seeing it.

9:17: Q14: "are you still in love with your ex-fiancee?" This was considerably funnier when I thought that the guy in the family lounge was Christie's boyfriend. Alas, he is not, which explains why he's nowhere near as devestated as I thought he'd be when she answers yes. She's one right answer from $100,000.

9:19: Christie's friend, who has entered the lounge, opines that Christie is one truthful statement away from being able to pay for med school. Riiiiight. Maybe in Guatemala...

9:20: Q15 is "Have you ever forced yourself to throw up before competing to avoid gaining weight?" Ouch. That's a little sensitive. But before Christie can answer, her sister hits the pass button. Whaaaat? I mean, yeah, that answer could potentially be embarrassing, but (a) skipping the question serves as a de facto admission, so you haven't really deflected the issue, and (b) the next question could be way more uncomfortable. (By the way, I'm rooting for: "do you think your sister is a huge slut?")

9:21: Instead, the new Q15 is the unbelievably tame "have you ever taken a nude picture of yourself?" That's wayyyy too easy for 100k. (By the way, I'm betting $5,000 of my own money--that I don't have--that the answer is yes.) Commercial break.

9:24: well, I'm wrong and Christie's right (and $100,000 richer). Christie's mom is insistent that she walk away...and, having gotten off virtually scot free thus far, Christie agrees and packs it in.

9:27: Q16 (in what I'm convinced is not a coincidence) would've been: "have you ever felt trapped by your mother trying to control your life?" Everyone laughs uproariously. But then--foolishly--Christie, though under no obligation to do so, actually answers this ("No") and is found to be lying. Why in the world would she do that? No matter--smiles all around.

9:28: next up in Brandon Korea (cool name), a 30-year-old waiter at a comedy club (and former marine) from California. With him is his mom, his girlfriend, two sisters, and two friends.

9:31: Misha's friend (and my arch-nemesis just kidding, buddy!) Jeff told us that on the Colombian version of the show, a woman was asked if she ever put a hit out on her husband, and she answered yes (and was promptly arrested...after collecting $50,000 Colombian dollars--approximate real value: $2.35). I, of course, assumed this was total bullshit, but it turns out that it's true. (BuzzerBlog mentions that the Colombian version "The Columbian version has also asked about drug smuggling, homosexual prostitution, and more"--now that's what I'm talking about!). No word on whether or not she was arrested, but they did cancel the show immediately after the episode aired. Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is--she didn't actually go through with it... (Oh, the hitman tipped off the husband and he ran away? I see. That's pretty damning...)

9:37: After coasting through the first three questions--"have you ever taken another server's tip and claimed it for yourself?"; "did you join the Marines just to impress your father?"; "do you use the lack of money as an excuse to keep from proposing to your girlfriend?" (Yes, No, Yes)-- #4 ("In the last six months have you driven a car while intoxicated?") proves to be somewhat cringe-inducing. Brandon truthfully answers yes and everyone--with the noted exception of Brandon's mother--applauds this revelation, which isn't funny so much as...uncomfortable. Many forum-dwellers have noted that, for the integrity of all involved, if audience members feel like booing, they should do be allowed to do so. Flashing that applause sign is only going to get them in trouble. Walberg goes to great lengths to point out that the crowd is applauding the truthful answer and not the action. Surrrre.

9:38: Q5--"have you ever had sex with someone whose name you did not know?"--is a little ticklish. Chuckles all around, but Brandon confidently answers no. He looks physically pained while awaiting the verdict (which makes no sense if he's actually telling the truth), but his answer checks out. His girlfriend is positively beaming at this stage. Hold on, Marissa.

9:40: Q6: "in the past year, have you ever sent flirtatious text messages to someone other than Marissa?" BAM! Commerical break...

9:42: People I would pay to see on MOT: President Bush, O.J., Roger Clemens (who, somewhat awesomely, has actually been invited onto the show--though there's no chance in hell that he'll appear) and Brian McNamee, Bobby Knight, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, and Pete Rose. I'm sure I could think of more, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

9:44: ...and we're back, with Brandon sheepishly answering yes. Oh, dear. Marissa looks...less than impressed (and this, I think, is probably compounded by the riotous cheers from the crowd--"yay, infidelity!").

9:45: For the moment 10k richer, Brandon pushes on. Q7--"is there anything you've done during your time in the Marine Corps that you are ashamed of?"--leads to a yes. True. This leads, inexplicably, to gasps from the crowd. (Because I'm sure that serving in Iraq is far less of an ethical minefield than working in, say, a comedy club.) This answer, without being contextualized, isn't terribly meaningful to me.

9:47: Walberg proceeds to ask Brandon's friend Joey what Brandon might've been referring to in the last question and Joey, impossibly, responds as follows: "boy, I dunno. It could be any number of things." DICK! Thanks a lot, former best friend! Why in the world would he say that instead of "well, I know it was a difficult time for Brandon, but he's probably just being hard on himself"? Is he trying to make a play for Marissa? If so: ballsy.

9:48: Q8: "have you ever changed the amount on a customer's credit card receipt in order to receive a bigger tip?" Even though the risks (both in doing it and confessing to it) seem to vastly outweigh the reward, Brandon answers yes. Brandon, Brandon, Brandon...I hope your boss doesn't have cable.

9:49: Q9 is "Have you ever made ethnic jokes about Marissa's family?" Brandon truthfully answers yes and Marissa (who, we'll find out in a minute, is half-Japanese) doesn't look surprised in the slightest--meaning, I guess, that he wasn't saying it behind her back. Partial credit?

9:50: "Do you sometimes feel like Marissa is boring?" He answers "yes" (almost enthusiastically) in, I swear, less than a second. Now...even if you do believe that your girlfriend is boring and you don't think you can beat the lie detector, it strikes me as prudent to wait a few seconds before admitting--ideally, in an anguished tone--the truth. As it stands, the only thing that could have made Brandon's answer worse was if he added "...and she's bad in bed, too!" at the end of it. Ad break.

9:51: Carrie's take? "Scandalous game...absolutely scandalous. You would only get away with this in America." When I point out that it actually originated in Britain, she's floored.

9:54: Q11--the last of the night--is "while working as an underwear model, did you ever stuff your underwear?" Again, laughs all around. (Just you wait, friends and family.) Brandon confidently answers that no, he hasn't, but, after a really long delay, the answer comes back as a lie. Brandon looks ill, exclaiming "what? No way!" In fact, everyone looks one more than Marissa (who, all things considered, has had kind of a rough night.)

This sparks a debate between Carrie and I. Carrie, believing that confessing to stuffing your underwear is far less embarrassing than driving drunk, thinks that Brandon is telling the truth and was unjustly screwed over, while I was not exactly won over by the half-hearted nature of his denial. (Walberg: "why would it say you were lying?" Brandon: [long pause, followed by blank look] "I don't know.") Put it this way: if this really isn't something you've done, wouldn't you be pretty vociferous in your denials? To quote Dave Chappelle: "that shit is infuriating."

A couple of other comments about this matter:

1. This is the second time in two episodes that a contestant has been asked about his stuffing proclivities, which leads me to believe that it's a stock question during the audition process, which is both (a) kind of cruel and (b) really, really creepy. That's what happens when you hire a nine-year-old to be your showrunner...

2. This seems as good a time as any to point out what everyone already knows: that lie detectors aren't totally reliable (registration--which is free--required), with false positives occuring between 10-15% of the time under the best of circumstances, which, I think it's safe to say, do not exist on the FOX backlot. Could a lawsuit be far off?

9:57: the "coming up this season" trailer that runs during the end credits hints that the show will get nastier, with juicy questions like: "have you ever been paid for sex?", "do you have a tiny penis?", "have you ever thought your wife deserves a better looking husband than you?", and "would you cheat on your wife if you knew you wouldn't get caught?" (OK...I made one of those up.)

God help me, I may have to tune in...