Sunday, March 01, 2015

Letterman Tribute #4

As the next in a series, here is a full Late Night episode (minus some jump cuts) from 1988. George Bush is now president-elect of the United States, and Dave welcomes then-NBC news reporter Connie Chung to discuss the election. Dave had a special rapport with Chung, but his show has always been a sanctuary for mildly-vapid network news personalities. In these moments with news titans, Dave plays the dummy, but he's always the smartest one of the two on camera.

After Chung follows an episode of "Count Biff-ula," and then Melanie Griffith, promoting her new film Working Girl. These old Griffith interviews on Late Night were referenced by Griffith's daughter, Dakota Johnson, when she made her first appearance with Letterman last week and suggested to Dave that he might be her real father.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar recap 2015

The Academy Awards telecast passed the first test of the night. Every year I quietly demand to see Charlie Chaplin's image on screen within the first ten minutes of the show, and last night I did-- during Neil Patrick Harris' opening musical number.

But then the musical number is all we got from Harris. There were no jokes in the first act, and then only some lame ones to follow (Harris: You could eat Reese Witherspoon up "with-her-spoon." Wow.) I shouldn't have expected many gems. Harris isn't a comic. He's a song-and-dance man. If a category is required. He's the breakout star of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. His two big jokes on Oscar night were walking on stage in his underwear and a running gag about his Oscar predictions that led to a confusing payoff. You hire the Tonys, you get the Tonys.

David Letterman, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, and Seth MacFarlane each gave us something edgy. Ricky Gervais might give us something really edgy. (It's worth finding out, in any case.) Harris tried to be edgy. Once. Less than a minute after Laura Poitras, producer and director of CITIZENFOUR, walked off with an Oscar for the most dangerous and important documentary in decades, Harris cracked that the subject of her film, Edward Snowden, couldn't be in attendance "for some treason." Nobody in "liberal" Hollywood seems to have had a problem with that joke, but MacFarlane will never be invited back because he sang a song in 2013 called "We Saw Your Boobs."

Harris also delivered the lowest ratings for the annual telecast in six years, the lowest since Harris' Broadway comrade, Hugh Jackson, hosted. (Who's left to host the Tonys?) This year's show should have even had the ratings advantage of having breakout Middle American hit, American Sniper, nominated in multiple categories.

In other news Oscar, Sniper tanked it big. Clint Eastwood's film spread the message that Islamophobia is justified, that places other than the United States don't matter, and it turns out that there are a lot of Academy members that come from places other than the United States.

I love Joan Rivers, but her absence from the "In Memoriam" segment is not a scandal. She had almost no presence in movies. Her "red carpet" show had everything to do with fashion, and nothing to do with movies. A legitimate scandal is still Gene Siskel being omitted from the video tribute in 1999. An academy spokesperson explained at the time that Siskel "did not work in the film industry." Uh huh. Luckily, Whoopi Goldberg was there to save the day.

The nominated songs, and their performances were great. All of the music was. John Legend and Common, Tim McGraw honoring Glen Campbell, Lego madness, and Lady Gaga surprising me for roughly the thousandth time this year.

Every time Orange is the New Black gets overly-praised at a television awards show, it's another slap in the face of the show it's shamelessly stealing from-- HBO's Oz, the pay network's first-ever hour-long drama that aired from 1997-2003. Before OITNB gave us violence, homosexuality, drug use, institutional corruption, ethnic and religious conflict behind bars, Oz gave it to us in precisely the same serio-comic tone. So it's nice to see J.K. Simmons, Oz's big bad-- the white supremacist Vern Schillinger, claim an Oscar win. The academy loved watching Simmons emotionally abuse young jazz musicians this year in Whiplash, but I promise you that it was nothing compared to the shit Schillinger did to Tobias Beecher.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Even for him, the shame here was too much"

 Whenever I feel a twinge of sympathy for Brian Williams, I remember the asshole that delivered this news report in 2010.

He was lied to about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and made up his own whoppers, but Williams went off on Mark McGwire five years ago, saying at the top of the NBC Nightly News that "because this is a family broadcast, we probably can't say what we would like to" about the baseball slugger. It's worth noting that McGwire never lied about using steriods, only refused to testify to Congress on the subject. I wonder how McGwire is explaining Williams' lies to the young boys he's raising today in Southern California.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Blastoff for fun and adventure

Happy birthday, Saturday Night Live. We both turn 40 this year, and hopefully are neither of us the worse for wear. At Vulture, celebs are sharing their favorite SNL sketches of all-time, but none of them got it right.

It's Astronaut Jones.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Jon Stewart's legacy

I don't think that anybody will ever more fully represent my generation in public life than Jon Stewart has-- the cynicism, even nihilism; the poorly-disguised idealism; the refusal to claim to be anything other than a comedian, though he is currently the most important and influential leftist personality on American television. The touchstone moment of Stewart's tenure as host of The Daily Show is when Tucker Carlson, with his irony glands engaged exhaustively in mortal combat, accused Stewart of not asking tough enough questions of presidential candidate John Kerry in an interview, as if it was Stewart's duty in today's bleak world to cover for Wolf Blitzer's ass.

Depressingly often, however, it has been.

Over the last three decades, television news divisions have surrendered to the lure of info-tainment. This fact, however, is no cause to blame comedians that specialize in political satire. Stewart just happens to be better suited for, and better skilled at, info-tainment than they are. (He also does political satire better than Abby Hoffman or Jerry Rubin.) The distinction between what Stewart does and what Jake Tapper does should be obvious. For heaven's sake, Stephen Colbert is universally-acknowledged to be in the same category as Stewart, and Colbert is expressly playing a character.

X'ers are the children of David Letterman. We inherited Dad's irony, and he's one of us in spirit. Like us, Dave has never acted as if he's trying to change the world. But like the children of his generation, he did.

Stewart carries the gene for us. He's the reigning king of what is certainly the golden age of political satire. At some point during the first half of the last century, Broadway impresario George S. Kaufman described satire as what closes on Saturday night, but today it's what wins the ratings war in the daypart that television advertisers value the most. Stewart knows what X'ers, and those that have come after us, crave the most, and he gifts it to us on a nightly basis: Reality. Reality smothered in black comedy. Plus, there's the part about being a liberal hero-- and to quote Colbert on stage, in character, at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Obsequiousness to the military establishment led us, blindfolded, into Iraq, obsequiousness to the military establishment caused Brian Williams to invent a story, and obsequiousness to the military establishment explains the overblown reaction to Williams' admission.


Kanye West should keep his opinion to himself. He should stop imposing it on the rest of us. And I appreciate everybody that's gone on Facebook to tell me that.


I don't have a problem with anything Kanye West did at the Grammys. Beck, Beyonce, and West have each won at least six of those trophies so Beck's acceptance speech for Album of the Year on Sunday was not the moment of anybody's lifetime. If you're pissed, you take awards shows too seriously.


What we really need, though, is for Kanye to walk on stage at the Oscars when Best Picture is awarded and stand up for Selma. That's a movie that got smeared because it told the truth about Lyndon Johnson-- that he agreed with Martin Luther King Jr. on voting rights, disagreed with him about the urgency of the matter, and then presided over a government that fervently hounded King throughout the rest of his public and private life through wiretapping, surveillance, and blackmail. Selma was required to fail this awards season because it was not Schinder's List, Mississippi Burning, Dances with Wolves, The Help, Lincoln, or 12 Years a Slave: It stubbornly refused to give us a white hero.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Letterman tribute #3

If you haven't started watching all of the "Lettermans" now that Dave is in the final stretch, you've been missing some stuff. All of the episodes seem important now. Dave psychologically unburdened himself with Dr. Phil last week. CBS star Robin Tunney expressed her lifelong love for Dave upon meeting him for the first time. Jungle Jack Hanna got a standing ovation at the beginning of his segment just for being Jack Hanna on the Letterman show for 30 years. And Martin Short was his normal self.

In this edition of the Best of Dave, we bring you one of the forgotten remote gems. The strong guy. The fat guy. The genius. They walk where weak, thin, dumb guys fear to tread.

After 20 years, I finally got this song out of my head about a month ago, and now here I am watching it again.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The weekly round table

Naomi Klein gave you all the background information you need to have about recent political forces acting in Greece in her book The Shock Doctrine. Kudos to the people of Greece for rising up against austerity. But don't expect the United States Central Intelligence Agency to sit idly by. The self-governance of other countries is not something the agency easily tolerates.


The Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton at their own peril. (I'm envisioning a Scott Walker inauguration in 2017.) The Democrats will not retain the White House, in this climate of "unfelt" economic growth, unless they adopt an authentic message of economic populism, and Clinton, of course, is a poorly-camouflaged Wall Street thug.


Burning somebody alive is barbaric. It's a recently-documented tactic of the Islamic State. It's also one of the consequences when you drop drone bombs from the sky on human populations.


The movie American Sniper is tragic on many levels. One of those is the number of people who will be encouraged to enlist by a film that falsely and arrogantly claims to be apolitical. Plenty of young American men and women already have bleak futures due to the American version of austerity, and American Sniper sells a counterfeit future of patriotic significance for these disaffected youths. Yes, Chris Kyle, a psychopath, was himself a victim, and his conscience struggled, somewhat, at least, with the concept of taking human life, but his conscience was certainly also grappling with the fact that he knew he was acting as an agent of the oppressive country. It should have been no surprise to us that reality had left his brain when he started fabricating stories about post-Katrina New Orleans and confrontations with Jesse Ventura.


I don't envy sportswriters in St. Louis having to begin a full year of attempting to cover the Rams when the team's departure to Los Angeles early in 2016 is a 100% certainty. Dead team walking.


There was an interesting-- and under-reported-- angle to the Super Bowl that involved the Rams. I found the story on Slate. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman endured a crippling helmet-to-helmet hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor early in the fourth quarter. According to the NFL's new policy on concussions, a team doctor is supposed to examine the player for signs of concussion, and that assessment is supposed to last 8 to 12 minutes, but Edelman never left the game. Edelman continued to make big catches as the clock wound down, finishing with 109 yards on 9 receptions, one of which was the game-winning touchdown after the Chancellor hit.

Now you're asking, what does this have to do with the Rams? Well, according to Slate's Jeremy Stahl, during the post-game media event, a presumably-still-shaken Edelman "reportedly referred to the team the Patriots were playing as 'St. Louis' before correcting himself."

So the Rams didn't make it to the Super Bowl. They finished their season 6 and 10. But one of the star players in the championship game may have thought he was playing the Rams due to his concussive fog, and metaphysically, that's almost the same thing as playing in the game.