Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Disagree to agree

I'd like to clarify a comment I posted yesterday. By saying that Seth Meyers (pictured) is the world's luckiest man, I meant that he has no talent except to politely read what other people have written for him, to pronounce the words correctly, and to not offend corporate America or the dominant political and media class in even the slightest way at any time. He's a man of his age in that way, and he was awful as host of the Emmys last night.

Even his fans seem to kind of agree with this assessment. Here, USA Today's venerable TV critic Robert Bianco praises Meyers' Emmy-night performance for its lameness. The man could have been funny, Bianco is arguing, but his job was to be a host. The critic elaborates to point out that Meyers' jokes were safe and predictable, and that they touched on no important topics. He asserts that the new host of NBC's once-revolutionary Late Night franchise has no particular talent, and that the fact was aptly demonstrated during the telecast. (No arguments from this corner.) None of Meyers' jokes were "mean," posits Bianco. They weren't even "pointed," which I guess would have been the type of offense that might get somebody mistakenly labeled as "mean."

Bianco is very pleased, however, that Meyers ended the show on time, and since the host was so objectively un-entertaining, we shouldn't mistake that opinion as something other than praise.

Like Bianco, New York Magazine's Margaret Lyons condemns Jimmy Kimmel for his performance as one of the presenters on the show, and agrees with her colleague that Kimmel's key miscalculation was being funny. While Bianco believes a host should not be funny, Lyons concedes that it's in the job description. Her belief is that Kimmel overstepped his role this year by showing Meyers up. (Jimmy was last year's host.) Writes the provocative Lyons, Kimmel's "funny" riffing was "like whipping up a little something at someone else's dinner party."

So it's not enough that we're stuck with a host that the three of us agree is not funny, nobody else gets to be funny either. It's a blessing for television that funny people are allowed to be on other shows that are not the major awards show for television excellence.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Hollywood Report

Women: TV star Sofia Vergara tells the E! red carpet lady tonight that she's into her new beau Joe Manganiello (pictured) because "he is so funny." I guarantee you he is not funny.


Helen Mirren, on Queen Elizabeth, in USA Today...

"When you meet the queen, a lot of people get immediately attacked with this appalling virus called 'Queenitis,' which means you're incapable of making a single comment that sounds remotely natural. And you don't know what to do with your hands. And you babble like an idiot. Or you say nothing at all. And then, thank God, she moves on and you're relieved." 

Mirren is the undisputed champion female celebrity of women's magazines and society blogs. Yet she feels and acts like an idiot around somebody that is clearly neither a more accomplished nor worthy human than she is? Is it the humility we're supposed to be responding positively to? I'll take Roseanne Barr if it means calling royalty on their bullshit.


I can't believe Sarah Silverman just won the Emmy. That is awesome.


Seth Meyers is the world's luckiest man.


Line of the night: Jimmy Kimmel to Matthew McConaughey, "Alright alright alright already."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cop killers

It's been a parade of idiots. The latest, these two.


There are still protestors flocking to Ferguson, and that's not because of the murder of Mike Brown. It's because of the friskings, beatings, shootings, and humiliations that led to the murder of Mike Brown. Cops kill here because they can. They assert absolute control over the lives of black people. One of the subject officers in the linked story and video above states it very clearly. He believes that his badge is a public license to kill. More, he believes it's the assignment that's been given to him. The lives he takes don't matter. That's why when he and his brothers in blue shoot black children dead in the street, the bodies lie there for four hours and-- even when there is intense public scrutiny bearing down-- they don't feel an imperative to complete the police report. The cops aren't racist though. America is racist. The cops are its sword.


Our police are "overwhelmed" only because they are untrained, unqualified, and incompetent. They are "overwhelmed" because every teenager with black skin at eye level is perceived to be a threat. It's remarkable that we have had to endure this decade-long national dialogue about teachers that are supposedly unaccountable and the claim that it's impossible to fire "bad" ones. And then we've got these other public servants playing war with their toys in the street.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Must be the Mo'ne


Mo'ne Davis is wonderful, but we've got to get the Little Leaguers off our televisions. It's just what we need is to have a group of talented young athletes entertaining us for free while ESPN makes all the bank. Maybe I should just be happy that youth baseball is being so heavily promoted-- and among both girls and African-Americans nonetheless. But cash in, Mo'ne! Cash in now!


I attended Jon Hamm Night at Busch Stadium on Monday night. The actor was on hand to throw out the first pitch to Ozzie Smith, and some of us received a charming little bobblehead like the one you see above. I knew Hamm was a big Cardinals fan, but didn't know that Ted Simmons had been a surrogate father.

Incidentally, if my wife reads this, these bobbleheads are going for $50 on Ebay.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A busy week for tragedy


I spent a summer in Ferguson, Missouri 20 years ago. I was back for a visit three years ago and it looked exactly the same. In 1994, I lived on W. Florissant Ave., a street that, this week, has seen two people shot-- one dead, both by police, righteous and angry protestors in action, and riot gear-clad police with military-grade weaponry. Despite what you might have heard, it's a story not about property rights, but about human rights. It's a battle not between white and black, but between the citizenry and a police culture that treats young black men like animals.

A suburban police department acting thus far with absolutely no transparency has refused to release the name of the officer that shot dead 18-year-old, unarmed college freshman-to-be Michael Brown from a distance of 35 feet while Brown had his hands in the air. The ACLU and the National Bar Association have filed open records requests for the still-secret police reports, and if the name of the officer is not soon released, we might wind up hearing it from Anonymous.


It may not be possible to fully comprehend how bad the state of community policing is in this country. In an era when so much knowledge has come to us about the sociology and psychology of crime, it seems we use virtually none of it.


A couple years ago I Netflixed my way through about 15 Bogart films chronologically. In about half the cases, I was re-watching. I couldn’t leave any of the Betty Bacall collaborations out of the exercise-- To Have or Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, Key Largo. Bacall was so sultry and sophisticated that it betrayed the truth of how young she was in those earliest of her pictures. That she could die seven decades later and not yet be 90 years old is difficult to comprehend. Most of that generation’s stars are long gone, and I have had Bacall on my mental list as about the last one. They never really leave us though, you know? Not only will Bacall live on, she’ll always look damn sexy. The silver screen gifts a curious immortality—and Bertie Higgins songs grant one that’s even more curious.


Robin Williams’ public stock went up and down during his career, as each performer’s does. He took his lumps for certain movies, and at times, from fellow stand-up comics. His brilliant comedy style was impossible to duplicate but relatively easy to mimic, as it often was with malice. His free-form riffs were mostly rehearsed, but that fact was expertly concealed. They could be caricatured by tallying the popular Williams characters in rapid succession—the old man hard of hearing, the televangelist, the telethon host, the fag, Jack Nicholson.

For every performer out there, I believe there is an individual moment in which we each, once and for all, make up our minds about that performer, an impermeable thumbs up or thumbs down. For me, the Robin Williams moment came in 2002. I grew up watching him on Mork & Mindy, and always loved him more as a guest on Carson and Letterman than for any particular film. On May 21, 1992, he was the last “first” guest of Carson’s long late-night run, an honor as great as Williams' Academy Award, to my mind.

By 2002, Williams was still an enormous star in movies. “Serious” Robin had been Oscar-nominated for Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, and The Fisher King, a winner for Good Will Hunting. “Funny” Robin had been made legend partly by a public anointment by Jonathan Winters, and also by Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, a pair of family films that were absolute box office explosions, although a pair I mostly glossed over at the time because of a generational incongruity. In ’98, he had been pilloried by critics for Patch Adams, a film that critics scared me away from that was reported to have been an especially pandering attempt at combining “Funny” and “Serious” Robin. By ’02, I was mostly on to other entertainment interests.

I tuned in to his HBO stand-up special Live from Broadway on this particular Saturday night in 2002—and I didn’t go into it with a lot of anticipation. Ho hum. But Jonny Winters so help me, that was about the funniest stand up special I had ever seen, the eternal thumbs up from me. Robin Williams had entered my imagination, left it, and now was back to show me his ultimate worth. He moved to icon status for this fan and it’s hard for a man or woman to get knocked out of that box once they’re in.

Enjoy that 2002 HBO special tonight on YouTube. After doing so, you might be able to tell me you have ones that you like better, but you won’t be able to claim that they belong on a higher plain. This is Robin’s genius on full display.

Monday, August 11, 2014


The most gifted clowns are the ones most capable of hitting my emotional soft spot-- Twain, Chaplin, this one.

Critic David Edelstein: "There is nothing so despairing-- or potentially more lethal-- as a clown who has given up hope of making us laugh but wants to have an impact on us anyway."

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The controversy from hell

During an especially memorable episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry’s friend Richard Lewis, the famed comedian portraying himself in the series, makes the claim that he invented the phrase “the ____ from hell” as part of his nightclub act-- as in, “this is the date from hell,” or “it was the vacation from hell.”

Though this show plays to the funny, this is serious business—or at least mock-serious business—to Lewis in real-life, and details about his claim are prominent on his Wikipedia page. (The Yale Book of Quotations backs Lewis, but Bartlett's has refused.)

To somebody my age, the highly-adaptable phrase seems somehow timeless. If asked to date its origin, I would have probably guessed the turn of the last century, about the time that the concept of eternal torment in the afterlife became less serious in the West. No clue exactly though.

Anyway, by no means is my research conclusive, but if you watch Richard Lewis during one of his early appearances on Late Night with David Letterman in the 1980s—and there are many good reasons to do such a thing—you can hear a shocking (to me) response from the audience both times Lewis uses the phrase. It’s truly as if these people have never heard it before. Or maybe the man just says things funny.


Another nasty legacy of Ronald Reagan: This is an excerpt from Carl Reiner's book I Remember Me.

It was in 1927, when Mr. Hoover was the secretary of commerce, that he proposed and helped pass a bill insuring that the airways belonged to the people and not the broadcasters. The regulation limited airtime  for commercials to three minutes of every hour or ninety seconds for every half-hour. For decades, the writers and producers of radio dramas and comedies had ample time to tell their stories, with minimal interruptions.
After President Reagan was sworn in, one of his first priorities was to thank the heads of the major corporations and the top film studio executives for their energetic support in helping him get elected. To show his gratitude, President Reagan supported a bill that deregulated the amount of minutes per hour that advertisers could use to sell their products. In a very short time, the network's half-hour comedy shows, which had used twenty-six and a half minutes to tell their stories, were now trying to tell a story in twenty-two minutes. Recently it was chopped to twenty minutes.
On most networks, we are now able to watch strings of commercials that peddle high-fiber cereals, incontinence pads, health insurance, full-figure brassieres, Odor Eater foot pads, an eyelash separator, Hamburger Helper, an erection-enhancing cream, toe fungus lotion, Cheez Whiz in a spray can, a lawyer who handles cases for victims of mesothelioma-- all this without having to be interrupted by any kind of entertainment.
If you enjoy watching these commercials more than you do a good comedy or drama, then you are one lucky guy or gal! And you lucky guys and gals can thank President Ronald Reagan for that. He has gifted our country with a healthy chunk of entertainment-free television!