Friday, February 24, 2017

AI 1.0

This story must have been written by a bot: "Traffic study ranks Los Angeles as most clogged city"

Unless they're talking about toilets, no one is going to find that interesting. Or, for that matter, news.

I say no one, but AP labels it, "The Big Story." It must be like the lottery; somebody's gotta win.

By the way, Parkersburg, West Virginia--hardly a two and half hour drive from Columbus--has less traffic than Los Angeles. Yeah, you could have inferred it, but I'm sure you appreciate having evidence to back that up. You're welcome.

Winger Versus Abed

Though Community has been off the air for a couple years, most of the cast landed on their feet, and are now doing movies and/or TV.  Just by chance, two of them are featured in sitcoms on Thursday night, just like Community was.

You've got Joel McHale starring in The Great Indoors and Dany Pudi featured in Powerless.  While on Community, they regularly lost to The Big Bang Theory at 8 pm.  Alas, now they're on opposite each other at 8:30.

The McHale show is easily beating the Pudi show, though mostly, I'd guess, due to its slot following The Big Bang Theory.  I'm sure McHale is just happy to be helped by that show for a change.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I've Come To Talk With You Again

People (see below) are talking about The Washington Post's new slogan (or old slogan that they're now putting up front): "Democracy Dies in Darkness"

Is this sentiment true?  Probably. Though I suppose Democracy can die in the light as well.  Regardless, I don't know what it has to do with The Washington Post, or with anything in particular going on in the country at present.  I mean, if this statement is true today, it was true a year ago (though if the Post had used the slogan then they'd probably have been accused of racism).

If they're unhappy with Trump, too bad.  Their job is their job, and they should go about it in a vigorous yet disinterested manner, whether they like the candidate (which they don't, along with almost every other major paper in the country) or not, and whether they believe the president appreciates them or not.

Putting up the slogan, then, comes across as self-pitying, self-righteous, arrogant and vainglorious.  And because it implies Trump is a threat, it feeds the suspicion that they can't be fair, which is part of what caused their problem in the first place.  If they believe in what they're saying, they should prove it in action, not whine about it.

A much better motto comes from Faber College: "Knowledge Is Good." Now there's something I can get behind.

Must be pretty sick after eight years of it, or maybe 24

"Democracy dies in darkness"

I wonder if anyone at the Post, outside the Volokh crowd, knows what alliteration is?

Good thing the sun came out Jan. 20.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Funny Thing

I've been reading Sing Out, Louise!, a book published in 1993 that has numerous Broadway folks talk about what it's like to perform in musicals. Most of the names aren't huge stars, so we get a look at the less glamorous side of the Great White Way--getting fired, working as an understudy, having a show close out of town and so on.  Very informative.

The authors mostly let the performers talk for themselves, so I was surprised to see what struck me as an unnecessary editorial comment on page 175.  They're discussing the big male stars, and in a section on Zero Mostel we get this:

A Funny Thing Happened On The Forum (1962) was a surprise smash hit and ran for 964 performances, in large part due to Mostel's ability to make the audience accept the musical's makeshift plot devices and corny jokes.

Where did that come from?

I'm sure Mostel did a fine job, but he's not the only reason it ran.  (He wasn't even the first, or second choice for the lead at the time.) Forum has become one of Stephen Sondheim's most-performed shows--it must have something to see so many productions without Mostel.  There was even a revival on Broadway not long after Sing Out, Louise! came out that ran for two years.

And "makeshift" plot devices?  The book writers, Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, worked on the script for years to get it just right.  A farce with music that last over two hours and holds audience interest doesn't just happen, it takes considerable planning.  The jokes are corny?  Perhaps the characters are venerable, the show being inspired by the farces of Plautus, but Gelbart and Shevelove give the characters good material, and talented clowns have been getting laughs with the script for over fifty years now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Say My Name

I watched some episodes of the first season of Supergirl on CBS, mostly because of lead Melissa Benoist.  I haven't been watching since it moved this season to CW, but I just noticed that last night's episode feature Mister Mxyzptlk.  I wish I'd watched (even though he now seems to be a dashing young man rather than a cigar-smoking pixie) just to hear how they pronounce his name.

I always found Mister Mxyzptlk a fascinating Superman villain.  How do you threaten someone who's invulnerable?  Well, you create something dangerous, like kryptonite.  You take away his strength under a red sun.  You put his loved one danger.  Or you introduce magic, which is where Mxyzptlk comes in.

He was a mischievous imp who'd come to our dimension just so he could mess with Superman.  And the only way to get rid of him (for only 90 days) was to get him to say his name backwards.  Even as a kid, this cracked me up.  Here's a trickster, having fun at Supe's expense, and literally the only thing he has to worry about is not saying his own name backwards, which is hard enough to do even if you want to.  Yet somehow, someone always figured out a way to get him to do it.

I'm sure Supergirl figured out some way.  Or did they change the character so much there's some other way to deal with him?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Laugh, Laugh

I recently wrote about how some sitcoms have the same plots by chance.  But sometimes whole shows seem similar, and you wonder if they were developed with an eye on each other.

Sometimes there's no question.  After Animal House was such a big hit the three networks (back when you had three networks and not much else) each put on their "Animal House"-style sitcom, one--Delta House--directly adapted from the movie with some of the same actors.  They all flopped, by the way.  Then in 1990 there was the TV version of Ferris Bueller on NBC, while Fox (hey, a new network) did a knockoff--that was considerably better--called Parker Lewis Can't Lose.

Last year, HBO and Showtime put out dramas about the business side of rock and roll, Vinyl and Roadies.  Both were high profile projects, and both were rejected by the viewers. (They weren't that bad--I was sorry to see them go.)

And now, this year, both HBO and Showtime are giving us their take on the world of stand-up comedy.  Coincidence? (Last week I posted about kinds of comedy, but I didn't include comedy about comedy.)

There's Crashing, which debuted over the weekend.  It's created by Pete Holmes, who stars as a younger version of himself--he's got a failing marriage and is just starting out in stand-up.  He goes to the clubs and we meet other comedians playing themselves.  Above all we meet Artie Lange as himself--Holmes leaves his cheating wife and crashes in Artie's pad.

The pilot wasn't bad.  Holmes is low-key but charming, and Lange comes across well.  The show is also produced by Judd Apatow, who must have more projects going than anyone else in town.  Mike Birbiglia is a consultant, which makes sense, since he made a movie, Sleepwalk With Me (2012), that was about his early days in stand-up.

Then there's I'm Dying Up Here, which will debut later this year on Showtime. Created (but not written by) Jim Carrey, it's based on the William Knoedesleder book of the same name about the 1970s LA comedy scene.  It stars Melissa Leo as a comedy club owner who I can only assume is a fictionalized version of Mitzi Shore, who ran the Comedy Store back then.

It sounds interesting, but you always wonder, when there's a show about comedians, will we be seeing much stand-up within the show?  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be weird, since you're once-removed from it--is the stand-up part of the plot, or is it to be enjoyed on its own.  Ironically, if you're involved in the world of the characters, you'd probably rather see them offstage anyway.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Over the past decade or so, the Howard Stern show has become more mainstream.  He used to interview third-rate celebrities and make fun of the big names, but now he gets the big names (and tends to fawn over them).

But one thing that hasn't changed--the Wack Pack.  They're a group of people who regularly call in, and are a bit off.  Some are honored to be members in good standing of the Wack Pack, while some don't like it at all.

Lately, membership seems to be hazardous.  I believe five Wack Packers have died in the last few years. (Not entirely surprising, as the Wack Pack, in general, don't seem to take good care of themselves.) In fact, the Stern crew has started a death pool--though some feel bad about it.

I remember when audience favorite Eric the Actor died at 39 a couple years ago.  I felt like I almost knew him, and it was a shock.  (To be fair to Eric, he had genetic problems and was not expected to live a long life.)

And now Nicole Bass has died, only 52.  She was not quite the "celebrity" that Eric was among Stern fans, but was certainly a mainstay.  I remember first seeing her on a Howard Stern TV special in the 90s.  There was a beauty pageant, and on parade was this person who looked like a large, muscular man.

Turned out Nicole was a wrestler and one of the top female bodybuilders in the world.  I admit I had my doubts, but according to sources at the Stern show, they checked her out and she was born a female.

So goodbye Nicole.  When certain celebrities die, I sometimes think it's too bad I never met them, but if I'd ever met Nicole Bass, I don't know what I would have done.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sour Grapes Of Roth

For decades, Philip Roth's name has been mentioned for a possible Nobel Prize.  For various reasons (rarely having to do with literature), he has not yet received one.  As it's not given posthumously, they really should get a move on. But that's not why I'm writing about him.

I was just reading an interview in The Paris Review from 1984.  Roth is a fine writer, but his perceptions of the political world (which he has sometimes turned into novels) are often simply repeating the received wisdom of his social set.  Here's his response when asked about the relative disengagement from politics that intellectuals felt around 1960:

Little did we know that some twenty years later the philistine ignorance on which we would have liked to turn our backs would infect the country like Camus’s plague. Any satirist writing a futuristic novel who had imagined a President Reagan during the Eisenhower years would have been accused of perpetrating a piece of crude, contemptible, adolescent, anti-American wickedness, when, in fact, he would have succeeded, as prophetic sentry, just where Orwell failed; he would have seen that the grotesquerie to be visited upon the English-speaking world would not be an extension of the repressive Eastern totalitarian nightmare but a proliferation of the Western farce of media stupidity and cynical commercialism—American-style philistinism run amok. It wasn’t Big Brother who’d be watching us from the screen, but we who’d be watching a terrifyingly powerful world leader with the soul of an amiable, soap-opera grandmother, the values of a civic-minded Beverly Hills Cadillac dealer, and the historical background and intellectual equipment of a high-school senior in a June Allyson musical.

It's useful to remind ourselves how the opposition to any President so easily treat the situation as unprecedented and even apocalyptic. Their lack of perspective is clear enough decades later, but really it should have been clear at the time.

Generally speaking, intellectuals have no special insight into events of the day.  It's unfortunate that they have come to believe it's their duty to trade in on their fame and reputation, and speak out on issues beyond their expertise.

I see; Microsoft and Apple don't owe the taxes, those shiftless robots do

"Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and world’s richest man, said in an interview Friday that robots that steal human jobs should pay their fair share of taxes."

I assume Bill believes with equal fervor that the robots should validate their copies of Windows 10, too.

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