Tag Archives: Video

Season Premiere: The Amazing Race, Watermelons, and the Loss(?) of Uncertainty

“They Don’t Call the The Amazing Race For Nothin’!”

September 26th, 2010

Earlier this month, CBS gave away what I would technically consider a spoiler: they released a video of two contestants completing a Roadblock which was fairly clearly taking place towards the end of the first leg. Being generally spoiler-phobic, I resisted the video for a few hours, but then everyone and their mother were talking about it.

And when I finally watched it, I discovered why.

YouTube – The Watermelon Heard Around the World

I chose this version of the video with the highest number of viewers: while CBS’ own upload has 650,000, the copy posted has over two and a half million views. People have been watching this video for weeks, and it seems to have actually created some legitimate excitement around the season. I don’t think that the video is enough of a spoiler to ruin the episode (my usual spoiler-hating self didn’t really emerge), but I do think that it creates a very different sort of viewing experience than what we’re used to.

As a result, I want to ask (and perhaps answer) some questions about the strategy at play, which ended up helping the series to one of its most memorable premieres in quite some time.

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Saturday Night Live – “May 8th: Betty White and Jay-Z”

“Betty White and Jay-Z”

May 8th, 2010

I wrote yesterday that I didn’t think that Saturday Night Live could pull of an episode which lived up to the hype surrounding Betty White’s triumphant ascension to the position of host for this week’s penultimate episode of the season, but I’ll admit I underestimated the infectiousness of her personality and the amount of material they would choose to give her (keeping the returning alumni largely sidelined in favour of White). However, I was right in that the show didn’t really have much material for her, relying too heavily on sex jokes, her age (which worked for a while but felt overdone), and the incongruity of an old lady saying dirty/angry things for me to say that they really rose to the occasion.

As a celebration of women on “SNL,” the episode showed that there have been some funny performers from the show’s past who are part of an important legacy of comedy on television; however, as an episode of “SNL,” the episode indicated that they still don’t entirely know how to write for those women in a way which delivers on their potential.

For all of my thoughts on the episode, though, you can check out my complete recap of the show over at HitFix.com, where I run down all of the individual sketches, including the genius of the Digital Short. Here’s a brief introduction to that review, then head over to HitFix for the rest.

Betty White is an extremely funny lady, Jay-Z is a darn engaging performer, and when you start listing off “Saturday Night Live” alumni like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch you can’t help but think back to some pretty darn memorable sketches and characters. In other words, on paper, this has the potential to be one of the strongest episodes of the series in a very long time.

However, the big question I had going into tonight’s episode is whether it will actually be able to properly do justice to this potential: White seems too old to be able to carry a full host’s load, and while bringing in a wheelbarrow full of past cast members allows her to take on fewer sketches it may also crowd out her contribution to the episode. The balance between the internet-appointed host and the likes of Fey and Poehler is not going to be easy, and I don’t know how Betty White fans will respond to Jay-Z as the musical guest.

Ultimately, the most-hyped “SNL” since the 2008 election delivers what it promises: with an absolutely journeywoman-esque performance from White and some energy from the returning cast members, the show turns in one of its most enjoyable episodes in recent memory even if the material never quite feels like it earns the talent who bring it to life.

[For my complete recap of Betty White on SNL, click here.]

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Without a Net, Without a Chair?: Character vs. Actor as Glee goes Live

“Without a Net, Without a Chair?”

April 6th, 2010

When FOX announced that Glee would be doing a concert tour in support of the show’s second season, I wasn’t particularly surprised: while they had initially said that they had no such plans, the show is too much of a phenomenon to resist what seems like a really logical brand extension.

However, two performances in the past week (At the White House Easter Egg Roll yesterday and on tomorrow’s episode of Oprah, filmed on Friday) have proven a really intriguing glimpse into both the potential for and the challenge of these concerts. The White House concert was very much enjoyable, especially having Michelle Obama and the first daughters grooving to the music in the “pit” between the stage and the crowd, but it also revealed that navigating the twisted web of character and actor, and doing it all without the benefit of auto-tune, is going to make for an extremely interesting concert-going experience.

Glee at the White House: Part One

Trapped between recreating and celebrating the show that fans love so much, the concerts are going to need to remain a careful negotiation of the cast’s musical ability…or maybe they just need to lipsynch to “Don’t Stop Believing” and fans will be happy.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Pants Alternative”

“The Pants Alternative”

March 22nd, 2010

I’ve complained a lot in the past that the show often boils down to Sheldon vs. Everyone else, a dynamic which makes Sheldon seem more unlikeable than the audience wants him to be and which makes all of the other characters seem more unpleasant than they need to be. And so when “The Pants Alternative” starts with Sheldon getting an ego-boosting award, I was concerned that the episode would be about how Sheldon’s award would drive a wedge between this group of friends and create some new conflicts.

Instead, the show surprised me, as Sheldon’s friends come together to help him overcome his fear of public speaking. What follows is a set of loosely connected scenes that work pretty well as spotlights for Jim Parsons’ comic talents, proving that he can legitimately have a great scene with every character on this show. However, while those scenes might work, the big conclusion ends up taking the character too far, giving into the broad and meaningless as opposed to building the character’s self-confidence in any way. By turning a potential moment of progress into a moment of humiliation, “The Pants Alternative” undermines some of its early goodwill and emerges an average, rather than exemplary, episode.

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A Sales Spectacular: The Honest Quest for “Buzz” at the 2010 Grammys

When the Jay Leno Show was first pitched by NBC, they claimed that it would be so topical that people wouldn’t dare tape it on their DVRs out of fear of missing something important. This was, of course, a complete lie, as the show was irrelevant from the moment it was conceived, but it raised the point that in this age there is this enigma surrounding that singular program that is so current that it must be watched live to be truly experienced.

And so we turn to last night’s Grammy Awards, the yearly spectacle where music’s biggest stars come together to celebrate their achievements. And while all awards shows are looking for ways to appeal to audiences (with flashy hosts, big production numbers, etc.), the Grammys are built for it: at the end of the day, the show is one giant concert, and in the process becomes part spectacle, part promotional tool, and part awards show (that part, frankly, is secondary).

I wonder, though, whether the show is actually DVR-proof. Let’s take, for example, Pink’s performance of “Glitter in the Air,” which in many ways stole the show for live viewers (I missed the first hour, but when I checked in with my parents it was the first thing I heard about). In the performance, she dangles from a white sheet from the ceiling, in Cirque de Soleil style, spinning and twirling while rarely missing a step in her vocal performance. She drew a standing ovation from the audience, and while I wasn’t as surprised as many (having read about this part of her Funhouse Tour in [gasp] a print magazine a few months ago), it was admittedly quite impressive when I reviewed it, on DVR, when the show ended.

Or when I viewed it, as you can now, on YouTube.

In other words, it stayed DVR-proof for about thirty minutes, at which point anyone could access it: if this is really what all the watercoolers will be buzzing about tomorrow, then YouTube has made live viewing more or less irrelevant. In the end, the Grammys are probably fine with this: combined with other performances (like Lady Gaga’s opening duet with Elton John), an online presence will create the impression that viewers won’t want to miss next year’s Grammys so that they can be one of the “first” to discover such performances (unless of course they’re on the West Coast, where clips hit YouTube before the tape delayed show even aired). And perhaps some might be bummed that they had previous knowledge of the performance before experiencing it, and would have liked to have been one of those on the front lines, going to Twitter or Facebook and throwing in a “Holy crap” or some other variation.

The Grammys are not, like the Oscars, self-important: they know that they exist to drum up sales and interest in a struggling industry, and they know that in this day and age what’s more important is engaging with an audience than actually rewarding the best music. And while I’m going to use this TV-driven analysis to justify some music-driven stuff below the jump, it’s important to note that for the Grammys the evening was a success regardless of who won or lost, and I think the way the show is designed (and how it is received by audiences) is a reflection of this. Sure, some complain about CBS using the show as a springboard for their own shows (L.L. Cool J, Chris O’Donnell, Kaley Cuoco, etc.), but considering the show itself is one big promotional tool, it fit right in for me.

And now, some stray observations about the awards themselves – I can’t help myself.

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Modern Family – “The Incident”

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“The Incident”

October 14th, 2009

This is going to see like a really weird connection, but one of the things that I found really interesting about The CW’s Privileged was how quickly it dealt with its built-in back story. The show was dealing with an estranged mother and a distant father in its central protagonist, and it got both out of the way quickly…in fact, perhaps too quickly. The show never quite felt as purposeful when it moved past those interesting dynamics, and while they were important parts of its early identity it seemed like they could have been burned off more slowly to heighten their impact.

However, Modern Family makes an enormously compelling argument for getting back story out of the way, or at the very least the value of back story in the early stages of a sitcom’s development in particular. While the show is essentially checking off a list of recurring character we’ve yet to see (Benjamin Bratt was just cast as Gloria’s ex, for example), the seamless integration of Long into the cast only brings out more of our characters, and the way the episode depicts a past “Incident” is a hilarious piece of back story that does nothing to diminish what could be introduced with time. On a drama, a character like Long evokes the same kind of emotions each time she returns, and the show can only go there so many times. On a sitcom, however, as long as things remain funny and as long as a diverse set of characters are involved, you can keep on bringing her back with minimal loss of comic value.

And considering where this episode starts off at on that front, DeDe could be a funny recurring player on the show for seasons to come.

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The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity: Reviewing The Jay Leno Show

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The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity

Reviewing The Jay Leno Show

Spontaneity is not Jay Leno’s forte.

That’s really the whole point of Leno’s appeal, at the end of the day – people tuned in at 11:30 at alarming rates because of what they deemed his charming nature, making him like just another part of your nightly tradition. But in relaunching himself as part of the Jay Leno Show, which started tonight on NBC and which will air five nights a week until…well, we don’t quite know.

See, what’s strange about The Jay Leno Show is that they want it to seem spontaneous. They want it to seem like an old variety show, with special guests and different bits and no stuffy desk. So when Leno walks out to his new set, a group of people “spontaneously” rush the stage and crowd around to high five their favourite talk show host for a set period of time. It is true that the crowd seems to enjoy having Jay back, but he’s stuck in a really weird place: he has to appeal to those same viewers while enticing entirely new demographics (who weren’t watching his show before) to tune in. As such, he needs to be appear spontaneous in order to broaden his appeal, and yet at the same time not actually be spontaneous at all so as to appease the crowd who watched him so religiously and who will soon have other options (like CBS’ crime shows, which tend to appeal to the same crowd).

In the end, as a hardened critic who’s on the lower end of the key demographic and who has never particularly enjoyed Leno’s brand of comedy, I wasn’t a fan. However, the problem with the show is that it seemed desperate to try to make me into a fan, a position which was neither spontaneous nor charming, and as such my verdict is clear: on every measurable scale of subjective observation, the Jay Leno Show is an egotistical failure.

But if it turns into an economic success, trust that we’ll be dealing with it for a while.

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