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Treme – “Meet De Boys on the Battlefront”

“Meet Da Boys on the Battlefront”

April 18th, 2010

There’s a scene in this week’s episode of Treme where John Goodman’s Creighton Bernette sits in his office going over a list of programs being cut from what we soon learn is his own university. He lists off a lot of practical degrees, many of them in engineering, noting the irony that the programs are being cut just after a disaster which he believes could have been prevented or at the very least mitigated through proper engineers (electrical, mechnical, and otherwise) working on the levees, power grids, and everything else. That’s ultimately consistent with his character, or what we’ve seen of the character so far, but his subsequent rant about the courses being maintained (women’s studies, Caribbean studies, Portuguese, etc.) seems a little bit “off.”

It’s not that we can say that this character wouldn’t make that argument: while we could argue that his own position as a professor of English makes him a little bit disingenuous to be bashing the liberal arts in such a fashion, we don’t know enough about the characters to say that this is out of character. However, it’s one of the moments when you realize that not everybody is on the same page when it comes to the future of New Orleans, as “Meet Da Boys on the Battlefront” identifies at nearly every turn. It is an episode filled with moments where structural integrity or personal safety or the letter of the law are placed in opposition to both the cultural past and the storm-addled future of New Orleans, and while some stress the importance of identity others emphasize the importance of survival.

While there are temptations to read characters like Creighton, who rallies against authority and emphasizes the failures of bureaucracy, as representations of the creative impulse of David Simon and Eric Overmeyer, this speech and this episode are a reminder that they’re trying to capture the complexity of this city rather than a singular image of its rehabilitation.

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Season Finale: 30 Rock – “Kidney Now!”

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“Kidney Now!”

May 14th, 2009

If there is one blemish on 30 Rock’s solid, if not spectacular, third season that really stands out, it’s the criticism that the show has leaned too heavily on high profile guest stars in order to meet its ratings potential. First and foremost, it was “successful” in its goal: the show was renewed months ago, showing that critical attention and slight viewership growth really can save great comedy. However, the consequences of this was a reputation, that I’ve heard used as a sign of the show’s decline throughout the year.

But I’m with Liz Lemon in the end: it has been quite a year, and while I don’t think 30 Rock won the Thursday Comedy face-off at the end of the year I do think that “Kidney Now!” is a fine argument for the show’s ability to go above and beyond what one would normally expect. Combining two television cliches (the benefit concert and the organ transplant) and sprinkling with the most guest stars the show has ever crammed into it, it reads like one big middle finger to those critics who questioned whether the show could weather the network-pressured invastion of movie stars.

It’s not a fantastic finale, and perhaps lacked the cohesiveness of last year’s “Cooter,” but with a rollicking final song (which you can find more info on at NBC.com) and some fun material for Liz Lemon the episode delivered a nice sendoff for the season.

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Getting in the Holiday Spirit with “A Colbert Christmas”

colbertchristmasI’m, admittedly, a sucker for a good Christmas special; this time of year is always quite enjoyable for precisely these types of events, things that wouldn’t be seen during a different time of year. Collecting together numerous recording artists and television personalities in a New York soundstage to create a Christmas special with humorously-themed songs isn’t something that happens every day, and that’s one of many things that I enjoy about this season.

What “A Colbert Christmas” does best is revel in its unique place within the pop cultural spectrum, one  based on the duality of its star. Stephen Colbert (the character) is a conservative pundit who fights against the war on Christmas, while Stephen Colbert (the performer) is a hit amongst young liberals. What you get, then, is an entertaining cross-section: Toby Keith stops by the rebel against those who are trying to fight against this most sacred of holidays, while indie darling Feist is just as comfortable as an angelic switchboard operator.

When the special is at its most comfortable, it’s wonderfully entertaining; it never lets Colbert’s character go too far, and its use of its guest stars never drops below “mildly disinterested and awkward to be acting in front of a green screen.” Where it does go a little off the rails, with an overly obnoxious laugh track, feels like an honest enough error in judgment; I just wish they would have trusted us to insert our own laugh track, because I think they would have come out just fine.

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