Earlier this month, after weeks of cook-offs and focus groups and pilot pitches, the finale of Food Network Star came down to two fledgling cheftestants. One was lucky to be there, having managed to survive the competition despite flashing questionable culinary skills and failing to demonstrate adequate food authority, presenting repetitive dishes that had more style than substance, lasting from week after week almost entirely due to their charming, fun, magnetic personality, despite a marked absence of ability, professionalism and on-camera talent. And the other finalist was pie-man Rodney Henry.
Category Archives: Be careful what you wish for
Three weeks ago sources revealed that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe would be leaving Parks and Recreation midway through its upcoming sixth season. News about the impending departure of unlucky in love Ann Perkins and perfectionist City Manager Chris Traeger was expectedly met with some sadness and disappointment by devoted Parks and Rec fans. The cast of the NBC comedy has developed into one of the strongest ensembles on television, and, with the exit of The Office and 30 Rock last season, Parks and Rec is poised to be NBC’s number one workplace comedy, with the citizens of Pawnee providing the most colorful and entertaining array of recurring characters and bit parts this side of Greendale Community College. Losing two main cast members is a bit of surprise, a curious altering of a formula that seemed to be working so well. But here’s the thing: we actual welcome the change, as it will solve the show’s most glaring problem, a significant flaw that has existed since episode one: what do you do with a problem like Rashida?
Much was made last week about the departure of Saturday Night Live stalwart Bill Hader, and still more was made when word broke just before (or, perhaps, during) last Saturday night’s show that longtime cast member Fred Armisen would be joining Hader in exiting Studio 8H. Add to that the speculation that Jason Sudeikis is a part of the exodus – only a year after show centerpiece Kristen Wiig left the show – and we seem to have a full-fledged panic. Hader, Armisen and Sudeikis – who accrued twenty-eight seasons of combined service on the show – will certainly leave a gaping hole, having portrayed such vital characters as President Obama, Vice President Biden, James Carville, David Patterson, the Devil, and, of course, Stefon. How could the show possibly survive such a great loss of talent, three of their leading men, a trio of go-tos. Losing one, sure, it happens. But all three, plus the farewell of Head Writer Seth Meyers at mid-season? Won’t that just be the end of SNL?
No, no it won’t. Despite some histrionics that seem to point to the opposite sentiment, the show will persist just fine. In fact, this is the circle of life for Saturday Night Live (it’s just Saturday Night Life?). Granted, if Sudeikis does, in fact, join Hader and Armisen, then you would have a more severe than normal bloodletting, but it’s not a lethal loss. The show has always and will always subsist on the infusion of new, exciting, eager talent. This season SNL was without Kristen Wiig, who seemed to have shouldered the load for so many seasons (to the show’s detriment, in our opinion) and it went on unencumbered in her absence, bolstered by noteworthy performances by newcomers Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong, two fantastic young talents who might have not had the chance to breakout if Wiig was still around. And the show has weathered the loss of every great star during its history, with someone waiting in the wings to step up. Chevy Chase leaves after the inaugural season and Bill Murray gets the call. Farley and Sandler leave and we get Will Ferrell. Ferrell leaves but Armisen and Will Forte join the show and Amy Poehler receives more screen time. Every time SNL closes a door it opens a window, a window cracked just wide enough for a talented young sketch comedian to crawl.
And it will be the same with this loss, which should better be classified as a transition than a remaking; it’s certainly nothing as a dramatic as the turnover before Ferrell’s first season. Bobby Moynihan, who had a stellar season with his “Weekend Update” appearances as Drunk Uncle and Anthony Crispino, has already been doing much of the heavy lifting, appearing in cold opens, monologues, parodies, and Update visits, performing as straight man as well as Guy Fieri. He’s certainly more than capable of being the show’s anchor in his sixth season. Likewise of Taran Killam, whose squared-jaw good looks and Baryshnikovian dance moves make him possibly the show’s most valuable not-yet-ready-for-prime-time-player, and who is due for his breakout season. Then you have Kenan Thompson, who has only improved with age, as he shook off his All That trappings and grew into a reliable SNL presence, and Tim Robinson, who had a strong, confident debut season, and Jay Pharoah, who is an incredible mimic but still looking to find his groove, despite getting the nod to play Obama this season. Not to mention the fresh new talent they might recruit to replace the departing cast members. And add to that the terrific female players that we already discussed, and you have a dynamic, hungry, inspired cast ready to make their mark and define their era on SNL. If the show is guilty of anything over its last 38 seasons, it’s of being lazy, relying on the old standbys. With the old guard on its way out, SNL just might not have that luxury next season, and we might be better off for it.
Yes, we had to say goodbye to Stefon, and that was very, very sad. But Stefon had to move on, and so do we. Because there’s another Stefon out there. There always is. We just don’t know him yet.
In any season of Survivor capitalizing on the moment to strike is of paramount importance, and this has been especially relevant on Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit. Ages from now, when Survivor is long gone and young scholars pore over old texts written about a forgotten television program hosted by former President of Earth Jeff Probst, they will read the story of Caramoan, and it will be the story of Stealth ‘R’ Us, and of those who tried to fight back against the ruling alliance. For that has been the theme of the season, not so much if, but when, a group of insurgents will break apart the dominating force. As a result of poor timing, Corinne failed in her attempt at a coup, and, likewise, Malcolm overplayed his hand and tried to strike too quickly. He was successful in deposing Former Federal Agent Fillip, but, perhaps, FFAF wasn’t the head of the snake after all. He was the outspoken face of Stealth ‘R’ Us, but, in the end, he might have just been a figurehead, the Mandarin, a red herring dangled out as bait. And with Fillip gone, and the corporation starting to fray, it’s only a matter of time before someone makes a move. Could be someone outside the controlling alliance, or could be someone from within. It doesn’t really matter who it is. What matters is when.
But even though there’s a storm coming, and they’re now down to just two amigos, Reynold and Eddie are in good spirits. They won’t let the loss of Malcolm stop them from a good
high five fist bump.
In last summer’s The Avengers, the Earth’s greatest heroes contend with an army of otherworldly creatures bent on our world’s destruction, alien soldiers brought to our planet through a portal opened up by supervillain Loki. The rag-tag group rallies together – despite their differences – and manages to save humanity, sending back the Chitauri fleet, capturing Loki and raking in $1.5 billion worldwide. The Avengers was nothing but an unqualified success, a culmination of years of cross-promotion Easter eggs and post-credit teasers. It changed the paradigm of what could be done with a film franchise, something that Warner Bros will no doubt try to replicate with DC’s Justice League. And with Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 on the way this year, and a captain Captain America sequel the next, the Avengers may have served to make its parts greater than the whole, making its super hero stars even more super. However, in closing that rift in space, and doing it with such fanfare, the Avengers may have opened up another Pandora’s Box of sorts, one their super powers and heroism cannot shut.
The Avengers phenomenon, for all the sequel possibilities it opened up for its core members and ancillary personnel, might have actually had an inverse effect on the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe, at least from our perspective. In The Avengers we see Nick’s Fury great vision come into focus, that one day there would be a threat large enough, menacing enough, to require some force or resistance greater than anything S.H.I.E.L.D. or any army could offer. Fury had a hunch that something fierce was coming, and played that hunch in recruiting the team – an arduous process we had seen in and around the individual films since Iron Man kicked this all off in 2008 – and when the time came that there was some truly epic evil, the Avengers would put aside their pride and egos and band together to save humanity.
But there’s an inherent paradox in all of this. If the idea of the Avengers is that they’re needed to combat Earth’s greatest foes, then how seriously should we take the villainy in, say, Iron Man 3. If what Tony Stark is facing – the Mandarin in this case – is so grave and terrible and dangerous, then wouldn’t he call in his new buddies for backup (although, we do assume that The Hulk – but not necessarily Mark Ruffalo – will make an appearance in the film)? After The Avengers the stakes just feel lowered for any non-Avengers movie. Admittedly, it’s a little less clear for Thor: The Dark World, because much of it appears to take place outside of our realm and in Thor’s home of Asgard, but the principle still rings true. If the situation is so dire wouldn’t Thor summon his team if he could? Or else, if he doesn’t need them, then the bad guy can’t be so bad, right?
Of course, you could argue that it’s all a moot point anyway. The approaching enemy forces in these films can be far more powerful and dangerous than the evil in The Avengers, but it doesn’t really matter because we know that none of our heroes will ever be vanquished in their own films. They need to survive until the next Avengers movie. And then live on for their next individual movie. And so on. And so on. And so on…until the whole thing is rebooted once again.
We spoke briefly yesterday about the already-record breaking Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, but that post was mostly to express our unbridled enthusiasm, our uncontrollable excitement about the possibility and then certainty of a return to Neptune. However, it would be irresponsible of us to talk about this revival, and convey our joy, without considering the very real ramifications of this money-making endeavor. The Veronica Mars movie, having already surpassed its $2 million goal by $1.3 million, has completely changed the paradigm for what a Kickstarter can be, and, certainly, raises the question of what it should be.
The obvious issue with this fundraising format is that Veronica Mars fans – you, me, Steve, Tom – are essentially not only paying for the production of the movie, and not only paying for the production of the movie so Warner Bros. doesn’t have to, but we’re paying for the production of the movie so Warner Bros. doesn’t have to and handing them the profits. There’s no backend deal here, there’s no recouping on our initial investment. We will not be entitled to any portion of the net. Meanwhile, while we pour our millions of dollars, perhaps contributing a significant portion of our incomes, spending money we really don’t have, a giant movie studio will reap the benefits. It’s easy to think – and very pragmatic to do so – that they have hundreds of millions of dollars to sink into the Harry Potter franchise, and then they have hundreds of million dollars to extract from the Harry Potter franchise, and they can’t fork over a measly two million for this little passion project? That’s not necessarily a cynical, misguided outlook. But it also doesn’t paint an accurate picture.
Sometimes, every once in a while, if you’re really lucky, something comes around that totally shocks you, that stops you dead in your tracks, that is so surprising and wonderful and unexpected that it can’t possibly be true. For us, that was the news that The Disney Channel is developing a Boy Meets World spin-off. It’s so exciting and bizarre and unlikely that it’s still hard to believe.
Earlier in the week we were treated to a similar experience, the breaking of news that would change the state of the world of which we know. That development, of course, was the announcement that not only had Disney purchased Lucasfilm, but they were planning to produce Episodes Seven, Eight and Nine. We still recall vividly when, at eight-year-old, our brother’s friend told us that not only had George Lucas created the greatest movie franchise and fictional universe known to man, but he was planning to expand the galaxy far, far away with three prequels and three sequels, making the Star Wars we knew just middle chapter of the grand epic. This changed everything, altering our view of what the future would be like. And for years we held onto the idea, this promise of the sequels, even when the prequels failed to live up to their predecessors, especially since the prequels failed to live up to their predecessors. But, at some point, you have to let go, and we chalked up the talk of sequels to the same gossip that had us believing for years in the eventual existence of Spaceballs 3: the Search for Part 2. So when out of the blue, out of the literal darkness in post-Sandy New York, came the news that, after all these years my brother’s friend was right, the future we envisioned will finally come to pass, we were absolutely astounded.
And even that revelation paled in comparison to the announcement of new life for Boy Meets World.
A real man makes his own luck.
-Zane, Survivor: Philippines
A few days ago, on the cusp of the premiere of Survivor: Filippines: The Rise of Skupin, we were asked if Survivor as a series (not the Survivor Series) is still entertaining after twenty-four seasons. “How could it possibly be?” they wondered. But we told this person that the show, against all odds, manages to be fresh and new almost every season, that although the game uses essentially the same format that it started with back in Borneo, each season and its cast members offer something new and different, something that makes the show worth watching. Case and point, in the first episode of our new season, we are blessed with Zane, who once again proves that no matter how long this show goes the players will continue to be stupid. And that, my friend, is why, twelve years later, Survivor is still very much worth watching.
But, in our normal fashion, before we get to end and Zane’s stupidity, let’s start at the start. And we start with Jeff Probst channelling Bruce Willis in Striking Distance and rolling up in a speedboat, looking as confident and determined as ever, putting to rest any worries that one might have had that he’d be preoccupied with this just premiered daytime talker (and, perhaps, in another post it would worth discussing just how much Probst has meant to Survivor, and how much it owes its success to the man in blue). And we get our first look at the new cast, which in addition to the returning players that we’ve already discussed – Mike “Two Scoops” Skupin, Jonathan Penner, and Russell Swan (who, apparently, came directly from a jazz performance) – includes former Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel and former Major League Baseball MVP Jeff Kent.
There’s a tale we like to tell to novice or late-to-the-party Survivor fans. It’s a story – feels more like myth now – about a tribe called Kucha in a harsh landscape called the Outback. This is pre-Russell Hantz, pre-Boston Rob, even pre-Tom Westman. This is back in the second season of Survivor, when they had no idea that their initial success would continue nearly unabated for twenty-four seasons, that Richard Hatch and his flabby, hairy, naked figure strolling the beach in Borneo had changed the face of television forever. In season two the show was still in unknown territory, not yet a cultural institution with enough memorable moments to fill a double DVD and enough beloved (and reviled) players to field a competitive softball league. This was a long time ago. But all that time we’ve never forgotten about Michael Skupin. And never gave up hope – despite how unlikely it seemed – that he would return.
We often relate how this season featured a tribe that we found to be as formidable and as likable (save for Kimmi) as any tribe in Survivor’s prodigious history. It featured a pretty young face that we’d come to later know as Elisabeth Hasslebeck, football wife and The View co-host/conservative punching bag, then going by the surname Filarski. And while Kucha lacked the statistical dominance of Tom Westman’s Koror tribe in Palau, the team felt as strong and cohesive as any tribe, and it was getting stronger and more cohesive after each challenge and Tribal Council. There was Jeff Varner, the good-looking, drawling Tar Heel, and his partner-in-crime Alicia Calaway, who could have easily parlayed her Survivor appearance into a berth in the WWE. There was Old Man Rodger, who had formed such a sweet, good-natured, grandfather-granddaughter relationship with Elisabeth. And there was Nick Brown, the bright, young Harvard Law student. And they were all led by Michael Skupin, a midwest father whose receding hairline was more Bruce Willis than Ron Howard. Skupin served as heart and soul of the team, his intelligence and survival skills keeping Kucha focused and united at camp, his athletic ability pacing them in challenges, and his hunting prowess keeping them energized. With his guidance Kucha was poised to decimate the Ogakor Tribe, which featured such bickering, unlikable players as Jerri “the Black Widow” Manthey, arrogant chef Keith Famie, mama’s boy himbo Colby Donaldson, mama surrogate Tina Wesson, and another pretty face named Amber (yep, that Amber); it was a tribe that fell out of favor with us the moment they voted out Maralyn “Mad Dog” Hershey. Ogakor featured several future All-Stars and a couple million dollar winners, but after five tribal councils they were faltering, fractured and frustrated (Colby dousing Jerri with a bucket of water following a Reward Challenge loss, for example), and with one more Immunity Challenge defeat they were in danger of going into the merge down 6-4 to a Kucha Tribe operating with extreme confidence and bellies full of chickens and popcorn and, thanks to Mike, a pig.
And then, in the blink of an eye, it all came crashing down.