Aaron Sorkin’s “The Mountain and the Viper”

I had a chance to check out the original edit of last week’s epic Game of Thrones showdown between The Red Viper Prince Oberyn Martell and The Mountain Gregor Clegane, and I have to say I think I find this version a bit more compelling. Certainly more star-studded.

At the very least, this certainly opens up a lot more doors for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

 

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‘Survivor: Cagayan’ Look Back: A Case For Kass; Plus Look-Alikes!

First, an apology: I was derelict in my responsibilities during this last season of Survivor, posting only a single recap in spite of yet another strong entry into the series. I can offer neither excuses nor reparations, just the promise that I will try not to be so negligent again. Trust me, I missed the recaps more than you, so it’s something I really hope to get back to. I can’t promise that this won’t happen again. But I promise I’ll try.

Now that my mea culpa is out-of-the-way, let us go ahead and – despite the season ending weeks ago – discuss the Survivor: Cagayan finale, as I finally got to the last few episodes this week and it’s still fresh in my mind. Cagayan continued what has been a string terrific, engaging, surprising Survivor seasons, a red-hot streak that has been the show’s renaissance, proving the series to be just as entertaining and relevant in its 28th season as it was in its first. And this season featured, if not one of its best players, one of its boldest, not-cop cop Tony, the Sole Survivor and winner of the million. To use a phrase that I really don’t care for, Tony played balls-out from day one, making alliances, immediately breaking them, swearing on his dead father’s grave like it had the weight of a Facebook RVSP, digging up Immunity Idols, lying about Immunity Idols, creating paranoia, letting his own paranoia persuade him to blindside players in his alliance, building #SpyShacks, and totally vexing his fellow Survivors and, often, himself in the process. It wasn’t the cleanest Survivor game ever, quite the opposite, but it was effective. Tony played big, was never out of the spotlight, but always managed to hang onto control of the game, partly because of his “bag of tricks,” but partly because no one else wanted to sport his bullseye. But being so omnipresent, so visible, often seemed to take Tony out of the discussion for elimination. Like the purloined letter, he was hidden in plain sight, deftly (sometimes) keeping his alliance committed and loyal and keeping himself safe. In the end, especially in a final two against Woo(!), Tony deserved to win the million. However, while Tony did the most to earn the victory, I was surprised at the lack of respect for Kass’s game, who likewise played a bold, unpredictable, cutthroat and successful (but just not successful enough) game.

Read on: Goats and Llamas

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Alexi Kovalev: The Original Troller

Alex Kovalev 94 Stanley CupFor the past two months, as indicated by my (attempted) playoff beard, I have been fully absorbed with the New York Rangers post-season run, something that has now become, thankfully, an annual occurrence. For years the Rangers franchise (and fanbase) suffered through a post-1994 Stanley Cup Championship hangover, hurling gobs of money at player after overpriced-player, the vast majority of which were either too old or too injured or too ill-suited for Broadway (see: Bure, Pavel; Lindros, Eric; Fleury, Theo; Gomez, Scott; et al). However, this syndrome ended, oddly enough, with the lockout of 2004 and the strong play of another imported superstar, Jaromir Jagr, who bucked the trend and helped turn the Rangers into a perennial playoff team. A decade later the Rangers have established themselves as one of the most consistent teams in the NHL and arguably the most successful in New York (take that, the Liberty!), and, now, they’re about to appear in their first final since that ’94 dream run But before we look too far ahead to Game 1 in Los Angeles tomorrow evening (8pm EST, 5pm Pacific, sometime in between in the midwest), let us quickly look back at that legendary 1994 squad, the team of destiny that exorcised the demons of 1940 and firmly established the likes of Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Stephane Matteau and even back-up goalie Glenn Healy as immortals, and elevated captain Mark Messiah to legitimate god status. But it’s not any of those champions we want to talk about today; no, right now we’re focused on that young  dynamo out of Togliatti, Russia, the one with the fast feet and the quick hands, the one with the broken English and who broke through defenses. That, of course, being Alexei Kovalev. Long before current Rangers defenseman and Minnesota native Ryan McDonagh announced himself as a force on the Rangers blueline for many, many years to come, Kovalev was the premier #27 in a Rangers sweater. His speed, stick-handling and clutch scoring made the right-wing a quick fan favorite at Madison Square Garden, and in only his sophomore year in the NHL he was playing big minutes and scoring big goals. But it wasn’t just his explosive skating, triple dekes and dangerous wrist shot that endeared himself to the Garden faithful. It was also, his big, bright, goofy personality. More specifically, it was his troll. Yes, throughout the ’94 playoffs Kovalev kept a lucky troll doll at his locker. And when the Rangers won the cup, breaking the curse of 1940, the troll was there, sharing in the celebration. What Kovalev might have lacked in English proficiency, he surely made up for with youthful exuberance. With his electric play and a genuine enthusiasm that transcended any language, Kovalev made an indelible mark on that ’94 cup run and on our childhood. And so it was no surprise that his appearance at last week’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 at MSG sent the crowed into a mid-game frenzy, showing that if you win in NY, you’re a hero for life. He might be twenty years older, his baby face morphed into the aged countenance of a grizzled hockey veteran, his English no longer just barely comprehensible, but sporting that iconic hat (and surprisingly nondescript official t-shirt), Kovalev is as beloved as he was twenty-years ago, a champion not for a year but for eternity. Alex Kovalev NY Rangers Playoffs Now just imagine the reaction had he brought the troll.

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Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happdeaned: Five (and Maybe More) Seasons of ‘Community’ and the Truly Jumping the Snark

Community Finale Lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend about myself: I don’t get as excited about things as I used to. Perhaps it’s a merely function of getting older – I just hit the big 3-0 six months ago, after all – or, maybe, all the years of crushing cynicism and relentless snark has finally caught up to me. Passion, perhaps, is the provenance of the young and the unencumbered, and I’m no longer either of the two. For example, it would have shocked the ten-years-younger version of myself, maybe even the 2009 model, to learn that it took me, a devoted Wes Anderson-ophile, two months to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, especially after making a pilgrimage to see The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic during their respective opening weekends, and attending a screening of The Darjeeling Limited by myself because I just couldn’t wait any longer, even if that meant sitting alone in a small theater on a Tuesday afternoon. Likewise, I’ve yet to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that’s already been out for a whole week and is possibly the X-Men movie that I’ve been praying for these last fourteen years. There are spoilers abound and I run the very real risk of having the movie ruined before I get around to seeing it. It’s a danger I’m well aware of, and one, for some reason, I’m at peace with. Perhaps most egregiously – and this something I’m very much ashamed to admit on this blog – I’ve yet to watch last week’s Survivor finale. Yes, I was out-of-town for two weeks, but I’ve been back for four days already. Really, what good excuse could I possibly have for not immediately marathoning the last three episodes, including the two hour-finale and post-show live cast reunion? Heresy, is it not? Not only am I liable to inadvertently stumble upon the final result at any turn, removing any drama upon viewing, but shouldn’t this be tearing me up inside? It’s Survivor, the subject I’ve perhaps  committed more space to on this blog than any other, and, yet, I’ll get to it when I get it to it. Urgency, shockingly, I do not feel. It’s not apathy or indifference – that would be truly alarming – but, rather, caring a bit less, being more patient. It’s an odd, peculiar, somewhat concerning notion to not experience the same sense of pressure, immediacy, and life-or-death importance about these shows and films and bands that I always did. Am I depressed? Should I look into Lexapro? But the change is also freeing in a way. There is a flipside to caring a little less. It means that it doesn’t hurt so much when something you love is taken away from you.

More: Graduate Psychology 101

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‘Suvivor: Cagayan’ Premiere – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Open Forum

J'tiaSurvivor is back! And, from the looks of it, Jeff Probst is in no mood. It’s been quite some time since we were offered an all-rookie season of Survivor, and after three great seasons back-to-back-to-back, it would not have been surprising to see the show go to the returning player-well once again (indeed, ever since the fireworks of Russell vs. Boston Rob: Round 1 in Heroes vs. Villains, it seemed like  all-newbie seasons might be few and far between). But, perhaps in an effort not to exhaust Survivor of its most precious Cochran and Reynolds and Aras natural resources, the show is going au naturale in its twenty-eighth(!) season.

Which isn’t to say that there are no unique wrinkles this time around. As the show has been teasing since the Blood vs. Water reunion, Survivor: Cagayanandonandon separates the players into the three tribes: Beauty, Brawn, and Brians (a group which, surprisingly, features not a single Brian). And Jeff gets things going right away, asking each tribe to quickly and essentially without deliberation pick a team leader, and then Jeff directs that specified leader to immediately identify his or her tribe’s weakest link. So, for the newly anointed team captains, this is (seemingly) a big opportunity to shed either the tribe’s weakest player or the group’s biggest threat. Sarah, on the Lloyd Braun tribe decides to single out Skeletor Trish, reasoning by her emaciated looks that she’s just finished up playing at least two Survivor games back-to-back and probably is just a tad fatigued from 78 straight days without proper nourishment. Over on the We’re Also Beautiful on the Inside Tribe, LL Cool LJ tabs human floatation device former NFL Cheerleader Morgan, labeling her as “hot,” which makes her more dangerous than her “cute” tribemates. Dude’s got a good system. Watch out for that guy. Not-Brian leader of the Brians David wastes no time in selecting Garrett, the marble statue to his left. David clearly saw some muscles on Garrett that he didn’t know even existed, and deduced that he’s too serious of a threat to help the tribe win a challenge and must go. These three players, YOU ARE THE WEAKEST LINK, GOODBYE!

More: David & Goliath, Samson & J’Tia

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Belated ‘Survivor’ Blood Brothers

In advance of the Survivor: Cagayan premiere tonight (how does the time move so fast?) we wanted to go back and right a wrong, at least partially, and belatedly offer some selected Blood vs. Water look-alikes. We’ll hopefully stay on point with Cagayan blog posts (as opposed to last season’s blackout, which we apologize for), so full look-alikes and player odds for that season should hopefully arrive in a few weeks. But before we look forward, let’s quickly look back.

Brad-Elf

Colton-Caleb-Santa

Survivor Nathan Fillion

More fun with MS Paint! ->

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An Earlier ‘Late Night’

Q: When is a sitdown a standup? 

A: When Seth Meyers premieres as host of Late Night and takes his act out from behind the “Weekend Update” desk and moves it to center stage. 

Seth Meyers Late NightIt was a much less of an auspicious debut for Late Night with Seth Meyers than Jimmy Fallon’s maiden Tonight Show voyage, even with a visit from Vice President “Crazy” Joe Biden (indeed, maybe the most notable part of the evening came from Amy Poehler, who utilized the opportunity to announce a second season renewal for Comedy Central’s Broad City). However, that it was a low-key evening was not a surprise, it was probably by design. In fact, whereas Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night distinguished itself for being the late night show for millennials, the first one crafted with YouTube and Twitter in mind, this iteration of Late Night might stand out for being something quite the opposite. And if it’s balance that Lorne Michaels’ late night lineup is after, then Meyers’ hour might bring it.

It’s foolhardy to judge the long-term success of a program based off of one show, or the first week of shows, or even the first moth, maybe even the first year. Conan O’Brien famously took some time to adjust, and Meyer’s predecessor Fallon slowly settled into his groove, and even after his promotion he still struggles mightily as an interviewer. So it was both no surprise and no cause for alarm that Meyers’ first outing left much room for improvement. His monologue, something that likewise remains a weak spot in Fallon’s arsenal, felt awkward, unnatural, and Meyers seemed uncomfortable finding his mark on the studio floor instead of behind a newsdesk. Indeed, leading up the premiere, we wondered if Meyers should dispense with the traditional stand-up monologue all together and just do it all from the desk, Daily Show style. However, after seeing what we feel is a beautiful, vibrant studio with distinctive sliding doors in place of curtains, we’re rethinking that sentiment; the setting is right, it’s just the style, subject and delivery that needs some work. More topical, pop-culture and current event setups, less obscure, strange-but-true stories. Similarly, his first desk piece, “Venn Diagrams,” had promise, but quickly lost momentum, and had little to separate itself from a Buzzfeed slideshow. We applaud the concept, but it needs more. Or less, like some cheap, low-concept Late Show segments. But, unfortunately, it was caught between a throwaway sight gag and entertaining, clever wordplay. What it maybe missed most was more of Meyers himself.

Which is where the show might need to go to find its sweet-spot. Meyers’ strength, as opposed to Fallon, is interviewing, is engaging with his guests in a way that’s neither fanboy nor sycophant. It was for precisely that skill that he was considered as a replacement for Regis Philbin on Live!, and it’s that ability he needs to exploit, even if, in the current talk show landscape, traditional interviewing is something that seems to be reserved for Charlie Rose. Perhaps, then, it is not any of Meyers’ Late Night forebears that he should strive to emulate, but Tom Snyder, whose Tomorrow Show was the precursor to Late Night with David Letterman. While we’re far from suggesting that Meyers dispense with the live audience, only interview one guest per show and take up smoking, emphasizing a more straightforward format – interesting, revealing interviews that allow for both Meyers’ and his guest’s personalities to shine through – might make the most sense, might allow Late Night with Seth Meyers to find its own voice. In fact, the new Late Night set itself – a sparse, almost teacher-like desk, and 70s style chairs instead of a plush couch – evokes the feeling of The Dick Cavett Show, another early talker that stressed insightful interviews over bits and punchlines. If Jimmy Fallon is the cutting-edge, high-energy, internet-savvy model at 11:30pm, then Meyers can be the more relaxed, subtler throwback at 12:30pm. He might need to go back, if he wants to stay late.

And, if Meyers focuses on those things, then he can leave the fun stuff to Fred Armisen.

 

 

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Filed under Back to the Past, Must See TV, Reeeeeege, Saturday Night Live, Talkies, Weigh-in

Tonight is Just a State of Mind – On the First Week of Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’

It was just over four years ago that much digital ink was spilled on this blog over the Game of Thrones-like* maneuvering in the kingdom of late night. We talked about the principled, heroic path that Conan O’Brien chose, or, arguably, forged. We also suggested that, perhaps, Jay Leno wasn’t the malevolent Machiavelli we all assumed him to be. We also stressed that David Letterman, his house untouched, remained the King of Late Night, the walls of his castle fortified and impenetrable, and he was likely watching, with glee, as his competitors warred around him.** Like with many blogs and media outlets at the time, the post-11:30pm drama dominated the conversation on this site. And now, nearly half a decade later, Leno has been dethroned*** once again, but this is first we’ve written about it. Why? Because this time Leno was replaced in a bloodless coup, a gracious transfer of power, with the young, affable Jimmy Fallon ascending to The Tonight Show desk in grand, but still humble and respectful fashion. 

In fact, four episodes into Fallon’s Tonight Show and the only real notable shift from Late Night is that the former program has returned to New York, where it began so many years ago. And that geographical stasis might explain why Fallon’s Tonight does not stray very far at all from his Late Night, save for a new, gorgeous coliseum-like theater, more space for the thirty-four members of The Roots and an opening sequence directed by Spike Lee (whatever that entails). Nearly through his first week as the guy, Fallon has already trotted out Late Night favorites like “The Evolution of_____,” the Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet, the #Hashtag sketch, and charades (a segment that, no doubt, inspired NBC to develop my parent’s new favorite show, Celebrity Game Night). What is actually most interesting and telling to us, even if it is a fluke of the schedule, a footnote due to the Olympic programming, is that Fallon’s Tonight Show actually debuted at midnight, a concept that Conan O’Brien found so sacrilege that it became the keystone of his argument for parting ways with NBC.

But with Fallon, so attuned to the world of DVRs and YouTube, time slots are meaningless, just some listing in TV guide, historical minutiae. His show would not be measured by the number of viewers during a certain hour. It wouldn’t even be measured with +7 ratings or YouTube. It would be measured by laughs, it would be judged by the barometer of fun. What Fallon’s Tonight Show has demonstrated thus far, and supported by his temporarily delayed time slot, is that it’s the “Show” part that matters, not the “Tonight” part. If he can make people laugh, especially an A-list celebrity or legendary music group, or Steve Higgins or his own parents, or you at home or your own parents, then he’s happy. Then he’s doing the show that he wants. Unlike Conan, Fallon cedes the floor to his guests. And, unlike Conan, Fallon is willing to cede his time slot to network partners, just happy to be a part of the team. Which, again, is less of a magnanimous, unselfish gesture and more the necessities of prime-time Olympic programming. Still, it feels fitting that even when nice guy Jimmy Fallon got the call to the big show, he was bumped thirty minute to accommodate replays of Ice Dancing. And, we feel safe in saying, he couldn’t be happier about it. 

*Fascinating that four years ago, when we wrote all those posts, we didn’t know that Game of Thrones was a thing that existed. 
**Get it? It’s a whole Game of Thrones motif. 
***Okay, we’ll stop. 

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Under-Seasoned: Belated Musing on the ‘Top Chef: New Orleans’ Finale

We thought we’d take a few moments to discuss the recent competition final that has legions of fans around the world crying foul. No, not the Ice Dancing Gold in Sochi, although that outcome has not surprisingly raised some eyebrows (to the novice judges viewing from our living room, we had the Canadians at least even with the Americans). No, we’re not talking about the world of sports here, but the culinary world, and, more specifically, the results of the Top Chef:New Orleans travesty finale.

More: Culinary a-salt?

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Babies

This past Wednesday we had the distinct pleasure to attend the Valentine’s Day-themed edition of The Muppet Vault series at Brooklyn’s Union Hall. The evening consisted of a series of Muppet rarities related to the theme of love (some more than others), including clips from The Muppet Show, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Sesame Street, and the 1974-special The Muppet Valentine Show, one of two Muppet pilots produced in the years leading up to the The Muppet Show. However, we were disappointed (but only very, very mildly) that the evening’s program did  include something from the Muppet-title that we perhaps hold most near and dear, certainly the one we spent the most time with as a child. That being, of course, Muppet Babies. 

And who better to exemplify the ideals of love in its purist form than those who are most innocent, who are yet to be tainted with cynicism, jaded by age and bitter from heartbreak. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, and as a bit of a coda to that Muppet Vault presentation, here’s “My Muppet Valentine,” which demonstrates that even toddler frogs and pigs and bears and whatevers can truly understand compassion, caring and forgiveness, and shows to what ends we will go for the ones that we love, even a three-year-old canine with an uncanny aptitude for the piano.

Also, pretty sure this was the only cartoon in 1987 to reference Max Headroom.

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