Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For Once I Wish a Song Could Be Literal

On "Damaged", the song by that Pussycat Dolls wannabe group Danity Kane (terrible name, by the way):

Am I the only one who wants the song to be about a physically damaged heart, as in a defect or murmur?

Just kind of funny if you imagine they’re singing this to a doctor a surgeon, trying to find one who can repair their heart.

Hey, some of the lyrics could be interpreted that way if so desired:

Do, Do you got a first aid kit handy?
Do, Do you know how to patch up a wound?
Tell me, Are-are-are-are you?
Are you patient,
'Cause I might need some time to clear the hole in my heart and I
I've tried every remedy
And nothing seems to work for me

So how you gonna fix it, fix it, fix it?
(Baby, I gotta know)
How you gonna fix it, fix it, fix it?
(What you are gonna do, baby?)
How you gonna fix it, fix it, fix it?
(Baby, I gotta know)
How you gonna fix it, fix it, fix it?
(What you are gonna do?)

Edited to add: Ok, in the video they add in a little hospital storyline at the end. But don't watch it, it's boring. My idea is much better.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Issues with Mad Men

Mad Men, AMC's premiere show, had its second season premiere last night. I watched it warily, because I had watched the first season on and off and because I hadn't sat down to watch an actual show in a long time. It was the most nominated show, and at this point in the summer, the only show that had any buzz.

I also realized why I was so ambivalent about the show last season.

Mad Men is exactly like the Sopranos in that none of the characters are likeable. This shouldn't be surprising, because Matthew Weiner wrote some of the best episodes of that show ("Kennedy and Heidi", where Christopher dies; "The Blue Comet", the action-packed and ultra-suspenseful penultimate episode). All the women in Mad Men are petty, shallow, and mean; the men are boorish, selfish, superficial. One of the points of the show is to comment on and tear apart the shiny facade of the characters, comparing them to the bright and glossy advertising campaigns they work on. Indeed, most of the characters are dressed bright and glossy, shellacked to perfection, meant to offset their inner turmoil.

Some might say this is human nature, that we are all nasty people, and that the people in this business then were that way since they could be. Fine. You can transplant the same characters in any story. But what's missing for me is a character to root for, to care about. For all the mystery surrounding Don Draper, or even his bland wife, Betty, I just don't see it. I don't even care for the actors that much (although I like Christina Hendricks). I think it's also that I tend to like spunkier characters, so those that are quiet or meek without a hint of fire burning underneath are boring to me. I'm all for complicated, nuanced portrayals of characters, but I find the majority of those on Mad Men to not be, no matter what their backstories are.

The reason to watch Mad Men is for the stylistic period details. Matthew Weiner and co. do a tremendous job of paying attention to every little pant crease and dinner dish, and the lush scenery and costumes make the show. It is in these things that we do notice how things have changed, since nobody takes the time to be that careful and put together anymore.

Mad Men has also made me realize that no matter how bad our current situation is in the world, I'm still a million times glad that I live now and not then. The fancy gowns and the free-flowing drinks do in no way make up for the crushing rigidity of the rest of the culture. Part of the fun is the cringe factor in watching the appallingly horrifying remarks and the completely inappropriate behavior that would be a lawsuit in five seconds flat--every time a woman left a room, all the men would ogle her behind in the most vulgar fashion, or when a mother remarks that her daughter has taken to cutting up her food in tiny bits and only eating a fraction of it, her friend responds that "It's good she's watching her weight," and the mother agrees. But this wears thin after a while, when it feels like the characters are just small people who do and say horrible things. Occasionally last season I saw glimpses of humanity from Peter Campbell, Vincent Kartheiser's ruthless young adman who married a terribly spoiled whiny brat of a woman, caught between his wife's wishes, his family's pride and his own dreams. My answer to Betty's loneliness was "get a job", not a nanny, a housekeeper and an equestrian hobby, though I did like that her daughter now has lines. I prefer watching the working environment, catching glimpses of history; it is here that we see how thoroughly researched and written the show is, and how much more interesting it is than Betty's stultifying home life. As Peggy Olsen gains confidence, I'm sure her character will grow on me.

I wonder if Mad Men is a show that will just become knockout good to me later on, when the characters are more fully developed, or if by watching enough, I'll learn to tolerate it and even like a few episodes. It's just a matter of whether I'm willing to invest the time to get that far.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fucking No, MTV

Last week MTV premiered a new "show" called FNMTV. It has bold block letters in yellow and pink, and it's supposed to combine music with the web, like everything these days. At first glance it can seem like a good thing, since MTV is bringing back music videos. Yay! But not really. They do play music videos, true. They're identified in big bold block letters over the entire video when it starts. But they don't do that at the end. This is stupid, because if you come across a video midway through and you don't know any details, you won't find out. MTV is assuming that everyone will have a laptop right in front of them so they can just pull up the website, instead of doing the easy and proper thing by labeling the video.

In their convergence of web and music, FNMTV is giving behind-the-scenes tidbits of the video by artists, in little boxes featured in different corners of the screen. Cool...except it's a distraction from the song and the video. VH1 has been doing this for years (during segments on their Top 20 Countdown and any end-of-the-year wrapups) and I'm pretty sure MTV has jumped on this bandwagon earlier, but they rarely show music videos anymore so it's hard to remember. But what really irks me is the karaoke features. Random kids are shown in their bedrooms or living rooms, with their friends, singing along and making shoutouts. It's TRL, without the interviews and pleas to vote. They cut out the middleman! FNMTV, like TRL, encourages viewers to become a part of the process and make their own videos and answer questions. I don't see why all that work is necessary, but whatever.

Apparently FN means Friday Night, which is when the show is on. Coulda fooled me; all I've seen is it on in the morning. I like to watch my videos in their entirety (stop cutting them off) without annoying interruptions by some overenthusiastic teens, and know who I'm watching. At least with TRL I got a countdown out of it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Flashback Time, Part II

It was inevitable.

Last week VH1 aired “I Love the New Millennium,” the most recent entry in their extremely popular and channel-defining “I Love” series. They’ve done three versions of the eighties, two versions of the nineties and two on the seventies (when most of the people involved and a good chunk of the audience weren’t even alive), and specials on toys and the holidays, for the kid inside of us. Obviously there will be an “I Love the New Millennium: Version 2.0” in the future, hopefully in 2010 when they can finish the decade.

VH1 pioneered what is now known as “instant nostalgia”, a term that was thrown around a lot around the time "Best Week Ever" premiered in 2004, with their recaps of the week. Back then it seemed daring, yet kind of glaringly obvious (and for some, a sign of the apocalypse). It was also good (or at least it seemed like it). Now it’s random, low-level actors and comedians jumping in for a quick joke, usually nothing better than what your mom would say. Nowadays, instant nostalgia is a permanent fixation of blogs and a certain type of entertainment media, looking back on what just happened—or what will happen. It’s also a classic oxymoron. Did George Carlin ever do a riff on this?

But VH1 already knows the criticisms of doing a series on looking back on a decade that hasn’t even ended yet, and addresses them in the first line of the first episode: “You think it’s too soon to celebrate the new millennium?” But they know we don’t care. Reliving pop culture is fun—it’s fluffy shared experiences, finding out you share the same opinion as Dee Snider. If you love this stuff (and I do), it dissipates as soon as the clips come in. "Survivor"! Scooters! 2000!

Like the previous version, “I Love the New Millennium” has catchy graphics and a snazzy title sequence, plus the appropriate slang (fo’ shizzle, nice) as interstitials. Interestingly, the format is credited to the BBC. What does that mean? That each “story” is introduced by a video clip and then comedians explaining and joking on it was pioneered by those serious misters of news? Or that they invented the technique of each segment being framed by little one-offs to encapsulate other trivia bits from those years? It’s a very high-minded co-opt.

Despite that, as the series continues it loses some of the fun, because it’s less about nostalgia and more about reliving embarrassing stories that need to stay buried. I don’t recall 2005 being a particularly lame year, pop-culture wise (but who really remembers nowadays?), but that ep’s a clunker. Maybe it was just my excitation taking over, but 2000 was spot-on—though I expected a bit on the “Thong Song”, but it was nicely appropriated as the “hot girls of the decade” segment, although the lists got lamer as the decade got longer. (Jenna Fischer was named in the 2006 edition though, a big surprise).

One of the biggest missteps the show made was in its use of music. It’s beyond obvious that a series like this would only use songs that appeared in that particular year in that segment; at least use songs that were big in the decade, since most people couldn’t pinpoint a song down to its exact timetable. But not only does the show fail in this, but it reuses songs to the point that they become meaningless. Britney Spears’ “(You Drive Me) Crazy”—which charted in 1999—was used in every single episode, to describe something particularly “crazy” that a celebrity or notorious individual did (see: Imus, Mel Gibson). How about a far-better and bigger “Crazy” to illustrate this point: Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 megahit? I guess Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo didn’t want to dilute its potency.

The “Then and Now” segment is a particular waste: In the eighties original, Weird Al compared prices and other contextual clues to show how different things really were. Here, we have Taylor Dayne (who has absolutely no relevance to the current decade—she had a few hits in the eighties and is trying to make a comeback now) saying dumb stuff like “Bobby Brown had a career 20 years ago. Now he just berates Whitney Houston on “Being Bobby Brown”.” Not as cool as hearing how much a Harvard education costs twenty years ago.

I thought the “Liars” segment was particularly novel, pointing out that in this decade we have a serious issue with truth-telling. (Ooh, tying it into the Bush Administration!) Perez Hilton’s inclusion is pointless most years, but the time capsule has its moments. Moby narrates the segment on biggest hits of the year, but he show absolutely no enthusiasm, and I find his confession that he’s never heard of Michelle Branch odd. Again, as the years continue the iPod selections are off-base, whereas 2000 brings me immediately back to high school.

One of the hallmarks of this series is that it features many of the same commentators: Rich Eisen, Stuart Scott, Scott Ian, Michael Ian Black, Chris Jericho. But at this point in the game they can—and do—talk about earlier installments. It’s unnecessary, pretentious, and only interesting to see Hal Sparks’ hair styles. It wastes precious time—so much has happened that’s not VH1 related, and one day they can do “I Love VH1” and get all those cracks in.

Particularly since the show is discussing recent topics, it’s easy to point out what is missing: “Crazy in Love”, the Wii, "The Colbert Report". Apparently a lot of actors didn’t give their permission to show clips, and many other properties were just too expensive. Where was "Superbad" and "Knocked Up", "Grey’s Anatomy" and "Lost"? Some phenomenons that extended over years—or took time to build, like "24" and "Lord of the Rings"—are encapsulated in a particular year. Sometimes mentions were cursory, as a way to include something on the list, like "Brokeback Mountain". The video blogs (and the extras on the web) are meant to include everything they couldn’t show online, although most of them I’m sure are utterly boring. A sizable portion of what they include is questionable: “Fat Actress”, Enrique Iglesias and “Hero”, Andrew W.K. and The Darkness (neither were as big as Soulja Boy), “Stupid Girls”, Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment lawsuit…YouTube didn’t really hit big until 2006 (that’s when it was featured on Time’s “Person of the Year” cover) and Ok Go’s “Here It Goes Again" wasn’t even released until 2006, not 2005, when both of these were included.

One of the challenges VH1 faces is not only how to make the series work, especially in the later years when popular acts like Amy Winehouse are still in the news largely for the same reasons they’ve always been in, but to point out the enduring social and cultural forces that defined the decade. I think the Liars segment succeeds, but the increasing tabloid focus manages both to point out that in some ways that could be one enduring legacy of this decade—a depressing thought—but also that VH1 just didn’t give themselves enough time or resources to do the show properly.

Everyone will joke that there’s no excuse for this show, as all VH1 needs to do is repackage and reedit "Best Week Ever" (or rather, what becomes of it—"Best Year Ever"). But the point of doing this, the point of real nostalgia, is to give perspective on what’s occurred…which sometimes doesn’t work. But premiering the show now doesn’t need to signal that VH1 is desperate for a hit: With a new president in office next year, a part of this decade is ending. The ‘00s are defined by Bushisms—one appears at the first commercial break in every episode—and many of the things discussed in the show relate back to some Bush-era mistake. Will pop culture be as defined by a new president as it has been with the current one? If “I Have a Crush on Obama” is any indication, there might be change in the air, but only in that politics and pop culture will mingle far more than they used to.

No "Sex and the City" sequels, please!

"Sex and the City" should not have a sequel. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage!

It's so obvious.

And it's so wrong.

It is not in Carrie Bradshaw's character to have a child. Mr. Big and Carrie especially do not mix with children. Mr. Big's elegance and dapper Old New York ways do not work with diapers; there is a reason he was not there for Brady's birth. Carrie's column would then morph into a parenting one, and her fabulosity would not overrule the dullness of the subject.

There are people who believe that Carrie is the eternal single woman--she should not and cannot get married. But it is her with a child that seems even more incongruous with her luxurious, wanderlustful lifestyle.

They should stop messing with "Sex and the City", because it will dilute the product.