Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Last Post of 2011

I must confess that I didn't watch too much drama this past year. "Mad Men" sat out the past year, episodes of "Breaking Bad" and "Boardwalk Empire" currently collect dust in my DVR, and I don't have Showtime, which ruled out critically praised fare like "Dexter" and "Homeland." By default, my viewing habits gravitated almost entirely towards comedy this year. With that said, here are my favorites from 2011, the year in TV:

1. Parks & Recreation, NBC. This ensemble comedy, part workplace comedy and part small-scale political satire, was as consistently funny as anything on TV in recent memory. Amy Poehler is still the star, but Nick Offerman was the unquestioned breakout as stoic libertarian and manly-man Ron Swanson. Memorable Episodes: "Ron & Tammy: Part Two," "Fancy Party," "Lil' Sebastian," "Ron and Tammys," "Smallest Park"
2. Community, NBC. Boy, am I glad I stuck with this show. The genre-jumping and inherent weirdness may turn off new and/or casual viewers --so much so that the Greendale gang are on hiatus-- but where P&R hits for average, "Community" hits for power. If only it could get some Emmy lovin'. Memorable Episodes: "Intermediate Documentary Film-making," "Paradigms of Human Memory," "Remedial Chaos Theory"
3. Bob's Burgers, Fox. Arguably the funniest new show to air on network television in 2011, "Bob's" blends its absurdity and protagonist's constant slow burn with a big heart. H. Jon Benjamin is delightfully understated as the voice of Bob, but Kristen Schaal is a force as his sociopathic youngest daughter Louise. With Fox's aging "Animation Domination" lineup growing more erratic by the week, this proved to be a welcome source of fresh meat. Memorable Episodes: "Sacred Cow," "Art Crawl," "Spaghetti Western & Meatballs"
4. Childrens Hospital, Adult Swim. No less peculiar than "Community" but far less attached to reality, "Hospital" has transcended its initial parodying of medical dramas into something more bizarre and gut-bustingly silly. On top of that, each episode is 12 minutes long so you can watch an entire season in just over two hours. Memorable Episodes: "Ward 8," "Stryker Bites the Dust," "The Chet Episode"
5. Modern Family, ABC. Yes, this show has been a tad uneven since that stellar first season, but when "Family" meets it target the results can be quite entertaining. Memorable Episodes: "Someone To Watch Over Lily," "See You Next Fall," "Treehouse"

30 Rock, "100." The fifth season of Tina Fey's sarcastic ode to all things NBC had a renaissance of sorts last year, but it peaked with an hour-long indicator of its syndication eligibility. The event was like a wedding: "100" had something old (Liz saving the show yet again), something new (Michael Keaton as a creepy janitor), something borrowed (Dean Winters from the Allstate commercials), and something blue (Rachel Dratch, no spoilers here).
Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Palestinian Chicken." The high point of CYE's New York season aired when the action was still in LA, with our anti-hero using ethnic cuisine as a bouncing ball for marital infidelity, Israel-Palestinian relations, and the loneliness of being a "social assassin."
Louie, "Duckling." I was torn between choosing this episode or the pitch-black suicide fable "Eddie," but I chose Louie's misadventures on a USO tour with a baby waterfowl as a stowaway. Delicately toeing the line between patriotism and discomfort humor, the ending of the episode is sweetly slapstick.
The Office, "Goodbye Michael." Considering how lazy and middling the Andy Bernard era of Dunder-Mufflin has been, I think most fans of the show will concur that this should've been the series finale. Instead, we'll have to settle for the series' last great episode. Why didn't Steve Carell win an Emmy for his troubles?
Onion News Network, "Real America." The fanboy in me had to give The Onion's basic cable offspring some TLC. Again, this was a tough pick but I went with the "episode" where the cable-news parody put a spotlight on a group of indigenous midwesterners hosting representatives of congress like they were foreign ambassadors. To host the summit in a bowling alley was just ingenious.


How can I sum up 2011 without being glib or vague? This was a year where we was said goodbye to heroes (Andy Whitfield, Cliff Robertson) and villains (Osama bin Laden, Moammar Gadhafi, Kim Jong Il). We bid adieu to well-endowed women (Jane Russell, Maria Schneider) and giant boobs (Silvio Berlusconi, Ozzie Guillen) alike. On a personal level, this was a year of triumph (improv) and struggle (financially justifying to Chicago), of success (losing 17 pounds) and failure (the never-ending job search). My resolution for 2012? To stop using parentheses for dramatic effect.

In Memoriam: Gerry Rafferty, Duke Snider, Dave Duerson, Suze Rotolo, Jack Lalanne, Len Lesser, Mike Starr, Joe Morello, Thomas Roeser, Warren Christopher, Geraldine Ferraro, Sidney Lumet, Michael Sarrazin, Elisabeth Sladen, Randy Savage, Elizabeth Taylor, Harmon Killebrew, Paul Splittorff, Jeff Conaway, Clarence Clemons, Seve Ballesteros, Dick Williams, Betty Ford, Sherwood Schwartz, Lee Roy Selmon, Bubba Smith, Amy Winehouse, Sen. Charles Percy, Al Davis, Steve Jobs, Norman Corwin, Heavy D, Dan Wheldon, Andy Rooney, Smokin' Joe Frazier, Bil Keane, Patrice O'Neal, Dobie Gray, Harry Morgan, Paul Motion, Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel, Joe Bodolai, Leo Gardzielewski, and Jeanette Dickinson.

See you next year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2011

One of my favorite years of music in recent memory was 2010, which obviously gave these past 12 months a tough act to follow. Indeed, the sounds of 2011 were especially kind to studio experimentation as well as musicians with more organic inclinations. "Good music" didn't come from a singular source or genre; the more eclectic your tastes were, the more you would probably enjoy. It also helped if you knew your history; some acts went retro and succeeded (Dawes, Fleet Foxes), others jumped back 25-odd years and bored me senseless (Destroyer, Bon Iver). In reality, there was no real motif or pattern to the sonic trends of the past year, unless that was the point all along.

For the first time I can think of, my top three albums were all recorded by women. These three highly disparate female artists --a British singer-songwriter, an art-rock hippie freak, and the Swedish heir apparent to Bjork-- made more compelling music than anyone with cajones could these past 12 months. Also, a disproportionate number of discs in my top five are second albums, so one can safely assume that the seeds of this list were first planted in 2008 or 2009, when most of these artists were still considered "promising" and "auspicious" but in reality were a short distance from fulfilling or exceeding anyone's expectations. Hindsight is also 20/20, so it's too soon to tell if any outright masterpieces dropped in '11; I'm merely ranking these selections by how I enjoyed them.

After some intense mental debating --which explains the two-day delay-- I have whittled down my list of best albums down to a "mere" twenty. Sorry, fans of Company of Thieves, Beirut, and The Strokes: maybe next year.


1. 21, Adele. The second full album I listened to this year --behind Cake's comeback disc Showroom of Compassion, which incidentally was merely okay-- ultimately proved to be the commercial and critical high-water point of the past 12 months. Don't get the idea that I'm just drinking the Kool-Aid; this is a collection of incredibly beautiful songs. The themes of heartbreak and yearning that dominated her 2008 debut 19 are extended here, but now the pain feels mature and fully formed. "Rolling in the Deep" was a monster hit in the US and her native Britain, and deservedly so; some of you are probably still annoyed from hearing it a thousand times, but the stark gospel blues of her first #1 smash will almost certainly hold up better than all the synth-heavy crap that populates CHR radio now.
2. Whokill, TuNe-YaRdS. Speaking of young artists coming into their own, anyone who openly challenges the wit and focus of experimental indie-rock needs to speak to Merrill Garbus immediately. Also known (or virtually unknown) for her work in Sister Suvi, Miss Garbus turned her second solo effort into a freaked-out, technicolor menagerie. Like a bull in a candy shop, Garbus is not only pushing the limits of her slapdash instrumentation --mostly a bass, a three-piece horn section, and her own vocal looping-- she's having a lot of fun and wants everybody to join in.
3. Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li. Another sophomore effort that belies any youthful assumptions. Sounding less precocious and more confident, this promising young Swede may seem like a Scandinavian answer to Lady Gaga but she's far less inclined to write a hit single or mimic Madonna. Striking a rare balance between cathartic and atmospheric, Rhymes is carried by Burundi drums, creepy echos, and Li's forceful weapon of a voice.
4. Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes
5. James Blake, James Blake
6. El Camino, The Black Keys
7. Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars
8. Let England Shake, PJ Harvey
9. The King of Limbs, Radiohead
10. Nothing is Wrong, Dawes. Yes, another second album. Part of the same Laurel Canyon scene that begat Buffalo Springfield and Crazy Horse decades ago, Dawes is a rootsy, midtempo kind of band that emulates their forefathers so much that they could almost be mistaken for a forgotten '70s act. The emulation is not lost on their unwitting mentors, as Jackson Browne and Benmont Tench both lend a hand on the disc. Standout tracks like "If I Wanted Someone" and "A Little Bit of Everything" channel Browne, Joe Walsh, and Warren Zevon so effortlessly, to call this ersatz classic rock is to completely not understand what these kids are striving for.

11. Suck It and See, Arctic Monkeys
12. Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, Beastie Boys
13. Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio
14. The Big Roar, The Joy Formidable
15. Mockingbird Time, The Jayhawks. Arguably the most pleasant surprise of 2011 was the reunion (and creative renaissance) of one of the great alt-country acts of the early '90s. Picking up where 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass left off, the songwriting tandom of guitarists Gary Louris and Mark Olson sound and act as if they never broke up. It's circa-1992 Jayhawks all over again: evocative songs, striking vocals, and musicians playing with a big heart.
16. Yuck, Yuck
17. Goblin, Tyler, the Creator
18. Mirror Traffic, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
19. Circuitual, My Morning Jacket
20. Only in Dreams, Dum Dum Girls. This past year proved quite prolific for this all-female noise-pop quartet. First there was the He Gets Me High covers EP, which frontwoman Kirsten "Dee Dee" Gundred more or less recorded by herself, than their enchanting second full-length disc. It's not a perfect album by any means, but Dreams has a certain honesty and consistentcy that has me looking forward to the Girls' next project.

Worst Album: Lulu, Lou Reed & Metallica. Apologists will call this two-disc set brave and challenging. Everyone else will deem this 87-minute effort as artless, chaotic, bloated, repetitive, and above all a complete mismatch of two aging talents.


"Money Grabber," Fitz & The Tantrums
"Weekend," Smith Westerns
"Uberlin," R.E.M.
"Sydney (I'll Come Running)," Brett Dennen
"Pumped-Up Kicks," Foster The People
"Changing," The Airborne Toxic Event
"Second Chance," Peter, Bjorn & John
"Whirring," The Joy Formidable
"Down By The Water," The Decemberists
"Walk," Foo Fighters

Worst Single: "Miracle Worker," Superheavy. It's enough that Joss Stone is trying to sing reggae, but this slapdash super-group's leadoff song truly leaps from woebegone to outright godawful the moment Mick Jagger jumps in. What the heck?


Now that music videos as an art form have finally taken full advantage of YouTube et al. maybe it would be best to let all these wonderfully diverse clips speak for themselves.

1. "Crossed Wires," Superchunk. Bad kitty! Bad, bad kitty!
2. "Cruel," St. Vincent. It's a funny video in a sadistic, dry sort of way.
3. "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win," Beastie Boys feat. Santigold. "Each sold separately."
4. "Romance," Wild Flag
5. "Bizness," TuNeYaRdS
6. "Lonely Boy," The Black Keys
7. "Born This Way," Lady Gaga
8. "Conversation 16," The National
10. "I Need a Doctor," Dr. Dre feat. Eminem

Worst Video: "Sexy and I Know It," LMFAO. Gaudy, insipid, and unintentionally homoerotic, this trust fund duo's follow-up to the annoying "Party Rock Anthem" doesn't quite know the difference between a Speedo and a Spee-don't.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011: The Year in Jokes

For those of you who are Facebook friends or follow me on Twitter (@heystu818), I've been known to write late night monologue-style jokes as status updates and/or tweets. I typically measure how a joke lands by how many people "like" or retweet my comment, than file it for my portfolio. If there's no "likes" I safely assume it bombed, one or two means it's tepid or merely okay, and anything above that in my eyes is a home run. For the first part of my 2011 in review I'm going to look back at the year in jokes, chosen indirectly by you: my friends, family, teammates, and co-workers.

+ A man in Omaha tried to rob a store armed only with a rock. Luckily for the store owner, he had some paper. (1/7/11)

+ Brandi Favre, the kid sister of Brett Favre, was arrested in a Mississippi crystal meth lab this afternoon. The charges were dropped, however when she agreed to text the cops a photo of her cooter. (1/12/11)

+ Yahoo has announced plans to release an app for iPad and Android. This app allows you to travel back in time to when people still used Yahoo. (2/11/11)

+ Today marks the end of the "Jeopardy!" IBM challenge, which pits the supercomputer Watson against two of the show's all-time champions. Unlike the contestants, Watson contains 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming four terabytes of disk storage. Like the other contestants, it has never seen a vagina. (2/15/11)

+ A 9.0 earthquake has just struck the northern coast of Japan. CNN is blaming the quake on the faulting of a long-inactive tectonic plate. MSNBC is blaming the quake on an elastic rebound hundreds of miles below the earth's surface. Fox News is blaming the quake on socialized health care. (3/11/11)

+ Today marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. This dubious milestone has posed a series of questions, like "what would life in the US be like had Reagan not survived?" and "should we worry about an attempt on President Obama's life?" and "would John Hinckley Jr. and Jodie Foster have made a cute couple?" (3/30/11)

+ An "American Idol" fan was left shocked and in tears when she was forced to give up her front row seat because she was too fat. The producers also ordered Steven Tyler to move from his seat because he looks likes an 80-year-old woman. (4/12/11)

+ A recent survey suggests that Arkansas and Mississippi have the highest proportion of people that rely upon cell phones. This is a signifigant leap for both states, considering ten years ago they were still using two cans on a string. (4/20/11)

+ The Chesapeake Bay Candle company is recalling seven million candles due to a fire risk. In other news, 10 million fireworks are being recalled because they might fly into the air and explode when ignited. (4/21/11)

+ Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Monday that any allegations that the country's leaders knew Osama bin Laden was hiding 2 1/2 hours away since 2005 are "disingenuous." While Gilani admits that bin Laden was close during that time, he mentioned that officials rarely drive out there, because gas prices are just plain ridiculous. (5/11/11)

+ A man in Willowbrook, IL returned from vacation to find $30,000 in movie memorabilia from "Lord of the Rings" and "Aliens" stolen from his home. In fact, the only thing the thief didn't take was the man's virginity. (5/17/11)

+ GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul has announced that he would support the legalization of prostitution and heroin. As a result, he earned the endorsement of every jazz musician that ever lived. (5/19/11)

+ It was announced today that Anthony Weiner has signed a multi-year contract to play quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings... (6/7/11)

+ Nintendo announced that its new gaming system console, the Wii U, at the E3 conference earlier this week. The system's new controller has a variety of new features that will render you even more useless in social situations. (6/20/11)

+ Today is the 83rd anniversary of the invention of sliced bread, which makes one wonder what was the greatest invention up to that point. (7/8/11)

+ Good news: the NFL lockout could be over as soon as this Friday. Bad news: my CFL fantasy league has completely disappeared. (7/19/11)

+ A recent survey has ranked Casey Anthony the most-hated person in America. Better luck next year, Congress. (8/11/11)

+ Paul Meier, the inventor of the randomized clinical trial, died this week at age 87. There will be two funerals held, and neither family nor clergy will know which coffin contains his body. (8/18/11)

+ A white rat approximately three feet in length was speared to death with a pitchfork in Brooklyn's Marcy Houses this week, which poses a question: who in Brooklyn would own a pitchfork? (8/26/11)

+ Lauren Bush, the niece of former President George W. Bush, got married in Colorado last weekend. The bride wore white, the mother of the bride wore lilac, and the uncle of the bride wore Captain America jammies. (9/6/11)

+ Arch West, the man who created Doritos, died today at age 97. Per his request, his ashes will be rubbed all over a pair of old sweatpants. (9/27/11)

+ A recent survey has ranked Chad as the worst place in the world for a woman to live. Another survey has ranked Chad's apartment as the worst place for a woman to wake up. (10/14/11)

+ A group of British scientists have unveiled "super broccoli," a new breed of the vegetable that helps ward off heart disease. The super broccoli has been praised by supernutritionists but avoided at all costs by superchildren. (10/26/11)

+ It has been reported that Coldplay's new album Mylo Zyloto is their most expensive ever. Apparently, $2 million went towards production and $3 million was spent to keep Gwyneth Paltrow from appearing on the disc. (11/1/11)

+ A recent report suggests that the McRib sandwich contains a flour-bleaching agent commonly used in gym mats and the soles of shoes. I'm quite relieved; for a moment there, I thought the McRib contained meat. (11/15/11)

+ A recent survey suggests that people that regularly watch Fox News Channel are less informed than people who don't watch news at all. The survey also determined that people who regularly watch the Food Network are disportionately more informed about creme fraiche. (11/26/11)

+ Reuters is reporting that President Obama will visit our troops in Afghanistan on December 25th while his wife and daughters attend various DC-area events. Fox News is reporting that another black man is leaving his family on Christmas. (12/9/11)

Next Week: the year in music, 2011.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cain Unable

With one fell swoop, the GOP presidential primary just got marginally less crazy. Self-made businessman Herman Cain dropped out of the race last weekend, mere weeks until the first primary. When allegations of sexual harassment and philandering snowballed and financial support plummeted, the ex-restauranteur painted himself into a corner. In a race where the status quo is still in comtempt and th unofficial title of frontrunner has been like musical chairs --Romney, Bachmann, Perry, now Gingrich-- the one true Washington outsider in the race was also its most meteoric fall.

So one must wonder: what torpedoed Cain that couldn't sink Bill Clinton 20 years ago? For starters, the mass media is far more relentless than it was in the early '90s, let alone before the WTC attacks. Secondly, nobody could prove Clinton committed adultery until well into his second term. Sadly, for all intents and purposes it seems like Cain brought this upon himself; he seemed like the type that thought he could do a better job than the current guy, not realizing there are strings attached. All in all, Cain's carnival of a campaign just couldn't walk the tightrope.

Other notes:

+ So what's my take on Ron Santo's "long-awaited" Hall of Fame induction? I posted my thoughts shortly after his passing last year. Considering that Santo only garnered 21% of the vote in his first year of elegibility (1982) and the rise was very slow and steady, one must wonder how many BBWAA scribes simply read up on sabermetrics --6th best third baseman ever my foot-- drank the Cubbie Kool-Aid, or both.

+ My old TV.com friend and blog pseudo-correspondent Mark a/k/a mp34mp caught wind of the NHL division realignment before I did. He asked for my two cents on Twitter, and frankly I found some flaws right away. Personally, I think it's a little pointless to have four mini-conferences of seven to eight teams when bring back the four-division format would've sufficed. If it were up to me, however I would've scratched out the old/new divisional rivalries and gone completely regional: put the seven Canadian teams in one division, then split the 23 American squads into west, central, and eastern divisions. For example:
  • Canadian: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
  • Eastern: Boston, Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philly, Washington
  • Central/South: Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa Bay
  • Western: Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Phoenix, San Jose
Again, I'm partially disregarding some long-standing rivalries, but it might work. Just saying.

+ Improv Update: one week from Friday, I will be auditioning for Level 3 of the Second City Conservatory program. Considering that it took me over a year just to get into Level 1, I'm hoping to buck some unfortunate trends. It's ten days away, but wish me luck!