Friday, February 18, 2005

I'll Have a Duff, You Have One, Too (Or Two)

Being a publicist is nearly as thankless a job as being a freelance television reporter, or at least I imagine that to be the case. However, whenever I think that some publicists must be locked in a mind-numbing cycle of puffery and half-truths (a bit like myself in that respect), I read a release that restores my faith in humanity.

Ice Breakers Liquid Ice Causes First-Ever Disagreement Between Superstars Hilary and Haylie Duff.

Seriously, just when you think that irony is a dead art in this country, you have a release that beins with this immortal paragraph: "Up until now, mega-stars, best friends and sisters Hilary and Haylie Duff have agreed on everything -
from clothes to hairstyles to guys. But when the dynamite Duffs tasted Ice Breakers Liquid Ice mints from Hershey Foods Corporation, they came up with different answers to the puzzle posed by the popular product: 'Is it liquid? Or is it ice?'"

Don't you just want to keep reading?

There's a nice moment later, for example, where some suit at Hersheys says that the company is "flattered" that the Duffs are schilling for them. Does that mean, Mr. Goodbar, that the Duffs are doing this pro bono? That'd be neat. However, while Haylie may be willing to work for breath mints, Hilary probably requires some form of more advanced compensation. After all, the gal's got needs.

What makes the release sweet is just how doggedly intent young Hilary Duff is to bring her ungainly older sister into the limelight with her. Perhaps Hilary is justifiably concerned with the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?-style ramifications involving baked rats and endless repeat viewings of Napoleon Dynamite. It's that kind of sisterly bond that should make the Duffs as effective for Ice Breakers as similarly mis-matched sister Ashlee and Jessica Simpson. The Simpson-based ad worked because of the believability that Jessica would be confused by which state of matter Ice Breakers Liquid might be categorized under.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

'Mars' vs. 'House' vs. 'Scrubs' vs. 'Race'

By this point in the season, anybody with any television taste knows that no time period during the week makes for more complicated viewing than Thursday nights at 9 p.m. In one hour, viewers are forced to choose between television's best medical procedural (FOX's House), medium's finest teen drama (UPN's Veronica Mars), the highest quality reality show available (CBS' constantly recycling Amazing Race franchise) and the finest scripted comedy this side of Arrested Development (NBC's Scrubs). That's too much to handle if you have a TV, a VCR, a TiVo and one or two different friends with similarly compatible technology. Things will get even more confusing later in the spring when NBC pairs Scrubs with its surprisingly effective adaptation of The Office to create a pairing of workplace comedies the likes of which haven't been seen on any network for several years (I'm not really sure what the competition is, honestly).

Fortunately, despite the fact that we're in the February sweeps period, CBS is Amazing Race-free for the next couple weeks before whipping out Boston Rob and Amber in the show's 7th installment in early March. And fortunately again, Scrubs is paired with the distressingly mediocre (at its best) Committed, which leaves two real strong options for your network television dollar this evening. You can watch TV's best new actor Hugh Laurie in House or TV's best new actress Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars. But what to do?

On this issue, I have to go with my colleague and fellow Quaker Alan Sepinwall of The Star-Leger of Newark, who argues that House doesn't need your stinking support anyway. Heck, House was delivering nearly acceptable ratings when it had that silly Richard Branson reality show as its lead-in. Since American Idol moved in at 8 p.m., House has become darned near unbeatable. The show has also delivered, producing some of its best episodes yet for the increased fan-base. The Feb. 1 episode "DNR" with Harry J. Lennix and Chloe Webb (Nancy, baby!) was one of the most thought provoking hours you'll see on the telly all year and with Chi McBride showing up for a guest run, things should improve. I'm not a medical procedural fan, but Laurie's caustic, but humane performance is genuinely Emmy-worthy, far superior to anything Kiefer Sutherland has done on the past three seasons of 24, for example.

Perhaps Veronica Mars is a smidge more appealing than House because while both shows feature prickly, but ultimately redeemable leads, Bell's title character is capable showing warmth. Both House and Veronica are misfits, uncomfortable with social niceties and glad-handing and both characters are fueled by an insatiable craving for the truth. On the surface, though, House is purely ego-driven and misanthropic. He needs to find all of the answers because he needs to be right. That's very different from Veronica, who fell out of favor with the popular clique at her high school because of circumstances beyond her control. She doesn't even want to punish the people who treat her worst, much less the whole of humanity. Like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (an inevitable and semi-appropriate comparison), Veronica is content that doing the right thing is its own reward. Even though Buffy saved every individual Sunnydale student from any number of supernatural creature, it took three years for her classmates to offer any kind of acknowledgment. It's doubtful that Veronica is going to get welcomed back into the fold any sooner than that.

Of course, it's doubtful that Veronica Mars is going to be back at all next season. Despite critical raves and a good amount of network support, the show just hasn't shown any ratings growth, in large part because of the impossible time period. The teen viewers have stuck by the insipid One Tree Hill on The WB and even if older viewers could somehow be convinced that they're missing one of the sharpest written, most visually stylish shows going, they could hardly be blamed for sticking by any of the hour's other gems. Bell is a great discovery and she'll eventually find her niche, but it'll be a shame if she can't do it here.

So give Veronica Mars a shot. You'll like it. But I won't be offended if you watch CBS, FOX or NBC instead. But if you're watching ABC...

Saturday, February 12, 2005

A 'Hitch' In My Step

[This is mostly a posting so that people who accidentally stop by this blog before it really exists have something to read and shouldn't necessarily be interpreted as being the kind of thing that this blog will always publish if it ever becomes a regular piece of my life, or anybody else's.]

Several meditations on Hitch:

I'm vaguely troubled by the underlying racial stereotyping that make up the root of the film's plot. The premise of the African-American male who possesses a magical font of knowledge in all matters sexual and sensual is one that goes back centuries and which has, at times, been used as a source of fear and bigotry. I'm not comparing Hitch to Birth of a Nation or any other depiction of black males as sex-crazed predators because that would be kinda idiotic of me, but I think that they stem from the same root, however much evolved the message of Hitch is. After all, Kevin James' character, from what I can tell, doesn't want to lynch Will Smith's character, he wants to learn from him and take a piece of his life's essence for his own benefit. At least he probably pays him. I think that may be what prevents Hitch from being the romantic equivalent of The Legend of Bagger Vance in addition to the fact that, so far as I know, Smith's Hitch isn't supposed to be a representation of Jesus, while Bagger Vance was a darned near divine character. Oh and from what the reviews have told me, Hitch isn't awful. Bagger Vance very nearly made me want to jump out of the plane I was on to avoid it. Some people in this place may want to tell me that I could have just taken off my headphones and read a book, but I don't play that way. If I'm on a plane, I watch the freakin' movie. Otherwise, how would I have seen Like Mike, Head Over Heals and the lesser works of Kate Hudson (Raising Helen and Alex and Emma in particular).

Oh, so going back to my point about the racial dynamics of Hitch: I think that the idea of the sexually super-potent black man helping stiff, soul-less white dudes find their mojo is a bit like if somebody were to make a movie about an effete, intellectual British dude whose job it is to teach gangsta rappers how to be "civilized." Let's say Richard Grant and 50 Cent? I guess that's sortta what the plot of Trading Places was. I'm not sayin' Hitch is racist, just that it plays on a tradition that may well be problematic. It's doubtful that the American theatregoers, who celebrated the release of Boogeyman last week, are really going to get up in arms about the subtext of Hitch and I'm not convinced that they should. I'm just saying what bothers me. Oh and some white guys can totally dance and don't need Will Smith to teach them. Not me, though. I need all the help I can get.

On the other hand, I find it quite progressive that Sony has made a romance with an African-American male lead and a Latina female lead and it's getting a wide release and it isn't being niche marketed to an "urban" audience. Hitch is going to be a hit because it's going to play well in Middle America, which has to be an advance of some sort. Smith may want to be wary of those "Black Cary Grant" reviews he's getting. It seems like just yesterday that Eddie Murphy was saying that he was going to be the "Black Cary Grant" in Boomerang or the "Black Jimmy Stewart" in Distinguished Gentleman and then he ceased to be, well, anything of any relevance.

Begin the Beguine

Don't let this opening page and opening post fool you. This blog doesn't actually exist. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to give any tangible idea of when it really will begin to exist. I'd give an ETA or and ETD for its official creation, but then somebody would show up and tell me that Creationism is just a theory and that G-D will bring this blog into the world when He/She/It is good and ready. And thus, in my first provisional post I've managed to delve into liberal sarcasm and blasphemy. I apologize.

For now, it's just an option I'm exploring. And I like to explore my options. I have many friends who have attempted to go down the blog path and the inevitable temptation is to begin with great flare, attacking myriad subjects on a daily basis and then dwindle to a post a day or then a post a week and finally you're not writing anymore because things in the -- heaven forbid -- real world are requring more of your attention. Hmmm... Knowing that, why am I bothering to even start? Geez, I wish I knew.

For now, let me just say "Hi" to anybody who's reading.

Oh and why? Why would you have read this far? I haven't said anything interesting or important or even tangentially amusing yet.

Someday, perhaps I will. If I ever find a format and a Mission Statement and a reason for doing this that seems appropriate for consumption by a nationwide audience, I'll write more. That's not a promise, mind you. It's just something I say. Don't forget to Check the Fien Print.