Saturday, April 26, 2008

MovieWatch: "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall"
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 65
In a Nutshell: [My apologies for the sporadic posting as of late. I haven't gotten back in a TV blogging rhythm post-Strike and I've been over-invested in blogging for Zap2it, which is appropriate since I've been told that the Tribune Company owns all of my intellectual thoughts and meditations. I've thought about blogging on a few different DVDs I've watched, but I've been too busy to get to them. I'm waiting to write up my opinion on "Speed Racer" -- narrative clunkiness and just-for-the-kids humor all too frequently undermine a visionary aesthetic -- until after the industry trade papers break the embargo. But after a pretty dreadful week, I decided I needed some Friday afternoon levity and I went to go see a movie. This movie. Hence this review.]

I've read reviews from legitimate sources that have referred to Judd Apatow as the "creator" of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." The degree to which Apatow has become a franchise and the degree to which his star hasn't been dimmed by the failures of "Walk Hard" and "Drillbit Taylor" is remarkable.

And I guess I'm going to do it too. Because yes, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was written by star Jason Segel and it was directed by Nicholas Stoller, but it fits in naturally with the Apatow oeuvre. You've got the slacker/babe romantic pairings, the intentionally formless improvisational feel, the admiration for male full-frontal nudity, the welcome glorification of dweeby implicitly Jewish heroes and the sense of entitlement that somehow feels convinced that a flimsy romantic comedy structure can support a running time of nearly two hours.

If anything, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" feels even looser than much of the Apatow products, perhaps stemming from the fact that Segel and Stoller are taking their first stabs at writing and directing a feature. I guess that's why even though I laughed out loud quite a bit at "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," my ever-arbitrary ratings system puts it a notch below "Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Superbad."

NFL Draft-distracted ramblings about the movie after the bump.

Click through and count the typos!

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is a chancier proposition than several Apatow productions because it asks Segel to take a big leap into leading man territory. For most viewers, I guess he's pretty much "That supporting guy from all of those Judd Apatow movies," but he was the slightly unsung hero -- to my mind, at least -- of "Freaks & Geeks," a spectacular guest star on "Undeclared" and an equal part of the exceptional "How I Met Your Mother" ensemble. I didn't really doubt that I could spend two hours happily watching Segel.

Since he's already an atypical star -- he's much too tall, much too shambling, much too enamored of his physical imperfections -- Segel's courageous gesture here has been to craft his "Sarah Marshall" character as a far more pathetic guy than the actor actually is. And this isn't one of those cool-within-the-pathetic situations like Seth Rogen's "Knocked Up" character or the two leads in "Knocked Up." In those movies, the whole point of the narrative was to convince viewers that with only minimal personal growth, those characters were plenty cool all along. With "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Segel's Peter, there's a journey that has to be taken and Segel's an actor with so little ego (except, apparently, as it relates to his genitals) that he's willing to cry, fall down, sing in a funny voice, play the piano... anything, really. Segel's gung ho attitude as an actor smoothes out the bumps in Segel's script, which stumbles over some clumsy plot points and some clumsier pop culture references. Even if the "Sarah Marshall" script feels raw, I can't wait to see what Segel does with "The Muppets."

One of the things Apatow and company have done a great job with is finding women who fit into the Boys Club voice of the films. From Catherine Keener to Katherine Heigl to Emma Stone in "Superbad," they've found actresses with enough spunk and goofball charm that their on-screen romantic pairings have at least made a modicum of sense.

It's no surprise that Bell is a brassy treat as the title character, that she's willing to go into self-parody and that she gets even hotter the filthier the role asks her to be. As a character, Sarah Marshall isn't all-the-way-developed. Bell isn't playing a real person so much as the most effective way of shining in a series of individual and disconnected scenes. It isn't surprising that Sarah vanishes from the film's last 20 minutes, because she hasn't been handed an arc that could be resolved (unless you count the start-of-credits gag TV show, a concept that has to be making Ben Silverman champ at the bit).

And credit whoever realized that at 24, Mila Kunis was finally ready to play an adult and whoever was savvy enough to recognize just how well her beauty would translate to the big screen. "The '70s Show" never had all that much substance, but what it had was three or four actors capable of nailing even flaccid punchlines. Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher have already begun to make their marks on the big screen and Kunis' ability to make a lot of out nearly nothing as Jackie Burkhart was underappreciated during the FOX comedy's lengthy run. Yes, she's smoking, but she has an openness to her smile that makes Kunis almost seem approachable.

Then again, Kunis' Rachel is also a less realized character than I might have liked. The "Superbad" women were mighty fuzzy as well, but Heigl and Keener's characters were a bit more three-dimensional, weren't they? Or am I just wearing rose-colored glasses?

To use a baseball analogy, Apatow has done a fantastic job with moving his stars up the ladder, with getting them all some work in the minor leagues and then advancing them until they're ready for the big leagues. He did it with Rogen and with Segel. Leslie Mann got a starring role in "Drillbit Taylor" and Paul Rudd has left the Apatow umbrella for his star turn in "I Love You, Man." I have faith that eventually Jay Baruchel is gonna get his vehicle. Might I suggest an Apatow featured player who's ready to move to go to the next level? Carla Gallo. She was great on "Undeclared" and had fine cameos in "40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Superbad" and her "Sarah Marshall" drop-in -- as an unexpectedly kinky sexual partner -- is almost a reprise of her "Virgin" role. Might I suggest a larger role for her sometime in the near future? She obviously can't be the female lead yet, but her Apatow-feature roles have been Toe-Sucking Girl, Period Blood Girl and Gag Me Girl. How about a name next time?

My appreciation for the film's female players doesn't really carry over to the male co-stars who each, bar none, become less funny the more we're exposed to them. Russell Brand's Aldous Snow remains amusing for the longest period of time both because of Brand's flawless delivery and because blowhard pop stars are fertile targets for mockery. But Jonah Hill, Rudd and Jack McBrayer all make what should have been one or two scene cameos that were somehow expanded to payoff-free extended roles. Bill Hader has a little more to do, but for the bulk of the film, especially when he only pops up via webcam or phone, add little.

The male characters are responsible for many of the lengthy dry spells in laughter that a film this frequently sharp shouldn't have had. With 20 minutes worth of Hill, Rudd, McBrayer, Hader and maybe Brand on the cutting room floor, the movie would have sped along without any storytelling gaps and the eventual DVD could have been bursting with bonus materials. As it was, I felt like I was watching a lot of should-have-been-deleted scenes on the big screen.

I guess my other major complaint is that movies like this one and like "50 First Dates" have really done nothing to make me want to go visit Hawaii. Visually, "Sarah Marshall" coasts on a few scenic backdrops, but it almost could have been shot in LA using stages, the Pacific Ocean and a little bit of post-production color correction for that "tropical look." I have to say that "Blue Crush" did a much better job of convincing me that there's more to Hawaii than leis, roasted pigs, obese jolly giants and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole cover tunes. And that's not saying much.

I'm at that point where I either keep on rambling, or I start switching between the draft, the Red Sox game and the Lakers game. Unfortunately, I need more concentration to do the latter and that's my pick, I think...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"American Idol" 04/15: Voices Carey

For six-and-a-half seasons now, American Idol contestants have heard near-weekly lectures from the judges about how covering certain singers -- Whitney, Christina, Celine, Mariah -- is just a recipe for disaster, Tuesday (April 15) night's show is dedicated entirely to karaoke versions of Mariah Carey hits. Gee. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?

Song: "When You Believe"
My Take: Perhaps more than ever before, opening the show has been a death sentence this season. How did David Archuleta come to be performing first tonight, then? And, more importantly, how did he come to be wearing what appear to be leather pants? Ugh. I guess this wasn't the week for David to break out of his power balladeering mode, was it? Anybody remember the last time he looked like he was having fun? I only remember his eyes half-closed and his hand raised up urging viewers to follow him on his Children's March. Whether you're viewing David as remarkably consistent or remarkably monotonous is completely subjective at this point. I think he's aware that the only way he can lose is to make a horrible mistake and he has no interest in swaying new fans. I like how the only advice we saw Mariah give David was to go into his falsetto at the end. And that he didn't. Mariah Carey has no advice to give David Archuleta. [Note: At least one reader says David did the falsetto and I was just napping through it. I can't necessarily disagree.]
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy was a little worried tonight, but he says that David can sing and therefore he can sing anything. This is factually inaccurate. Paula suspects that it's a huge honor for Mariah to hear David Archuleta sing her songs. Simon says he could have predicted the song choice, but that David performed it very well.

Song: "Without You"
My Take: This is an interesting choice, because it's a song that pre-dates Mariah (not that you'd hear anybody mention "Harry Nilsson") and therefore hasn't been completely defined by Mariah. The song has a slow build and for a while there's a clear sense that Carly is holding herself back, trying to avoid over-singing. It's a decent strategy and it prevents some of the excess she's been prone to in her lesser moments. But do you really want to watch a performer who's only showing you a third of her performance capacity? And since this should, at least in theory, be a mighty emotional song, how are you supposed to connect to a cover where the singer's every thought is only "I'm trying not to yell at you"?
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy urges her to check it out, but he cautions that she needs to trust herself in her lower register. Paula's a fan of the new-found the vocal restraint. Simon just doesn't think Carly can pull off the Mariah comparison. He suggests she's capable of pulling it off, but she's not confident enough.

Song: "Vanishing"
My Take: This is a trap night for Syesha, whose every song choice this season has suggested a diva's confidence, if not the diva's ability. Dressed fetchingly in a tight gold evening gown, Syesha isn't taking the soft-sell here. The performance is almost nothing but runs and vibrato and vocal brinksmanship. It feels like a technical showcase more than a pure vocal performance and I think that if she had trusted the melody a bit more and showboated a bit less, it might have been better overall. That being said, there's obvious skill to what she's doing and there's also more risk-taking here than in either David or Carly's numbers. As Randy is so prone to saying, Syesha doesn't take the easy road.
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy likes that she's bold and that all-things-considered she did a good job. Paula stammers something about Syesha's intelligence, raving it was "unbelievably magical." Simon would have chosen a song that more people know.

And how were the other four performers?

As always, check out the full recap over at Zap2it's It Happened Last Night blog.

Friday, April 11, 2008

MovieWatch: "Leatherheads"

Director: George Clooney
Fien Print Rating: 57
In a Nutshell: [I'm going to kick off with some vague spoilers here. If you're aware of the sports film genre, you won't be shocked. If you're not, maybe you shouldn't be reading me at all, eh?]

George Clooney's "Leatherheads," which I really only want to call "Leatherfaces," is a sports movie and that means that it climaxes with The Big Game, the Big Game that's not really about Sports, but that's really about Life and The Way We Live It, the Big Game that encapsulates everything that came before and that ties the movie up in a neat little thematic bow.

Or at least it should.

In the case of "Leatherheads," The Big Game is supposed to showcase a passing-of-the-torch, the transition between the down-n-dirty old world of professional football -- a world of cheating, trick plays and unexpected violence -- and the new college-infected professional football -- a world of organized plays, intellectualized strategy and sometimes inexplicable rules.

So after around 100 minutes, "Leatherheads" reaches The Big Game and people start talking -- not very subtly -- about that clash of cultures I just mentioned and I wanted to scream at the screen, "Yo Clooney... That's not what the movie's been about for 100 minutes. Don't try suddenly making it about that now."

Because "Leatherheads" is a minimum of two movies at war with each other, probably more than that.

More after the bump, kids...

Click through...

[Note: The before-the-bump portion of this review was written last weekend when I saw the movie in question. Then, as so often happens, life intruded. It's Friday as I write this and I'd really like to blog a little on last night's Survivor and yet I can't start something new until I finish something old. In fact, I shouldn't be working on this review, because I've already received multiple requests to go back and spoil the ending of "The Ruins" at the end of *that* review. Grumble. Dan Needs More Time. And More Sleep.]

Much has been written in recent weeks about Clooney's battle with the WGA over the writing credits for "Leatherheads," which still go to Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. Clooney has said that the idea to turn the proto-football drama into a romantic screwball comedy was mostly his and, as I think back over the movie I watched last weekend, I don't know if he should be so proud. "Leatherheads" might have worked as a screwball comedy and it might have worked as a chronicle of the early days of the NFL.

The movie that's in theaters is neither fish nor fowl. It's a series of homages, some marvelous, some dismal and generally frustratingly disjointed and leading to a running time of 114 minutes.

The football aspects have been mostly soft-pedaled. Viewers are unlikely to understand how the professional game differed from the college game in the period and nobody on Earth will be able to figure out why it was such a big deal to think of a college star going pro. The early pro scenes make it look like the players are inept, rather than dirty and the end-of-film talk about how Clooney's character loves trick plays, cheating and playing dirty doesn't make a lick of sense since the only trick play we really see is a single Statue of Liberty fake. Oklahoma Sooners fans can tell you that the Statue of Liberty is still very much alive in today's wacky college game. I can only assume that the original script emphasized the pro/college split and focused on the differences between Dodge Connelly (Clooney) and Carter Rutherford (Krazinski) in a way that went deeper than one being a likeable rogue and the other being a likeable cad.

Sometimes Clooney the Director thinks he's Howard Hawks, but "Leatherheads" has a flaccid pace at odds with the crackle and zip of a "Bringing Up Baby" or "His Girl Friday." Clooney and editor aren't worried about letting scenes play a little long just in case funny things are happening on the fringes. Unfortunately, they mostly aren't.

Sometimes he thinks he's Preston Sturgess, but the writing is limited by its lack of limitations. If Clooney had imposed some Hayes Code-style restrictions on himself, perhaps his double-entendres and flirtations wouldn't have seemed so obvious. Stars Clooney, Krasinski and Renee Zellweger also don't hesitate to mug for their randy punchlines, while the vintage comedies of the '30s and '40s had to be likeably understated to avoid censorship.

The actors are similarly playing roles they watched in a TCM afternoon marathon. Clooney alternates between being Cary Grant and Clark Gable. Krasinski misinterprets what used to Jimmy Stewart so charming in his early roles (he was most than just callow and emotionally open). And Zellweger can't quite make her girlishly breathy voice fit any archetype. She tries being brassy and Hepburn/Russell-y, but her voice vanishes into a whisper or a squeak at the end of every sentence. All three, Clooney in particular, are constantly winking at the audience, ever entertained by the fan they appear to be having.

And don't get me wrong. Lots of "Leatherheads" is plenty of fun. Even in a film so unsure of its tone and theme as this one, Clooney is extremely confident behind the camera. And he and DP Newton Thomas Sigel have composed a number of beautiful images and a color palate that's evocative and unique (albeit better suited for a film opening in October than April). Composer Randy Newman punctuates every jolly moment with one of his typical Copeland-for-Hire scores.

"Leatherheads" just isn't fully realized.

[A last note: Universal originally intended to release "Leatherheads" last fall, when people were properly juiced for football viewership and for a variety of reasons -- promotion on "Michael Clayton," his motorcycle accident, production on the new Coen Brothers movie -- it was pushed back. But why to last weekend? We're about as far from football season to either side as it could possibly be. Instead, this was Final Four weekend, the first weekend of the baseball season and NBA playoff races are just heating up. It was bad enough that Universal didn't know how to promote the movie to begin with, but who did they expect would be seeing it last weekend anyway? Sigh. Maybe it'll get a bump this weekend, when it's only going up against baseball, the NBA and the Masters.]

Saturday, April 05, 2008

MovieWatch: "The Ruins"

"The Ruins"
Director: Carter Smith
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 55
In a Nutshell: As a beach read this past summer, Scott Smith's "The Ruins" was good fun. It was just a little disturbing, just a little icky, just a little psychologically provocative and very difficult to put down. The most common complaint I've heard from people who read the book is that it's too long, a complaint I'd expect to dissipate somewhat in the wake of the 91-minute feature version of "The Ruins."

About the only thing keeping Smith's book from coming off as a gorier, less political "Day of the Triffids" was the idea that it was about how four carefully delineated characters -- all familiar and one-dimensional, but still consistent in their pathologies -- dealt with an impossible-to-fathom horror. Because the book was so long, their litany of misfortune was never-ending, but for every wretched thing that happened, readers understood why the characters behaved the way they did. The ending of the book was very much a sum of their decisions.

In its tightened 90 minute form, the cinematic "Ruins" can't muster that kind of careful delineation. Over 600 pages, people can show various colors as they face a green, leafy ancient evil. In an hour-and-a-half, it turns out that most people's terror response is nearly identical: Their eyes get red and buggy and they scream a lot. Good-bye to nuance.

More on the movie, plus some spoilers about the ending (all accompanied by proper warning) after the bump...

Click through...

Two things were most encouraging to me about "The Ruins" and they're likely the two reasons why I felt the need to go see a Friday afternoon matinee, rather than waiting two months for the DVD.

The first is that Smith adapted his own book. "The Ruins" struck me as a tough property to bring to the screen -- It's limited in characters, restricted in location and its main adversary is a creature capable of going from scary to silly in the transition from your imagination to a CGI effect. For nearly an hour, then, Smith delivers a bare bones -- pun somewhat intended -- version of his book, doing exactly the things any editor does when paring a lengthy text. The basics are untouched: Four college students (played by Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey) on a Mexican vacation decide to accompany a German tourist (Joe Anderson) on a mini-adventure to some off-the-map Mayan ruins. Their reason for going is even less important in the movie than it was in the book. They get to the ruins, though, and really, really, really bad stuff happens. Period.

In the translation, Smith gives himself around 10 minutes of establishing time to establish very basic traits about each character in the hopes that viewers will read those traits onto what the characters do later in the movie (that's the only way they aren't just all panicking and freaking out on the same level). Then for a while he just goes through the book and keeps every third or fourth creepy element, which still leaves a lot of bad things to happen. Because Ramsey's Stacy was already the least developed character in the book, she's been given some of the inconveniences/misfortunes that befall Ashmore's Eric, which leaves Eric as the least memorable character in the movie.

Then, with around 20 minutes left, the movie falls apart completely. The methodical and steady pacing of the book vanishes as in one heady rush, the fates of all four characters are determined and an ending is tacked on that's neither the ending from the book nor the most logical Hollywood ending. The wreak of studio tampering by the time the closing credits roll is unbearable and I'd be mighty curious as to how Smith originally drafted the film's second half. It's my instinct that there will be deleted scenes and alternate endings galore when "The Ruins" comes out on DVD.

As I've suggested, though, the movie works well enough for an hour. The book is all about the "How would you respond in these circumstances?" element, but the movie can't pause long enough for any of that to set in. There's a decent balance between the traditional shock-scares pushed by Graeme Revell's genre-standard score and the very different kind of unease posed by the gore effects, which are mighty unflinching. There are plenty of bloody wounds, some exposed bones and at least one amusing exploding head. The lead effect -- the killer vine -- is pretty cheap looking, but first-time feature director Carter Smith nicely avoids over-concentration on the monster, either its exact nature and mechanics or its origin. The point the book makes, and a point the movie tries to make, is that the creature is just the impetus to make these four friends potentially do bad things to each other.

In general, credit-where-credit-is-due, Smith keeps the movie from ever feeling claustrophobic and the action zips along from one terror to the next. The failure to build to anything meaningful is one that I place on the editors and studio gadflies who trusted test screening scores over the demands of the narrative. I'd like to see Carter Smith and Scott Smith's version of this movie, because I'll bet you it plays better than what I saw yesterday.

The main stars of "The Ruins" deliver performances that are definitely a step better than a film of this nature would require. Malone and Tucker have both honed their chops in indie movies and neither is Hollywood's conventional idea of eye-candy, so they deliver a certain intensity, plus they look good for as long as the movie wants them to look good (everybody's bloody, dirty and a bit nasty by the end). Ramsey has the responsibility to provide both fleeting seconds of unexpected --and not unappreciated -- nudity at the beginning (the genre demands it, I guess), but also much of the dramatic heft toward the end and since I'm not sure that I've ever noticed her before, I was pretty impressed.

Oh. I mentioned earlier that there were two things that made me see the movie in the theater, the first being Smith writing his own script. The second was the presence of cinematographer Darius Khondji. One of cinema's most oddly reclusive DPs, Khondji actually has this movie, "Funny Games" and "My Blueberry Nights" hitting theaters at the exact same thing. Hmmm... Guess which two movies he might have done to work with respected international auteurs and guess which film he might have done to pick up a studio paycheck? There's very little evidence here of the man who shot "Delicatessen," "City of Lost Children," "Se7en" and "Panic Room." The photography in "The Ruins" is unremarkable. It may, in fact, be too fine (in terms of cinematic grain), in that it exposes the weaknesses in the CG effects, but also occasional sloppiness and inconsistencies in the make-up work.

And now? The Tax Man calleth...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

NBC Catches Upfronts Fever Early

Say this for Ben Silverman and the new NBC Administration: They practice what they preach.

Last fall, if you remember, NBC dedicated a whole week to going Green and the network forced all of its showrunners to to shoehorn in plotlines about solar power, hybrid automobiles and recycling.

Then on Wednesday (April 2), NBC jumped the gun on the upfront season by announcing a schedule that's heavy on recycling.

Silverman, Jeff Zucker and company have been nattering for weeks about how their year-round scheduling gambit and early upfront represented outside-of-the-box thinking, but does allegedly outside-of-the-box scheduling suddenly make inside-the-box programming seem more adventurous?

Not to my mind.

Check out NBC's three-tiered schedule over at Zap2it. It's too hard for me to feel like taking it night-by-night, but if you follow through after the bump, I'll go into a bit more depth on a few things.

Click through...

So yeah. NBC's outside-the-box programming includes a modern take on the King David story ("Kings"), an updated telling of the Camelot myth ("Merlin"), a revamped version of "Robinson Crusoe" ("Crusoe"), a fresh Jekyll-n-Hyde story ("My Own Worst Enemy"), a remake of "Knight Rider" that we already know sucks, a remake of an Australian comedy ("Kath & Kim"), a spin-off of an existing show ("The Office Spin-Off") and if "The Philanthropist" isn't "Brewster's Millions" meets "Batman" without the humor or the rubber suit, I don't know what it is.

My colleague Rick challenged my accusations of lack-of-originality by asking me what the truly original shows on TV are ("Pushing Daisies" and then... umm...). It isn't bad that so many of NBC's programs are rehashs. What's bad is that they're hyperliteral rehashes. There's the pitch where you say "It's *like* a hip retelling of..." and then there's the pitch where you say "It *is* a hip retelling of..." NBC has too many of the latter this season, while last season -- the last of Kevin Reilly's seasons at the helm -- had more of the former. I mean, "Chuck" is like a lot of stuff, but it isn't just a remake of the British format "Nigel."

[Incidentally, if anybody out there wants to work with me on "Nigel," the Britishification of "Chuck," I think it's a marketable idea.]

Everybody seems to agree that the best thing NBC did -- "best" for those of us who care about such things -- was bringing back "Friday Night Lights." I couldn't be more skeptical. For one thing, "FNL" is definitely reaching that "Veronica Mars: Season Three" point at which the hints of the show I once loved are tempered by the scars of corporate meddling and creative anemia. There's something to be said for a show leaving on top and "FNL" could have done that last year. Now? Not so much.

But even if you accept that renewing "FNL" is Silverman's gift to the TV critics, a way to avoid criticism for everything else he'll inevitably be criticized for, the actual mechanism of its return is dreadful. New episodes will begin airing on DirecTV in October, but DirecTV's exclusive window on the 13 episode third season will last until early 2009, an exclusivity that includes both and Hulu. There aren't many "FNL" fans, but the fans there are are mighty dedicated. A few may even switch over to DirecTV to follow the show, though that seems like a really big commitment for 13 hours of programming. I thought about swapping to DirecTV last spring for the MLB Extra Innings package, but I decided that even for 162 Red Sox games, that was a lot of trouble. But for 13 hours? Not a chance. Now I'm not going to advocate digital piracy, but the episodes are going to make their way online somehow and what are the odds that tried-and-true "FNL" fans are going to say "Well, I'll just wait three months," knowing that the episodes are out there in the ether? I'm gonna go with "low." Then the show will return to NBC, it'll get plunked in the same Friday night slot that didn't really work this year (albeit after actual football season is mostly over, which could be beneficial) and nobody will watch. I wonder how many people currently subscribing to DirecTV are "FNL" fans, because those dozen people are the only real beneficiaries. NBC knows this, but it's all about finding different ways to manage failure.

I mean, "Knight Rider" is doomed. It was awful as a backdoor pilot and despite relentless promotion, its initial sample audience was smaller than the premiere crowd for "Bionic Woman." Now "Bionic Woman" wasn't much, but it was several steps above "Knight Rider" in terms of quality. But "Knight Rider" is so totally leveraged as a Ford commercial that it probably doesn't matter to NBC what the ratings look like. I guess NBC must get extra commercial dollars for airing encores of "Knight Rider" on Saturday nights. Since the entire show is one big commercial, I wonder if NBC intends to use that Nielsen loophole where they can add the audiences from two different airings together if the commercial spots are identical? Either way, NBC's fall Wednesdays, with "Knight Rider," "Deal or No Deal" and then "Lipstick Jungle" look disastrous.

NBC is just in an unfortunate position of having virtually no cushioned time periods. They thought "Heroes" was a cushioned time period last year and then "Journeyman" tanked.

Poor "Journeyman." At least it had a surprisingly satisfying fall finale. Meanwhile, I'm glad to have "Life" back, even if NBC is pushing it into the corner known as 10 p.m. on Fridays. That's a slot that practically screams "Quick cancellation and then 'Dateline,'" except that several NBC bigwigs have been quoted as saying that time slots may not be set in stone for individual programs, but they're committed to the genres.

I guess I'm glad that most of the things I watch on NBC staying stable. The Thursday comedies aren't going anywhere. They don't get ratings and NBC is well accustomed to that. "Heroes" isn't going anywhere, though another slow start like this season's and I might lose interest fast. It would be good if NBC could find some way to tease up interest in "Chuck" during the summer, rather than just assuming that the audience will remember to come back in the fall after nine months away. You can't count on viewers doing anything by force-of-habit after only 13 episodes.

Stupid me for asking this, but why was NBC in such a rush to announce this schedule? If they think that this is their best proof that they've figured out a way around traditional scheduling and development models... Well, consider me skeptical.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"American Idol" 04/01: Beg Your Parton

Wednesday (April 1) night is Dolly Parton Night on American Idol, with Dolly serving as guest mentor, which will force surly judge Simon Cowell to balance his hatred of country music with his love of kissing up to celebrity visitors. As for me? I suspect the entire show will feel like an hour-long April Fool's joke (though hopefully less lame than the one Ryan Seacrest uses to start the show)...

Song: "Jolene"
My Take: Even Dolly can't deny the honesty of America's Nanny. Strumming the guitar, Brooke doesn't stray very far from the original melody and arrangement of what is -- if I were forced to list such things -- probably my favorite Parton song. I'm not sure she exactly gets the song's tone of melodic regret and pleading -- ain't nobody capable of stealin' Brooke White's man, no suh -- but it's simple and not-unpleasant. One of these weeks, Brooke's going to have to put just a little bit more out there vocally.
Hoss, Little Joe and Simon Say: Randy thinks she could make an album like this, but despite pitch and pacing problems, it was only aight for him. Brooke thanks him sincerely. Paula thinks Brooke has an emotional connection with every song she picks. Brooke sends her a very sweet "Thank you" note and the two women proceed to rave about each other's hair. Simon goes back to the evergreen "busking" analogy, saying he didn't see any connection. Brooke sends him a muffin basket to show there are no hard feelings.

Song: "Little Sparrow"
My Take: The producers of American Idol should be embarrassed by how they're letting random websites spell out the terms of a half-hearted controversy about David "The Leader" Cook's borrowing of different arrangements. This is a competition for cover artists and 99 percent of the performances on the show are borrowed from somebody or another. Yes, the artists behind the arrangements should be credited, probably, just so that they can get some benefit, but regardless of what Chris Cornell thinks, he couldn't have gotten any more credit last week than he did. Nobody else is being forced to bend over backward like he is, so David's making a special point of emphasizing that this week's version is all him. Well, mostly it's Dolly, actually. David thinks a bit more of his falsetto than I do, resorting too much to pushing high notes that, by the last one, betray him completely. Still, he makes the song sound contemporary and masculine, which is admirable.
Hoss, Little Joe and Simon Say: You know what Randy loves? He loves David's range. You know what Paula loves? David's haircut. They both rave about his "false," which means they need to listen to the last one on replay. We know that Simon has problems with songs about birds, but even he's enthusiastic.

Song: "Do I Every Cross Your Mind"
My Take: Oh, Little Ramiele. You've got so much spunk, but why can't you choose a song that fits your voice properly? By the half-way point this jaunty track gets close, but for the first 30 seconds or so, she's mumbling notes that are much too low for her to enunciate. And that's a third of the song. Do we forget about that just because she sounds fine by the end? I don't. I defy anybody to tell me what this song is about or what its tone is based on Ramiele's performance.
Hoss, Little Joe and Simon Say: Check it out! Randy isn't jumping up and down, but he isn't mad at her either, giving her a 6.5/10. Paula's proud and thinks it was a great minute-and-thirty-seconds. Simon speculates we won't remember this in 10 years.

Song: "Travelin' Thru"
My Take: Way to go, Jason! I wouldn't necessarily have thought the theme song from a movie about a transgender parent's pre-surgery odyssey could be transformed into something perfect for the next Muppet movie, but there it is. Did the band start out too fast or did Jason on his guitar? There's what seems to be a dramatic tempo swap early on, but maybe that's part of the song? I'm grading Clifford the Muppet on a curve this week because he's been so very, very bad the past two weeks. This week, he's less bad, though the funny faces are still there in spades.
Hoss, Little Joe and Simon Say: Randy figures that by the end of the song Jason worked it out. It was one of Jason's strongest performances for Paula. Simon jeopardizes his season pass to Dollywood by criticizing both the song and performance.

But what about the rest of the performances?

Check out the full recap over at Zap2it's It Happened Last Night...