Thursday, May 22, 2008

American Idol: Can I Have My Life Back Now?

All year long, they’ve been saying that this is the Best. Talent. Ever.—and last night, I thought maybe they had a point. That duet between Carly Smithson and Michael Johns was all kinds of awesome and my boo Jason Castro totally nailed Hallelujah.
As for David Cook’s big win? I thought he deserved it. I don’t like his taste in music (Our Lady Peace? Collective Soul? Really, David Cook? Really?) But he has a good voice and a pleasant way about him and the other contestants seem to really love him (in fact, he and Michael Johns should totally get a room.)
Of course, I don’t buy for a second that Cook’s a “rocker” Please, he’s only a rocker when compared to David Archuleta, who is about as harmless as a kitten holding a baby chick sipping a Shirley Temple. But I liked that Cook took l’il David under his wing—I got a real Courtship of Eddie’s Father vibe from the two of them. (Come to think of it, can David Cook actually adopt David Archuleta? Because getting that child away from his creepy dad would be a real happy ending.) Also, I cried when David Cook’s brother looked into the camera and said, “That’s my brother!” Call me sentimental.

Question: Was George Michael’s halting, haunted performance brilliant or weird, or both?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gossip Girl: I'm sorta into it

Tonight is the season finale of Gossip Girl and I gotta say, I’m sorta into it.

Admittedly, I was late to jump on the Gossip Girl bandwagon. It’s not that I have anything against teen dramas—hell, My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer rank among my all-time favorite shows. But I don’t like lazily written teen soaps with an interchangeable cast of blandly attractive actors (this means you, Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, and One Tree Hill).

Still, I should have been more optimistic. After all, Gossip Girl is helmed by O.C. wunderkind Josh Schwartz and, while I never became a full blown devotee of The O.C., that show did seem to have a brain in its head—not to mention a kickass soundtrack.

In the end, it was an article in New York magazine that compelled me to take a look at the series. New York magazine is one of my bibles—if they say Gossip Girl is the “Best. Show. Ever.” who am I to argue?

So I began to watch.

For those who don’t know, Gossip Girl is about the lives of prep school brats on the Upper East Side and is based on the wildly popular book series of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar (is that her real name? If so, awesome.)

The best thing about the show is the fabulously bitchy voiceover narration by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell. I sometimes wish the show was actually as arch and insinuating as the narrator—but it comes close.

The rest of the casting is a mixed bag—a slightly too homogenously gorgeous white bunch in the classic teen soap mold—with two clear standouts.

The first is Leighton Meester who plays vulnerable mean girl Blair Waldorf. Not only is this girl a real beauty—she looks like a young, brunette Julianne Moore—but she can expertly handle both sides of Blair’s persona—the pouty goody-two-shoes/daddy’s little girl who gets thrown off course when daddy flees for France with his (male) lover, as well as the fabulously calculating queen bee of the prep school, all too aware of the precarious nature of her status. I recently saw Leighton on the Conan O’Brien show and I was amazed to see that she was kind of giggly and girlish and spazzy. On the show, she’s a world-class scene stealer.

The other standout is British import Ed Westwick who plays unrepentant bad boy billionaire Chuck Bass as though he studied at the knee of James Spader, circa his Pretty in Pink days. With his permanent sneer and narrow, suspicious eyes, this actor was born to play loche. (He can best be described as a cross between Joaquin Phoenix, Jimmy Fallon and Diablo, himself.) The wardrobe department—which is fabulous, series-wide—has outdone itself with the dandy-ish Chuck. He wears all sorts of gaudy/preppie togs: bright orange trench coats, hot pink and green argyle sweaters, and scarves—lots and lots of scarves. I was all for a pairing of Chuck and Blair (while on a break from good boy Nate she lost her virginity to Chuck in the back of a limo) until he told her that she was like an old Arabian—“rode hard and put away wet.” His misogyny makes him a touch hard to root for as a romantic lead.

While Blair may have the most screen time, the technical lead of the show is Serena van der Woodsen, played by Blake Lively. The young actress has the sun-kissed looks of a jetsetting Upper East side goddess, but she has the gravelly voice and blowsy cadence of a 45-year-old housewife from Boca—it’s a bit disconcerting. The actress is quite good, but she suffers when compared to Leighton, the show’s breakout star.

Her boyfriend Dan, a scholarship student who lives with his aging rock star dad and kid sis in an overly romanticized Brooklyn loft, is played by Penn Badgley (in a CW meets the real world touch, he dates Blake Lively in real life, too.) He’s a motor-mouthed, self-deprecating brain, a la Seth Cohen from The O.C. However, unlike Adam Brody—who was brilliantly neurotic in his depiction of Seth—Badgley’s Dan never sweats. He’s far too much the alpha teen; you don’t buy him for a second as the outsider.

Next we have gorgeous Chace Crawford as the aforementioned Nate. I vastly preferred his hair in the series premiere—slightly tousled, in that casual WASP way—to the David-Cook-style emo cut he’s rocking today. Not only does it give the impression that he’s losing his hair—he’s not— it’s just not that character appropriate. Then again, what character? Nate is the least developed of the young leads—he’s decent and kind of sad (hence the emo cut?) and he can’t make up his mind between Serena or Blair and Dartmouth or UC Berkley. Also, his dad’s a creep.

Yes, there are grownups, too. The best is Margaret Colin who plays Blair’s insecure fashion designer mom—pretty much the poster mom for creating a teenage bulimic (which Blair is.) Then there’s Matthew Settle as Rufus, Dan’s boringly sensitive rocker dad, and the remote Kelly Rutherford (did they cast these people for their gloriously waspy names?) as Blair’s brittle mum Lily.

Rounding out the cast, we have the CW’s idea of a bohemian (we know she’s a bohemian because she works at a coffee house and wears oversized earrings), Vanessa (Jessica Szohr), who secretly pines for Dan; Taylor Momsen as Dan’s social climbing little sis Jen; and much-needed new blood Michelle Trachtenberg as Georgina, Serena’s sworn frenemy (we know she's bad because she wears giant black sunglasses and lots of dark eyeliner).

So yeah, I like the show, despite its flaws. I wish there was more diversity among the cast—not necessarily ethnic diversity, although that would be nice. But there are more subtle character distinctions at a prep school than the haves and the have-nots. Why can’t there be a Julian Casablancas style trust fund rocker in the group? Or someone sporting the Mary Kate Olsen style billionaire homeless look? Or a hip-hop obsessed teen club impresario? That being said, Gossip Girl seems more relevant than any other show on TV. The characters text message and shop at Bendels and hangout at various real-life New York hotspots like Bungalow 8. They also make pop culture references: “Now you know how Katie Holmes feels” one character sympathizes when Jen finds out that her boyfriend is gay. (Zing!). The show is almost, dare I say, as fabulous as it tries to be.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Eye Candy: The ANTM finale recap

I can be a supermodel! I can be a supermodel!

Okay, not me. But certainly there’s some normal-sized girl in Sheboygan right now, running around her room, doing the high fashion back arch.

And we have Tyra Banks to thank.

First off, I need to give credit where credit is due. In a season where I accused the producers of totally phoning it in (and possibly even rigging the darn thing), I was genuinely shocked (and thrilled) by last night’s outcome.

I actually wrote in my notes that Anya was getting the “winner’s edit.”
How many times did we have to see Anya, facing the camera, teary-eyed, gushing that this was her dream? Plus, the Cover Girl representative seemed all up in her bidness. (In a gay man admiring a model sort of way, natch.)

Fatima was getting a similar edit. Overcoming tragedy? Check. Wanting it so badly she could just about BURST? Check. Having been Tyra’s pet the entire competition? Check.

And then there’s Whitney. Undaunted. Unflappable. And therefore, not great reality TV material. (Sure, she wants it. But she’s not going to go all Tammy Faye Baker on us to get it).

So the question: How exactly did Whitney pull off the big win?

Did Tyra love her all along and was just pretending that she didn’t? (oooooh, deceptive!) Did she genuinely think that Whitney won the final round of challenges? (A possibility.) Or had she ear-marked a plus-sized model for the win all along and was going to get that result, never mind the details.

Whatever the case, they fooled me. Whitney was NEVER given the winner’s edit. She was too pageanty, she was too fake, she was too cold.
It was Miss J who posited that, as a plus size girl, Whitney’s had to endure hardship and put up a shield her entire life.
But it was Tyra who rebutted (accurately), “What hardship? When she walks down the street, people see hot chick, not plus sized!”
Preach it, Tyra.

Still, just because Whitney wasn’t a simpering blob of insecurity, that didn’t mean she was cold. Only on reality TV is self-possession and confidence perceived as a character flaw.

Once on the runway—and didn’t you just love how Tyra was rocking the Donatella Versace/Miss Piggy hair?—Whitney really strut her stuff. Girl took Mr. Jay’s advice and “stomped it to death!” (By the way, did my eyes deceive me, or was that Cycle 9 fave Jenah walking along with Saleisha and the girls? Need to go back and recheck the tape).
Anya did kind of fade into the woodwork. Still, the numbers don’t lie.
“I’ve been on the chopping block five times,” said Whitney. “Anya has never been on the chopping block.”
What’s more, Anya won, like, every single challenge (at least it seemed that way).

Which is why, even though I saw with my own eyes that Whitney had the better Cover Girl shoot and did better on the runway, I just didn’t believe it.

So when Tyra turned over Whitney’s picture, I was stunned. I did the happy dance. Dag. I haven’t done the happy dance since Danielle won four cycles ago!

Poor Anya. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Oh well. I’m sure Anya will get work as a model. Most of the photographers seemed to love her (I’m talking to you, pervy Nigel).

Meanwhile, I’m going to go celebrate Whitney's win with a donut. Fat is the new thin, bitches!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Face Master!: The ANTM recap

America’s Next Top Model fans are a gullible lot.

I say this because much of the talk surrounding American Idol this season has been about conspiracy theories: pimp spots, the chosen ones, and the somewhat awkward fact that Paula critiqued one of Jason Castro’s performances BEFORE IT OCCURRED. On that show, the audiences are painfully aware of the powers that be and their various machinations to ensure a desired final two.

But on America’s Next Top Model, why does it never occur to us that Tyra actually wields more power than Simon and co. combined? At least on American Idol, we see the performances. We can decide for ourselves if we think a performance was “atrocious” or “all the colors of the rainbow” or if somebody did, indeed, “totally work it out, dawg.”

On the other hand, on ANTM, we never see the contact sheet! (The smoking contact sheet? The grassy lens?) Tyra picks the supposed “best shot” and we all take it on good faith that she chose well.
But maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t pick the best shot. Maybe she simply picks the best shot to suit her nefarious needs!
Dun-dun-dunnn. . .
(Sorry. This is a lot more thinking than any fan of ANTM should ever be required to do.)

Anyway, this is in no way meant to suggest that I’m disappointed that Dominique got the boot. Heck, I wanted her gone on week one. But isn’t it possible—indeed, likely—that Tyra chose a particularly "bad Marlene Dietrich drag act" photograph of our estrogen-challenged contestant because it was her time to go?

That being said, Whitney should start packing her bags for next week. I’m glad that the “plus-sized” bombshell made it this far—I simply find her the most amusing and likeable of the bunch. But clearly, Tyra is gunning for an Anya/Fatima finale. At that point, I’m not sure who’s going to win. Anya has been a front-runner from virtually the start. But I think the whole panel has a jones for Fatima’s face.

A few more thoughts on tonite’s episode:

Amazing to see Paulina school these girls on how a real model works, even if Dom did give her a bad case of cactus head.

Nigel was looking particularly yummy in his cute little photographer get-up, wasn’t he?

Tyra finally admitted that she can sometimes look like Tyrone. Har.

Quote of the night:
“They call it Cover Girl because it covers the man in you.”
Ahh, Miss J.

Quote of the night 2:
Tyra, to Dom upon her elimination: “You’ve got to master this face!”
Hell, I think the girl already has mastered her face. She’s like Siegfried and her face is a tiger. She’s like Emeril and her face is a souffle. She should put out face work-out tapes: Face of Steel. FaceMaster Plus.
I mean, how much more mastering can the girl do? She actually made it to the final four with that face! I bow down to Dom's face mastering skills.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Walk Like An Egyptian: The ANTM recap

Oh noes! My two favorite girls in the bottom two. This simply CAN NOT end well.

And . . .it doesn’t.

Poor Kat. She finally wins CGoTW and look what happens to her. She ends up on the wrong end of a Polish joke.
And here’s the worst part: She just might have deserved it.

Say what you will about Dominique. And here a few things you may say . . .
She looks older than Rue McClanahan.
She looks manlier than The Rock.
She shops at the Hot Tranny Mess superstore.
She gets her hair styled at the Hair Butchery.

But she took a helluva picture last night. She finds her angles—maybe just a single angle? I mean, how many good angles can this girl have?—and she works it. When her picture came up at judging, I thought, Rut-ro.
I had done the math: Fatima rocked her photo shoot. Anya rocked her photo shoot. Now we knew that Dominique, God help us, rocked her photo shoot. Who didn’t rock their photo shoots? Whitney (“Go the Light”) and Kat (“Walk Like an Egyptian.”)

God, how I wished that Fatima had been the one to screw up. Ever since the big blank picture reveal two weeks ago, she’s had this giant chip on her shoulder. I mean, who can blame her? She didn’t just beat poor Stacy Ann with one hand tied behind her back. She beat Stacy Ann without even showing up for the game! That’s got to give a girl a little swagger. However, on Fatima, the swagger is really annoying. The more confident she gets, the less I like her. So much for the restorative powers of self-esteem.

As for the rest of the show, a few random thoughts:

It was funny that the girls were asked to be “fierce” during Gladiator training. This may be the first time on the show that the word was used in its proper context.

I loved when Whitney described Dominique as “a face that’s Gladiatrix and a body that’s posing.” Is that the new “head for business, body for sin?” I approve.

What was up with Mr. Jay and Tyra in confessional? When she slid down, Jay looked petrified.

I can’t wait to watch Farmer Wants a Wife!*

Nigel was uncharacteristically gabby at panel last night.

And Tyra brought out the random, Britney-Spears-right-before-being-committed accents again. I’m concerned.

As for Kat . . .does she take any comfort in knowing that she’s drop dead gorgeous? And that Tyra said she has “it”? (Wait. If she has “it” why isn’t she still in the damn competition?). Also, can I borrow her boots?

* Just kidding.