Friday, July 27, 2012

Why The Glee Project is Better Than Glee

Here’s a curious paradox: I stopped watching Glee some time in the middle of last season—it felt tedious and repetitive, not to mention insufferably impressed with itself—whereas I never miss a single episode of The Glee Project. And yet, The Glee Project wouldn’t exist without Glee. (It’s a talent competition where the prize is a recurring role on the Fox hit). It’s a case of the farm team being a lot better than the big league club it feeds into.

So what makes The Glee Project so great? Well, in many ways (with one major caveat, that I’ll get to later), it cleaves to the very values that once made Glee itself so easy to root for. The young cast don’t look like any other cast on TV: The show is all-inclusive. Last year, the show featured both a body-builder boy who was under 5 feet tall and a cross-dressing black boy. This year, we’ve had a blind boy, a boy with Aspergers, a transgendered boy, a sexually confused Asian kid, a flirty girl from a strict Muslim family, an overweight (but fierce) girl, and a girl in a wheelchair. That has to be the most diverse cast on TV. These kids are all remarkably talented, but a lot of them wouldn't have the chance to strut their stuff on a more traditionally-minded show.  

The other thing that distinguishes the show is the group of grownup mentors, all actual members of the Glee creative team, who seem to genuinely care about their young charges. In particular, sweetie-pie choreographer Zach Woodlee manages to tear up whenever the kids do well (and the camera loves him for it). Casting director and host Robert Urich announces the news of the weekly cuts as if delivering a eulogy. Vocal coach Nikki Anders is probably the toughest of the bunch—I’d vote her Most Likely to Make One of the Glee Kids Cry—but hers is definitely a form of tough love. Then there’s Glee creator Ryan Murphy, who emerges at the end of the show to declare his verdict on the so-called Last Chance performances. He give us a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a showrunner, talking about who he can visualize on the show and who he can’t, who he’s inspired to write for and who leaves him cold, and who he thinks the audience at home will root for. We’ve rarely gotten such an intimate look at the casting process. 

The format for each episode is exactly the same and I find it weirdly comforting. First, Urich comes out and tells the kids what this week’s topic is—tenacity, sexuality, vulnerability etc.—and then gives them a song that corresponds with the topic. The kids split up the vocal parts, come up with some makeshift choreography, and perform for a surprise mentor from the cast of Glee. (In a sign that the show got bigger this year—Lea Michele was one of this season’s mentors.)
Then a new song is assigned, followed by choreography with Zach and vocals with Nikki, all leading up to a video shoot. Then, the bottom 3 are called back for Last Chance Performances. And finally, someone is cut. 

The final scene is always the bottom 3 walking somberly to the call-back sheet—then it’s a bit of a guessing game for the viewers at home to read their faces and try to figure out who got the boot. (Off topic: An interesting human tic on display: Every single contestant looks down first before reading the call-back sheet.) The whole process is strangely addictive.

What makes the show soar is certainly the talent on display—last week, big girl Lila Mae gave a balls-to-the-wall performance of “I’m the Greatest Star” from Funny Girl—and if you’re not rooting for the spunky Ali, who has been in a wheelchair since she was 2, you have no heart. (It's worth noting that Artie, the New Directions member in a wheelchair, is played by actor Kevin McHale, who has no physical challenges.) But I also like the fact that the show plays a bit like the “It Gets Better” campaign come to life (even more so than Glee itself). Two weeks ago, Abraham, who was raised by two lesbians and considers himself straight, struggled with being called androgynous and all that it implies. Muslim Aylin worries that her parents will see her kiss boys. Charlie, who has mild Aspergers, is a major talent with a tendency to lose focus. These kids are struggling with real issues of identity, their place in the world, and self, all while competing on a nationally televised talent search. 

There is one big "but" that I must add: Last year, despite an eclectic crew, the winners were two handsome white males.
This year, many of the aforementioned non-cookie-cutter contestants have already been axed—first we lost the transgendered boy, then the blind boy, then the kid with Aspergers and, last week, Abraham was jettisoned.
Among the remaining cast, we still have a “crack baby” (her name is Shanna and man can she belt it out), plus Lila Mae, Aylin and Ali.
We also have two very handsome boys, one, in particular, named Blake, who looks like he just stepped off the set of any CW show. Blake is a real talent, but not, I think, in keeping with the spirit of The Glee Project (or even the show Glee). 

If Blake—or the studly Michael, whose claim to uniqueness is that he likes math—wins the show, I call bullshit. Last year, they played lip service to true diversity. Let’s see if this year they have the strength of their much ballyhooed convictions.

The Glee Project airs on the Oxygen network, Tuesdays at 10 pm.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Love Means Never Having to Say You're Arie: The Bachelorette Finale recap

Still Life With Confused Bachelorette

Arie or Jef? Jef or Arie?

Emily has already thrown out the guy she wants to date (Sean) and has narrowed it down the guy she wants to, er, have carnal knowledge of (Arie) and the one she wants marry (Jef).
But WHO will she choose??

Luckily for her, Emily’s family is ready to step up to the plate by expressing a clear and decisive preference. Or not. 

Basically, the whole family was crushing hard on Jef—and his Dudley-Do-Right manners and soothing voice and “edgy Mormon” (oxymoron alert!) ways.
“I don’t even know why we’re going through the action of even seeing someone else today,” Emily’s father sniffed, before Arie’s visit.
But then Arie showed up—looking like sex on a stick, babbling nervously (which Emily’s brother took for conversational “smoothness”) and wielding that adorable box of crumpled roses—and they were all SO CONFUSED.
“After talking to Arie, I’m confused,” said Emily’s dad.

Totally useless

So thanks  for that.

Emily staggered away from family day in a tailspin, literally wailing in agony, Nancy Kerrigan style.
Why? Why? Why can’t she have two nice things?

If Bill Paxton can do it, why can't I?

But a key issue emerged here—an issue perhaps more important than love or sex or “Little Ricki” ("babalu!"): Emily doesn’t want to be the “girl who gets engaged 15 times.”
First of all, is there a girl who gets engaged 15 times? Because I’ve never heard of her. And if she exists, she’s a rarity, not a cautionary cliche.
Second of all, if you’re trying to avoid the hasty, irresponsible, more-likely-to-fail-than-a-Paul-Reiser-sitcom engagement, maybe being The Bachelorette is not the wisest choice.

That being said, Emily kept using a curious word to describe her choice of Jef: "confident." She said she had more “confidence” in him. Not that she loved him more, or thought that he was hotter, smarter, or better husband material than Arie. Just that she had more confidence that they would stay together in the long haul.
In other words, Jef is the less risky proposition. 


On the other hand, maybe it was simply a matter of good timing.  Maybe if Arie had gone first—maybe if it had been Arie angling for private time with Ricki, Arie frolicking with Ricki by the pool—he’d be the big winner and Jef would be the one doing a drive-by journal drop on Emily’s doorstep. Hard to say.

An aside: I understand that Emily is protective of Ricki—I even admire it. But it really is okay to introduce your child to people they may only meet once. It’s not like Ricki’s world was going to be irrevocably rocked and ruined because she met Arie one time and he abandoned her. (By that logic, she should avoid all waiters, busboys, and lifeguards in Curacao—because what if Ricki gets dangerously attached to any of them?) I dunno. Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, once Emily had made up her mind that Jef was the one for her, she did the right thing—a thing I’m surprised more Bachelorettes don’t do, considering the humiliation factor of getting down on one knee to a woman who’s about to reject you (yeah, I’m givin' you the stinkeye, Ashley)—she decided to break up with Arie. 

But first she shared her feelings with Chris Harrison in a little portion of the show I like to call “filler.” (But wouldn’t it have been funny if she’d introduced Chris Harrison to Ricki?).

Chris Harrison's "concerned" face

What followed had to be the most painful breakup in the history of reality TV, right? I mean, I’ve had personal breakups that were less painful.
There was Arie, all happy-go-lucky and making his stupid little love potion with that weird shaman lady and going on and on about how in love he was and how he couldn’t wait to get married and start his new life with Emily and Ricki. 

“That moment when Emily looks in my eyes and she can express how she feels is going to be so good,” he says. “To hear the words is going to be amazing. 

Ahhhhh, can’t look! But MUST!

So then Emily comes, and she’s crying and he’s consoling her—not for a second possibly thinking she could be crying because she’s about to dump his ass—and then the rug totally gets pulled out from under him. 

Denial is a fascinating thing, huh?
In this case, the depths of Arie’s denial were pretty intense.
Not only was he in denial that Emily was breaking up with him. He was in denial over the reason why.  As we find out in the most dramatic After the Final Rose evah (!!!), it didn’t even occur to Arie that Emily was dumping him because she had chosen Jef! (Gee Arie, you’re on a reality show where a woman has to pick among suitors. She's narrowed it down to two. She dumps you. Do the math. On Jef’s behalf, I’m slightly insulted that he was so gobsmacked by this concept.)

So there’s some slight suspense about whether or not Emily will accept Jef’s proposal—she does, after all, not want to become yet another engaged-15-times statistic—but Jef looks so cute in his little hipster engagement suit and that rock is blingtastic and he says some pretty words (that he may not have stolen this time from the Book of Mormon) so she says yes.
“Passions” will have to be bridled no longer, bitches!

A dress that refuses to be shown up by a 4-carat ring

Seriously, does Emily even know that Jef’s a Mormon? Isn't that a conversation that maybe they should’ve had—right between “role playing with marionettes is fun!” and “you get me like no one else”?
Because Mormonism is a pretty "big deal." And he’s obviously not like some fallen, half-assing-it Mormon—he’s a quoting the Book of Mormon, going on Mormon retreats to Africa kind of Mormon.
But I’m sure it’ll all work out fine.
Because denial is awesome. And Jef and Emily are pretty. And la, la, la, I can’t hear you. They live happily ever after.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hugh've Been Snubbed

Steve Nash is a great basketball player. I don't mean to take anything away from the guy. But in the years that Nash won his MVP (2005 and 2006), it was widely acknowledged that Kobe Bryant was the best basketball player on the planet. As such, the award will always be seen as a glitch, a failure of the system in some way. An oversight.

Such it is, I think, with Hugh Laurie's missing Emmy for House.

This is on my mind, obviously, because the Emmy nominations were announced yesterday and, for the first time in six years, Laurie wasn't among them. I don't think he necessarily deserved one for Season 8—it was, at best, a lazy, disjointed season of House (one sensed that everyone involved had a foot out of the door) and, at worst (as when the character House made crude comments to a woman getting a breast exam) it was downright offensive.

But with House, Hugh Laurie has created one of the most compelling, funny, sexy, dark, and indelible characters in the history of television.

In this analogy, Laurie is Kobe and, alas, James Spader is Steve Nash. It's not that Spader, who won the Emmy in 2005 and 2007, when Hugh Laurie was doing some of his best work, is not a good actor. Of course he is. But his Alan Shore (who?) was hardly an iconic character. He did not create a global phenomenon through the sheer force of his charisma and talent. And 10 years from now, who the hell will even remember The Practice? (Hell, I forgot it halfway through that sentence.)

It's almost impossible to quantify the brilliance of Laurie in House. There are the technical difficulties, of course—the limp, the pitch-perfect American accent. But mostly there is the incredible richness and complexity of the character. A less confident actor might've tried to soften some of the more unsavory aspects of House's personality. But Laurie trusted his audience, trusted his own abilities to allow House's humanity to shine through despite his seeming misanthropy. (Can any actor convey more longing and hurt with a single glance?)

This is all the more remarkable when you look at Hugh Laurie's body of work. The day I realized that the brooding, darkly hilarious House was Stuart Little's dorky, knock-kneed dad, well—suffice it to say, if I'd been drinking, a massive spit-take would've occurred.

No, just because Hugh Laurie—who became famous in his native England for, among other things, doing pun-filled sketch comedy with his partner Stephen Fry and for playing a lovable buffoon in the BBC's Jeeves and Wooster—has amazing powers of transformation, that doesn't mean he deserved the Emmy. But it's a testament to what a brilliant actor he is—to his uncanny ability to lose himself completely in a role. (Even Laurie's voice was different when he played House—it was growlier, deeper than his plummy British tones).

Anyway, I'm sad that Hugh Laurie never won his deserved Emmy for House (but certainly glad he racked up all those Golden Globes and SAGs) and I'll miss him more than I can say on my TV screen every week. But history will remember the remarkable character he created. And that's his greatest reward.

In the meantime, I'm catching Hugh Laurie and his Copper Bottom Band at Ram's Head Live! in Annapolis in September. Among all his other gifts (did I mention that he's a director and a talented novelist, too?) the guy is an absolute killer blues musician. Maybe a Grammy is in his future?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

All Emily, All the Time: The Bachelorette recap

10 minutes later, they were tragically killed by that boat

The show starts with Emily on the beach in Curacao, writing in the sand, about to reveal the name of her one true love:


Perhaps the most honest show-opening ever.

But then, she writes a coy little + ? and just at the moment, the tide washes ashore and dramatically erases the question mark.
Now maybe this was just some nifty editing, but it seemed seamless, so I have this vision of a team of marine biologists, meteorologists, and cameramen yelling, “NOW! NOW! NOW! IT'S GO TIME!” as Emily crouches in the sand and does her handiwork.

It’s the final three dates, which usually means “Fantasy suites” (boom chicka wah wahhh), but in Emily’s case means “Chastity suites” (sad trombone).

She starts things out with hunky banana Sean and he’s as yellow and shiny and “is that hair or his scalp?”-y as ever. I worry very much that he will burn to a crisp in the sun and we’ll end up with Bananas FlambĂ©. 

"Let's add sun screen to our wedding registry"

So Sean has yet to tell Emily he loves her. He’s waiting for the “right time.”
And here’s the thing with these two crazy kids: There’s only one person on this show (and possibly this planet) as passive aggressive as Emily, and that’s Sean.

He’s not going to tell Emily he loves her until he’s darn ready. And she’s not going to even LET HIM get down on one knee until he officially declares his undying love.

“I’m crazy about you,” Sean says.
Not good enough, blondie.
“I’ve never had these feelings before”
Nice try, lemonhead.
“I want to spend my life with you.”
You wish, mellow yellow.

And finally, after a day of helicopter rides and private beaches and awkward lick-kisses, he says it:
“I love you, Emily.”
At which point, she doesn’t so much celebrate as gloat.

Later, Sean reads Emily a letter that he wrote for Ricki. (This now officially qualifies as the first-ever epistolary season of The Bachelorette.)

Fantasy suite time.  Strangely enough, Sean seems eager to go to the fantasy suite—“to talk” (because who wouldn’t fantasize about conversatin’ with Emily!). And Emily seems eager to accompany him.
Then, somehow, something gets lost in translation and she’s kicking Sean back to his room. I guess they realized that after discussing how NOT STRAINED AND AWKWARD things are between them, they didn’t have much else to talk about.

“No doubt about it, I’m going to marry that girl,” Sean says.
Change the word “that” to “a” in that sentence and it will be accurate. (Okay, that was mean.)

Now it’s Jef’s turn.
Jef just keeps marveling over how crazy it is that Emily “gets” him so well and he “gets” her. (Because they’re such complicated people—they’re like the Pythagorean theorem of date-show contestants.)
“I’ve never met two people who were more perfect for each other,” Jef says. (Except perhaps for Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian.)

Jef has a nice body by "human" standards, but not by "Bachelor" standards (Just sayin')

Jef, very much to his credit, is the first to be concerned over the fact that he’s never met Ricki.
But Emily kind of brushes that aside like, “It ain’t no thang. Ricki likes what I like—boyz!!”

Then Emily asks Jef to the fantasy suite and she is DENIED.

“I plan on spending every night with you in our own little fantasy suite,” says Jef. (Chivalrous, Mormon, or gay? Discuss among yourselves.)

“I wanted to turn him down. But he kinda turned me down,” says Emily.
What’s all this “kinda” stuff about?
In an unrelated note: I love Jef’s voice, don’t you? It’s so soothing. I just want him to read the “Book of Mormon” to me as I fall asleep at night. (By the way, complete conjecture on this Mormon thing. But it seems a bit more plausible than “member of a goat slaughtering cult.”)

Finally Arie’s date.
It’s hard to really describe this date, because so little talking happens on it. (Emily totally needs a bumper sticker that reads: “I’d Rather Be Making Out With Arie.”)

They meet on the dock. They kiss.
They go on the boat. They kiss.
They take a step forward. They kiss.
They stand still. They kiss.
They notice something in the distance. They kiss.
They notice nothing in the distance. They kiss.
Well, you get the point.  . . 

Nom nom nom!

In fact, Emily is so hot for Arie, she won’t even mention the fantasy suite to him. She’s like, “La, la, la, the fantasy suite doesn’t exist” with her fingers in her ears.

“I don’t trust myself,” she admits. “I won’t let myself go there. But good lord, he’s hot.”
(No arguments here, Emily.)

They shake hands goodnight (just kidding—they totes make out) and call it an evening.

You know what's fun? Kissing Arie, that's what's fun!

Judgment day and Emily is freaking out.
Chris Harrison, meanwhile, is playing dumb.
“Why so sad, Emily?”


So she has a little breakdown and stares at the photos and watches the little videos and, finally, emerges to break the news to one unlucky Bachelor.

Here’s the thing. This has been a mediocre Bachelorette season by all accounts. Two semi villains, Kalon and Ryan, both jettisoned far too soon. Lots of wholesome contestants. Not enough man-fights. Too many damn letters.
But I must say, the suspense is KILLING ME.
I really believe Emily when she says that she loves all three of these guys (or at least The Bachelorette’s obsessive, crushy, non-reality-based version of “love”)

First rose goes to Jef. (He’s prepared a little letter of thanks.)
And the next rose goes to. . .Arie.

Poor Sean. He’s the saddest hunky banana of them all.

Emily escorts him to a sad little bench and they stare at each other, sadly.
“What are you feeling right now?” Emily asks and I literally yell at my TV screen, “BULLSHIT!”

I mean, I know there’s nothing Emily loves talking about more than Emily. But maybe this one time she could break her “all Emily all the time” rule and say something nice about SEAN?

“I don’t know what to say,” he mumbles.
“I wanted it to be you more than you know,” Emily says.
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? (No matter how you slice it, though, it sounds like an insult.)

So Sean slunks to the loser limo and contemplates where it all went wrong.
Somehow, it just seems sadder to me, that is says “Insurance Agent” under his name as he talks.

I hope he took out an insurance policy ON HIS HEART.

Next week is the God damned Bachelors Tell All special. Can I wait two weeks without being spoiled?

Sources say “fat chance.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Four's a Crowd: The Bachelorette Recap

Is this trip to Chicago really necessary?

Can we all just call this episode what it was? The slow and inevitable death march to Chris’s demise.

I mean, last week, we actually thought she might pick John (sorry, I mean “Wolf”)—a man who had approximately 10 lines of dialogue the entire season—over Chris.
Somehow, Chris squeaked out a rose, but it was obviously touch and go.
Even Chris’s family seemed to know he was he about to be kicked in the kielbasa.
“Let him down gently,” they all seemed to be telling Emily. “We know he’s kinda sweaty and creepy and desperate but, by God, he’s also our son.”

Speaking of which, what was Creepy Chris’s Creepiest Moment of the Show ™ for you?
Was it when Emily snuck up behind him in town square and he didn’t so much as FLINCH? (Replicant?)
Or was it when he said, “You make me feel crazy good”—as his eyes nervously darted about, apparently searching for a weapon?

I will say this: “On a scale from 1 to Polish, we’re Polish” was wygranie! (That’s “winning” in Polish.)

Lech Walesa WISHES he was this Polish

So now we’ve got these three guys left and I JUST CAN’T CHOOSE!
Has the Bachelorette ever done some sort of polygamy theme? A happy ending where you get a ring, you get a ring, you ALL get a ring!!!

At one point, I speculated that the hunky banana Sean was the man for Emily. It seemed a no brainer.
But I must say, I’m beginning to have my doubts—partly because her hometown visit to him was so bizarre. I mean, I don’t know about you, but when I have a guest, I like to make them as UNCOMFORTABLE as humanly possible. Break out the whoopee cushions, the fake poo, and the dog vomit—it's time to freak out the house guest!

First, there was Sean’s little “I live at home” prank, which, I suppose was meant to show Emily his light-hearted, fun-loving side, but actually seemed kind of aggressive. Like, “You may hold all the cards on the show, but not at MY house you don’t!”
And the disturbing thing is, the entire Sean family was in on it.
They went so far as to decorate a whole room, like one of those horrible Febreze commercials where they blindfold people and take them to rat-infested hellholes.

"Make yourself uncomfortable"

Then later, in case you missed it, Sean’s dad acted out this elaborate charade of taking a foil-covered, steamed armadillo out of the oven. 
“This is Sean’s favorite dish,” dad said.
Emily, with that pageant-ready smile of hers, managed to squeak out a chipper “Well, if it’s Sean’s favorite, then I guess I’ll try it!”
And then the whole Sean family collapsed into a fit of malicious giggles.
Fucked. Up.

The other thing about Sean? (Other than the fact that if he were a Native American, his tribe name would be “He Who Runs Down Street Yelling Bachelorette’s Name”): Emily keeps talking about how perfect he is, but I don’t actually believe it.
She’s been crushing on Jef since day 1.
And she and Arie have off-the-charts chemistry.
But with Sean it’s like, “Wow. Sean is totally perfect. . .zzzzzzz”
I’m just not sure it’s really there.

Okay, next we have Jef (yes, I realize I’m going out of order. . . this is MY order of elimination at this point.)

Just as I suspected, Jef’s whole hipster thing is a charade. He’s really a good ol’ boy who shoots guns (albeit “in skinny jeans” as Emily noted) and rides ATVs.

As for his parents, they are still MIA.
In fact, did anyone else notice that when Jef said, “My parents are in South Carolina DOING CHARITY WORK” it was totally overdubbed in post production, possibly by a member of the crew who does a mean Jef impression? OMG, what do you think he actually said: “My parents are in South Carolina overseeing the ritualistic slaughter of goats?”
(I’m more and more convinced that Jef is a member of a cult, especially when his niece and nephew were climbing all over Emily’s lap, seemingly desperate: “Get me out of this place, PLEASE!” I thought I saw one of the little tykes mouth.)

And then, sigh, Jef read Emily the sweetest love letter. It actually made me cry. But at the same time, have you noticed that Jef can’t seem to profess his love while making eye contact? It’s either through a marionette or with his face buried in a letter.
Man up, Bob’s Big Boy.

Finally, Arie—my new frontrunner.
I agree with Emily that Arie looked “stupid hot” in his leather race car jacket.
And she always acts so excited to see him and can’t seem to keep her hands off him.

I loved when Arie’s mom took Emily aside and told her she had seen “a few” episodes of Emily’s season of The Bachelor (translation: DVRed that shit and watched every episode twice.) Then she said, in her broken English, “Normally, when you are the one who be proposed to, you’re not being the Bachelorette.”
Ha. Laughing forever over that.

So there ya have it folks.
Sean, Jef, or Arie.
Three men: Three guaranteed fantasy suites (use protection, kids!) . . .and then what?
I'm totally unspoiled myself. So only ABC executives, Chris Harrison, Emily, her future “fiancĂ©e” and you—yeah, you, spoiler whore!—know for sure.