Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obsessions of Two Weeks

OK, after a week off for a family emergency, I'm back and trying to make up for lost time with a double dose of weekly obsessions...

Avenue Q
I just came home from seeing the touring production. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time- go see it. The lead plays both Princeton and Rod perfectly, I swear he almost never leaves the stage- it's amazing! Heartfelt, lovely, hysterical and honest. 

Sandy and Kirsten Cohen
I've just started making my way through The OC. I've seen bits and pieces of it before but this is my first time committing to it fully. Other than "Mischa Barton really needs to learn how to act", all I have to say is "the Cohen's are awesome". They may be the coolest parents ever but they still manage to embarrass their kids in hilarious ways- perfect!

Beating the Yankees
I was in the park last night as the Jays squeaked out a win against their formidable division rivals. The Yankees may be my second favourite team but there's something awesome about watching them fall to 13 strikeouts by AJ Burnett and the best bullpen this side of the league. 

Charlie Bartlett
This movie is awesome. I saw it twice in theatres and recently bought the DVD. Whoever said that Robert Downey Jr.'s big comeback year started with Iron Man clearly didn't see this gem. Anton Yelchin in the lead role is reminiscent of a young Tom Cruise and Michael J Fox mixed together.

Rules of Engagement
In the latest Monday night rerun Oliver Hudson was mocked by a grade-school bully for having girlish good looks while Patrick Warburton dealt with unfortunately timed standing ovation problems. Always good for a laugh, this show is uber underrated. 

Fall TV promos
What's more exciting than constant reminders that in a couple of weeks you'll have no time for work, studying or having a non-fiction life?

10 Things I Hate About You
I watched this movie the other day for about the 20th time and it was even funnier than I remembered. Shakespeare references at every turn, a stellar cast headed by the late great Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles (a personal favourite of mine), a plot stolen from a fabulous play (Taming of the Shrew), fun 90s nostalgia, Allison Janney, the perfect balance of heartfelt cheese and one of the greatest first kiss scenes of all time (Heath and Julia playing paintball)- what's not to love?

The Stratford Festival of Canada
A couple weeks ago I saw an outstanding Romeo and Juliet. Last week I saw Hamlet featuring the always brilliant Adrienne Gould as Ophelia while her father Polonius stole every scene, played by an actor who Slings & Arrows fans will remember as season 2's haughty Macbeth Henry Breedlove. 

Vivah: fine Indian cuisine
The best butter chicken in the city is at the corner of Yonge and Heath St. (near St. Clair). 

Mad About You 
The best couple ever on television and a story about being in love not just falling in love, Mad About You is the counterargument to every Sam and Diane theorist out there. The perfect blend of adorable neurosis and committed understanding makes every fan want to be in love like Paul and Jamie. Seasons 1-3 are available on DVD as well as "The Mad About You Collection DVD". 


Caroline in the City available on DVD
Malcolm Gets' pitch perfect Richard is enough to make me love this show. Add Amy Pietz and you've got me lined up the second season 1 became available. 

Remember Michael Flaherty

There is nothing like a brilliantly crafted series finale. In fact, it doesn’t have to be perfectly crafted, as long as it is true to the series, the characters and the fans who have stuck by the show the entire way. Tonight I watched a perfect series finale.

I’m talking about Michael J Fox’s departure from Spin City. Though the show technically did continue after Fox left due to illness, the series finale to me (and most fans of the show) is Mike’s two-episode goodbye. The series ended that day; that drivel starring Charlie Sheen that later was called Spin City was a different entity completely.

Mike’s departure could not have been more appropriate. The only way that the committed work-aholic deputy mayor would ever leave his post would be to ensure that none of his team had to leave theirs. When the mayor and his staff unknowingly entangle themselves with organized crime and an ambitious reporter threatens to take them down, Mike falls on the sword to not only save the mayor but to save the jobs of Carter, Paul, Nicki, Stewart, James and Janelle. For 4 seasons Mike Flaherty put out every fire that his crazy boss and staff lit; he loved his job, he loved his boss and he loved his staff. There was no better way for Mike to leave city hall and no better way for Fox to leave Spin City.

Like so many perfect finales before it (Boy Meets World topping the list- don’t judge me), the finale of Spin City had me crying my eyes out. They first hit me with “Carter, I love you too”; then it really started when Mike had his final moment with Nicky, a character who meant more to him throughout the series than almost any other; I really lost it when Mike gave his speech about hiring James then followed it up with “I have a story like that for each and every one of you… so my proudest moment is sitting here now, at this table, with all of you”; I wept as the mayor taped his final goodbye, called Mike “son” and pulled him in for a hug; and I’ll never get over the footage at the end of the episode, of Fox’s final curtain call.

Every goodbye in the episode (Carter, Janelle, Nicki, James, Stewart, Paul and finally the mayor), packed an extra punch because you just know that the tears in the eyes of all those actors were real; every speech was really about Fox’s relationship with the actor themselves as well as summing up every moment between those characters. Each one of them was a goodbye on multiple levels and that made them so much more poignant.

The greatest moment, the saddest goodbye and the most poignant performance and character writing in the entire series was one of these goodbyes. Sarcastic, creepy, chauvinistic and pathetic Stewart won my heart with my favourite moment. When funny man Alan Ruck looked up from his beer mug, desperately holding back the tears that were forcing their way out, and lamely proclaimed “whatever” after coolly shrugging off Mike’s massive sacrifice, my heart stopped. As Stewart rushed from the bar without a real goodbye, unable to stand the vulnerability, I cheered for the moment that finally transformed Stewart from a caricature into a character.

I loved this show. I’ve always loved Michael J Fox and always will. You all know how much I love Connie Britton. I love Barry Bostwick and Alan Ruck and Michael Boatman and Jennifer Esposito. I love Bill Lawrence (who would later create Scrubs). I loved when Nicki fell in love with Mike; I loved when Mike finally figured that out. I loved when James got braces and when Carter was left dangling outside a window. I loved when the mayor played laser tag and his affair with Mike’s mom. I loved when Carter adopted a suicidal dog and when Paul wore makeup on The View. I loved when the water boy that the ladies were ogling fought back with a $5/word vocabulary and when the mayor asked a reporter if he was drunk. But mostly, I loved this finale: 46 minutes as true to the series, the characters, the audience, the actors, the creators, the writers and the roots of it all as when Feeney turned out the lights and said “class dismissed”.


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Sunday, August 17, 2008

I Apologize

Apologies to anyone who's missed the blog in the past week. A family emergency had me out of town and away from an internet connection.

I have returned and have lots of opinions to share with you. I promise new entries will be posted soon.

Thanks for your patience and I love you all,

Sunday, August 10, 2008

BB10: my current favourites

Without question my 2 current favourites on Big Brother are Memphis and Dan. Just in reading a bio or surfing a fun facts page, there is no way in hell that I would like Dan. He's close-mindedly conservative, preachy, judgemental, vain, slightly misogynistic and tries too hard to be macho. Memphis, on the other hand, comes off as fun, strong, respectful, down to earth and interesting. Dan's strategy is to play the weakling and subtly suggest strategy without letting on that he's doing so. Memphis is playing it completely straight; he doesn't seem to throw competitions but he doesn't play to win or die either, he gets his strategies across and makes his alliances but he's neither sneaky nor brazen about it.

I'm rooting for Dan because a) I felt that the whole Brian thing went down unfairly and it would be nice to see him fully rise from the ashes and beat the smug know-it-alls who targeted him early on and b) I think his strategy (though many may disagree) is really admirable; it's smart, easy to execute and will most likely take him far. I can't stand the people who think that if you don't win competitions you're coasting in the game, or "floating" as so many contestants of the past have liked to call it. In fact, many of the best players in BB history will tell you that to win competitions is to throw the game.

More so, however, I'm rooting for Memphis. I'm doing this because I actually like the guy (he's the only house guest of whom I can say that 100% truthfully) AND he has respectable game play. He makes sure his voice is heard without ever losing his cool (with the one exception of when he was personally attacked by Jerry), adapts remarkably well when things don't go his way (see his entire alliance being evicted and him being nominated) and somehow manages to strategically stay on the good side of almost every house guest (an amazing feat).

What these 2 vastly different but similarly subtle players have the most in common that makes me want to take their side is not only the fact that they are 2 of the only remaining house guests (alongside Ollie) who've never been in a stupid screaming match (the aforementioned Jerry incident was provoked and completely understandable) but the way that both of them are playing a house game and a TV game.

Much like Danielle (seasons 3 and 7) and Dr. Will (seasons 2 and 7) before them, both Memphis and Dan make the audience an active participant in their game. Memphis does it on a more personal level; when he vented in the diary room about how out of control the house was to attack Dan on a religious level or how much it bothers him how people fake interest in the HOH room, Memphis made his personal feelings and issues clear to the audience at home (who loves him for it) but was judiciously protective of his own place in the house by keeping his mouth shut outside the personal interviews. This lets the viewer in on the fact that what the house sees and who Memphis is are not necessarily the same thing.

Dan's relationship to the camera has a lot more to do with strategy. He spends little time discussing his personal opinions and beliefs (a wise move since I most certainly would like him less every time he did) but rather makes a point of letting the audience know exactly what he is up to through glances and nods not unlike the Jim's iconic "ironic looks" on The Office. Every time Dan puts on an Oscar-worthy performance as a guilt-ridden traitor, a weak and innocent non-threat or a melancholy long-distance boyfriend, and the other house guests fall for it, he gives the camera a little wink to remind us that we're in on the joke.

Danielle and Dr. Will, two of the house's greatest schemers, would similarly use diary room sessions or private moments with the camera to engage the audience in their game play. Only the audience knew about Danielle's secret alliance with Jason, only the audience knew who the only real members of Chilltown were, we knew who Danielle truly trusted and exactly how Will felt about his all-star showmance Janelle; we knew these things because they would tell us, and no one else. And that's why we cared more about them- we were involved in their game.

While Memphis and Dan may just be the best players in a bad group, they're the ones I'm cheering for now. Who knows who may step up as worthy of my fandom next week (after all, season 8's Jen didn't win me over right away but ended up as one of my all-time favourites) but for now I choose to cheer for 2 men: the best man (Memphis) and the best actor (Dan) who add up to the best players.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

a short obsession list

Felicity's eccentric former roommate and Ben's lovable landlord are the saving graces of a mediocre season 3. The unlikely couple are hilarious and adorable together. Amidst a boring Ben/Felicity relationship, a severe Noel character meltdown, an over-the-top drug/shooting incident and stupid Elena romance problems, the fact that Meghan and Sean were given so much material made Felicity's 3rd season watchable. And who doesn't love Greg Grunberg, ... Scott Speedman who?

I'm going to their concert tonight. Kevin may be gone but as long as Brian's still around I'm game. I can't wait!

I recently bought "Michael J Fox's All-Time Favourite Episodes, Volume I" on DVD. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy this show. Barry Bostwick is priceless, you all know my love for Connie Britton, Alan Ruck and Richard Kind are wonderful comedians and there are few actors that I love more than Michael J Fox- doesn't he just seem like the nicest guy in the world?

SYTYCD under the microscope

I've just watched the final 4 perform on this season of So You Think You Can Dance. After having had my friend in the States call in a few votes for Katee on my behalf, the only thing left to do is over analyze. So here I go...

Firstly, let me say that the finale performances are never quite as good as some of the numbers in the weeks leading up it. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that over the course of finale week the final 4 have to perform about 15 times- this doesn't leave them at the top of their game. That said, this year's final competition show was pretty good. I wasn't crazy about the hip hop, the Broadway or the jive but both contemporaries, the fox trot and the Russian piece were brilliant.

Season 4's top 4 are all dynamic, likable and talented. While I may not totally agree with every elimination along the way, I think the best people probably ended up in the top spots. Katee, Josh, Twitch and Courtney (in the order in which I think they should ultimately rank) are a great, if somewhat unexpected, top 4. Here are my thoughts on the finalists, the season and the series as a whole.

If ever there were hip hoppers who deserved to be in the finals it's Josh and Twitch.

One of my biggest problems with the series ever was that Blake (hands down the best dancer of season 1) didn't make the finale when Jamile did. I felt that Jamile was given too much credit for not tripping over his own feet whenever given anything to do outside his own genre (freestyle hip hop) when the truth was that he couldn't point a toe to save his life. When a contemporary dancer masters the foxtrot or a hip hop number they are consistently given less credit for it than when a hip hopper copes with something lyrical.

This began to change with Musa in season 2, who began working tirelessly to perform to a higher standard, even outside of his genre. It came to a head later that season when Ivan, another hip hopper, performed a contemporary routine to Annie Lennox's "Why" as well as (if not better than) a trained contemporary dancer could have. And then we were off to the races...

Season 3 featured both Hok and Dominic as Ivan-like hip hoppers who danced some of the most famed non-hip hop routines ever on the show (such as the Emmy-nominated Hummingbird routine).

Season 4, however, was where the hip hoppers really stood out. Among the men of the top 20 there were 5 contemporary dancers and only 3 hip hoppers (1 ballroom dancer and 1 jazz dancer rounded out the group). Though Gev (a very Ivan-like character) only made it as far as the top 10, his fellow hip hoppers have gone further than almost any before them.

Josh and Twitch have danced the mambo like Latin experts, made Mary weep with the Viennese waltz, conquered Broadway like it was a simple country lane and left the world's mouths gaping open after stunning contemporary routines. They've danced everything from Tabitha and Napoleon's lyrical hip hop to Mia Michaels' expert contemporary to Lil C's intense Krump to Tyce DiOrio's fast-paced jazz to Bollywood to Russian and back again. And they've danced it like it was meant to be danced.

Josh and Twitch have stood up next to perfectly trained contemporary and ballroom dancers and have proven themselves. They are both trained (though Nigel keeps insisting that they aren't), though not nearly as extensively as 7 of the 8 men they've beaten, and never use their lack of expertise as an excuse.

I, who refused to accept that Jamile deserved to be in the finals and who was glad to see contemporary dancers take the crown year after year, honestly believe that Josh and Twitch deserve to be where they are today. And no matter what happens in tomorrow's results show, they've laid the groundwork for higher expectations for EVERY contestant, regardless of their chosen style.

Let's talk Courtney for a second. I never cared about her really. I thought she was good but never spectacular, stop my heart kind of good. I never thought about her much at all. Middle of the pack- better than Jessica and Comfort, worse than Katee and Chelsea. Then I watched her. Courtney moves like season 3's Lauren or like season 1's Melody- she's great, but I never noticed.

I think it's all about the partner. The only reason I ever saw Kherington at all was that she was partnered with someone who made me pay attention. I never liked Gev much, so when his partner wasn't spectacular enough to overcome that, I didn't bother to bother. Once she was separated from Gev, Courtney was plagued with 2 boring Latin routines, 1 hip hop that was simply mediocre and 1 that I simply didn't like. She always danced well but not memorably (much like the aforementioned Lauren, who was consistently good but never quite good enough- except for the transformers routine and the Mia Michael's routine with Danny).

Then, there was last week. Courtney was outrageously good last week (as was her partner Mark) in the Viennese Waltz and a Sonya jazz routine. Those dances were so good that I was convinced (for the first time in weeks) that not only would Courtney overtake fan-favourite Chelsea for a spot in the final 4 but that Mark might beat out Twitch as well. I was wrong about Mark, but those final weeks of competition in which Chelsea lost a bit of her spark and Courtney seemed to set herself on fire, made all the difference when it came down to the penultimate vote. Courtney, the forgotten contestant, won a spot in the finale over someone who had been at the top for weeks.

Now, don't get me wrong, I will be greatly disappointed in the American public if they award Courtney any place but 4th, but you've got to give the girl props for standing up amidst mediocrity and proving that she didn't belong there.

Katee played an almost perfect game. She bowled a 299, she finished her golf round just 1 stroke over par, she only walked 1 batter. Sports metaphors alluding you artistic types? Let me explain: every dance Katee danced was danced to perfection... almost, and every minute of her footage was really appealing... almost.

Let's start with the dancing, because that's the heart of the matter anyway. Katee never performed ANYTHING that I didn't like. In the first week, when I couldn't get excited about any of the 9 other routines, Katee's hip hop number hit me like a brick. In the weeks to come she would wow me with a sensational Bollywood number, multiple Broadway home runs, a breathtaking pas de deux, incredible contemporary routines and some of the most beautiful ballroom numbers I've ever seen.

She is sensational, the best female dancer ever on the show (that's right, I'm saying it). The only reason I say she wasn't perfect is that she can't be, no dancer is. Even Danny (the best SYTYCD dancer there ever was) had his moments of imperfection in his dancing. For Katee, they came with a sub-par west coast swing, choreographed by season 2 winner Benji, and the tinniest of missed movements in the pas de deux. Small mistakes, yes, but humanizing.

As for her likability as a contestant, Katee was set up as a villain of sorts (insofar as a dance competition can have a villain). She was almost voted out of the top 20 before it had even begun (the result of her being honest and Nigel wanting to make an example of her). Now, this is where I credit the American voting audience- had they not seen past her initial PR missteps (as a certain podcaster I listen to couldn't), we would never have gotten to see Katee, the real Katee. Not the discouraged quitter that the editing portrayed, but the goofy, humble dancer who possesses more poise than she knows.

Katee is the best, and even if the voters don't love her as much as I do as a contestant, here's hoping that they love her enough as a dancer to, for the first time, crown the best dancer in the competition and not the person they most want as a best friend, (see the somewhat arrogant Blake losing to the personable Nick, low key Travis taking second place to the outlandishly entertaining Benji and the introverted and complicated Danny being beaten by lovable Sabra).

Sometimes he is, and it drives me absolutely insane. Nigel, in general, knows what he's saying. He was the only judge to see that Danny wasn't arrogant, just closed off. He saw how inspiring Donyelle was, he saw Benji run away with the season 2 competition within the first week and he knew that letting season 3's Lauren and season 4's Will into the competition was important enough to merit a slight change in staff or format. It's because he has a reputation for being right when everyone else can't see it that people believe everything he says. This season, however, there are 2 major things that Nigel has been consistently wrong about that I need to mention.

The first, and most annoying, is his constant claim that Josh and Twitch have no training. They may not have as much training as Will does but they had more than Comfort. When asked whether they have training, both men answered yes. There are pictures of a prepubescent Josh at a ballet bar doing warm ups. Both Josh and Twitch dance like they have more training than they have but that's no reason to proclaim it a miracle that they learned to point their toes all on their own, because they didn't- well, not completely.

Secondly, would people please stop saying that Tabitha and Napoleon pioneered lyrical hip hop on the show. They simply did not. I love Tabitha and Napoleon, I don't think a cooler couple exists, and their choreography can be spectacular and genre-bending, but it's not new. I can name multiple pieces from season 3 that were examples of a lyrical hip hop style (namely Dominic and Sabra's Ne-Yo routine) and what about Shane Spark's umbrella routine for Allison and Ivan in season 2?

Stop lying Nigel, in doing so you're undermining the work of dancers, dance instructors and choreographers alike.

As much as I like this season and its final 4, it has to be compared to what's come before. Season 1 had some good dancers. Blake, Ashle, Melody and Nick were all wonderful (though Jamile, not Blake, made final 4) but the format was still pretty rough, there was only a top 16 not a top 20, and the host was a dud. Still, Nick could turn with more precision than I thought possible.

Then season 2 came and they were topped. As far as likability went, Benji had everyone beat. And as for technique, passion and overall dance ability, Travis was miles ahead of everyone from the previous season. Though I think Allison might have deserved Donyelle's spot, the season 2 final 4 was impeccable. Even if the wrong person won.

And then it got even better. I didn't think season 2 could be beat but season 3 somehow managed to top it. All of season 3 was superb. Almost any contestant (Cedric aside) could have won either previous season and choosing a favourite was like choosing a favourite NBC sitcom (way more stressful than you'd think).

Season 3 had everything. There were Dominic and Hok transcending their genre and lack of training to grow into exceptional dancers in front of our eyes; there was the exuberant Sabra who was impossible not to like and who had only been dancing since she was 18 but was remarkable anyway; there was the adorable and gentlemanly Pasha who's sexy ballroom technique didn't even falter when dancing the Cha-Cha with the choreographer's middle-aged assistant instead of his partner; there was Sara, who was classically trained but chose to break dance with the boys instead; there was every girl's fantasy- Neil, the straight guy who's greatest love is contemporary dancing; there was Lacey, representing the Schwimmer clan (for all the Benji and Heidi fans out there); and, most importantly, there was Danny Tidwell.

Danny is my favourite reality show contestant of all time (yes, he's even ahead of Dr. Will). Starting off as a quiet but brilliant dancer who it was almost impossible to connect with, Danny revealed himself, as the competition progressed, to be a warm and funny guy who was just a little closed off. We got to watch as Danny grew comfortable, as he found happiness and as his personality came through and proved to be as stunning as his incomparable dance abilities.

So, this season had some serious competition. While every season before this has managed to improve upon their predecessor, season 4 fell short for me. The level of dance ability has nothing on season 3 (Katee and Will excepted since the only season 3 dancer who could top them is Danny). There are more missed steps and mistakes this season than ever before. While Twitch may be the contestant I've most wanted to befriend over all 4 years, he's got nothing on the entertainment value of Benji. Comfort pales in comparison to Sara for the non-girly girl award and no one is nearly as funny as Neil was. I'll give season 4 the top prize for hip hoppers, Katee is my favourite female dancer so far and I'll admit that I love the addition of Tabitha and Napoleon but I mourn the losses of Wade Robson and Shane Sparks. I miss the underdog that I can cheer for (Gev just didn't do it for me) and the sense of growth that the other seasons have had. I miss the sense that the dancers are bounding onto the stage and leaving their hearts laid out on the dance floor.

These dancers are great and I still love the show but I have to wonder if season 3 may have been the high point. American Idol peaked at 3 with their best season ever (Fantasia Barrino, LaToya London, Jennifer Hudson and my all-time favourite Idol Diana DeGarmo), I can only hope that after this season's slightly disappointing run, So You Think You Can Dance won't suffer the same fate.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

BB10's funniest episode yet

For a great laugh head over to and check out this week's veto episode of Big Brother. Not only does Dan put on an amusing performance as America's Player in his quest to hug Jessie, Michelle breaks down about the infamous unitard. Most hilarious, though, is the epic fight of the week in which the irredeemably mercurial Libra flies off the rails yet again in a blowup that includes half the house fighting about nothing. This, in itself, is amusing, but nothing beats the awkward hilarity of the moment when the fighters pause just long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" to Keesha before resuming their screaming match. I tell you this is better than anything even the best sitcom writer could have come up with.

PS: my thoughts on the players as they currently stand...

I could not dislike Libra more. She's older than most other houseguests, a mom, politically left wing and outspoken; she should have been a Danielle (seasons 3 and 7)-type player, but instead she's made my top 5 least favourites of all time (alongside season 9's Jacob and, season 5's Holly and season 8's Dick and Daniele)

I keep flip flopping on Jessie. While, overall, I can't stand him there are moments when he almost completely redeems himself. Like the way he stayed by Michelle's side after she fell from the HOH competition and when his strategies actually make sense. If he just was less obsessed with himself, if his head was the correct size for his body and if he didn't abuse the word "respect" so much he almost seems like I could have liked him. Too bad I don't.

April looks like an alien. Also, how boring must her relationship with Ollie be if the producers are airing almost none of it?

I like Dan. All my liberal, secular reasoning tells me not to but I like him anyway and there seems to be nothing I can do about it. He's playing a smart game. He got unlucky the first week, but that doesn't mean that when he picked Brian as an ally, Dan wasn't picking a deserving partner. In fact, I think that if he'd had the wherewithal to tread a little more lightly, Brian would have been the best player in the game. However, once his alliance dropped him in the pooper early on, Dan has kept his head down, his mouth shut and his ears tuned- the best strategy I've seen in the house so far.

Jerry is a mean, potty-mouthed, stubborn old man who is only tarnishing the name of the American military by so proudly touting it and who has openly accused others of crimes he himself has committed (see his unfairly labelling Memphis a womanizer whilst he himself fondles April's breasts and tells Libra to "shut up").

And finally, if Memphis goes home this week, the houseguests will have successfully eliminated all of my favourite players in order of my preference- I hate these people. Why do I have to watch week after week of Libra, Jerry and Jessie when I could have had the Brian, Steven and Angie show?