31 December 2011

Dr. Cupcakersworth, "Best Of" Professor Emeritus, Voices His Unwavering Judgment

It's the end of another year, perhaps the last year that we'll see the actual end of.* So many things have happened: many bests bested previous bests, and several worsts also worsted previous worsts. But that's 2011 for you! Year of the Toothpicks, we salute thee as we burn thee down to the ground.

*and I, for one, welcome our new Aztec overlords!

The Best "Best of 2011" List of 2011!

Best Car of 2011
Gabe Kotter, welcome back!
Your dreams were your ticket out.
Welcome back!
to that same old place that you parked about.
Well your battery needs trickle chargin',
and your front tire needs pressure gaugin'
Who'd have thought you'd win it?
(Who'd have thought you'd win it?)
Cupcaker knew, didn't it?
(Cupcaker wins it)
Wellll we tease you a lot 'cause we got you on the spot welcome back!
(Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back)

Actual Best Job of 2011
My new job! That's right, screw you old job. You freaking sucked so much. Remember how I lied and said you were the best job of 2009? That was only because I was desperate for a job. Now I have one I actually like! And now I don't silently cry on the subway platform every morning. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Best Pastry Experience of 2011
I finally got myself over to the Doughnut Plant, first after my 101 graduation show and then months later after a rehearsal with my new improv group. Square doughnuts + improvised comedy = Best Pastry Experience (repeatable) of 2011.

Best New Improv Group of 2011
King Regis!

Best Old Improv Group of 2011
The Venkmans! One is silver and the other's gold!

Best ANTM Winners of All Time
Tyra Banks puts two cycles of ANTM out every year, and 2011 may be the only year in history that I've been fully on-board with both cycle winners. Brittani Kline & Lisa D'Amato? Werq.

Best Chanukkah Gift of 2011
My brother's giving me his keyboard! That's right, in 2012 I plan on emulating every famous rock 'n' roll pianist of the past 6 decades, starting with Jerry Lee Lewis. Documentation to follow.

Best Wedding of 2011
My brother's wedding! We welcomed Rena as a wonderful new member of our family, and I'm pretty sure Matt got membership at her family. Very exclusive. Highly sought-after. Officially, inimitably: Rones. (maybe next time, royal family) Which brings me to: 

Best New Sister of 2011
Rena Kaufmann, no question. Hooray!!!

Most-Watched Movie of 2011

Thanks to Brian Fithian, I have now watched Dazed & Confused as many times as I've watched Home Alone this year. Possibly even more times? Let's see, I kept track of the times I've watched Home Alone since Thanksgiving and the grand total is 4. However, that doesn't include viewings earlier in the year (I believe my birthday blowout with Krista and Colin ended in an early-morning viewing). But BriFi really outdid himself this year. I make it a point to watch Dazed & Confused on New Year's Day (it helps with the Too-Much-New-Years Blues), and Brian watched with me on January 1, 2011. Then again on January 2, 2011, then on January 4, 2011, then a few million more times after that. The kid loooves them redheads, man. Yes he does.

Best Australian Comedian of 2011
Chris Lilley! Please watch Angry Boys because you will like it (but probably more the second time around).

Best Actual Definition of "Nonplussed" of 2011
adj. Surprised and confused so much that a person is unsure how to react. I play-dohed a mnemonic image for it. Please for my sake just use it.  

Best Readership of 2011

Happy New Year!

25 December 2011

You Should Be Watching "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz"

As a belated ending to You Should Be Watching month, may I humbly suggest my favorite holiday-themed sitcom episode:

"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" (from Frasier)

12 December 2011

You Should Be Watching Parks & Recreation

...and for that matter, Community. Granted, now that indefinite hiatus has been declared for the latter series, you might only be able to Be Watching Parks & Rec. But to me these sitcoms are like fraternal twin babies that I'm obliged to hold forever, except for some reason I'll be sending one of them to camp for a few months.  BUT I WILL TRAVEL FAR AND WIDE TO BRING IT BACK FOR FALL 2012.

Both Parks & Rec and Community began in 2009, and both pilots were huge stinkers. P&R started as a late-season replacement, and it relied so heavily on the Michael Scott Mold for Annoying Office Workers that it turned into an abyss of Awkward Copycattery. They didn't know what they were doing with Leslie Knope, Andy Dwyer, or Tom Haverford. They barely knew what they were doing with Ron Swanson, and that dude comes pre-packaged. Luckily, and with much prodding by Josh, I gave the show another try in early 2010 with the episode "Park Safety." In the episode, beloved office loser Jerry Gurgich bends over, rips his pants, and farts during a presentation. HUGE SUCCESS!!!!

My experience with Community is much the same: the pilot EFFING SUCKED and I refused to watch for a little while, but eventually Josh convinced me to try it again. And lo and behold, it had gotten much better. I don't remember exactly which episode changed my mind, but it was before the first paintball one, and after that the hits never stopped coming. Suddenly the disjointed, assy characters made sense, and I grew to love their group dynamic. I found that they know all about themselves, and that Abed is their self-knowing king. Because the show spends so much effort noticing how it follows and breaks traditional tv rules, it serves as its own viewers' guide. From week to week, the only predictable thing about Community is knowing that each episode's gimmick will in turn suit its plot very well.

Which brings me to my guess as to why these shows are so great: very talented writing staffs. Not only do these shows consistently pack their episodes with new, genuinely funny jokes; they're also familiar with their own parameters. Sprouting from roughly the same premise (a sardonic, ragtag crew makes up a generic office/government branch/community college study group/what have you), P&R and Community have cultivated specific styles and tones that differ from their Office forefather.

Parks & Rec follows Amy Poehler through all her zany antics, but it no longer suggests that her character is in any way incompetent. In fact, the main thing the show wants you to know about Leslie Knope is that she's successful due to sheer willpower. Possibly the only employee in her office who actually wants to work for the Parks Department, Leslie loves Pawnee, Indiana, very dearly. When an awesome protagonist loves a place that much, it's easy to fall in love with it too.

Besides honing Leslie's character, P&R's writing staff has amplified the best parts of other characters: Ron Swanson is not only a staunch Libertarian - he's also a sax player with a soft spot for women named Tammy. Andy Dwyer is not only a loser with no prospects - he's also the office clown, fake FBI officer Burt Macklin (when the situation calls for it), and the best man to walk into April Ludgate's life. Tom Haverford is not only the dude played by Aziz Ansari - he's also best friends with Jean-Ralphio, the best douchebag on television (until Schmidt from New Girl came along). Bounce, bounce bounce bounce-bounce. And I haven't even mentioned the so-extended-that-now-they're-permanent guest stars Rob Lowe and Adam Scott. Just look at this cast:

Similarly, over in the Community writers room they've created an entire universe. At Greendale Community College, air conditioning deans are evil. Monkeys are named "Annie's Boobs" and live in heating ducts. Crazy men played by Ken Jeong can become Spanish teachers with little to no knowledge of Spanish. Starburns walks around in a top hat like he owns the place. And Chevy Chase exists almost exactly how he must exist in reality - lonely, much older than we're used to, and pissed about it. Any show that gives Chevy a shot at redemption is a show I will watch.

I started out writing about why You Should Be Watching Parks & Rec, but now it seems I'm writing more about why you should give writers at least a few months to work on a show before decrying it completely. Maybe this is why I still watch the first 2 minutes of Whitney at the end of every Office recording - it could be getting better and I'd never know until Josh finally gave it a chance and mentioned it. But then again, Whitney? Probably not.

photos courtesy NBC.com

09 December 2011

You Should Be Watching Arrested Development

If you're not watching Arrested when it comes back in early 2013,

you will have made a huge mistake.

07 December 2011

No New Walking Dead = New Fake Walking Dead

I can't go on this long without new Walking Dead. Here is a story I think they threw in the trashcan that somehow ended up in my brain in a crazy series of events, I bet:

As Shane and the rest of his gang took out the barn folks one by one, Hershel turned into a frozen, disbelieving stone of a man. BAM! There went his neighbor's daughter. KAPLOW! There went his son's Boy Scout packmaster. And then out came Annette, or what used to be Annette, or at least a very, very sick version of Annette. Even with her yellowed, furious eyes and her missing cheek skin, Hershel's wife was still beautiful. Her auburn hair blew in the light breeze. Suddenly, her brain blew into the light breeze too. BANG!

The gunshot rang in Hershel's ears for what felt like years. He fell to his knees (one of them stiff from the war) from his crouched position, covering his eyes with his hands in an effort to stop seeing what he couldn't help seeing over and over again.

The last time he'd seen Annette healthy was just three days into this nightmare. She was watching a lot of tv news at the time, her interest piqued by the high incidence of cannibalistic accounts coming from rural areas. Newnan, GA was plenty spread-out, but it wasn't as rural as the places the news talked about. Annette couldn't stop postulating to Hershel: maybe the economy truly had gotten that bad, or maybe there was a new, advanced bacteria that scientists hadn't discovered yet that caused people to do this. Hershel discouraged his wife from these thoughts. Without her focusing on the family, who would keep everyone in line? She was the head of the house.

An egg timer went off and Annette left the living room to check on her pie. Hershel had been smelling sour cherry filling all afternoon, and he couldn't wait to dig in. It took all his strength not to sneak a bite of pie before it had properly cooled.

After a few minutes had passed and Annette hadn't returned yet, Hershel called out. "Honey, your gloom and doom news show is back," he ventured cheekily, knowing it would annoy her. When she still didn't return to the living room, he noticed a gurgling noise coming from the kitchen. "Honey?" Hershel called again. There was a clang, but still no reply.

Knowing that Annette would never make him get up from the couch on his bad knee, Hershel reached for his cane. He struggled up and hobbled to the kitchen as fast as he could. On his way, the gurgling got louder and Hershel could now hear weak grunts coming from the kitchen as well. He glanced down at his cane and tightened his grip.

As Hershel came upon the doorway to the kitchen, he saw two things: first, the pie was now face-up on the floor. Second, Annette was trying her hardest to remove her face from a horribly disfigured man's snarling mouth. The man, if that's what it was, was reaching in through the open window where the pie had been cooling. His arms seemed glued to Annette's skin and hair - he wouldn't let go, even as she flailed wildly. The man's mouth was on top of Annette's, almost as though they'd been in flagrante delicto when Hershel stepped in. He was gnawing on her cheek.

Hershel raised his cane and prepared to strike the intruder, but since the man was only reaching inside, the rest of his body was still out in the backyard. If Hershel struck anything, it would be Annette, who was weeping silently. The man had taken out most of her throat and mouth, which Hershel realized had kept her from screaming. Suddenly Annette stopped struggling. She slumped where she stood, bent over the counter towards the window. The man, one of those cannibals Annette had been hearing about, paused his attack and looked right at Hershel. Panicked and terrified, Hershel scooped up the pie from the floor. He threw the pie in the man's face.

Temporarily, at least, it worked.

The end??????

Thanks guys!

05 December 2011

You Should Be Watching Angry Boys

Chris Lilley is the funniest man in Australia. And I think I know Australian comedy! (angry & boyish, right?)

I saw my first Chris Lilley show at the behest of my friend's girlfriend at the time. She'd slip into a bitchy teenage Australian accent and start calling everything "so random," and I'd wonder if she was doing some Pride & Prejudice bit that I wasn't getting (but Pride & Prejudice is set in England! but I can't tell the difference!). But it turned out she was quoting Summer Heights High, and we finally rented the dvds on netflix and watched every episode within two days.

In it, Chris Lilley plays the three main characters in a high school mockumentary: Ja'mie, the bitchy private school exchange student; Mr. G, the spoiled and delusional drama teacher; and Jonah, the Tongan problem child who can't stay out of trouble. In the span of just 7 episodes, Lilley's characters reach far deeper than you'd expect - they're hilarious, but they're also human, and it matters how things turn out for them. They reach so high (usually setting themselves up for utter failure) that it's impossible not to see how things turn out, waiting with crossed fingers.

Since this theme month is about shows you could ostensibly Be Watching (right now), it's only right to recommend Angry Boys, which will air on HBO in very early 2012. Chris Lilley expands his normal miniseries length to 12 episodes (We Can Be Heroes only had 6), and the result is a wider breadth for more main characters. Several characters aren't introduced until after the first and second episodes, as earlier ones fall into the background to make way. We are reintroduced to Nathan and Daniel Sims, the white trash twins from Dunt who originally ran for Australian of the Year; and we're introduced for the first time to their tough-as-nails Gran (my favorite), who guards the local juvenile detention center; Tiger Mom Jen, who forces her skateboarding son to perpetuate his gay merchandizing; S.Mouse, a rapper with pitiful rhymes; and Blake Oakfield, a retired surf bum.

With more episodes than its predecessors, Angry Boys doesn't have to follow its characters for just a short amount of time (say an Australian of the Year pre-final or one school term) - instead it just sits with these people, watching as they go through serious changes. With this series more than the others, it feels like the characters will keep on going after the credits stop rolling. We just have to wait a few more years for another Chris Lilley series so we can catch up with them again.

All photos courtesy HBO.com

01 December 2011

You Should Be Watching New Girl

Wow, people really hate this show. I mention New Girl (usually to relate a Schmidt anecdote), and immediately the eyes get to rolling and the sighs flood out like our air is running low on correct opinions. "I know, I know," I say. "Zooey Deschanel can be a bit..." and then I don't know what to say, because although I (sort of) share the opinion, I'm not sure what's exactly wrong with her. Is she too cutesy? Is she too successful? Is everyone just crushing that hard on Ben Gibbard? Well great news ladies, he's free again. And I'm free. To love Zooey Deschanel and her new show!

Here is a timeline of my feelings on Zooey Deschanel:
2000: Almost Famous comes out. Zooey enters my radar.
2003: I must be the only person ever who doesn't love Elf. I like the part on the escalator when he's having a hard time - that cracks me up. But syrup on spaghetti? Who would waste delicious syrup like that? I also have a hard time relating to the entire cast, which is heartbreaking because I love Mary Steenbergen and James Caan. AND NEWHART FOR GOD'S SAKE! What is happening to me?
2004: I rent All the Real Girls on dvd from Blockbuster. I like Zooey now (but hate her character for the second half of the movie).
2005: Bones premieres on Fox. I like talent families.
2007: Katherine burns me my first She & Him cd. M Ward is cool. I like this music.
2008: H&M has posters of AIDS-awareness bodysuits and I keep thinking the Katy Perry one is Zooey.
2009: I see 500 Days of Summer in the theater and it's simply 5% too much for me. The next girl is named Autumn? Toooo much. I start wondering if Zooey herself might be 5% too much. I hope she isn't; she has my coloring.
Spring 2011: I follow Zooey on twitter and my suspicions start to firm up. She's always tweeting about being at home with mom and they're baking! She's cooking Thanksgiving and she loves to cook! She adores everyone and everyone adores her! Weeeeeeee!
Fall 2011: New Girl premieres on fox. I have a habit of trying out any new comedy (within reason), no matter what prejudice I'm pretty sure I'm right about. I endure a punishing stream of zesty Whitney Cummings shows without reward. But then! New Girl pays off!

This morning I was looking around in the NY Times Television section and found an article written by self-declared "cranky geezer" Neil Genzlinger, who hates all new comedy. Why? Because it's not new - it's all been done before.

Well figured, dummy. Of course it's all been done before! Of course we've seen the same bits over and over and over again! It's tv, and tv has limitations. Limitations that demand each sitcom in history to have an "Oops I just saw you naked!" episode. Genzlinger takes particular offense to that very episode of New Girl ("Naked"). He outlines Seinfeld's "The Contest" episode, wherein the gang has a no-masturbating contest without ever mentioning the word itself, and compares the two:
Contrast that ["The Contest" episode from Seinfeld] with the naked-roommate episode of “New Girl.” It is all about the character Nick’s penis, which Ms. Deschanel’s character, Jess, has accidentally seen. The word “penis” is spoken (or, in one case, sung) nine times, and that’s not including a batch of near-penises as Jess struggles to say the word. (Eventually, of course, she does.) It’s all done with an episode-long smirk, the very smirk I affected back in junior high when using what I thought would be an attention-getting word. And I might have found “New Girl” funny when I was in junior high. The thing is, I’ve graduated. Sorry, New Girl; no laugh for you.
No Genzlinger laugh for New Girl, folks, you heard it here first. I didn't realize we were declaring shows "good" or "bad" based on how they stand up to SEINFELD. That's like going to a perfectly interesting art show and then tossing off something like "Eh, it's no da Vinci." No, no it is not a Leonardo da Vinci. But it still has a few things going for it, and we owe it to the future of culture to at least try to see something good (or at least new) in it.

Here we finally turn to New Girl, one of my new favorites directly because of the novelty of its character Schmidt. Schmidt (played by Max Greenfield a/k/a Young Sandy Cohen a/k/a the Cop that Veronica Mars Dates for like One Episode) is a character I've never encountered on tv before. He's a douchebag living among nice guys, a puffed-up peacock in eternal show-off mode, a full-throttle version of the brattiest feelings we have all felt before. Schmidt's roommates, Nick and Winston, do what they can to keep him in line, and Schmidt seems honestly to be interested in self-improvement. He's just got a long way to go.

In the pilot, when Schmidt meets Jess's best friend (a model named Cece), he can't help himself - he rips off his shirt, casually remarking how hot it is, thereby revealing his not-extremely-toned physique. He then smiles the most shit-eating grin and just starts repeating Cece's name to impress her. "Cece. Cheche. Chechelia," he continues, settling on a brief show of all the Italian he truly doesn't have a grasp on. I laughed for hours. The day Cece finally acknowledges Schmidt as a person, he leaves the room so that he can jump off the wall like an amateur stuntman and do 16 diving rolls on the floor.

Later on, in the very "Naked" episode in question, Schmidt begs Jess to describe Nick's penis (as he hasn't ever seen it, even after years of best friendship). When she refuses, he puts out his hands to illustrate a length. "I'll keep going and you tell me when to stop," he says, but his hands are spreading out so fast and to such an unrealistic length that he can't freaking believe she hasn't stopped him yet. "Seriously? No. Wait, oh my- REALLY? No, can't be- THAT'S INSANE! No, let me start over." This, ladies and gentlemen, made me laugh so, so hard. And I was alone in my room, a situation that typically discourages verbalized laughter. What a fully-formed asshole, and what a silly person, and what a foolish dreamer. Schmidt is more than just a douchebag - he's a human douchebag.

Like Schmidt, Zooey's character Jess is a human version of the incredible dork she portrays. At first glance, Jess seems like Zooey Deschanel Cutesy x1000 - she's putting a turkey in the dryer, pulling Feelings Sticks out of her purse, and wearing insane costumes for her kindergarten class. But what's annoying about that kind of cutesiness isn't the individual actions - it's the proud display of all the actions put together. A girl who knits a scarf has a hobby; a girl who knits tons of scarves and puts them in your face and essentially begs you to recognize how idiosyncratic she is has a problem.

Although Jess's little weird traits add up, they're never championed as something to be proud of. Her roommates are constantly trying to get her to just chill out and be cool. She's trying pretty hard, and they note it as openly as they note Schmidt's douchebagginess. She tries to start a game of catch and immediately breaks the tv. She has crushes on truly lame guys, like her hippie boyfriend and Famous Computerman Justin Long (whose character people seem to like, but just because they haven't seen through his sheepishness to the low self-esteem lurking far below). She's a loser, just like everyone else in the apartment. We have here a jobless basketball player, a schlub who just got dumped, a douchebag, and a total dork. IT'S THE PERFECT TEAM!

I'm really enjoying New Girl, and I think that you should be watching it - that is, if you want to see something new, despite Genzlinger's opinion. Besides, I get a feeling that Genzy only really watched the penis episode. In his article he mentions that his crankiness, though palpable, never kept him from laughing at MASH in his younger days. Well, there's your problem right there.

All photos courtesy fox.com