Sometimes they let me blog at work. Check out my latest post and vote for Charles.
Sometimes they let me blog at work. Check out my latest post and vote for Charles.
Sorry it’s been so long since last I wrote. We have much to catch up on: Vanessa Grigoriadis’ Rolling Stone exposé; your brilliant album, Blackout; your appearances on How I Met your Mother; and my own experience taking what I like to call Britney Spears’ Eight Simple Steps to Breakup Recovery.
I’ve probably read Vanessa Grigoriadis’ Rolling Stone story a hundred times now, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any less depressing. Vanessa paints you as bratty and paranoid, traits no doubt the result of being both over-indulged and exploited by everyone in your life. She seems convinced of the verity of heartbreaking-if-true rumors: breast implants at seventeen and an affair with Wade Robson (assclown choreographer responsible for this lame So You Think You Can Dance number) that destroyed your relationship with Justin Timberlake. She also chronicles every reckless choice you’ve made over the past five years: your Vegas wedding to childhood friend Jason Alexander, your wedding to Kevin Federline, the two pregnancies that quickly followed, your divorce, and your months-long post-divorce bender. The Vegas wedding I can understand—there was definitely a moment when my ex-boyfriend Jordon and I walked by the wedding chapel at the Mall of America that the thought crossed my mind. Even the wedding to Kevin I can understand. As I’ve said before, we are all occasionally guilty of falling for idiots, and, as you proved with your first, marriages are not irreversible. Babies, however, are. The choice to have babies was a choice to take on responsibility few 23-year-olds are prepared to handle and a choice to be inextricably linked to Kevin. It was also a choice that made all of your subsequent choices—the divorce, the bender—far more grave. Like I said, the Rolling Stone story is depressing.
But Vanessa’s piece is perhaps unfair. So determined is she to depict you as an “American Tragedy” that she fails to mention the beacon of hope that has been burning brightly since its October release: your latest album, Blackout. It is your best album to date; there’s not one bad song on it. Of course, the album never allows us to truly hear your voice: your vocals have been so digitized that you sound as though you’re singing in unison with yourself or from the bottom of a well. But your talent is still evident. “Gimme More” is a dance party favorite everywhere. “Piece of Me” is the perfect paparazzi anthem, a feat Lindsay Lohan’s “Rumors” failed to achieve. Making this feat even more impressive is the fact that throughout every chorus and all but one verse the tune of the lead vocal track is comprised of only two notes. “Break the Ice,” on the other hand, showcases your vocal range and your ability to carry a tricky tune: the melody of the verses makes entire octave jumps while the melody of the chorus jumps by fifths. And in spite of its dopey lyrics (“When you walk, and when you talk, I get the tingle, I want to mingle”), I also enjoy your latest single, “Radar.” Favorite deep cuts are “Hot as Ice” as well as “Ooh Ooh Baby,” whose verses are reminiscent of the verses of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” and whose suggestive lyrics (“I can feel you on my lips, I can feel you deep inside”) always prompted Jim to ask “Which lips is she talking about?” By neglecting to mention the brilliance of Blackout, Vanessa is neglecting your talent and the fact that the best writers and producers in the business want to work with you, things that make your outlook a lot less bleak.
Of course, my love for you and my belief in your ability to get your shit together and make a glorious comeback have been unwavering. And as of late you’ve been making me proud. I enjoyed your March appearance on How I Met Your Mother. Much like your 2006 guest appearance on Will and Grace, your turn as Abby, the receptionist in Ted’s dermatologist’s office, gave you a chance to let your inner goofball shine. But while I enjoyed the first of your How I Met Your Mother appearances, I was disappointed by the second—not because of any failing on your part, but because the writing was poor. In your first installment, you are smitten with Ted, devastated when your love is unrequited, and easily seduced by his smarmy friend Barney. In the following episode, from which you are absent, someone is sabotaging Barney’s love life, and so, in a brilliant and timely parody of March Madness, Barney creates a bracket of all the women he’s mistreated in order to narrow the field of potential saboteurs. Five episodes later we discover the saboteur is in fact you—a terrible anti-climax, as your one night stand with Barney pales in comparison to the deliciously cruel things he’d done to the sixty-four women of the bracket. How I Met Your Mother is a show with no qualms about flashing backward and forward in time, so the saboteur could have been a never-before-seen character whose back-story could have been easily filled in through flashback. Once Barney discovers that it is you who has been warning the women of New York City against him he manages to seduce you once again and then concocts a ridiculous scheme: you and he will pretend to be in love. You’re hoping the scheme will make Ted jealous (this makes sense), and Barney is hoping the scheme will show Ted how silly love is (this does not make sense). The anti-climax coupled with Barney’s unclear reasoning make this episode a flop. Its only redeeming moment was your Cookie-Puss-Fudgie-the-Whale-Wedding-Cake line, which is a joke I’ve been making for years. You are, of course, welcome to borrow it any time.
Anyway, Brit, the rumors are true: Jim and I have called it quits. In the immortal words of Neil Sedaka, “breaking up is hard to do,” particularly when your ex was the brains of the operation, as I’m sure you’re well aware. So far I’ve mixed up Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Federico Garcia Lorca as well The Bell Jar and The Bell Curve. I have also over-drafted my checking account three times. These are the sorts of incidents that Jim used to be able to prevent. In the wake of the breakup I’ve been taking my cues from you. As I am neither the mother of two small children nor the subject of millions of paparazzi photographs, I have been able to take the Britney Spears’ Eight Simple Steps to Breakup Recovery without guilt or embarrassing national media coverage:
Step 1: Immediately embark on a wholesome athletic activity.
Remember how you broke up with Kevin via text message and then went ice skating in Rockefeller Center the next day? The weekend Jim and I split up I spent most of my time at a swim meet. See? You and I are wholesome. And athletic.
Step 2: Hit the bar.
Remember how you passed out and threw up in public? Miller Light is now an integral part of my diet.
Step 3: Dress like a stripper.
Remember when you borrowed clothes from a stripper? I took a pole dancing lesson, and I borrowed stripper clothes, too.
Step 4: Make new celebrity “friends.”
Remember when you and Paris and Lindsay were besties for, like, five minutes? I’ve been hanging out with celebrities, too. I saw Beyoncé and Jay-Z at game 5 of the Celtics-Cavaliers series. And the fat kid from Superbad. And Rob Lowe. At one point I was within twenty feet of both Rob Lowe and Wally Szczerbiak. It was orgasmic. I also saw Al Roker at the airport. His flight to New York had been cancelled and he was trying to get on mine. Remember when he had gastric bypass? He totally put the weight back on. And he must have had a chin tuck at some point because there’s this weird dimple just under his chin. You could lose a finger in there. And I saw Jonathan Kraft, president of the Patriots, at Care.com headquarters. I wore my Plaxico t-shirt special for the occasion, and he was a pretty good sport about it.
Step 5: Get a crummy new haircut.
Remember when you shaved your head? My crummy haircut wasn’t quite that crummy, but these Brenda Walsh bangs are driving me crazy. They’re always in my eyes. Sometimes I feel like a sheepdog.
Step 6: Give an embarrassing public performance.
Remember your underwhelming VMA performance? Don’t feel bad. In addition to my frequent mediocre karaoke performances, I’ve also been so drunk for the past three months that I’ve publicly ridden a mechanical bull. Twice.
Step 7: Find lots of new “boyfriends.”
Remember when you made out with some college kid in a hot tub? And then started dating that Arab-British paparazzo with that terrible soul patch? In the past three months I’ve been to two weddings and my college reunion, events where men are so easily seduced it’s not even remotely challenging. Boys are like fish in a barrel.
Step 8: Hit rock bottom.
Remember when you had to go to rehab? And then had to be hospitalized? My rock bottom was not quite so rocky, but two Fridays ago I didn’t have anything to do and went to see the disappointing Sex and the City movie ALL BY MYSELF. It was a real low point.
Here’s hoping things can only get better—for you and me both.
I wasn’t a West Wing watcher, so Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip has been my first experience with your work. Unfortunately, it has not been a pleasant one.
When I heard that Amanda Peet and Sarah Paulson of Jack and Jill fame were once again teaming up, I vowed I would not watch. But, well, my boyfriend’s in charge of the Tivo, and once I started watching your train wreck of a show, I just couldn’t look away.
Your television show about the making of a television show uses common television show plot devices such as “Stuck Together” (see the two-part series “The Harriet Dinner” in which Amanda Peet and Bradley Whitford are locked on the roof of the theater together) and The Scooby-Doo Ending (see the two-part series “Nevada Day” in which John Goodman delivers a Velma-esque explanation of Nathan Corddry’s mysterious behavior). Needless to say, Studio 60 is very, very meta.
The show reminds me a lot of the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, which I have been able to enjoy through the magic of Netflix. This television show about a Canadian Shakespearian theater troupe uses common Shakespearian plot devices such as duels, ghosts, and one man’s descent into madness. Slings and Arrows, however, is far more successful than Studio 60. I believe there are several reasons for this.
First of all, Slings and Arrows is meta, but not nearly so self-consciously as Studio 60. No one on Slings and Arrows ever groans when a common Shakespearian plot device is used, but everyone on Studio 60 groans when a common television plot device is used, calling extra attention to the meta irony of it all. It’s as though you’re worried that if they didn’t groan, the audience might not get the joke—and you should know that the first rule of writing is to respect the intelligence of your audience.
Second of all, on Slings and Arrows, the plays within the show have already been written, and, much like Snapple, these plays are the best stuff on earth. The problem with Studio 60 is that you are writing not only the show, but also the show within the show, and the show within the show sucks. Hard.
Lastly, Slings and Arrows keeps it simple. The show is about a theater troupe: the relationships among the actors, the management’s hilarious attempts at marketing a dying art, everyone’s struggle to maintain the integrity of the theater. Studio 60, on the other hand, takes on way too much. For some reason, you didn’t think that the ins and outs of putting together a television show would be enough for your audience. You wanted to make the show be about more, about politics, the war in Iraq, the battle between the Christian right and the Hollywood liberals. And it all comes off as preachy. You are not entertaining your audience, Aaron, you are preaching to them, and I would imagine that most of them don’t appreciate it.
I’m sure that you’ve seen Slings and Arrows and that you are aware of the fact that it succeeds where Studio 60 fails—I assume this is why you brought Mark McKinney on board a few episodes into your series’ run. Unfortunately, this addition to your staff was too little too late.
Better luck next time, Sorkin.
I love you.
I’ve been Netflixing my way through As Time Goes By, and I’m constantly amazed by what a smart and charming show it is. American TV viewers so rarely see older characters who are funny and fully developed, who have careers and love affairs. Not since Golden Girls has there been an American sitcom with older characters as well-drawn as Jean and Lionel.
My boyfriend and I saw Notes on a Scandal last weekend and loved it. Your character is so believable, so simultaneously pathetic and manipulative. You and Cate Blanchett certainly deserve the Oscar nods you’ve received.
Really, Judi, there is only one thing I don’t like about you.
Why on earth do you participate in James Bond films? I don’t profess to know much about Bond (I’ve only seen The World is Not Enough and Casino Royale), but I do know that any series which asks its audience to believe that Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist is NOT okay. Casino Royale, to which my boyfriend dragged me, has been touted as the best of the recent Bond films, but I found it implausible to the point of distraction. Face it, Judi: THERE IS NO CIRCUMSTANCE IN WHICH CAPTURING A BAD GUY WOULD BE DEPENDENT UPON FIRST DEFEATING HIM AT TEXAS HOLD’EM. There just isn’t. Adding insult to injury, the film’s Bond girl (who is oh-so-conveniently killed at the end, freeing James to boff whomever he likes in the next installment) is neither famous nor attractive. She isn’t even British, although I found her accent and snaggletooth to be rather convincing.
Keep up all your good work, Judi, but please stay way from James Bond.
I love you. I love your strong chin. I love the moles on your neck. And I love the way you teeter on the brink of being chubby.
I’ve been a fan ever since you became Joey Potter’s roommate. Dawson’s Creek was in desperate need of a character with a new, saucy perspective on the angsty, incestuous gang from Capeside, a character who could remove the stick from Joey Potter’s self-righteous butt. You did eventually wind up joining in on the angst and the incest (remember your battle with alcoholism and your love affair with Pacey?), but there were a few episodes there in which yours was the voice of reason cutting through the din of long-winded, over-analytical dialogue. Thank you for that.
Upon perusing your IMDB profile, I discovered that you are the godmother of Michelle Williams’ daughter Matilda, confirming my suspicion that Michelle, unlike Katie Holmes, is a nice person who is not above remaining friends with her former Dawson’s Creek castmates.
Through the magic of Netflix, I’ve been making my way through all the episodes of Freaks and Geeks. It’s such a good show, and you’re so good on it. I would let you bully me any time, Busy, especially if you were wearing lots of eyeliner and a supersweet vinyl ski jacket.
I love you so much that I’ve even been trying to watch ER again. This is no small task, as I haven’t watched faithfully since Doctor Greene died five years ago, and there is a lot to catch up on. I tried to get back into it a few times before, but Doctor Carter and Doctor Kovac were always in Africa, and I couldn’t figure out why, and, honestly, Africa is just such a downer. But now that you play the Jesus freak medical student and Uncle Jesse plays the medical student who can’t read good, I’ve redoubled my efforts. It’s so nice to see you and Linda Cardellini together again.
Keep up the good work, Busy.
P.S. Would you please accept my MySpace friend request?
I hate you. I hate the Target lady and I hate it when Aunt Linda reviews movies on Weekend Update and I can’t believe these people have become recurring characters. But perhaps what I hate most about you is that you haven’t paid your dues. I hate it that you just showed up on SNL one day and promptly began appearing in, like, EVERY SKETCH. WTF? SNL just canned several actors who had been there for years, and the writers must have forgotten all about poor Maya Rudolph while she was on maternity leave because they NEVER write a sketch for HER anymore. But somehow you just popped up out of nowhere and instantly became the star of the show. Sure, Amy Poehler is in every sketch, too, but she’s been around since 2001 and is just so darn loveable.
What gives, Wiig? You’re a newbie, you’re not that funny, and yet you’re getting tons of screen time. Are you sleeping with Lorne Michaels?
All that thinking about recycled television plots got me thinking about recycled television actors, particularly those of the WB drama variety. It’s a wonder that the folks over at the WB weren’t more concerned that their young audience would be confused when Cliff, Capeside’s resident jock, reappeared as Noel, Felicity’s favorite RA, or when Dean, Stars Hollow’s resident grocery bagger, and CJ, the recovering alcoholic/peer counselor who slept with Audrey and then started dating Jen, turned out to be brothers in search of the supernatural being that killed their mother, or when Joey Potter’s moody, mysterious, and well-read boyfriend Eddie and Rory’s moody, mysterious, and well-read boyfriend Jess wound up on other WB dramas which got canned almost immediately.
I would have to say that my favorite recycled WB drama actor is Chad Michael Murray. I love that he played Chilton’s resident preppy asshole Tristan. I love that he two-timed Jen and then asked Joey Potter to sing lead in his band in spite of her terrible voice. I love that he further fueled the Duff/Lohan feud by bringing Hilary to the premiere of Freaky Friday. And I love that he finally got his own WB drama and then promptly married all of his costars. Chad, I salute you.
A close second is Leann Hunley, who played both Tamara Jacobs, cradle-robber and holder of the Pacey Witter v-card, and Logan Huntzberger's gold-digging mother.
By far my least favorite recycled WB drama actor is Sherilyn Fenn. Remember when she played that bitchy restaurant manager who hit on Pacey? And then he got the restaurant staff to go on strike and she got fired? But then afterward his car wouldn’t start and he reluctantly accepted a ride home from her? And then she had a sort of high-speed existential crisis and narrowly avoided crashing her car and killing them both? Yeah. Me neither. And then she played Jess' father's girlfriend in that episode of Gilmore Girls in which Jess ran away to California and was supposed to start his own spin-off series but didn't. And now she plays Anna Nardini on Gilmore Girls, and it would have been such an interesting role if the evil Amy Sherman-Palladino had made Anna at all charming—perhaps Luke’s feelings for Anna would have resurfaced, and his relationship with Lorelai would have been jeopardized, and for that we would have wanted to hate Anna, but she would have been so charming that we would have liked her in spite of ourselves. That would have been a much more interesting role for Sherilyn than the one that she got, which consisted mainly of being nonsensically distrustful of Lorelai. And now in the masterful hands of assclown David S. Rosenthal, Anna continues to be a one-dimensional villain, depriving Luke of time with their daughter. Poor Sherilyn is really a victim of bad writing, but she doesn’t help things by delivering every line in the same huffy, matter-of-fact manner.
Anyway. My boyfriend and I spent Christmas at my parents’ house in New Jersey. My parents gave my boyfriend an Xbox, a gift which will surely eliminate the need for my boyfriend and I to speak to one another, which is nice. Also, I will from now on post only videos of myself singing karaoke and playing Dance Dance Revolution in the comfort of my living room. Sweet.
I hope you all had a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah and are in the midst of a happy Kwanzaa. I still remember the first year I noticed Kwanzaa’s existence. It was 1996 and I was fourteen. “What’s Kwanzaa?” I wondered aloud as I sat in architecture class. Suddenly, Russel, the supercute black guy who sat behind me (he was two years older than I was and had never spoken to me before), gave me this answer: “It’s black Christmas.” My heart skipped a beat.
I ran into Russel at a bar in my hometown the other night. He didn’t remember my name, or that we had taken architecture and run track together, but he did think I looked vaguely familiar, which the fourteen-year-old girl inside me found very flattering. He wound up talking to my boyfriend about how during recovery from knee surgery he’d had to poop with his splinted leg stuck straight out in front of him, and somehow this did not at all detract from my romanticized remembrance of the high school him. Anyway, my reunion with Russel, a decade after my Kwanzaa inquiry, inspired me to do some research. So I read up on Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration during which an increasing number of symbolic candles are lit each night, and I must say that it does NOT sound like black Christmas. It does, however, sound an awful lot like black Hanukkah.
I wish you all a happy and healthy new year.
I’ve been thinking a lot about plot lately and I thought I’d share my musings with my devoted readers. (Hi, Mom.) I’ve come to subscribe to the theory that there is a finite number of plots, and fiction writers simply recycle these plots over and over again. This theory is affirmed by the sitcom plot déjà vu I experience with increasing frequency.
Have you ever noticed that every sitcom has a Cyrano de Bergerac episode? This nineteenth-century French play has been recycled countless times by American television. Will and Grace put a gay spin on Cyrano when Will fed lines to Jack, who needed help wooing Patrick Dempsey. Will, of course, wound up falling for McDreamy, too. South Park put a cynical spin on Cyrano when Cartman gave such romantic advice as, “Even though what she's saying now isn't interesting at all, you say, ‘Wow. That is very interesting. Please tell me more,’” to Jimmy, who needed help getting laid. And Roseanne put a meta spin on Cyrano when the show’s titular heroine fed lines to her sister Jackie, who was playing Roxanne in the Lanford Community Theater production of the play.
My favorite sitcom plot device is one I like to call “Stuck Together.” Surely you’ve noticed the abundance of television scenarios in which two characters in desperate need of an excuse to interact get stuck somewhere, often in a supply closet, an elevator, or a walk-in freezer. I can’t think of any classic works of literature in which this cheap device is employed, but countless television shows come to mind: the prom episode of Saved by the Bell in which Jessie Spano and Albert Clifford Slater get locked in the boiler room, for example. Let me also remind you of the Dawson’s Creek episode in which Joey Potter and the weaselly Drue Valentine get locked in the yacht club storage closet and of the Dawson’s Creek episode in which Joey and Pacey spend a night locked in a Kmart. Full House also used this device liberally. Note the episode in which Uncle Jesse and Michelle get locked in an auto mechanic’s garage and miss Michelle’s birthday party, the episode in which Uncle Jesse and Joey get locked in the basement and no one comes to let them out because the red light that indicates that they are not to be disturbed is on, and the episode in which Uncle Jesse and Kimmy Gibbler get locked in the Smash Club supply closet and miss most of the club’s opening night. Given his propensity for getting locked in places, it’s a wonder the other characters ever agreed to go anywhere with Uncle Jesse.
My very favorite Stuck Together episode is the episode of Felicity in which Felicity and Julie get stuck in a subway car together for several hours, and their fight over Ben comes to a head. Perhaps what I like so much about this episode is that it combines the Stuck Together device with another oft-recycled plot: the Twelve Angry Men plot, employed whenever any television character has jury duty. (See 7th Heaven episode “Twelve Angry People” and Picket Fences episode "System Down.") The other subway passengers form an impromptu jury and weigh in on the girls’ dispute. It’s really well done. I wonder if this is the future of fiction: plot hybrids.
As a reader and television viewer, I find familiar plots comforting. In fact, Keeping Up Appearances, a British series in which every single episode has the exact same plot, is one of my favorite shows. As a writer, believing that there is a finite number of dramatic situations lifts the pressure to create an original plot; the art of plotting is reduced to selecting an item or two from a finite list.
To my dearest darling Mary-Margaret:
I had an epiphany the other day: you are both the Mary-Margaret Humes who played Miriam the Vestal Virgin in the History of the World: Part I and the Mary-Margaret Humes who played Gail could-my-hair-BE-any-bigger Leery on Dawson’s Creek. I’ve been a fan of Dawson’s Creek for eight years and a fan of History of the World: Part I for as long as I can remember; I can’t believe I didn’t have this epiphany sooner.
You were beautiful in History of the World, Mary-Margaret. The other Vestal Virgins were all played by Playboy Playmates, and yet you were still the most beautiful. Take a look at this screenshot from the History of the World trailer. (It’s literally a shot of my television screen—it must be in violation of some sort of law.) Your name is preceded by “Introducing.” Mel Brooks was “Introducing” you to the world. This was your ticket to stardom. And you blew it. You know who else’s name was preceded by “Introducing” in the trailer of an early eighties comedy? Christie Brinkley's. National Lampoon’s Vacation. Why couldn’t you have been more like her? Why couldn’t you have become a supermodel and married a rock star and wound up doing home gym infomercials with Walker, Texas Ranger? Why did you fade into obscurity and then reappear years later as Gail I-just-wanted-to-want-again Leery, one half of the only set of television parents more hateful than Jim and Cindy Walsh? Why, Mary-Margaret, why?
Last night I watched the premiere of The Duel, your latest reincarnation of the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. I have a question about the show's logo: who are the ad wizards who came up with this one? I realize that the font is supposed to look medieval, but there's something funny about the E and the L. They look like a C and a K to me. Every time you showed the logo last night, what I saw was The Duck. Naturally, this is what I will be calling the show from now on.