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January 21, 2011

Watch Portlandia tonight on IFC! 10:30/9:30c


IFC: freaks, geeks, undeclared, arrested

December 14, 2010

‘Tis the season to don your blanket burrito.  For those of you fortunate (and wise) enough to live anywhere but the Midwest, the blanket burrito can be a fashion statement.  However, for the rest of us who are freezing our freaking heinies off in Chicago, the Twin Cities (OMG! watch the video below to see the Metrodome collapse!), Wisconsin or Indiana, the blanket burrito is a necessity.  Please refer to the diagram above, compliments of the American Alpine Institute’s Climbing Blog, for instructions on how to wrap yourself in a blanket burrito.

Once you’ve tightly wrapped yourself in a blanket and have all your required accessories within arm’s reach (remote controls, cellular phone, tumbler of hot toddy, et cetera), tune in to IFC. Besides the fact that they have a great website with many interesting articles, the Independent Film Channel airs some of the best TV that many have overlooked/forgotten.  (Check the website to find the IFC channel in your area, by provider.)

Currently, you can watch marathons of Arrested Development and Undeclared, the lesser known follow-up to the also little known gem Freaks and Geeks, both from the creative machine that is Judd Apatow and both spawned before his empire was built.

Vintage Apatow

IFC aired Freaks and Geeks last month, but you can still get the same humor profile from its follow-up, Undeclared.  If you have enjoyed an Apatow flick in the last ten years, or if you are a breathing human being, you can enjoy this short-lived sitcom about kids getting their feet wet at college.  Not only is the dialogue witty and situations comical (see what I did there?), the cast is solid, the portrayal of college life is realistic, and the guest spots are an imdb fan’s dream.  To name a few: Adam Sandler, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer, Fred Willard, Ted Nugent, Will Ferrell, Martin Starr, and Ben Stiller.  Click here to see episode clips and extras at the IFC website.

RA, Amy Poehler, and Jay Baruchel's dad, Loudon Wainwright III

Will Ferrell plays an unseemly character...

There are numerous high school coming of age sitcoms, but the college experience is a relatively untapped premise.  (As evidence, compare Wikipedia’s category list of “High School Television Series” with “College Television Series.”)  It seems to me that network execs are just beginning to grasp this and trying to run with it.  Case in point: TBS’ Glory Daze has been getting some buzz lately, and it looks like it might have a good chance of making it.  Community is another example of a television show featuring the college experience, albeit, one that is seemingly less mainstream, but one that tells a similar story, nonetheless.  As one who has had both college experiences (the traditional, moving away from home for the first time and the less traditional, stuck with losers at a community college) I can tell you that both experiences are great mediums for the telling of a modern bildungsroman.  To its credit, Community has just recently started to show great potential for this, and I really hope they stick with it.

All that being said, Undeclared foresaw this niche almost ten years ago, and it is a great throwback to the college freshman experience.  Luckily for us, IFC provides the platform to view it.  Throwing your first kegger, getting really ill without having your mom around, opening your first credit card, closing your first credit card, being forced out of your room so your roommate can TCOB, cheating and getting away with it, and who can forget the disastrous cafeteria food?  Apatow really has his finger on the pulse of, well, growing up.

Now.  While I have attempted to steer clear of making the case for AD on this blog with the exception of subtle shout outs (I feel that the show is too good for someone as “lowly” as me to have to “vouch” for it), I will insert this quick blurb:

Arrested Development and its cast and crew won or was nominated for the following honors:

  • 3 Writers Guild Awards
  • 8 Television Critics Association Awards
  • Future Classic TV Land Award
  • 3 SAG Awards
  • 9 Satellite Awards
  • 3 Producers Guild Awards
  • 3 Golden Globes
  • 22 Emmys

That’s not even a complete list.  But don’t let the mainstream awards tell you (because trust me, this show went completely over the heads of the mainstream), check it out for yourself on IFC all this month.  To meet the Bluths, click here.

"Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together..."

Coming in January, IFC will air three more “under the radar” shows: The Larry Sanders Show (“Hey, now!”), Mr. Show, and The Ben Stiller Show. Corresponding blog posts to follow.

Night of Too Many Stars

November 17, 2010

If you’re like me and missed it the first time around, (it originally aired October 21 on Comedy Central) check your local Comcast OnDemand listings for “Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education” (OnDemand>TV Entertainment>Comedy Central>Stand-Up Specials).  If you don’t have Comcast, do not fret—clips are available online at the Comedy Central website.

Hosted by Jon Stewart, the event was filmed at New York’s Beacon Theatre on October 2, but the program was edited to air in conjunction with a live telethon featuring dozens of celebrities manning a phone bank.  This is one telethon that will not have you reaching for the remote to switch stations.  At the same time, it aptly promotes autism research and education, intermittently showing brief clips about the cause.

If you only watch one clip (or click on one link) of this program, watch Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan in a hilarious homage to Simon and GarfunkelIf you watch two more, check out Chris Rock cursing out a young woman’s ex-boyfriend who snubbed her on Facebook and Steve Carell simulate an orgasm while screaming Naomi Watts’ name.  Guaranteed laughs, I promise.  Hilarious.  Other highlights include appearances by Tina Fey, Lewis Black, Jim Gaffigan, Conan O’Brien, Triumph the Insult Dog, Adam Sandler, and so many more.

Is that NBC intellectual property?

Steve Carell climaxes

Not only is the actual live event wonderfully funny and entertaining, the telethon portion is surprisingly enjoyable, as well.  If you get to watch the program through OnDemand (commercial-free!), you get to see both.  I highly recommend checking out the whole thing because the telethon showcases very popular celebs being super cute and funny.  At one point, Will Forte is shirtless and Zach Galifianakis is talking into a banana, you know, just in the background.  George Clooney is also heavily promoted on the telethon because, lord knows, everyone loves him.  Some other phone bankers: Larry David, “Sully” Sullenberger, Tom Hanks, David Spade, Betty White, Jeff Garlin, Olivia Munn, Rob Huebel, Bob Odenkirk, Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, Paul Scheer, Jim Parsons, Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Weird Al, Eric Stonestreet, and the list goes on and on.

Grinderman on Jimmy Fallon

November 16, 2010

Grinderman 2

Last night, Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds, now known as Grinderman, rocked the eff out on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  They played “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” from their recently released Grinderman 2.  To no one’s surprise, they did not play “No Pussy Blues,” which I can only imagine would not be allowed without some serious bleeping.  However, “Mickey Mouse” does include a very salient refrain that goes, “And he sucked her and he sucked her and he sucked her dry,” which at times became, “And we sucked her, we sucked her, we sucked her dry.”  It went over surprisingly well!

To see the video, click on the link and go to the 36:00 mark or the hash mark signifying the final commercial break in the show.  You will thank me when you hear him howl.  Multiple times.  Like you might expect from the wolf on the cover of the album.

He's bringing sexy back

I can’t explain it… but Nick Cave… long-haired, usually mustachioed, lyrically misogynistic, and often chest-brandishing is super sexy when he jumps around and growls.  And nothing pleases me more than a vibrant rainbow of synth pedals in the very capable feet of Grinderman.  Feedback resounds!

Throwback to the 90s

November 10, 2010

As an addendum to yesterday’s post:

Conan’s on a roll with his guests.  Tonight, he welcomes super-hottie and surprisingly funny Jon Hamm and tomorrow, my favorite hipster, Michael Cera.  (Him?)

Just to recap the coolness: on Monday, Jack White and Conan rocked out to Eddie Cochran’s rock-a-billy classic ditty, “Twenty Flight Rock” and last night, Soundgarden took the stage marking a televised performance 13 years in the making.

Another kind of Pale Force

And finally, for those who thought that Chris Cornell was falling off, that he couldn’t possibly wail like he used to, or that Soundgarden is no longer relevant, check this out!

Welcome back, Conan!

November 9, 2010

Conan's back!

The most difficult part about Conan O’Brien’s return to late night television is the quandary it poses for me at the ten o’clock hour.  For the last several years, I have dutifully tuned into Comedy Central’s one-two combination of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report.  Now, I have to choose between the two basic cable networks because I am a huge proponent of watching shows, especially those of the fake news variety, at the time they air rather than as a re-broadcast.  And last night, even though I started the hour watching Comedy Central, I very quickly ended up flipping to TBS to watch Conan in its entirety.  I surprised myself a little by this because I wasn’t expecting his return to be great or even good.  In fact, I was worried that all the hype would bite him in the ass.  However, despite what David Bianculli and the NYTimes thinks, the opening episode of Conan was a refreshing return to Standard O’Brien Humor (SOH) and filled with genuine laughs, ones that I wasn’t expecting.

First of all, his cold open was a success.  The guest appearances were notable, (Yes, I will have some more Hamm), and the comedy was poignant because his viewers need to know that moving to TBS translates to a smaller budget and a pay-cut (this poignancy will only come through if you’ve seen the cold open).  Some critics will call his self-deprecating humor tiresome and counteractive (See Bianculli), but I beg to differ; self-deprecation is what makes O’Brien funny.  Last night, as a gag, O’Brien and sidekick Andy Richter donned rubber Halloween masks resembling O’Brien’s face.  The manufacturer of the mask couldn’t sell it as a Conan O’Brien mask out of obvious legal concerns, so the mask was instead marketed as an “Ex-Talk Show Host” mask.  Haha, Conan, the joke’s on you.  Upon putting the mask over his head, Richter hilariously noted, “It smells like tears [inside].”  Richter is back and the best sidekick out there.

A dynamic duo

To illustrate O’Brien’s penchant for self-deprecating humor, one of the funniest recurring bits to come out of his original Late Night with Conan O’Brien was his animated collaboration with Jim Gaffigan: Pale Force.  These animated episodes portrayed Gaffigan as a brawny and unquestionably capable superhero while O’Brien literally peed in his superhero tights and sobbed like a little girl.

Another kind of dynamic duo

Emasculating himself is part of O’Brien’s strategic forte, and I feel like it succeeded even more so last night than on his previous shows.  Indeed, last night’s show did not have O’Brien pissing himself, but he was “whacked” by the NBC execs/mafiosos multiple times from beginning to end.  And isn’t that the point of O’Brien’s success story?  That despite his seeming ineptitude, inability, and well, impotence (see Pale Force), he came out on top because he knows his demographic? And is it just me, or does he look more attractive with that hiatus beard?


Yes, I realize that standing next to a monkey would make anyone look attractive.

Of course, all this raises the point that I am a prime example of this demographic that O’Brien appeals to.  However, this is noteworthy because in snubbing O’Brien, NBC overlooked this demographic, a very shortsighted and costly move.  You know the demo I’m talking about.  If you work in an office, you’re probably apt to complain about us because we’re always on Facebook, not willing to work extra hours, in constant need of recognition, praise and incentive, and almost never without earbuds.  Last week’s episode of 30 Rock included an excellent zing on this lazy generation (go to the 16:26 time marker).

The obvious is very relevant here—while Letterman and Leno compete for an aging demographic of retirees, O’Brien is cashing in on one that will matter in the years to come.  This is a very similar story to the cable news market.  Much like Bill O’Reilly and his undisputed success in Letterman and Leno’s key demographic with The O’Reilly Factor, Stewart and Colbert succeed in bagging O’Brien’s demo, which will matter much more in the near future.  It’s a sort of changing of guards—O’Brien, Stewart, and Colbert will usher in a new relevance, while Letterman, Leno, and O’Reilly will stick with AARP cardholders.

I’m not sure which network my TV will start on at 10:00 tonight, but I am hoping for a masturbating bear sighting (SOH).

“It’s a good thing to stay in the dark about things – it keeps life interesting.” –George

November 7, 2010

Bored to DeathHere’s something you don’t want to be in the dark about—HBO’s Bored to Death (10pm/9 Central).  Although I have only watched the first season, I am so thrilled about this very entertaining comedy.  I am particularly excited because I have heard wonderful things about season two and the show was just picked up for season three.

Created by writer Jonathan Ames, Bored to Death boasts one of the most appealing lineups I have seen of late.  The three main stars are perfectly cast and its roster of actors in recurring roles is superb.  Starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson, BTD delivers a great, laugh-filled thirty minutes. Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames (who I can only assume is based on the eponymous creator), a novelist with the daunting challenge of writing a successful follow-up to his acclaimed debut.  After his girlfriend dumps him, Jonathan advertises himself on Craigslist as an unlicensed private detective.  Hilarity ensues, and fans of film noir rejoice in the parody.

I have always found Schwartzman to have it all going on, so to speak—he’s cute enough, funny, charming, and not so much of a hipster that he’s unappealing—but this role casts him in an especially endearing light.  Jonathan bases his private detective persona on the archetypal one of film noir and crime sagas, but his portrayal is bumbling and often, well, ridiculous.  He knows what he’s supposed to be, but falls short when he attempts to be that gumshoe.  And the way Jonathan reconciles this disconnect between what happens and what’s supposed to happen is exquisite.  I have never found a man who orders white wine at a bar to be so cute.

Great chemistry

The show works well because Schwartzman delivers, but Danson and Galifianakis are the secret weapons.  Danson plays Jonathan’s boss, magazine editor, and socialite George Christopher, while Galifianakis plays Jonathan’s best friend, comic book artist Ray Hueston.  (Gasp!  He plays an average, everyday Joe, rather than a borderline autistic space cadet!)  I don’t know that Danson and Galifianakis necessarily steal the show, but scenes where the two interact with each other are brilliant.  Marijuana is featured prominently in BTD, and its functionality for each of the characters is especially amusing.  The same can be said of alcohol and sex, and they all make for great story lines.

The aforementioned stellar supporting cast includes Bebe Neuwirth, Kristen Wiig, Patton Oswalt, Oliver Platt, John Hodgman, and Olivia Thirlby, to name a few; certainly, seasons two and three are sure to deliver more. In addition, I also find the title sequence to be entertaining and well, visually pleasing.  (Speaking of which, much of the show is filmed on site in New York, which allows for a super appealing vérité hue.)  I’m especially fond of the theme song which was written by Schwartzman and Ames.  (For those who recall and refuse to forgive the nightmare that is the theme song to The O.C., also written by Schwartzman–I swear, this song will not make you want to perform a self-inflicted lobotomy and is not half as ubiquitous.)  Another added plus: BTD leads into Kenny-Fucking-Powers!  And what’s that?  A cameo by a not-so mainstream yet highly celebrated enigmatic director?  Sold.


Schwartzman with Oliver Platt

Co-star Olivia Thirlby, aka Leah from Juno, homeslice

Schwartzman with John Hodgman. He may be more recognizable as a PC.

I leave you with an interaction from season one episode seven, “The Case of the Stolen Sperm,” featuring Schwartzman, Galifianakis, and Jenny Slate of SNL.  Slate plays Stella, a co-op employee who might be able to point the PI in the right direction.  Jonathan and Ray bribe Stella for the info, but when she balks at the idea of accepting cash, they notice her t-shirt shows a pot leaf with “Legalize It!” underneath and offer to get her high instead:

A comparable counter-offer to a cash bribe

Slate:  I can tell that this is good stuff because I’m kind of missing everyone in my life right now, but I don’t mind because it’s like a beautiful sadness.

Schwartzman:  That happens to me too when I’m high.  I miss everyone, and I love everyone.

Galifianakis:  When I get high, I realize that I clench my anus.

Slate:  That’s not healthy.

Schwartzman:  You clench it all the time?

Galifianakis:  Yeah, but smoking helps me unclench it.

**Originally posted November 6, 2010 on Josh Du Jour as a guest contribution.