How I met your premise: HIMYM finale about as real as sitcoms get

Many critics and fans felt cheated by twist in How I Met Your Mother finale. They should feel grateful.

by James Brown

There are three types of TV viewers: the surfers, the passive, and the devotees.

Surfers flip channels and watch anything that catches their attention. Passive viewers want comfort food: dramas that thrill them and sitcoms full of belly laughs. Devotees ask all that surfers and passive viewers want and more. Devotees also ask that those same shows are logical, well shot, acted, written and directed, all the while being original. Those same viewers, increasingly and unrealistically, ask fictional television to reflect and comment on reality. Few hours of television have done all that as well as the much scrutinized and often panned How I Met Your Mother finale. Continue reading

Big laughs, Broad City

Broad City explores typical New York tropes through a fresh lens with hilarious results.

by James Brown

It’s easy to compare Broad City, the latest sitcom from Comedy Central to Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls; their bones are the same. Both series star young, broke, white, twenty-something female characters in modern day New York City, but that’s where the similarities end. Girls is a direct descendant of Ally McBeal. It’s a melodrama that finds laughs (and at times brilliance) in the margins of its characters’ strained relationships. Even its flights of fancy are grounded in a character driven reality. Broad City isn’t interested in any of that. Much like FX’s Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Broad City trades realism for lots of silliness at supersonic speed. Broad City is a live action cartoon worthy of the Road Runner.

Continue reading

Those were the days: RIP Jean Stapleton

Jean Stapleton is dead at 90.

She was most famous for her portrayal of the longsuffering Edith Bunker in All in the Family, one of the most important shows in television history. As the tragically underappreciated wife of arch-conservative, verbally abusive, racist blowhard Archie Bunker, Edith may well have been be the most patient woman in the history of TV. The show itself aged so poorly because of how intimately it captured the controversies, the conflicts and the essential identity of the most turbulent period in recent American history as it played out in living rooms across the country. Archie’s battles against a rapidly shifting society, embodied by his “meathead” son-in-law Michael, were epic, but they only succeeded because of Edith, the foundation upon which the family and the show were built.

Stapleton brought an unusual range and depth to the role, though, and did so during an era when television was more known for flat, stock clichés than fully realized characters. Today we’re not especially shocked when we encounter a sitcom that’s topical, controversial, edgy, even dangerous, but we were in 1971. The medium was never the same again, and Stapleton is a big part of the reason why.

Good night, Edith. You’ll be missed.

CATEGORY: BestVids90s

TunesWeek: ’90s video and Spike Jonze

Part 4 in a series.

It sometimes seemed like MTV in the 1990s was little more than a video résumé for one Adam Spiegel, aka Spike Jonze. He seemed to be the guy directing all the damned videos, and some of the era’s most inventive concepts were his. Here’s a sample.

Up first, let’s watch some television. Like, that time when Weezer guest starred on Happy Days.

After that there’s a new cop show on. It’s called “Sabotage.”

There was nothing especially earth-shattering about The Breeders’ “Cannonball,” but damn was it a big hit, and I suspect a large part of the reason emerged from the way Jonze captured the likeable quirkiness of the Deal sisters.

You know the look that video had in the ’90s? Jonze, perhaps more than anyone, is responsible. “Hang On,” by the tragically underappreciated Teenage Fanclub, illustrates the point.

Then there was “If I Only Had a Brain” from MC 900ft Jesus. Clever, clever. The thing about Jonze was that if he did your video, you were just about guaranteed play on MTV.

If I’ve never mentioned it before, I freakin’ loved Elastica. Jonze’s campy, futuristic Ghostbusters take on “Car Song” was a perfect vehicle (if you will) for Justine Frischmann’s deadpan style.

The video for REM’s “Crush with Eyeliner featured some more of that “’90s look” thing I was talking about.

Let’s close it out with “Da Funk” by Daft Punk, which appears high on most Best Video of the 1990s lists, and for good reason. Jonze had a sense for urban atomization, and if you’ve ever felt lost in a new place, you’re probably going to feel some empathy for the protagonist.

CATEGORY: Sports

Five reasons why soccer will eventually surpass football in the US – #3: Soccer is already blowing up in America

Part three in a series.

Thanks to expanding TV deals, smart entrepreneurs in the MLS and a Millennial-fueled supporter culture, soccer is the fastest growing spectator sport in the country. 

There has been a good bit of talk over what pro soccer in the US will do now that Becks has departed the Galaxy. It is a little hard to fathom how much he did for the visibility of MLS, but there’s no question they got good value for their $250 million (or whatever insane sum of money they invested in him). Overnight it went from being a third-tier league to respectability. No, MLS can’t yet attract top world stars in their prime, but it can attract outstanding developing talent and established world stars who aren’t yet ready for the glue factory. Beckham, as we saw, still had some good years when he came over (and will probably be viable for a couple more, depending on where he goes).

Thierry Henry is playing the back nine of his career, but again, is nowhere near done. Robbie Keane is a right Spurs bastard, but there are a lot of teams in Europe that would love to have him right now. The rumor mill says that Kaka, just a few years removed from being the most terrifying attacking midfielder on the planet, is on his way to LA to replace Beckham. Or maybe it will be Chelsea’s Super Frank Lampard. Who knows? In any case, while MLS isn’t yet a top league, it has certainly become a credible league in a nation not driven by a long, deeply entrenched culture of proper football. Considering that it’s not yet 20 years old, that’s significant, if not outright remarkable.

While nobody is yet doling out NFL-type dollars, the major TV networks are clearly interested. In recent years FOX and ESPN have fought it out for rights to televise both MLS and European matches in the US (and both have been recently blindsided by new entrant beIN Sport. None of these deals holds a candle to the latest, though, as NBC has jumped into the fray with a $250M bid for the English Premiership. Whereas previous packages have offered American viewers a game or three each week (on one channel, for the most part), NBC plans to use all of its properties to show most, if not all the Prem games (and this, it is expected, might even include live matches on NBC proper).

Give this piece from ESPN FC a read, and as you do, pay attention to something. The jewels of MLS are obviously the two biggest clubs in the two biggest cities: Galaxy in LA and the perennially underperforming Red Bulls in New York. But that’s not where the backbone of the league’s future necessarily lies. It will avail nothing to build a couple of rich sides if everybody else is the Washington Generals, and it’s the emerging entrepreneurship in places like Portland and Kansas City that are shining the light forward.

But in towns like Portland and Kansas City, soccer has become a cacophonous totem of local pride. Young fans attracted by an intoxicating supporter culture and intimate soccer-specific stadiums have themselves become symbols of the self-confidence and momentum surging behind the game in the United States.

Whereas pioneering owners Lamar Hunt and Anschutz Entertainment gamely propped up a gaggle of teams in the league’s early days, the new energy in MLS has been catalyzed by the arrival of a new breed of young entrepreneurial investors — hands-on leaders who fuse strategy and vision with a passion that reflects their teams’ rabid supporter cultures.

Would you like to go see a Portland Timbers game? Good luck. They seem to be permanently sold out, and that supporters club – the Timbers Army – is the equal of anything in Europe for enthusiasm. (Sit next to one of them on a cross-country flight sometime, like I did earlier this year, and make sure he knows you like soccer. Let me know what you learn.) Pan around the crowd on game day – you’d be hard pressed to tell much difference between them and all but the largest clubs across the pond.

In July, several of us from the Rocky Mountain Blues Chelsea FC Supporters Club tripped up to Seattle to see our beloved Blues take on the Sounders as part of their pre-season tour. It was quite an event. Wherever we went the day before the match, the locals were clearly clued in: “are you here for the Chelsea match?” Everyone in town knew, not just the diehards. And we were well represented. I’m not sure how many of us Chelsea interlopers there were in the north stands, but we acquitted ourselves pretty nicely.

Still, the total attendance at the game was in excess of 53,000, mostly Seattle loyalists. The game was held in CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks play, a remarkable showing for an exhibition match. The Sounders feature some of the best organized fans in MLS, and it’s worth noting that very few stadia in England are large enough to hold that many attendees.

Sporting Kansas City’s Robb Heineman is ambitious: “Our business plan will allow us to be one of the world’s four or five best leagues within the course of the next eight years.” Hmmm. Well, based on current realities, that means behind England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, but ahead of Holland and Portugal. Seriously ambitious. But maybe not out of the question, depending on what criteria you use to define “best.”

Tomorrow: The children are the future…

Image Credits: The Roar, Rocky Mountain Blues

The truth about Mayberry

cast of Andy Griffith ShowThere’s a famous scene in a season one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, “Ellie for Council.” A battle of the sexes erupts when the local pharmacist (and Andy Taylor’s first love interest on the program, Ellie Walker, played by the wonderful Elinor Donahue), a woman, runs for town council. Just at the moment when Ellie has decided to quit the council race to try to bring the gender feud to an end, Andy, who’s been as chauvinistic as any man in Mayberry, steps up and defends her right to seek office. Andy begins his speech with one of the most delicious of “Southernisms” you’re ever likely to hear: “Naw. Naw. Now, listen – all of you. I’m’a gone say this. I’m bound to say it and you’re bound to hear it!” And he proceeds to shame his own gender, including himself, for their petty bigotry.

This essay is going to be a little like that. Continue reading

Good night, Andy

I suspect I am not alone in saying that for me, Andy Griffith was like family. It’s not just that he was from North Carolina, my native state, or that Mayberry was based on his hometown of Mt. Airy, maybe an hour up the road from my little burg. It’s not just that he wove an idyllic little haven off the highway, secure from the encroachments of an dangerously accelerating world, and brought it into our homes each week.

I guess it has more to do with the fact that he never once seemed to lose sight of his moral compass. He went to Hollywood and it didn’t seem to change him. The result was a show that had more pure heart than just about anything in television history, and I have through the years suggested that The Andy Griffith Show might be the greatest sitcom ever produced. Continue reading

RIP Andy Griffith: he was more than Mayberry

The Andy Griffith that I grew up with was the kindly, somewhat bumbling sherriff of Mayberry, North Carolina. I can’t remember whether I was introduced to him first on the Andy Griffith Show or Gomer Pyle. Given my Appalachian roots and the innocuous safety of the shows, the distinction is minor. The shows were increasingly culturally out of step with the country and quickly outgrown.

Eventually, my mom discovered Matlock when I was already in college–so my exposure was minimal: seemed like Andy got older, graduated from law school, and moved to the Big City of Atlanta where he solved Real Crimes that didn’t happen in Mayberry. His sidekicks were (gasp!) a woman and an African American. But it was obviously a show meant for my parents. Continue reading

Imagine there's no boycotts: that sounds like Communism to me

Following up on yesterday’s post about how unfair it is when progressives fight fire with fire

One of the architects of the modern conservative boycott movement back in the day was the now-deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the “Moral Majority.” His strategy was simple. Identify those television and radio stations whose programming “promoted” a “liberal agenda” or “secular humanist” values, then leverage the purchasing power of the congregation to bully offenders into changing their programming. Sadly, this brand of thuggery (remember, this is generally the same crowd screeching right now about how “liberals” are “censoring” the “free speech rights” of the richest, most successful, most widely heard man in political talk radio) proved effective enough that it has now become a go-to weapon in the arsenals of interest groups across the partisan spectrum. Continue reading

Parents Television Council pitches hissy over the use of the word "fudge" in prime time

Can’t make this stuff up, folks. I mean, you could, but everybody would think you were, well, making stuff up.

On tonight’s episode of Modern Family (perhaps TV’s best sitcom), one of the storylines deals with what happens when a young child starts using curse words. One of America’s more prominent gatekeepers of the public morality, the Parents Television council, immediately lurched into a galloping conniption. That they haven’t actually seen the episode, and hence, have no fudging idea what they’re screeching about, is beside the point.

“It’s not suitable language for a child that young in the real world, and it’s not suitable language for a child that young on television, either.” Continue reading

Stuart O'Steen is not a crook

But he is Richard Nixon.

Stuart, longtime friend to S&R, is a veteran stage actor who portrays the former president in the Longmont (Colorado) Theatre Company‘s ambitious take on Frost/Nixon.

I had the great pleasure of recently seeing the production. As a politics junkie and student of American political history, particularly of the Watergate debacle, I couldn’t pass it up. And I anticipated from having seen Stuart’s remarkable performance as Robert Scott in 2009′s Terra Nova that he would surely immerse himself in this unique role as well.

My high expectations were Continue reading

Jesus wept: Sports, reality TV and those embarrassing public displays of piety

Some people think I hate Christians. My occasional comments on Tim Tebow probably have something to do with that perception, although you have to aggressively project a hater stereotype on me to make that work. Which a lot of Christians are happy to do, make no mistake.

I won’t lie, though. I’m very much not a Christian myself and I’ve read my Dawkins and my Harris. I’m a persistent fan of evidence, and I’m not idiot enough to think that we know all there is to know. In particular I’m intrigued by the study of energy and the question of whether perhaps it coheres once we die. But this is a question of science, not blind religion. I feel no particular need to believe in a “higher power” or in the existence of a spirit realm. I’m certainly spiritual, but since spiritualism as expressed by humanist awareness is more than I’ll ever unravel, I have no need for superstition. Continue reading

The lie detector is a lie, the polygraph is my bitch, and Americans should stop acting like slack-jawed yokels

Last week I found myself in a doctor’s waiting room for a few minutes, and the staff had the TV tuned to one of those daily Dr. Phil/Maury/Jerry/Montel type freak circuses where the host knows everything and fixes all human problems in 30 minutes. I tried to read my book and ignore it, but you know how hard it is not to look at a trainwreck. I was sort of doing okay up until I heard the host use a term that has griped me for years: “lie detector.” Yes, somebody is lying. We’ll find out who right after these messages.

[sigh]

I’d have thought we’d have this polygraph nonsense well behind us by now. Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading

Hell no, Chaz Bono should not be on Dancing With the Stars. Wait – never mind…

Sweet hell – can you believe they’re going to let Chaz Bono compete on Dancing With the Stars? What a travesty.

Oh, no. Not because of that. We’re perfectly down with a transgender competitor. That couldn’t bother us less. No, the issue is more essential: since when did Chaz Bono become a star? His Wikipedia entry calls him a “transgender advocate, writeractor, and musician.” Yeah, he has earned a profile for the advocacy work, which is great, but if we’re being honest here, we have to admit that Chaz’s main claim to fame was being born to famous parents.

I mean, this show is about dancing with, you know, the stars. Continue reading

News-of-the-World-gate: the empire strikes back

This just keeps getting better and better. Alexander Cockburn is right—this is just like Watergate. The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news. The iconic hate figure, a man who pretty much singlehandedly created a global media empire against very significant odds, which in any other context might be seen as plucky and admirable in some way, but who wrecked that accomplishment through political blowback once some transparency revealed the depths to which members of his organization would go. (There’s that whole Fox News thing too, for good measure.) The scuttling of politicians for cover, or at least better defensive positions. And a few heroes popping up, occasionally from unexpected quarters.

So what’s happened since our last update? Well, what hasn’t happened? Except for Rebeka Brooks’s resignation, which Rupert has said is not gonna happen. We’ll see—some folks are giving it until Wednesday. In other expected and unexpected developments, Andrew Coulson, former News of the World editor and former press advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, has been arrested, question, and released. Continue reading