Things I Loved This Year: An “SNL” Oops

Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: a tiny SNL moment only eagle-eyed viewers would remember.

No one would agree that the moment I’ve chosen to highlight from this year’s unusually high-profile run of Saturday Night Live episodes is the most iconic, or the most influential. It’s certainly not the funniest, the sharpest or the wittiest. It’s not even a sketch, or a pre-ordained bit. It’s a slip-up.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Larry David butchered Ariana Grande’s name in that clip. That would imply that he touched it at all. No, Larry David gingerly gestured his knife towards that slab of meat, took a brief and halfhearted stab, then tossed his knife aside and walked away with a shrug.

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Things I Loved This Year: Schur Thing

Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: praise for a TV creator who’s doing all the right things.

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Michael Schur earned an express pass to the TV Pantheon on the strength of Parks and Recreation, the NBC sitcom he created with Greg Daniels of The Office. But his subsequent efforts have only strengthened his claim to the title of one of the century’s most influential, successful and inventive creators.

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“SNL”: Post-Trump, Lots of Grump

Trump SNL

This past week was the worst one in a while for passionate Saturday Night Live defenders like me. In the run-up to this week’s episode, hosted by Donald Trump featuring musical guest Sia, a fervent crowd of SNL dissidents sprung up, as if from hiding, to diminish the cultural importance and creative vitality of a show they either haven’t watched in years or continue to watch while actively rooting against it. (Here are just two of many examples, from critics I otherwise respect: Buzzfeed’s Kate Aurthur and Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson.)

The argument that SNL has never been funny, I contend, is a product of unreasonable expectations. The show doesn’t proclaim to be consistent or even reliable. The live format inherently generates up and down weeks, high and low moments, strong and weak sketches. What makes SNL impressive is the frequency with which it succeeds at being funny despite the difficult production restrictions baked into it — tight schedule, collaborative workflow, competing motivations, high-pressure environment, no do-overs.

But every once in a while, I have to doff my cap to people who have written SNL off, and admit that for all of its highs, SNL is also capable of great lows. Last night’s episode represents the show’s nadir in the last five years, if not longer. And it’s on me, and anyone who watched, for expecting anything different.

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The M&M Report: “The End of the Tour”

On this M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I discussed James Ponsoldt’s drama The End of the Tour, starring Jason Segel as the author David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky. We both enjoyed the movie, even though we were uncomfortable with the idea of a mainstream movie about a man who likely would have abhorred the concept of a mainstream movie about himself!

Peruse the M&M Report category page for previous episodes of the podcast. Thanks for listening!

Goodbye, Dave

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David Letterman signed off without a tear in his eye or a break in his voice. The final hour-and-change looked back fondly on some of the silliest highlights of Letterman’s television career and ignored most of the darkness that sometimes pervaded the legendary host’s broadcasts.

It was exactly right.

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Thanks

Thanksgiving

The world gives us lots to be cynical about every day. But today’s Thanksgiving, so I want to take a brief pause from frustration, indifference and indignation to marvel at the treasures on our massive pop culture landscape. Here’s a look at some of the pop culture (and pop culture criticism) that I’m thankful for right now:

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Damon Lindelof and the Mysteries of Television Mystery

Lindelof

I just read an excellent New York Times Magazine profile of Damon Lindelof, and I have a few thoughts about it.

1. The profile describes Lindelof’s tumultuous experience with the fans of Lost, the show he co-created and ran for all of its much-scrutinized run. For years, Lindelof endured outraged cries from devoted fans of the show who felt that the series finale failed to wrap up the mysteries the show had allegedly set out to solve. The feedback turned so sour that Lindelof deleted his Twitter account with a flourish on October 14th, 2013, explaining later that the resurgence of negativity that followed the polarizing Breaking Bad series finale left him feeling psychologically battered.

I never watched Lost to solve the mysteries. I was certainly interested in finding answers, and I enjoyed delving into Jeff Jensen’s exhaustive analyses for Entertainment Weekly, but when it came time to watch the finale, I was far more invested in where the characters would find themselves at the end of the episode, and how the journeys we’d watched unfold for six years would conclude. I realize I’m in the minority, and that the frustrating banality of the Smoke Monster, the Whispers and the Magic Cork left people frustrated to the point of dismissing the entire show. I think that’s an unfair response, given that the show always cared about people as much as it did smoke and mirrors. I was glad I’d spent six years with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Ben, Juliet and the dozens of other characters who popped in and out. It’s not wrong to want more from a show famous for its mysteries, but it’s also not right to condemn the creator for having other ideas about how he wanted his show to end. There’s no use crucifying Lindelof for “wasting our time.” That we were invested in the first place means that he was doing his job right for quite a while, and that counts for something.

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“Louie”: No Easy Answers

Louie

On the first of this week’s two episodes of Louie, the title character reluctantly goes on a date with Vanessa, a waitress at the comedy club he frequents. Vanessa, played by the wildly charismatic Sarah Baker, asks him several times before he finally caves in. What seals the deal? A free pair of desirable tickets to an NHL Playoffs game.

The implication is that Louie initially turned Vanessa down because, for one reason or another, he was put off by her weight.

Objectively, Vanessa is larger than American women conventionally described as “attractive” and “thin.” Once Louie goes on a date with her, he realizes that he enjoys spending time with her and that her weight doesn’t define her. But he takes it too far. The kicker comes when she mentions the word “fat,” and he instinctively swats it down like an irritating fly. “You’re not fat!” he retorts. But she is, and she knows she is, and she’s offended that Louie feels like pretending that she’s not will be the easiest way to win her over.

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Up Front at the Upfronts: Fox

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This week in New York City, the four broadcast networks are unveiling their fall schedules, complete with renewals, cancellations and pickups. Though a volley of announcements earlier this week robbed the announcements of much of their suspense, and the very idea of a fixed schedule is irrelevant to a large percentage of the TV viewing public, these announcements remain interesting as the last vestiges of an outmoded business model.

Fox is up second. Click here for the network’s fall schedule with HitFix TV reporter Daniel Fienberg’s analysis. Notable points:

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“American Idol”: Plugging the Holes

Idol

American Idol, once the nation’s most popular television show and a major force in the music industry, has been reduced to a footnote on a theoretical map of pop culture significance. And yet it chugs along, struggling to maintain relevance even as viewers vote with their remotes for NBC’s The Voice, which is younger, hipper and ostensibly more reflective of modern music tastes and trends.

After watching last night’s show (the first time I watched a full episode of season 13), it’s not hard to see why viewers have been tuning out. Even as some aspects of the show have improved, and intentions are largely in the right place, American Idol remains out of touch with the audience it clearly wants to reach.

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