Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plugs for the Program

Months after the original announcement was made, the Office-spinoff-that-in-fact-is-not-a-spin-off-but-in-fact-a-completely-original-show-from-the-executive-producers-of-The-Office finally has a title and timeslot. Public Service, starring Amy Poehler, will debut in August, and will be set in the town of Pawnee, Indiana. Will this setting prompt the same local pride that Scranton, Pennsylvania has burst with? It's not likely for several reasons, the main being that Pawnee, Indiana is not a real city. But where could Public Service rate in the canon of television shows set in the state? Let's examine a few of the contenders.

Good Morning Miss Bliss (1988)
The precursor to Saved By The Bell, this Hayley Mills vehicle took place at John F. Kennedy middle school in Indianapolis. It aired in prime time and focused more on the teacher than the students. After one season Hayley Mills was sent on her way, the setting moved to California, and The Max opened for business. The first time I ever saw a rerun of this this program, I had already consumed hours upon hours of Saved By The Bell, so witnessing this theretofore undiscovered alternate-dimension of a show was befuddling to say the least. It's like growing up worshipping the Monkees TV show, and then watching Head. Nothing really makes sense at that moment.

Hang Time (1995-2000)
Another teen school concept, the Deering Tornadoes were a slightly less intimidating team than the Hickory Huskers. However, Deering's head coach was Reggie Theus, who inexplicably would go on to actually become an NBA head coach. Did he put Hang Time on his career resume? The story is amazing on several levels. (What was not as amazing was Theus getting fired in less than two seasons.) Hang Time showcased some of my favorite athletic-based sitcom elements: soundstages disguised as abnormally tiny gyms, mismatched uniforms, and crowds that remain completely silent just before tip-off. Hoosier hysteria!

Eerie, Indiana (1991)
Creepy things happen out in the sticks. The teenage protagonist took the form of a young Fox Mulder in examining strange happenings in the town of Eerie. The opening credits create instant sympathy when you realize he was forced to grow up in New Jersey. While the second half of the credits feature laughably painful special effects, this clip showcases a directing style that's shockingly savvy for a network program.

Wouldn't it be great if the entire episode was just 44 minutes of various objects popping out of cereal bowls?

Close to Home (2005-07)
This CBS courtroom drama revolves around aggressive young prosecutor Annabeth Chase, who returns to work after having her first child. The legal drama is set in the Indianapolis suburbs and comes from Jerry Bruckheimer. It differs from his other procedurals by delving closely into Annabeth's personal life and how her responsibilities at home may interfere with her job. She's assigned tough cases, which she is determined to solve to keep her community safe.

NOTE: This description comes from TV Guide, as up until 10 minutes ago I had no idea this show existed. Let's move on.

One Day At a Time (1975-84)

The gold standard of Indiana-based programming, Bonnie Franklin moves to the circle city with her daughters, Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli. Hilarity ensues with frequent visits from the building's mustachioed super, Schneider. This show was top-rated for nearly a decade, and even featured a young Mark Hamill as Schneider's kleptomaniac nephew. Tool belts all around.

Armed and Famous

For a show that aired only four times before getting cancelled, this reality bomb generated no shortage of great moments. From group taser sessions, to LaToya Jackson walking the streets of Muncie as a prostitute, to Erik Estrada screaming at a recently stabbed activist, the series could be summed up with the cast's dedication to the craft of fine police work.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bad Idea Show Review: Len and Bob Bash at House of Blues

On a Thursday night when the Chicago windchill descends to 40 degrees BELOW ZERO, it's nice to think about baseball. And in this day and age when everyone is bleeding cash, it's a positive experience to attend a charity event and give yourself a nice ego boost to balance the depression on viewing your checking account balance. With that in mind, the sold out benefit at the House of Blues benefiting Cubs kids charities had all bases covered.

Opening the show was Cubs fan Tom Morello, which seemed fitting. When it comes to putting together a children's' charity event, I've always claimed that the main ingredient is vitriolic political rock, especially when the inspiring anger solely revolves around a President who has less than a week left in office. Within Morello's set, he ripped through an cover of AC/DC's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, but replaced the lyrics with new ones all about the Bush administration. My show-going colleague hit the nail on the head when she called it "The worst Weird Al song ever." Morello did better off ripping through an inspired version of Bruce Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad," then closed his set shouting through an angry 10-minute diatribe over "This Land Is Your Land," while an increasingly bored crowd waited it out.

With that unevenness behind, the giant novelty check was wheeled out claiming a donation of over $41,000 for the night. The applause was quickly drowned out by the Cubs rep remarking to the crowd that in the previous two years of this benefit, the Cubs have won two straight division titles. Surprisingly, this did not go over well with Cubs fans - it's almost like they want more than a division title! Another thing that's great about events like this in Chicago is that any time somebody mentions the Cubs at all, the Sox fans (about 1/3 of the crowd) vehemently boo. It's all very entertaining for a charity event.

Spirits were due for a pick up. Enter The Hold Steady. Not only is their most recent album title a constant motto for Cubs fans, but the band took to the stage and represented with flying colors for the children. Having seen this band five times in the last couple years, their evolution as stage musicians has been intriguing to see. When I saw them at the Music Mill in 2007, I dubbed them the heir apparent to Guided By Voices based on their sheer enjoyment of playing live, combined with the copious amounts of booze they consumed throughout the set. At each show since then, they've been drinking less, and sounding better. Who knew those two factors might be related?

As Andy Kindler accurately noted on the Late Show, it always seems odd that one of the most engaging frontmen in rock looks like he should be doing your taxes. Nobody leaves unaffected by Craig Finn's manic shuffling, including my show-going colleague who was inspired to buy their first two albums from the merch table after the show. The mundane stories of boys and girls in America consistently are transformed into epic tales of spirituality and self discovery, with sweeping guitar hooks and an almost embarrassingly optimistic view that "We can all be something bigger." The pure earnestness of the redemptive powers of music strip away even the most jaded cynicism, and it's a mesmerizing experience.

If that wasn't enough to get everyone on the same page, Finn proved he can unify through other methods. After kicking off the set by ripping through eight straight songs without a spare moment, Finn naturally took time to talk up the Twins, eventually reaching a truce with Cubs and Sox fans alike by pointing out that "at least we all hate the Yankees."

The Hold Steady - Constructive Summer (fan video)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How The Hell Did That Happen?

I still can't figure it out.

How in the hell did Purdue pull out that game tonight? And while we're at it, why haven't I found spare minutes to comment on anything since the dawn of the Big Ten season?

Regardless, tonight's victory, another for all intents and purposes must-win, keeps the Boilers on track to meet that litany of goals the faithful carved up at the beginning of the season.

Trust me (and my neighbors who no doubt heard the screams) the signs weren't there tonight that Purdue could pull even in the Big Ten, pick up an important road win, and keep up the momentum gained in the dismantling of Wisconsin. 22 turnovers. 1 of 6 free throw shooting in the first half. Numerous bailout fouls or unlucky hand checks miles from the basket. Nothing was pointing toward a win.

But it happened. In spite of the LewJack luster wearing off (seriously, what the hell did he bring to the table tonight?) In spite of a few scary spills, falls, and facial expressions from Robbie Hummel. I wonder how healed that back is.

The Boilers did it with some unfamiliar story lines. Kramer was vying for the top scorer's spot and dropped in 12. Moore led the team ripping out 11 rebounds, some big ones down the stretch.

Still, the further I ponder I think much can be said for one storyline and one moment. Kramer made a heady and sneaky play to strip a Wildcat of the ball, drive the length of the court, and make the bucket despite an intentional foul. Two free throws later Purdue is looking at its first thoughts of resurrection. Secondly, Johnson's 7 blocks and the team's 11 overall bailed the defense out of numerous jams. Responding to recent success, Johnson's overall solid performance continues. Check out tonight's line going with the blocks: 11 points, 9 rebounds. Not too flashy, but every bit of inside scoring and made free throws was needed.

However, the Johnson story of the evening and the game in miniature came with 2.2 seconds on the clock. Purdue leads by 1, and after much discussion, Matt Painter takes my wife's and my advice and tells JJ to intentionally miss the free throw. Whatever shot Northwestern was going to get would be a three so what good is a 2-point lead? Have it rattle out and hope to eat valuable ticks tipping the ball around 94 feet from the Northwestern goal.

JJ threw up an ugly, flat shot that slid right over the rim, off the backboard and through the net. You could easily see Chris Kramer's disgust and Keaton Grant's frantic rush to guard the defender. It seems that the Boilers really hadn't planned on making the basket much like that didn't look like they were going to win for 19 minutes.

Next thing you know, a Northwestern airball sails through the buzzer blast and the Boilers run out of town with stolen victory.

How the hell did that happen?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Vacant patriotism no longer just for country singers!

Attention America,

Beyonce must be stopped. The sooner, the better.

There are obviously hundreds of points to be made here, but I'll limit it to three for the sake of sanity.

1. I have an uneasy feeling that this will be sung in Washington D.C. on January 20, but I hope I'm wrong. Think of your cooler musician friends, Obama! Exhibit A:

2. I was wondering how she would handle the "children and my wife" reference at the beginning. I expected a lame cop out, and my expectations were met. Jack White maintains his stranglehold on faithful covers with no fear of gender bending.

3. I've said several times over that David Cross has the best interpretation of the original recording. Memorize the rant below, repeat it word for word to your colleagues, and watch your small talk change permanently!

Friday, January 02, 2009

One that we can't talk about

I engaged in my first meaningful debate of the new year a bit before midnight struck in the Central Time Zone. The walls of our chosen drinking establishment were adorned with flat screen televisions, most of which were tuned to ABC's coverage of the holiday - a broadcast which carried a ludicrously complicated title, something along the lines of "Dick Clark's New Year' s Rockin' Eve 09 with Ryan Seacrest, guest-starring Lionel Ritchie, featuring the Jonas Brothers, with street reporting by a screeching former American Idol contestant, weather with Shoeshine McGinley, and sports with Dirk LaNeck." (All joking aside, that chaotic logo looks like a graphic designer's nightmare.)

As has been the case with the last couple times I've seen Dick Clark on television, he still significantly slurs his words as the result of a stroke suffered years ago. He has a tendency to mis-speak, and the physical shape that his mouth takes to form words is jarringly mechanical. And while everyone either knows or has known in the past someone who's had a similar ailment, either from a stroke or simply old age, we obviously are not used to seeing an individual on national television with this impairment (NOTE: This of course excludes Scott Weiland.)

Among my group of acquaintances, Dick Clark's appearance was met with equal parts horror, pity, and an overall sense of discomfort. I on the other hand thought it was great. "This is a man whose career has been made in the public eye. I think it's great that he doesn't go hide in private just because he's sick." I nobly declared. "It's not as if he's being exploited. He knows he's slurring his speech, and likely knows that he'll be mocked by lushes in bars. It's great to actually see someone front and center on national television batting through something that apparently is only acceptable behind closed doors."

My congregation was unmoved. Furthermore, a quick unscientific study of other bar patrons revealed that I was clearly in the minority.

"It's just so sad to watch!" This was the most common sentiment. People apparently don't like to feel uncomfortable and awkward while counting down to the New Year. They'd much rather save that burning shame for the following morning.

"He should not be on TV," one particularly survey subject offered. "He can barely speak!"
"But he had a stroke," I countered, "and he's still speaking more clearly than half the people in this bar!"
"But half the people in this bar aren't the ones on national television," she vollied back.
"Very true," I conceded. "But I'd rather watch Dick Clark slur through a speech impediment than listen to the perfectly enunciated conversation that Ryan Seacrest is currently having with one of the Jonas boys." (I think the particular Jonas at that moment was Donnie.)

For 2009, I'm hoping for an increase in public figures who refuse to hide from the world as a result of limitations. Roger Ebert has already done his part. Since Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer, his appearance has become disarming as you would expect. But at the same time, his mind is still functioning perfectly, as evidenced by his must-read blog. It would be great to see others follow this example and continue to utilize their skill set, even if other aspects of their body fail them. No blemish is too big or too small so long as you can fulfill the job requirements. Camera operators with scabies. Roadies in wheelchairs. Mall cops with a glass eye. Investigative reporters with tourrette's syndrome. It's time for all of you to walk out your front door (or roll out) and face the world head on.

Yes we can.