The Oscars – A Lesson in Theme Selection

Last night’s Oscars were…um…interesting. I was excited about James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting, but I realize now that having actual comedians host is better. It takes some of the load off of the writing staff, and the comedian is often able to put his/her own voice into the entire ceremony (prime example: Ricky Gervais). Hathaway and Franco were cute and dorky, but they didn’t do anything for the show’s pacing, and Hathaway’s energy couldn’t really make up for the lack thereof on Franco’s end. (Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Hathaway, and I have no ill will towards Franco; I just think they’re better suited to films, skits on SNL and soap operas).

The ceremony was pretty slow, running about 15 minutes over. What really made it slog along, besides the hosting-style, was the lack of any coherent theme or structure. I think it was “Old Hollywood?” I’m not sure though, because all their marketing for the ceremony hinted at clearly proclaimed that this year was all about getting a younger demographic to watch and enjoy the Oscars.  They failed, however, at keeping that theme in the actual ceremony by focusing on the old instead of the new.

Now, I realize that the Oscars are, by nature, kind of nostalgic, but the way they introduced each category, by talking about one seemingly random previous winner, just seemed a little off. (Especially when they left an image of the previous winner on the screen while the newest winner gave their speech, making it weird, for example, when Lee Unkrich gave his speech for Toy Story 3 in front of a Shrek backdrop.) They also damaged theme consistency with this little gem (which is funny, I won’t deny it):

If the folks behind the Oscars could just pick a theme and keep things moving at a steady clip, I think they’d have better ratings and could finally get the younger demographic to watch it. (Come’on my peers, what’s your problem? There are self-congratulatory celebrities to ogle! Speaking of which, Congrats are in order for Colin Firth! It’s about time!)

There were two things that made the ceremony slightly more enjoyable for me this year, and they had nothing to do with the actual ceremony. First, I was on Twitter and the AV Club live blog for the entirety of the ceremony, which gave me a chance to hear from some actual comedians and get a critical take on the Oscars…in REAL TIME. For all you pop culture nerds out there, I highly recommend finding a live blog. It makes everything more fun.

The other ceremony-improver for me was that I had actually seen some non-Best Picture nominees. (All the animated shorts and one documentary). Having some interest in the outcomes of those categories made it a lot more interesting for me. The Lost Thing was my favorite short (I highly recommend it); actually caring about its win was great.

That’s probably a key to appreciating the Oscars: the more you’ve been able to see, the better opinions you can form, and the more invested you’ll  be in the ceremony. My goal for next year is to see all the nominated shorts and documentaries, though I’m confident that’s easier said than done.

 

Side note: The best part of the ceremony was probably PS22 singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

 

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NBC Thursday: Justice Beaver and the Ankle Show

Before I get started talking about the shows of NBC Thursdays, I need to rant about a commercial that kept airing last night; the Old Navy Ankle Show. It was an annoying song, a silly premise, and, it actually makes me miss those mannequin commercials. MADE ME MISS THEM. Watch it here; it’s not bad once, but imagine hearing it twice for every NBC show. And imagine it’s the 18th century. Then it’s SCANDALOUS. But I digress.

Community.

This episode had everything I loved about Community; jokes coming a mile a minute, a side-adventure with Abed and political commentary. Well, maybe that last one isn’t Community specific, but I still loved it. You see, Joe Biden’s coming to visit Greendale, and he wants to meet the student government, so the Dean has about seven hours to elect a student body president. Annie, of course, decides to run, along with Pierce, Jeff, Magnitude (Pop! Pop!), Garreth, Leonard, Starburns and Vicki. Troy and Abed play CNN-like commentators, and the best jokes of the night are their candidate profiles and the Ticker at the bottom of the screen. I was constantly laughing, and, in the end, that’s what makes a good episode for me, that and 90’s-era Jeff auditioning for the Real World: Seattle.

Side Notes:

-Awesome Gag: Abed makes notches on the desk for “Classic Wingers,” Jeff makes notches for “Ab Mentions,” and Troy, well he just makes “Notches.”

-Why Pierce ran for President: “I was only here to get back at her [Vicki] for not lending me a pencil.”

-“No matter what you’re told, we have to clean the mold!”

-Honestly, there are so many great jokes in this episode, it’s better just to watch the episode and experience them for yourself. So yeah, watch “Intro to Political Science.”

Perfect Couples.

This was an episode of immaturity, we had bad winners, clingy couples and irresponsible realtors. It’s like they all regressed to their teenage selves.  Also, this line: “It’s good Mom’s not there.” “Cause she’s dead! It’s perfect.”

The Office.

I do not like Todd Packer. Not even a little bit. Whenever his character enters The Office, I get a little sad and uncomfortable. That’s how most of the characters react, though, so I guess that’s what Packer’s supposed to do…make you feel really uncomfortable. However, the writers of this episode managed to keep it from being too awful by giving us Packer in small doses, then giving him his just reward. It also helped that they gave us the best pairing The Office can offer: Dwight and Jim. They were amazing as the party planning committee, and now they’re back, and they’re seeking vengeance on Packer (Prank ideas included jamming his desk so it only opens two inches, eat a frog, eat a dog, eat a brog, and Peptobismol in hot chocolate). That team-up, along with Pam’s most charming corruption made for a pretty fun episode.

Side Notes:

-“Please make sure no one is humping me.”

-Dwight in regards to the final prank: “It was not my first choice, Jim had much better ideas.”

-“Can I open the kimono with you?”

"Who is Justice Beaver?" "He's...a crime-fighting beaver."

Parks and Recreation.

It used to be that Leslie was my favorite character on Parks and Rec. but it’s slowly becoming Ron. Why? Because of this steak-lovin’ episode. Ron’s eager to visit his favorite steak restaurant in Indianapolis, but when they get there, they find it closed down. Ron, depressed beyond compare, seeks out other steaks, but has no luck. He eventually ends up at a diner and gives us this gem: “I know you think I said I wanted a lot of bacon and eggs. But I want you to give me all of the bacon and eggs you have. ” Other really sad plots happened, and one happy one with April and Andy, but I was in it for Ron.

Side Notes:

-“You should probably get out of that. I think she’s gonna murder you.”

-“Misshapen celebrity castle!”

-“[His real name is] Dante Fiero, but Dennis Feinstein is way more exotic in Pawnee.”

-“Ask her to bring garlic salt. I’m worried Chris doesn’t have any.”

-“I’m the Yoda of networking.”

-“I can smell your dreams, Tom. I can smell them from here.”

30 Rock.

This episode of 30 Rock had a lot of potential to make big statements because it was addressing a big issue: how women treat/view other women.  Women sometimes have a habit of putting each other down, instead of building each other up and creating solidarity. Liz doesn’t like how sexualized the guest writer is and knows it’s not the “real” her. She tries to build her up and out of this flirty, juvenile character, but when that doesn’t work, she goes the build-down track, and publicizes an old video of the comedienne when she was cooler and brunette, instead of overly sexualized and blonde (Lady Gaga allusion anyone?).  The writers of 30 Rock could have commented a bit more to discussing girl-girl relations, but they had to leave room for the awesomest part of this episode: Alec Baldwin and Chloe Moretz facing off in an epic battle of egos. Watch it. She’s great.

Side Notes:

-Worst Beach Body? Ruth Bader Ginsberg. (And as a supreme court nerd, I love this joke.)

-There was also a Highlander allusion!

-“I support women! I’m like a human bra!”

-“When I first started working here, an eight-year-old Shirley Temple taught me how to roll a cigarette.”

-“NY gives us a tax break for employing sex offenders. It’s a terrible plan.”

-“GRAFFITO.”

-Kenneth would like is legacy to be a Sesame Street-like TV show that promotes illiteracy in girls.

-“Steve Carell owns ‘That’s what she said.’ He OWNS it.”

-And, just so you know, “the only thing that cures ice cream headaches is sex on a motorcycle.”

Outsourced.

Surprisingly, nothing offended me in the cold open this time, so I had to wait until there was something odd I could comment on in order to stop watching. That took about eight minutes. I’d like to comment on two things:  they had a sitar-influenced version of ‘Under Pressure,’ and while I was watching, they had THREE montages. Seems like a little much.

(Non-NBC Thursday side note: I’m watching the Independent Spirit Awards on IFC right now, and the best joke so far is Banksy’s true identity: Alex Trebek. Also, these updates will probably permanently be moving to Saturdays.)


Guerrilla Fact or Gorilla Fiction?

So, remember my favorite Super Bowl ad of all time? The Cat Herders? Well, today I found out who made it – Fallon, a Minneapolis-based ad agency that was also responsible for this H&R Block ad:

Ads like this one, that involve big stunts and man-on-the-street reaction shots always catch my attention. It’s mainly because, at the end, I’m left wondering how many of those people were actors and how many of them were actual witnesses, who had no idea it was an H&R Block ad. I doubt the folks at Fallon would tell us if the witnesses were actors, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt just because I like the ad so much. Ads like these are an opportunity to truly blend PR and Advertising. If there hadn’t been any cameras around, the “wrecking bunny” would’ve been classified as a PR Stunt, and the ideas would’ve crossed professions.

It takes some definite out-of-the-box thinking to create ads like these. Fallon was able to take the message that H&R Block wanted to send out and bring it forth in a fantastic and visually impressive analogy. Since effective messaging is the most important part of a good ad, in the long run, it doesn’t matter if this was a truly guerrilla stunt or not; I know that I’ll always remember that having the wrong tax tools is like a bunny for a wrecking ball.

(For a little more information on this ad, check my source: Bob Geiger at Finance & Commerce)


The British Community

Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors. He’s one of the geniuses behind Scott Pilgrim v. the World, Hot Fuzz, and Shaun of the Dead, which are probably in my top ten or twenty favorite movies. I’m a sucker for pop culture parodies, British humor and non-sequitur; and Wright usually throws heavy doses of those devices into his works. That’s why it’s a little surprising that I’m just now getting around to watching Spaced, a comedy series Wright created with Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson back in ’99.

The show’s got a pretty classic sitcom premise, Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Stevenson) pretend to be a couple in order to move into a nice, cheap flat. They, along with their friends and quirky neighbors, have adventures and grow as people. I loved the show almost immediately; following this joke from the first episode:

My love only grew after the third and fourth episodes, which dealt with zombies and paintball respectively. Sound familiar? Yeah, the third and fourth episodes of Spaced are similar to the two best episodes of Community. The pop culture parody continues in the fifth episode, where Tim, Daisy and friends break into a make-up testing facility to rescue some animals, and Wright turns it into a great heist sequence. This is as far as I’ve watched, but I’m really starting to feel the same zany excitement that happens when I watch Community.

The whole series is available on Hulu. I highly recommend it. It’s got that Community feel, but from over ten years ago, on a smaller budget and with a British accent.

I think that Edgar Wright just gets me.

(As a side note, not only did Spaced clearly influence the writers of Community, but it also influenced How I Met Your Mother. The way conversations are cut in the beginning of the first episode and the telepathic conversations are HIMYM staples.)


Local Ads (aka. Eat at Dari-o’s every day…For Sixty Years)

Last night, after the SNL: Backstage documentary (which was awesome, and they have clips here), I was so absorbed in my sudoku that I didn’t notice the late news, but I did hear the “this is paid programming” announcement, I looked up to see a “talk show host” talking to two lawyers about their “How To Get Workers Comp” video set. It had that made-locally-with-your-best-friend-pretending-to-be-a-professional-something vibe. There’s something special about commercials/informercials like that; the businesses had the money to buy the time, but they had to create the ad themselves.

One local ad I keep seeing is for a local auto glass business. It’s a court room scene in which the owner (?) argues to the judge and jury (suspiciously filled with a few minors) that his company in no way cons the customer. It’s set up so that the plaintiff shares a rumor she heard about the company and he clarifies it. Cut to the judge, an adorable little girl, who declares the company  “not guilty.”

I may have messed up some of the details, but it’s not an ad that’s easy to find online. I’m sure the whole family is very proud to see it on TV, especially the little girl-judge (WHOA, as I wrote that last sentence, a different, glass-related just came on TV. CRAZY. It also utilized an adorable little girl and was for Pfaff’s Auto Glass). That’s the best part about local ads. They may not have been written by top advertising professionals, or used the best equipment out there, but they’re creative and they have some heart to them. These folks may not be professional actors, but they’re clearly having fun, and in local ads, I think that should be the point.

An example of a fun, wry local ad:


NBC Thursday: Where the Music Moves

Sorry my review is late, I saw In The Heights (awesome!) last night in Charlotte and spent the afternoon in IKEA:

That was “Ikea” by Jonathan Coulton, and it’s exactly like the store. I bought an awesome mirror while I was there.

Now, without further ado, my reviews.

Community.

When I heard Levar Burton (aka. Kunta Kinte) was going to be on this week’s episode, I knew I would probably love it regardless of what else happened. I was totally thrown off, however, when the episode started with no music and the opening shot was being shakily filmed behind a plant. Then, Jeff looked at the camera. I was all like, Wha? But before I could get too worried, someone asked Abed what he was doing, and I realized we were going to have a mockumentary episode. (Abed had a great talking head here about how Mockumentaries are easier because you can use talking heads to simply explain motivations. Ooh, BURN Office/Parks and Rec/Modern Family)

It wasn’t too hard to accept the switch to this style, maybe because I am already so fond of it, but I kept thinking to myself, how did Abed get this aired? Of course, that’s me probably thinking about it too hard, but that’s what happens when you cross styles. In shows that are always mockumentary, you assume that there’s a company that’s going to do something with this footage. I like to think that The Office is being filmed by a crew that plans on making an epic film about the rise and fall of a paper business in a world of increasing technological dependence…or a TV show on PBS. But with shows like Community and 30 Rock, there’s this sense that, by some magic, we’re peeking in on this whole other world. When they change formats, it means they’re self aware, and we’re less like onlookers and more like participants (like in the 30 Rock live show, for example).

Of course, Community’s producers and writers seem to be in favor of all things meta, so I guess an episode like this is something they’ve been wanting to do for a while. It was strange, but I enjoyed it. Not as much as I enjoyed “Early 21st Century Romanticism” or “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” but I liked it enough, and solely because of Donald Glover. That man can ACT! If I had a prize or award to give him, I would.  (A signed photo of Levar Burton, maybe, but NEVER the real thing; after all, “you can’t disappoint a picture.” ).

As much as I liked “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” I’ll be ready to get back to normal next week, with the quirky score and steady cam back in their proper places.

Side Notes:

-“Your bequethal is at hand.”

-Abed and Troy have this plan when they die to make it look like “suicide caused by the unjust cancellation of Firefly.” I can understand the sentiment. (And if you’ve never watched Firefly, you are missing out on a whole world of awesome. But be sure, when you do watch it, to watch Firefly first, THEN Serenity. It’ll be upsetting the other way around. You have been warned.)

-“Mr. Hawthorne is requesting Sour Face.”

-“More fish for Kunta!”

Perfect Couples.

The Spurs were playing Thursday night, so we skipped most of Perfect Couples. Did catch the raccoon in the mailbox at the end, though. Weird.

The Office.

I have been looking forward to this episode for a long time. I know that Threat Level Midnight is just a part of the epic goodbye to Michael Scott, but it’s just so great to get a look back at some old favorites and some old hair styles (Roy, Karen, Jan, messy Jim hair, the old Pam mullet). The change in cinematic style made me feel like Community and The Office had swapped cameramen.

There was also a kind of score (Billy Joel’s “Running on Ice”) and narration, which pulled us even further away from that documentary style. What this episode did best, however, was continue that high from last week’s episode. It was fun, it was sweet, and even if Michael suddenly decided to find his movie so-bad-its-funny, I didn’t mind, I was too thrilled to see ketchup fights  in the Catherine Zeta Scarn (which Michael briefly mentioned as something he wanted to do with his future wife episode 3.18, Cocktails), the return of “Somehow I Manage,” and Michael’s hockey skills.  Watch this episode!

A lot of great things happened in this episode, but I’m just gonna list my Favorite Awesome Things:

-“Clean up on aisle five.”

-When deciding to help the President, a coin flip: “Best out of Seven.”

-GoldenFace (Jim) talking about his back story: “…I guess you are what you eat.”

-The Scarn: “You jump to the right, and you shake a hand, then you jump to the left then you shake that hand, you meet new friends, you tie some yarn, and that’s how you do the Scarn. ” Just you wait, I will do this dance the next time I’m out.

-The full version’s on Apple, but it’s only available to people who bought the $60 season pass on iTunes. 😦 Why would you do that to us, NBC? WHY?

-“On your mark, get set-” “DIE.”  Can John Krasinski be cast as a super villain in a kid’s movie?

Parks and Recreation.

There’s mention of April’s photography class, and her most recent project: capturing “melancholy.” Well, I think the folks in charge of Parks and Rec. took that assignment seriously. This is one of the saddest episodes I’ve ever seen…and even though Adam Scott does a great job showing Ben’s depression, frustration and melancholy, I spent the whole episode feeling sorry for him. (I also hate morning radio shows, and even though I knew that bit with Crazy Ira and the Douche was supposed to mock radio shows, it just made me sadder).

Though I didn’t particularly enjoy this episode, it was well-done, and there were some fun moments:

-“Enjoy this MouseRat CD.” “He’s deaf.”

-“The Leslie-Mobile is an all-terrain vehicle.”

-Multiple references to AltaVista, a search engine I last used in elementary school. I think it might’ve been in response to Yahoo’s cancellation of it, or maybe it was just for humor…or a little of both (I bet they got an increase of hits because of this episode).

-“Ben Wyatt: Human Disaster”

30 Rock.

“It’s Never Too Late For Now “was as sentimental as 30 Rock ever gets. The whole TGS crew joined together to get Liz out of her cat-lady spinster funk. The episode was pretty precious and gives us a glimpse into what Liz likes in clubs, dance halls, or odeons: music soft enough that you can talk, men who are attracted to women with hair colored “Grandpa’s shoe” who use chip clips as a styling device, and wine with sprite and ice cubes.

I prefer my 30 Rock a bit more jokey and abrasive,  but it was still pretty fun.

Side Note:

-Pete and Frank’s new album is  called Parents Suck.

Outsourced.

This time, they offended me before the episode started. In the promo that aired during 30 Rock, guest star Matt Walsh kissed the quiet worker’s hand and she exclaimed: “I just gave away my milk for free!” (You get it, other cultures are weirdly conservative! Hahahaha! Right?)


State Farm is There

The other series of ads State Farm’s been releasing are intentionally quirky, and it’s usually to good effect. Exhibit A:

This one is my favorite, not only because of the frantic nature of all of the characters, but how adorable the State Farm agent is: “Hey Guys!” “BUFFALO!!” “Say it again!”

However, like the campaign before it, this series of ads also carries a weird secondary message. While the first states: “Our spokesperson is insane,” this one says “our agents have magic powers.” In the commercials, not only can they conjure sandwiches, hot tubs and cute girls and boys, but they can change one’s cellular composition and teleport (read: BEND SPACE) through the power of a jingle.

Now, I realize that this is all just exaggeration to attract young adults who aren’t really thinking about insurance or who are just using the same provider as their parents, but it really distracts from the actual message of the commercial. Off the top of my head, I don’t know what the message is. If I think about it, I guess they’re saying, “We’re reliable.”

Regardless of what their message is (aka. USP – unique selling point, to throw some marketing vocab in there), I’ll continue to laugh while those guys freak out at a buffalo and the crazy spokesman talks to no one. So, I guess you’re doing a good job, State Farm. After all, I don’t forget your ads.