Today PopMatters released its ranking of the 30 best television shows of 2007. Unlike the film list—where I learned that my favorite films of the year just squeaked onto the list at spots 29 and 21—my TV write-up rose to the No. 1 spot! I'm glad I'm not the only one in love with Pushing Daisies.High Redefinition: The 30 Best TV Shows of 2007"Never before has a show so consumed with death been so darn perky."It's also time for some mid-season debuts, and with the writers' strike on, it's a weak field. I scraped one review out of the bottom of the barrel.The Celebrity Apprentice"Both teams act like they’re extremely serious, and all pay due deference to Mr. Trump. This even if some of these celebrities are bigger brands than The Donald, at least among some viewers. (In my college dorm, I saw lots of copies of 1974’s Kiss, fewer of 1988’s The Art of the Deal.)"
One of the best things about being an entertainment writer is getting to influence the rankings in collaborative year-end lists. (I don't think The Host would've made it on the list below if it weren't for me.) PopMatters just published its ranking of the 30 best films of 2007, and I got to weigh in on a few of them.A Gallery of Good Works: The Best Films of 2007I contributed three blurbs to the countdown:No. 29 (save the best for second-to-last), for The Host: "Most foreign monster movies come with at least some degree of kitsch built in, and with that comes a distance that keeps audiences from ever being fully involved in the story. With The Host, South Korean director Joon-ho Bong annihilates that boundary."No. 21, for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: "Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck both give quiet, obsessive, breathtaking performances: Pitt as the charismatic-but-paranoid celebrity outlaw, and Affleck as his profound wannabe."No. 3, for Ratatouille: "That one scene is enough to remind you that, for all of their snazzy rat’s-eye-view tracking shots, artistic renderings that make Paris look like the confection it is, and lovable characters with populist-not-preachy messages—none of which is a small feat to pull off—the true magic of Pixar is the ability to instantaneously leave all that behind for one moment so emotionally involving it can stop your heart for a second."Coming Soon: PopMatters' list of the best TV of 2007!
The Cleaner of Seville
A short, front-of-book article about the man who cleans all of the costumes for the Metropolitan Opera: "The show must go on—and go on without sweaty, makeup-stained costumes—and someone’s got to take those gowns to the cleaners."Arts & EntertainmentJoyce Carol Oates, a new children's play, and, my favorite, an item about Styx.Look for more in February!
I just started reviewing concerts for the cultured folks over at Beyond Race Magazine. My first article is up, about the riotous NME tour with the 1990s, Art Brut, and the Hold Steady (a band I'm completely obsessed with).Art Brut and the Hold Steady: Almost Killed Me"Perched way out on the Western edge of Manhattan sits Terminal 5, a cavernous venue whose name is more than appropriate for the last stop on a rock ’n’ roll tour, as was the case on November 21 when Art Brut and the Hold Steady wrapped up the NME Rock 'n' Roll Riot Tour. At first, the venue almost seemed too big for the bands contained therein: some of the vocals were swallowed up by the expanse of space, a shame for two bands who, with openers the 1990s, are all such superb lyricists."
It'll take the whole holiday weekend to get through this issue.Loves Music, Loves the BronxA spotlight on local WFUV DJ Darren DeVivo: "DeVivo’s love of music, especially of that famous Liverpudlian quartet, began so early that his mom wrote down 'Favorite Music Group: The Beatles' in his baby book when he was still an infant."Ballroom BlitzGetting in on the ballroom dancing craze: "So you’ve watched actors and amateurs waltz their way to stardom on reality shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance—and it looked fun, didn’t it? Well, you’re in luck. There is a slew of local studios willing to teach you the steps, the twirls, the dips, and the kicks of these famous cheek-to-cheek dances."Yankee IngenuityWhy "Yankee Swaps" are better than other gift-giving gimmicks: "You don’t have to pick out a present for a specific person, so there’s no dread that you’d be stuck with figuring out what to get a man who doesn’t golf (my perennial present dilemma. And there’s something sadistically pleasurable about ripping a great gift out of the clutches of someone you know really, really wants it. Now, that’s the Christmas spirit!" A Kinder, Gentler PhantomMy review of a local production of the Kopit/Yeston Phantom: "Kopit and Yeston actually started work on their musical version of the Leroux novel before Andrew Lloyd Webber but, when he beat them to the stage in London, their version, like the Phantom himself, fell hidden into obscurity. It was later revived by the 'Theatre Under the Stars' in Texas, and has found great success in regional theater ever since; in 1992, when the Westchester Broadway Theatre first staged the musical, it ran for almost a year (the longest-running show in WBT history) and attracted 120,000 audience members who wanted to see the Phantom story told by someone who wasn’t responsible for Cats."Arts & EntertainmentAimee Mann, Symphony Space, and More
My Q&A with Terry George, writer/director of Hotel Rwanda and member of the 2007 Writers Guild MBA Negotiating Committee, about what it's like to be on strike.From the Front Lines"[Without the strike] we'll just be wage slaves for the studios who turn what we do into what I call the Frank Perdue treatment. They'll repackage our shows onto the Internet and into webisodes and little DVD box sets and every other kind of permutation they can think of to make money, and increasingly we'll be cut out of it."
I'm a big fan of offbeat, improv-style comedy shows. See what I thought of some recent outings.Human Giant"The television incarnation of Human Giant came with its own built-in cred and a cult following of indie tastemakers already familiar with the comedians’ work.The best thing MTV could do to cultivate this fan base was stay out of the show’s way, and for the most part, it did."Acceptable TV"In the wake of Internet monsters like YouTube and MySpace, VH1’s Acceptable TV has come up with a trendy gimmick: it’s interactive. This premise sounds innovative and exciting in theory. In reality, the show is… acceptable."Stella: Season One"Stella—not a sketch comedy, not a sitcom, and certainly not the Marx Brothers—forges a brand of television comedy all its own."
The New Rules of the College Admissions GameAn article about changes in the way colleges view certain admissions standbys like SAT scores, AP, class rank, and early decision. I've gotten a huge response so far—mostly from stressed-out parents of stressed-out seniors.
Arts & EntertainmentThe Cowboy Junkies, Susan Cheever, and more."A Dubious Honor" and "Check Out NaNoWriMo"Short front-of-book pieces about National Novel Writing Month and the infamous distinction Gawker.com gave to one of our local colleges (both are three-quarters of the way down the page).
My All-Time Favorite Best-Ever VacationWhile I only did minimal writing, I commissioned and edited these five essays. Writers include fashion designer Josie Natori, home-design guru Chris Madden, and a slew of local authors.Arts & EntertainmentVienna Teng, anyone? I also highlighted performances by the Last Comic Standing crew and Tim Robbins's Actors Gang.
Since the magazine won't let me obsessively dissect one television show for more than 800 words, I turn to PopMatters. See what I thought of some high-profile premieres.Pushing Daisies"Gorgeous and vibrant, it features super-saturated colors and bright, bold patterns, a perfect antidote to the dark and grainy moodiness that permeates most primetime dramas."Cavemen"For a show that’s supposedly about the plight of minorities in America, Cavemen showed a shocking lack of diversity. It’s basically Friends with more body hair."Kid Nation"At the outset, it looked like there was no hope for a kid hamlet, let alone a nation."Gossip Girl"While it’s easy to imagine high schoolers across the country drooling over the power and freedom enjoyed by Blair (Leighton Meester) and Serena (Blake Lively)—not to mention those outfits—I’m not sure how many would actually exchange their basement keggers for a nightlife geared for much older women."The Cavemen, Kid Nation, and Gossip Girl reviews were all aggregated on Metacritic.