Archive | August, 2011

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Paula Marshall

31 Aug

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is equal opportunity, and it’s past time for the appearance of our first female member.

This week we’ll celebrate Paula Marshall.  If you are familiar with her at all, you probably know that her appearance in a pilot all but assures that season one of the show will be its last.  In fact, she was on six new shows that were cancelled within a period of eight years.  We’ll get to all that and more.  Let’s start with the beginning.

Marshall got her first television jobs in 1990 in single eisodes of True Blue and Mancuso, FBI, but got more exposure in three episode runs of both Life Goes On and  The Wonder Years in 1992.  She then appeared in classic Seinfeld episode The Outing, as an NYU student interviewing Jerry who becomes convinced that Jerry and George are in a relationship, leading to the famous line, “Not that there’s anything wrong with it.”  After appearing in a Diagnosis Murder episode, she got her first regular sitcom role in the 1994’s Wild Oats, on Fox, about a group of twenty-somethings in Chicago.  The series also co-starred Paul Rudd, and lasted all of six episodes.  After cameos in two Nash Bridges episodes and a Single Guy, she got her next series, Chicago Sons, about three brothers, portrayed by Jason Bateman, David Krumholtz, and D.W. Moffett. Marshall plays the love interest for the Jason Bateman character.

Marshall next got a recurring role in Spin Cityand then was cast in her third show, Rob Thomas’ critically acclaimed Cupid, alongside Jeremy Piven.  Marshall played a psychologist treating a patient who believes he is truly the mythological entity cupid.  After Cupid’s cancellation,Marshall immediately fell into David E. Kelley’s Snoops, as a member of an unconventional female dominated detective agency led by Gina Gershon.  Ten episodes aired on ABC.  She appeared in three episodes of Sports Night, as a porn star and love interest of Josh Molina.  She soon appeared in her fifth sitcom, Cursed, later renamed The Weber Show, starring Steven Weber as a man “cursed” by an ex-girlfriend, and thus who suffers from constant bad luck.  The series also co-starred Chris Elliott and Wendell Pierce. Marshall showed up in two episodes of Just Shoot Me and one of Miss Match before getting her next show, Hidden Hills, in 2002, an NBC sitcom about three suburban families.  Eighteen episodes aired this time.

Marshall’s next television project consisted of being reunited with Cupid creator Rob Thomas in a four episode stint as a guidance counselor on Veronica Mars who has a brief fling with Veronica’s dad. She came back to regular role-dom for Out of Practice, a sitcom about a family of doctors who fought with one another, starring Henry Winkler, Stockard Channing, and Ty Burrell.  After Out of Practice said goodbye, Marshall appeared in seven episodes of Nip/Tuck as an actress who dates Sean, and showed up in three episodes of James Woods’ Shark.  She appeared in nine episodes of Californication, as a friend of David Duchovny’s wife with whom he has a one-night stand.

Against absolutely all odds, a Paula Marshall series actually got a second season, as Gary Unmarried, in which she starred with Jay Mohr as divorced parents, received a second season, but no more.  That was also her most recent brush with appearing as a regular, but since, she’s appeared as Cuddy’s sister in House.  In addition to all these cancelled series, she also showed up in at least two pilots which were not picked up, Cooking Lessons, and Sticks, by Rob Thomas.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 27: How I Met Your Mother

30 Aug

I have some strong feelings about How I Met Your Mother, both good and bad, but I don’t have time for all of it here, so I’ll focus on a couple of points.

It’s the best old-school style sitcom on television, and though that’s sort of a back handed compliment, it is, well, a compliment.  It’s a multi-camera sitcom – it takes place largely on a set, and it earns at least my slight ire for being a New York set show filming in Los Angeles (enough shows film in New York these days – no real excuse – plus, it’s not like you can’t tell the difference after watching a real and not real New York show for a season – all the buildings in faux New York shows look so generic, and New York shows go out of their way to show off real New York locations that are well known like Washington Square Park).  It also has a laugh track, for which there’s really no excuse this day and age.

Earlier on this list, I talked about how Modern Family subverts the “traditional” sitcom in subtle ways, to make a little bit of a fresh take n the format.  For better or worse, How I Met Your Mother doesn’t do that.  It’s not a traditional family show certainly, but it keeps within expected bounds, and plays by some of the established rules.

As you may or may not have been able to tell from the tone of the article, generally I think these characteristics (and really, more than anything else, limitations) that mark a “traditional” sitcom are negatives, but they are not by any means enough to necessarily sink a show.  Merely, it means that How I Met Your Mother must get out of the hole by being funny.  And that it does, very well, generally, though better in some circumstances than others – sometimes it puts its foot in its mouth and prevents situations from being as funny as they could have been.  Still, the show, and particularly Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segal, makes you laugh, has some quotable lines, even catch phrases, in a good way, rather than a this feels so forced into my vernacular way.

A couple of notes particularly on the most recent season (SPOILERS).

Quickly, they maybe dipped too often into the Robin Sparkles’ well.  Episode “The Slap Bet,” the first episode with Robin Sparkles, was the best episode of the series, and while I like that they don’t forget about it, every episode in which they’ve tried to recreate another song seems like a pale imitation.

In bigger plot points, what irritates me most of all is the way it feels like they’re forcing Barney into all of a sudden wanting to get married, and then getting married very quickly afterwards.  There’s two issues I have here.  First of all, it doesn’t feel natural at all.  Barney is a womanizer, and he just has a revelation that he’s super unsatisfied in his current lifestyle in one moment, revealing it to us, even though we’ve seen absolutely no evidence before.  Second, okay, the writers decide they want an emotional plotline for Barney.  They already have one with him finally meeting and coming to terms with his dad!  You can’t get much more big and emotional than that, and they’ve been harping about his lack of dad over and over again for the entire show so it feels perfectly natural.  Why can’t they just use that and be happy about it?

I’ll end with a complimentary note –Marshall’s dad’s death and its aftermath was handled very well.  It was a really sad and cruel moment, and I resented feeling so bummed when watching a comedy, but that being their goal, it was well executed.

Why it’s this high:  Neil Patrick Harris makes me laugh, and Jason Segal often does too

Why it’s not higher:  When the show is not being funny, it’s being terrible

Best episode from the most recent season:  It hasn’t been the strongest season, it’s been a slow downhill journey since season 2, but still there are plenty of funny moments and episodes – “Unfinished” I’ll pick mainly due to the plotline in which Barney woos Ted back to designing the building for his bank, by treating him like a woman.

Power Rankings: The Daily Show

29 Aug

Okay, a few rules here.  There have been a trillion correspondents so we can’t handle them all.  We’re limiting it to correspondents no longer on the show, correspondents who were on during the Jon Stewart era, and we’ll tackle the top eight of them.  Let the games begin.

(Power Rankings sum up:  Each week, we’ll pick a television show and rank the actors/actresses/contestants/correspondents/etc. based on what they’ve done after the series ended (unless we’re ranking a current series, in which case we’ll have to bend the rules).  Preference will be given to more recent work, but if the work was a long time ago, but much more important/relevant, that will be factored in as well)

8.   Mo Rocca – after leaving the Daily Show, Rocca worked as a regular correspondent on The Tonight Show from 2004 to 2008, and also filmed pieces for Countdown.  Rocca was a regular on VH1’s I Love the ‘80s. He hosted the short-lived television presence of web site The Smoking Gun, and currently hosts a program called Food(ography) on the Cooking Channel (I don’t think I have that channel either).

7.  Rob Riggle – Riggle appeared on a number of terrible Budweiser ads, and won supporting roles in Step Brothers, The Goods, The Hangover, and The Other Guys.  He had a recurring role in CBS’s Gary Unmarried.  Riggle now appears in Childrens Hospital kind of spin off, NTSF: SD: SUV.

6.  Rachel Harris – one of three list members to appear in The Hangover, Harris also had film roles in Kicking and Screaming and License to Wed.  She co-starred in Kirstie Alley’s Fat Actress for a season.  She appeared in six episodes of Reno911, and single episodes of many shows, including CSI, Pushing Daisies, Cougartown and Party Down.  In addition, Harris co-starred in two seasons of ABC sitcom Notes from the Underbelly.  Like Rocca, she appeared in VH1’s I Love the ‘80s and I Love the ‘90s.  In 2010, she appeared as the mom character in the film adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

5. Nate Corddry – Rob Corddry’s younger brother, Nate was a correspondent for just a year on The Daily Show.  He was a member of the cast in the ill-fated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.  He had a recurring role, appearing in 10 episodes, on The United States of Tara.  Currently, he is a regular cast member in the surprisingly successful Harry’s Law, starring Kathy Bates, which will be coming back for its second season in the fall.

4. Rob Cordry – Corddry originally left to star in The Winner, a sitcom executively produced by Seth MacFarlane, which was set in the mid-90s, about a thirty-something man living with his mother who has a crush on the single mother next door.  It was an abject failure.  After that he played supporting roles in a number of movies, such as The Heartbreak Kid and What Happens in Vegas, and as part of an ensemble in Hot Tub Time Machine.  In 2008, he created the web series Childrens Hospital, in which he also appears, and it was such a success that it was picked up by Adult Swim and is currently airing in its third season.

3. Ed Helms – Helms may be poised to follow in Steve Carrell’s footsteps almost exactly.  He joined The Office in the third season as lovable WASP Andy Bernard and has remained ever since, with his role growing more prominent each season.  Recently, he finally got his name into the main cast.  Helms, after showing up in small roles in a number  of films, like Walk Hard and Semi-Pro, finally got his big break in The Hangover, which became a smash of unexpected proportions, and made Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis stars.  The Hangover 2, while far less successful critically, was just as much of a smash commercially.  With Carrell off the Office, Helms is likely to get more screen time.

2. Steve Carrell – a bona fide movie and television star, an argument could easily be made for #1 on this list.  He only starred in one of the most influential, culturally, critically and commercially successful tv comedies of the last decade, The Office.  His movie record is a little more spotty, but it has more than its share of hits, and he gets top billing in almost every movie he films now.  He had a breakout supporting role as the mildly retarded Brick in Anchorman, and a breakout leading role as Andy in the Judd Apatow The 40-Year Old Virgin.  He had a prominent supporting role in Little Miss Sunshine, and then starred in Evan Almighty, Date Night, Get Smart, and Crazy Stupid Love.

1. Stephen Colbert – Colbert’s work consists primarily of one show, but what a show.  In October 2005, The Colbert Report launched, in an effort by Jon Stewart and Comedy Central to keep Colbert in house, as the other star of Daily Show correspondents, Steve Carrell, had gotten away.  From Day 1, Colbert has, by way of his show, made himself part of the zeitgeist.  The very first episode introduced the concept of Truthiness, which became a buzzword for the entire year and beyond.  In 2006, he spoke at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, and mocked President Bush to his face, getting a poor reception at the dinner, but becoming a youtube sensation.  His 2008 Presidential bid caused a stir, as well as his current SuperPAC, which, although satirical is having real world campaign finance impact.  He even has his own Ben and Jerry’s flavor.

Hurricane Bonus Edition: Hurricane Neddy

27 Aug

Everyone has their own reactions to this Hurric-apocalypse we seem to be facing in the New York City environs, but for my part, I can’t help but think of the “Hurricane Neddy” episode of The Simpsons, in which a hurricane hits Springfield. (there’s plenty of other hurricane TV episodes of different shows as well)  The only damage is the Flanders’ house, which is destroyed, and even though the whole town tries to help by rebuilding it, Flanders goes a little bit insane and has to be put in an asylum.  It’s an absolutely classic episode, and like all absolute classic Simpsons episodes, it’s incredibly quotable.  Thus, these are my top ten quotes from the episode, with a little bit of context (I was going to just list five before, but while thinking about them, I realized that doesn’t even start to be enough – these episodes are so good):

1o.  “Now I’m prunetracy” – in a flashback, child Ned says it as he beats up the other kids, taking their identities for himself.

When to use it:  To someone who really knows Simpsons well – it’s just an incredibly silly quote and makes absolutely no sense out of context

9.  “Past instances in which I professed to like you were fraudulent” – it’s a shame I have to break this scene up into separate quotes, as a couple will probably make the list.  Homer, recruited by the doctors to force Flanders out of repression of his mean side, is given a list of quotes to try to antagonize him.  This is the second.

When to use it:  You don’t really like somebody, and you want to express that, but you want them to kind of think you’re joking

8.  “And if you really tick me off, I’m gonna run you down with my car” – Ned, at the end of the episode, going to far to express how much he’s changed and learned now to repress his anger and rage.  The quote is greeted by uncomfortable silence.

When to use it:  You want to let somebody know that if they tick you off, you’ll run them down with your car, but you want them to kind of think you’re joking

7.  “Ah, I wouldn’t take it down if I were you. It’s a load-bearing poster.” – Bart, letting Rod know that he shouldn’t take down the Krusty the Clown poster in the new Flanders home even though Rob doesn’t like Krusty.

When to use it: Anytime someone wants to move something around in the room, ie. Move your papers off a chair, or pull up blinds on a window

6.  “Somehow, the animals are always the first to know” – Homer says it, after Santa’s Little Helper is blown away by the hurricane force winds, pointing out that animals are first to notice bad weather coming.

When to use it:  Perfect for both any bad weather situation, animal present or not (animal presence is a bonus though)

5. “Not me, friends. He’s talking about himself. But thanks for looking!” – random character, whom we learn is the actual “happiest man in town”, to whom everyone looks when Ned tellsSpringfield, that if anyone needs a favor, they should look to the happiest man in town.

When to use it: In a situation, where everyone present thinks somebody is talking about you, but they’re really not

4.”I mock your value system. You also appear foolish to the eyes of others.” – the first quote of Homer’s attempted antagonizing of Flanders

When to use it: When someone provides an awful opinion or showcases horrible taste

3. “Spin the middle side topwise. Topwise!” – Bart, trying to help the family solve the Rubik’s cube they find in the basement.

When to use it: When everybody in the room is frustarted over a task, like fixing the X-box, or opening a window

2. “I may be ugly and hate-filled, but I…um, what was the third thing you said?” – Moe reacting to Flanders, who, in blind rage has started calling out everyone in his path for how horrible they really are, and calls Moe ugly and hate-filled.

When to use it: When somebody insults you, and you want to make light of it rather than insult them back

1. “Uh, just remember, one of our patients is a cannibal. Try to guess which one! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”- mental hospital Dr. Foster explaining to the Simpson family when they come to the mental hospital so Homer can attempt to antagonize Ned.

When to use it: In literally any situation. That’s why it’s #1.

Show of the Day: Eerie, Indiana

26 Aug

Eerie, Indiana is the story of a boy who moves from New Jersey to the title location, a medium sized suburban town in which all manner of the bizarre, grotesque and supernatural reside.  The show aired for one season on NBC during the 1991-92 television season.

Eerie, Indana was intense, but silly, scary but absurd, sort of like X-Files with a couple of preteens and a sense of humor.  There was certainly a bit of commentary on what lies beneath the generic conformist suburbs a la Pleasantville or The Ice Storm, albeit clearly less serious.  The introduction sequence of the show tells the tale.  Marshall Turner, the main character, a thirteen year old boy, narrates, explaining that his dad, a super scientist, sought to move him and his sister away from the grime and crime of New Jersey, and to a more traditionally suburban environment.  However, Eerie,Indiana wasn’t what they had bargained for.  The rest of his family doesn’t seem to know it, though.

I rewatched the first episode which I hadn’t seen in well over a decade (handily, every episode in on Hulu) and discovered pleasantly that the show holds up fairly well.  In the episode, Marshall’s family is visited by a housewife, who looks like she came right out of the early ‘60s.  She lives nearby and tries to sell them a food storage product, like Tupperware, called Foreverware, which promises to preserve any food product forever, as long as it’s sealed properly.  She comes with her two twins, both seventh graders, also dressed in early ‘60s fashions.  One of them slips Marshall a note on the way out with the words, “Yearbook 1964.” Marshall discovers that those kids were the same age then, and through some investigating with his friend Simon, finds out that the housewife is using giant foreverware containers to keep herself and her children the same age as they were when her husband died in 1964.  Spurred on by the ‘60s twins and his fear that his mom will soon be purchasing foreverware, Marshall and his sidekick invade the house, open the foreverware beds, thus letting the twins out, who do the same for their mother.  The show ends as we see that the twins and mother have aged 30 years in a day.

Other episodes have similarly supernatural premises, often with a twist of the suburban.  The show does well to last half an hour, rather than an hour – it moves right along, without any wasted time.  Marshall, played by Omri Katz, who has appeared in just about nothing else, is charming and likable, if not the finest acting talent around.  The plots are reasonably clever and well written, and while not groundbreaking, it’s nice to watch a supernatural show with a sense of humor.  The episodes are played straight – there aren’t a whole lot of laugh out loud moments, but the atmosphere of the absurd is felt throughout.  Honestly, after watching the first, and realizing I can finish off the show in about two days, I’m seriously considering taking it on again.

The Fox Kids Network revived the show for a spinoff for a season in 1998 as Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension, with original characters Marshall and Simon showing up in the first episode communication through dimensions to the new characters in parallel world’s Eerie.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 28: The League

25 Aug

I started seeing commercials for The League and thought two things.  First, that the premise of the show – a bunch of guys playing fantasy football – wasn’t really sufficient to hold up as entire season of a show.  Second, I thought that the show looked very bad.  I was right about the first, but wrong about the second.  The show is only peripherally about fantasy football.  It is a constant and recurring plot element in the show, and the writers do make a big deal to talk about it in almost every episode, but the show is more about five guys in their 30s with fantasy football just as a hook to make the show different from any other show about five guys in their 30s.  I have friends who enjoy the show who couldn’t name more than one or two current football players.   The show is actually pretty funny as well.  It’s often fairly silly humor – one of the funniest scenes in the show involves a character wearing a children’s character costume and carrying a knife, another involves Paul Scheer (of Human Giant fame) falling on his ass, and a third involves someone dropping a cake.

The second season got a bit absurd for my tastes.  During the first season, a couple of the characters are weirdos, sure, but the show more or less lived in the universe of reality. Second season plots include an episode which features Rob Huebel as  a ridiculous sex addict with a bunch of odd fetishes as well as a toilet seat used to smuggle in cocaine that one of the main characters is hooked on sitting on.  The show is funnier when it’s dealing with things in the realm of possibility, when one of the outrageous characters would do something stupid, and everyone else would make fun of it.  It’s kind of a formula, and it’s limiting, but it’s a formula that works.

The show gets a couple of cameos from NFL players.  Antonio Gates, Chad Ochocinco and Josh Cribbs all make appearances.  All the devotion to fantasy football though leaves you wondering exactly why the characters are so bad at it.  Many of the football comments made in the show make absolutely no sense to the average sports fan, and that’s even counting for the lead time between the writing of the show and its airing.  The best example of this might in the draft board for the second season, which they didn’t need to show, but show well enough that you can read all the players, and a lot of it makes no sense to anyone who played fantasy football last year.  Two of the stranger choices are Ray Rice falling all the way to 11 and Steven Jackson somehow falling to the fourth round.

Why it’s this high:  It’s a pretty funny show about guys giving each other a hard time and wacky antics, and Paul Scheer makes me laugh

Why it’s not higher:  It’s trending in a direction where the strangeness overwhelms the funny, and the episodes can be very hit or miss

Best Episode of the most recent season:  “The Anniversary Party” – Pete, played by Mark Duplass, one of the founders of the mumblecore movement, runs into his ex-wife, now with a new, older man, and the two have an extremely silly battle to prove whether or not her new man can keep up with Pete at partying

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Evan Handler

24 Aug

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

Today we’re saluting Evan Handler.  Handler was born in 1961 in New York City and was raised in nearby Westchester.  He got his first couple of roles in 1981, in the films The Chosen and Taps.  He had a couple more appearances, including a guest spot in Miami Vice before he got his fist chance to start in a series, Woops! In 1992 on Fox, which failed, cancelled after 10 episodes, and apparently has a reputation as one of the worst shows ever.  Handler stars as one of a six person ensemble who gather together as survivors after world nuclear holocaust (Handler is apparently saved by having been driving a Volvo).  Handler showed up in Natural Born Killers and Ransom, and episodes of New York Undercover and Law & Order before getting his second shot in a series with the two season It’s Like, You Know.  It’s Like, You Know was an attempt at making a Seinfeld inLos Angeles, and was perhaps most notable for featuring Jennifer Grey playing herself as one of the characters.

Handler guest starred in three West Wing episodes as a political strategist, guest starred in three episodes The Guardian, appeared in Friends, and appeared in Six Feet Under as a radical artist who goes out for drinks with Claire and her professor.  He got his next big role in Sex and the City as Harry Goldenblatt,Charlotte’s jewish divorce lawyer, who eventually dates, and marries Charlotte.  He appeared in an episode of Without a Trace and an episode of 24 and got another main role opportunity in 2005’s Hot Properties on ABC.  According to wikipedia, Hot Properties was compared to Sex and the City and Designing Women.  It was about four single, professional women who love Oprah and work in a real estate office (hence the name.) SofiaVergara of Modern Family and Mad TV’s Nicole Sullivan were two of the women.   Handler played a doctor who shared office space with the women.  The show was not renewed after 13 episodes.

Handler appeared in a CSI:Miami episode and then showed up as Dave in an episode of Lost, Hurley’s friend who nobody else can see.  He showed up in four episodes of the ill-fated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as a writer who led the show before Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford showed up to take over.  After having several fights with Perry’s character, who mocks Handler’s style of humor, he leaves the show.  After appearing in both Sex and the City movies, Handler got his current break as Charlie Runkle in Californication, as David Duchovny’s best friend, agent, and comic relief.  Californication is still going strong, having finished four seasons, and been renewed for a fifth.

Handler is also a bit of a thesbian, creating a minor controversy when he walked off stage in the Broadway production of I Hate Hamlet in 1991 after star Nicol Williamson injured him in an on-stage sword fight.  He also appeared in Broadway productions of Brighton Beach Memoirs and Master Harold…and the Boys.  Another talent of Handler’s is writing; he wrote a book about his time fighting and recovering from leukemia during his late 20s called Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors.