Archive | October, 2012

Billboard Hot 100 Rant: PSY should be #1

25 Oct

As far as I can tell, the goal of the Billboard Hot 100 is to figure out what the most popular song in the country is.  However, the method to figuring out what that is is not always so clear.

Billboard has currently settled on some secret combination of radio play, digital downloads and on-demand streaming songs from a limited number of streaming services, including Spotify.  This computation is done through a compilation of a mystical quantity known as “chart points,”  which Billboard, in their articles on Wednesdays announcing the top 10, makes reference to.   Two weeks ago, Maroon 5 topped PSY by a mere 500 “chart points”!  What a close one!  Or is it?  They tell us it is, but who really knows, because it’s a completely proprietary measure, which makes it extremely frustrating to vent specific criticism for how the charts should be measured, because there’s no way to test it.

For comparison, imagine if major league baseball just released MVP standings every week, saying where the main candidates ranked in a couple of key categories (say hitting, defense, and baserunning as the digital downloads, streaming and radio respectively), but not exactly how MVP standings are calculated, so Mike Trout might lead Miguel Cabrera by 100 MVP points, and you might think that’s too many but it’d be hard to figure out exactly why, or test your assumptions and suggest ways to reweigh.  This actually even more closely resembles the BCS standings in college football, but for all the frustration with those standings, the weights assigned to each category are at least in public view.

This is particularly frustrating in recent days due to the unusual situation of PSY’s Gangnam Style, a rap song from an unknown artist in Korean, hanging in at #2, knocking on the door of #1.  PSY tops two thirds of the factors which go into compiling the Hot 100, digital downloads and on-demand streaming, which leads us to talk about the far more complicated third factor, radio play.

Radio play is an indirect measure of popularity; while individuals determine on-demand streaming and digital downloads directly, they only have an indirect effect on radio playlists, which are directly determined by corporate radio overlords (I don’t mean this in a negative way as much as a descriptive way).  This doesn’t necessarily mean radio shouldn’t count at all; it is indirectly controlled by music consumers (there’s a reason that radio and download lists most of the time at least share many of the same songs, if in a slightly different order) and it certainly is many people’s primary exposure to pop music.  Because of the indirect control, however, a song’s popularity on radio tends to lag behind its popularity with downloads and streaming, as radio starts picking up on things that people have shown interest in weeks and months after the fact.  This happens particularly with songs by artists who are not already superstars.  A Rihanna song is far more likely to get immediate airplay than say, a Carly Rae Jepsen song would have been eight months ago (or a fun. song or a Gotye song); in fact, mind bogglingly, 9 week Hot 100 #1 “Call Me Maybe” never actually topped the radio charts.

Still, this over-reliance on radio is magnified even more with PSY because Gangnam Style is, as previously mentioned, #1 on digital downloads and #1 on on demand streaming, it can only muster a relatively lowly #12 on radio play.

I’m not exactly sure if a song has ever hit #1 on both of those other charts while being so low on radio play, but I highly doubt it (note: several songs have charted #1 on downloads while being much lower on radio play due to huge first week download numbers while radio play lags behind, but not both download and on-demand streaming as far as I know).  I have absolutely no way of knowing exactly what’s keeping PSY at #12 on radio songs, far below its placement on the other charts, but it makes sense to assume at least part is the fact that it’s in Korean.  Rock and country songs have difficulty breaking onto pop radio, and take far longer than pop songs by popular singers if they do break through eventually, but this language issue is something entirely different and almost definitely more intractable.  It’s frustrating that the people have spoken so clearly by having PSY dominate the downloads charts most of the past month (only topped by weekly Taylor Swift releases before her new album, which faded fast) and having three straight weeks of atop the streaming chart, but there’s basically nothing people can do anymore to push the song to #1.

There’s a second huge caveat to Billboard’s method of determining the most popular songs in the US.  Youtube isn’t counted.  Youtube is the most used on-demand streaming service, and to not count it is to leave out a huge chunk of streaming music listens, more than any of the streaming services now included.

I don’t actually and never can know how much emphasis the Hot 100 formula currently puts on radio songs so I can’t say definitively it’s too much, but I’m going to say it anyway, because the abject lack of transparency gives me freedom to rant based on assumptions and guesses.  PSY should be #1.  The people have spoken definitively.

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Fall 2012 Review: Chicago Fire

24 Oct

 Chicago Fire (I’d make an MLS joke here, but no one would get it, in fact I’ll spell out Major League Soccer, which has a Chicago Fire team because I think most people don’t even know what MLS stands for) is about a group of firefighters and paramedics in Chicago.  In the first five minutes, we see one of the team die in a fire, and two of primary figures at the firehouse are at loggerheads a month later over responsibility for the death, while trying to live on with their daily responsibilities at work and home.

The rest of the hour is a day in the life the crew.  They fight fires and rescue people, putting their lives on the line every job, while taking the risk that if they make the wrong decision in the heat of battle, it’s on them.  We learn about life at the firehouse and the mostly bonding but occasional infighting that goes on there, between the different cliques,including  the regular firefighters and the rescue squad.  The new guy comes in and the other firefighters show him the ropes, horse around, and have a couple of laughs at his expense.  The revered veteran chief  (played by Eamonn Walker, better known to me as Said from Oz) offers wisdom, and does his best to separate the fighting parties when conflicts arise and unite his men (and women, but mostly men).

Our main firefighter, Matthew Casey (played by House’s Jesse Spencer, who shed most of his hair and his native Australian accent for the role) has trouble at home, as he’s quasi-possibly-separated from his fiancé, (which he hasn’t told any of his friends/coworkers), due at least partly to the impact of his friend and fellow firefighter’s death.

Man, being a firefighter is some seriously heavy shit, but they have their moments of levity as well.  There’s the towering  highs of saving a little girl’s life from a dangerous car accident side by side with the painful lows of another firefighter getting injured and requiring serious surgery, along with the feel good tomfoolery of watching their chief fight in a fire-police boxing match.   Then, just in time, when a fire strikes, the two enemies from the beginning unite in the heat of battle.

We’ve seen this show before, it’s just usually with cops and sometimes doctors, rather than fireman (I haven’t seen Third Watch but I imagine this is similar).  It’s fine.  It is what it is (an irritating expression, but still apt here).  There’s families, there’s hurt, there’s that camaraderie that only comes from being members of the same tribe that puts their lives on the line every day.  We’re meant to feel like we’re getting an insider’s view on the special relationships that go on inside that firehouse and that our emotions are on the line every time they step into a blaze.  There’s nothing that lifts this show above the realm of the generic though, no outstanding dialogue, or artistry, or characterization.

Note:  I keep calling this show Chicago Code, a short-lived cop show from a couple of years ago, that probably nobody remembers, and I didn’t realize I did until I keep calling this show that.

Will I watch it again?  No.  As I said above, it’s fine.  I’m sure some people would like it, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t call it bad as much as I would rather say it just doesn’t stand out.  It’s one of those shows that is exactly what you think it is, and you don’t really need to watch it to know whether you’re going to like it.  It’s more unmemorable than it is good or bad, which is inherently not positive, but compared to many shows, relatively not negative.

 

 

Fall 2012 Review: 666 Park Avenue

22 Oct

666 Park Avenue is a supernatural soapy horror, a super specific genre which happens to mean that the writers have narrow waters to navigate regarding the show’s tone.  If it’s too serious, it’ll be impossible to swallow the level of over the top silliness involved in an evil apartment building, while if it’s too jokey, it loses the scary horror element altogether.  Scary horror and fun but kind of silly horror can be combined (note: Shaun of the Dead, though that’s with satire instead of soap), but it’s a delicate balance.  I definitely think 666 sees Revenge as a model, following the formula of serious plot and soapy personal relations meant to be both serious and fun, but featuring a supernatural theme instead of a rich powerful family conspiracy.  It’s kind of fitting that on the other end of the spectrum from Revenge is ABC’s third Sunday night drama, the pretty bad (although quite successful) Once Upon a Time as a model of what not to do, which takes on fables, but far too over the top and silly, rather than serious, without being either fun or funny enough to make that trade off worthwhile.

Of course, the building isn’t actually 666 Park Avenue; that’d be a little too on the nose.   It’s actually 999 Park Avenue, but looks like 666 in the shadows.   It’s a large, old, building and our main characters Jane and Henry are wannabe yuppies, a young couple with lots of ambition and education but low on funds.  Their prayers are answered in the form of a building manager position at the building, which gets them a free room far above what they could normally afford.

Terry O’Quinn plays building owner/SATAN/SATAN associate Kevin Durand, resembling more later season Locke, when he was actually the Man in Black, then the regular Locke (yeah, I didn’t understand the last couple seasons of Lost either).  Vanessa Williams portrays his wife Olivia.  They’re somehow seeking to corrupt Henry and Jane (I wonder if having them be unmarried rather than married was a nod to the horror trope of disapproving of pre-marital sex?), while Henry and Jane are bowled over by their generosity before they start noticing slightly odd occurrences around the building.

Aside from the main plot of the two building managers getting settled in their new home, the episode plays out almost like a series of Goosebumps stories, which basically all have the same classic horror message:  Be Careful What You Wish For (I can’t find a clip for the life of me, but this always makes me think of the Simpsons Monkey’s Paw episode where Homer wishes for a turkey sandwich, “The turkey’s a little dry…the turkey’s a little dry!  oh, foe and cursed thing, what demon from the depths of hell created thee!”).  The first of two examples we see in the premiere is in the opening scene.  As a demonstration of both Durand’s power and his shady intent, a violinist who apparently had no talent and made a deal for ten years of greatness, is sucked away into the building after his time runs out, although he begs Durand for more.  Second, a man who agreed to kill on Durand’s command to bring his dead wife back to life is, well, sucked into a wall when he doesn’t.  Here’s a tip from someone admittedly not qualified to practice law:  Don’t sign contracts that oblige you to you know, die in ten years, or kill people, or sell your soul to any number of devils, etc.  About every five minutes out of Durand’s mouth comes some attempted witty ominous crack about how all people have needs and wants and must be willing to do what it takes to get them, or some such.

Note:  I do have a lot of doubt about the enforceability of these contracts in a court of law, though I guess that’s immaterial to Durand.

I’m not sure how many of the characters are regulars and how many episode of the week residents there will be, but besides O’Quinn and his wife, and the main two characters, there’s a young couple where the husband is a playwright who keeps staring at some woman in the window, and a young girl who apparently steals things and then maybe sees people’s futures in the items, or something. Going in, with the huge building filled with mostly rich people, compared to the cash poor main characters, I thought there might be an opportunity for some wonderfully heavy handed satire, They Live-style, but sadly, that element seems to be absent.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  Not because it was so bad as much as because it’s at least fifth in the picking order amongst new shows.  After one episode, I think it can be a good show but is unlikely to be a great show, and while I think watching the next episodes could possibly be enjoyable, it doesn’t quite cross the necessary threshold at this point.

Fall 2012 Review: Nashville

16 Oct

I always love to hear of a pilot that doesn’t immediately sound like any other program I can think of.  Sure, when you get down to the nuts and bolts, almost every show incorporates elements from other shows, and that’s natural.  It’s not the most important factor into whether a show is actually good, but it is amongst the most important factors in determining whether a new show sounds interesting before you actually watch.  Nashville, based around the country music world in the titular city, seems very likely to be both new and good, based on the pilot, a rare and welcome combination.

Nashville has a fairly decent amount of moving parts for a show that’s not a complicated conspiracy show like Last Resort or Revolution.  Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights’ Tami Taylor) plays aging country star Rayna James, who finds out to her dismay that she doesn’t have as much juice as she once did, and her record and upcoming tour aren’t selling..  Because of this, her label wants her to open for hot young country thing Juliette Barnes (Heroes’ Hayden Panettierre), who is after James’ bandleader, for personal and professional reasons, as well as her fame.  Neither of the woman like one another; James sees Barnes as a flash in the pan making adolescent garbage, while Barnes sees James as an aging fossil whose time has come.

As if this music angle wasn’t enough, it turns out that James’ father Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe) is one of the most powerful men in Nashville.  The two of them don’t get along great, but they communicate through James’ sister, who is being groomed to take over the family business when their father retires.  Lamar wants James’ husband, Teddy, frustrated with not being the breadwinner in his family for years, to run for mayor against James’ friend, Coleman Carlisle (played by The Wire’s Bunny Colvin himself, Robert Wisdom).  James then has to deal with conflicting loyalties personally and professionally, which deal with her career, the future of country music, and the future of the city of Nashville.

I’m not sure exactly who else the other main characters are going to be, and what kind of role they will be play, but there’s a legendary old songwriter who is friends with James, James’s bandleader’s niece, who is a poet and possibly an up and coming songwriter, the niece’s boyfriend, a bad boy type, and some other young songwriter, all of which I didn’t get a great feel for initially due to the logical focus on James and Barnes in the first episode.

James and Barnes were plenty compelling on their own even after just forty minutes.  While ostensibly James is the hero and Barnes the villain, both characters already seem like they should be far more multifaceted than that.  James exhibits occasional diva-like behavior, and though understandably upset with her lack of popularity, is less than graceful when coming to terms with the reality of her difficult situation.  Barnes is mostly an ambitious man-hungry prima donna who has trouble being nice even for a few minutes, but her possible character building set up involves a drug addict mother constantly calling her for money.  I think there’s lots of possibilities for complex relationships between characters which are neither perfect nor evil, and these are good things.

Will I watch it again?  Yes.  From pilot alone, I think it’s the best hour long I’ve seen this season, with Last Resort the only other in contention.  I was excited before I saw it, and I’m even more excited afterwards.  We could have the makings of a really strong show.  This show received the greatest possible endorsement when, after finishing the first episode, I realized I wished I had a second to throw on right away.

2012 Review: Made in Jersey

15 Oct

You’ve been waiting for it, I’ve been waiting for it, we’ve all been waiting for it.  Sure, it’s been cancelled already by the time you read this, but you weren’t going to watch it anyway, and don’t tell me you’re not the least bit curious.

Here’s the thing; Made in Jersey is bad, just like everybody could have easily anticipated, and that’s clear and pretty obvious from the get go.  Unlike 2 Broke Girls, though, it doesn’t make me angry or sad, it’s just hilariously bad and destined to fail, everyone kind of knows it, and this makes watching and reviewing it surprisingly enjoyable.  It’s lame duck television.

Let’s start out with what you have to know.  Martina Geretti is a lawyer who used to work for the Trenton DA’s office but now recently started working for a large prestigious white shoe Manhattan firm.  She gets into a mini-scuffle with a rude biker in the first two minutes of the show, letting you know that she’s got an accent, she’s got attitude to spare, and she’s a lawyer so she can threaten you when you piss her off.

Here’s what you also need to know.  She showcases her Jersey Smarts ™ several times in the episodes, which I will catalog, but basically, she gets promoted quickly into a high profile position.  Her head boss in Kyle McLaughlin, who doesn’t really do a lot.  Her next boss is some other guy who is literally constructed out of cardboard (yes, obviously not literally).  Her immediate co-worker who is slightly senior to her however, is played by Law & Order: SVU’s Stephanie March and has apparently made it her mission to be a total bitch to Martina because she’s a stupid Jersey know-nothing.  When I saw what the show was about, I thought everybody would be out to get Martina, and mock her for her Jersey ways, but it’s really just Stephanie March, although she does it often enough to count for everyone.  Basically, the rest of this review will be me listing examples of Martina using her Jersey Smarts ™ and me listing how Stephanie March is crazy mean to her.

Jersey Smarts ™ #1:  In one of the first scenes, before Martina heads to an important meeting she accidentally stains her blouse.  She quickly refashions her outfit to make herself presentable.

Jersey Smarts ™ #2:  Kyle McLaughlin brings up an important murder case in a huge meeting, noting that the police think that pliers were the murder weapon.  Martina explains that the pliers weren’t a weapon, but rather a fashion accessory for helping the girl put on tight jeans.  She’s immediately promoted for her pluck and gumption.

Her next client then, hearing her accent, thinks she must work for the lawyer, and March castigates her that Trenton isn’t New York.  Take that!

Jersey Smarts ™ #3:  When her client comes in for court with ratty hair that will make her look guilty, Martina uses her salon skills to fix it up on the fly.

March comments that Martina would be excellent at talking to some small time witnesses, because she “speaks townie.”  Burn!

Jersey Smarts ™ #4:  Martina, as a Jersey lawyer out of water at a big New York firm, understands not to judge people at first sight; the same mistake many are making about her client.

March makes a Real Housewives of New Jersey reference, in regards to Martina.  Come on, you knew it was coming at some point.

Jersey Smarts ™ #5:  Martina recognizes that possible blood on a doorknob may instead be bleach from when the defendant was changing the color of her hair, something that dawned upon her on a trip to the salon.

March shows off how out of touch she is; When talking about beauty supplies and highlights, Martina mentions how expensive and difficult to afford they can be, and March mentions that hers cost $300.

Jersey Smarts ™ #6:  Martina figures out that the defendant, a poor college scholarship girl, used the bleach to imitate “resort hair,” to pretend she had been on vacation, like a rich kid.

Oh, Martina eventually is picked by the boring lawyer to do the important cross examination and wins the admiration of the judge for her spunk and passion.  She also talks a tattoo parlor into giving a refund to her niece because, lawyer, but then gets a tattoo herself!  She’s a woman of contradictions.  Yay, New Jersey.

Will I watch it again?  No, because even if I wanted to, it’s not on anymore.  And no, it’s a bad show.  Still, I had a surprising amount of fun with this, I’m tempted to watch the second to do another write up.

Ads Watch: State Farm – State of Discovery (Ivy)

12 Oct


I’ve already talked about a great Discount Double Check commercial, a terrible attempt to replicate that commercial, and now I’m here to talk about a different, but again successful, Discount Double Check ad.

This ad returns to sports (baseball instead of football), but this time it’s a nice, concise, gets to the point one primary joke ad, but the joke is a good one.  It doesn’t have all the minute bizarre pleasures that makes the original Aaron Rodgers discount double check a hit, but what it does have is a well-constructed, well-executed joke, and in a 30 second commercial, that’s worth its weight, in, well, Super Bowl TV dollars.

Wrigley Field is the setting.  An insurance agent  (State Farm?  What insurance company is this again? – it is State Farm, but maybe it’s telling that I don’t remember before seeing it again) explains to Kerry Wood, as they walk near the warning track, from right field to left field, that State Farm does a discount double check to ensure that every person pays the lowest amount for their insurance, using the now famous Aaron Rodgers touchdown belt gesture.

Now things start to get good.  Wood explains that before each game, he did a similar ivy double check and begins to demonstrate, remarking how stuff tends to get caught up in the ivy.  The commercial is set up now for a classic rule of three gag – Wood’ll pull out two items that are progressively more strange, but ultimately leading to the third which will be the keeper; it will have to be the funniest and/or most bizarre for the joke to work.

Here’s the first of two places that make this commercial.  The first item Wood pulls from the ivy is already pretty funny, an outdated large cell phone, setting up the idea that things have been lost in the ivy for years and years.  The second item is a French horn, with no importance to the future of the joke, but just a solidly comically random item.  Third, then, Wood takes an extra second or two reaching into the ivy, as if he’s grabbing something particularly large or heavy, like a fisherman with a big one on the line.  The item, it turns out, is, as Kerry Wood says, quizzically, Andre Dawson.

Here’s the second important junction that makes this a fantastic commercial.  This is the combination of the physical comedy of Andre Dawson emerging completely horizontally from the ivy, as if the ivy goes back for yards and yards, as well the Hawk’s impeccably timed and intonated, “What year is it?”  Having Wood find Andre Dawson is already pretty brilliant, and just a funny idea.  But Dawson at least doubles the brilliance with his, “what year is it,” specifically bringing to mind the hilarious idea that he’s been trapped in the ivy for decades, aided by the squinty look he gives which makes it seem as if his eyes have not been exposed to light for some time.

The commercial then takes the perfect quick beat before going to the red screen on which State Farm explains their discount double check and I stop paying attention to the commercial.

Kudos, State Farm, for taking a brilliant commercial, ruining it with a terrible uncreative take two on that commercial by trying to replicate its brilliance, and then taking the same campaign in a new direction and having another success.

Fall 2012 Review: Elementary

11 Oct

When something is on CBS, I expect it to be somewhere on a range from bad to mediocre.  Is that harsh and unfair?  Well, yes; I should come into every show fresh, and I do my absolute best to evaluate every show fairly and put aside my preconceived notions, though, as I said, I consciously attempt to put them aside, rather than pretend they don’t exist.

CBS’s wheelhouse exists mostly on a spectrum from what I think are largely terrible comedies to bad-side-of-mediocre to good-side-of-mediocre police procedurals.  My initial thought was to say this is most of CBS, but not all, but looking at the fall schedule, it covers everything but The Good Wife, which is a slightly serialized law procedural, despite what others may try to tell you (unless it’s changed very drastically in the last couple of seasons, which is possible though unlikely – from the commercials you’d have no idea it was a procedural at all). It’s then unfair for me to expect a groundbreaking serial drama from CBS, but maybe what I can reasonably expect is for them to do what they do well.

The brand of comedies they make are very, very difficult to make actually good (I have a complicated relationship with How I Met Your Mother, but let’s save that for another day).  However, procedurals, while not generally my cup of tea (my strange near-obsession with the original Law & Order aside), are not inherently bad.  And if there was to be a particularly good one, then why not, as my friend pointed out, an adaptation of the original procedural, Sherlock Holmes, for which each original story was a short few pages about him taking on one mystery.

Here’s a preconception I’ve had about this show since the day it was announced.  There’s already a Sherlock on BBC, it’s great, and thus, any version on CBS will jwithust be hopelessly inferior.  After all the saber rattling between Sherlock creator Steven Moffat and CBS over who might or might not be ripping off who, I immediately sided with Moffat and basically figured the new version would just be a watered down, worse cast Sherlock.

After all that exposition, you may not be surprised to read that CBS’s Elementary was actually pretty good.  Yeah, I still think it’s not as good as the BBC’s version, but it’s still far better than I anticipated it to be after reading it was getting made. Johnny Lee Miller, who has fiddled around with TV before, as the villain in the fifth season of Dexter, and the eponymous Eli Stone, does a solid job of evoking the classic Holmes characteristics – sharp, astute, biting, and unable to precisely fit in with the emotional demands of ordinary humans, while occasionally making a very small effort.  The police captain who gives Holmes access to the scenes largely stays out of things (and is played by Aidan Quinn), making the show about Holmes, and secondarily about Watson, who seems to be more an easily irritated but also fascinated sidekick/babysitter compared to Watson in Sherlock, who is more of a friend and a bit closer to a partner, though perhaps the relationship changes over time.  Also, Watson is a woman, played by Queens native Lucy Liu, so take that, tradition.

Otherwise, you probably know how a Holmes mystery is supposed to work; Holmes constantly detects little observational clues at the crime scene which others miss and slowly point him to the killer, and eventually enable to him to prove his theories.  He’s the original Psych or The Mentalist.  The case in the pilot was well-crafted and featured Holmes both figuring out a lot of information towards finding the killer, and then knowing who he was and figuring out more information to prove it, with a key assist from Watson, and her ability to actually interact with people thrown in.  It’s a well crafted procedural, and credit to Miller for making it go.

Note:  Okay, I’ve given a largely positive review and this is a relatively silly point that isn’t important at all.  However, in the last scene of the pilot, Watson and Holmes are watching the Met game, and Holmes says the game is very scientific and predicts exactly what the next three batters would do.  Sure, there are probabilities, but that’s pretty much what baseball is – I’d have to run some math above my level, but I’m fairly sure the likelihood of him predicting the outcomes of the next three hitters in a row (it’s center field fly out, though if I recall correctly, and I’m not willing to watch again for this, he says pop out, and it’s hardly a pop out, intentional walk – and of the three this is clearly the most predictable, and then grounded into double play) is pretty unlikely.

Second note:  This is just a pointless thought; but this is the place for it.  So, in a world like this, or the BBC’s Sherlock, the Sherlock Holmes stories have to never have been written.  Otherwise, they current day Holmes would think it was just too bizarre a coincidence, and every person who met them would say, “you’re just like Sherlock Holmes from those stories”.  So the world they live in is nearly identical to ours, except that Sherlock Holmes stories never existed.  Did Arthur Conan Doyle exist, but never write those stories, or is he gone too?

Will I watch it again?  Again, it’s a procedural, so probably not.  At this point, I just don’t value hour long shows without major serial components very highly – those I do watch I either primarily watch with others, or are British shows, meaning there are so few episodes, that it’s more inconvenient not to watch.  If this had only six episodes in a season, I would probably bang them out.