Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Best Scifi/Fantasy TV Series on Hulu January 27, 2009

A vampire with a soul turns private investigator to make amends for his past evil deeds… A fleet of humans search for a home and form shaky alliances with the Cylons who were once their sworn enemy… A cheerleader turned vampire slayer saves the world time and again with help from her enthusiastic gang of Scoobies… A ragtag band of space cowboys stays one step ahead of the Alliance while also welcoming others who are on the run into their family… An FBI agent, a genius, and a mad scientist work together to investigate strange occurrences with the ultimate goal of unraveling the mystery of The Pattern.

Angel, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Fringe. These are the nominees for Best Scifi/Fantasy TV Series on Hulu. For me, choosing one of these shows as the proposed winner is a nearly impossible task. I’ve seen every episode of these shows at least once (and have seen many episodes of Buffy and Angel multiple times), and consider myself a loyal fan of Angel, Battlestar Galactica, and Buffy. While I enjoyed Firefly, I never became attached to it in the same way as Joss Whedon’s previous shows, yet there’s no denying that it was a unique and well-executed concept. And Fringe is my favorite new show this year. It is consistently fascinating and entertaining. All five of these nominees are worthy of winning in this category. Deciding on one will require me to break it down a bit:

  • AngelMy favorite things about this Buffy spin-off were its fantastical story arcs and the evolution of its characters. Cordelia, once a shallow actress wannabe, transformed into a warrior of the people and, literally, a higher being. Wesley went from being a prissy bookworm to a smooth talking, motorcycle riding, James Bond type of hero. (I miss him most of all.) All the main characters faced great crises at some point, and things were rarely resolved in a nice and neat way. (I still am deeply saddened when I think about Fred’s horrible fate, and the way it affected all of her friends.) As for the story arcs, one of the best ones was at the end of season two when the gang found themselves in Lorne’s home world of Pylea. I loved everything about these episodes, from Angel’s true demon appearance being unleashed, to the Pyleans calling humans “cows” and enslaving them. Angel was one of those rare shows that got better with age. The final season was my favorite one. It was sad to see it go when it was at the top of its game.

  • Battlestar GalacticaI love the scifi aspects of this epic show, but it is the human drama that makes it truly memorable. President Roslin was thrust into the role of leader of the human race, fresh off of the news that she was battling cancer. Admiral Adama struggles to maintain his military authority while also trying to make up for lost time with his son Lee. Gaius Baltar may be insane, he may be brilliant, or he may be somewhere in between, but he is definitely guilt-ridden over his part in the near-extinction of the human race. Every character has a well-developed personality and believable struggles. And no one can say that the story is predictable or formulaic. So much has happened, and there’s so much time between seasons, that I feel like I need a refresher course just to keep up with the mythology. Once the series comes to an end, I plan to rewatch it from start to finish, in a relatively short amount of time, so that I can fully appreciate the connections and the ongoing trials and triumphs of the characters. I should also mention that the special effects are always impressive – this is an important aspect to a scifi/fantasy show.

  • Buffy the Vampire SlayerThis is a show that grew on me over time. My initial impression of it didn’t amount to much more than a “those demon costumes look silly and fake.” Of course, I came in late in the game – in the middle of season five. Once I started from the beginning (which was easy to do when FX was showing two episodes a day), I quickly grew to appreciate the fast-paced dialogue, the unusual happenings on the Hellmouth, and the way that the show combined fantasy with real life issues. The show had its ups and downs over the years (Once More with Feeling and the season with Glory = up, Slayers in Training and the Adam story arc = down), but once I got to know the characters, it didn’t really matter where they went or what they did. I was happy to be along for the ride.

  • FireflyA Western in space. As far as I know, this idea had never been made into a tv show before this little scifi western that could came alone. Well, it only kind of could, since it didn’t last a full season on Fox. But it has had a healthy and successful afterlife on DVD. Like all of Joss Whedon’s shows, this one features distinctive characters that we either love, or hate to love. There was fearless Mal, loyal Zoe, comical Wash, opportunistic Jayne, enigmatic River, etc. In addition to the crew’s ongoing run-ins with The Alliance, Whedon created another truly frightening enemy in the Reavers, a group of cannibalistic nomads that wander the outer reaches of space. This show barely had time to get its footing before it was canceled, but it managed to create a loyal (and well-deserved) following in that time.

  • Fringe – I started singing this show’s praises right after the pilot aired. It’s smartly written, well-acted, has interesting special effects, and seems to have unlimited possibilities with where the story could go. I actually like Joshua Jackson more in his role as Peter Bishop than I liked him as Pacey on Dawson’s Creek (pause for the customary “gasp!” from all the Joey/Pacey ‘shippers). Lance Reddick is appropriately mysterious as Agent Broyles, Anna Torv plays Olivia Dunham as a determined but slightly stressed young agent, and the rest of the cast rounds out very well. John Noble is the stand-out as Walter Bishop. He has so many great moments on the show, and I love his basement lab at Harvard, complete with a dairy cow and plenty of gadgets and gizmos. The search for The Pattern is a mythology-in-the-making worthy of the X-Files, and perhaps we will even receive more answers than the X-Files ever gave us. I hope this show is given at least a few seasons to take us to new places.

So now comes the hard part. Separating the great from the… great:

  • I will eliminate Fringe first, because with as new as it is, it hasn’t had a chance to prove that it is as deserving of the award as some of the heavyweights in this category.
  • For a similar reason, I will take Firefly out of consideration, because it’s hard to value one season of it as much as the many seasons of Angel, Buffy, or BSG.
  • This is where it gets really hard. I have trouble deciding whether I liked Buffy or Angel better, but in the end I guess I would go with Buffy – if I had to choose one or the other. Angel was a great show, but when I go back and watch it now, it doesn’t feel like as much of a classic as Buffy still does.
  • So, that leaves me with two super worthy contenders: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica. I am leaning toward Battlestar Galactica, as its production values are slicker (I’m sure it has a bigger budget), and it tackles slightly more grandiose themes concerning the human condition, questions of what makes life worth living, etc. (Buffy held its own in the thematic arena, though, but on a smaller scale.)

As of this moment, I stand ready to cast my vote for Battlestar Galactica as the best Scifi/Fantasy tv show on Hulu. If you believe one of the other four nominees is more deserving, please make an argument on its behalf. I just may change my mind!

 

Ten Reasons to Love Dr. Horrible December 18, 2008

I recently watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog for the first time. Now I’m wondering why I waited so long! Here are ten reasons to love this surprisingly good, wildly popular, web original. It is in the running for the Hulu Award for Best Web Original, so if you agree with my assessment of Dr. Horrible, go to The Hulu Review and vote for it! I’ve done my best to write a spoiler-free analysis, so it should be safe for Dr. Horrible newcomers to proceed.

  1. The Title – I would have loved to be in the brainstorming session in which Whedon and his team tried to come up with an appropriate name for this odd, genre-defying show. They could have gone with something standard like “Dr. Horrible vs. Captain Hammer.” Or something epic sounding like Dr. Horrible: Evil Mastermind. I think their ultimate choice was brilliant! When you first hear the name “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” you’re not sure what to make of it. In fact, after watching it, I’m still not sure what to make of it, but it certainly has a nice ring to it. This title is befitting of a show that is both offbeat and epic in scope.
  2. Joss Whedon as writer, director, and producer – Has he ever gone wrong? I’ve loved just about everything he’s ever worked on (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly… even the 1992 Buffy movie with Kristy Swanson!). I know some people don’t like his writing style, particularly the clever, fast-paced, often sarcastic dialogue, but that is one of my favorite things about his shows. There’s certainly a lot of sarcasm and low key humor in Dr. Horrible. Thanks for another little gem to hold us over until Dollhouse premieres, Joss!
  3. Neil Patrick Harris – He has come so far since Doogie! I love him as Barney on How I Met Your Mother, and now he has won me over once again, this time as a lovesick, self-doubting, evil genius wannabe. He plays the dual role of Billy/Dr. Horrible with gusto! I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it as well as he does. Some of my favorite moments are these: when he “just so happens” to have two ice creams at the laundromat (“what a crazy, random happenstance!”) and proceeds to have a shy and awkward conversation with Penny, when he appears very haggard and explains to viewers on his video blog that his heist didn’t go exactly as planned, and when he finally has enough of Captain Hammer and angrily plots his revenge during the song “Brand New Day.”
  4. Nathan Fillion – Fillion was perfect for the role of the completely self-centered, grand-standing, not-so-golden-hearted super hero. He is quite the go-to for Whedon, now having appeared in three very different roles in the Whedonverse: loyal captain Mal on Firefly, evil preacher Caleb on Buffy, and now, the arrogant and comical hero. I loved his grandiose entrance with the song “A Man’s Gotta Do,” along with every Captain Hammer moment after that. Captain Hammer standing on top of a moving van, his hair blowing in the wind. Captain Hammer saying egotistical things to the media. Captain Hammer stating the obvious to Dr. Horrible.
  5. The Supporting Cast – Felicia Day deserves a mention here for her turn as Penny. She plays the idealistic, soft spoken, and often clueless optimist very well. I must say, though, that I was slightly annoyed by her sing-song, airy vocals on her songs. But, I suppose that was in keeping with the character. My favorite supporting character was Moist, played by Simon Helberg of “The Big Bang Theory.” What a hilarious character! An evil henchman whose only “superpower” is the ability to produce lots of sweat. “Do you need anything moistened?” I loved how Helberg plays Moist as a very low key guy. Also worth mentioning are the Bad Horse Chorus and the members of the Evil League of Evil. Neither of these groups had much dialogue or screen time, but they are further proof of the unending creative juices in Whedon’s mind.
  6. Dr. Horrible’s lair and gadgets – These aspects of the show are very reminiscent of Buffy’s evil trio – Jonathan, Andrew, and Warren. Those guys were much more geeky and wimpy than the typical super villains, but they had a pretty impressive basement lair, and lots of interesting gadgets and gizmos. Same here, as Dr. Horrible, a.k.a. Billy, is more lovable than loathesome, so we find ourselves wanting him to succeed in his dastardly deeds, which involve a freeze ray and other mad scientist type gadgets. The scenes in his “evil” den/lab give us a different perspective on Dr. Horrible. Plus, they are just really fun.
  7. Captain Hammer’s speech – “Home is where the heart is, so your real home’s in your chest.” That’s just one of the absurd lines delivered by Captain Hammer during his speech at the dedication of the new homeless shelter. The song is called “Everyone’s a Hero,” and includes some other memorable lines: “Everyone’s a hero in their own way, you and you and mostly me and you,” “Don’t worry if it’s hard, If you’re not a friggin’ ‘tard you will prevail,” etc…
  8. Penny and Billy’s duet – One of the earliest songs is also one of my favorites. In “My Eyes,” Penny and Billy (Dr. Horrible) sing a surprisingly beautiful duet, and the editing is well done to show the contrast and commonalities in their respective, overlapping lyrics. While Billy sings “I cannot believe my eyes / How the world’s filled with filth and lies / But it’s plain to see / Evil inside of me is on the rise,” Penny sings quite the opposite about the same situations: “I cannot believe my eyes / Is the world finally growing wise / ‘Cause it seems to me / Some kind of harmony / Is on the rise.” The music, the lyrics, and the performances come together to make this one of the most memorable moments of Dr. Horrible.
  9. The Mix – Like every other Joss Whedon show, Dr. Horrible is an odd mix of comedy, tragedy, the mundane, and the grandiose. In this case, we have a guy falling in love with a girl at a laundromat while at the same time trying to prove himself worthy to join the Evil League of Evil. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the show) was, in my opinion, Whedon’s finest achievement. It dealt with serious themes while also entertaining us with action, suspense, horror, and comedy. Dr. Horrible gives us a small dose of the same thing. While on its surface this web original is more about quirky characters and silly songs, it also deals with love, loss, and ambition. I love this about it.
  10. The Songs – The music, the lyrics, and the performances are all top notch. If you are looking for trained voices, you’ll be disappointed. Like the Buffy episode “Once More, with Feeling,” most of the performers here lack impressive voices (Neil Patrick Harris is the best). That doesn’t matter, though, because part of the point is for these characters to seem pretty average, in the case of Penny and Billy, and buffoonish, in the case of Captain Hammer. Their singing voices match their characters well. The witty lyrics are perhaps the best thing about the whole show, but the music isn’t too shabby either. From the upbeat piano chords in “My Freeze Ray,” to the edgy sound of “Brand New Day,” to the mockingly regal trumpets of “Everyone’s a Hero,” the music constantly readjusts the tone and keeps viewers wondering what will happen next.

If you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I encourage you to take 45 minutes of your time to do so. You won’t regret it!

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Reality Bites: The Worst of Reality TV December 9, 2008

Filed under: Hulu,Hulu Awards,Television — Emily @ 12:52 pm
Tags: , , ,

America's Got Talent

The general consensus is that reality tv is the lowest form of television entertainment. But it is also true that there are some shows that redeem the genre (The Amazing Race, Biggest Loser, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.). What about the other end of the spectrum? When it comes to the lowest of the low, which reality shows stand at the bottom of the pit?

Before I answer that question, I will divide the worst of reality into three categories:

  1. The Premise – Some shows are bad from the moment the idea is born in the creator’s mind. The premise is simply too ridiculous or pointless to merit any attention, and the show thus sucks valuable brain cells out of its viewers.
  2. The Ethical/Moral Dilemma – Some shows just seem plain wrong. Maybe I don’t agree with what it stands for, or what it puts its contestants or cast through. Maybe it shows the worst sides of humanity. Maybe I think it sends the wrong kind of message to impressionable viewers. These are all reasons that this type of show shouldn’t remain on the air.
  3. The Pseudo-Celebrity – These shows are the ones that make me roll my eyes, and since there seems to always be a new “celebrity driven” reality show, I do a lot of eye rolling. Whether it’s a last ditch act of desperation to save a faltering career, or a ploy for attention from those riding on the coattails of their more famous family members, these shows have no redeeming value. Whatever happened to the value of privacy? And why should we encourage these people to continue their shenanigans? They need to go home, behind closed doors, and work out their issues.

    Now that I’ve laid out the categories of bad reality, I’ll move on to the contenders for Worst Reality Show. My choices were limited to the shows available to watch on Hulu. (This is one of the latest categories in the Hulu Awards.) I’ve whittled a list of more than 100 choices down to ten. I’ll list them below according to category:

    The Premise

    • Hole in the Wall – Maybe this idea could work as part of a more elaborate obstacle course game show. But as a stand-alone concept? Absurd! Not to mention, it humiliates the contestants. If I had to see the promo one more time of that obese woman shouting out in disbelief as the skinny person cut-out moved quickly towards her… This has to be the worst reality show concept ever.
    • The Real Housewives of Orange County/Atlanta/New York City (take your pick) – Why should we care what a bunch of materialistic, self-involved women spend their time doing? These shows are extremely staged and completely lacking in any worthwhile plot. Total waste of time.
    • America’s Got Talent – I wasn’t really sure which category to put this one in. It’s not really that a talent show is a bad idea. I (mostly) enjoy American Idol, and I grew up watching the original Star Search. The problems with America’s Got Talent began when the judges and host were selected. I can’t stand to watch this show because of its cheesy, manipulative tone, and its judges who seem to think they are uber-important. I can’t stand to listen to or even watch Sharon Osbourne, David Hasselhoff, and Piers Morgan as they react to the performers and offer their “critiques.” Jerry Springer, as the host, is equally annoying. So the casting of the judges/host, along with the shabby production values (mainly the editing and camera work), make this a big loser in my opinion.

    The Ethical/Moral Dilemma

    • Temptation Island – In our culture, people generally believe that it is a good thing to be committed to your significant other, and that you should avoid temptation. So then, why does this show encourage people to cheat, and turn the “will they/won’t they” into entertainment for the masses? This show is wrong in so many ways.
    • The Girls Next Door – According to the summary on Hulu, this show “takes viewers beyond the gates of the world-famous Playboy Mansion and into the lives of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends, Holly, Bridget and Kendra. Through the eyes of these gorgeous gals, you’ll see this fantasy land come to life like never before.” Okay, so this show is voyeuristic, giving viewers an inside look at an exotic fantasy land. And it condones Hugh Hefner’s polygamous lifestyle. Most people would agree that this is not a healthy form of relationship, and I also think that this show and the Playboy culture it portrays are demeaning to women. Some people would probably tell me to loosen up, but I don’t think a show like this adds anything positive to our society. I should add that I also find The Bachelor/Bachelorette series offensive, in the way they turn selecting a partner into something akin to a meat market.
    • Battle of the Bods – Hulu describes this as “a steamy reality show in which five sexy girls rank themselves in order of attractiveness and try to match the rankings of a panel of male judges, for a cash prize.” I don’t think I can imagine a more horrid premise. Strange, then, that this isn’t too dissimilar to the concept of beauty pageants, which I’m also not a fan of. Battle of the Bods is another show that objectifies women. In this case, these women knew what they were getting themselves into, but that doesn’t mean we as viewers should encourage them to continue in their current mindset. Rather than starring in a show that has them competing to be the sexiest, they should be guests on a talk show that has them delving into their issues of self image, self worth, etc. I just don’t know what would drive someone to participate in something like this. How much money is it really worth?
    • The Moment of Truth – This show “puts contestants to the test – the lie detector test – to reveal whether or not they are willing to tell the truth for a chance to win half a million dollars.” That description alone doesn’t sound too bad; it’s the way that Fox produces the show, and the content of the questions, that makes this an awful show. Some things just shouldn’t be played out on national television. These people need to air their dirty laundry in their own homes, not in the living rooms of strangers.

    The Pseudo-Celebrity

    • Denise Richards: It’s Complicated – I could have chosen any number of “celebreality” shows for this space, but I went with Denise Richards because this show really seems to have no point. Plus, if Denise was tired of the paparazzi following her around, why willingly let a camera crew have full access to her and her children? She can claim it’s to “set the record straight,” but all I see is someone who is seeking attention in the wrong places.
    • Living Lohan – Where does E! come up with the ideas for their shows, and who continues to watch them all, thus encouraging the production of more pointless celebrity reality shows? This show is one of the lowest of this lowest form of “entertainment.” It follows the adventures of Dina and Ali Lohan, mom and sister to Lindsay, as they try to become superstars in their own right. So, not only are they not really celebrities, but they are trying to “break into the biz” just like thousands of other people. Is the fact that they have a famous family member really enough reason that they should get their own show, when so many others are going through just the same process?
    • Rob & Amber: Against the Odds – I have never been fond of Rob and Amber using their Survivor super-couple status to prolong their 15 minutes of fame. After their (admittedly) impressive win on Survivor: Marquesas, the parade of reality appearances began: The Amazing Race, Survivor – All Stars, The Amazing Race – All Stars, Rob and Amber Get Married, and finally, this poker-themed show that had Rob being tutored by professional player Daniel Negreanu on his quest to become a professional player. It’s not surprising that Against the Odds ended abruptly when Rob and Amber got the more lucrative opportunity to appear on The Amazing Race: All Stars. I was over Rob and Amber about halfway through their first season of Survivor, so I have become increasingly annoyed by each of their subsequent reality appearances.

    So there you have it – my picks for the top ten worst reality shows (on Hulu). Which of these would you pick as the very worst? Or maybe the top three worst? I need help choosing a “winner”!

    Related Links

    • Worst Reality Show – This post on The Hulu Review gives the full list of shows eligible for the Hulu Award for Worst Reality Show. See if I missed any other worthy contenders, and place your own vote in the comments section.
    • My Proposed Nominees for Best Reality TV – For a more positive take on reality tv, check out the shows I nominated for the Best of Reality categories for the Hulu Awards.
    • Sorting the Lentils of Reality TV – My definition of “good” reality tv
     

    Hulu’s Comedic Shorts are Short on Funny November 23, 2008

    Filed under: Hulu,Hulu Awards — Emily @ 11:40 am
    Tags: , ,

    Recently I discovered some great dramatic shorts on Hulu, so I was looking forward to reviewing the potential nominees for one of this week’s Hulu Awards categories, Best Comedic Short. I figured that if many of the dramatic shorts were well done and entertaining, then surely the comedic shorts would be equally so. Unfortunately, I had more difficulty finding the good amidst a sea of mediocrity.

    My problem with these comedic shorts is that most of them weren’t funny. Some of them were quirky and creative, like Music For One Apartment And Six Drummers (but there was nothing amusing about that one), or bizarre like Stricteternum (the little girl with the eyes painted on her eyelids was just plain creepy!), but it was difficult to find humor in many of these shorts. Nevertheless, I managed to choose four proposed nominees. I encourage you to check them out on Hulu to see whether or not you agree with me, or if you think I overlooked any other award-worthy shorts.

    My Proposed Nominees for Best Comedic Short on Hulu:

    1. Laid Off – Very low key, dark humor. This short had the highest production values of the potential nominees, so in terms of quality, it had to be on my short list. I didn’t laugh much, but I was mildly amused by the main character’s monotone overview of his life after death. The group session of the departed was the funniest part.
    2. Bjorn: Hurdles of Bureaucracy – Unlike most of the comedic shorts on Hulu, this one actually made me laugh out loud. It points out the ridiculous hurdles to getting a passport. Of course, in the U.S. you could never renew a passport in a matter of hours. The only drawback was misspelled or otherwise incorrect subtitles, which I found distracting. Such simple and glaring errors take away credibility from a movie.
    3. How to Cope with Rejection – For some reason, ninjas always make me laugh. (Ever seen askaninja.com?) I liked the low key, melancholy humor of this short. The music worked well to reinforce the tone.
    4. Walking on the Wild Side – This one was strange, but it made me laugh out loud several times from the awkwardness of the situation. The actors were perfectly cast for their roles and did a great job. Sidenote: until my brother and his wife traveled to Amsterdam recently, I didn’t know that in countries where prostitution is legal, it is common for “working girls” to advertise themselves inside what is similar to storefront displays. Window shopping for a hooker. Weird. Anyway, that context makes this short make more sense.
    • You can view all four of these comedic shorts, plus any of the other contenders in this category, in Hulu’s Movieola Shorts: Comedy section.

    Related Links:

     

    The Top Five TV Comedies on Hulu November 20, 2008

    I’ve already discussed an expanded definition of “comedy” and have established what characteristics, in my opinion, a comedy must exhibit to be considered great. Now it is time for me to unveil my proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy on Hulu. So, without further adieu…

    • Arrested DevelopmentThis is my top, top pick. Everything about this little show is greatness. It’s a travesty that it did so poorly in the ratings, but at least it garnered all the critical praise that it deserved. And we have a movie based on the series to look forward to. Given all the attention this show deserves, it is terrific that the entire series is available to watch on Hulu, plus hundreds of clips of classic Bluth dysfunction. What makes this show perhaps the best comedy to ever grace the small screen? Hmmm… let me count the ways. Insanely funny characters. Ridiculously spot-on actors. Perfectly timed voice-over narration. Wacky serialized storylines. Buster’s hook hand. Gob’s endless attempts at magic tricks gone wrong. George-Michael’s name. George Michael’s awkward infatuation with his cousin. Maebe’s career as a movie producer. Tobias’ wearing of jean shorts under his other clothes. Michael’s level-headedness amidst the madness of his family. I could go on and on. I spent almost as much time rewinding episodes of this show as I did watching it, because I was constantly laughing and would have to go back to see what I had missed. The jokes come fast and furious from the opening narration to the ending faux preview of the next episode. In every way, this show is pure comic genius.

    • 30 RockNothing came close to the tone and style of humor of Arrested Development until Tina Fey left Saturday Night Live and started a quirky little show called 30 Rock. 30 Rock displays the same irreverence for anyone and anything, so you never know who the joke will be on from week to week. While Arrested Development revolves around a dysfunctional family, 30 Rock focuses on a similarly dysfunctional cast and crew of a variety show, TGS with Tracy Jordan. It is interested to me that the show was initially marketed as a Tracy Jordan vehicle, because his character is marginal to me at this point. In the first season, there were also differing opinions about whether Jane Krakowski’s character added or detracted from the show. Now in its third season, these problems have been ironed out, and the result has been a consistently clever and funny show. The show’s strengths (and funniest aspects) include the interaction between Jack and Liz, Liz always babysitting the cast and staff, Tracy always coming up with a new scheme with Dot Com and Grizz, and the brilliant roles created for the guest stars. On this show, celebrity guest stars aren’t just a gimmick. They actually work within the context of the show. My favorite is, without a doubt, Will Arnett as Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) professional nemesis. Edie Falco was also perfect as Jack’s liberal Democrat lover (he’s a staunch Republican), and more recently, Jennifer Aniston played the part of Liz and Jenna’s crazy friend in very believable and entertaining fashion. One final attribute that makes 30 Rock one of a kind in the current television landscape: it pokes fun at anyone and anything in politics, entertainment, etc. All the other current sitcoms, that I know of, stay firmly entrenched in their fictional worlds, but 30 Rock draws limitless rich material from our culture, whether it’s Oprah’s Favorite Things or NBC’s “Go Green” week.

    • The OfficeI have always enjoyed the mockumentary (i.e. Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Drop Dead Gorgeous), so I was thrilled when the genre made its way into the tv comedy landscape. I actually prefer the American version over the original one. I guess I’ve never been a fan of dry British humor. The Office is a show that thrives on the adventures of its characters: Michael’s quest for a healthy relationship, Angela’s manipulation of fiance Andy in the midst of her continued relationship with Dwight, Jim and Pam’s long distance engagement, etc. Most of us know people like Stanley, Phyllis, Kelly, and the rest. Sure, they are exaggerated versions of stereotypical co-workers, but there is still a lot of truth to be found. In this case, where there is familiarity, there is humor. The show’s format also adds to its entertainment value. We, the viewers, get extra insight into the situations when the characters talk on camera, and we “get it” when one of them raises their eyebrows or sneaks a smile at the camera over something that happens in the office. So while this show isn’t as smart and quick with the jokes as my previous two nominees, there is still an endless supply of laugh-inducing material.
    • Buffy the Vampire SlayerSome people may argue that this show isn’t a comedy – that it should be categorized solely as horror/fantasy. I disagree! During the years it aired, I’d argue that Buffy was consistently funnier than most of the half hour comedies most people were turning to for laughs. Joss Whedon is a terrific writer and director, and he kept the witty banter going for seven seasons. Some stand out comedic episodes: “Band Candy,” in which the grown ups reverted to their teenage persona after eating some drug-laced candy bars; the fantastic musical episode “Once More, with Feeling,” which had everyone singing and dancing about things like dry cleaning and parking tickets; and “Tabula Rasa,” in which Willow’s memory spell goes awry, making everyone forget who they are (Buffy thinks her name is Joan, Spike thinks Giles is his dad, Xander and Willow think they are dating, etc.). All three of these episodes are on my list of the Best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    • Family GuyUnlike the other shows on this list, which I’ve seen every episode of and count among my all time favorites, I have only seen a few episodes of this animated comedy. So why is it worthy of this final nomination spot? Quite simply, it is hilarious. Sure, it is unabashedly irreverent, and it features some potentially highly offensive scenes, but the cleverness of its dialog and its pop culture/political/social satire more than make up for it. I recall some brilliant Broadway-style musical numbers in one episode I watched. More recently, I was introduced to the way Stewie says “Cool Whip,” and it proves that something as simple as that can be very funny on this show.

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    A Recipe for Comedic Success November 19, 2008

    Comedy. Funny awkward? Funny ha ha? Funny bizarre? Funny means different things to different people, and so there are many varieties of comedy in today’s entertainment world. Before I list my picks for Best Comedy TV Show on Hulu, let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of comedy, followed by characteristics that I look for in a successful comedy.

    From dictionary.com:

    Comedy aims at entertaining by the fidelity with which it presents life as we know it; farce at raising laughter by the outrageous absurdity of the situation or characters exhibited; extravaganza at diverting by its fantastic nature; burlesque at tickling the fancy of the audience by caricaturing plays or actors with whose style it is familiar. Generalized sense of “quality of being amusing” dates from 1877. Comedian “comic actor” is 1601; meaning “professional entertainer who tells jokes, etc.” is 1898

    That definition covers the main characteristics of comedy, which leads me to a few points I’d like to make:

    • The term “comedy” originally referred to plays that had happy endings, as opposed to the tragedy. Now we use the term “comedy” to apply to stand-up routines, movies, tv shows, etc. There are, of course, many categories of comedy now: dark/black, romantic, satire, parody, slapstick, deadpan, tragicomedy, lowbrow, highbrow, etc.
    • Bottom line: Comedy is intended to be funny, whether it be in a dark, sarcastic, ridiculous, or generally amusing sense.
    • For something to be funny, there must be some thematic elements the audience can relate to – Dysfunctional family relationships, awkward interaction with coworkers, meddling in-laws, etc.
    • Comedic actors exhibit certain traits that make them funny: physical comedy (i.e. Kramer bursting through Jerry’s door, or Elaine shoving someone while proclaiming “Get out!”, on Seinfeld), deadpan delivery of lines (i.e. Bob Newhart, Ray Romano), intonation of voice (Jerry Seinfeld’s incredulous, high-pitched yelling, Matthew Perry’s overemphasis of “be” on Friends – “Could this be any more awkward?”), subtle changes in expression (Jim’s glances at the camera on The Office), etc.
    • Of course, the actors would be limited in their ability to entertain were it not for the writers. Comedic writers have a knack for writing clever, humorous dialog and scenarios. Who knew that losing a car in a parking garage could be so funny – until Seinfeld’s writers created an entire episode about it. Or that a single phrase could become a source of endless hilarity – until “serenity now” (Seinfeld) and “the rural juror” (30 Rock) and others came along? Other times it’s more about witty, fast-paced scripts, as with the dialog and accompanying narration by Ron Howard on Arrested Development (“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s Arrested Development.”)
    • Aside from the acting and writing, audiences connect with comedies because they allow us to escape (doesn’t everyone wish they lived carefree lives in a fantastic New York apartment like the characters on Friends? Or wouldn’t you love to live in a world where you used a supernatural ability to solve a crime and then sit down to eat some delicious pie, like on Pushing Daisies?) or they focus on situations that we find familiar. Though in real life these situations may be less than enjoyable, a comedy can turn them upside down to find the light-hearted, amusing, whimsical, warped, or ridiculous underbelly. Waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant for what seems like an eternity. A husband refusing to unpack his suitcase, which remains sitting at the foot of the stairs while spouses’ pride gets in the way. An inept boss who means well but only creates awkward situations.
    • Two characteristics of comedies that I value most are running gags and inside jokes. If a show possesses these traits, it is evidence that the writers value their loyal audience, and want to provide them with “easter eggs.” For example, on a Halloween-themed episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander was transformed into a soldier, and from that point on throughout the show’s run, he would occasionally draw from his knowledge of combat and weaponry, a holdover from his short stint as an army man. This inside joke was rewarding for viewers, and it also fit well with Xander’s character development on the show, as he always felt out of place on the team of gifted and talented Scoobies. At least he always had his soldier knowledge to fall back on. As for running gags, perhaps the best current example is Barney and Marshall’s slap bet on How I Met Your Mother. How many slaps are left now – is it two or three? 30 Rock and Arrested Development probably have more inside jokes than any other shows, and usually they involve the shows taking aim at their respective networks. 30 Rock, in particular, doesn’t hold back in turning NBC into a running joke, whether its highlighting the network’s head-spinning organizational structure, or taking reality shows to the limit with “MILF Island.”

    Those last two characteristics, running gags and inside jokes, are high on my list of necessary ingredients for an award-worthy comedy. They are evidence that the show runners have carefully planned and written the show. Other important ingredients include smart writing, outstanding acting, memorable characters, and, simplest of all – something that makes me laugh. The more, the better! There’s nothing worse than sitting through a sitcom and not laughing once. What’s the point? Another trait that puts a comedy low on my list includes relying on lowbrow humor or sexual innuendo for most of its laughs. There are a lot of funnier things to focus on, but often it seems like shows take the gross out and/or sex joke route because they are the easy way out.

    So, now that I’ve laid out my idea of what is required to have a successful, classic, hilarious comedy, I will review the nominees for this category of the Hulu Awards (Best TV Comedy Show), and then announce and defend my proposed nominees. Stay tuned.

    • Click here to view the list of and cast your vote for the proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy Show.
    • Click here to view all the categories currently open for voting in The Hulu Awards.
     

    Discovering Short Films on Hulu November 6, 2008

    Filed under: Hulu,Movies — Emily @ 12:52 pm
    Tags: , , , , , ,

    I am currently a panelist for an unofficial Hulu Awards ceremony. We are assessing videos available to watch on Hulu in various categories, including Sports, 80s television, horror movies, classic television, etc., and nominating the best shows in each category. “Best” is quite a subjective term for choosing nominees, so there has been a lot of variety in the nominees. If you are interested in seeing the various categories, or having your own votes included, check out The Hulu Review. There are links to the award categories in the upper right-hand corner.

    For those of you not familiar, Hulu is an ad supported online video service, free to viewers, that provides tv shows, movies, and other video clips. I have really enjoyed browsing the videos, some of which I am familiar with, and others that I’ve never heard of. The short films fall into this second category – before watching them on Hulu, I had never heard of any of them. What I’ve discovered is that there is much to appreciate and enjoy in short films. Read on for my picks for the best short films currently available on Hulu, as well as a few that were my least favorite.

    1. Evol – The brief description for this film on Hulu calls it “a fantastically choreographed short that proves even in a backwards world, there’s a place for love.” I loved it! It’s whimsical, sweet, colorful, and visually stunning. I think this is something I could watch again and again, and always smile and notice something new. It is my top pick for Best Dramatic Short.
    2. The Rip-Off – I always enjoy heist movies, and I was impressed that this little film managed to fit a complex con job into ten minutes. The editing first creates a sense of uncertainty, as the audience can’t be sure which customers are in on the job, but after the rip-off is completed, we are able to see an “instant replay” of what happened on the store’s video surveillance. The camera work during this section is very well done, zooming in and slowing down at just the right moments to draw our attention to the quick moving con artists’ stealthy moves. The music, the editing, and the acting all come together for a smoothly produced, entertaining short.
    3. One Down – “Trying to solve a crossword can be murder.” That’s the tag line for this short film that is an odd meshing of the mundane, the mysterious, and the macabre. Who knew a movie about a crossword puzzle could be so entertaining? On one level, it shows the simple pleasure of sitting down with a cup of tea to solve one of these challenging little puzzles. On another, it deals with much heavier themes (which I won’t reveal here in case you want to see for yourself). And at its finest, it uses the element of word play in clever, surprising, and magical ways to tell its story. The musical score complements and reflects the tone, as it shifts from relaxed to surprised to nervous, etc. Don’t let the “Mature Audiences Only” rating scare you away. That rating is due to the main character’s occasional use of offensive language, but you have to read the subtitles to even know what he is saying.
    4. Uncle Jonny – This quirky short doesn’t have production values as impressive as the other three on this list, but the script and the characters are what make it worthy of the final spot on my list of nominees. The basic premise of this seven minute short is that the main character, a young boy, is obsessed with the number eight. He is daydreaming in class about all the things the number eight represents. His sing-song recitation of all things eight is at times funny, at others sweet, and sometimes bittersweet. Beyond the oddity of everything revolving around a number, this little story allows us to see the world, and more specifically a dysfunctional family, from the innocent perspective of its youngest member. So whether it’s his aunt’s depression, his Uncle Jonny’s criminal behavior, or his crush on a classmate, the audience is entertained by the narration, as well as the colorful cast who play all the people in the boy’s life. There is a brief cameo by Hugh Jackman, but that is far from the main reason to watch. My only complaint is the sudden, silly ending, but perhaps that is in keeping with the mindset of the little boy.

    If you have a chance to watch any of these shorts, let me know what you think of them.

    And here are some shorts that I was less impressed by:

    • Way of the Flounder – This ten minute short follows the journey of a fish from its home in the sea, to its death in a fish net, to a dinner plate at a restaurant, etc. I am often interested in seeing a different perspective on daily life, and seeing the “adventures” of a fish certainly qualifies as that. However, the pacing was too slow, there was little to no music to add interest, and it simply wasn’t entertaining and had no clear purpose.
    • The Masquerade – This was billed as an “unexpected thriller,” but I was very disappointed. It had potential that was never realized, and its concept was mostly borrowed from other movies. This just goes to show that having an established actor (in this case Chris Masterson) as the star doesn’t always translate into having a better short film.
    • At the Quinte Hotel – This short is highly rated on Hulu, but I guess I just didn’t “get it.” It is described as “A bar, a beer, a brawl- not your average night at the pub. Starring Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip.” In my opinion, it was too hip for its own good. To much flash, not enough substance.

    Stay tuned for my take on upcoming categories for the Hulu Awards. I’m enjoying discovering new shows and clips and look forward to sharing my opinions with anyone who cares to join in.