Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Official Reasons for Tatiana Maslany's Emmy Snub

Is this considered a "kiss-off" gesture in Maslany's country of origin?
Ken Levine's wonderful blog opined, "The fact that Tatiana Maslany was not nominated for her extraordinary work in ORPHAN BLACK means the entire exercise is a complete and utter sham. She plays nine characters – all brilliant, all distinctive, intermingling with each other, and at times even impersonating each other – and yet she was ignored."

Here are the official explanations:
Tatiana Maslany lobbied hard, but Tatiana Maslany canceled her out by splitting the vote in the same category.
Tatiana Maslany, on the other hand felt that she personally did not do her best work, so she was not disappointed by the news and Tatiana Maslany blamed the writers for not doing a good job this year. Tatiana Maslany's notorious drug habit made for on-set discord, so she is not respected by her colleagues, which is ironic, considering that Tatiana Maslany's strict adherence to the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses shuns ceremony and excess of ANY kind.

Also, Tatiana Maslany regularly pooh-poohs TV work over film work. Tatiana Maslany pooh-poohs film AND TV and feels that stage is the only true way to be a thespian (Sidenote: TMZ retracted an earlier story about Ms. Maslany and a female lunch date at Lawry's, as well as firing a unnamed P.A. with a faulty hearing aid).

Finally, Tatiana Maslany feels that the work is its own reward and shuns the Emmys."

Tracey Ullman, in a recent in-depth interview said, "So?"

Unfortunately, this person has taken it upon herself to talk about this controversial subject.  I remember the days when people didn't go on and on spouting half-baked theories...

Friday, June 14, 2013

2013 Fall Preview - Fox: Dads

Cast: Martin Mull, Peter Riegert, Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green

Why wait for the TV Guide?  Let's start reviewing new TV shows now!  Also, if you are here because you heard my guest round on the Podquiz Podcast 430, good on you!

Here is "Dads".  Go to this link, watch the trailer and come back:

It's nice to see Ribisi not play a fringe-y character.  He was great in "Friends" and "X-Files", so it will be nice to see if he can pull off being a straight guy.  Same goes for Seth Green.

Here is where we run into some old tropes: "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and "South Park" employ a similar comedy axiom: if you want to say something outrageous, don't give those lines to folks that look like your target audience.  MST3K had robots do the dirty work.  "South Park" has the kids do most of that.

This year, it's the older folks.  As evinced by "The Millers", older folks are getting to say the politically incorrect (one of these days I am going to post how I feel about the kvetching about the constrictions of political correctness) and the base.  Hey, it worked for "Golden Girls", so why not?

As with the Millers, parents show back up, with all of their faults, making their children miserable.  I like this cast, although Tonita Castro does seem to end up as a domestic worker more times than I'd like to see.  The chemistry in this trailer is better than "The Millers", but the writing is bugging me.

Well-worn cliches: Pop-culture (heh, sorry!) references.  They got it out of the way fairly early, but if you're going to make one that is twenty-six years old, either don't tell me what it comes from, or use a more famous quote, so you don't feel the NEED to tell me where it comes from.  "Modern Family" used one and didn't feel the need to explain it and I thought it was hilarious.  A party was being planned and two fellows come to the door that were hired to play animals.  With very deadpan expressions, this was the dialogue:

1st Guy: Hey.
2nd Guy: Hey.
1st Guy: We're the monkeys.

...and then the show continued.  You either get the reference and laugh, or you don't get it and, guess what?  You STILL laugh, because these guys have no energy at all in their delivery.  "Modern Family" didn't break an arm patting themselves on the back.  "Dads" did.

Another cliche is the line gone too far.  "Don't use the bathroom between three and four, that's my 'go time'", is unnecessary.  Perhaps, "Don't use the bathroom between three and four.  Trust me." I know what goes on in a bathroom.

And we're on to stereotype two: smart Asian AND Asian-taking-pictures.

I consider it an insult if someone asks me a question, to which I say "no", at which point the asker decides to rephrase the question hoping for a yes, on the off-chance that I didn't understand.

I see very little difference between "Dads" and "The Millers".  I hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

2013 Fall Preview - CBS: The Millers

Why wait for the TV Guide?  Let's start reviewing new TV shows now!  Also, if you are here because you heard my guest round on the Podquiz Podcast 430, good on you!

Here are the Millers.  Go to this link, watch the trailer and come back:
I am a fan of Margo Martindale ever since I saw "Justified", for which she won an Emmy.  I know she can act.

I am a fan of Beau Bridges.  I have long enjoyed his work, too.

If you saw this trailer, you might be convinced that neither of them knew how to act, just mug.  Will Arnett has gone from "Running Wilde" which was mercifully canceled, "Up All Night" which was a good show for the first season and well, "too many cooks" may best describe what happened there.  I don't see a bright future for this show.

I am not horribly prudish, but this managed to go for the gross-out gag one time too many.  The "you caught me in self-pleasure" was not a bad idea, but it went way over the edge.  We needn't return to the days of not being able to say a woman about to have a baby was pr**n*nt, but the ability to say this much should not end up with the writers making sure that they squeeze all of this in at the expense of plot, character or humor.  Free(r) speech is not cheap.

Pet Peeve: Yet another show with a person who has a job in the media.  There have been a LOT of shows that have people involved in broadcasting, writing, etc.
It makes one feel that these are the only jobs to have or, worse yet, we have a generation of writers who don't know that there is a wealth of people in this country who do NOT work in this work.

Greg Garcia is listed at the Executive Producer.  "Raising Hope" and "My Name is Earl" were no less bawdy, but both were decidedly funnier.

Cliches: Flatulence jokes (three in one trailer!), the explicit parents, the THIS-will-win-the-audience-over dance scene.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Maria Tallchief and Me.

I am not a dancer, nor did I ever meet the great Maria Tallchief, but she did pass away and her passing brought up a very strange childhood memory.

Sometime during the third grade, my Father brought home some Black History flash cards.  He did this because one of his co-workers at his lab at the U.S. Customs didn't know who George Washington Carver was.  I cannot remember all of the cards, but I can still recall Norbert Rillieux, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, in part, due to those cards.

Fueled with the militancy borne out of one night with flash cards I went to my (Caucasian) teacher, Mrs. Tobia and asked that we introduce Black History into the classroom.  What this woman did was unprecedented.  Instead of dismissing me outright, she sat down with me and found a catalog with films that dealt with issues of color and we ended up screening "Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed".

Blessings on both of them for that.  That happened in New York.

In San Diego ca. 1976-77 in ninth grade and I don't remember HOW I got involved in this, it was decided that a good way to introduce the diversity of American History was to have several students (including my dear self) go to the various classrooms and talk about some of the prominent non-White people.

Were this an inspirational movie or musical, I would tell you of my stumbling first attempts and my rise to galvanizing speakers, but this is being written on my seldom-read blog, so you may already know what happened.

I felt as if I was thrown under a bus.

I had a list of names and summaries and I was to lecture various classes on various people.  Let's put this into perspective.  I was NOBODY in Junior and Senior high.  Were I on fire, people would have stopped only to toast marshmallows.  So I, the Anti-Billy Dee Williams went off to educate Amurrca.  I went to Dr. Frankville's history class.

Dr. Frankville was not in a good mood that day, exacerbated, I gather, by a student who was told to be quiet, or some such and was not taking this in good humor.  Hold this thought.

As I went down my list, trying to corral this class into listening, amid the indifference, derision, and smirks, I think it was around "Maria Tallchief" that it really unraveled.  I spoke her name, asked if anyone had heard of her, read the synopsis, and asked if there were any questions.  Up came this aforementioned kid's hand:

"Yeah, I got a question.  I don't understand why someone isn't doin' anything gets punished while all these other guys was..."

I came unglued.  I actually was fighting back tears as I said,"HEY!  There's a bunch of us walking around doing this and YOU DON'T CARE.  You don't care!"  As one forgets dental surgery, the rest of that day is a bit blurry, but I remember it not being regarded as a success.

Sometime later we had an assembly.  On the stage were three actors with no props who covered the same subjects as I and my dreary band went over.  Except they were:

 - Scripted
 - Older
 - Invited

They were also quite talented.  When they came around to Maria Tallchief, the two men pretended to be Russian ballet dancers and the woman knocked on a door.  The men kept rehearsing and one said,

"Ignore the door, Igor!"

And it got a laugh from the same folks that couldn't be bothered with me.  At first I was a bit miffed, but I found that I retained the knowledge better and looking back on this, I wished that the powers that be had done this in the first place.

After all of this, it is only to-day that I saw actual footage of her dancing.

Even though this is a not a cheesy movie or a bad musical, one would figure that I would loathe getting up in front of people and talk, but that moment showed me that it was OK to do it, but never when you were unprepared.  Tomorrow, I will be performing at 221B Con with the Atlanta Radio Theater Company.
There is Sound!!

Much of it stems from that day and that is what Maria Tallchief did for me.

You can hear me performing with them here.  I'm Peter Perkins.

The Impact of Jonathan Winters

Jonathan Winters is gone and it is sad.

There shall and should be many tributes to him, but instead of fulminating about who got what wrong about his legacy, I will do my best to summarize it.

Comedy in America has been many things.  It has been mostly the domain of men, and it has been part of the Vaudeville show, the person who emceed before the dancers came onstage, the opening act for the band, the warmup for the politician, the warmup for the band, the warmup for the radio/TV show and inevitably, the main act.

With all of those niches comes a need and the prerequisites for being a comedian changed over time.  Before radio, one piece of material could sustain you for years as you toured the country.  Then radio came along and that one piece could absolutely kill on the air, but what do you do for an encore?  You had to be new every week and those who could do this did and those who didn't, fell by the wayside.  There was also the wave of comics who would find a book of jokes, memorize them and tour doing just that.  Eventually comics started doing their own material or material written for them.

Sometime in the 1950's, amid the family jokes, the drunk jokes, the traveling jokes, the straight person-funny person double acts, new types of comedians started appearing.  Richard "Lord" Buckley would recite Classical Literature and History in what he called, "Hipsomatic" that took African-American slang and re-used it for his own ends as well as affecting his own posh persona (he was "Lord" Buckley!).

There was Shelley Berman whose monologues concerned themselves with character and also reflected a wild neurosis, i.e. "the ugly white map" that buttermilk leaves on the glass.  There was Mort Sahl who mostly took what he read and saw in the media and reflected on it; a clean break from the old schools of humor.  There was Lenny Bruce who took on the social mores of the day with amazing frankness.

Then there was Jonathan Winters.  You couldn't confuse him with anyone.  His fertile imagination, range of expressions, command of accents,  and love of sound effects made him truly unique.  Coming from a time when the predominant media were movies and radio, he wasn't solely a "sound effects" man like Wes Harrison or Michael Winslow.  He was steeped in theater of the mind, as much of America was at that time.  Bill Cosby's act is also augmented by self-generated sounds.  There were imitators, to be sure: Robert Klein used to complain that if he followed one of those acts the mic would be wet from saliva.

As we know now, there was no one quite like him.  His most prominent fan would be Robin Williams, and there is no denying his talent, but, and it cannot be emphasized enough, there was no one quite like Jonathan Winters.  He did what he did, almost without precedent and there are few direct descendents.  Richard Pryor mirrors many of the same qualities, but his most famous stage persona solidified AFTER Winters' rise.

Eighty-seven is a good run.  He left behind a wealth of material.  Watch him on YouTube : this routine shows what he could do UNPREPARED for four minutes, just being handed a prop. Listen to his albums on Verve although his CBS album can descend into too much improv, but oh what a standard he had! If the truth is to be told, avoid his most famous film role in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!", which, in the long run doesn't do a lot of people justice.

R.I.P. Jonathan Winters.  An original if there ever was.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

In Defe...("TIMING IS..whoa, sorry")nse of Joe Piscopo. ("Now? Thanks.) EVERYTHING"

A fellow that I know via the internet called Joe Piscopo, " untalented fellow".

That, to quote Alan Bennett, is the GIST of what he said.

While I don't think that Piscopo is the great unsung comic genius of his generation, I think that Joe Piscopo was, and is quite talented, but he was scuttled by bad movie choices ("Wise Guys". This was a Brian De Palma comedy, a genre that he will not be remembered for and which he had not done to great effect since the 70's) and indifferent writing (witness his TV special).  Impressionists (his major forte; his wikipedia page lists 54 people!) have a particularly hard time, because the impressions don't change, yet the audience grows older.  Piscopo was sort of the pre-Phil Hartman (without the artistic talent, look at Firesign Theatre's "Fighting Clowns" LP cover) or the post Dan Aykroyd without the writing skills.  He had a good faux-announcer voice but Hartman benefitted from better writing as well as guest shots on "The Simpsons" and a great role on a great TV show, "NewsRadio".  Piscopo, as well as the rest of the cast at the time, had the following to deal with:

Jean Doumanian - the woman with the unenviable job of following Lorne Michaels at Saturday Night Live, who was given a whopping TWO MONTHS to assemble a new writing crew and cast.

Budget cuts -  Doumanian had to run the show with less than half the budget given to her successor.

The Jerry Lewis Effect - Dean Martin was a very talented actor and singer.  The press went Jerry Lewis-crazy when they were a team.  When "The Cosby Show" was a big hit, there were a few attempts to have lightning strike twice, so various shows came and went (Flip Wilson and Scoey Mitchlll [that's not a misprint - Ed.] were both given chances) but while shows with African-American leads were on the rise, everyone talked about Bill Cosby (I'm a fan, so I wasn't too bothered) but, lost in the mix were shows such as "Frank's Place" with Tim Reid, and "Gabriel's Fire" with James Earl Jones, in part, I think, due to the inability to deal with more than one show that had a primarily Black cast at a time.

Piscopo was doomed.  He was on the show at a time that the writing was VERY inconsistent even with a certain amount of talent.  Some of the other people on the show at the time were Laurie Metcalf, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Gilbert Gottfried.

Eddie Murphy was and is so very talented (and so much in public consciousness), the clunker sketches that he was in have happily faded into memory.  Also, Murphy is a big enough star now, he no longer has to worry if his latest movie flops, because he can make another one.  THAT is star power rarely enjoyed by people of color.

Piscopo, like Jermaine Jackson and Scottie Pippen had the unfortunate timing of being in the proximity of a huge star, or star in the making.

Plus, I was at the Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. in L. A. and I stood behind him.  Had we been outside at the time, I would not have been able to see the sun.  Homeboy is im-MENSE and he might see this.

Actually, he seemed quite nice.

Possible idea for a future blog entry: Did you know that Eddie Murphy has never won an Emmy?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Real Lesson Fox's "ShortComs" May Teach Us

Ken Levine, whose work as a writer with David Isaacs I admire, has a wonderful blog, which is required reading for me.  Take a look at this entry.  I'll wait here.

OK.  Glad you're back; the hold music was driving me nuts.  The comment in this blog that took on a life of its own was:

"(Unfortunately for all of us, the most original creative stand up comedian of the last ten years, Mitch Hedberg, is no longer with us.)"

This set off a flurry of comments along the usual lines "I like and miss Mitch Hedberg, too" and "Hedberg, meh" but as any reader of a blog would guess,  even though I enjoyed Hedberg's comedy, this is not going to be a "Hedberg Rules!" entry.  The comments that interested me were the ones that talked about Hedberg's originality.

Was Hedberg original?  Yes, in the sense that he did his own material.  Most importantly, was it funny?   In my opinion, yes and that is the true measurement.  Now, was Hedberg AN original, well...not really.  With the access to more and more information, "nothing new under the sun" becomes more and more true.  Most of the posters then argued for Steven Wright (whom I also enjoy) being Hedberg's influence and that Wright is the true original.

And that too, of course, is wrong.

Wright is wonderful, of course, but when I first heard him, I thought of two people:  Henny Youngman and Jackie Vernon.  I will not make the argument that Youngman was the first comedian or even the best or most original at what he did.  I will say that Youngman was certainly one of longest-lasting at what he did, mostly unrelated one-liners.

In the days before television, many, but not all, comedians could make a decent living by buying one or two joke books, memorizing them and regurgitating them onstage.  Youngman may have even done some of this himself at the beginning of his career, but lasted long enough that he was able to publish books full of his one-liners.  He must be considered an influence, considering that his career lasted over fifty years and Hedberg's act was by-and-large unrelated one-liners.

Jackie Vernon comes into play, because he took Youngman's approach and gave it an odd twist.  Most comedians are self-deprecating by design, but Vernon would take it to a strange place.  One of his albums was "A Man and His Watermelon", and the title track talks about his pet watermelon.

His odd takes plus his deadpan delivery plus Youngman's one-liner approach lead a clear path to someone like Steven Wright.

There is, as I said, nothing new under the sun, but if you decide to trod the boards, do so, but don't:

 - Make fun of yourself
 - Talk about sex
 - Talk about politics
 - Make fun of the audience
 - Talk about your parents
 - Tell jokes about travel

Or, you can do what most people do and do one or all of the above and that's comedy.

Now about the title of the blog (don't put on your shoes yet, I'm not finished).  Levine does make a point that giving comics free reign to make their own shows may not be the best idea, even though "Louie" starring Louis CK is a critical and commercial success because he has a vision.  Levine, I feel misses another point and I will make it by paraphrasing actor/writer/director/producer Ernst Lubitsch:

"When the transition from silent to sound movies happened, great meetings were held.  They called all the actors together and said, 'Actors, because of sound, you will have to learn how to ACT.  You can no longer mug and pull faces.  You must learn how to move and speak'  And as you know, those who could adapt did and those with poor unrecordable voices, those who merely reacted to the camera fell by the wayside.

Then they called together the writers.  They told them, 'All you writers, stage direction and synopsis will no longer be sufficient.  You must learn to write dialogue.  You must know what words will work for what actor and what situation.' And of course, the writers that could not do this left the business.

Then, to the directors they said, 'You directors, you can no longer be just traffic cops.  You must learn how to get the best performance out of your actors, you must learn how to stage the action and be sensitive to where the microphones are.  You have to know how the dialogue works with the action.'  Those who were able to this were able to find work and those that couldn't did not.

However, when the movies made the transition from silent to sound, the producers NEVER LOST A MAN.  That is where the true talent lies!  REMEMBER THIS."

Lubitsch is a bit severe, but he does have a point.  Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky were both wonderful at composing music and ballet, respectively, but it took Sergei Diaghilev to bring them together and "The Firebird" became a classic ballet.  In more recent memory, Bill Cosby was an acclaimed comedian, winner of multiple Grammys but after "I Spy" his television success was spotty.  "The Bill Cosby Show" was good, but never a ratings hit and it left the air after the contracted amount of time (two seasons), the "New Bill Cosby Show" didn't last long, "Cos" lasted less time and his movie career was up and down.  He certainly was not unknown, but it was certainly a risk to cast him in a sitcom at a time when sitcoms were not doing particularly well and who facilitated this?  Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, the producers. Cosby enjoyed his greatest TV success.  Carsey-Werner had a string of comic-related sitcoms, "Roseanne" and "Grace Under Fire" with Brett Butler followed, but they also were behind "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "That 70's Show", neither of which features a stand-up in a starring role.

So, the lesson of ShortComs may be...find a good producer THEN look for the talent.

The sad irony of all of this come from Levine's column:

"I’m approaching this experiment with some reservations but all good wishes.  I hope it works. I hope they find the next Mitch Hedberg (who, by the way, shortly before his death had a deal to develop a show... for FOX)."