Monday, January 30, 2012

Let's talk about Honda's Ferris Bueller Super Bowl ad

Honda's much-hyped Ferris Bueller-themed Super Bowl ad premiered on the Internet today, a week before its television debut during the big game, in an attempt to build buzz for the spot.

"We wanted to get it out there and start the hype," says Jason Sperling, executive vice president at RPA, the ad firm that thought up the spot [...] "You actually get a lot more eyeballs this way. You get a more attentive audience." Super Bowl commercial aficionados will recall that last year's Star Wars-themed Volkswagon commercial - in which a little boy in a Darth Vader costume uses Jedi mind tricks to start his dad's Passat - became a web sensation, with 8 million people watching the ad online before it actually aired during the game. "We have this Internet culture now, and people are starting to realize the value of it," says Sperling.
via EW.

It's certainly nice that Sperling and his advertising colleagues are discovering the potential of this newfangled Internet gadget, particularly as I tend to assume that all advertising execs are, like those of Mad Men, shocked every time some agency goes against convention and produces a truly memorable advertisement.

The aforementioned memorable advertisement, brought to you by the same company who gave you the Star Wars ad that was so loved by viewers of last year's Super Bowl. Photo courtesy of ffffound.com.

The Ferris Bueller ad, however, is no "Lemon" or "The Force." It's not even a Geico "Caveman." Instead, it is a rehash of Ferris Bueller's Day Off that replaces everything with something slightly worse (which makes the choice of Hangover director Todd Phillips, who perfected the slightly worse-rehash with the second Hangover film, inspired). Chicago is now Los Angeles, "Sunday in the Park" becomes a display of walruses at a natural history museum, Ferris Bueller is now a middle-aged, paunchy Matthew Broderick and, worst of all, the Ferrari GT California is now a Honda CR-V.

The problem here is that Honda is trying to advertise the CR-V. And, while I'm sure the CR-V is a great car (like the Honda Pilot I drove in high school), everyone in the audience is going to remember that gorgeous Ferrari. The ad's appeal is dependent on nostalgia for the film; the whole point is to make viewers remember all the details, including the Ferrari. It's destined to backfire, because once viewers start comparing the film to the commercial, they're going to start comparing the CR-V to the GT California, and that is a contest that the CR-V is never going to win.

Don't take my word for it, though: watch the ad below, and decide for yourself. Does this make you want to buy a CR-V? Or does it just make you long for the days when Matthew Broderick was young and joyriding around Chicago in a red Ferrari?


Friday, January 27, 2012

American Idol's reign of terror may finally be over

Photo courtesy of billboard.com.

The unstoppable juggernaut that is American Idol may be coming to a close. After the departure of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, competition from shows like NBC's The Voice and FOX's The X Factor and the much talked-about resurgence of comedies in the 2011-2012 season, last night's audition episode was bested by that other ratings monster The Big Bang Theory

Leonard, Sheldon et al, after last week managing a threadbare win over Idol in the coveted 18-49 demo, this time scored a 5.4 rating versus the 4.8 of Idol's first half-hour. What's more, in head-to-head competition Big Bang outdrew Idol in total viewers as well, 15.96 million to 15.46 million. (The CBS sitcom also notched wins in the 18-34 and 25-54 demos).

via TVLine.

If this kind of performance continues, this could be the first TV season since 2004-2005 where Idol wasn't the most-watched show on television, which is good news for those of us who are tired of formulaic reality competition shows. Of course, in comparison to the most recent 30 Rock (1.6), Community (1.5) and Fringe (1.1) episodes, Idol's 4.8 is still looking pretty good, which is just more proof that the world hates everything I love.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dueling Marilyns vie for a part, and our hearts

Katharine McPhee stars in the new NBC series Smash.


There's a moment in the pilot of NBC's Smash, a TV series about the production of a Marilyn Monroe-based musical, that demonstrates the kind of sly wit that distinguishes Smash from that other musical TV series to which it will inevitably be compared.

The moment occurs after aspiring actress Karen Cartwright (American Idol alum Katharine McPhee) is summoned to director Derek Wills' (Jack Davenport) house one night during the audition process. Derek wants Karen to show him Marilyn's sexy side, and Karen, after storming into his bathroom and taking a moment of self-analysis, emerges wearing one of the director's dress shirts and crooning "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." She teases him, leans in to kiss him, and then rolls away and leaves the apartment.

This scene accomplishes two things. It proves to Derek that Karen shares with Marilyn a combination of innocence, sex, and marketing savvy that allowed the bombshell to, at least for a while, become a sex symbol without losing herself. It also shows the audience that Smash is both aware of the tropes that characterize musicals and willing to subvert them. Karen begins the hour as the innocent-but-talented small-town girl, reminiscent of 42nd Street's Peggy Sawyer. She ends it as a woman who can look at a situation and weigh what she is willing to do against what she wants. That, Ryan Murphy, is how you create both a compelling, fully realized character and a musical TV show.

And that is the last mention I will make of Glee, because Smash really couldn't be more different. The series centers around the production of Marilyn: The Musical, a show written by Tom Levitt and Julia Houston (Christian Borle, a Broadway actor best known for Monty Python's Spamalot, and Debra Messings), directed by Derek, and produced by Eileen Rand (Anjelica Houston). The second part of the pilot - and, based on the trailer, at least a few episodes more - documents the casting of Marilyn, which comes down to a rivalry between Karen and Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty, best known for playing Glinda in Wicked).

The best thing about Smash is the feeling that the action is grounded in the reality of Broadway theater, a feeling that is likely influenced by the casting of Broadway vets Hilty and Borle. Forced references to the Spider-Man musical aside (we're living in a Book of Mormon world now, writers), the show gives off a sense of the real, decidedly un-glamorous life of hard work, unbearable pressure and constant rejection. The opening scene is a sadly funny example: Karen, lit up on a stage, performs a heartfelt rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow (a song, it should be noted, that brought McPhee much acclaim on Idol) when a cellphone starts ringing. Karen snaps out of her fantasy and is left standing in front of an audition panel, being shooed out as the director takes a phone call in the middle of her audition. (If, however, you want to see the real pain of an audition process in front of your eyes, watch the phenomenal 2008 documentary Every Little Step.)

It's not all dark, though. Smash also contains moments that validate all the pain and suffering and answer the question of why anyone would want to go through this. The ecstatic reception of a leaked Marilyn sing is one; the final scene of the episode, in which Karen and Ivy's auditions are intercut and the production team is captivated by their voices, is another. (That audition also acts nicely as a bookend to the opener, and clearly marks the show as Karen's story more than Ivy's.)

Which brings me to the songs. Smash, though it makes use of a few pop songs, largely relies on pieces that were written for the show, and they're generally good. The most attention will likely go to the closing ballad, "Let Me Be Your Star," but my favorite was the witty "The National Pastime," which featured Ivy, as Marilyn, purring out baseball-related double entendres while dancing with the New York Yankees.

I obviously enjoyed Smash - it's one of the best drama pilots I've seen in a long time. However, there are a few worrisome elements. Julia's ongoing personal story - she and her husband are trying to adopt a baby, but her work on Marilyn gets in the way - has the potential to be a powerful deconstruction of the effects that a career in theater can have on a marriage. It could also be a melodramatic series of the-show-or-me arguments that derails the drama happening onstage. Similarly, I fear that the rivalry between Karen and Ivy could quickly become a repetitive, sex-symbol vs. girl-next-door dichotomy (although, to both Hilty and McPhee's credit, they do a great job of creating well-rounded characters to counteract this sort of simple reduction). Tom's rivalry with Derek, on the other hand, is something I can't wait to see more of. Right now, Smash is much more Book of Mormon than Spider-Man. Let's hope it stays that way.

Smash premieres on Monday, February 6 on NBC, but is currently available in advance on Hulu and iTunes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whitney Cummings wants you to be nice to Lana Del Rey

Photo courtesy of ComedyCentral.com.


The most hated woman on television (well, besides Nancy Grace) is defending the most hated woman in music on the basis that people shouldn't say unkind things about the hot, talentless girls who are just trying to entertain us.
“I’m not saying support bad music or that she deserved to be there or anything—not my call,” Cummings wrote, but continued that she feels everyone should “cut some slack” not only because Lana Del Rey is a performer and “performing is FUCKING HARD,” but also because Lana Del Rey is a woman, and women are judged according to the sort of sexist standards and well-worn clich├ęs that form the basis of certain entire sitcoms. “If you’re a pretty woman you’re accused of having plastic surgery and if you’re not you’re ‘busted’ and people blog about how they don’t want to fuck you ... it’s not ideal,” Cummings says, the ellipsis signaling a 30-second pause for the laugh track. Cummings then adds, “Something about this girl brings out the petty in us. Her quick rise? Her pretty face? Something is pissing people off about this girl”—still talking about Lana Del Rey and definitely not projecting.
In fact, Cummings sees this as a learning experience, one that serendipitously could be applied to all performers who might have been on the receiving end of ridicule just for being a pretty girl whose sudden stardom is inversely proportional to her actual talents, whoever they might be. “I just think whether someone sucks or someone doesn’t we should be kinder to them,” Cummings says (most likely intending to insert the word “mean” in there and also “shouldn’t,” corrections we offer in the spirit of kindness). “I think we should be encouraging and patient,” she concludes. (via The AV Club)
This anecdote is a great illustration of the major reason that Cummings drives me insane. She constantly falls back on accusations of sexism in an attempt to silence her critics, because apparently the only explanation for disliking Cummings or Del Rey is sexism. Worse than that, though, is the narrative that she spins about the difficulties of getting taken seriously as an attractive girl in the entertainment industry. Making these claims really just demonstrates that Cummings can't take criticism. So Whitney, know this: if your show gets cancelled, it is not because you are pretty. It is because your show is terrible, and because NBC finally came to their senses and replaced you with Community. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Liz Lemon is back, and she's... changing?

The TGS writers watch the sun rise in the sixth-season premiere of 30 Rock.

I don't watch 30 Rock for the same reasons that I watch a show like Community. I watch that particular NBC sitcom for the sheer audacity of the storytelling, the brilliance with which Dan Harmon and the writers appropriate and subvert cliches while simultaneously revering the shows that have come before. From Community I get shock, delight, and pathos.

30 Rock, however, is a show that I watch to hang out with the characters, which is one reason I missed it so much in the fall. This isn't to say that Community doesn't have great characters, because it absolutely does, but watching that series is all about seeing how the characters' relationships with each other will change. 30 Rock, however, remains in a state of stasis. Stasis isn't a bad thing; it's just a way of saying that I tune in to see what Liz, Jack, Tracy and Jenna will be up to this week. The core characters of 30 Rock do things and have adventures, but they remain fundamentally the same in their relationships with each other, and that's the way I like it.

That expectation is why I was so surprised by last night's premiere, "Dance Like Nobody's Watching." Specifically, I was surprised by my own reaction to it. I found myself getting emotionally invested in the stories - in particular, in Liz Lemon's tale of newfound love and happiness, and in Kenneth's awe at seeing the sun rise over the ocean for the first time. I was even moved by these moments despite the fact that they were accompanied by an overwrought reality-show version of "Camptown Races" (which was itself the result of a hilarious parody moment). I realized that, like Jack, I want to see Liz Lemon in a happy relationship, and that, like Pete, I want Kenneth to actually experience life. The show might not be around much longer, and dammit, I want everyone to ride off into the sunset (or sail off into the sunrise, as the case may be).

This isn't to say that there weren't problems with the episode. In particular, the scene where Jack, torn between the joy of making boatloads of money and the pain of watching Jenna viciously demolish kids, asks his baby daughter for advice and then interprets her cry of "Mommy" as "money" seemed weirdly off. Possibly the moment seemed entirely too callous on Jack's part, particularly given that Liddy's mommy remains trapped in North Korea; possibly I just didn't like the talking baby. Whatever it was, it was an off-note in an otherwise solid (and very funny) episode.

Outside of this scene there was plenty of stuff that worked, even beyond the unexpected emotional moment at the end. Jenna as the "mean" judge on the brilliantly titled America's Kidz Got Singing was the kind of pop-culture dissection that 30 Rock does better than anyone else; the combination of the "adorable kid" phenomenon and the Simon Cowell-esque viciousness was absolutely spot-on, and the inclusion of John McEnroe as the nice judge was a perfect, absurd touch. I also really liked the fact that as the episode progressed, Jenna's critiques got meaner and the kids got younger.

The Rapture story, while not exactly timely, generally worked well. I really like the Pete/Kenneth pairing when it comes up because of the way that Pete really tries to help Kenneth, which is very different from his relationship with any other character. Plus, Scott Adsit is a master at saying bizarre things in a matter-of-fact way - one of the reasons that, even Pete slowly goes insane, he remains a likable character - and he got to show that off tonight with gems like, "If it was my last day on earth, I wouldn't be here. I'd be with Paula, admitting I'm in love with her twin sister."

The best moment of the episode, though, was the aforementioned final scene. Finding out that Liz has a love interest was good; finding out that she has one after Jack has spent the entire episode repeating that he knows everything about her was great. And not getting to see the face of said love interest was fantastic. (Personally, I'm really hoping that it's Carol. I loved that relationship, and I need some Matt Damon in my life.) This move changed up Jack and Liz's relationship, which had been falling into a groove in which Jack is always there to help Liz through her personal problems. The fact that she's decided strike out on her own and enter a relationship without his help adds a new dynamic to the series' central pairing. Of course, it could all go back to normal by the end of the next episode, but I'm hoping that it doesn't. At least not until I find out who wins America's Kidz Got Singing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

EW's Ken Tucker takes brevity to the next level

Photo courtesy of sharetv.org.

Ken Tucker's review of the new NBC "comedy" series Are You There, Chelsea? (based on the book Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by "comedian" Chelsea Handler) just went up on EW's home page. Tucker's analysis, in its entirety, follows.
A 30-minute sitcom starring the likable Laura Prepon, based on autobiographical work by Chelsea Handler, with numerous remarks about being drunk and approximately 79 euphemisms for the word "vagina," all of which substituted for jokes. D+.
via Entertainment Weekly
I was thinking about reviewing this show, but now I'm planning to spare myself, because there is nothing more to be said. Ken Tucker, you are my new hero.

Well, now I have to stop watching 2 Broke Girls

Photo courtesy of disgrasian.com.

I stuck with 2 Broke Girls as long as I could. I kept at it, in spite of all its problems, because I (like everyone else who defends the show) liked the chemistry between Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs. I liked the more realistic economic backdrop. I liked the fact that no one in the script ever felt the need to label Dennings' Max as "the fat girl," and that she was allowed to be a women with fully realized sexual urges who wasn't portrayed as a slut.

Then series co-creator Michael Patrick King (of Sex and the City fame), had to go and behave like an incomprehensible jackass at Television Critics' Association press tour. After an increasingly uncomfortable series of questions about the ethnic stereotyping that plagues 2 Broke Girls and an equally uncomfortable series of attempts to justify those stereotypes, including falling back on the good ol' "I'm-gay-so-I-can-make-fun-of-minorities" defense, King attacked a reporter in his favorite language: ethnic slurs.

Things took a particularly uncomfortable turn when the reporter who had initially asked about Tassler's [CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler who had earlier told reporters that she had spoken to King about adding dimensionality to the characters] comments again tried to get King to clarify his remarks, reading the exact quote from the transcript of Tassler's executive session. King asked the reporter for his name. The reporter gave it. 
"So you're Irish?" King asked.
 "Yes," the reporter replied.
"So we've identified your sexual problem," King said.
via Alan Sepinwall, at HitFix.com. 

2 Broke Girls will certainly not be run off the rails by King's temper tantrum. It's a breakout hit for CBS, and most people who watch the series will likely remain unfazed by this development (if they hear about it at all). That said, I know that King's utterly insensitive behavior was the last straw for me. This incident has made one thing painfully clear: 2 Broke Girls is never going to stop with the racist stereotypes. The best thing I can do is stop watching.