Friday, November 25, 2022

Some of the most interesting things I’ve learned about Seinfeld, part 1

Jennifer Armstrong wrote a fascinating book about the ultra-classic TV comedy Seinfeld. The book was released in 2016 and I started it when it was released but only now got back to finish it. Although it’s certainly worth reading on its own, here are a handful of the endless nuggets of interest (part 1):
  • Seinfeld's first TV role was as a mailman on Benson in 1979, but the gig only lasted three episodes before he was fired. His only line each time had been, "Give a cheer, Frankie's here."
  • Before his first appearance on Johnny Carson in 1981, he started jogging and constantly listening to the Superman theme to get himself ready.
  • After writing for the late-night comedy Fridays, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David was hired for Saturday Night Live, where he only got one skit on air. That said, his one season was 1984-1985, which just happens to be my all-time favorite year, with Martin Short, Billy Crystal, and one Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
  • Seinfeld was a little annoyed when he was asked to take some of his free “day” time to come in for a meeting with NBC network executives. After all, as a stand-up comedian, he was only supposed to work nights.
  • Kramer was based on a real-life neighbor of Larry David’s named Kramer who lived across the hall from him in a midtown Manhattan subsidized high rise for struggling artists.
  • It took Jason Alexander two lines of reading for the producers for them to know he was the right choice, pitting an established actor against the more raw Jerry Seinfeld.
  • Rosie O’Donnell was one of the other actors in the running for the Julia Louise Dreyfus, Elaine part. Brad Hall was one of those in the running for George Costanza.
  • Alexander realized early on that his character was supposed to be like Larry David. At that point, he stopped trying to make the character like Woody Allen.
  • Michael Richards' costars felt like they never really knew him very well. One thing was for sure about the guy who played Kramer, his costars would often die laughing from his acting, and he would get very angry at them for messing up his momentum.
  • Elaine’s legendary awful dancing at the J Peterman party was inspired by SNL head Loren Michaels' equally bad moves.
  • The Soup Nazi was influenced by a Manhattan soup shop where people lined up and were berated by a staffer, and there was also something similar in the film Sleepless in Seattle.
  • Jerry’s on-screen dad had been Jackie Gleason's stand-in on The Honeymooners. He had also been a real-life policeman and movies like Dudly Moore's Arthur. His on-screen mom had been the first real-life steamy love affair of James Dean’s.
After I read the second half of the book, I'll post the rest of the nuggets of interest.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

TV Snide: October 2022

Novel of the Month: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Perhaps my favorite beach-read writer of the past few years, this author does not disappoint, coming out with a story about my favorite sport, tennis. Soto is an unlikeable striver who comes back from retirement to defend her record for most Grand Slam tournament titles ever. Carrie’s complicated but close relationship with her coach father, Javier, is deeply explored and readers wonder which tabloid romance with male players will bloom. It seems the details of the tennis world might even be more interesting to people who don’t know about it than to people like me who do. 4 out of 5 stars

TV Show of the Month: Mindhunter - Season 2 (Netflix): Season 1 of this show was so good that I was savoring waiting to watch Season 2 for years. Netflix is unbelievably not offering a Season 3 of the David Fincher crime drama about the founding of the FBI's serial-killer investigation unit. Jonathan Groff (who played King George III in the original Hamilton production!) as the cerebral young agent and Holt McCallany as the grizzled veteran bring a perfect balance as they interview the likes of Charles Manson and Son of Sam to build an understanding of why some people kill over and over. The pressures of the job play a toll on all the agents' personal lives, as this season focuses on an active investigation of dozens of dead Black children in Atlanta and a serial killer on the loose in Kansas. 5 out of 5 stars

Servant - Season 1 (Apple TV): This is a slow-burn creeper about a girl who comes to help a wealthy couple in their Philadelphia rowhouse. They have recently suffered a baby-related tragedy, but they haven't seen nothing yet. You rarely see the twists and turns coming, and Rupert Grint is particularly great as the wine-swilling brother/fixer. But things are far from fixed, with two more seasons already produced to try to make things right. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: The Talented Mr. Ripley (Sling TV): This Matt Damon classic is for lovers of Alfred Hitchcock. Ok, that actually mean it’s for everyone. Damon is the character in the title and, although he’s a simple tuner in the university piano shop, Ripley concocts a personal narrative that get him sent to Italy to check on a supposed wayward classmate. Anyone in his path ends up suffering the psychological terrors burbling under mr.-nice-guy. Jude Law and Gwenyth Paltrow also star. 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A short history of nearly everything … special edition: geology

I started reading legendary author Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything years ago and, like with everything he writes, it’s so good. But I somehow didn’t finish it. You could give this book to every high-school student and they would learn more than they’re probably learning in their science classes.

Here are some great tidbits from the section on geology that I learned or relearned:

  • The idea that the continents were once all connected, in a landmass called Pangaea, was not originated until the early 1900s, and not fully accepted as scientific fact until the 1950s.
  • There was long a belief among geologists that there was a continental drift causing the continents to shift, but that shifting wasn’t really just along the shorelines. The world’s largest mountain range extends underwater throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (Hawaii is one of its mountain tops), and runoff sentiment from above land is coursing throughout the whole range. These findings led to the establishment of plate tectonics, and a shifting under ground and water throughout the entire Earth, which is a large part of the reason why the planet has earthquakes and a shifting climate.
  • Still, tectonics can’t explain everything. Denver doesn’t appear to have been formed by plates. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was much lower, as part of an ocean bottom, and it has only recently slowly been “baking like break” up to its current Mile High status. An opposite example is that Indonesia has been slowly sinking and taking Australia with it, with tectonics not being a likely part of the explanation.
  • Meteor Crater in Arizona is the biggest, well, meteor crater in the United States. And, believe it or not, scientists didn’t really know until research in the 1980s just how imperiled we actually are by meteors from our own solar system.
  • Very few scientists are actually studying asteroids, but these tiny chunks of rock (one the size of a house could destroy a city) pass by Earth a few times a week. Relatively speaking, they are like a bullet that passes through a person’s shirt on her arm but misses the arm.
  • It’s amazing to recall that paleontologists pretty much always thought the dinosaurs had died off over a long period of time. It was not until the 1970s that the current science has them all dying at once from a meteor hit.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Is Apple TV worth keeping? Here's my test

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rare night at home with nobody but Rico, my shin tzu. And he agreed with me that we should more fully explore Apple TV. This is a streaming service that definitely has some quality material, like 1971, Ted Lasso, and The Morning Show. But it’s on the chopping block. 

We have too many services and really don’t watch TV much. So I thought I would look at my list of what I want to check out on Apple and watch 10 to 15 minutes of the start of everything (since I’ll never actually watch everything I want to by going one by one). Here's what happened (even though it actually ended up taking us more than one night).

First up, The Greatest Beer Run Ever (movie): This seems like a pretty enjoyable, but potentially overly melodramatic, addition to the “should I or shouldn’t I support the Vietnam War” genre. With Zac Efron and bartender Bill Murray hatching an anti-hippie scheme to help the military overseas.

On the Rocks (movie): Bill Murray again. Although he doesn’t appear (other than voice) early on, you know he’s going to appear as the "a lot-to handle but zen- like" dad. Rashida Jones is struggling in a marriage with a workaholic cutie who is likely having an affair. It’s all running her down. This is a little slow but I’m intrigued to find out her way out of this.

We Crashed (limited series): This is the best so far and I want to keep watching Jared Leto as a weird Israeli “serial entrepreneur” who bumps into Ann Hathaway on their way to becoming billionaires. Very intrigued by the one, as Leto is an under-appreciated great. You can smell the crash approaching from a mile away.

CODA (movie): This might just be worth all the hype. A girl who can hear living with a family that only uses sign language is a recipe for rebellion, and I’m in. Can’t wait to finish this. Tops on this list.

Cha Cha Real Smooth (movie): I didn’t know what this was at all for the first 10 minutes, and then the groove kicked in with an hilarious cuteness from Dakota Johnson (she’s becoming an impressive actor) and a powerhouse comedic cast clearly in the wings. I will definitely finish this with gusto.

The Afterparty (movie): This Tiffany Hadish vehicle is a fun romp through an Agatha Christie truism to solve the mysterious death of a celebrity, and making sure every last suspect at the party tells their sides of the homicidal story. I might get back to this but it’s lower in this list in terms of priority.

Lisey’s Story (limited series): I’m wild about Stephen King books but often they don’t translate to the screen for me. The wild world the books create in my brain often miss my mark when someone else is telling me what the world is supposed to look like. This interpretation with the wonderful Julianne Moore at the center as Lisey, the wife of a famous and slain “national treasure” of a writer, is freaky, unsettling, and probably well worth watching in full. 

Home Before Dark (2 seasons): This is about a nine-year-old girl driven to the truth in her journalism career. Her spirit, as her family moves from the city to a small town, is entwined with her ex-journalist dad. And by the end of the first episode, I realized I should be watching this with my own nine-year-old daughter. I would be very proud if she turned into a journalist, despite the low pay, like me.

The Shrink Next Door (limited series?): It must be a limited series because it’s so bad that it couldn’t possibly come back. Seemingly can’t miss with Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and Kathryn Hahn, perhaps the last episodes redeem it, but the handful I watched were one of the worst things I’ve ever tried to sit through.

Servant (3 seasons): I landed on this one and it was the clear winner of the TV shows. I binged the whole first season (there are three total, and maybe more on the way?). It's a slow burn creeper about a girl who comes to help a wealthy couple in their Philadelphia rowhouse. They have recently suffered a baby-related tragedy, but ain't seen nothin' yet. You never see all the twists and turns coming, and Rupert Grint is particularly great as the wine-swilling brother/fixer.

Apple may not be on the chopping block after all.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Pavement arrives for the concert event of the year in DC

My friend Scoots came all the way from Southern Illinois to see this one, and it was well worth it. Pavement played at the Warner Theater in DC on October 6. After taking our 11th row seats, with the seven other friends in our group, next to one of my favorites, Mary Timony of Helium and Ex Hex, we settled into watching a fairly eclectic setlist that included many of the gems from Pavement's catalogue that we had been hoping to see.

Here's a little clip from the punk anthem that has become even more apropos in these politically divisive times, "Two States:"

Here's the setlist:

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  22. Encore:
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Tuesday, October 11, 2022

TV Snide: September 2022

The Departed (HBO Max): Rewatching this Martin Scorsese epic is pretty sweet after a long time away from it. It should be called Rat Vs. Rat or Rat Nation. The plot thickens as the viewer can’t always tell who’s good and who’s evil while Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio each cozy up to terrifying mob boss Jack Nicholson. At 2.5 hours, it’s long but darn near perfect. 5 out of 5 stars

Never Have I Ever - Season 2 (Netflix): The John McEnroe-narrated comedy is back and Davi navigates high school and a love triangle that she ponders for the entire season. Funny and heartwarming, with great character building. 4 out of 5 stars

North Hollywood (Amazon Prime): In some ways, this is almost a spinoff of mid90s, with at least a couple of the same skateboarding actors. It tells the story of a kid who wants to be a pro skater but he has to navigate relationships with his childhood friends, love, and his dad who doesn’t want him to be a skater. 4 out of 5 stars

Halloween Kills (HBO Max): This 2021 entry into the Halloween canon find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) still hanging on by a bread in her lifetime pursuit of killing Michael Myers. Michael has other plans in mind, finding new and more gruesome, torturous ways to obliterate the citizens of Haddonfield. 4 out of 5 stars

Hustlers (Hulu): Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, and Betty from Riverdale star in a pedestrian tale of strippers drugging rich guys and stealing lots of money from them. It’s watchable but clearly bad. 2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

TV Snide: August 2022

Movie of the Month: Pulp Fiction (HBO Max): I’ve long claimed this as one of my favorite 2 or 3 movies, and after not watching it for 15 years or so, it still doesn’t disappoint. It seemed like a good candidate to watch with my son on the eve of his high-school career. One thing I never noticed before is how surprisingly few of the main characters die. Also, just for fun, I would love to see the movie reworked into chronological order rather than all the time shifts that happen. 5 out of 5 stars

TV of the Month: Vice Principals - Season 2 (HBO Max): Danny McBride and Walton Goggins are immaculate as this story of the fight to lead the high school goes all-out drop-down and dangerous, even including a mascot tiger that mauls some characters. Its final season wraps up neatly, assuring this show’s place in TV comedy history. 5 out of 5 stars

The Righteous Gemstones - Season 2 (HBO Max): I did a lot of Danny McBride watching this month. And that can never be bad. He’s got to be my favorite comedic actor at this point, up with the likes of Bill Burr and Mike Myers (still). The family continues to show its mega-church evil, wackily obliterating anyone who dares to threaten the empire. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: L.A. Weather by Maria Amparo Escandon: This character-driven family story takes place over the eventful 12 months of 2016, held together by the wildfires and drought of Southern California. The patriarch of the Alvarado family is in a secretive funk and his wife is having an affair and wants to divorce him. Then their three daughters - Olivia, Claudia, and Patricia - all begin their own divorce proceedings. A brain tumor, stolen embryos, and drowning twin granddaughters all play a role in doing their best to take down this close Jewish-Mexican clan. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Crying in the H Mart by Michelle Zauner: I wanted to read this memoir because it got good reviews and I like the author’s band Japanese Breakfast. It is a moving portrait of the author’s loss of her mother at a relatively young age. The story bounces back and forth from the U.S (mostly Oregon) and Korea and it’s always guided by what her mother would have done and what food is being consumed. It’s a quick read and definitely inspired me to start shopping at H Mart, which is near tennis courts I often play on in Wheaton, Md. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Persuasion (Netflix): Dakota Johnson is cute in the very negatively reviewed update of the 1818 Jane Austen novel. She pines for a sailor she romanced eight year’s previously and, when he returns, things get interesting. Under-rated light fun. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

TV Snide: July 2022

TV Show of the Month: Stranger Things - Season 4.5 (Netflix): Legendary characters. Endlessly thrilling plot lines. So many strings were tied but so many still remain to be tied. Season 5 should have about 20 episodes, with each telling the deeper stories behind each main character. This is in the same league as Spielberg classics like E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark. 5 stars out of 5

Schitt's Creek - Season 1 (Netflix): After watching the first few episodes years ago, my 14-year-old son and I powered through this tidy and hilarious season. A rich family is banished to a backwater town that they hate but which they slowly begin to hate less. No wonder this was such a delayed phenominon a while back. 5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Top Gun: Maverick (Theater): While non-stop adventure chase sequences are not typically my cup of tea, this was only the second movie I've been back to in theaters since the pandemic started and, even at a terrible theater, this one thrills. Way better than the first Top Gun, it's a mission that would be impossible to not love. 5 out of 5 stars

The Pentaverate (Netflix): Mike Myers may never top Austin Powers, but this is about as close as it gets. You've got to admire him for the creative wackiness that brims out of his brain. The Pentaverate is a group (mostly played by Myers) that rules the world, unless a nosy Canadian reporter (also played by Myers) can stop the conspiracy. The short series is a blast throughout, with at least a couple of scenes that had me falling on the floor laughing. 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Love Guru (Showtime): See review of The Pentaverate above. My son and I were on a Mike Myers kick this month, and this is another zany entry into the lots-like-Austin-Powers universe. 4 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close: A great story about the life changes the extended Sullivan family goes through as they lose their parents and seemingly their country after the 2016 election but win their first Cubs World Series. The kids, now in their 30s, now need to find themselves as they navigate Oak Park, Illinois and beyond. A must read for anyone who lives in the restaurant world. 4 out of 5 stars

The Mosquito Coast (Apple TV): This passion project from Justin Theroux, based on a novel by his uncle Paul, has the actor playing an inventor who decides to take his family on the run from a U.S. that isn't treating him well through Mexico, all the while hounded by drug lords. A lot of fun in a limited seven-part series. 4 out of 5 stars

The Worst Person in the World (Hulu): Through many trials and errors with different boyfriends and family relationships, the movie’s focus Julie finds herself and what she loves to do. A touching and deeply romantic movie filmed throughout Oslo. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Best Magazine Reads: The story leading up to the Violent Femmes’ classic debut album

MOJO Magazine recently told the story. Here are the highlights:

  • Bassist Brian Ritchey came up with the band name while he and drummer Victor DeLorenzo backed up other performing bands around Milwaukee.
  • A friend soon recommended they check out “pint-sized Lou Reed imitator” Gordon Gano.
  • In high school, Gano wore a bathrobe to school every Monday as if to say, “You got me out of bed for this?”
  • Getting shows was initially tough because Milwaukee loved heavy metal, so they started busking in the street. One day they did it outside the venue where The Pretenders were playing and Chrissie Hynde invited them in to play a couple of songs.
  • The album was made at a studio that had once been a Playboy club, and they had little hope anyone would ever buy it. But the recording made its way to Slash Records, which didn’t ask for anything to be changed.
  • Released in April 1983, it got tons of college radio play.
  • Gano is a religious guy who incorporated these themes and taboos into his songs, such as Black Girls, which he wrote because he
    liked black girls and they liked him and he married a black girl.
  • Gano licensed Blister in the Sun to Wendy’s Hamburgers and Ritchey sued him. But they’re still together as a three piece. In fact, I’ve got tickets to see them at the 9:30 Club in October.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Magazine Reads: The sad story of Big Star is nicely summarized by MOJO Magazine

Big Star has a deep and fascinating catalogue as arguably the founders of power pop (if you for some reason don’t include the Beatles, Stones, and Who). Further, the Nashville band was the bridge between those legendary groups and the explosion of power pop in the 80s, with the likes of the Replacements and R.E.M. MOJO Magazine recently had a great feature, and here of the best info nuggets from it:

  • Leader Chris Bell was sexually fluid, which probably isolated him a great deal at that time (the 1970s) and place.
  • Co-leader Alex Chilton, before he died, surprisingly said he didn’t think much of Big Star.
  • They were shunned on one trip to New York by a record exec as “Beatles wannabes.”
  • While the record label pushed back their #1 Record release several months, the band got antsy, with Andy Hummel punching Bell in the nose and Bell retaliating by breaking Hummel’s bass into three pieces. Then, Hummel poked holes in Bell’s guitar. Bell bought a new guitar and charged it to Hummel. Real healthy band. No wonder they didn't last long.
  • Part of the problem with Big Star never being as big as they should have been was that Ardent’s publicity department did a good job securing lots of positive press, but people couldn’t find the album stocked in stores.
  • Bell left before the excellent second record, Radio City, although some of the songs had been co-written by him, and Hummels’s exit made their third, Third/Sister Lovers, essentially a two piece.
  • In 1978, Bell’s car hit a telephone pole and he died instantly. This was after he had taken up working in a restaurant.
  • In 2010, Big Star was set to play a reunion show at SXSW when Chilton unexpectantly died and soon thereafter Hummel died of cancer.