Monday, February 16, 2004

Return of the Snark

Well, I'm back. I've missed blogging terribly, but sometimes these super-secret missions just run over. I'm really not at liberty to discuss my whereabouts, but I suppose since Faustus already guessed...I did in fact, go all Jennifer Garner. I was shooting Elektra and sleeping with Michael Vartan.

My endless thanks and devotion to Faustus for his wonderful posts here, and for bringing his loyal following with him. I hope I can live up to the standard he's set for new readers and some of you will stick around! (Assuming anyone is left after the last week of bloglessness.)

I had only planned to be gone for one week (hence the lack of guest-blogging last week), but the whole work thing got in the way. I'm thrilled to have a paying job and all (especially one that involves wearing red leather and sleeping with Michael Vartan), but after so many months of unemployment, I've really been missing things like blogging, TV, and, curiously enough, cleaning.

It figures that the day I decided to take time off was also the day of the Great Boobie Scandal of 2004. Without knowing he was doing so, MAK summed up my views on the incident quite well. But there are two things I want to rant about, even if I'm two weeks behind everyone else. First, if the CFC is to be believed, the FCC doesn't care if you say "fuck" in prime time, yet they're threatening millions of dollars in fines for showing one breast on television. This kills me. While I'm a firm believer that there's nothing wrong with "bad" words (Who decided they were bad in the first place? What makes "poop" acceptable but "shit" not?), I understand, given the norms of decorum in our society, that you probably don't want your four-year-old running around saying them. Similarly, we shouldn't all start going naked, but why are people so up in arms about the very sight of a breast? Like anyone hasn't seen them before? Or, worse, like there's something to be ashamed of. Men can be topless whenever they choose, and anyway we're all humans and we all have all sorts of body parts, and children (and Fundamentalist Christians) should know that. Anyone who's this offended about Janet's flash shouldn't have been watching the halftime show anyway. Janet, even with her breast exposed, had more fabric on her than your average high school cheerleader. And Justin's song is called "Rock Your Body," which certainly can't sit well with anyone who got upset. So why were you watching in the first place?

Issue number two is far more practical, and comes not from my politics, but from my experience as a stage manager (yeah, okay, you got me: not Jennifer Garner at all): What the fuck (oops) were they thinking not rehearsing?? From what Janet has said, and looking at the photos and consulting with Jenn (frequent commenter here and professional wardrobe mistress extraordinaire), I assume that not only was there supposed to be another layer under the pleather that was ripped out accidentally, but also that more of the bodice was supposed to come off. Because come on, even if it had happened as planned, one lace-covered boob hanging out would have looked utterly ridiculous. Anyway, this is not the sort of thing you leave to chance. Sure, "wardrobe malfunctions" can happen no matter how many times you've practiced before, but did Justin even know exactly what to grab? Could they be reasonably sure the fabric would hold? These are both performers with enough experience doing big stage shows that they should have known better. I'm more offended by that than anything else.

Still, I'm pleased that when my actress' tits popped out of her lingerie during our first dress rehearsal last week, we all knew exactly what to call it.

In even older old news, I finally watched Pirates of the Caribbean. No matter how many people told me it was a far better film than it had any right to be, I just didn't believe it until I saw it myself. What fun! And what a great ensemble cast. With all the attention given to the four leads, I didn't even know that the always-fabulous-even-when-he's-being-boring Jonathan Pryce was in it, along with Jack Davenport from Coupling and Mackenzie Crook from The Office (which I'm off the bandwagon in not liking very much, but I find him hysterical). Last but certainly not least, I am shocked that the Academy overlooked the monkey, who managed to steal scenes even from Depp. Go, Zombie Monkey, Go!

Also in the DVD player, I got myself a late Chrismukah present with my Amazon gift certificate: the first four discs of The Best of The Muppet Show. Best. Boxed set. EVER. Despite the groovy 70s roster of guest stars (Mark Hamill, John Denver, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Raquel Welch and Dudley Moore, to name but a few), this stuff is amazingly timeless. I would hope that a new generation of kids could discover the show through these DVDs. But any doubt that this set is aimed at nostalgic adults went away with the first bonus feature I watched: a series of "screen tests" of Muppets auditioning for A Streetcar Named Desire. (Kermit: "Hi ho, Stella!" Beaker: "Mee-meeeeeee!") I get a little bit sad watching these shows, and not just for the obvious loss of Jim Henson. In a way, I miss Frank Oz even more. Sure, he's directed a bunch of good films, and he still phones it in for Yoda (literally, I imagine), but his performances on The Muppet Show are just so astonishingly good, I think it's a crying shame he's not doing them anymore. I'm sure it gets old having your hand up a pig's ass for a living for thirty years, but Henson and Oz belong in the pantheon of great comedy teams, with the straight men of Kermit or Rowlf teamed with the wacky Piggy or Fozzie. It's genius.

Because they were, until recently, hard to find in reruns or to buy or rent, I hadn't actually seen an episode of The Muppet Show in a long time, and it turns out I was misremembering something essential about them. I was sure that it was a kids' show with some adult humor mixed in to keep the parents entertained. This is kind of the tone of the movies, and of course the younger-themed Sesame Street. But watching the DVDs I discovered the The Muppet Show isn't for kids at all. There's nothing childish about it, no talking down, no big morals. It's simply good television. There's great kid appeal in the characters, and the supreme silliness that often prevails, and occasionally someone will learn a valuable lesson, but in the end, it's just 22 minutes of really good comedy and music. It's the definition of "family entertainment," in a way that I don't think really exists anymore. Now everything is either clearly "for kids" or "for adults." The idea that simply making something good (with no violence or sex...except the occasional flying felt and interspecies romance) will appeal to everyone does not exist in network TV anymore. And it's not pure fluff either: Watching a sketch in which Sam the Eagle derides environmentalists by mocking a list of "so-called endangered species," only to find the American bald eagle on it, I couldn't help thinking about CBS' fight with Move On, since the Muppets were on the same network. And a running gag about a robotic band replacing the Electric Mayhem was eerily similar to the Broadway musicians' strike (and the producers' threats to replace them with "virtual orchestras") last year...in other words, 30 years later.

I could go on and on about how great the Muppets are, but since they're already partially responsible for the delay in getting this post out at all (I was cranky last Monday and watched several episodes to cheer up instead of blogging, then got all caught up in work again for the rest of the week), I should move on to the other item I want to review:

My Amazon order also included the "new" Beatles album, Let It Be...Naked. For those of you who don't know, a brief explanation: Let It Be was the second-to-last Beatles album recorded but the last one released. The sessions were part of a documentary film meant to culminate in a televised concert. The concert never happened (except for the famous impromptu performance on the roof of the studio) and the group moved on to Abbey Road. The group split up, but the film was yet to be released, and the record company wanted to put out a companion album to it. So Phil Spector came on board and put together Let It Be without any input from John, Paul, George and Ringo, who reportedly were never happy with the final result. This new edition is both cleaned up digitally, and stripped of Spector's orchestrations, and is supposedly the way the album was meant to be heard.

Here's the thing: I can't really tell the difference.

All the tracks on the original album lie at two extremes, either extremely raw, or insanely overproduced with effects and orchestras. So yeah, I guess some cracks and pops are gone, but the sad fact is "The Long And Winding Road" doesn't sound any less schmaltzy without the violins than it did with them. Plus, anyone who bought the Anthology series a couple of years ago already has alternate takes of all these songs. Don't get me wrong, Let It Be is one of the greatest albums of all time, in any version, but I can't help feeling a teeny bit bitter I paid for it, since it's not like Paul McCartney needs any more of my money.

...So there you are, a nice big chunk of reviews to make up for my two weeks away. There's at least one cranky rant about bad costumer service in me, some video game reviews, and I'll probably write about my recent secret mission to save the world from certain doom, so the three of you who look forward to such things can look forward to my return to daily blogging. Thanks for waiting!

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