Friday, May 30, 2008

R.I.P. Harvey Korman

I hadn't thought about Harvey Korman in years until reading about his death today. Korman was a fixture in my household in the '70s via "The Carol Burnett Show," which set a high bar for funny. I talked to a friend today who said she'd never seen the famous "Gone with the Wind" spoof, and it dawned on me that there's an entire generation of people who didn't grow up with that show.

The first person I thought about was fellow second-banana Tim Conway. The L.A. Times perfectly described their unique chemistry, which was consistently a joy to watch: "Korman and Conway developed an uncanny rapport that made them arguably one of television's most lethal comic teams; Conway's on-camera ad-libs often made Korman crack up; producers wisely kept them in the show."

If you've never had the pleasure of seeing the "GWTW" skit, check it out. Like all great humor, it holds up.

Snap Judgment: 'Final Crisis'

It doesn't suck.

"Final Crisis" has two important things in its favor: Grant Morrison's writing and J.G. Jones' art. The first panel alone — a simple scene of a caveman and the word "Man" — pulls you in. This first issue of seven has plenty of layers, and I'm looking forward to more being revealed. I'd be lying if I said I understood everything that's taking place, but that's what the Internet is for. (One quibble: It's time for D.C. to admit that Lex Luthor looks like an idiot in that super-suit. If anything, it makes him seem less evil.)

But as much as I enjoyed the first issue, the experience is tainted by event fatigue. Or in my case, Crisis fatigue. I know the major publishers have to throw out shiny, money-making objects, but the mega-hyped crossover thing is wearing thin. Yeah, I know I don't have to buy it, and supporting "Final Crisis" is just more encouragement for D.C. to keep doing it. I'm not a Marvel person, but I even fell for "Civil War" — and we know how that turned out. The problem is that if you enjoy certain superhero comics, ignoring the crossovers could leave you completely in the dark. And some of them have been great ("Identity Crisis") or at least good ("52").

It wouldn't annoy me as much if the consistently good alternative books got more love, but that's just life. It's like wishing that Fountains of Wayne was as big as Nickelback. No amount of praying will make that happen, so I have to let it go.

On to issue No. 2, then.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Double Kisses and Pixie Dust

I discovered B. Scott's YouTube chatfest via Crunk and Disorderly, and for the first minute, I just stared at the screen with a mixture of confusion and fascination. First, there was the joyous giggle and the reference to his viewers/readers as "love muffins." Then there was his ... visage. I knew he wasn't a chick, but he is prom queen pretty, no pun intended. If I were still relaxing my hair, I'd e-mail him and demand to know what products he uses.

While his celebrity blog is nicely done (and surprisingly kind), B.'s YouTube channel is where the real action is. Addressing the viewer from what appears to be his apartment, he offers a mix of commentary ("I am looking for a metaphysical love!") and performance: B. Scott does African dance aerobics! B. Scott interviews a random R&B songstress! B. Scott testifies for the Lord! While sipping a cosmopolitan, he told a surprisingly touching story about how a group of gay-bashing dudes heckled him — and one of the bashers later approached him inside the convenience store and quietly offered his phone number. Deep!

My friend E., who is not easily impressed, said that B. has "that special something" that makes you want to keep watching. While I doubt ABC will be calling anytime soon, someone ought to give this man his own TV show. He's a hell of a lot more entertaining than all those chicks on "The View" combined.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No (Diet) Coke for You

We went to a cookout over the holiday weekend, and I had a revelation while searching the cooler for a soda: Black people in the South don't believe in Diet Coke.

I'm black and Southern, so I feel qualified to make make this sweeping (and thoroughly unresearched) argument. It's not good or bad. I've just noticed that whenever I'm at a shindig hosted by friends who are black, nine times out of 10, there isn't a diet soft drink to be found. This seems to hold true across class lines, though younger African-American hosts are slightly more likely to provide a diet option.

I suppose it's a logical omission. If you're eating beef hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, buffalo wings and potato salad, is a calorie-free drink really going to help your waistline? Sodas laced with fake sweeteners have no health benefits. And as the great philosopher Paris Hilton once said, "Diet Coke is for fat people." (She has yet to make a statement about my preferred beverage, Coke Zero.)

Still, ignoring the existence of Diet Coke is an old school act of protest in this age of constant calorie-awareness. Aspartame is for The Man and the hopelessly assimilated.

Welcome Back, Jason

When "Arrested Development" got people talking about Jason Bateman again, I couldn't help but think, "Where have you people been?" I tried explaining his underrated awesomeness to my sister, an "AD" fan who is too young to know he had a TV career in the '80s. Bateman was usually better than the shows he starred in, and for a while, he seemed thisclose to having a huge career. But maybe he was a bit ahead of his time, like "Square Pegs."

My husband gets Best Life magazine (Bateman's on the cover this month), and Joel Stein's profile perfectly describes the actor's long apparent, off-center charm: "I liked Bateman more than any other child star. Because Bateman always played a dick. Not a teen-villain dick, but the kind who you wanted to be: the smart, cocky, friendly dick. Kirk Cameron and Ricky Schroder could do snarky, and Scott Baio could do arrogant, but underneath was a desperation to be liked, to wink at the joke, to make sure viewers knew they really were good people. But Bateman never paused for laughter."

Sad as this is, I was especially psyched that Stein cited "It's Your Move," a short-lived '80s sitcom in which Bateman played a scheming smartass. (I watched a lot of TV growing up. OK?) The character oozed smarm, but Bateman made him funny and somehow likeable.That's good acting. Every other sitcom has a version of that kid now, but back in the day it was kinda edgy.

This is the kind of comeback I can get behind. It's not as flashy as Ricky Schroeder's on "NYPD Blue" or as out-of-the-blue as Jackie Earl Haley's in "Little Children," but it's just as satisfying.

Friday, May 23, 2008

'Last Man' Love

Because I am a girly girl and a geek, there is a fierce battle for my disposable income. I want the discount Michael Kors handbag and a big, fresh stack of comics every Wednesday. But because I'm a mom, I'm not exactly swimming in gold coins, ala Scrooge McDuck. This is where my childless and/or single male friends come in handy. They provide the best possible form of welfare: great CDs from underrated bands I don't have time to research, cult DVDs with generous borrow time, and all the comics my little hands can carry. It's like Christmas once a month.

I have to credit my friend K. with introducing me to some of the best comics I've ever read, stuff I probably wouldn't have gambled the cash on without a primer. One of them is "The Last Man," a fantastic story about the adventures of the last man on Earth. Yes, I am late to the party on this (as usual); sue me. But if you haven't heard of this series, let alone read it, get thee to the nearest bookstore. Writer Brian K. Vaughn delivers page after page of nail-biting drama, spot-on Gen X/Y humor, holy-crap-no-way plot twists and sex. Plus, there's a monkey. It's like a groundbreaking HBO series in print, with great illustrations.

The basics: Aimless twenty-something Yorick Brown is about to propose to his girlfriend over the phone when every other male on Earth — human or otherwise — drops dead from a mysterious plague. That is, every other male except Yorick's pet monkey, Ampersand. Once Yorick and Amp set out to find Yorick's girlfriend, Beth (who is in Australia), all hell breaks loose again and again. Things get really good when Yorick teams up with secret agent 355 and geneticist Dr. Mann, and they dodge a series of mercenaries, insane "Amazons" and pirates. Yes, pirates.

This world without men is not a nice place filled with quaint bistros, day spas and shoe emporiums. It is every bit as violent, creepy and batshit crazy as the one we inhabit now, except half the world is dead. Meanwhile, the absence of men has created all kinds of transportation, shipping and food supply problems. It would be tough to take if there weren't so many genuinely funny moments ("Bitch, I'm an Ivy League lesbian. Do you think I've never fenced before?"). Plus, the relationship between Yorick, 355 and Mann deepens as the journey goes on.

Can I get on my diversity soapbox for a minute? I love that 355 is a hardcore, smart black woman with dreadlocks. And that Dr. Mann is an Asian woman who changed her last name to Mann (as in Mann's Chinese Theatre) to piss off her scientist parents. The reader isn't beaten over the head with gratuitous plot points; the diversity is simply organic. You know, like in the real world.

As D.C. gears up for its 400th crisis, I can't help but wish titles like this got the recognition they deserved. The proposed film version could help with that, provided that it's done well. So go read it now, before Hollywood gives 'The Last Man' a bad name.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indy Overload

I am one of maybe eight people who won't be seeing "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." I can appreciate that the franchise is classic and groundbreaking, right up there with my beloved "Star Wars" ORIGINAL trilogy. But for some reason, I didn't bother seeing it when I was a kid. By the time I saw the first movie at age 30 (seriously), it was too late for me to be all that charmed or entertained by it. I've seen this happen before, like when people see SW for the first time as an adult and think, "Meh."

But even if I were stoked about this film, any joy I had would be crushed under the staggering weight of product tie-ins. Indy is friggin' everywhere. Cereal boxes. Burger King Kids' Meals. Soda cans. Lunchables boxes. I'm not buying half of this stuff; yet, I feel like I've seen Harrison Ford more in the last month than my own husband. A USA Today story describes how Mars Snackfoods took pains to create an M&M resembling Indiana Jones for its print ads.

Was "Iron Man" this bad?

Some of this is my own fault, because we occasionally watch TV. And when it's on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, there's an Indy onslaught roughly every 10 minutes. I've been lurching for the "off" button more frequently than usual, while telling my 8-year-old son (again) that he's not going to see it. Gotta admire his tenacity, though. (While we're on this subject, why are so many parents dumb enough to take their kids to a movie that is clearly rated PG-13? Yeah, the studios shouldn't so blatantly market this stuff to first-graders, but no one's forcing you to take them. Get a sitter!)

Would I be less annoyed by the marketing if I cared about the movie? Probably. And it's not like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg need my money. For the fans' sake, I hope the movie is good, and that they aren't left with nothing but a bag of limited-edition M&Ms.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Let's Do The Mind Warp Again

Our daughter had her first-ever dance recital on Sunday, and from the costumes to the venue to the performances, the whole thing was quite impressive. Ballet, tap, African — you name it, these kids danced it. It put my fourth-grade class' production of "Melvin the Magnificent" to shame.

Anyway, I was sitting there feeling all proud for getting her involved in an affirmative, body-positive activity when an adult belly dance troupe came on. I instantly engaged in an ugly internal dialogue that my friend K. would say proves his theory that all women are broken — or at least crazy. Some of the dancers were large, and they let their bare bellies hang out in all their glory. Instead of thinking, "Wow, it's nice to see some women who aren't skinny but who love their bodies," my brain said, "Gaaah! Don't they know their stomachs are big? Why are they showing them to people?!"

I don't have a flat stomach. At all. I don't know that it's ever been truly flat, except for a few weeks after a nasty bout with mononucleosis in 1991. And it's not like my clothing size is at the petite end of the spectrum. So the fact that my judgment of these women was so immediately negative is appalling and embarrassing. It also showed me — again — how completely I've bought into Madison Avenue's screwed up idea of what the female form ought to look like, despite knowing better. Why couldn't I focus on what they were doing (which was dancing really well) instead of what their stomachs looked like?

My friend J. had a similar reaction once when looking at pictures of some plus-sized models. In her rational mind, she knew these women were, you know, models. But her first thought was, "Her legs are huge." Her second thought was, "OK, that first thought was seriously fucked up." You know the standard is warped when the insanely fit Beyonce — who is, what, a size six or eight, tops? — is referred to as being representative of "real" women. (What does that even mean? Are naturally thin women somehow not real?)

While I want my children to be healthy, I don't want to pass along this kind of crappy thinking. Young children tend to comment on people's size without judgment, but they learn very quickly that society has other ideas. The first time I heard my beanpole son describe another kid as "fat" — in less than neutral terms — I read him the riot act. Then he had to listen to my stories about being a chunky kid, and it all went downhill from there. I think it ended with him saying, "OK, OK!"

So maybe I'm saying all the right things, but I'm not thinking them. Maybe I ought to sign up for a belly dancing class.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reason No. 5

This video of Chris Matthews going OFF on blowhard radio host Kevin James is nothing short of sublime. Keep watching. It just gets better and better.

Well played, Chris.

Four Reasons To Be Happy

1. Coldplay is touring this year!
2. "Train in Vain" — my favorite Clash song — is now available for download on Rock Band.
3. Gail Simone + Aaron Lopresti = Awesome new "Wonder Woman" issue.
4. The Great Daryl Nathan, who must be seen to be believed.

That's all.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why Does Work Suck?

I've been thinking a lot about work lately. Not just my specific job, but also the general nature of work. I've had great bosses and terrible ones, stimulating jobs and sleep-inducing jobs. By and large, I think I've been lucky. I've never been fired, and while I haven't gotten every job I wanted, I got some of them. Even if the job was a bad fit, I always met a handful of people who became (and remain) good friends.

However, I'm struck by how few people I know who truly love, or even like their jobs. Maybe they don't hate their work, but I can count the number who seem truly fulfilled on one hand. Part of that is because I have a lot of friends in the newspaper industry, which is imploding. But according to several surveys I've read, it's a widespread problem. This article said that only 50 percent of American workers are satisfied with their jobs, down from 79 percent in 1985. That is staggering.

From what I've seen, the problem isn't necessarily the work. It's crappy/incompetent bosses and office politics that get in the way of actually doing the work. I get the sense that many people don't feel empowered to perform their jobs to the best of their ability, and that's a shame. I know the world is also full of lazy people who do enough just to get by, who blame their problems on others. That's a given. But when smart, talented, energetic people feel stymied, that's depressing. The horror stories told by Florida's state workers are legendary. And since I live in Tallahassee, I've heard a lot of them over the years. I don't know that private industry is all that much better, aside from the pay.

The floor is open. Why does the modern-day workplace suck so much?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Behind The (Wedding) Veil: It's Not Pretty

A friend of mine told me that an otherwise wonderful woman he knows has gone crazy planning her daughter's wedding. I believe the exact phrase was, "She's lost her fucking mind." We've shared many stories about the particular insanity that surrounds a certain kind of Southern, first-time wedding. They are all outrageous. And they are all true.

We're cruising into bridal season, and it's interesting to observe 11 years removed from my own wedding. It seemed pretty reasonable at the time, because it's not like we had a gigantic budget. But from my older, crankier perspective, it looks like a carnival of tulle, tulips and satin. Did I mention the complete loss of perspective? I distinctly remember arguing with my proper, Baptist mother about whether I should wear long gloves to counteract my (apparently scandalous) sleeveless gown. We went back and forth in the shop until my then-17-year-sister snapped and said, "Look, she doesn't want the gloves. OK?!"

Since then, I've been to a lot of weddings — some that didn't result in lasting marriages. That's not a criticism, but a statement of the obvious. When you consider the fact that half will end in divorce, it's amazing that people can summon the optimism (delusion?) to get married in the first place. So when I see all those young, starry-eyed couples in the newspaper's "Celebrations" section, well, I just hope they're not completely high on pixie dust. Good luck to them.

Anyway, that conversation with my friend got me thinking of some of the more memorable events and issues from my tours of duty as a wedding guest/participant:

  • Choreography: My husband was a groomsman in a wedding where the bridesmaids were doing some kind of swaying thing to a Luther Vandross song. At one point, each groomsman had to twirl the bridesmaid they were paired with. Oh, and the maid of honor did a dramatic pose on her way to the altar that was straight out of the Ebony Fashion Fair.

  • Courtship Re-enactments: I've been to at least two rehearsal dinners where the couple showed videos intended to represent their courtship. They included walks on the beach, fireworks and campus strolls. My friend M. was so floored by this idea that she came right out and asked, "Is this a black thing?"

  • Lutherization/Mariahzation: This refers to the tendency of certain soloists to emote shamelessly, no matter what they're singing. I don't know if you've ever heard the hymn "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," but melisma doesn't make it more soulful. More tedious, perhaps, but not soulful.

  • The Electric Slide: I think this one is a black thing, because I've seen it at almost wedding among my people. What gives? Just because everybody can do it doesn't make it a good idea. And I'm convinced that the accompanying song, along with "Macarena," is on the playlist in hell.

    My advice to my kids will be to spend more time thinking about the marriage than the wedding and the honeymoon. And no re-enactment films, please.
  • Monday, May 12, 2008

    Parade of Envy

    I have mixed feelings about Tallahassee's annual Parade of Homes.

    I'm all for dreaming big, and I love looking inside certain kinds of houses. There's something about good craftsmanship and architectural detail that makes me happy. And while I consider myself a realist, I think it's fine to admire things that are out of your range and say, "I'd like to have this some day." Gives you something to shoot for.

    But the flip side of that is, well, reality. And the reality is that Tallahassee isn't known for its plethora of high-paying jobs. Yet, home prices here are high considering the city's size and its isolation from other major cities in the state. They're dirt cheap compared to what my friends in D.C. are paying — but this isn't D.C.

    Combine those facts with the current economy, and I can't help but wonder what the people behind this event are smoking. While flipping through the glossy PoH guide, I saw plenty of lovely if unspectacular homes — the kind that evoke images of a normal, middle-class family with two kids and a dog. Except those "normal" homes were, in my opinion, outrageously priced for this market. Houses like this one are typical. I know people who could swing it, but it's a stretch to call them middle-class. They're affluent. (Again, I apologize to big-city friends who are fainting with envy. I realize you couldn't buy a closet for these prices where you live. But you get better concerts.)

    I could see if this were a destination for young (and not-so-young) professionals NOT connected with government, but it isn't. Tallahassee is full of people who are educated up the wazoo but who aren't making the money they would in Atlanta or even Jacksonville. For years, the attitude was that those people could pack their shit and move to Atlanta or Jacksonville if they didn't like it — but there is a growing realization that an ongoing exodus of youngish professionals is bad for the city in the long run. Stemming that tide will require the creation of higher-paying jobs, so that hardworking people can see themselves owning a nice house one day. Tallahassee is a gorgeous city compared to the rest of Florida, but it'll take more than trees.

    So the question remains: Who's buying these houses? And what is the point of showcasing homes that are out of the reach of so many people? I count myself as someone who benefitted (at least on paper) from the housing bubble, so I can't imagine how hopeless this must look to someone who hasn't even gotten into the game. Even the "affordable" houses are more than we paid eight years ago.

    I'm skipping the Parade this year, unless my numbers hit.

    A Word About Nariah

    I picked up People's special "Nick & Mariah" issue on Friday, taking in the indulgent beach ceremony/honeymoon photos and Nariah's declarations of "love at first sight." The quotes were straight out of "The Delusional Lovers Handbook," but maybe that's just the jealousy talking. While they were frolicking on the beach and drinking Dom, I was probably loading the dishwasher and wondering how I was going to get out of taking my kid to see "Speed Racer."

    Still, I'm beginning to think that celebrities inhabit a reality-free universe populated by fairies and unicorns. I guess when you don't have to worry about the mortgage or getting your car serviced, anything seems possible. It seems perfectly rational to tattoo "Mariah" across your back in bold script, so certain are you that your six-week relationship is built to last. It can't just be infatuation talking. Because you've got, you know, stuff in common — spirituality and whatnot.

    I don't doubt that Nick Cannon is working overtime to make his new bride happy or that he's living the dream of every straight male who grew up in the '90s. And Mariah could do a lot worse. It's not like she married a backup dancer (Though he did give an exclusive interview about his breakup with singer Christina Milian to Sister 2 Sister magazine, which isn't exactly Vanity Fair). I also understand that dating for a year or two (or five) is no guarantee of a solid marriage. So why does the whole thing come off as so frivolous? Maybe it's because we've seen this so many times — the whirlwind, starry-eyed courtship, the certainty that this love is like no other, the ill-advised tattoos, the divorce three months later.

    The pixie dust and romantic globe-trotting ought to keep them happy for a while. Then the hard work begins.

    Or not.

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    Enough About Miley Cyrus!

    My friend J. is convinced that the stink over Miley Cyrus' Vanity Fair shoot is a publicity stunt cooked up by the magazine and Disney. It's the only argument that makes sense. Because after seeing Annie Leibovitz's photo, I honestly can't see what all the fuss is about.

    She's clearly wearing pants, and the video on the magazine's Web site suggests that everyone — her family included — was having a good time. I guess you could say the combination of the coy expression and exposed back is provocative, but I still think it's a stretch. I've seen more flesh at the mall. This merits a tortured apology and endless hand-wringing about Today's Youth?

    Granted, it doesn't help that this comes on the heels of the "discovery" of some racy, personal photos of M.C. Now THOSE pics are kinda creepy, but I remember being a 15-year-old girl. All 15-year-old girls are curious about their sexuality and express it in some way. The main difference is that, back in the day, we didn't have the technology to accidentally turn it into a worldwide experience. My sense is that this is happening earlier and more inappropriately than it ought to, but I'll leave that to the experts to debate. The bottom line is that the girl is a megastar, and even at this tender age, she ought to have known better than to be the subject of skanky digital images.

    The only thing this "scandal" is good for is giving me another excuse not to buy any more Hannah Montana merchandise.

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    It's So Obvious

    I hope I get the chance to vote for Barack Obama. But I have to wonder how his people managed to overlook the perfect campaign slogan: Obama '08: Bros before hoes.

    The Ultimate Chick Flick

    I usually react badly to films that shamelessly pander to the chick demographic. "Must Love Dogs," "The Lake House" and "How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days" will never make it to my Netflix queue. I honestly think I'd rather watch "Alien vs. Predator."

    However, I am ridiculously excited about the "Sex and the City" movie. I don't even care if it's good. The sight of Carrie & Co., beautiful shoes, the New York City skyline and Big was like a sugar overdose. This must be how my kids feel when they walk into Chuck E. Cheese's and their ears begin smoking from sensory overload. Pizza! Games! Rides!

    I admit that SATC was not a perfect TV show. If you've ever written for a living, it's hard to swallow the idea of someone becoming a literary sensation with such awful prose. ("Are men the new handbags?") And when Carrie broke Aiden's heart for the SECOND time, there was a lot of debate in our household about whether the show had jumped the shark.

    But my friend H. summed up the show's appeal perfectly. She said it's a modern-day fantasy for suburban moms who dream of being single in a big, glitzy city (and canoodling with Chris Noth). I also give the show credit for showing the darker moments in Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha's lives. Like when Samantha came down with the flu and couldn't get even one of her many lovers to come lend a hand. Miranda's transition from single gal to single mom was painful to watch, but realistic. When Carrie was busted in the midst of an adulterous affair with Big (by his wife), the show did not manipulate the audience into sympathizing. It was ugly.

    Plus, each episode had at least one watercooler moment — usually involving Samantha. I'm thinking of the one where she discovers a gray hair downstairs, leading to an unfortunate Clairol incident.

    When "Waiting to Exhale" made it to the big screen years ago, I went to a theater to report a story story about the buzz. Gleeful women came out in droves, and the men were scarce. The few who did attend were subdued.

    I expect to see the same this weekend.

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    Finally, Some New Coldplay

    I don't care what the cool kids or Jon Pareles have to say. I love me some Coldplay. And while the new single "Violet Hill" is still growing on me, I am officially excited about their forthcoming album.

    I came late to the Coldplay party after my friend Mark loaned me "A Rush of Blood to the Head" years ago. I know a big band is a big target, and these guys are huge. But I've never understood why certain people loathe them — especially when there are so many truly awful bands making money. Even when Coldplay's songs don't click, I appreciate their ambition and desire to do something interesting. Calling them "Radiohead-lite for soccer moms" is harsh — but so what if they're accessible? (And why do people assume that a band sucks if they have fans who happen to be parents? We can't all listen to Celine Dion.) Besides, Jay-Z, Timbaland and Kanye can't all be wrong.

    OK, I have to admit that this parody remains funny as hell.