Monday, April 21, 2008

Forgetting Blair Waldorf

Repeated apologies for the prolonged absence but college basketball and hockey playoff action kept me busy over at Rakes for a while, and when you combine the final semester of college-type stuff with my general laziness, there’s a sort of excuse for a two month break from posting. But on a most wonderful, summer-like Monday night, there’s every reason to curl up in front of the television. After a writer’s strike and a professional sports dark period that ended after Tom Brady went crashing to the ground for the last time, everything seems to be getting back to normal as senior year comes to a close. Some of the many, many reasons to be excited:

* Gossip Girl comes back tonight, along with a massive, beyond sprawling piece in New York Magazine. There’s a certainly pro-GG bias from all New York-based media, since they get to see so many pretty Big Apple sites and stereotypes – plus it’s a little early to call anything the best of anything with only a dozen or so episodes to its credit – but love for this show has been trumpeted on many an occasion back when this blog was actually functioning. I like the part in the profile linked above where it addresses the difficulty The CW network is having not in getting an audience for the show, but in finding it:

New episodes routinely arrived at the No. 1 most-downloaded spot on iTunes, and then there were the hundreds of thousands who were downloading free week-old episodes on the CW’s site. Even executives at Nielsen threw up their hands and admitted that Gossip Girl appeared to be speaking to an audience so young and tech-savvy they hadn’t really figured it out just yet.

Not that the Nielsen executives are particularly useful (look into the Nielsen process and just laugh that companies spend millions of dollars on advertising based on painfully small sample sizes), but it’s nice to see them actually conceding their ignorance when it comes to your average Gossip Girl viewer. If the show can survive the final five episodes with Michelle Trachtenberg in tow then they’ll certainly have earned a second season pick-up.

* You’ve got a hockey game seven (any game seven is awesome, especially when a Montreal loss slots the Penguins into the new number one spot in the East) and a pair of NBA game twos, including one of the most interesting series (Wizards vs. Cavaliers) and the least interesting series (Rockets vs. Jazz). I’m in no position to commentate on hockey in any way, but there’s so much to say about these NBA playoffs.

As far as your MVP candidates go, Andre Miller really should be getting more love for what he did with a seemingly prepubescent 76ers team. With him off the floor at the same time Andre Iguodala was struggling for the first two and a half quarters, the Philly offense was actually painful to watch. He was a calming presence down the stretch, trying to steel a team of playoff rookies against a Pistons team that’s played dozens of postseason games together. My original pick in this series would have been Detroit in five or six, and I don’t think I’d make a drastic change to that, although things will certainly be incredibly interesting back in Philadelphia with the crowd totally jazzed up and the series at least tied.

Chris Paul certainly looks like he’s on his way to validating the MVP award that gets stolen from him and given to Kobe, as he had more field goals in the second half of Saturday night’s game than the Mavericks did. Jason Kidd cannot guard him, which, as it turns out, is sort of a problem. After successful double teams on Wednesday night in the regular season finale, Dallas found themselves flailing trying to stop CP3. It seems like the idea of the lack of New Orleans playoff experience will be the cliché critique thrown out by every pundit in every round until the Hornets finally lose. I think the series with Dallas is going to be a long one that there’s no guarantee on the favorite prevailing in, but if the Hornets lose, it won’t because of a lack of experience, but instead because there’s a lot of talent on Dallas.

Kobe and Carmelo put up two of the least inspiring thirty-point games in NBA history, as Kobe just had a rough night shooting (kudos to Kenyon Martin for some solid defense, but one would assume Mamba could have taken him to the hole at will) and Carmelo made me as angry with a player as I’ve ever been for a singular performance. He just killed the offense every time he was in the game, acting as black hole that took away any ball movement against the Laker defense and forcing up poor shots. When the Nuggets rolled with a line-up without their “star” forward, they were considerably more effective and better on defense, as ‘Melo was lost (drunk? Sorry, had to) any time Los Angeles was swinging the ball around and finding wide open shots for whoever wanted it. Going into this series I would have said Lakers in five or six, but I think I was giving Denver way too much credit; revise that to four or five.

I won’t linger on the NBA too long right now, but expect a separate all-playoffs post within the next week. King James vs. Agent Zero and Tough Juice, Round Two. Tonight.

* After one of the most miserable box office periods I can remember, Forgetting Sarah Marshall unofficially started the summer movie season. I realize that the period between the Christmas holiday and the first few big movies of the year (that aren’t mostly depressing Oscar nominees) always seems this torturous, but 2008 felt like one of the worst. I guess last year gave us Norbit, Wild Hogs and Ghost Rider, but even those seem palatable compared to Prom Night, 10,000 B.C., Jumper and 21. The full summer movie mega preview is coming soon – here’s a list of the biggies by weekend, and it’s not overly inspiring at first glance – but I’m glad Hollywood is easing us into the explosions and epilepsy-unfriendly content of Iron Man and Speed Racer with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Harold and Kumar 2.

As far as Forgetting Sarah Marshall goes, I was not disappointed, although I was surprised to see the box office tally clock in below twenty million. That apparently was right at if not above industry expectations, and I suppose that makes sense when I realize that not everyone (see: most of America) watches Veronica Mars or How I Met Your Mother. Jason Segel really did a nice job with both the screenplay and his acting, totally managing to carry a movie just like anybody who has watched him over his career figured he could.

He had the benefit of a fantastic supporting cast, with Kristen Bell (wasn’t bad, but not totally awesome; I had rather high expectations for her to become America’s Sweetheart after this movie, but that inevitability will have to wait a few more projects), the re-emergence of Mila Kunis, my favorite SNL cast member since Will Ferrell (Bill Hader was his usual awesome self), the always awesome Paul Rudd and Kenneth the Page (I think he’s earned the right to be called by his real name, Jack McBrayer, but no one would know who I was talking about). I also thought the guy who played Aldous Snow was just great, and I think a lot of his quiet, undersold lines will be even funnier on repeat viewings. The other members of the hotel staff had great lines as well (“He’s like Gandhi, but better; he likes puppets.”), and all-in-all, it’s a very enjoyable, very funny, full-frontal male nudity-filled night at the movies with some top-notch eye candy in Bell and Kunis.

If Escape From Guantanamo is even half as funny as the original Harold and Kumar, we’ll have a very quality start to this summer movie season. We get the bonus this weekend of seeing whether or not a comedy with two talented female leads can do as well as an equally hyped, male-led comedy as Tina Fey’s Baby Mama goes one-on-one with the Cho/Penn ticket.

* Even though the Pirates have already reached their place in the cellar of the National League (how do you go 0-6 against the freaking Cubs?), it’s good to remember that for some fans – and especially kids - baseball really is fun. Here’s my nominee for favorite link of the month.

* In honor of yesterday being 4/20, an old Freakonomics post on the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. Really interesting as you scroll through the comments, because on a blog that often has a substantial amount of dissenting opinions in the comments, there is really only one in this post.


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