Tag Archives: reality tv

T.G.I.F. – Ten Comics Standing

So last week we got the dog and pony show.

Taking a cue from American Idol, the ten finalists were trotted out onstage to do a couple of minutes, after which they got to hang around for some uncomfortable close-ups while their voting number was displayed onscreen. Of course, you couldn’t vote until after the show, so whatever.

Unlike the other crapfest, the LCS judges were absent this round – wonder if that was to stop people like me from throwing shoes at the television because of their omissions in the top ten selection process? But then I remembered that it’s all about the off-camera producers and network execs pulling the strings. Shoes and television, saved.

The voting will eliminate three of the ten by next Monday’s episode and the judges will reportedly return. Not quite sure what the format is from that point forward, but it will be interesting to see what happens. Personally I didn’t cast a single vote – any voting process that allows and encourages multiple votes per person is absurd, from baseball’s All Star Game to reality TV competitions and web polls.

But I will tell you that based on pure funny, I would eliminate Feinstein, Vance and Esparza.

And I will also tell you that if the American public is voting, they will eliminate Adomian, Kilmartin and Thymius.

Tune in Tuesday to see how I did. For now, here are Ten Comics Standing and how I think they did…

01 Laurie Kilmartin – Awesome writer, solid performer, but I haven’t seen her at her best yet. And I think that oddball crowd reaction last week might have hurt her badly. What the heck was wrong with those people?

02 Felipe Esparza – Likeable guy, gets a couple of laughs, but pretty pedestrian stuff and the act wears thin pretty quickly. But the crowd loves him and I predict he’s a top 5 finisher.

03 Roy Wood Jr. – Starts every set with a short, killer line and ropes the crowd in immediately. Good balance of tone and volume and good material, although nothing spectacular. Like the golfer who lays up; always in the mix while the others eliminate themselves.

04 Maronzio Vance – Another likeable guy with some interesting material but not enough variety in the set and he tripped over his own jokes a bit. I could take or leave him for the final seven.

05 Rachel Feinstein – At the risk of sounding misogynistic, I think she’s getting by on her looks and stage presence. Her set last week was horribly hacky – doing mom and grandma voices in the rap culture? Please. But Dat Phan won this thing so I predict at least a top 3 finish.

06 Tommy Johnagin – Probably my favorite so far – strong pacing, solid delivery, great punch lines. Material is made for this quick hit format, and he dug himself out of an offensive turn by ending with the funniest line of the night.

07 Jonathan Thymius – The dazed, stunned, disoriented schtick took a new turn when he burned up his first thirty seconds pretending to get acclimated to the mic. But I think he went so oddball last week that he has people believing he’s the idiot he pretends to be and that will probably hurt him.

08 James Adomian – Took a huge chance by splitting his set between a long (but great) Aesop’s Fables routine and an extended imitation of Paul Giamatti, blending John Adams with Sideways. In other words, too hip for the room. The judges love him because they are smart enough to see what he’s doing…America won’t unless he gets very lucky.

09 Mike DeStefano – Big and caustic, Mike probably has the biggest hit-and-miss quota of the ten. Sometimes his rants fall flat, but when he nails one he gets bigger laughs than just about anyone. I think he’s Top 3 but he might be scaring the crap out of the voters.

10 Myq Kaplan – The smartest player in the competition, he combines intellectual wordplay, perfect timing and delivery and the ability to play in the moment by riffing off the other performers and events of the evening. I think the crowd likes him almost as much as I do.

Here are the voting rules at the official site

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Last Comic (Still) Standing – Part 2

Summer 2010?

So according to reports, if the show does return, it will have a new host, some new rules and hopefully some new contestants as opposed to another best-of reunion. While the current climate is far from the comedy boon of the 80’s, the market does seem to be in revival mode. Perhaps if they do it right they can make this a practical – and credible – method of getting some deserving comics serious air time. 

But back to our story… 

One of the elements I did pick up on was how many good comics did not make the cut. Mary Beth Cowan, from Boston, for one – her clips were funny, she was poised and (for the shallow television execs) she is attractive. Nope – cutting room floor. Jim Wiggins – more on him later – was cut, invited back when Jim Norton had to drop out and then was cut again. And the funniest guy on the show got screwed bigtime. 

Of course there were the odd conflicts of interest that were permitted to occur. Bonnie McFarlane is married to Rich Vos, yet he was allowed to be a celebrity judge for one of the selection rounds in which she was a participant. On the same episode, Jim Norton was onstage while Colin Quinn was a judge, despite the fact that Norton was a regular panelist on Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn. Granted, in the comedy community, and especially in major cities, people are going to know each other. Nothing against either comic, but this clearly was one area where disclosure could have neutered a problem before it bit them in the ass. 

Then there was the producer’s admission/excuse that despite the show being promoted as a vehicle to finding the funniest comic in America, the selection process for the ten finalists had more to do with the personalities of the comics…what they thought would be an interesting mix of people. Huh? Since when does that translate? So I guess if Steven Wright walked onstage, he’d be hilarious enough to laugh at but too deadpan for the crap they film in the house between stage appearances? 

Being a reality show, the overtly dramatic pauses before each announcement were painful, of course. Ditto the in-house voting where each comic’s vote was replayed for the guests; Jay Mohr would recap the count between every single vote. Come on, people  –  if viewers (and/or the comics) are too dim to keep track of ten votes, get a white board and a marker

And then there was the posturing, setting some people up as sympathetic or as villains. Bonnie McFarlane was occasionally obnoxious, sure, but Tammy Pescatelli was as or more manipulative than anyone else on the show, including the designated weasel, Ant.  (At least what was portrayed in the broadcast, carefully edited to push your buttons as well). By the time McFarlane really melted down, she had pretty much been backed into a corner, and after a humiliating defeat in a showdown with John Heffron, the event reduced more than one of the participants to some form of tears. Kathleen Madigan – one of those who chose to maintain her dignity throughout the process – wondered aloud what happened to the comedy. 

So why am I talking about this again today? 

Looking back, I realize that despite its flaws, this is a viable vehicle for comedians to gain exposure and make some money. Unlike American Idol, participants are not told how to create their art to conform to the judges’ ideas of funny. The judges are not mocking out the contestants on the broadcast episodes – although the audition process seems to have a constant stream of quick “I’ve seen enough” dismissals. And reportedly adding the words Last Comic Standing to their resume has enabled comics to jack their earning potential up dramatically. Hopefully they pass some of that goodwill along by bringing lesser known comics on the road with them, the divisiveness of the coalitions and strategic bullshit of LCS long behind them. Right?

But now we’re into the credo of the comedy community, and since I’m not a working comic, I’m not privy to that. I do know that most of those I’ve met acknowledge those who paved the path before them, speak fondly of those who lent a hand when they were starting out, and profess to paying it forward with the ones coming along behind them. In any competitive industry there are throat-cutters and back-stabbers, and comedy is no exception. But it’s a small world, and payback is a bitch. And if I can believe that comedians can create believable stage personas, I can also believe that they can create a different persona for this televised show that is – at the end of the day – just a game

And besides the bonding with my daughter, which will cause many comedy CDs and DVDs to come off the shelf in the coming weeks, by watching all the episodes I also found a new comedy hero. His name is Jim Wiggins

Jim Wiggins 

Here’s a self-professed saloon comic in his 60s, thirty-plus years as a comic, tossed into the mix with all the ringers and up and comers. Looking and sounding like Mickey Rourke’s doppelgänger, Wiggins was consistently hilarious, disarmingly charming and showed incredible humility and spirit. Why he didn’t make the cut is…well, we know now why that didn’t happen. I looked him up last night and sadly discovered that in the ensuing years he was diagnosed with cancer, but apparently is now close to being back on the road. 

And as for Dan Naturman, who elicited a standing ovation from the crowd and the judges but still didn’t make the cut? Cream rises. Tune in tomorrow for a review of his CD, Get Off My Property

So if they do get LCS back on the air, I guess I’ll make an exception to my reality show credo and give it a chance. Despite the disasters they had in the subsequent seasons (including not televising the conclusion to Season 3!) there were a gaggle of good comics I discovered as a result of the breaks they got from being contestants. Sure, they might fuck it up and Dat Phan me again, but if I get a Jim Wiggins out of it, it will be worthwhile. 

Here’s a little history about LCS.

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Last Comic (Still) Standing – Part 1

So it looks like Last Comic Standing (LCS to you acronitwits) is coming back after all. Perhaps this will be Jay Leno‘s new job since his 10pm show is tanking bigtime. Perhaps enough reality television has succeeded (read: cheap cost, big enough ratings) for NBC to revive the corpse. (I have mixed feelings about it, but anything that gets comics more air time is worth trying. As promising as John Oliver‘s new show on Comedy Central looks, it’s still basic cable. Major networks are not what they once where, but for now they still carry a bigger stick.)

If you know one thing about me, you know I despise reality television. Abhor it. Beyond the obvious knock that it takes time away from scripted television programming, it’s often embarrassingly puerile and stupid. Basically the networks theorized that people will do anything to get famous, and they cashed in big. Now we have people wandering the planet who are famous for nothing else than being famous. No accomplishments, no skills, just a willingness to allow their train wreck of a life to be broadcast for money. And to add insult to injury, these delusional mouth-breathers believe that this somehow translates into artistic merit worthy of our adulation and respect.

Wrong. It just makes you a celebretard.

But it’s our own fault. Culture will always pander to the lowest common denominator, and boy, did we drop the limbo bar low over the past couple of decades. There’s nothing real about the Real World or the Real Housewives; prostitution is illegal but we pimp girls out to Bret Michaels and Flavor Flav on broadcast cable, and don’t even get me started on celebrity interventions or the vapid bimbos and L.A. party whores who somehow have multiple shows dedicated to following their every waking moment. Even when a show does try to involve some real people who want to follow a dream – American Idol – they blow it by getting celebretard judges.

So when Last Comic Standing first hit the airwaves, I was nauseated. Not only did some of the selections seem odd (anyone smell ringers?), but some of the weeding-out activities were a bit absurd. Trying to be funny in a laundromat or at a day care center is an interesting test of whether you can appeal to a specific audience, but it’s not anything close to the type of audiences a comedian will be working with professionally. Somehow I can’t see Bill Hicks making children laugh. Weep or burst into tears, perhaps, but not laugh. Does that diminish him as a comic? So I dialed in occasionally to see actual stand-up performances on real stages, but otherwise avoided it like the plague.

So what prompted this little diatribe today? The Fox Reality Channel ran a marathon of Season Two episodes this afternoon, and when I came home my daughter was engrossed in the second hour. She had not ever seen the program, and was only familiar with a couple of the comedians. When I sat down to share some time with her, they were at the stage of moving from the auditions to the group of forty, and I realized that I was familiar with the majority of them – hell, I probably owned albums from at least half. It dawned on me that at the time of the show (2004)  I probably only knew a couple of them, but over the next five years many of them had reached a larger level of success – despite the fact that only one walked away with the title.

I was also pleased to see that although there was a certain level of the bullshit that I hate – preening for the camera, overly dramatic behavior to “stand out” from the rest of the crew – for the most part there was stage time of some sort. Sure, they made some people out to be pains in the ass, and others behaved like they were on an episode of Survivor, but it was light years beyond sticking eight people in a million dollar loft in New York and getting them all cushy jobs and then calling it The Real World. When the ten comics hit the house they laughed at the absurdity of their surroundings and tried to focus on making the next cut so they would be able to have their fate determined by their performance on stage.

Of course, in this season, the credibility of the show took a kick in the nuts when the final ten were announced. Judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler went from slack-jawed to irate when they realized that three of the four judges hadn’t cast votes for some of the finalists, while others they had at the top of their list didn’t make the cut. Turns out that producers and executives behind the scenes were also casting votes, so despite what the four judges onscreen did, it was the unseen movers and shakers behind the scenes who determined the final selections – the ten who would get weekly television exposure as the show went forward. And some of the finalists were clients of these executives and producers.

Hard to believe that controversy didn’t sink the show immediately. But it didn’t.

The marathon continues tomorrow, and so will my story.

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TV or not TV? Summertime…

Years ago I ran a nightclub, and like in most bars, Sunday night was death. Many places closed or suffered the losses. Me? I started Die Hard Happy Hour! Sure, the potential audience might have been smaller than a madhouse Friday or Saturday night, but since I was competing with no one else on Sundays I figured I’d nail my target demographic – music lovers who drank

Success? Let’s just say I underestimated the size of that fraternity.  By the second week there was a line out the door and a list of bands begging to play the new hot night in town. I reinvented the three day weekend. (You’re welcome!)

Well, it looks like some television executives learned this same lesson over the last few years, as the smaller cable networks now take advantage of the major network hiatus to air their programming to attract that hot new demographic – those of us too mature for Celebretard Programming who want something better. As in not reality television.

(Reality television?  Really? Don’t you encounter enough a-holes every day on your own? Why tune in to see more?)

Formerly known as Vast Wasteland, I now present TGIS  (Thank God It’s Summer). Three simple words: grill, beverage, DVR.

Bryan Cranston is awesome. Actually started late Spring but will re-run this Summer.

 

 Breaking Bad actually started late Spring but will re-run this Summer. Bryan Cranston is phenomenal.

 

 

rescue me

 

  I still like Denis Leary‘s earlier series  The Job better, but Rescue Me has yet to disappoint me.

 

 

the closer

 

  The Closer is not only one of the best shows on television, but the ensemble cast is loaded with wall-to-wall talent. G.W. Bailey and Anthony Denison could take their shtick on the road.

 

saving grace

 

  Saving Grace is also coming back to complete another round of episodes. Holly Hunter could kick my ass with one ripped bicep tied behind her back…or more likely one arm holding a beer.

 

 

 mad men

  I know AMC is supposed to be American Movie Classics – not new television dramas – but with Breaking Bad and Mad Men they are doing the job the majors are supposed to do. Kudos! 

 

 

sons of anarchy

  

Sons of Anarchy – FX deals an adult drama and helps fill the void of The Shield and The Wire.  The whole cast is great but Katey Sagal is fierce.

 

 

it's always sunny

 

 I pine for the return of the most irreverent show on television. FX strikes gold again!

 

 

jackie woodman

 

  But wherefore art thou, Jackie Woodman? Laura Kightlinger, you rule!

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TV or not TV? That’s always the question…

Hey you! PUT DOWN THAT REMOTE!

Hey you! PUT DOWN THAT REMOTE!

I don’t really have that much time to watch television, nor have there been many recent shows that have me glued to the screen. And that’s probably a good thing. People (especially here in America) spend far too much time sitting in a chair mesmerized by the Idiot Box. The networks have increasingly offered to meet us more than halfway by offering such a slate of vapid, soulless programming that one would have thought they were trying to clear the room, not build an audience. But what’ s that famous quote?

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Ah, yes, H.L. Mencken. Touché, sir. Talent shows controlled by massive ego-maniacal D-listers. Balding rockers swapping spit with living, breathing breast implant shelves. Overly dramatic game shows. Embarrassing confessional group therapy hosted by people with only first names. Celebretards basking in their shallow celebretard lives. And yet America laps it up like a starved pack of feral monkeys. (I’m not certain that feral monkeys would ever be that hungry, but I like the way that sentence rolls off the tongue. Back to my story…)

Of course, if anything does work, the networks are quick to clone it ad nauseum. We’re probably a season or two away from CSI: Little Rock and Law And Order: Traffic Scofflaw, but if we keep buying, they’ll keep selling. However, I have found a few new moments of fun amid all the hospital sleepover camp dramas and the hyperbolic news magazine exposes. But one is already dead, and the future doesn’t look bright for the others. So tune in quick!

 

fringe-tv

Fringe, like The X-Files, combines elements of both science fiction and cop shows, and has an appealingly quirky lead actress paired with a sarcastic and smart partner. I thought they went way over the top with the character of Walter, who interrupts normal conversations with childlike tangential observations, but John Noble has brought great sympathy and depth to a character who could have easily been a cartoon. The cast is first-rate, the Outer Limits plots surreal, and it looks great. Definitely one where you want to revisit all the season’s episodes once more prior to the finale.

castle-tv

Castle initially looked like the bastard child of Moonlighting and Murder She Wrote, but it’s growing on me week by week. Yes, the female detective is by-the-book (and smokin’ hot) and the charming newcomer is a wise-ass with a brain behind the clown facade. A good supporting cast that’s underused, with one exception. Susan Sullivan is a fine actress and probably a nice person, but her “Mom” character needs to fall down an elevator shaft ASAP – the show stops dead in its tracks when her character is in focus. Good chemistry between the leads and a smart kid who seems like a normal kid, not a prop.

better-off-ted-tv

Better Off Ted was initially very disappointing; perhaps I was underwhelmed after all the hype (I tend to do that) or maybe the first episode just wasn’t that funny. But I stuck with it because the jokes that were working were so sly and the dialogue delivered so dryly that I hoped they were just finding their voice. I’m glad I did – the last couple of episodes were not only hilarious but politically incorrect. Many critics compare the show to Arrested Development, and while I think fans of one will like the other, this show – hell, any show – has a long hill to climb to get to that level. But the writing is great (creator Victor Fresco was also behind Andy Richter Controls The Universe) and the cast is perfect; I hope they give it time to grow. (Bonus: The Veridian Dynamic commercials are killer!)

parks-and-recreation-tv

Parks and Recreation will sink or swim on Amy Poehler’s efforts, and she is one comedienne who is unafraid to make a complete fool of herself in the process. But the supporting cast is also strong, especially Aziz Ansari as her self-serving peer in the department office. Shot in the same mockumentary style as The Office – and slotted immediately prior to it on the schedule – it should appeal to the same audience if it can somehow make an uncommon setting seem familiar to viewers. I suspect we’ll meet the oddballs of the town (read: star cameos) to help boost interest. Looks like it has potential, has been very funny in spots.

life_on_mars-tv

I already waxed poetic about Life On Mars in an earlier post, so I won’t rehash that here. I just hope there is a DVD complete with the brilliant musical selections that helped make the show as enjoyable as the acting and plot. Obviously not many people saw it the first time around, so if that was you, don’t mess up twice.

Most of the above shows have episodes available online – check them out when you have a chance. I’ll have thoughts on my favorite returning shows of the season and my biggest disappointments in an upcoming blog.

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