Lots going on today. We all want to keep talking about The Sound of Music Live!, your year-end list reading backlog is piling up, and it's Friday, so maybe you're thinking of stepping out and treating yourself to a healthy lunch somewhere. Listen. Don't. There is something called Christmas Cats TV, and it is on the Internet right now, and thanks to it, we just leveled up as a society, so you can rest up for now and enjoy the spoils.
What is Christmas Cats TV? It is a live feed being broadcast by North Shore Animal League America, a shelter in Port Washington, New York, starring a bunch of readily adoptable sweet and soft kittens chilling in a festive holiday environment. They are accompanied by a charmingly game elderly woman and a young man in a cat sweater and elf ears who interact with them (and occasionally take pulls from kitty flasks, because YOL9). This is a socially plugged-in operation, so you can leave messages and make requests ("Please dance with the gigantic white cat next to Granny," "Can you hold all the cats at once?"). Granny and the Elf will shout you out on a little whiteboard if you ask nicely. Some of the cats are wearing sweaters. You don't need to go anywhere. You don't need to do anything else, except maybe adopt 17 cats. Merry Cats'mas, one and all.
They must not make monsters like they used to. NBC is taking another spin on the vintage monster merry-go-round with The Wolfman, a series based on the 2010 werewolf film The Wolfman, which starred Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. The 2010 feature was itself a remake of the 1941 Lon Cheney vehicle The Wolf Man (but don't worry, TheWolf Man and Wolf-MAN! are still up for grabs), and though the more recent film underwhelmed at the box office, the network is placing the upcoming television adaptation in the capable hands of Carnivale alum Daniel Knauf. Knauf's current NBC property, Dracula, has been a mixed bag since it premiered last month (though its ratings remain disappointingly mushy). Still, it feels as though we've been picking over the same monster bones for a long time; earlier this year we watched as eyeballs exploded on Hemlock Grove (which will begin its second season on a yet-to-be-announced date), and we're already heading back to the murderous Milk-Bone box.
It's Election Day in Berkeley! Thankfully, this means the mayoral race plot ended this week, and it meant that all Bravermans were present for the after-party, win or lose. Bravermans are kind of like the Captain Planet kids. When their powers combine, the family is strong enough to overcome losing an election, bar fights, and (hopefully) domestic discord. Go Bravermans!
Prepare the tissues, because you'll be furious and sad
When I'm trying to evangelize about Parenthood, my pitch goes something like this: Even though the situations may be melodramatic, it hits the right notes emotionally. I can't attest to the veracity of Joel and Julia's weekly fighting, but watching the slow simmer of tension feels painful and real. We're now nine episodes into Season 5, and though neither has cheated (yet), I wonder if their marriage is irreparable. This week, Victor moved back to fourth grade. He throws a tantrum, there's yelling, and Julia can't reach Joel. For some reason that compels her to storm into his office and demand his attention, while his boss/temptress is present. He shuts her down, so they both end up embarrassed and angry. What a mess. The worst part is that when they try to talk it out, they fail to reach a détente. Joel storms off. He argues that he gave Julia nine years to work while he stayed home, but their life was much quieter before adopting Victor. Even if Joel supports his kids without fail, he doesn't account for the increased difficulty of staying home with Sydney and Victor. It's hard to pick sides here, but Joel does not help his own case by walking away.
"The show makes the star, not the other way around." It's an old television-industry adage, one repeated nearly as often as it's ignored. No matter the shininess or popularity of a given celebrity, audiences have proved happy to shun them if the TV show constructed around them is lacking. Unlike the movie industry, which ranks actors' influence on their ability to deliver big opening weekends at the box office, TV demands a more lasting commitment. And that, in turn, demands more than a familiar name. Anybody will watch something once. The trick in television is getting them to watch again and again.
If you're running for mayor and you're in last place, you better get some good swag to give out. I guess Heather (Jurnee Smollett) didn't get that memo, and she certainly did not pass it along to her client. Kristina's campaign T-shirts looked like they were destined for the trash, not the drawer of historical mementos. Luckily, Kristina found another, and probably more productive, way to differentiate herself from the other candidates by the end. We'll get to that.
Prepare the tissues, because you'll be furious and sad
I'm officially worried about this season of Parenthood. It turns out that the drama regarding the Braverman manse is not over yet. But previously we've endured Kristina's cancer, Adam's unemployment, Crosby's sudden fatherhood, Julia's infertility and subsequent adoption process, Amber's rejection from college, Drew's girlfriend's abortion, Sarah's career crisis, Haddie's (remember her?) struggle with her special-needs brother — and that's just a partial list. Now we're supposed to feel concern over whether Zeek and Camille will sell their house? We've been conditioned to care about Zeek and Camille only as advisers to their children. Camille gave great advice to Sarah in this episode, and that's a function she should not abandon.
In summation, who cares?
Prepare the tissues, because you'll be overwhelmed with happiness
Crosby and Jasmine have already overcome their most threatening fights, so they and we are free to enjoy their more quotidian problems with a touch of whimsy — like when the drunk husband needs a ride. This week, Crosby engages in some mild debauchery with the band recording at the Luncheonette to wash away his sorrow over having to buy a minivan. Thus, he's unable to drive himself home. He calls Jasmine for a ride, which led to my favorite moment of the night. She retrieves the drunkards and takes them to the drive-through, all the while maintaining her radiance. She is the dominatrix of the drive-through, and a solid counterpoint for Crosby.
There's something about The Voice that's reminiscent of summer camp, while its competitors The X Factor and American Idol are more like boot camp: It's artist-friendly and more respectful of the singer's vision; there's less time devoted to behind-the-scenes drama; and, even though it has yet to propel any of its winners into the kind of success achieved by, say, Idol's alumni, it has had tremendous luck creating judges' panel chemistry. Original mentors Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Cee Lo Green are diverse in their tastes, seasoned and savvy, as willing to engage in silly banter as they are to compete against each other without any real threat of malice. They mostly appear to respect each other, and none were cast seemingly because of their potential to self-destruct at any given minute. Even when Aguilera and Green were temporarily replaced by Shakira and Usher, both of whom will return for Season 6, the magic remained. The stars created by The Voice aren't the singers who vie for public votes and iTunes downloads; they are the coaches. As American Idol and X Factor’s struggles have shown, a good panel is hard to find, and is probably more often stumbled on by mistake rather than design. The four OG mentors have all earned higher visibility since The Voice premiered in 2011, but while Aguilera has had to contend with constant scrutiny about her weight, and Shelton is accused by tabloids of cheating on (or being cheated on by) his wife, Miranda Lambert, every few months, Green has now risen to the top of the headline pile. On Monday, he appeared in court, charged with slipping a 33-year-old woman Ecstasy while the two were having dinner in L.A. last year. If convicted of the felony, he could face a four-year prison sentence.
"He's so cool!" she yelped. "He's so cool, he's so cool, he's sooooo coooool."
The girl was no older than 17, wearing a zebra-stripe skirt, a black T-shirt covered in daisy decals, and her hair in a severe swoop. She was vibrating with excitement. Her voice rose above the crowd in our section, somewhere between a bleat and a squeal. She was watching a man in a silk tank top twirl onstage at the Hollywood Bowl on a Saturday night in October, leading his band in a version of their song "This Is War." She was not alone in her enthusiasm. In fact, I can't recall a more invested crowd — one stage beyond preteen boy-band mania but well before Boomer-style veneration. It was all-in fandom writ large, the kind that makes you quake and shiver with the opening chords of every song, that has you buying albums 10 years into a band's career, that makes you scream and sing along and maybe tear up a little.
Sean "Diddy" Combs is without question the Forrest Gump of the last 20 years of pop culture. His dancing in front of Elvis, meeting Lyndon Johnson, and investing in Apple is discovering the Notorious B.I.G., performing with Sting, and dating Jennifer Lopez.
Or starting a successful vodka company. Or getting mocked by Dave Chappelle. Or heading the "Vote or Die" campaign. Or guest-starring on those two episodes of CSI: Miami. Or running the New York City Marathon. Or designing the Dallas Mavericks' alternate jerseys. Or opening for 'N Sync on the Celebrity tour.
The list could go on for chapters, were this a chapter book. The music video cameos, the name changes, the bottled water ventures with Mark Wahlberg — the man has no chill and has tasked himself with never missing a moment since his breakout in the early '90s.
So it should come as no surprise that tonight, at 8 p.m. ET, Diddy is launching a television channel. On cable. Called Revolt.
Coming off of its tear-jerking tribute episode to deceased lead actor Cory Monteith, Ryan Murphy announced this week that Glee’s next season will be its last. Its current fifth season has been a rebuilding year, shuffling out several original cast members for new faces as it moved some of its leads out of the Midwestern high school setting into a New York collegiate one. With the news that the show will end after Season 6, it seems those new characters probably shouldn't have bothered getting too comfortable at McKinley High. It certainly feels like Glee has been on longer than five years, so dominating was its ascendance and reign. Murphy has an unparalleled knack for taking lowbrow genres nobody else has touched in years and making them into phenomenons. Murphy's involvement in Glee started to dip around the time he began shepherding his multi-season horror miniseries American Horror Story, although his now-cancelled sitcom The New Normal probably also took some of the focus he'd once devoted to his army of Gleeks.
Maybe Murphy thought it was in poor taste to continue on with the show after Monteith's death, but something being in poor taste has never, ever stopped Murphy from going forward with something. Possibly the preordained end dates of shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men inspired Murphy to cut Glee off after its sixth season, but probably not. Glee seemed like it was in the process of a massive cast reboot that would have allowed it to carry on for at least a few more years, so what gives? Even if everyone from the original cast except Chris Colfer bounced, all they would have to do is make Kurt the new glee club teacher and just bring in a new class of aspiring little Patti LuPones and Mandy Patinkins to ham it up and explore issues of popularity, sexuality, race, class, and other after-school specialties.
The purpose of a television network is to curate a cohesive grouping of shows that appeal to a specific target market and to profit from said market. A network identifies a set of common interests within a demographic and attempts to retain audience loyalty with a unified offering of content. Theoretically, television networks are built so that a demographic might enjoy that content. However, cable networks like Bravo, MTV, E!, and TLC have transformed into widely watched reality networks capable of holding the attention span of a broad demographic without actually curating a lifestyle in an enriching way.
We're in crisis mode here at GRTFL headquarters. With only Survivor in the rotation, I'm in desperate need of some new shows about which to make tacky jokes. It's gotten so bad that last week Bill was all, “Yeah, I saw that your column was all about Survivor last week, so I didn’t read it.” What a dick, right?
Here’s the thing, though: It isn’t for lack of trying. It isn’t my fault that all of these shows suck. I'm in the market for another long-term relationship, but after going on three dates this week, I fear they were merely one-night stands.
Allow me to explain, show by show, why even I can’t commit to a weekly fling with these programs:
During American Horror Story: Asylum, the second season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's epic and award-winning horror saga — I personally would give it all the Emmys, because it's daddy's favorite show — there were moments when we viewers were so assaulted by the over-the-top violence and totally bizarre twists that we simply had to laugh. Between the Nazis, evil breast-feeding fetishists, nun-rapists, and aliens, we had to figure the co-creators were kind of testing our mettle while having a bit of a laugh over their shared sadism. Unbelievably, it all worked.
The show's third season, American Horror Story: Coven, which premieres tonight on FX, already seems like a tropical vacation by comparison. The jokes — which include hat tips to Hogwarts, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and Shirley MacLaine (Jessica Lange's supreme witch briefly reports on a spiritual retreat taken with MacLaine in Sedona) — are more plentiful than in seasons past, though there's no shortage of scenes that require trigger warnings for the tenderhearted. Coven also can't help but play with self-referential dynamics, because so much of the cast has appeared in one or both of the prior seasons. (Plus there's the fact that real-life couple Emma Roberts and Evan Peters, who divide their time together between fang-baring fights and sharing "a pot of ice cream," co-star.)
Last December, Nielsen announced it had partnered with Twitter to create a ratings system based on tweet chatter. The press release seemed as though it had been written by aliens or robots, even more so than the usual PR statement: You know, everyone's "looking forward to collaborating with Twitter ecosystem partners on this metric" and "we are pleased to see Nielsen and Twitter join together to provide a comprehensive measurement system that will allow us to employ these social networking tools to their full advantage." Humans! We welcome with excitement the diplomacy of your hashish tags and will feed them into the mouths of our processing units, releasing the data into your atmosphere from the seven Earth days before today's rising heat orb.
Yesterday, the results of the first Nielsen Twitter TV ratings were released, crowning the third season premiere of Scandal with the first-place position after the show received 713,000 tweets. MTV's Miley: The Movement came in second, with the Cyrus-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live ranking third.
The Twitter TV metrics include not just missives fired off in a program's honor, but also the audience of listeners who are exposed to those missives (Scandal-related tweets reached 3.7 million feeds). There's a sizable discrepancy between the Twitter TV rankings and Nielsen's analog system: The only shows predicted to appear in both top-10 lists are The Voice (one spot for each of its two weekly episodes) and Dancing With the Stars, which both creamed Scandal’s Nielsen-box numbers despite being dwarfed by its social buzz.
If you like your male antiheroes trapped in suburban normalcy with demons they can't escape no matter where they go, why shed a tear over the end of Breaking Bad when you can pop open a few cans of beer and celebrate the return of Eastbound & Down? Season 4 of the Kenny Powers saga debuted last night, and it worked as a chill-out chaser for the Breaking Bad finale, but was also a fun house mirror version of the story of Walter White. Instead of a good man gone bad, Kenny is now a bad man turned good. He has muted his id for the sake of his family, and he has learned to accept a regular life with a low-status job and a home with a yard. In place of the Jet Ski is a riding mower, and Kenny has traded in late nights in the bar back room with Clegg for yuppie dinner parties with friends at the home he shares with April.
But something stirs deep in the heart of Kenny Powers, an inescapable evil he can only resist for so long, an awesome selfishness that is the core of his true being. "Chapter 22," as the first episode of the fourth season, plays out kind of like a horror movie. How long can Kenny keep pretending to be the Kenny that April wants him to be before he slips up and shows his real colors? Can a born alpha male like Kenny really reinvent himself as a beta milquetoast, or is he doomed to fail? There's a perverse satisfaction for viewers watching somebody dismantle their life. If anyone has ever been poised to go the full Falling Down, it's Kenny Powers. Without spoiling things too much, Kenny's undoing will remind you that you should really not be rooting for this guy. Even still, you will find yourself encouraging him to make all the wrong choices, just to see what happens.
This was a super weird week for reality TV. It was emotional, it was uncomfortable, and it was gross — but it was also enjoyable, kinda. On the Challenge finale, everyone puked; on Survivor, everyone cried; and on The Challenge's first (and likely last) live reunion show, everyone did whatever the fuck they wanted (that was the enjoyable part). There was beauty in the chaotic swirls of vomit and tears, fulfillment that must be celebrated ... so on to the scores.
Wes and CT (Challenge, Lisanti and House, respectively), 60 points
Challenge legend Chris “CT” Tamburello puked a bunch (10 points), finally won a season (50 points) of this silly franchise we love so much, and, for a moment, all seemed right with the world … until the reunion.
Jonny Moseley, the hostess with the leastest, started off the proceedings by saying, “Tonight, for the first time ever, we are live, and that means anything can happen.” Mr. Moseley sat atop this television show like a rookie bull rider on the most ornery of steers. He attempted to maintain control via his index-cards crutch while the dozen or so reality-TV veteran cats he was charged with wrangling scurried every which way. The questions he asked were rebuffed, the transitions he made were laughed at, and the violence he tried to avoid played out right in front of his faux-smiling face.
To Moseley’s credit, even Oprah wouldn’t have been able to stop the onslaught from Knight The Sociopath toward Freddie Mercury Frank The Alcopsychoholic. Still, it did not go well. A seemingly intoxicated (read: slammered) Knight had predetermined that the live reunion was his opportunity to handle Mr. Mercury fist-to-face. He wasted no time doing so: