Category Archives: Characters

The Face of All Saints

Nurse Jackie is one of those series that you just want to devour over a rainy weekend.  Living in Manchester, a city where rain is a daily threat, that’s exactly how Karey and I watched the first season .  And the second season.  Then we waited patiently for the start of third season (it was still raining after all).  Our pace has been forced to slow down now (because we can only GET one episode a week…not because we’ve lost interest) and as of today, we’re totally caught up to the current season.

I’d heard lots of great things about Nurse Jackie and had read all about Edie Falco’s superb and award-winning portrayal of the titular character + the clips that they would show on awards shows were always tantalizing.  But I really didn’t know much about the show beyond some basic plot points.  I had no idea, for instance, that its format was thirty minutes.  I thought it would be an hour-long drama–like The Sopranos.  But, it’s more like Sex and the City (before the last SATC movie made a whore of that groundbreaking show’s legacy).  It’s a thought-provoking dramedy with a wonderful supporting cast and alternating gasps and gags.  It was difficult to choose which aspect of the program to hone in on.  Seriously, all of the actors are adorable/sexy/completely awesome in their own way.  But–even though it’d be easy to write about grouchy Falco and her dykey Nurse Jackie hairdo, or the lovable glass-eyed lug Thor, or the super hot and well-heeled Brit Dr. O’ Hara–I’m going with the dark horse.

You are all contenders.

165.  Anna Deveare Smith as Gloria Akalitus

Anna Deveare Smith is a darling of the theatrical community.  I first heard her name when I was attending NYU–where I was decidedly NOT a darling of the theatre community.  All the people who actually knew about theater (I knew nothing) were raving about her one woman show.  Twilight: Los Angeles.  She played a billion characters in this one woman show which was pieced together with interviews after the LA riots.  She won a Drama Desk Award for it.

A native of Baltimore, the woman who plays Akalitus has other accolades as well.  She is currently the artist in residence for The Center for American Progress and she also won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1996.  So, you know…that’s pretty good.

Another awards ceremony? Wait, let me just put on my finest hats. Ok, ready.

She was also, reportedly, awesome in The West Wing, a program I have not yet viewed.

Yes, I AM good on that program. You should watch it.

When her character first appeared, I thought–right–this is the villain of the show.  She’s a straight up beurocratic pain in the ass.  She’s the hospital administrator–the baddie, we’re all going to love to hate.  In comparison to the heroic medical staff, who go above and beyond the rules, she’s just there to stop people from saving lives!!!….what with her clip board and crunched data and no fun skirt-suits.  But, I’m glad that by midway through the first season they sort of went a different direction.  I’m not saying she’s never the obstacle for the medical staff, but she’s much more human, hilarious, and fun to watch.  She feels more like someone who wants to be a constant ally but who has to deal with the real world whilst the others are away with the fairies.  Deveare Smith makes so much more out of a character that could have just been a stereotype and a constant foil to the heroic doctors and nurses.  Here she is talking a bit about the character.

So, award winning, theatrically trained, intelligent actress makes interesting acting choices on an acclaimed cable television series.  Slow news day, yes?  But that’s not really the whole story.  I think the main reason that I love Deveare Smith’s performance so much is because of the faces that she pulls.  I know it’s childish, but check it out and tell me it’s also not just completely adorable and sort of transfixing.  When she’s on screen I am just WAITING for that bit of gurning.  Half the time she looks like she’s straight out of the animation from Fantasia 2000’s  segment for Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.  The entire piece is here.  (Highly recommended viewing)

Or, if you can’t be bothered with a thirteen minute cartoon, here is a still.

Now, here is Deveare Smith’s face.

Am I right?  Who’s with me?

Leave a comment

Filed under Characters, TV

One Of Your Five Froots A Day

I sure spend a lot of time on this blog wailing on about the junk food I miss from America.  Some of the longing comes as little surprise…NY pizza, sourdough pretzels, Pepperidge Farm cookies, for instance; whilst other foodstuffs totally take you off guard.  For instance, who knew that I’d wake up one morning really craving the salty, fibrous, crunch of Triscuits?  Similarly, it was only recently that I was overcome by a yearning for Froot Loops.  Who was it that famously sang ‘you don’t know whatchoo got til it’s gone’ ?  Probably someone who had to move away from the US and couldn’t get Froot Loops anymore.  Them’s the blues.  Froot Loops perfectly exemplify the sort of craving that sneaks up on you.  I wouldn’t have put this on the ‘US care package’ line-up a year ago.  But, when I learned that I could order a box from my local grocery deliver for the coocoobananas fee of £7.50 (approximately $11!!!), I decided that I’d treat myself to an expensive walk down memory lane. That’s why today’s great thing is:

162. Froot Loops

The box arrived at my workplace and immediately garnered the attention of my associates.   First off, everyone looks to see what’s in the package when things get delivered to work.  My office is open plan and people are, understandably, nosey.  I cracked open the box and they were really taken with the smell and confused by the mascot.  Many questions ensued.  What the hell are these?  Why is there a Toucan?  Why do you spell fibre that way?  It looks like ‘fibber’.  (Naturally, I rebuffed those assaults by explaining the rules of English–consonant vowel consonant makes for a long vowel.  FIIIIIIIIber, I said, condescendingly, I might add.) By the way, the reason that issue even came up is because the box proudly proclaimed that now it was fortified with fiber.  Thank God for that.  I’d hate for those delicious sugary torii to be lingering for too long in my colon.

I would also like to congratulate the product on its truth in advertising.  Fruit is never mentioned.  Froot, however, is.  And it’s chock full of FROOT, believe you me.
Someone equated the smell of the loops to candy lavender.  I wouldn’t give it that much foodie prestige…But, beyond even the strange marketing behind it, I must say that the associative nostalgia that exploded across my mind when I first opened the box was astounding.  There’s nothing over here that tastes like it (probably because the taste doesn’t exist in nature.)

What alternative reality is this from?

Though my Mom generally wasn’t a fan of sugary cereals, we were allowed the occasional box.  Cereals that straddled a respectable middle-ground were usually attained without much of a fight; that’s your Frosted Flakes, your Froot Loops, and your Corn Pops.  Cereals that were so brazen in their marketing as to essentially give a middle-finger to health-conscious Moms–your Captain Crunch, your Cookie Crisp, and your Smurfberry Crunch were harder fought battles…though we did occasionally emerge victorious.  I was a sucker for the toy-tie-in cereals.  I really loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one.  The mix was marshmallow turtle heads and frosted rice-chex like bits…those were supposed to be ninja nets or something.  Anyway, Yumabunga, Dude.

Back to the cereal in question:  In 1963, segregationist George Wallace became the governor of Alabama, John F. Kennedy gives his famous Berlin speech, Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique was published and Iron Man debuted in Marvel’s  Tales of Suspense. All in all it was a year of great importance.  It was also the year that Kellogg’s introduced Froot Loops to a nation of bleary-eyed children…children hungry for candy flavored cereal as brought to them by a cartoon toucan mascot.

Ah, Toucan Sam.  I do love the Kellogg’s mascots.  My sister and I had Kellogg’s sleeping bags when we were kids.  Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, Dig ‘Em the Frog, and Toucan Sam were all there, dancing across the fabric…lulling us to sleep with promises of delicious breakfasts in the morning.
I have tried Google Image searching that particular sleeping bag and have come up empty.  However, the search terms “Kellog’s sleeping bag” did turn up this delight.  Enjoy:

Will this do?

Anyway…just delving into Toucan Sam’s background, what’s immediately noticeable is the change-up in voice characterization between modern Sam and Sam of the 60’s. And I don’t mean just that it’s apparent that Sam’s got a new voice actor…but his accent and persona is also completely different.  Impressive fact here…did you know that he was originally voiced by the late, great Mel Blanc?  Here’s a look at Blanc’s street-savvy and playful characterization:

This commercial is a full minute!  Is that how long they used to be?  Anyway, you can see how Toucan Sam used to sort of sound like Bugs Bunny.

They later gave Sam a sort of English explorer makeover and cast Paul Frees to do the voice acting.  Frees read Sam in the style of British actor Ronald Coleman.  Coleman was a kind of Douglas Fairbanks type.  That characterization has remained consistent to this day even though Frees is no longer on the mic.

I totally see it...

Here is an example of a recent commercial:

He’s gotten himself in quite a pickle, as you can see.  It’s a mistake to let sugar-addled children decide your fate, Sam!  Don’t you know what happened to Robin in the great comic book vote?  You get made dead! Thats what happens!

Anyway, if–like me– you were worried about how this all turned out, you can catch up on Toucan Sam’s latest exploits on his Wikipedia page.  God bless you hard-working Wiki editors.

I like Toucan Sam because his main purpose is to LEAD people to food and not steal it from you like some thieving seagull!: Bastard!!!

Now, in closing, please enjoy this clip of Ronald Coleman reading a Shakespearean sonnet.  Close your eyes and picture Toucan Sam.


Filed under Characters, Vittles

Brainerd’s Finest

I watched Fargo again this past weekend.  It’s a great movie anyway, but it was especially good because I haven’t worn it out, if you know what I mean.  You know sometimes you view films sooo many times, that they lose their appeal?  I’ve only ever seen Fargo the one time before and that was near the date it came out.  1996.   I was 20.  The first version of Java programming was released, Bob Dole ran for POTUS, and future star Abigail Breslin was born.

What a fab film to get reacquainted with.  There’s a lot that I could focus on in my discussion/appreciation of this film.  But let’s go the predictable route of talking about what I think is not only a terrific performance, but a wholly satisfying and well-written female lead.  (Thanks to the Coen brothers for that!)

144:  Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson

You Betcha!

I think McDormand is a fantastic actress.  When I was researching this little blog entry, I was sort of crushed to find an interview where she confesses to doing absolutely no research for this role.  I studied acting at school (which explains why I also have a bartending degree)  and was brainwashed into my school of practice, the Stella Adler technique, which itself is born of The Group Theatre and is an offshoot of Stanislavsky’s ‘method’ style.  Adler, Meisner, and Strasberg were all disciples of  acting messiah Stanislavsky and they all interpreted his words in different ways.  NYU had a different acting studio for each method which created at least 3 warring factions within the acting program at the arts school who ALL stubbornly thought that their way was best…this isn’t even counting the yahoos at Experimental Theatre Wing or the show-tune belting patience-drainers at CAP 21–the musical theatre studio.

What were the main differences between each studio?  In a nutshell, Meisner believes reacting honestly to whatever comes out of your partner’s mouth is most important–a sort of improv-style response.  Strasberg believed that you needed to rely on your own personal sense memories to inform your performance.  Basically, if you can remember what coffee and cigarettes smell like, you can play anything from a hooker with a heart of gold to a space alien.  Adler believed that you could inhabit a character by first doing research and then building character backgrounds that feed into your imagination.  Basically, understand the character’s world first and then help yourself enter it by creating personal histories.

Look, another NYU Theater Grad!

I remember for one of my character studies, I spent a few hours at the NYU library researching my character’s career (that of prison warden) and then writing several character-building monologues in her voice to try to relate to what was a vastly different experience to my milquetoast upbringing in rural-suburban PA.   My loyalty to the Adler method was undying.  I was fully indoctrinated by my cruel acting teachers and I mentally spat upon the halfwits that went straight for the masturbatory methods of Strasberg, or even worse, the monkeytards at Experimental Theatre Wing who ran around all day pretending to be colors and shapes—their productions inevitably wound up looking Caligulan.

So, I’ve always been a bit taken aback when I read quotes like McDormand’s.  Jodie Foster, who, like McDormand, is  a Yale Drama grad, has made similar statements.  It left me a bit aghast and wondering what the hell it is that they teach at Yale Drama.  (Also, did I just completely waste my time for four years?  Have I been doing it wrong?)  Surely they learn SOME sort of acting technique that involves research.

But, reading another interview with McDormand about the film, she mentions going shooting with a real female police chief from the snowy hinterlands of Minnesota, learning the charming “Minnesota Nice” dialect AND building character backgrounds with the actor who played her husband, John Carroll Lynch.  They decided that Norm and Marge met while working on the police force, married, and had to make the decision about who would still work for the force and who had to quit. In their back story, they thought that since Marge was a better officer, Norm should quit and pursue his painting.

So, to me, that sort of sounds like she DID engage in a bit of research after all.

Still, I remember an interview where Jodie Foster stated that acting is just being really good at playing make-believe.

So, maybe really good acting lies somewhere in between the two: hard-nosed research and a sense of fun and play.

Also, maybe it’s time to unclench my butt cheeks ever so slightly when I think about these sort of things.

Anyway, regardless of how she reached the final product, her performance deservedly won the Academy Award that year (out of a crop of truly excellent nominees).

McDormand portrays Gunderson as a smart, polite, and caring individual who, amazingly, remains interesting for all her lack nastiness.  In one of the most discussed scenes, she meets up with an old highschool chum who has contacted her out of the blue.  Here’s the Mike Yanagita scene:

That’s correct, Mike, she IS a super lady.

I found the Mike Yanagita scene discussed both in an interview and as a thread on an IMDB board. Why does it exist?  McDormand’s answer can be found here: bombsite.  It comes across that she found the scene useful because it was an occasion for Gunderson to achieve a bit of depth.  For her, it exists to build character.  The meeting with Mike flusters her a bit.  Even though she’s sweet as pie, she’s not perfect.  She doesn’t accommodate everyone all the time.  (Even if she DOES get out of the situation in a non-confrontational sort of way.)  The IMDB thread discusses the possibility that it’s in there for plot development rather than solely as a character-defining moment.  (Read the rationale which involves watching for subtle facial cues here: IMDB).  I think this logic works but only for people who believe that every scene in a film should serve the sole purpose of moving action forward and don’t want to see Fargo abuse that rule of good screenplay writing.

The comedic prowess demonstrated by McDormand is fantastic to watch.  It’s always a pleasant surprise to see actors who are normally better known for their dramatic roles take a comedic spin.  In an AV Club interview, film director and ex-headwriter of Saturday Night Live Adam McKay (Anchorman, Stepbrothers) comments on McDormand’s unique comic gift (I’ve included a few of the lead-in questions so that it makes sense):

AVC: SNL was a master class in taking anybody who walked in the door and putting them into comic situations.

AM: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I actually went through it and didn’t put it together. We got to see person after person, and we learned that the best hosts were the people like Steve Forbes and Mayor Giuliani and athletes and super good-looking dudes and high-status people. And then great actors: Julianne Moore was a great host, and Steve Buscemi. So you generally start to see rules for who was good, and who was exciting to work for, and who was meaty.

AVC: Julianne Moore and Richard Jenkins, who you mentioned earlier, have both had small but memorable roles in Coen brothers movies. It takes a real level of skill to hold that heightened pitch for an entire movie.

AM: It’s true, isn’t it?

AVC: They can hit levels even a lot of dramatic actors can’t really get at.

AM: It’s really a kind of fine line, operating in a state of slightly tweaked satirical drama. Frances McDormand is the master of it. It’s like half a percentage heightened. It’s a really kind of weird level that they always have in their movies, and you’re absolutely right, there’s few people that can pull it off.

Here’s “the hooker scene” from Fargo.  McDormand is even riveting as the straight man.

There was an attempt to bring the Marge Gunderson character to the small screen in a Fargo television series.  Edie Falco, a fine choice, was to play our hero.  Unfortunately, it got shit-canned before it even made it past the ‘pilot’ stage.  Ah well.  It does make me wonder about the entertainment potential of Marge being paired with some other famous teevee detectives.  Here, in no particular order, are some television cops it’d be fun to see her paired up with:

Dead-eye Gunderson!

–Either of the SVU detectives.  You know, if you read this blog regularly, that I think Det. Benson is shit hot.  So, that’s a no-brainer.  But, it’d be fun to see Gunderson opposite Christopher Meloni’s Elliot Stabler as well.  The golly-gee and the facepuncher.  That’s a dynamite good cop/bad cop scenario.  Heck, it’d even be fun to see her with Ice-T.

–Batman.  Because I’m a nerd.

–Vic Mackey from The Shield.  What would Marge do with herself?  Surrounded by anti-heroes.

–Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison character from Prime Suspect.  Helen Mirren is ALSO shit hot.

Miami Vice’s Sonny Crockett…Marge could move to sunny Florida!

Any of these team-ups would work for me.  But, I’d like the series to be written by Greg Rucka (of Batwoman and Queen and Country comic-book fame) and I’d like it to be produced by HBO and Alan Ball.  Dynamite!

Here’s a picture that MUST be from the promotional period of Burn After Reading, another Coen brothers film featuring an award-worthy McDormand performance.  (Tilda Swinton co-stars).  It’s also hugely underrated as a comedy.  So, if you haven’t seen it, do watch it.  Especially if you enjoy McDormand in black comedy.

Yes, Tilda Swinton, I will marry you!  Are they on a yacht?


Filed under Characters, comedy, Movies

A Man of Letters

When it comes to cultural satire, it seems you can’t shake a stick today without hitting a ‘prankster’.  Whether that pranking comes in the form of phone calls, fake documentaries, ‘gotcha’ style interviews,  (not in the dumb Sarah Palin way, but the cheeky Borat way), or fake newspapers, it’s all about making fun of this stupid society that we live in…or as The Onion cleverly put it in their amazingly funny atlas– Our Dumb World.  The prankster satirist’s premise is typically this:  Come off as completely sincere in your inane questions or statements and you can get the subject to fall into your trap, hopefully exposing THEIR idiocy by fooling them with YOUR idiocy.  A sort of  “Come hither, moron”.

One of the first innovators of this satirical styling,  in my pop-cultural lifetime anyway, was Don Novello.  You may know him better as his alter ego, the hip and supremely chilled priest and editor of The Vatican Enquirer, Father Guido Sarducci.

The so fat...when he sits around the Vatican...

Long before he worked, in that guise– as a regular on SNL’s Weekend Update segment– he was just a regular old stand-up and satirist.  One of his projects was a book that my Dad, a humor enthusiast,  gave me for a birthday.  The book was called The  Lazlo Letters. I was about twelve or thirteen and was skeptical of this text with its late seventies and early eighties references and faded cover.  I figured that he probably found it at a used book store and assumed I would be interested because I was all into SNL at the time.  (It was the Phil Hartman years, after all).  He was one for weird gifts–though they always came wrapped in fun and exciting superhero paper.  One time, he gave me a brush that the head came off of to reveal a hardened plastic shiv.  Like this:

Hand over my money? OK...let me just...brush my hair first...Ha! Have at thee, criminal!

I was 12.  What can I say?  He was protective.  To be fair, he was very encouraging of my interest in martial arts.  He bought me my sparring equipment, my kickpads, and even a hanging bag.  I think he got the brush out of the back of a kung-fu magazine.

Anyway, back to the book. The Lazlo Letters actually wound up being a terrific present.   Thanks Dad!  Laughs from cover to cover.  And that’s today’s great thing:

142.  The Lazlo Letters by Don Novello

The Lazlo Letters was a collection of correspondences from Don Novello to famous people and corporations.  He wrote them in the guise of a character called Lazlo Toth.  (Laszlo Toth was actually the name of a deranged man who took a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Apparently, he proclaimed himself to be Jesus and then started battering the ‘His Mom’ part of the sculpture.  He was obviously the rebellious teenage Jesus.)  Novello’s Toth was more of a well-meaning consumer rights advocate and man of the people.  He wrote letters of compliments and complaints to businesses like Kentucky Fried Chicken and figures like Richard Nixon.

When he received an actual response, he’d print that too…but even if he didn’t, you could still get a giggle from the ridiculous contents of the letter and the knowledge that someone at the organization at which it was directed had actually held it in their hands and read it.

I'm a genius.

Why not have a look, this helpful website reprints some of the letters:  Sullivansfarms

I suggest clicking on the McDonald’s link at the top of the page and then perusing those bits of correspondence.  That should give you a taste.  Then, get the books, of course.  There are three volumes now.  There’s the original…then, there’s the follow-up Citizen Lazlo!, and the third–From Bush to Bush:  The Lazlo Toth Letters.

There’s something special about The Lazlo books.  I think that unlike prank calling shows like The Jerky Boys and Crank Yankers, The Lazlo books never seemed mean.  Just smart and silly.  First of all, Lazlo Toth’s targets were always deserving.  He never threw sucker punches. But maybe the likeablity also has something to do with the elegance of letter-writing.  The question of whether or not Novello would ever consider emailing Lazlo letters instead of sending them through the post came up in an interview and he responded with: “No I haven’t. But with email you don’t get the letterhead, you don’t get the sense of who sent it. Anyone could have written it. It all looks like the same thing.”  Not to over-romanticize the concept, but I think letter-writing is a lost art and that Novello values the tactile aspect of it.   Anyone can be an idiot on the Internet.  I’m doing it right now!  But, an actual typed or printed letter will elicit a different response.

The rest of that interview, which is a good read, can be found here:  thesneeze

In wrapping today’s great thing up, two bits of fun.  First of all, here’s the website for another letter-writing humorist.  The author messes with folks a bit more full-on then Lazlo does.  Though one might find it derivative of the Lazlo stuff, this guy gets a pass.  First of all, he’s Australian.  Secondly, the author is of a very different generation.  So, it’s unlikely that it’s a direct idea-swipe–unlike the Letters from a Nut books that came out a few years ago.  Seinfeld is more of Novello’s comedy class and will (or SHOULD) have been familiar with his work.  Now, I haven’t read the Nut series of books but I sort of don’t want to, on principle.  I’m loyal.  I don’t mean to Seinfeld-bash…but the guy, in promoting these books, never really seemed to comment on how similar it all was to the Lazlo projects…come on now…

Anyway, I think you’ll find that there’s some very funny stuff here:  27b/6

Secondly, here’s a recent appearance by Don Novello on The Colbert Report.  He’s in Fr. Sarducci mode.  It makes me feel good to know that he’s still out there being funny.  Additionally, he soooo looks like my Dad in this here clip.  Enjoy:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Filed under Characters, comedy, Literature, People

Cop Rocks

So, I pretty much watch at least one episode of the long running television show Law & Order:  SVU every day.  The program serves a duel purpose of entertaining me with its crime-of-the-hour type yarns AND distracting me from working on anything constructive.  Lord knows that there are enough episodes around that I could probably keep this up for a good year or two.  The show itself is a spin-off, of course, of the even longer running show, plain old Law & Order. I love the franchise (except for Criminal Intent…can’t get into it for some reason.)

I bet anybody who has read at least two entries on this blog would wager that today’s entry is being pecked out in celebration of the hotness that is Mariska Hargitay.  Well, you’re only half right.  I’m heartily looking forward to the day that I sit down and Google-image the heck out of sensitive yet capable Detective Benson.  But, my love for SVU goes far beyond just perving over Olivia.  I pretty much love the whole ensemble.  I love Easter Island-headed Christopher Meloni as Detective Stabler and the always earnest Captain Cragen as played by Dann Florek.  I love Tamara Tunie as M.E. Melinda Warner and I love Stephanie March’s Alexandra Cabot (though I miss Diane Neal’s Casey Novak), and yes, I even love you Ice-T!


Actually, my friend Kimie has come up with an ingenious drinking game for SVU involving Ice-T.  Every time someone says something that could be construed as racist and the camera pans to Detective Tutuola–who in turn throws up a squinty-eyed scowl–you take a drink.  You’ll be tanked by the time the focus shifts from the arrest to the court case.

But today’s prize goes to perhaps the most underappreciated of the squad:

125.  Richard Belzer as Det. John Munch

Belzer is awesome for a number of reasons.  His lefty conspiracy-theory enthusiast character–Detective John Munch– is, from what I can tell, just pretty much Richard Belzer playing himself.  His scenes on the program highlight a snarky but wise cop with great instincts.  His character is definitely the longest-running of those on SVU (if only because Detective Munch was actually born on an earlier show–Homicide:  Life on the Street).  Yet, Detective Munch hasn’t lost his ability to care about the victims or other squad members.  He’s just a guy you would want to know if you lived in that world.  And if you wanted to talk about the Illuminati with someone.

Here is more evidence that I have unearthed pointing to his awesomeness.

1.  He is the cousin of The Fonz (Henry Winkler).

2.  He resides in France part time  (I guess when he’s not shooting).  He clearly has good taste in cheese.

3.  He was a warm-up comic for SNL in the seventies.  In fact let’s look at some of his early stand-up, shall we?

I especially like that he’s sporting the same haircut Tom Cruise rocked in MI: 2. I think it looks better on Belzer, actually.

4.  De Niro is said to have studied him for King of Comedy.  I have never seen The King of Comedy.  (I know…for shame.)  But, that’s a pretty cool credit right there.  If I were ever the muse for a movie, that movie would be called The Queen of  Snacking and Procrastinating.

5.  He supports North Shore Animal League.  This is a pic of his one of his dogs.  Animal lovers are good people.  He even blogged against dog-fighting for Huffpost.  Link

Bebe--she's French.

6.  He’s a cancer survivor.

7.  As I mentioned earlier, Belzer has played Detective John Munch on nine different shows (on different networks even).  Munch has been on some of the coolest shows ever, including X-Files, Arrested Development, and The Wire.

8.  Belzer has featured on Sesame Street three times!  In season 38, he presented the word of the day–which was ‘lazy’.

His Muppet stuntman--no, seriously...

Here’s a little bit of SVU as interpreted by Sesame Street.  The Belzer Muppet is dead-on.

9.  Silver fox can rock a scarf!

Steal this look.

I only wish that we got TNT over here in the UK so that I could watch eight hours of Law & Order a day like my American friends get to.  Oh, USA, your streets truly are paved with gold.


Filed under Characters, comedy, People, TV

I Sat Through This Commercial Because of Vicki

Every once in a while, I like to profile a good advertisement here on the blog. After all, I do appreciate when people go through the bother of trying to create something worth watching when they sell their crap to me.  It’s nice when people put effort into something that would normally be odious.  This is one of those times.

121.  Orange’s Wicked Witch Ad

You know an ad campaign has done its job when there’s a Facebook group dedicated to it.  Actually, there’ s more than one dedicated to this commercial.  Impressive.

Before I show the ad, a bit of back story:  Orange is a cell-phone provider here in The UK.  They hatched a brilliant scheme/incentive to rope in new customers:  Sell an exclusive 2 for 1 deal on cinema tickets every Wednesday.  It’s called Orange Wednesday and if you text the word ‘film’ to Orange from your Orange mobile phone, they text you back a coupon code that your ticket booth will use to grant you a free ticket (with the purchase of one).  I use it all the time.  Paying half price for a movie ticket takes the sting away if the movie winds up being a rotten tomato.

Yes, these tickets look more like ones for a carnival ride and less like those used in modern multi-plexes, but Google Image is a harsh mistress sometimes, OK?

This particular commercial is a new entry into a canon of rather successful ‘2 for 1’ ads.  The series has had such an impact that The Guardian even wrote about the perceived success of the long-standing campaign.  Guardian article Brennan Brown, an American character actor, stars as Mr. Dresdan–a smooth talking producer of Hollywood’s worst films (it would seem).  The Mr. Dresdan ads always feature a sort of B-list celebrity that Mr. Dresden has suckered into starring in his awful Orange-product themed film.  They’ve had Steven Seagal, Emilio Estevez, Val Kilmer, Macauley Culkin, and…a real coup here…A-listers Sigourney Weaver and Anjelica Houston.

Brown is the one in the middle...a bit Kevin Spacey-esque, yes?

Let me show you a sample before I unveil today’s great thing.  This one stars Mena Suvari:

The ads are charming in a self-aware sort of way and sometimes the Hollywood satire is dead on.  Brennan Brown, I think you’ll agree, is a crucial component behind the success of this campaign.  He’s just a good actor who knows his way around a bit of comedy.  However, the campaign’s been going now for a good four years–at least–and whilst I’m in no hurry to see them ditch it entirely, today’s great thing is a fun new direction.

OK, enough preamble.  I hate it when people put my expectations too high.  Here’s the clip.

So cute and funny, yes?  I had a hell of a time trying to track down the names of the actresses in this spot.  The advertising trades care less about the talent and more about production houses–Fallon, a London agency, made this, by the way.  But, I believe Vicki is played by Catherine Steadman and the witch is Rachel Edwards, who was selected, partially, because she bears a resemblance to Margaret Hamilton (the original wicked witch).  The two work really well together.  I think my favorite bits are when the electricity shoots out of the witch’s fingertips after she’s smashed in the face with leaves.  I also like when Vicki suggests that the witch should “use a scoop”.

I hope we see a few more with this duo OR at the very least, similarly funny pairings of average citizens/iconic movie characters.  It’s a solid concept with room for growth.  I’d almost go as far as saying I’d watch these two in a sitcom…but we all know what happened with the Geico cavemen.


Filed under Characters, comedy, Movies

FYI–For Your Idolatry

Thank God for Youtube and Nick at Nite.  Though the television show Murphy Brown ended its 10 year run in the 90’s, you can still catch it on the web.  The cable channel,  home of old champions like Designing Women and The Cosby Show– for its part– had broadcast Murphy Brown for two years…thus allowing many viewers to snag it for broadcast on Youtube.  Mostly, it was episodes from season 1 to season 3 that I found–largely in three-part chunks.  MB was on from 1988-98 in its original run.  It was one of the few shows ever produced that truly deserved a decade long run.  (Yes I’m talking to you Two and a Half Men–stop the insanity and wrap it up now.)  There was so much to love about it:  the classy Motown-themed credits, (I owned this on cassette)–

school bus my Walkman every day...

–the running gags (one of my favorite’s being Murphy’s ever-changing lineup of weirdo secretaries), the topical scripts –but perhaps its greatest element of worth was today’s great thing.

116. The cast of Murphy Brown

Along with the cast of 30 Rock and Arrested Development, MB has one of the top ten sitcom ensembles ever assembled.  They were an unstoppable, fantastic, script-devouring team.

Much credit needs to go to Diane English, creator of the series.  First of all, she deserves accolades just for coming from Buffalo, NY.  Great Lakes girls unite!  She made it to adulthood, surviving snow-drifted winters and artery-busting local cuisine.  But, and of more pertinence to this blog entry, she fought hard to keep her vision intact.  The network, CBS, wanted Heather Locklear for the lead and didn’t like many of the other actors that we now know and love (or at least fondly and foggily remember).

The regulars were:

Murphy Brown (Teevee journalist extraordinaire)–Candice Bergen

Jim Dial (Lead anchorman)–Charles Kimbrough

Frank Fontana (Man-clown investigative reporter)–Joe Regalbutu

Corky Sherwood (Bubble-headed correspondent)–Faith Ford

Miles Silverberg (Nebbishy producer of FYI)–Grant Shaud (who in the Murphy Brown era had a name that was too samey samey to Grant Shaw from Melrose Place for his own good.)

Eldin Bernecky (Murphy’s full-time house painter)–Robert Pastorelli (who, died of a heroin overdose in 2004–sorry to harsh this love-in.)

Phil (of Phil’s bar)–Pat Corley (who died in 2006–again, sorry for the downer.)

Go team! Well...mostly Candice Bergen here...but still...Gooooo Team!

Every good ensemble needs a good captain and you couldn’t beat Candice Bergen.  She was hot, smart, and able to pass the punchline to another player if need be.  I loved her.  No, really, let me make this clear–here’s how much I loved Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown:  I loved Candice Bergen so much in this role that I’d spend a good half an hour with a curling iron and a can of hairspray trying to get my hair like hers.  Me!  With hairspray!!!  And a curling iron!!!  In grade school!

Also, I’d read any magazine that featured articles either Candice Bergen or the show in general.  I even read Good Housekeeping.  Good Housekeeping, people!  Could obsession sink any lower?

Here’s a clip from the show.  It’s nothing special–no better or worse than any other episode, really–but it is indicative of  cohesive the cast was and general overall quality.  Plus, you gain greater insight into how Murphy got her hair to do that thing.

Funnily, this is one of the only episodes to open with an actual ‘theme’ song.  Normally, they’d select an episode-appropriate Motown theme.  Superb!  Viewing some of these clips back on Youtube also makes me yearn for a proper newsmagazine show to watch.  FYI, the fictional news programme takes me back to the heyday of Nightline and 20/20.  I remember how in highschool they used to show us segments from 60 Minutes sometimes.  Watching 60 Minutes made me feel conscientious and more intelligent than I was.  I get no nourishment from the news anymore.  There’s no investigation leading to cold hard truth anymore…just manipulation meant to strengthen supposition.  Sigh…  Can anyone recommend something trustworthy AND watchable?

Watching the episodes back, you can certainly see the difference between today’s modern sitcom format and the one we used to laugh at in our youth.   Today’s laugh-trackless and highly improvised shoots give a greater sense of realism.  But, under our old standards, this was a ruthless comedy machine.  Even my more learned awareness of farce and story structure can’t fault these classic pickings.  Sure, I can see the format unfolding before my eyes.  And yes, sometimes, I can predict the second act entirely.  But, I love this bunch so much that it still works.

In addition to the regular cast members, the show treated the casting of guest stars with great diligence.  I mean can you beat Colleen Dewhurst and Darren McGavin as Murphy’s Mom and Dad.  The answer is ‘no’.  No you cannot.

Gave Murphy a Red Ryder BB Gun

Thinks Murphy is full of "stuff and nonsense".

Another boon to the cast’s solidity was the simple fact that the writers made the characters grow into more than just the stereotypes that they represented in the pilot.  Sure, Murphy was a feminist ball-breaker, Frank a good-guy womanizer, Jim a friendly blow-hard, Miles a worrywart, and Corky a ditzy blonde–but they evolved into more than that.  The writers let the relationships change over time–as they would in real life–and it made the show better for it.

Of course, I’m not the only one that obsessed.  Twenty years later, here’s an enjoyable little piece that CBS ran about Murphy Brown‘ s “china” anniversary.  Enjoy this cast reunion and ensemble love-in:

Maybe one day, when I give up on my ambitions to do anything besides watch television, I’ll buy the box-set.


Filed under Characters, comedy, People, TV