Jimmy Fallon – Blow Your Pants Off

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The last three years have seen Jimmy Fallon evolve his professional personality into quite possibly the most endearing in all of late night while pushing the format of the late night show by imbuing every facet of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with sincerity and a passion for making the best show he and his crew can possibly create. The sincerity of Fallon mixed with the knowledge and respect he has of music and the backing of the best band in late night, The Roots, are a perfect combination for the unique approach to comedic music on display throughout Blow Your Pants Off, Fallon’s first album in a decade.

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June 13, 2012 · 9:00 am

Lissie at Coachella

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Lissie’s set at this year’s Coachella was recorded and is now on the internet for all to see. As should be expected, she, and her band, were exceptional. They moved briskly through a set of songs from the Why You Runnin’ EP, Catching a Tiger, two new songs and their cover of Kid CuDi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” a setlist staple. During the set, Lissie shared that the band hopes to have a new album out in September. The two new songs, which I expect to be on the new album, were upbeat numbers that hewed closely to the vibe of songs like “In Sleep” (which had a fantastic live incarnation) and “When I’m Alone.” It is a promising taste of what is to come.

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“How I Met Your Mother” and its Strong Seventh Season

The eighth episode of How I Met Your Mother‘s seventh season, “Disaster Averted” aired Monday night, completing the first third of the season. As I watched “Disaster Averted” I found myself laughing as much as I have in the last few seasons, but, more importantly, I found myself feeling the joy that has been missing over the past two seasons. Seasons five and six had strong episodes for sure, but I can’t recall an arc, or string, of episodes that have been as strong both comedically and emotionally as this current run.

“Disaster Averted” was similar in many ways to an earlier episode from this season, “The Ducky Tie.” The two episodes played like two pieces of a whole. Both played with time and balanced multiple stories in ways that gave stakes and import to the current day situation in ways that added value to the season thus far and increased the expectations going forward. But, from my perspective, the season has done a splendid job of ensuring that each individual episode has been strong on its own then fitting it into the framework of the season at large. There are larger story arcs going on – the build to Barney’s wedding, Barney’s love triangle, Lily’s pregnancy – that are being handled well, largely because the individual episodes are working organically toward their resolution. Those steps are much different than how the show seemed to handle the arcs of the past two seasons.

Seasons five and six seemed to have a larger game in mind that simply utilized the episodes of the season as steps to that end. Of course every episode is a step toward an end, but the approach mostly undervalued the importance of the individual episodes within. HIMYM has always been a sitcom with a surprising amount of serialization (we still haven’t met the Mother from the show’s title, though the hints are a common thread found in each season). With the ending of Lost, creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays began getting a lot of questions about mythology and closure to their series and possible end dates and scenarios. It seemed as though the writing took those things too heavily into consideration expecting that the viewers wanted big, drawn out arcs and missing that the success of the early seasons was to be found in the strength of the episodes and the characters we had grown to know (the same reason Lost was successful for its entire run).

The strength in seasons five and six were in the strong character moments (look at the arcs of Marshall and Barney from last season) and season seven is working in the wheelhouse of those strengths. Ted has lost the insufferable nature that has plagued his character. He’s not whining about not being in love or struggling with a weird relationship (the worst part of season six) and he’s coping with where he is in a way that an adult should. He’s letting things happen as they may, though I’m really interesting to see where the undercurrent of his friendship with Robin will go. Marshall and Lily are excited about their baby and Marshall is in an interesting place professionally. We haven’t spent a lot of time with him there and I’m kind of glad. I’m not the biggest Martin Short fan and he became too comical the last time we saw him. Robin and Barney are both in relationships that seem doomed to fail based upon how little time we’re spending with their significant others and it’s more clear after the ending to “Disaster Averted.”

I’m feeling optimistic about the show. It’s getting incredible ratings and looks to be in strong place creatively. I’m hoping that the strength will continue and that we may actually meet the eponymous Mother by season’s end. There is definitely one season remaining, contractually, and I would love to see the series end before overstaying its welcome. It has consistently been one of my favorite shows on television, even through the frustrating moments, because there has always been a sense of optimism that permeates through the series as well as its ability to transcend shows of similar design. My faith has been restored that the show can end well and I would love for it to happen in a way that finds closure as well as satisfying many of the mysteries laid out (a little different than Lost in that we have seen hints of these stories through flashforwards, though technically flashbacks). There are about 40 episodes left ( to the end of season 8 ) to do that and for HIMYM to end in a way that allows it to leave its mark on television. I’ll be happy to have a tremendous season seven continue to play out in the meantime.

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“In Time” Reaction

In Time, the Justin Timberlake-starring sci-fi/action thriller is a movie with an interesting skeleton and several parts that are interesting on their own, though the movie as a whole never adds up to its parts. It is still a movie worth seeing if for no other reason than to finally see the character Timberlake plays and not think of him as being Justin Timberlake – something he hasn’t been able to do in any of his larger roles in the last two years. I’m not sure I buy him as an action star at this point, but he isn’t unconvincing either.

Here are the things I enjoyed about the movie:

  • Cillian Murphy is awesome in the movie. If there were one thing I wished there had been more background about, it was the history of or deeper detail about the role of the Timekeepers. Much like the fedora-bearing adjusters in The Adjustment Bureau, detail wouldn’t have ruined the mystery here. At any rate, Murphy is a badass and is perfectly cast here.
  • The key to casting Justin Timberlake from this movie forward should be to find a charismatic female sidekick/cohort to work alongside him. Timberlake is interesting enough on his own, but given the chance to work with Mila Kunis and Amanda Seyfried have served him well. A movie mainly comprised of Seyfried and Timberlake pulling bank heists and running around together would have been excellent. Timberlake has found great chemistry with women in strong roles and it creates an enjoyable atmosphere for the audience to be a part of.
  • The idea of the movie is interesting but too often got bogged down in trying to make certain the audience understood that there was no “money” in this world. As an example of the current disparity between the 1% and the 99%, the movie is excellently timed but does not trust the audience at all to put the pieces together. Had there been more pure action in place of exposition, the film could have had a shorter running time and been a tighter overall narrative. I’m certain there is a solid B+ movie in what was filmed, it just got watered down.
The film and the atmosphere it creates is excellent and more than worthy of seeing. The science fiction is fairly light and the action well-dispersed through its running time. There are rarely any stupid, bombastic CGI scenes and it allows the actors to be the ones to bear the weight of the film, which works in its favor, especially with a cast as strong as the one on display here. In the end, a shortened running time would have helped the movie, but there is enough that works, and works well, to keep the film afloat.

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Fringe – “Neither Here Nor There”

Fringe (FOX)

Is Season Four of Fringe beginning in the sideways reality of Lost‘s Sixth Season?

 

Short thoughts on the Season 4 premiere of Fringe follow.

Fringe begins its fourth season in a strange, and possibly unnecessary, place. (*Spoiler Alert from here forward for both Fringe and Lost*) Peter Bishop is gone. At the end of Season Three, Peter jumps into the doomsday device and bridges the two previously feuding universes. Much like Ryan McGee, I thought that the “bridge” Peter built actually merged the universes together. In reality what has happened is that the device has actually created a sort of crossroads where the two universes meet and the inhabitants can move between them. (Whether this is something everyone knows and doppelgängers will abound in either universe is yet to be seen. I’m guessing that only the Fringe teams will cross, though there may be later cases where people are “sneaking” through.) It’s a really interesting way to take the world structure, though the necessity of removing Peter Bishop is yet to be seen.

Bridging the two universes could make for an intriguing story for the entire season without Peter missing. Though he is flickering into and out of the picture, he is gone for all intents and purposes. No one remembers him at the FBI. The basic backstory is that Peter was still stolen by Walter, but he died in Reiden Lake instead of the Observer saving he and Walter. So, Walternate and the rest of that universe developed as we have seen, but this universe has been changed. Olivia is the cold character we met in the pilot episode, Astrid’s rapport with Walter is less loving and more professional and Walter is effectively crazy. The impact that Peter had on each of these people is gone and we are getting a theoretical glance at what the show would be without Joshua Jackson’s Peter. The episode is hampered by constant reminders in the dialogue of each character reminding each other that something weird is going on and there is something strangely missing from their lives.

As these people kept talking about what was missing from their lives and we are seeing flashes of Peter or seeing him in mirrors and televisions, I could not help but think that this is the sideways timeline from Lost. As time moves forward this season, Peter will be reintegrated into the show and the lives of the people of this show. As he is moved closer into being fully integrated, I expect that the characters will begin “flashing” and remembering the moments of their lives where Peter had the greatest effect. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same over-saturation and the quick cuts that Lost utilized.) Much like the final sequence in Lost, once all of the core group we know is aware of Peter’s existence, just as once everyone knew they were in the after-life following their time on the Island, they will then move on to the next stage of their lives. Ideally this will be the point at which the universes have found a way to work together.

I am wholly uncertain on the point of having the universes linked right now as well as whether the link will be broken when Peter returns. It will be important for the show to have a purpose in linking the universes as well as Peter being missing. If those two things can be purposefully explained, I will look back on the Season Three finale more favorably as well as having complete trust in the show going forward in what might be its final season. The speed with which the resolution of these threads comes will be important as well. Without a relatively quick resolution and without clear reasons for the decision to remove Peter, the incredible amount of goodwill the show has earned will evaporate quickly. Much like the impatience of viewers in the final season of Lost, the viewers of Fringe have come to expect smart, efficient storytelling that is free of grabs for viewers or stunts solely to create conversation. Purpose is important to both shows and their ongoing legacies. Spending too much time in Fringe‘s alternate reality could be a regrettable decision, but I’m expecting that it will pay off much like Lost‘s and play an important role in establishing the show as one of the great genre shows in television history.

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“The Magicians” Reaction

This morning I finished Lev Grossman’s 2009 novel The Magicians. At the end of the book, Quentin Coldwater, the protagonist of the story, is approximately the same as me, but the story begins when he is 17, preparing for college. Due to the amount of time that is covered in 400 pages, the story can lurch forward at times and cover huge swaths of ground in the matter of a couple of chapters. If The Magicians didn’t so clearly flesh out its characters or do such assured world-building, that could create major issues. But Grossman undoubtedly knew precisely what he wanted the world (worlds I suppose) to be and it prevents the story from ever faltering.

 

As I thought back about the book, I realized that the memories of my own college experience are similar to the way the story is told and my emotions and entire worldview were similar to Quentin’s and I have no doubt that the majority of the readers of the book felt the same way. Though the story infuses many, MANY fantasy elements – it is about magicians and a magicians college in upstate New York who desire to visit a mystical land known as Fillory – it never overwhelms the story and takes many cues from Tolkien and C.S. Lewis without directly biting from those influences. It’s an immersive and robust world, but realism permeates throughout. Though Quentin provides our point of view, his love interest, Alice, becomes the pulse that keeps the story human and unexpected. She goes through the gamut of emotions that Quentin tells himself he is feeling, but she does it almost always as a means of coping or in an attempt to help someone else.

 

The set piece that provides the climax of the story is unsurprisingly epic but is surprisingly full of twists and a set of ever-evolving possible resolutions. Callbacks of small bits and pieces are important to the story’s final act, though I have no doubt that the speed at which the story will be consumed will pose no problem for the majority of readers. The ending leaves an opening for a sequel without requiring one. It is a strong self-contained book that has an ending that is more positive than the chapters leading up to the end would lead one to expect, but it never forsakes the characters. Momentum is a large component of the novel and it is never lost from the time that Quentin chases a slip of paper into a garden until he looks out a window at his friends at the end. It’s a novel of nuanced and visceral moments in equal measure that has me on edge preparing to start the sequel.

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Marc Maron – “This Has to Be Funny” Review

 

Marc Maron is in the midst of a wave of success. On the heels of the popularity of his WTF podcast he has earned a deal to broadcast several episodes of the podcast on NPR and has scripted a pilot for development. Those familiar with Maron’s comedy know that the majority of his subject matter hinges on his psychological unease and things that do not go well in his life, leaving listeners to wonder what a new album could comprise if positive things are happening for Maron. That question is addressed in the intro, with Maron assuring his crowd that he is not happy or well and that he cannot handle the things that are going well. With that statement, any worries subsided and the album impressed with the way that Maron continues to explore the emotions that inform his daily life and the places his experiences went.

 

Early on, Marc Maron explores the relationship he has with his notebooks and why he doesn’t use Moleskines, his conversations he has with himself and his cats and the way his mother explained why she raised him the way she did – all with the emotional exploration that permeate every story he tells. These lead to the beautiful three-part centerpiece of the album of “Texting While Driving,” “The Creation Museum” and “A Situation In My Head.” These three stories work well to define the way that Maron seeks to empathize with every one of his listeners and find the shared emotional experience that keeps him from truly feeling alone. From there, the jokes are more riotous and not always as grand in exploration, but they’re involving from an emotional standpoint that differentiates Marc Maron from so many other comics.

 

Maron sounds like he is doing better on “This Has to Be Funny.” He is not nearly as dark as he was on his previous album, “Final Engagement,” and it lends itself better to repeated listens. Just like on his WTF podcast, the best moments are shared moments of emotional catharsis that ask to be listened to again as a way to feel like a part of something more than the darker inclinations that the mind tends to explore. Marc Maron has been fighting his personal demons for many years and it is finally sounding like he is happy and doing well compared with where he could have been. It has allowed him to create my favorite comedy album of the year without it feeling as though the listener has gone through the emotional ringer with him as his work has done in the past. “This Has To Be Funny” is an album bursting with emotion and laughter at the same time, the components of the best times in life and as a listener it is great to share in a positive time with Marc Maron.

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