Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Wednesday

11

February 2015

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COMMENTS

Celebrity Apprentice Recap: Episode 7

Written by , Posted in Blog, Celebrity Apprentice

Trump did an online Q&A last week that explained the mass exodus of Team Infinity despite their five task winning streak. The motive was obvious. Scheduling. Does this change anything?

Not really. The whole thing was poorly handled. Trump could have fired two of them and brought back the other as part of the final four and still had his Geraldo/Leeza final. Vivica never had a chance.

I’m actually at Universal Studios as I write this, which makes the final task quite bizarre for me. Universal has hosted two infamous tasks. Rod Blagojevich had his communication blunders with the opening of Harry Potter World back in season three and Dee Snider commissioned the redundant cardboard cut outs during All-Stars.

This task seems a little less chaotic, though with some (expected) laziness from Johnny Damon and Brandi Glanville. If anything, their beer drinking, roller coasting riding antics showed the precise reason why they’re not in the finals. I don’t think I’d be too surprised if either one had done that if they’d made it to the end.

The teams for the final task are always awkward. It’s not really a team anymore. It’s a dictatorship. That’s why Lorenzo getting all pissed off about Geraldo changing everything doesn’t make sense. Lorenzo is there to help. That’s it.

We saw Debbie Gibson pull a similar, albeit more extreme stunt, when she wanted Clay Aiken to trust her cousin’s mural painting abilities. It’s not surprising that these D-list celebrities have big egos, but this one of the few times where it’s not exactly justifiable.

Who’s going to win the task and become the next Celebrity Apprentice? Geraldo. He’s got the money and Josh Grobin, who’s significantly more relevant than Olivia Newton John. Leeza might be able to beat his video, but probably not by a wide enough margin for it to matter.

I think Trump likes Leeza better, but the problem is that he doesn’t dislike Geraldo. The past two finals have been largely decided by Trump’s nepotism. Arensio Hall beat Clay Aiken because he was trying to get a new late night show and Trace Adkins beat Penn Jilette because Penn badmouthed Trump in his book (a good book by the way). If it was Leeza vs. basically any other contestant, this would be a no brainer.

The pre-show montages were kind of nice. I would have preferred more episode to them, especially given my embarrassingly thorough knowledge of the show (almost all my throwbacks are from memory, though I usually fact check them to be sure). The problem with the montages was that they reminded us that this season has been rather brief.

Is this a good thing? Maybe. I’m annoyed that they’ve burned through the episodes, but I’m not exactly sad we weren’t treated to more Kenya Moore. #BabiesLuvBuns was enough. Kevin Jonas’ reappearance doesn’t exactly make me wish he’d lasted longer either.

Between Kenya/Brandi, Kenya/Vivica, and the Geraldo/Ian/Kevin/Lorezo battle that never really was, there was plenty of potential for a great season. We didn’t really see any of those evolve into a Piers/Omarosa or a Joan/Annie. Which is a shame, but maybe that’s why they edited the episodes the way they did. It’s not like NBC has much else on the air.

So I’m calling it for Geraldo. Some big screw-up could change everything. Leeza isn’t fierce enough a competitor to stop him. She reminds me of Arsenio, who also coasted his way to the finals. Problem is, Geraldo is no Clay Aiken.

 

 

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Thursday

22

January 2015

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Did Parenthood Make the Right Decision to Come Back for Season 6?

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You may remember that Parenthood was the subject of my first pop culture article here on this website. I argued that the season five finale provided enough closure to avoid a sixth season entirely. Season five was a roller coaster of ups and downs, though mostly downs, with uneven storylines that seemed to lack direction. Given that this was once one of the best shows on network TV, I wanted to see it go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

NBC thought otherwise and renewed the show for a sixth season, cutting both the episode order and the actors’ salaries in the process. Now, it’s important to note that uneven episode counts have been with Parenthood since the beginning. No show in network television history has had a seasonal episode breakdown of 13, 22, 18, 15, 22, and 13, a feat more impressive when you consider that Parenthood didn’t air during Writer’s Strike.

Keeping this in mind, it makes some sense that Parenthood has struggled with inconsistent plotlines. It’s hard to get into a proper groove when your episode order is constantly switching (hiatuses also exacerbate this problem). Max certainly wouldn’t appreciate this.

To season six’s credit, it doesn’t really tarnish the show’s legacy at all. It also hasn’t been very good. Surprised? No.

The real problem was that the show wasn’t particularly committed to either wrapping everything up or making new storylines. We saw continuations with the Julia/Joel marital problems and Sarah/Hank will they won’t they. Neither one was particularly necessary.

Then there was the disaster of Chambers Academy, which could be seen from a mile away. Christina has slowly degenerated into the show’s worst character. She does nothing for full episodes at a time and then when she gets a storyline, it’s something way over the top which is never mentioned again once the next absurd thing comes into play.

Parenthood also decided that it might be a good idea to feature some of Hank’s extended family in what is being marketed as the show’s “farewell season.” This is obviously done because of budget cuts, but it also shows why coming back under these conditions was a terrible idea in the first place. Hank has been a godsend to the show since his introduction, but we didn’t need to see his ex-wife.

Other characters like Jasmine, have been reduced to mere cameos. The show also decided to rehash the “sell the Luncheonette” storyline for whatever reason. To save even more money, they might have just taken the old footage from season three and used it again. The real mistake with this plotline is that it kept Adam away from more interesting storylines.

Zeek’s health storyline is kind of unnecessary, but not too surprising. What else was he going to do? Camille fits under the Jasmine mold of “I’m here and that’s about it.” If Zeek dies, well then the show’s over anyway. Not much else to say.

In Parenthood’s prime, it was easily one of the best dramas on network TV, probably in all of TV. At its worst, it was frustrating. Seasons five and six have been pretty rough, which can lead one to rethink its overall legacy.

The truth is, network TV hasn’t had a ton of great dramas over the past few years, which means that Parenthood’s legacy won’t be terrible affected. It’s not better than Hannibal, The Good Wife, or Scandal, but it’s certainly better than much of it. Even at its worst.

Shows age. They usually get bad when they do. Parenthood did. But this was to be expected to a certain extent. With that in mind, season six doesn’t change much.

Was I wrong? Not really. The damage was just done already.

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Tuesday

20

January 2015

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Celebrity Apprentice Recap: Episode 4

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It looks like two tasks an episode is going to be the standard for this season. For those of us who have waited over a year for Celebrity Apprentice to return, this is kind of a bummer. Not every episode is worthy of two hours and this has often been a problem.

Shawn Johnson’s immediate departure was a complete no brainer ten minutes into the episode. Not stepping up is more often than not a bigger death sentence than being project manager and losing. Jamie Anderson might not have gotten the can if she was a halfway competent boardroom player. Gary Busey survived many boardrooms and only about 80% of that can be credited to being good television.

Her excuse was stupid as well. Who among the contestants was “fit” for a Nordstrom’s task? Vivica A. Fox certainly wasn’t. Kenya looked comfortable as PM, but her qualifications are hardly better than an Olympic gymnast, putting aside the fact that Johnson’s career doesn’t require her to wear shoes. So Johnson’s termination is hardly a surprise to anyone.

Athletes are historically terrible at Celebrity Apprentice. Johnny Damon has a win, but it was against a fellow athlete (Anderson). Furthermore, they’re boring. Jose Canseco was the only one in the history of the show to display true flare, but he had to leave to be with his dying father. Lennox Lewis wasn’t exactly a dynamic player, but his partnership with Piers Morgan made for great TV. No one will miss Shawn. Flying under the radar doesn’t work. Unless you’re Sig Hansen.

Lorenzo Lamas’ firing was tragic because he’d actually blossomed into a decent player. He’s shown ample character for a complete has been and appears to be a good guy. I’m not sure I can completely blame him for the loss either.

This is a downside of not having one task per episode. Under the usual format, we get to see the teams meet with the executives. Which is usually boring, but it would have shown us how risqué the Chock Full of Nuts people wanted their viral videos to be. If I were Lorenzo, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought to do something as inappropriate as having two Real Housewives rolls around in bed together.

Which is why Lorenzo probably would have survived. He could’ve served Sig or Kate Gosselin up on a silver platter to Trump. Hansen appears to be a nice guy, but he’s boring and has a limited skill set. He also hasn’t been a project manager. It’s hard to believe Trump would have kept him over the Lamas, who by all indications did a decent job.

This wasn’t a particularly interesting episode, except for Kenya’s quip about Brandi’s marital embarrassments. A quip which will probably cost her in Trump’s eyes down the road. Both boardrooms were fairly obvious right from the get go.

So let’s turn our attention to this question. Who can beat Geraldo Rivera? The man displays a Piers Morgan like dominance over his teammates, but also an Aubrey O’Day desire to control the entire creative process. Being a journalist and not a member of the Pussycat Dolls should help him look more like the former to Trump.

My answer to this question in the beginning was simple. Geraldo’s biggest enemy was himself. Domineering contestants self-destruct. But now Geraldo is dug in. He’s 2-0 and is practically guaranteed to make the final four. Sig needs to be PM, probably next week, before Geraldo is even eligible to do it again. Even then, he can survive a loss if he doesn’t completely implode. I wouldn’t necessarily rule that out either.

Vivica is good. Kenya is good. Ian is good. Kate is probably better than anyone wants to admit, but the fact that no one seems to like her is a huge problem. Brandi will likely face off against Sig in the first task next week if the cards fall the way they’re supposed to.

If I had to make a final four prediction now, I’d say it’s going to be Geraldo, Ian, Vivica, and Leeza based on records and Trump’s nepotism. I wouldn’t necessarily say Leeza is all that deserving, but she’s got a win and Trump likes her more than most of the contenders. Kenya’s battles with Brandi are cute, but Trump isn’t going to reward that sort of behavior with a final four appearance. As we saw with Kevin Jonas, things can change, but I feel comfortable with this prediction.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge Joan Rivers’ final appearance on the show. I wrote a Celebrity Apprentice centered tribute to her shortly after her death that you might find interesting. Rivers saved what was a pretty weak season two cast and had continued to entertain in her appearances as a boardroom advisor. She’ll be missed mostly for her actual comedy work, but also for Celebrity Apprentice, at least in my mind.

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Tuesday

13

January 2015

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Celebrity Apprentice Recap: Episode 3

Written by , Posted in Celebrity Apprentice, Pop Culture

Before we tackle part one of this episode, which once again featured two tasks, I thought I would clarify that Trump was wrong in saying that allowing the Project Managers to keep their own money had “never been done before.” This was also done in the fifth task of season 3, which featured John Rich against Marlee Matlin, arguably the two most impressive fundraisers in the show’s history. More on that later.

I tweeted last night that Jamie Anderson might be the worst player in Celebrity Apprentice history and having slept on that, I still find that to be the case. Comic relief contestants like Gary Busey, Rod Blagojevich, and Dennis Rodman all drew the ire of their teams time and time again, but that was the singular least impressive Boardroom showing in Celeb Apprentice history, potentially of all time. You’d have to go back all the way to season one, where Omarosa knocked off a few of the women to find comparable instances.

Jamie made three horrendous mistakes. She admitted early on that she was bullied into the concept that she didn’t quite believe in. More importantly, she didn’t set anyone up to take the fall. This was problem one.

Problem two was that she was completely indecisive in the boardroom. Her team was chaotic in deciding who to set up for the fall. Kate, Brandi, and Kenya were all targets. Jamie could have made a case to plea for any of their firings and probably could have knocked off Kate or Brandi. Kenya would have been tough considering she’s the only competent player of these four.

Had Jamie picked a target, maybe she could have survived. She could have even defended bringing Kate and Kenya back as Kenya was responsible for the loss and Kate is disliked. But then she admitted she made a mistake. Then she tried to see if Trump would bring Brandi back. It was over for her before that, but this was just embarrassing. LaToya Jackson made a similar mistake during All-Stars in not bringing back Omarosa, but at least she put up a fight.

Jamie? No, there was no fight here. After years of this show, it’s clear that certain contestants come into the game knowing how it’s played. Jamie wasn’t one of them. She made nearly every basic mistake in the book and this was no surprise.

Let’s go back to the money predicament. Geraldo and Ian collectively raised close to $600,000, a figure that Trump later raised to that exact sum. Jon Rich and Marlee Matlin back in Celeb Apprentice 3 raised over $1,600,000. Big difference, right?

It can be easy to forget that the whole “winning team gets all the money” is highly problematic when you’re hitting your big donors up. Especially when you’re a D list celebrity like Ian Ziering, who probably doesn’t have many rich friends. His charity, The EB Medical Research Foundation, needs that money. The person who gave the $165,000 check probably had ties to that cause. It would have been pretty awkward had the money gone to Geraldo.

We saw this in Celeb Apprentice 5, where Patricia Velasquez lost her $126,962 to Paul Teutul Sr. In that season’s finale, she tried to explain to Trump that a school couldn’t be built because her donors spent their money only to see it go to a different charity. That was awkward for many reasons and the truth of the matter is, these are the rules.

But the way they framed the narrative with Ian’s emotional plea would’ve made it difficult to see his money go to Geraldo. While Trump (as usual) exaggerated the significance of his decision to allow them to keep their money, it was the right call. This show is mostly about entertainment, but it’s nice to see them act like human beings every once in awhile.

Fundraising tasks aren’t very interesting. It’s fun to watch the people who barely raise any money look awkward, unless it’s Ian trying to get Terrell Owens to do something. Despite making close to $70 million in the NFL not counting endorsements, Owens is broke. It’s no surprise he has no rich friends.

The show usually adds some sort of contest element to the task to get the participants to actually care about their product to raise some extra cash. That’s rarely a difference maker. Ironically, it would have been the case here. I’m not really sure if there was a single element to this task besides selling, which is unusual.

It’s rare that the two weakest players in the game get fired consecutively. Trump made the right calls. Athletes have rarely made for interesting contestants on this show. Damon is just as boring, though not entirely incompetent. He made for a decent PM, albeit one steamrolled by Geraldo.

If I had to pick the final four now, I’d go with Geraldo, Ian, Kenya, and Leeza, though I fully expect at least two of them to screw things up for themselves. Leeza is a dark horse, but one that Trump likes. Sig Hansen looks to have most of Paul Teutul’s negative traits in that he’s quiet and awkward, but also doesn’t have the large Rolodex. He could be a dark horse, Jesse James type sleeper candidate, but that’s also because there are far worse contestants still on the show.

Brandi’s meltdowns resemble NeNe Leakes’ too much for me to care. Leakes quit. I imagine Brandi might as well. This is a weird season without any overly dominant players aside from Geraldo, who’s too bold for his own good. But we get to see Joan Rivers next week! I miss her.

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Monday

5

January 2015

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COMMENTS

Celebrity Apprentice Recap: Episode One

Written by , Posted in Blog, Celebrity Apprentice

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Celebrity Apprentice All-Star. Which means it’s been three years since we were introduced to an entirely new cast of D list “celebrities” to participate in Donald Trump’s faux reality competition. With stars like Kevin Jonas, Gilbert Gottfried, Shawn Johnson, and Terrell Owens on board, this season looks to be a strong one for the venerable rigged contest.

First episodes are always more about the contestants than the task itself, which makes fundraising challenges the perfect type to start with. It’s important to note that at no point was pie making a central focus of the task. The money is the only thing that matters.

Over the years, we’ve seen Trump and the show itself try to circumvent the fact that the battle of the rolodex doesn’t exactly make for suspenseful television. The past two seasons have featured project managers Paul Teutul Sr. and Trace Adkins bring in such large donations that they barely cared about the task itself at all.

This is where naivety can really come to bite you in the ass. It was pretty clear about thirty-five minutes into the two hour show that not only would the women lose, but that Keisha Knight Pulliam would be the one to go. What was unusual was how blatant Piers Morgan was in essentially telling her that social media didn’t matter at all. Not very Celebrity Apprentice-like to be upfront about it being all about the big money.

Starting off with a money challenge also shows the audience who the real players are right off the bat. It’s an unwritten rule that the PM has to pull most of the weight in a money challenge since his/her team is the only beneficiary of the money that people are presumably saving for themselves. Lorenzo Lamas isn’t going to hit his mother up for two hundred dollars if it’s going to Geraldo Rivera. Surviving a task like this is all about bringing in enough to not draw attention without wasting any of your own high rollers.

The task was pretty straight forward. No one expected Pulliam to beat Rivera. The boardroom was a little more interesting than expected. The Rivera/Jonas dynamic is one to watch out for, especially when Rivera is no longer PM next week. But there was a ton of potential for a Pulliam battle with Kate Gosselin, who had the weirdest boardroom rants since Lou Ferrigno and his 110%.

Raising chump change on a money task when you’re the project manager gets you fired plain and simple. But Gosselin could have been taken down by a savvy player like Omarosa. Problem was that Pulliam was boring. Gosselin had a chance to sink her own ship, but she’s entertaining and that’s what matters. There’s a reason why the show keeps people like Gary Busey, Dennis Rodman, and Rod Blagojevich around as long as humanly possible. They make for good TV.

It’s hard to see who the real frontrunners will be moving forward. Rivera’s attitude doesn’t seem like it will help him in the long haul. He looks destined for more of a Gene Simmons type tenure. Jonas is the most complete package of any of the contestants. He’s outspoken and has a lot of money. Johnny Damon could be a darkhorse, but the men don’t appear to have a ton of juggernauts on their team. It remains to be seen whether Sig Hansen will resemble Paul Teutul or Jesse James in terms of usefulness.

The women’s team is complicated. With two Real Housewives, two Olympic Gold Medalists, and two has-been TV personalities weighing down the team with contestants who have neither star power nor rich backers, Team Infinity doesn’t look very strong.

I don’t think the money will flow quite like it has without a deep roster of money laden celebrities. But the personalities are certainly there. Gottfried delivered right off the bat, looking like savvier Adam Carolla. Snowboarder Jamie Anderson showed charisma and personality. Even Gosselin was surprisingly likable until she started rambling in the boardroom. It should be a very exciting year for The Celebrity Apprentice.

Recaps will continue every Monday throughout the season. The best way to insure you never miss a post is to subscribe to ianthomasmalone.com or to like my Facebook page. Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday

17

December 2014

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Ranking The Office Christmas Episodes

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While Christmas episodes are common for many TV shows, there aren’t too many that have them as seasonal mainstays. Perhaps it’s especially appropriate considering the original UK series ended with a Christmas Special. Christmas at Dunder Mifflin represented a time for humor, plenty of feels, and an excuse to congregate under the mistletoe, while usually drunk off of vodka or beet wine.

This list ranks the seven Christmas episodes. Note seasons one and four did not have Christmas themed episodes, as one was only six episodes and four was during the Writer’s Strike. As with all of these sorts of lists, the rankings are somewhat subjective. I encourage you to debate my findings in the comment section if you disagree.

  1. “Christmas Wishes” (Season 8)

Surprise, surprise! “Christmas Wishes” was actually a high point in an otherwise terrible season, but it pales in comparison to most of the other Christmas episodes. The Jim/Dwight plotline deserves credit for putting a new spin on a tired gag, but ultimately the Erin/Andy mess drags the episode down.

It’s easy to forget how much of the show’s later seasons were tied up in the Andy/Erin romance, which was never as interesting as the show wanted it to be (it’s also featured prominently in “Secret Santa” and “Dwight Christmas,” despite the latter’s lack of Andy). This is an entertaining episode, but it’s easy to see why it’s at the bottom of the list.

  1. “Moroccan Christmas” (Season 5)

“Moroccan Christmas” is another Christmas episode that doesn’t get much of its laughs from its A plot. Michael’s attempted intervention for Meredith wasn’t as funny as it could’ve been and probably should have been relegated to a different episode. Phyllis seems somewhat uncharacteristically mean in this episode, though as “Secret Santa” also shows that this tended to happen in isolated cases.

Dwight’s unicorn toy plotline provides the laughs from a storyline perspective. This episode is fueled by superb Kevin and Creed lines and also from Michael’s attempt to invent new mixed drinks such as the orange vod-jus-ka. Depending on how you feel about Andy, his embarrassing moments are also quite entertaining.

  1. “Classy Christmas” (Season 7)

Being hour-long episodes, “Classy Christmas” and “A Benihana Christmas” are somewhat difficult to place as it’s harder to compare them to the regular length episodes. “Classy Christmas” is light on laughs as it focuses primarily on the return of Holly. As her return signaled the beginning of the end for Michael, this is certainly understandable.

It’s effective in its mission to tug at the heartstrings. The Jim/Dwight dynamic is hilarious while the Daryl subplot falls flat. Ultimately there’s enough here to like, but not as much to love. Besides Jim freaking out in the parking lot as he anticipates a mass snowballing from Dwight of course.

  1. “Secret Santa” (Season 6)

This might be the best episode of the Michael and Jim as co-manager era, depending on how you feel about the morality of “Scott’s Tots.” Michael’s reaction to Phyllis as Jesus is Michael at his best. Angela supporting the presence of Jesus at the party was also a great subtle gag.

The episode also does a great job of showcasing some of Dwight’s subtleties. He’s not sparring with Jim or acting especially crazy, but he’s entertaining nonetheless. Phyllis threatening to bring Bob Vance into the equation was also hysterical. The big news of the sale of Dunder Mifflin was a nice touch and didn’t take away from the jokes at all.

  1. “A Benihana Christmas” (Season 3) 

The other Christmas episode to feature Michael feeling sad about a woman is also the other double length episode. This episode is also the first to really showcase Andy’s true character to someone other than Jim and Karen (which isn’t always a good thing). Jim and Pam pull off one of the most memorable Dwight pranks, which was surprising since Jim was dating Karen at the time.

The Jim/Pam tension along with Michael’s somber tone had a lot of potential to derail the laughs. But they’re pretty consistent through the extended episode. The highlight is without a doubt when Michael marks his date with a sharpie to tell her apart from her friend.

  1. “Dwight Christmas” (Season 9)20t49ix

This is the pick I’m going to get the most slack for without a doubt. While the show took a dive after Michael left, season 9 had quite a few standout episodes. But with the exception of the finale, none were as memorable as “Dwight Christmas.”

This episode serves as both a tribute to past Christmas episodes and a reminder as to why these were so cherished in the first place. Dwight’s “traditional” family Christmas was hilarious and the Jim/Pam moments were their highpoint in an otherwise shaky season for the couple. Daryl also shines as he drunkenly broods over Jim’s apparent neglect with regards to the Philadelphia sports job.

  1. “Christmas Party” (Season 2)

This one doesn’t need much explaining. Yankee swap is classic Michael as is his overspending on a gift coupled with his disdain for Phyllis’ homemade oven mitt. Creed’s old man coat rivals Kevin’s foot bath (a gift for himself) for best gift of the episode.

“Christmas Party” also features some of the best Jim/Pam moments and played a big part in their eventual courtship. This episode is more than just the best Christmas episode, it’s one of the best of the whole series. The only thing that could have made it better is if Dwight kept the teapot to use nasally in future episode.

So there are the rankings. Disagree with my order? Comment below. Since it’s the Holiday season, I figure I can get away with pointing out that my book, Five College Dialogues, makes a great gift. Cheers!

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Sunday

7

September 2014

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The Importance of Joan Rivers to The Celebrity Apprentice

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For the second time in less than a month, we’ve had to say farewell to a true comedy legend. Joan Rivers’ impact on entertainment is both profound and well documented. As such, I decided to do a tribute based more on her impact on my television guilty pleasure, The Celebrity Apprentice.

From top to bottom, it’s hard to argue that season two of Donald Trump’s faux business competition was its weakest. Neither team meshed particularly well with each other. The men had the argumentative Herschel Walker and Clint Black, the boring Brain McKnight, Jesse James, and Scott Hamilton, as well as the comedic, yet short lived Tom Green and Andrew Dice Clay. Green pales in comparison to other season’s joke contestants such as Gary Busey and Rod Blagojevich. Then there was Dennis Rodman, whose alcohol infused antics were funny for a little while until it became clear that the NBA Hall of Famer had a serious problem that needed to be addressed rather than laughed at.

The women weren’t much better. Joan along with her daughter Melissa, provided most of the team’s entertainment value. The team was compromised mostly of even less famous dead weight than the men. Claudia Jordan, Natalie Gulbis, and Tionne Watkins did absolutely nothing throughout their time of the show. Khloe Kardasian, who back in 2009 had yet to become a household name, was famously fired for taking a task off to deal with a DUI, which seems reasonable until you consider that contestants are frequently allowed to miss tasks for other engagements. Annie Duke filled the role as the season’s high roller, but her semi-celebrity status and bland personality made her far less exciting than other big money players. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Brande Roderick did nothing, but her status as one of the more memorable contestants goes to highlight the core problem with this season as a whole.

The Joan/Melissa Rivers dynamic is one that had never been done before on CA. Alliances have been made over the years, but we’ve never seen two family members participate at once. Since Trump has a fascination with the dated men vs. women mold, the two Rivers started off on the same team. This was fairly uneventful for the first part of the show, which is to be expected as the real drama needs time to develop. We saw the seed of a Joan/Annie feud planted in the second episode, but that was just a glimpse of what was to come.

While being on separate teams didn’t cause the drama that Trump would’ve liked, it did make for some exciting boardrooms. Joan or Melissa would often interject on the other’s behalf in confrontations, often to the chagrin of the boardroom advisors. Piers Morgan openly challenged the notion that Joan should defend her daughter, a question Trump was smart enough not to ask.

Joan provided the season’s most memorable moment when she chastised Annie and Brande for their tactic’s, which lead to Melissa’s firing shown here.

 

 

The two most important things to take away from this video are that Joan is a great mother and that she knows that this show is a joke and should be treated as such. Her line “I don’t want to hear this charity nonsense” seems foolish when you consider that the show’s prize is $250,000 to the winner’s charity plus the hundreds of thousands raised throughout the show. But that’s just the surface level of what was at stake here.

Joan showed character in thwarting Brande’s sympathetic stance. But she was right in assessing that the show is essentially an extended 15 minutes of fame for the bulk of the cast. She had arguably the strongest ties to her charity than any of the other contestant, having served on the board of directors for God’s Love We Deliver since 1994, but she knew that the game, like anything else, should be played with class. And when class wasn’t shown to her daughter, who had her fair share of tirades, she walked out with her. That’s what you do.

Of course she came back to win and showcase her charity to millions of people who may not otherwise know their great work. It’s not hard to imagine what that season would have been like without her. It was an uneventful season filled with boring and unlikable “celebrities.” Except for Joan, who came out winning for a whole number of reasons.

Rivers made a career of calling things as she saw them, but what made her special was that she could do that with a sense of class and human decency. Her victory on Celebrity Apprentice wouldn’t crack the top 100 of her career accomplishments, but that goes to show you what an extraordinary woman she was. You wouldn’t be able to say the same about Piers Morgan or Arsenio Hall, who owe their post CA success to Trump’s rigged nepotistic nonsense. She will be missed for many reasons, but I’ll remember her most fondly for “poker players are trash darling, trash.”

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Sunday

31

August 2014

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The 2014 Summer TV Season Wrap Up

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A few weeks ago, I found myself in a state of disappointment over the summer TV season, a mentality that dissipated a bit as summer wore on. New shows such as Extant, Satisfaction, Rush, Tyrant, Halt and Catch Fire, The Last Ship, The Strain, Manhattan, You’re the Worst, and Married certainly weren’t bombs, but it’s hard to call any of them must see television either. They join sophomore offerings Ray Donovan, Under the Dome, Defiance, Maron, Graceland, and Hemlock Grove as shows that have niche audiences that don’t really draw the same wider excitement that older summer shows like Six Feet Under, Rescue Me, Entourage, Nip/Tuck used to have. This could be largest offering of ho hum shows in summer TV history.

Which leaves a few standout shows that for the most part existed either on the front or back end of the TV season. Louie and Orange is the New Black were long awaited gems, but they were also done before June was even halfway over. For all that was on in July, Rectify and Masters of Sex were the only universally praised shows airing new episodes. The fact that they air on Saturday and Sunday doesn’t do much to help the lull of must see summer television. Then there are Royal Pains, Falling Skies, Suits, and Covert Affairs, which have devoted fan bases, but aren’t really turning heads with innovation or ratings. True Blood is the sole veteran show to bid farewell and followed in the footsteps of Burn Notice and Dexter in supplying plenty of reasons for why its departure should be celebrated and not mourned.

The new shows mentioned all share in common that they exist in the middle ground between celebrated and irrelevant. The aggregate for the positive say they’re entertaining while the common complaint from the detractors is that they’re meh. Then there’s The Leftovers, which might have a similar Metacritic rating but doesn’t belong with the aforementioned rookies as it was easily the most polarizing show of the summer season. Damon Lindelof’s first show since Lost deserves most of its criticism, but I can’t say that I regret watching the grim yet sporadically satisfying post Rapture drama.

August began to change my opinion of the season as a whole. Outlander and The Knick are exactly what the summer season needed. Both shows are visually stunning, well acted historical dramas that haven’t proved they belong among TV ‘s best yet, but show far more potential than any of the other freshman shows. Garfunkel and Oates is in a similar position, which isn’t a big deal as we tend to forget that many shows don’t hit their stride in their first season anyway. The potential is there and it’s appreciated. It’s also worth noting that as neither have finished their runs, this could change sooner rather than later.

So what to make of the 2014 summer season? There was plenty to watch and if you tried all the new shows, chances are you liked at least one or two. How memorable they’ll be moving forward is another story.

I can’t think of another summer season that saw so many rookie shows wind up in the no man’s land between good and great. The rise of Netflix makes that territory less appealing as there’s no reason to watch something that you aren’t completely into with so many other choices at your disposal. If even just one or two had separated themselves from the pack, we’d be looking at a very strong summer season. Perhaps we still are. But that will vary from person to person when it could’ve been a consensus.

Opinions of the 2014 summer TV season remain largely subjective. But there’s something to be said for all the failed potential. TV’s in need of a few new headlining must see programs and we didn’t really get that this summer. But if you look at what we did get, you see that it could’ve been one for the ages. History could be kinder to it should any of those shows step up their game, but for now it was a puzzling year marred by odd scheduling and missed opportunities.

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May 2014

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Community is Gone and That’s Okay

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The rise in original programming from cable and online providers has stripped May Upfront’s of much of its significance. It’s hard to get excited for fall TV when summer TV has gotten so good. The Upfront’s still serve as a time of mourning for the shows that won’t be returning next season. Cancellations aren’t as noteworthy as they used to be because the bar has been lowered and any show that achieves any amount of buzz typically gets more time to prove itself than it might have just a few years ago.

Looking at it that way, the cancellation of Community really isn’t that sad. This was a show that never belonged on network TV in the first place and yet the fans kept it alive for five seasons. It might have fallen short of the #sixseasonsandamovie campaign that played a big part in NBC’s decision to keep it around, but I don’t see failure in that.

There are a couple important factors working against Community’s favor. The fact that the show is produced by Sony meant that NBC wasn’t getting a big slice on the revenue from other streams. The show was a big hit on Hulu, but that’s something that doesn’t mean all that much since Sony and NBC would have to share the not as important as you’d think earnings brought in by the online service. Once its ratings started to slip, the show was in serious trouble.

The end of season’s three and four brought disaster that also could have sunk the show. Season three saw the departure of creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. While that’s fairly common with older shows as the creators leave to form new shows, the fact that he left on bad terms and the show wasn’t doing very well was more than concerning. Season four saw the departure of Chevy Chase as well as the announcement that Donald Glover would leave just a few episodes into season five. With both ratings and critical acclaim dwindling with a subpar season four, it is somewhat surprising that the show was even renewed at all.

Which is what makes its cancellation sour. Harmon came back for season five and it looked like Community was in the clear to get its six seasons (though the movie was always a tremendous longshot). The show did lose half a point in the 18-49 demo, which might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. This show should never have made it to season five in the first place, which propelled the aspirations to get to season six.

Creatively, it looks like the show made its peace this season. Glover’s farewell should go down as one of the most touching cast departures of all time. The show handled the decimation of the study group admirably and made up for season four. The saving of Greendale was significant because it represented the long shot that was this show to begin with.

An immediate revival on a different network looks very unlikely. People have cited Netflix and USA’s revivals of Arrested Development and Cougar Town without considering the fact that both were saved to bring attention to shifts in programming for both networks, a point that has now been accomplished. This is a point that doomed Happy Endings, which was in a better position having only aired three seasons before ABC gave it the axe. Community is an expensive show produced by a company that doesn’t own any channels of its own. There’s little reason for any network to pick it up.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve seen the last of Community. HBO’s recent revival of The Comeback shows that literally anything in possible. The Comeback had a small cult following and lasted one season nine years ago. All this means for Community is that if it came back, it would not be the most farfetched revival ever. But that day may never come and if it does it might look like Arrested Development’s terrible season four (or Community’s season four for that matter). I for one am not a big fan of revivals.

Community’s story is a beautiful tale of fan devotion, which set some important precedents for network TV. Five seasons is a very good run for a show that faced impeding doom more than once. Whether or not it comes back ten years down the road will do little to change its legacy. #sixseasonsandamovie was an idea. Five seasons is a reality and a pretty good one at that.

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May 2014

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Hannibal, The Good Wife, and Redefining the Network Procedural

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The ever-changing landscape of TV has blurred the lines between content commonly found on network TV and that which you would find on cable. It’s easy to say that network TV has the procedurals and cable focuses on more serialized works and while that’s accurate in a general sense, we’re seeing a shift in concepts that companies are willing to embrace.

This shift comes from both sides and brings us much closer to a middle ground between plot and character focus. Cable networks like USA and TNT feature quirkier characters/dialogue that you wouldn’t necessarily find on CSI, but a show like Graceland still looks aesthetically a lot more like 24 than it does The Wire. That’s not a bad thing either. Few shows can pull off a truly serialized concept like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, and delivering some resolution to the viewer and the end each hour has its benefits. As much as we embrace innovation in television, more traditional shows like NCIS and The Big Bang Theory still dominate the ratings.

While NCIS gets the ratings crown and Breaking Bad gets the Emmy and we can see the starch contrast that lead both these shows to their respective areas of excellence, there’s plenty of other ways to create a compelling TV show that combine the positive aspects of episodic procedurals with character based arcs that reward long time viewers.

This article focuses on Hannibal and The Good Wife, which are in my opinion the two best network TV dramas. Neither one is a ratings powerhouse, but the critics have heralded both as two of the most innovative network shows in a long time. Other than having fairly well known casts, these two don’t appear to have much in common on the surface level.

The Good Wife is a legal drama that’s aired on CBS for the past five seasons. Backed by producer Ridley Scott and boasting a cast that includes Emmy winners Julianna Marguiles, Archie Panjabi, and Christine Baranski, as well as Alan Cumming and until recently, Josh Charles, The Good Wife combines case of the week stories with strong character arcs that span several seasons. The Good Wife made itself unique in the rather saturated field of legal dramas by playing to its strengths. The show’s cast hits most of what they’re given out of the park and manage to balance the show’s large cast and even larger list of well known guest stars with each episode’s plot, which gets resolved each week even if there’s bigger question left looming.eli-alicia-and-marilyn

Hannibal is in a similar boat being a drama that works on so many levels that it’s hard to figure out who to credit with the show’s success. Creator/show runner Bryan Fuller has produced three of the most beloved cult shows of the new millennium with Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, and Pushing Daises deserves much of the credit for crafting a world based off a major film franchise that feels completely different than what we grew to love with Thomas Harris’ books and the film version Silence of the Lambs (and then grew to hate with the film Hannibal). Hannibal’s cast is exceptional as well with Mads Mikkelsen inhibiting a character made legendary by another actor. Five years ago it might have been hard to say that anyone could pull of Dr. Lecter after Anthony Hopkins made the role his but the Danish powerhouse made the character his own without betraying anything we love about the ruthless cannibalistic psychiatrist. Hannibal might have been a pretty good show even if Mikkelsen was its only commendable actor, but with a cast that includes Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, and Caroline Dhavernas, in plenty of scene-stealers that don’t even include Lecter, Hannibal is easily elevated to one of TV’s gems.

A big reason why both of these shows are successful is that the viewer knows that anything can happen while also knowing that some things will happen over the course of the hour. The viewer will get resolution regarding the killer Will Graham is hunting, but you don’t know what Dr. Lecter is up to. You know that there will be a legal case on The Good Wife, but you don’t know how that will affect the Florrick/Agos split from Lockhart/Gardner.

TV viewing is often a give and take relationship. The payoff for a show like Breaking Bad is more suspenseful, but you’ll have to wait a season to get it. The other side of the spectrum is Law & Order: SVU, which all but guarantees closure at the end of the hour. To quote The New Radicals, “you only get what you give.”

Which is why the middle ground is all the more appealing. Hannibal and The Good Wife throw you a bone every week without compromising the integrity of the show. You don’t really know if each episode will focus more on plot or character, but it’s going to be exciting and worth tuning in for. Predictability in that sense is certainly welcome.

While neither one of these shows are big ratings draws, they’re both fundamentally good for TV. Network TV will always try to deliver programming that gives viewers at least some semblance of satisfaction each week. That doesn’t mean we have to live in a world with a million NCIS and Law & Order clones (maybe just 500,000 of them). Hannibal and The Good Wife show that innovation and tradition aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have your cake and eat it too, just probably not if Dr. Lecter prepared it.

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