Remember Nancy and her “It’s a Grind” coffee in “Weeds” seasons one through three? It bothered me so much. (I did my homework in the Lakewood “It’s a Grind” coffee shop every day during high school. It had cool jazz music and seemed above something as banal as product placement.) The coup de gras was Nancy visiting the Mexican mafia to talk about heroin distribution with her iced Moroccan mint green tea. What a giant discrepancy! Hilarious but unbelievable. I think it bothered me so much because I knew that a brand was being shoved down my throat and it was supposed to be without my knowledge. I started noticing other things in the shows I watched, other moments during which product placement actually interrupted story lines and cheapened my beloved television.
Since the onset of DVR, Netflix, Hulu and pirating, commercials have become more and more irrelevant. My father even laughs maniacally when fast-forwarding through commercials during prerecorded football games. It’s as if he knows he is beating the system — kicking irritating advertising companies in the face as it were. But this is America and if we have learned anything from living here, it’s that advertising companies are infinitely smarter than we are. With the jingles and the jangles and the funny little Doritos commercials, advertisers enter our consciousness and manipulate our ability to choose freely.
The “Mad Men” are now sneakier than they have ever been. In 2007, the top 10 primetime television shows had 26,000 product placements. Did you notice 26,000 product placements? I didn’t. And the numbers are quadruple that in cable television. Force-feeding the masses name brands hurts the writers too. The more money a company pays, the more prominently a product is placed within the story. Anyone remember a “7th Heaven” episode pretty much entirely about Oreo cookies? If that doesn’t hurt a writer’s artistic integrity, my name is Susan Lucci.
The advertising industry has learned to circumvent the writers and their principles by looking to people who have absolutely no scruples. Have you guessed? Let me give you a hint. It made the title “celebutante” possible. If you still haven’t gotten it then for shame! Where have you been since the fated day the Dutch invaded our television screens with their satanic reality television nonsense? Really. Advertisers claim that reality television is their savior. In fact it’s a two way street. Advertisers paid the entertainment industry $7.6 billion for product placements last year alone. Most of this money went to shows like “American Idol” and “Extreme Home Makeover.” Bam. Millions.
So if most of our programming is essentially an extended commercial, what is the point? Why even bother? I say: because there are shows that have not lost sight of their purpose. Admittedly, most shows make an effort to lower the cost of production while trying to sign as many advertisers as possible. But it is this majority that lets the diamonds in the rough shine even brighter. Shows like “30 Rock” choose to do the necessary product placement cleverly and make it obvious in order to make fun of themselves and refrain from being deceitful. Yet another reason why Tina Fey is a boss.
As viewers, we cannot really avoid it or even really scorn a lot of it because product placement is much of the reason why there is still television. It is our responsibility, I feel, to be aware of what is influencing our desires. Or does self-awareness avail us nothing? Hmm. What I wouldn’t do for an “It’s a Grind.”
I think it’s time I come clean: I am a TV addict. I just can’t get enough of it. I’ve watched it all. From the greats like “Arrested Development” and “The West Wing” to the worst like “Ally McBeal” and “2 Broke Girls,” I watch it. And I don’t just watch it when it comes on, I torrent it, I Netflix it, I Hulu it, I do whatever it takes to get my fix. I am a junkie, and the internet is my enabler.
Last year, I reviewed a new kind of television series for WEEKEND: original online programming. Yalies have forayed into this new form of entertainment, and not just drama graduates as was the case with the reviewed “Backwash” and “stalkTALK.” Last Spring, Yale undergraduates put together an online television series, “Connections,” which included two separate scripted efforts. The first was “Survive,” a series about a medical school student who also wants to be an artist and has problems with a girl. The second was “Never Do Business with Friends,” which was a scripted effort centering around the production of “Survive” (I assume it was also fictional). All of these online efforts suffered from various mishaps. These problems are not unique to online programming, but detract from the viewing experience.
The problems with “Backwash” and “stalkTALK” were identified in their reviews: the jokes fell flat, the writing was unoriginal and the acting was subpar. “Survive” suffered from an overly-cliche plot, mediocre acting and inconsistent writing. “Never Do Business with Friends,” on the other hand, was delightfully original but slow-moving and had characters who were too animated. The camerawork was so hyperbolic at points that it felt detached from any realism. All of these series suffered from a problem that is my biggest pet peeve in entertainment: a lack of original characters with any sort of development.
Now this problem isn’t something that only exists in Yale’s online programming. It exists mostly with female characters who are so pidgeon-holed that they must play their stereotypes to the extreme, especially in recent programming. In “Never Do Business with Friends” the video editor Julia suffered from “Zooey Deschanel” syndrome. Her character falls into the category of female characters that complain about not being pretty and feminine enough. You know the type: she wears flannel because she’s so unique, makes weird faces and wears her hair up because she doesn’t care what people think about her. This is a public service announcement: no girl is like that. That too cutsey thing doesn’t actually exist. Women will never be endlessly bouncy and happy. We have hormones, stress and self-respect. Bottling up anxiety in the name of big bows, puppy dog eyes and Mary Jane shoes is just unhealthy. I mean, it was exhausting enough pretending to be cute for my four hours dressed up as a doll for halloween. The “Zooey” has devolved from being whimsical to just stupid. If you fall out of your heels and think that it’s a good idea to wear stilettos with overalls to a dinner date, you’re an idiot, not cute. Just a side note, nobody wants to watch a pretty girl complain about how she can’t get a date.
The next kind of female stereotype is the “Megan Fox” character. Typically brunette, this sort-of sexed-up character is present in “Survive,” “Never Do Business with Friends” and “stalkTALK.” She is also in “2 Broke Girls,” “Archie,” “Breaking In,” “Whitney” and “Parenthood.” Chances are she’s super cool and does edgy things like listen to rock music and play pool really well. She is also one-dimensional and only serves as some kind of ideal for a typically nerdy character.
Next is the overly feminine, somewhat innocent blonde girl. This girl is also in “stalkTALK,” “2 Broke Girls,” “Whitney” (oh hey, whaddup — two Whitney Cummings shows with underdeveloped stereotypical characters. A topic for another day and another 1,000 words). Chances are, she will break a nail and she will wear matching underwear. She also doesn’t exist in real life. Blonde girls are just like every other girl (trust me, I tried being blonde for a little bit). Breaking nails will hurt for a girl (or guy) of any hair color, matching undergarments are expensive and require a lot of effort and I even know a blonde girl that plays hockey. She’s much cooler than Caroline, the equestrian in “2 Broke Girls” who keeps her horse in the backyard of her Williamsburg apartment building (again, another angry topic for another time).
These trends of underdeveloped female characters are symptomatic of a larger problem in television that is reflected in these original online programs. All new shows look for an audience, and they cater to this imagined audience as a part of their development. In order to appeal to as many people as possible they try to create characters that are familiar and easy to write into any sort of plot. As a substitute for real creativity and quality, television shows this season seem to use gimmicks and jokes about genitalia. As hard as it is to garner mass appeal, the fact that these shows are getting an audience represents a vicious cycle in entertainment. If people give these shows ratings (admittedly, by watching this I guess I am contributing to these ratings) it perpetuates the idea that writing these kind of static characters is not only okay but desirable. The characters written for ratings make watching these shows unbearable and demean great television by comparison.
The internet should provide television with an escape from the shackles of ratings. It’s enabled “Arrested Development” to increase its viewers exponentially, for viewers to watch shows post-airing and discover cancelled shows. Just last week, I was able to watch all 11 seasons of “Fraiser” because of Netflix. The ability to individually produce and showcase television shows opens up a realm of possibility to create series that would never be picked up by networks. Many websites have capitalized on this: College Humor and Funny or Die being the most prominent.
These websites have produced segments that would never get on network or even cable television, because of both their size and content, but nonetheless gain popularity. “Very Mary Kate” and “Chloe” are gags of famous celebrities that are running segments on College Humor amd Funny or Die respectively. “Jake and Amir” is the most popular College Humor series that features two coworkers that are so overly animated and unrealistic that it’s obvious that they parody the idea of an “annoying coworker” that has long been established by television. The show follows lovable but insane Amir who is unlike any character I’ve ever seen and his seemingly normal coworker Jake. In a lot of ways Jake’s character is more smartly-written than Amir’s because he’s someone who I’ve met before. The theory behind his character is that he wants badly to be cool, but he isn’t in reality. This isn’t like the stereotypical restaurant owner Han Lee in “2 Broke Girls” who installs a karaoke machine, attempts to be ironic and is a lively, gesticulating and unrealistic portrayal of a fresh-faced immigrant who wants to fit in. Jake’s desire only comes out every few episodes and is masked behind defending a pointless piece of clothing or vocal frustration with his Angry Birds failures. He’s someone that we all know at Yale and the realism makes the humor resonate.
Unfortunately, just because there are shining beacons of hope in “Jake and Amir”-esque productions, the internet has widely enabled a culture of supbar entertainment. This trend forecasts a troubling future for original programming. Flooding television-watching sources from YouTube to Netflix with mediocre shows will make it that much harder to find a quality show like “Breaking Bad” without any kind of significant hype. Hopefully, the mysterious people of the internet, and even Yalies, can learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others and produce real, quality programming that capitalizes on the freedom that the internet gives them. The internet enables our laziness in so many ways. Join me in trying to overcome that drug.
We are welcomed to Paul Everett Tarsus’ memorial service. There is a simple array of four chairs occupied by the friends of the deceased. An intricate flower arrangement, curiously reminiscent of something you would see on the Addams’ mantelpiece, adorns the stage’s background.
Actor Nehemiah Luckett, steps on the podium to say a few words in honor of the beloved Paul Tarsus Jr., a local theater artist and teacher. Luckett informs the audience — who is not merely a theater audience but also attendees to the memorial — of Paul Jr.’s love for the “Theater of Memory,” a movement embraced by playwrights in an attempt to use the power of memory as a narrative device.
Luckett’s speech is short, and soon we are introduced to Paul’s father, Reverend Paul Caleb Tarsus, portrayed by Trai Byers DRA ’11. Paul Tarsus Sr. is a flailing old man, who is at first unresponsive to Luckett’s persona’s calls to take the stage. Seemingly overwhelmed by the loss of his son, Paul is struggling to get on stage and has to heavily lean on his cane to carry out this apparently insurmountable task.
Soon after Rev. Tarsus takes the stage, we gradually transition to his memories. We roam into the Georgian South of his youth where he helped his father at the local school. Paul Jr., a brilliant and pupil and teacher, soon felt constrained by the limitations of rural Georgia and wished to pursue his education at divinity school. However, this surprisingly angered his father, who wished that Paul Jr. would stay to help out at the school, telling him that “funerals are fleeting,” meaning that we only have one chance to speak well of a loved one, a chance that never again presents itself. Rev. Tarsus carries on and remembers his move to New Haven, as well as the resulting conflict that arose from that move, the apex of it being a massive row with his future wife Eula, portrayed by Taylor Vaughn-Lasley ’12, who blames him for leaving and not attending his own father’s funeral.
The play concludes when Rev. Tarsus drifts away from his “theater of memory” and returns to his son’s memorial. He seems confused; it might be the senility old age or the overwhelming fact that his son has just died, but the stream of memories that parades before our eyes is not insignificant in making us understand Rev. Tarsus’ mindset.
The script is solid, even though some of its parts are somewhat convoluted. It does not effectively avoid cliches, and you wonder if writer Meg Miroshnik DRA ’11 intentionally chose to do so. Phrases such as “a place he attended religiously” in Luckett’s introductory speech are intentionally emphasized, perhaps in order to highlight how prone we are to resort to cliches and cheap laughs in situations as emotionally charged as this one.
The four white-clad figures as the play progressed came to interact in complex ways with each other either and Rev. Tarsus as parts of Paul’s subconscious or as players in his “theater of memory.” Director Andrew Kelsey DRA ’11 managed to convey to the audience the interactions between these figures, heavily aided by the great lighting, which helped clarify the participants’ capacity in each scene, which could be somewhat confusing.
The play’s specific mood was also greatly aided by the white outfits of the memorial’s attendees. White has a transparency and otherworldliness to it, which, while being reminiscent of the funeral practices of the Far East, helped convey the eerie atmosphere of the play.
The light design is quite ingenious since it is used as a transition mechanism and perhaps as a metaphor of the Rev. Paul Caleb Tarsus’ state of mind. When overwhelmed by his son’s death and perhaps the sudden realization of said death, the theater is flooded by sultry white light, while when the reverend drifts into his theater of memory, the intensity of the light is tuned down, sort of like a correlation to the reverend’s gradual detachment from his surroundings.
However macabre and unsettling the play’s setting might be, by the conclusion of the piece you have come to appreciate the obscure connection between memory and reality. Clocking in at little over an hour, “Good Words” uncovers the thoughts of an infirm old man, haunted by his past decisions: something that all of us can relate to.
There aren’t many reasons to love Scott Pilgrim. The 22-year-old guitarist (played by Michael Cera) dates a high schooler, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), mooches off of his gay roommate (Kieran Culkin) and is Canadian. And on top of it, his band’s called “Sex Bomb-Omb.” But maybe what’s redeemable about Scott — and this movie — is the music and the bold visuals, inspired by Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is awkward — for the most part, Michael Cera looks like an awkward turtle. And geeky. And loooong. Set in Canada, the film tracks Scott Pilgrim as he battles his second girlfriend’s (Ramona Flowers — Mary Elizabeth Winstead) exes.
The movie elements that derive from the graphic novel are strikingly well done. Onomatopoeic exclamations (BRRRR or DING DONG) stream across the frame, hearts appear when people kiss, cuts between scenes are quick and screen splits really work. The quality of the fight choreography and sequences — reminiscent of “Kill Bill” cum “Sin City” cum manga/anime — blows you away for a movie you can’t, and shouldn’t, take too seriously. Video gamers will love the gaming touches, where everyday actions get you points, be it professing one’s love, getting a password right or defeating an ex.
Yet the movie starts slow and lacks editing finesse. It’s also too gimmicky, with dream sequences, weird inserts into one’s brain and the ability to replay the ending when things don’t go as planned. Scott even has to battle himself at the film’s end. The movie leaves you wanting more Anna Kendrick (Scott’s sister) and Ellen Wong, who was by far the cutest chick in the movie. The movie’s overreliance on stereotypes is also unsavory. The first ex, for example, Matthew Patel, breaks into a Bollywood-style number and has mystical powers.
At the end of the day, though, this flick is about what most flicks are about: getting the girl. Scott’s roommate tells him, “If you want something bad, you have to fight for it.”
And Scott’s coming of age (even at 22) is coupled with the realization that self-respect may be bigger than love and that it sometimes is about yourself and not the girl.
This punchline is a long time coming. I can’t help but agree with Ramona when she says, “I don’t enjoy all of this. I’m sick of it.”
Did she really have to have seven exes? Could she not have had two fewer? I mean, how high were the writers when this movie was made? And why is this not ending?
Scott is essentially living a video game, with redoes, flying leaps to doors and the ability to emerge unscathed from fantastic fight sequences. But, however optimistic the message, life isn’t a video game. There aren’t redoes, we don’t get coins when we defeat our biggest fears and we don’t always get the girl if we try our hardest. But, hey, Scott, we did learn something. We never want to see this movie again.
It’s strangely fitting that the two brothers who occupy the stage in “Topdog/Underdog” are obsessed with three-card monte, because the production of the play shares some of the game’s characteristics: there are a lot of complicated tricks, illusions and flourishes, but in the end, you just feel gypped.
The play stars Jesse Kirkland ’12 as Lincoln and William Smith ’12 as Booth, two black brothers who are living together in Booth’s one-room apartment after Lincoln’s wife gives him the boot. Lincoln, a defunct street hustler, has a job at a local arcade dressing up as Abraham Lincoln (whiteface and all) so that tourists can pretend to shoot him. Booth has grand ambitions to set up his own three-card monte table like his brother once did. As the play progresses, the two attract and repel each other, coming together to support one another when it counts and pushing away when their flaws and insecurities about their identities and their pasts approach too close for comfort.
Unfortunately, the play feels too much like a series of attractions and repulsions, a continuous wave that rises and falls with disheartening predictability. Director Quincy O’Neal’s ’10 vision of the show doesn’t play to its strengths. As a result, there’s a lot flying around Booth’s cramped apartment on the personal and social levels — issues of racial pride, the tragedy of the poverty cycle, the disillusionment of adulthood — that isn’t explored as thoroughly as it should be. The benefit of a play in which two characters hash out their lives in a single room for its entirety is that there exists the capacity for crackling interpersonal tension and devastating eruptions of emotional intensity. O’Neal’s production never taps into that potential, and the play suffers. It fails to achieve the poignancy necessary to make its thematic subtext more than thematic subtext. Instead, it feels dryly academic and tediously cerebral.
Kirkland and Smith definitely have chemistry, if not quite enough to make them believable brothers. They have all their cues down, and the intensity of their advances and retreats from one another often approach the kind of tension that would vivify the play to the point of resonance, but they ultimately fall short. The highs aren’t high enough; the lows aren’t low enough. There’s a lot of meandering: the brothers talk, then they yell, then they talk again, but they never seem to go anywhere. Achieving that kind of inescapable futility may be the goal of the play, but that futility never receives the emotional grounding it would need to become real. Instead, it remains an idea that floats impotently around the stage.
The production, like Booth, is ambitious, if not exactly in the right way. Despite all of the fancy maneuvers and back-and-forths, when all was said and done, I couldn’t but feel as though both actors and audience had been bested by the overpowering intricacy of “Topdog.”
I’m usually not that patriotic. Fireworks scare me; red, white and blue are not my colors; and my voice cracks when I try to hit the unnaturally high notes of “The Star Spangled Banner.” All that changes with the Olympics, however. A bastion of world competition, the Olympics transcend everyday sports fanaticism and tap into something deeper, some forgotten pocket of latent patriotism. Hating the Olympics is tantamount to hating your country.
You can’t watch Apollo Anton Ohno’s 500-meter win in speed skating after falling in the 1,500 without overflowing with American pride. I will hereafter refer to you as Robotron if your eyes remained dry when Sasha Cohen fell on her triple lutz — and then again on the triple flip — in the Torino games. And I dare you to tell me Shaun White’s Double-McTwist-ing, gold metal performance in the halfpipe Wednesday night didn’t make you want to tattoo “USA!” across your chest and atonally belt out “America the Beautiful” atop the nearest coffee table.
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I’m incensed when people disparage the Winter Olympics. Sure, some of the events are a little odd. Who becomes a biathlon athlete? What crackhead invented curling? Why is the two-man luge so inexplicably homoerotic? Nevertheless, it’s the spirit behind the games, and not the games themselves, that warrant the fervor. It’s not just a curling match; it’s a World War, where battles are confined to an ice rink and a well-aimed triple salchow can decide the victor.
The Olympics foster healthy rivalry. It is one of the few sporting events where members from the entire world unite for high-stakes competition, while millions of viewers exercise vicariously through their televisions. During the Olympics, America — a country composed of a plethora of nationalities, religions and cultures — can ally behind the red, white and blue uniforms of its athletes.
So drink the Kool-Aid. Turn on your TV. And prepare to discover patriotism of Olympic proportions.
In general, there are two types of sports at the Winter Olympics: those that are really simple and boring but that you pretend are interesting (ski jumping, alpine skiing, luge) and those that are fun to watch but that have impossible-to-understand rules (figure skating, snowboarding, free-style skiing). There is but one sport, for me, that transcends these limitations — the holy grail of winter sports, entertaining and exhilarating as anything but also easy to understand: short-track speed skating.
Six skaters line up in each heat and race around a regulation-size hockey rink without lanes. They speed down the length of the rink in three to four strides, staying as close to the cones as possible so that there’s no room to be passed on the inside. It couldn’t be simpler: There are no lanes, and each player must simply skate around the track faster than anyone else; it’s not about the times they have to beat but coming in first in the heat.
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It’s like horse-racing, but with humans and on a super slippery surface. (This is a good thing.) And the slippery surface means massive wipe-outs. Once every two or three races, the hotshot non-American whom you’re rooting passionately against, in first coming into the final lap, dramatically wipes out and flies into the side wall. It’s much more satisfying than if he were politely passed or if someone “beat his time” a half hour later.
The past four years, short-track speed skating enthusiasts have been given the gift of Apolo Ohno and his soul patch. When he’s not winning “Dancing with the Stars” in his spare time, he’s the best (and most charismatic) short-track speed skater in the world. There is no one more fun to root for — he stays near the back of the pack for most of the race as the tension mounts. With three laps to go, he starts to make his move, slowly passing one at a time — “Just go for it! Hurry!” — until he makes a sudden sprint for first place. And, almost always, he gets it.
Bobsleigh, luge and skeleton originated in late 19th century St. Moritz, Switzerland where excitable English tourists came into contact with an entrepreneurial hotel owner. The tourists were enthusiastic about attempting variations on traditional snow sledding by modifying delivery boys’ sleds by attaching two sleds together and adding a steering mechanism, while the tourists’ steering techniques for the sleds, evolved into the sports of luge, bobsleigh and skeleton. Eventually the first track (the Cresta Run) was built descending from St. Moritz to the small town of Celerina to prevent tourists from colliding with passers-by while tobogganing. Modern sleighs are built from light metals and steel runners according to length and weight specifications.
Bobsleigh has been contested at the Winter Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924, and luge, was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1964, while skeleton, although part of the 1928 and 1948 Games, was only fully included in the competition in 2002. Bobsleigh and luge have three events each, while skeleton has two. All three sports use the same tracks, 16 of which exist around the world, constructed, with the exception of that in St. Moritz, of reinforced concrete and paneled with ammonia refrigeration in order for the track to cool before runs.
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A luge, which in Swiss French means “small coasting sled,” is a small toboggan made for one or two people facing up, feet-first. Athletes ride in a flat position on the sled keeping their heads as low as possible to minimize air resistance. They steer primarily with their feet by applying pressure to the runners. A combination of the coordination of the athlete’s position on the sled and applying the right pressure with the shoulders and feet is necessary. The speeds reach on average around 75-100 mph. It is clear that Luge is not a sport without risk — unfortunately, this became evident recently in the Vancouver Winter Olympics accident where the 21-year-old Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili’s luge flipped off track during a practice run and he was found dead after having crashed into a steel pole.
Bobsleigh is a team sport of two or four athletes racing down a track in a gravity powered sleigh. Each run down the slope is called a “heat” and each competition consists of four heats. Mistakes made early in the heat will have a greater effect than ones made closer to the end. The races begin with athletes standing and pushing the sled for 160 feet before getting on the sleigh. In this part of the course the track has grooves, while throughout the rest of the course the steering and speed depend on the weight of the sleigh, its aerodynamics, the ice and the drivers, as well as the initial force put in.
In skeleton, finally, individual athletes race down the track on small toboggans, which have no steering or break mechanisms, face down. It is required that sled frames be made of steel and that the combined weight of athlete and sleigh is above a set minimum. The base plate may be made of plastics or carbon fiber while handles and bumpers on the sides of the sled help secure the athlete in place during runs. Skeleton athletes, who experience a force of up to 5 g, use equipment that includes a speedsuit, helmet and spiked shoes. Interestingly, skeleton is widely available to amateurs, which justifies its rising popularity.
It will be exciting to see the outcomes of all three sports in this year’s Winter Olympics, even with the recent accident in mind. Luge, bob and skeleton are relatively unusual, but incredibly interesting sports.
Americans just don’t “get” curling. It may come as a surprise to many Americans watching the Olympics that people actually cheer during curling matches. In fact, it may come as a surprise to some that curling involves spectators at all and that it’s actually a sport and not simply some very bizarre cult gathering that just so happens to take place concurrently with the Olympics.
Curling is, indeed, a sport. It is played in more than 45 countries including the United Kingdom, Sweden (defending the women’s Olympic gold medal), Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Canada and, yes, even the United States, according to the World Curling Federation. In Canada, it’s more than a sport — it’s an obsession. Canada is currently defending the men’s Olympic gold medal.
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If you’ve ever played bocce or pétanque, curling is similar to those games, only on ice. The team captain, called the skip, sends a 16-pound, rounded granite slab — called a rock or a stone interchangeably — down a subtly stippled sheet of ice. His or her teammates — collectively referred to as the rink — rush to the side of the stone with sophisticated brooms and brush its path furiously toward the stone’s eventual resting place, a red and blue target called the house.
The game begins slowly and methodically, as each team waits for its turn to throw the stone. This is one reason curling has never caught on in the U.S.: Americans hate waiting in lines, and curling is nothing if not a line — a drawn-out exercise in contemplative patience. The vigorous brushing motions of the brooms wielded by the curlers are perhaps the most exciting parts of a game, so it’s no wonder Americans don’t find it particularly interesting. Curling is reminiscent of cleaning, and Americans hate cleaning; we would much prefer to expand or redo or forget our messes rather than clean up after them. This very American sentiment is antithetical to the ethos of curling, a game in which every decision you make will affect you again.
After the first few turns, the game becomes as much about strategy as it is about sportsmanship. The court is littered with the remnants of former turns. It becomes like a game of chess, all about outmaneuvering your opponent, not overpowering them. Curling is all about nuance , and Americans don’t want nuance in their sports, especially in the age of instant replay.
Americans are all about “rugged individualism.” We excel at individual sports like track and field, snowboarding and skiing. Our Olympic teams that are composed of recognizable figures always seem to emphasize choosing the best players from any sport without any regard to their ability to function as a team. Curling requires this strange yet amazing cooperation that borders on mind reading, because the rink must listen to the skip and understand his desires to utilize their own abilities as a group to guide the stone to the house successfully.
Curling is admittedly a bit odd, but it is also an incredibly interesting and even beautiful sport. The American curling team acknowledges the lack of understanding in the U.S. — the team sponsored a buzz-building contest that offered to send one person to Vancouver this year. Maybe we could do them a favor and watch the 2010 Olympic curling matches with more than blank, confused expressions on our faces.
I walked into my common room Tuesday evening to find the whole gang gathered around our tiny television set.
“What are you guys watching?” I asked.
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“Shh. Short program is about to start,” C said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
I sat down, confused.
“Ohmygosh you guys Plushenko is up next!” B said giggling.
Over the next few hours, I became well versed in the intricacies of the men’s figure skating short program — a maximum of 2 minutes and fifty seconds, three jumps, three spins and two step sequences. After one week my suitemates were suddenly experts on the sport.
“Not his best,” C said after one performance.
“That’s at least a point off,” A commented, shaking her head, as one skater stumbled after a jump.
As the competition continued, clear favorites emerged.
Evgeni Plushenko, the reigning Olympic champion with shaggy blond hair and a prominent nose quickly rose to the top as “#1 badass” in the competition. He took three years off from skating following the 2006 games and trained for only 11 months before arriving in Vancouver, but still managed to surpass the previous leader by about 15 points and finished in the lead at the night’s end. A judges’ favorite, but not enough of an underdog to win the affections of the suite.
Then there was Patrick Chan, the 19 year-old Canadian who captured our hearts with his earnestness and modesty in the two-minute NBC clip about his life and struggle to the top. His navy blue sequined costume with velvet trim was just the right amount of flamboyant, and his excited, wide-eyed grin at the end of his performance couldn’t have been cuter. But alas, Chan is Canadian, and with his home-court advantage and penchant for saying “eh,” we couldn’t very well root for him.
The room was divided on American sensation Evan Lysacek, whom we nicknamed Raskolnikov. By way of explanation, here are the words of G:
“He looks a little Russian. He also looks like he could kill you. Then he puts on his skates and you think ‘yeah he could totally kill me with those.’”
Lysacek finished in second place after the men’s short program, only .55 points behind Plushenko. A technical powerhouse, Lysacek has been declared by some skating blogs (yes, I’ve been reading skating blogs) to be the messiah of figure skating — the one to make the sport mainstream and acceptable for the straight man.
On the other side of the American figure skating spectrum sits Johnny Weir, the clear favorite of more than half the suite. Weir is perhaps best known for his 2009 performance to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” which featured a mirrored body suit and frenetic booty shaking. Weir is fierce to say the least, doing for figure skating what Adam Lambert did for “American Idol.” He took to the ice in a skin-tight black and pink ensemble that was one part punk rock, one part, well, figure skater. His performance garnered him a sixth-place finish after the short program, but first place in our book.
By the time this article goes to print, we will have a new Olympic champion, and men’s figure skating will once again fall off my radar for at least another four years. But I will always have the memory of the two days when my suitemates and I huddled around our TV, pretending like we knew what we were talking about and getting way too invested in whether a man in spandex landed his triple axel properly.
If you’re ever asked what you think of an unfamiliar comedian or TV comedy, there’s a simple answer that will always make you sound smart: “I think the earlier stuff was better.” Cliched or not, the sentiment is true too often and perhaps best exemplified by television’s premiere comedy lineup: NBC Thursday nights.
The four NBC Thursday-night comedies — each halfway through the 20+ episode season — can be broken into two clear groups: new and old. “Parks and Recreation” and “Community” are essentially in their first season (“Parks” had a tepid six-episode first season last spring), while now-classics “30 Rock” and “The Office” are in their fourth and sixth season respectively.
“Parks and Recreation” has quickly established itself as the best comedy on television — providing the “Seinfeld”-esque relatability of “Modern Family” with the brilliant (but elitist) wit of “Arrested Development.” Amy Poehler stars as the endearingly hapless, yet sneakily competent Leslie Knope, a director of the parks and recreation department in a highly bureaucratic small-town government. In the short first season, Knope was simply a watered-down version of Michael Scott, Steve Carrell’s character in “The Office.” But right from the start of season two, Knope (who’s ideal man has the brains of George Clooney in the body of Joe Biden) has become perhaps the most nuanced, loveable character on TV.
Buoyed by Knope’s charm, the supporting cast has blossomed as well, propelling incredibly unique (and hilarious) love stories. Aziz Ansari (who, of course, is headlining tomorrow’s Winter Show) plays the crass, warm-hearted Tom Haverford, who is secretly pining over his too-hot Canadian wife, who married him so she could stay in the country. The burgeoning romance between Andy (Chris Pratt) and April (Aubrey Plaza) is utterly delightful, as well, as clueless airhead Andy (“Anything is a toy if you play with it”) charms the snarkily cynical April. It’s the kind of romance that would be too grounded (and thus relatable) for “30 Rock” and too whimsical for “The Office.”
As “Parks” creatively thrives, so does fellow newcomer “Community,” although it hasn’t quite found its tone yet. Sometimes the ever quotable one-liners are better suited for a David Letterman monologue than situation comedy (“To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal, and I wouldn’t take it away from anyone, but I also would never stand in line for it”). Nobody in real life speaks like the characters in “Community,” but the world would be a much funnier place if they did.
“Community” follows a band of six community college students who come from vastly different backgrounds. Joel McHale (of lazy Sunday staple, “The Soup”) stars as Jeff Winger, once hotshot lawyer, now jaded student. The show is a true ensemble — it’s rare to find chemistry as potent as that between Abed and Troy or Jeff and Pierce (Chevy Chase). But while the dialogue snaps and the relationships make you smile, the show has yet to establish any sort of stakes or reality. Jeff and Annie hook up for one episode with no consequence, grades move the plot forward but don’t really matter and there’s little continuity in the classes they’re taking (one week Annie’s working in a psych lab, the next she’s on the debate team, the next she’s a journalist). “Community” clearly has an absurdly talented team of writers — they just need to learn to translate their comedic chops into a more understated sense of reality.
With “Parks” and “Community,” every episode is a revelation. Episodes of “Parks” show us Leslie’s (“Hoarders”-worthy) house for the first time, providing fresh insight on the characters, while “Community” is still only beginning to explore the show’s central romance between Jeff and Britta. This is sharply contrasted with the increasingly stale repetition of their Thursday night companions.
“30 Rock” and “The Office” have both earned their place (alongside “Arrested Development,” “The Comeback” and, frankly, “The Hills”) among the best modern American sitcoms, yet both shows lack a certain oomph this season. The gags and the quips are clever as ever, but the situations feel stale. Whereas each episode of “Community” reveals new facets of the characters, “The Office” has weird standalone episodes about Michael’s mishaps with a group of third graders 10 years ago. Whereas “Parks” uses big-name guest stars like Justin Theroux to show how Leslie handles the excitement of a new relationship, “30 Rock” uses Julianne Moore to allow Alec Baldwin to break into houses and spew dated jokes about Facebook.
“The Office” has remained fresh for years through its willingness to completely revitalize its premise. Last season, Michael, Pam and Ryan broke off from Dunder Mifflin to start a new company, and the show felt young again. This season, both “30 Rock” and “The Office” have missed opportunities to refresh and revamp. “30 Rock” explored Liz Lemon’s nascent fame thanks to a best-selling book. Episode seven focused on Liz’s attempt to start a spin-off talkshow called “Dealbreakers.” Instead of allowing the show to spin off in this new direction (which would completely transform Liz’s character), the writers killed off the story in one inconsistent, annoying episode. Similarly, “The Office” misguidedly ended its bankruptcy storyline in the Christmas episode.
Both shows are at their best at their freshest. This season of “The Office” has only been notable for the emergence of Erin Hannon, the new secretary, who stars in the revelatory “Subtle Sexuality” webisodes (www.subtlesexuality.com) and has a romance brewing with Andy that harkens back to the early days of Jim and Pam. “30 Rock” is self-aware about its predicament — the season premiere had the meta title “Season 4,” as Liz tries to find new talent for TGS that will appeal to Middle America. It’s frustrating to realize that the team behind “30 Rock” is aware of the problem, yet refuses to find a solution. The only new character this season is the hopelessly boring Danny (Cheyenne Jackson).
As they enter the second half of the season, “30 Rock” and “Office” need to look to their Thursday night companions for inspiration. Otherwise, they will end up as tired as a “that’s what she said” joke.
Remember Season 4, Episode 14 of Dawson’s Creek where Joey finally gives it up to Pacey in a log cabin? How about the 90210 where Brenda returns home from Paris to discover that her boyfriend — the all-time ’90s hottie — Dylan and her soon-to-be ex-best friend Kelly hadn’t been missing her so much after all? And who could forget Buffy’s soul-changing decision to make love to her vampire boyfriend, of just 200 years her senior, on her 17th birthday? Remember how you were nervous, aroused and moved by these characters’ monumental experiences? If you don’t, it is probably because you didn’t have older siblings who were fortunate enough to be teenagers in the Golden Age of the Teenage Soap Opera.
In the ’90s and even during the early part of our current decade, plots unfolded over multiple episodes, relationships evolved in real time and characters didn’t sob while shooting their boyfriend’s felony-convicted brothers. The audience had to earn their moments of revelation, and the writers had to build up to their dramatic events. If you, the writer, wanted to kill off a character or send someone to rehab, you had to plant the seeds at least a few episodes in advance. The belief used to be: “less is more.” If you had one, well-built, justified event, you didn’t need ten subpar, unrealistic, would-be life-altering catastrophes from which your teen heroes are saved just in time. We, the audience, were more patient back then. Things have changed.
Nowadays, soaps that can’t live up to the speed and appetite of the Google generation are never “picked up” or are cancelled. When the characters break up or discover their fathers were members of secret gentleman’s clubs or don’t get into Yale, we gasp, but we don’t care. Some may feel entertained, but we are not being given very much bang for our buck. I must admit, I watched Gossip Girl for the first season or two believing that it possessed the antibodies to fight the instant-melodrama virus that plagues the CW. As soon as Georgina returned to threaten Marissa — I mean Serena — with exposing the truth about a night they spent getting naughty in a fancy hotel and ultimately abandoning their dead-from-overdose ménage-a-trois partner, I was forced to sever all ties from the show. I am not satisfied and you shouldn’t be either.
I am not saying that teen drama should not be fun, but where is the trust between audience and writer? Where are the Joss Whedons and Darren Stars of our generation? Teen dramas today cover every possible human emotion and situation in just two or three seasons. Isn’t it self-destructive to truly invest in shows that cannot survive? After all, ask any of your i-banking friends: it’s all about investment.