Archives for May 2014

The Worst Bands Make The Best TV


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I am a stone-cold sucker for a good rock documentary. GIMME SHELTER; THE FILTH AND THE FURY; JIMI HENDRIX; RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM; THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II: THE METAL YEARS; TOM DOWD AND THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC; CROSSFIRE HURRICANE; THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY; these are only a few of my favorites. But I’m also a sucker for a bad one; I don’t even have to like the band the documentary is about. No matter who it is, if I am flipping channels and I come to musicians talking self-importantly about their careers and the people they stepped on along the way, whether it’s just starting or five minutes from the end, I am powerless not to watch.

That’s why the arrival in the late ’90s of the VH1 series BEHIND THE MUSIC was simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. Immediately, from the very first episode I saw, which if I recall correctly was the MC Hammer one — where Hammer revealed, among other things, that he spent a million dollars on marble tile for the entry to his $10 million house in Oakland, which also featured a solid gold, 8-person bathtub; $68,000 worth of mirrors; and $3 million worth of indoor and outdoor fountains, because as he put it, “Water represents power. Water represents freedom… so when I see that water flowing all through my house I feel free, spiritually free.”

The episode went on to mention that Hammer’s house was on the market, listed at $6 million, and I was hooked for life on this show.

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Stop Feeding My Kid Breakfast!

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Everybody, it seems, is mad at the public school system in America for adopting the Common Core standard. My son is only in first grade, but judging by the small amount of math homework he gets, Common Core is spectacularly ill-advised and very poorly implemented. But that’s not why I’m mad at the public school system — at least not yet. I’m mad at the public school system for feeding my kid a free breakfast every day.

As I’ve written before, to say that Henry is a picky eater would be like saying Jimi Hendrix is a guitar player. We have been trying for his entire life to get him to try a vegetable, any vegetable, to try a piece of fruit, to try a piece of (unprocessed) meat, or fish, or chicken, and he just won’t do it. You can lead a child to healthy food, but you absolutely can’t make him eat it.

For the most part, we’ve actually given up on trying to get him to eat healthy — we just want him to eat. When he doesn’t, his blood-sugar drops and he turns into a spinning demon of mischief, shouting vulgar, unfunny jokes and scattering papers everywhere and bouncing off things that aren’t bouncy; then he collapses into an inconsolable sobbing heap as soon as something goes wrong, like the cardboard halfpipe he’s building not supporting his weight, or being told that there’s no such thing as “lunch dessert.” It’s bad enough when we have to deal with the Low Blood Sugar Monster ourselves, but now the boy is in first grade and getting sent to the principal’s office because the Low Blood Sugar Monster just can’t control himself.

So it’s important that he eats breakfast, and fortunately this is the only meal he can always be counted on to eat no matter what. The problem is that after he eats breakfast at home, they feed him another breakfast at school.

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The Fargo TV Show Is Pretty Darn Good


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If you had told me six months ago that there would be a TV show based on the Coen brothers’ 1996 Best Picture Winner FARGO on the air, and not only that, that it would be really really good, one of the best shows of the year, I would not have agreed a hundred percent with your police work. I have a dim memory of a FARGO TV adaptation in the ’90s, when the movie was still a fresh memory, with a pre-Carmela Edie Falco in the Frances McDormand role — I guess the idea was a case-of-the-week kind of show, except with big, broad Minnesota accents. Would Chief Carmela have been perpetually pregnant? We never got to find out, because the show mercifully never made it past the pilot stage.

FARGO is a great movie, probably (arguably) the best movie the Coen brothers have made, full of memorable characters, pitch-perfect performances, and one of the best scripts the Coens have ever written (which makes it one of the best scripts ever written, full stop). This is a movie I am constitutionally incapable of flipping past when I come across it on cable; the final scene is one of the best endings to any movie I can think of; it makes me tear up every. Single. Time I watch it.

To just move the veneer (gray sky, snow, crime, you betcha yaa) onto an otherwise conventional procedural would cheapen its memory, and in the process cheapen the Coens’ reputation, whether they had anything to do with the project or not. But to my great surprise, four episodes in, it turns out that FARGO (the show) isn’t an adaptation of FARGO (the movie) — it’s an homage to the Coens’ entire career, set in the most vivid world of any of their movies, and neatly sidestepping the pitfalls that so often capsize film-to-TV adaptations.

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