Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Diversions: Read Rany Jazayerl's Latest Post

Many of the regular readers of this blog also know that I am a Royals fan. This has me leading life charmed with the duality of watching one of the worst teams in the sport (at least at the Major League level) while reading some of the best writers on the net dedicate their time to this team. One such writer is Rany Jazayerli, a co-founder of Baseball Prospectus and author of Rany on the Royals.

His newest entry is not about the Royals, which will either turn off the readers who flock there for Royals-related content or attract an entirely different subset of internetters. It is about 19th Century Muslim leader Abd al-Kader, and it is fantastic. Do yourselves a favor and read it.

As for me, I've been bogged down with other things, and as such have had other obligations take precedent over the blogging of late. I hope to rectify this soon, as I have a backlog of things to write about including, but not limited to: The A-Team, Predators, The Training Ground by Martin Dugard, a long overdue post about "Justified," and eventually an entry about Midnight's Children (assuming I ever finish it).

Happy reading.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reading Rainbow: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

I actually finished this months ago and just realized that I had not gotten around to writing this up. As I will be getting up very early tomorrow morning to catch a flight to retrieve a very special 1985 Grand Wagoneer, this looks to be a rather brief entry.

If ever there was a case of my having purchased a book based on its title, it was this one. Marketing/presentation aside, the novel was a funny one. Sam Pulsifer, the novel's protagonist is the classic post-modern schlemiel, in the vein of Pynchon's Benny Profane. Pulsifer accidentally burned down Emily Dickinson's house as a teen, killing a husband and wife in the process. After ten years in prison, he begins a new life, finds a wife, starts a family. Then his old life comes crashing in on his new life, and everything he does makes things worse. That's when other writers' homes beginning to go up in flames, and the hero must delve into the mystery of who is framing him.

The book does a good job of sending up much of the literary community and academia. It's funny with a few laugh-out-loud moments. The read itself is relatively light, which is by no means a bad thing. The first-person narration is engaging, and the unfolding of the mystery is done deftly.

Basically, if you want to read a book in which Emily Dickinson's home was burned down (read: me), then this is a book for you.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tube Steak: A Fond Farewell to "Party Down"

Well, fuck.

Despite the fact that I've got at least two other entries to write, yesterday's news that Starz is cancelling "Party Down" bumps all other entries to the back-burner.

I really love this goddamn show.

Almost everyone else I know watches (and loves) it, too.

That latter fact is one that leaves me wondering how the hell Starz is figuring that only 74,000 watched its finale. Really? I think maybe Starz needs to reexamine how it is assessing viewership.*

*I started this post Thursday night, and Lizzy Caplan pretty much shared my take on things in an interview on Friday. She, too, is upset.

That 74,000 figure could very well be correct for people who were staying home on a Friday night to watch original programming at 10:00 pm EDT, but Starz makes all of its programming almost immediately available to stream instantly on Netflix. I know many people who went about watching the show this way. The delay is less than a day.

I subscribe to Starz. I have seen every episode of "Party Down" DVRed directly from the premium cable station I subscribe to, yet I have probably only seen five of the episodes in the series' two season run (a "season" is a "series," for any of you confused Brits out there) as they aired on Friday night.

Really the problem here is that shows that appeal to a tech-savvy subset of the viewing public* somehow get left by the wayside, with the arcane methods by which ratings are calculated falling short of capably gauging how many people watch these shows.

*Read: the public whose TV isn't stuck on CBS, a network that I am actually currently watching because the irreverent Craig Ferguson is on, and he demands my viewership. The clip embedded should explain why.

But enough of this embittered ratings-fueled cancellation venom-spewing. Really, I am upset because this show is so funny. Yes, my life is probably a little closer to the lives of the characters on "Party Down" than most people, but it doesn't feel like my enjoyment is a result of occupational similarity, as so many friends who do not work in or around private parties share this love of "Party Down."

I'll admit, what drew me in initially was the fact that Rob Thomas, the creator of one of my favorite shows ever, "Veronica Mars," had co-created a show with Paul Rudd*, who would be on the very short list of My Official Boys here at Inconsiderate Prick. Ken Marino and Martin Starr being in the cast certainly helped things.

*To be fair, there were two other co-creators: John Enbom, who wrote the indie Rory Cochrane star-vehicle The Low Life, which I've oddly seen about six times, and an assload of "Veronica Mars" episodes, including The Debasement Tapes in which Rudd guests as washed-up rock star Desmond Fellows; and Dan Etheridge, a producer on "Veronica Mars," who also produced Overnight Delivery and co-produced The Low Life and Bio-Dome.

Before long, "Party Down" was the first show that needed to be watched on the TiVo. The endless awkward situations, the blind leading the apathetic, the total clusterfucks that the parties ended up turning into... All of these elements combined with a likable cast and ridiculously strong writing to create a really great comedy about people suffering through a shitty job while waiting for their dreams to become a reality.

And the show was consistently hilarious. The characters seemed like real people. No one was perfect. They had their idiosyncracies; their insecurities. They were flawed, but ultimately sympathetic. As is too often the case, the person in charge (Marino's Ron Donald) was ill-equipped to do the job*, which led to countless hijinx ensuing. The failed actor Henry (Adam Scott) and his interplay with aspiring comedienne Casey (Lizzy Caplan, who some know from "Freaks and Geeks" or much more intimately from the first season of "True Blood") makes for some good inter-relational television without veering over into the lame or melodramatic.

*Or as Elvis Mitchell aptly describes him in this interview with Adam Scott, "the one man who wants to do it and cannot."

But really as much as the aforementioned three cast members make this show what it is (or sadly/precisely, was), the unsung hero was Ryan Hansen as Kyle. He wasn't central to the loose story arc that Henry had as he decides to walk away from his dream after being beaten down time and time again, but his presence really allows every other character to shine. Kyle is the yin to Roman's (Martin Starr) yang, and his dimness opens up the floor for Roman to spout off on his outcast nerd superiority rants at least once an episode. His being on the brink of making it (seemingly) while being more looks than talent/intelligence offer a perfect contrast to Henry, who by all accounts is teeming with talent but got swatted down at each turn. His general disrespect and occupational apathy open the door for Ron to mismanage countless situations. And in the first season, it was Kyle who played the best off of Jane Lynch's Constance, allowing for her otherwise overbearing character to fit in.

But what it boils down to is that this show is insanely funny. The last two episodes of this last season were outstanding. Watch the first 30 seconds of Cole Landry's Draft Day Party and try to tell me that you were able to stop watching.

I wasn't ever able to stop myself from watching this the instant I could. Now I don't get to watch it again.

DirecTV, where are you when I need another show rescued?
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