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On Cable, Long Live the Anti-Hero March 29, 2010

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Originally posted at SpliceToday. Comment there!

When The Sopranos concluded in 2007, a number of media critics signalled “the end of an era” where television shows looked for complicated “heros,” or “anti-heros,” to helm television dramas. Of course, many more critics credited The Sopranos with the revival of  serialized, “quality television,” television as cinema, full of complex characters and morally ambiguous plot lines; this remains true today.

More than ever, the anti-hero, in specific Tony Soprano-esque ways, is very much alive.

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Brilliance of Cute: ‘Babies,’ Documentary and Digital Culture March 27, 2010

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Next month, the world will fall prey to the most brilliant idea in cinema since the extremely popular March of the Penguins and the most popular movie in history Avatar:

Babies (Bébés, dir. Thomas Balmes).

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Will ‘Treme’ Fall Into the ‘Caprica’ Trap? March 26, 2010

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Even the best television shows live or die by plotting and drama. Yes, The Wire, could be the greatest show in history (at least the last decade) and did push the boundaries of television narrative to new places, forcing us to slow down, pay attention and think. In terms of plot, it was hardly 24, maybe it’s the anti-24 (or maybe that’s Mad Men).

But new series need to get audiences excited about something and fast. Even the smartest audiences have little patience (and time). Let’s not forget the the first few episodes of The Wire teased us with a simple, bracing conceit: the police need to take down the drug ring. It took five or six episodes for audiences to realize resolution wasn’t coming soon and the narrative would grow slowly and operatically, thus making it more interesting. Even a sloth-paced series like Mad Men had the “who is Don Draper?” story in season one. Friday Night Lights had the “will this team make it without Jason Street?” question.

Treme is going to be different from The Wire (see this post from a new blog about Treme) . It probably won’t be as good — unless David Simon & Co. are truly the most brilliant people in television history. If it isn’t as good, what could go wrong?

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That Was Fast: Web Series Remix “How to Make It In America” March 25, 2010

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Also filed under: “Things that make me feel old at the age of 25.” How quickly can one create a series riffing off a new HBO show? In a few weeks, apparently.

Smoke DZA, a rapper I’ve never heard of — excuse! This is a film and TV blog! I don’t do music — has crafted a web series called How to Make It in Harlem. Judging from the trailer, which I found thanks to The Rah Rah, it’s basing its concept heavily on HBO’s How to Make It in America. There’s a bit of inevitability to an independent artist taking HBO’s faux-grit and filming in an actually gritty part of town, Harlem (sort of; let’s be real, Neil Patrick Harris lives there).

The trailer’s a pretty faithful remix of the HBO show’s opening credits; same large white fonts, snapshot photo technique. Take a look:

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An Actor Turns Entrepreneur: Al Thompson Sells His Web Series to Atom March 24, 2010

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Originally published on the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog

Al Thompson got his big break from an unlikely production: a New York University student short film called “3D” that screened at Sundance 10 years ago. Hollywood came calling, auditions were scheduled and he spent weeks crashing in Los Angeles with actor friends. Thompson took this couch-hopping experience and wrote a Web series, “Johnny B. Homeless,” which generated buzz at last year’s New York Television Festival, winning the People’s Choice Award.

The show’s critical success drew interest from Viacom and Comedy Central’s Atom.com, which this week announced that it had bought the nine-episode first season and committed to a second season. “Johnny B. Homeless” will also air on “Atom TV,” Comedy Central’s half-hour late night series. The first episode is planned for a May release.

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White Supremacists Are Back (On Television)! March 20, 2010

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Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

This post suffers from a disease characteristic of most lifestyle/entertainment news: two’s a coincidence, three’s a trend.  Blame it on my past as a reporter. It’s an illness not easily cured.

I don’t know precisely what caused it, but white supremacy is back on television! Of course, by “back” I mean white supremacists have returned as villains in several cable dramas, most recently on FX’s new drama Justified, another FX series Sons of Anarchy and in Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming – and extraordinarily expensiveBoardwalk Empire, premiering this fall.

Color me naïve — it’s a color I’ve worn before — but I always thought serious consideration of white supremacy was a no-go for television: it would alienate liberals and minorities and wouldn’t win anyone else. But the search for more provocative programming to cut through the TV clutter, along with the general tendency among certain cable networks – the premium channels, along with FX, TNT, AMC, etc. – toward “cutting edge” narratives, has allowed some room for the KKK and their ilk.

Heather Havrilesky at Salon contextualizes it well: “Since these shows revolve around likable but deeply flawed, not-very-good guys, the actual bad guys have to be very, very bad, indeed, straining during most of their time on-screen to embody pure evil.”

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New Haven’s New York Art Party: Video By Yours Truly March 17, 2010

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My good friend Madison Moore has organized an art party in New haven, a kind of hipster-y, New York-cool party in stodgy ol’ Connecticut.

The party, Artspace Underground, is held at Artspace New Haven, a non-profit contemporary art gallery. It has been pretty successful, marketing itself online and getting crowds by hosting popular local and regional bands.

Madison asked me to film a party and put together a short video for publicity and promotion. This is really my first solo film effort — shot and edited in less than 24 hours, so be kind!

USA to Broadcast: We’ll Take Your Leftovers… March 15, 2010

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…and make a great meal!

Seriously, can USA keep up its winning streak? The network announced today a new 11-episode legal series Facing Kate, starring Sarah Shahi (above), who is beloved by fans of The L Word for her role as Carmen and has made a name for herself doing sidekick and co-star roles on NBC’s short-lived Life and USA’s Psych. Shahi is staying in the NBC family with Kate, and thank God! We love her.

NBC’s cable subsidiaries — USA and Syfy chief among them — continue to generate more buzz and rising revenue (fueled of course by the 18-49s) than the company’s flagship NBC.

It looks like Kate is another addition into USA’s tried and true formula: taking leftovers and making tasty meals.

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Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone:’ Product Placement and Corporate Anxiety March 15, 2010

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Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is an attempt to bring back the music video, or, to make music videos “big” again, after years of seclusion from TV but tremendous popularity on YouTube. It’s not genius idea, of course. Talk to any production company in Los Angeles making music videos, and you’ll hear numerous filmmakers lamenting their hard work languishing with 50,000 hits, lagging behind kittens, babies, dancing amateurs, etc.

Still, “Telephone,” like everything else from Gaga, is big (click here for Madison Moore‘s “best of ‘Telephone'” list). But, as other blogs have pointed out, big costs money!

Lady Gaga raised music video product placement to a grotesque degree, solidifying her role as our camp consumerist icon in the same way MJ and Madonna served as postmodern icons in their early years. Gaga gets the money and icon-status; brands get, well, I’m not sure.

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The Old Internet Is New Again: ‘If I Can Dream’ and Chatroulette March 11, 2010

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Original at SpliceToday

Does anyone remember Jennifer Ringley and Sean Patrick? Over 10 years ago, tens of thousands of Americans brought The Truman Show to reality by broadcasting themselves live for anyone to see. Webcams, people forget (especially people my age), were the original web videos. JenniCam and Sean Patrick Live drew thousands of viewers and became one-person brands long before Fred and Ryan Higa. Webcams were low-res and low-energy, but they were voyeurism incarnate.

You know the Internet is old when it starts to repeat itself. (more…)

‘Lost’ Alum Finds His Way on the Web with ‘Valemont’ March 10, 2010

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Valemont writer Christian Taylor with the cast. Original posted at Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy

Television matured by coaxing workers away from the Hollywood film system and onto the small screen. Today even smaller screens are enticing writers and producers looking for new opportunities, more innovation and less bureaucracy.

That’s certainly true of the creative team behind MTV’s mobile and web series, Valemont, whose co-creator Brent Friedman and writer/director Christian Taylor have roughly three decades of film and television experience between them. Last week Valemont pulled in six nominations at the second annual Streamy Awards, which honors original Web video. Valemont’s nods included best writing and best drama series, joining such series as The Bannen Way and The Guild.

For Taylor, whose past credits include Lost, Six Feet Under and an Oscar nomination for his short film The Lady in Waiting, writing for new media was far from easy.

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‘Avatar’ Robbed Like ‘Citizen Kane’? March 8, 2010

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There’s an interesting debate brewing on Twitter over whether Avatar was robbed for Best Picture. Frankly I was surprised Hurt Locker had won. While critics had eventually forecast it would take the prize, I had put my money on Avatar, only for industry/political reasons. That said, I’m delighted Hurt Locker beat out Avatar, which spent too much money on creating lifelike blue people and not enough on script doctors.

A growing faction is claiming Avatar was cheated. /Film editor Peter Sciretta tweeted the first salvo: “The Hurt Locker will be this generation’s How Green Was My Valley” … and it began!

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“How to Make It in America:” Betting on the Decline of New York March 4, 2010

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One of many still photos of New York from the opening credits. Originally published at Splice Today; Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this.

Dude comedies have become a staple of the American media diet, though they probably always have been in some form or another. Slacker dudes are particularly popular—the successes of Judd Apatow and Seth MacFarlane’s most popular fare are evidence enough.

HBO, in its perpetual effort to not be television, has taken this formula and turned it on its head. (more…)

Televisual Break: The Dying Manhattan Coffee Shop (and the Case of Philadelphia) March 3, 2010

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Taking a break from film/TV/web series today to talk about an issue dear to my heart: the urban coffee shop. Specifically, the dying Manhattan coffee shop (and how Philadelphia is better).

I originally wrote this for Splice Today, but decided to re-post here after hearing from a friend, Madison Moore, that Esperanto, a 24-hour shop in the West Village/NYU-area had closed. Esperanto was, terrible service aside, a wonderful anomaly in Manhattan coffee shops: you could stay for hours, anytime, get a meal, free wi-fi and dessert all in a very central location. These stores are a dying breed.

Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

ORIGINAL: In my view, a city is defined by its coffee shops. As Madison Moore explored last week, coffee shops are meeting places to ogle and be seen, work and eavesdrop. They make the city less lonely.

New York has always, in my mind, been associated with coffee shops. Growing up in Jersey, I would go to the city with friends and go out on the town, but also coffee shop around. On break from college in Michigan, I’d do the same. It’s not just me. A generation of people has grown up with television shows and films romanticizing this experience—for me Woody Allen films, FelicitySex and the City and even Friends all played a part in creating this New York imagery.

No more. New York coffee culture is dying, especially in Manhattan. I used to be able to venture down to the Village, East or West, and find a café to sit and do work. I had numerous options. But on a recent trip to the city, I found myself hobbled by obstacle after obstacle. Coffee shops serving food and free wi-fi stopped offering one or the other, wi-fi networks in general were either not working or closed down, and because of the relatively small number of cafés, any decent place was too crowded to find a seat.

So what, right? (more…)