Sunday, September 8, 2013

Random Thoughts on Music

I heard Taylor Swift at the drug store today.  At first I thought it sounded like Avril Lavigne, until I heard the phrase, "we are never getting back together."  How did the music business survive before we were aware of this girl's relationship status? 

It amazes me how much alike all these girl singers sound.  I wonder if all female pop singers are secretly lip-synching the same voice. 

If you ever wanted to learn how to play music but didn't think you could do it, try Scott "The Piano Guy" Houston's book Play Piano in a Flash!  I picked it up after seeing one of his PBS specials in high school.  You can also see his show on PBS. A great teacher with a great method anyone can learn.

One of the things you learn from Scott Houston is the importance of the blues riff in modern music.  Once you familiarize yourself with it, you can often tell where a song is going musically before it gets there.

Why are modern pop songs so much longer than they need to be?  I once heard a song by the Pussycat Dolls (remember them?) that was four minutes long but had two minutes worth of music. 

Don't you hate it when some new song uses the same title as a classic?  Now I can't search for "California Girls" by the Beach Boys without seeing "California Gurls" by Katy Perry. 

The more I think of it, the more I realize that the music industry is driven by looks instead of talent.  If it were simply a matter of talent, Inara George would be the most famous singer in America. 

There are a number of pop stars who have good voices but whose songs suffer from overproduction.  Listen to Katy Perry's early Christian music (which she recorded under her birth name, Katy Hudson) or one of Ariana Grande's demonstration videos on Youtube, then listen to one of their released songs. 

According to Cracked, pop music has been getting louder and blander over the last 50 years.  This doesn't surprise me at all, having grown up on oldies.  All those angry old folks were right after all!  I reckon that in 20 years the #1 pop song will be a single, ringing tone like the Emergency Broadcast System uses.  

I'd like to give a personal message of thanks to corbos, who has the distinction of being the very first subscriber to this blog.  Hope you enjoyed this post! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Columbo Creed

After watching Columbo, I thought I'd try turning the philosophy of the show into something meme-worthy.  Do with it what you will. 

I like to think of it as a guide to success in life. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Netflix Pix: Why "Columbo" is the Quintessential TV Detective

There are any number of sites that review shows available for Netflix streaming, but those mostly focus on newer, contemporary series.  Columbo is a show I've seen before, at least in its later incarnations, but I hadn't watched it in years until I saw it on MeTV while visiting my sister last summer.  More recently my Dad and I started watching on Netflix, and we were hooked.  But this essay won't focus on a particular episode; this will be more of a general overview of the character.  More than likely, this will be the first in a series of similar program overviews.

What is so distinctive, so entrancing, about the character of Columbo?  For one, he has a distinctive appearance.  Peter Falk's glass eye gave the character's face a distinctly asymmetrical look.  But even more distinctive was the withered old raincoat he always wore.  It wouldn't have been unusual except for the fact that the show was set in Los Angeles.  Who wears a full-length trench coat in Los Angeles?  Nobody I'd want to know. 

What separates Columbo from the multitude of cop shows on the air today?  For one thing, we're (generally) spared the litany of pointless subplots that you see on Law and Order and its ilk: we don't see Columbo argue with his wife (she's mentioned but never seen); he never struggles with a drinking problem; he doesn't carry on affairs with his co-workers.  There is relatively little in each show that doesn't pertain to the case at hand, which is surprising because these shows are movie-length.  The show originally aired as part of The NBC Mystery Movie from 1971 to 1978 (the first of two pilots aired in 1968).  It aired about once a month, alternating with shows like McCloud and McMillan and Wife. The show was revived by ABC in 1989 as a series of standalone movies, the last of which aired in 2003(!).  I actually remember watching the final movie when it aired and enjoying it.  Maybe it was the fact he still drove that old Peugeot.


How did I get this far without mentioning the car?  Columbo drove the same 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible throughout the series.  Like the glass eye and the coat, it was one of those little things that wasn't all that important in and of itself, yet became part of the character with time. That's a lesson in TV writing, folks.  The character remains recognizable in large part because he was portrayed consistently.  Across the four decades he was on TV, the producers wisely never attempted to re-invent or "re-imagine" the character for a new generation.  Younger viewers learned to love him for what he was.  And what was he?

Columbo never tried to intimidate suspects.  He didn't go on brutal rampages or beat confessions out of the non-compliant.  He was, above all, a thinking man's detective, in the mold of Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes.  He used his brains, and was possessed of a keen observational skill.  He could be clever, even devious, but he always got his man.  More often than not, he would simply trick the suspect into tipping his hand, revealing information that only the killer could know.

In the episode "The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case," Columbo investigates a murder at a MENSA-like organization for the gifted.  Near the climax of that episode, he gives a speech to a suspect that sums up his entire philosophy.  It also lays out what makes the show is so quintessentially American:

 "You know, sir, it's a funny thing.  All my life I kept running into smart people.  I don't just mean smart like you, or the people in this house.  You know what I mean.  In school, there were lots of smarter kids.  And when I first joined the force, sir, they had some very clever people there, and I could tell right away that it wasn't gonna be easy making detective as long as they were around.  But I figured ...if I worked harder than they did, put in more time, read the books, and kept my eyes open, maybe I could make it happen.  And I did!  And I really love my work, sir." 

  I don't mean to make this a political piece, but if you were to ask a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian, there's a good chance they'd each say that this speech sums up what they're all about.   Whatever the case, the show's theme was clear: a working-class detective winning a battle of wits against suspects who are rich and famous. 


For those of you who made it to the end, here's some odds and ends pertaining to the show's history and mythology:

 "Columbo" Retrospective (Interview excerpts)

Peter Falk on "Larry King Live" 2005 (with Paul Reiser)

"Just One More Thing" British Radio Documentary (Part 1)

"Just One More Thing" British Radio Documentary (Part 2)

"Just One More Thing" British Radio Documentary (Part 3)

 UK Columbo Fan Site

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Jennette McCurdy Rule 5 (UPDATED 8/17: with bonus Liz Gillies)

The stat tracker on this site tells me that, in light of my recent triumphant return to the blogging world, my daily readership has shot up to an all-time high of 34.  To celebrate, I'm taking a page from the great Robert Stacy McCain and posting gratuitous pictures of good-looking ladies for no reason.  These are all SFW.

Today we dive into the recent Instagram postings of Jennette McCurdy.  The 21-year-old actress, formerly of iCarly and currently of Sam & Cat, is also on Twitter


Random Thoughts on Television

This is an idea I got from Thomas Sowell, although he wasn't the first to use it.  Today's "random thoughts" revolve around the state of the TV industry. 

I notice that The Munsters is one of the more popular shows available for streaming on Netflix.  This doesn't surprise me.  After watching it, you appreciate the type of innocent, character-driven humor that's characteristic of many classic shows, but is virtually unheard of in the modern age. 

Is it just me, or has TV comedy gotten extremely mean-spirited of late?  When I was a kid Two and a Half Men would never have made it onto the air, much less become a hit. 

No show had more lost potential than Malcolm in the Middle.  A show about a gifted child from a working-class family was practically tailor-made for yours truly.  Yet with time the show got so dark I couldn't bear to watch.  It's no wonder the show seems to have floundered in syndication. 

Successful comedy writers will tell you that there's an important distinction between naughty and nasty.  Watch I Love Lucy or The Andy Griffith Show; you'll be surprised at some of the stuff you didn't notice when you watched as a kid.  The people who made the classics could be naughty, but they did it with style and subtlety. 

Friends was a huge hit but hasn't aged all that well; neither has SeinfeldFrasier, meanwhile, could've been made yesterday- or 50 years ago. 

Family-friendly shows like Home Improvement are widely derided for being trite and formulaic, but they hold up better over time than most of their contemporaries.  Shows that were "edgy" in the 90's have lost their edge over time- and edge was all most of them ever had. 

One of the things that strikes me about old TV shows is how much longer the production seasons were in the 50's and 60's.  The Patty Duke Show had more episodes in its three seasons than Community has had in four- and has been seen by far more people. 

I can't help but feel sorry for the people who make Community.  This is not a comment on the show's quality.  By any measure, it's one of the least-watched shows on television.  When the end-of-season rankings for this last year were released, Community ranked somewhere in the 90s.  This wasn't for total viewers; this was for the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that the show is supposed to be aimed at. 

A recent study indicates that the relationship between social media buzz and ratings for TV shows is tenuous at best.  If you ask me, social media are an echo chamber, a place where a handful of people can create a deafening amount of hype.  It seems like for every opportunity creators get to expose the public to their work through social media, they get a dozen opportunities to make themselves look like a jackass.  Why bother? 

In the long run, viewers are a better judge of a TV show's quality than critics or bloggers.  Most of what we call "classic" shows were not exactly critical darlings when they were first aired. 

What is it with shows aimed at kids and teens?  Shows like iCarly and Victorious are exercises in masochism.  Have you ever sat down and watched these shows?  It's just one lazy joke after another, one false note after another.  VicTORIous is especially irksome because the whole cast was made up of sitcom and Broadway veterans; you couldn't have asked for a better cast, especially a cast of all teens.  It makes me angry.  You only have to watch one episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete to know they could have done better.  I think these shows would've been funnier if they'd have ditched the scripts and had the cast improvise every scene.  Which reminds me...

Whose Line Is It Anyway? is back, and not a moment too soon.  It's still funny, and it's been renewed for a full season.  Note to you network executives: this is how comedy should work. 

We live in an age where being detached and ironic is the "big thing" in television.  Heaven knows how we'll look on this brand of humor ten years from now.  I'm already sick of it.  I can't help but think we'll see a gradual return to more earnest humor in the future. 

I have nothing against The Office, but the awkward humor angle has been done to death.  How many times can you see a guy be a complete moron before it gets old? 

I'm not even close to done yet, so I'll save my additional thoughts for another post.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm Back!

Well, it's been what, two years?  Sorry to all my friends; I've been a bit busy and haven't been diligent about writing.  But that's over now; expect new updates on a regular basis. 

Here's some of the things you can expect me to talk about:

electronics/video games
random thoughts

I might have some other ideas, but I'll add them as they come up.