Monday, June 21, 2010

Emmy Voters! Listen Up!

Dear Emmy Voters,

You all are a rambunctious group of free-thinkers who love to take certain risks while still remaining remarkably safe in your nomination choices. This has been proven the past few years by repeated nominations for Mad Men but none for it's standout, Christina Hendricks, for example, or by lots of wins for 30 Rock but none for its edgiest and most hilarious performer, Tracy Morgan.

This year, I'd like to see you take some chances. I'd like to see not only some surprise nominations, but some surprise wins. I want to be on the edge of my seat at the Emmys this year.

On my wish list: first, I would like to see you recognize The Good Wife, truly the year's best new program, drama or otherwise, and perhaps the best television show on air right now. It deserves a nomination for Best Series, Drama, as well as wins for it's two powerful women, Julianna Marguiles as lead and Archie Panjabi as supporting. I have little doubt that Marguiles will prevail, but in case there is a groundswell of support for Glenn Close in the superb but likely cancelled Damages, just remember this: Close has won twice in a row for this role. She does not need another win.

Panjabi, I'm certain, will have a much more difficult road to a win. She must face Rose Byrne, Close's guest star who regularly spars on-screen with one of the greatest actresses of our time and often comes off the winner; Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men's heart and soul that should be in the lead race but downgraded to supporting and is now in the prime position to win; Hendricks from the same show after an outstanding body of work this season; and the always magnificent Lisa Edelstein of House, long a favorite of mine who was allowed her first real chance to shine this season with an episode devoted solely to her. Still, among these many great actresses, I am committed to Panjabi, an absolute enigma in leather boots.

Second, I would like to see more widespread recognition of Glee beyond the Best Series, Comedy category it is incredibly likely to win. I want to see nominations for Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, and Chris Colfer, with a win for Jane Lynch. The show is a well-rounded effort, and it would be criminal not to recognize all the different aspects involved in the production of it.

Finally, I would like to see a win for Kathy Griffin in the Best Guest Actress, Drama category. I never saw her performance on Law and Order: SVU, but I did see how hard she worked for it on her show, My Life on the D-List, and I really want her to take home a golden statuette.

I hope you'll keep all these things in mind when voting, Emmy voters. Because I know you all read this tiny little blog in the middle of the cybersphere. Especially you, Tina Fey.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

25 of 30: The Best of Rock

For three and a half seasons, 30 Rock was the reigning champion of television comedy. While edgy shows like Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara on Showtime tried to outdo the broadcast excellence of Rock much in the same vein as cable dramas like Mad Men and Dexter have, nothing could top Rock...

Until now, of course. This past television season saw Glee, Modern Family, and Cougar Town all outdo Rock on broadcast television on a regular basis, thanks to Rock's underwhelming second part to the fourth season. Since then, it's become popular to deride 30 Rock as "over" and "past its prime."

You know when the first time critics and audiences tried to kill this Tina Fey comedy was? Before it even aired. During the same television series that 30 Rock premiered, Aaron Sorkin's new dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip debuted. Guess which show the critics stood behind? Guess which show failed?

This post is to remind everyone out there exactly how good 30 Rock really is. I'm going to list the top 25 best episodes in order, with a particular point of personal satisfaction with the episode. (It'll be significantly more detailed for the top five.) Pretty simple. You might not always get the context, but hey, that's all the more reason to Netflix/buy the DVD sets and figure out exactly why this show is so damn funny.

25. "Don Geiss, America, and Hope" (Season 4) - the porn movie titles for Kabletown, such as Fresh-Ass: Based on the Novel "Tush" By Ass-Fire

24. "Jack-tor" (Season 1) - Liz's pep talk to Jack, plus the GE Product Integration video outtakes of Jack screwing up

23. "Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001" (Season 4) - the high-definition camera does different things to different characters, and they're all hilarious

22. "The One With The Cast Of Night Court" (Season 3) - Jennifer Aniston as 'crazyputty' Claire Harper

21. "MILF Island" (Season 2) - the breakout star of the titular reality show, Deborah, and Jack's fascination with her

20. "Emmanuelle Goes To Dinosaur Land" (Season 4) - Drew: "Hooks crossed!"

19. "The Funcooker" (Season 3) - Liz wants to be reborn like a phoenix from the ashes, but she doesn't mean to nearly set her co-workers on fire

18. "Secrets and Lies" (Season 2) - Patrice, one of Jenna's gays, to Liz: "Oh, Melissa? Your face is on the phone. Soccer practice is over, and you need to PICK IT UP!"

17. "Pilot" (Season 1) - A damn fantastic beginning (bonus: Jack's response to "We own Kmart now?": "No. So why are you dressed like we do?" was only his second line of the entire series and is still one of his best)

16. "Fireworks" (Season 1) - one of the all-around best episodes of the series, with the character development in Liz a highlight

15. "Mamma Mia" (Season 3) - You gotta love the Meryl Streep musical-imitating search for Jack's father, played by the magnificent Alan Alda (bonus: Kenneth to Jack: "As head of this tour, I'm going to deny your request")

14. "Kidney Now!" (Season 3) - "He Needs a Kidney" is the best charity song to ever not raise any money (bonus: The Vontella Martin Show)

13. "Episode 210" (Season 2) - this writers' strike-affected episode struck gold with Liz's drunken phone calls to the co-op board at her new apartment building (bonus: "Midnight Train to Georgia" as sung by the cast!)

12. "Generalissimo" (Season 3) - Alec Baldwin plays two roles while trying to get Elisa Padreira (Salma Hayek)'s grandmother to fall for him

11. "Hiatus" (Season 1) - the first and best appearance of Elaine Stritch as Jack's mother, Colleen Donaghy, was pure genius

10. "The Ones" (Season 3) - Liz to Elisa, la viuda negra: "Why are you so quiet when your parties are so loud?!" (bonus: Elisa's 'What the Frak?' shirt!)

9. "St. Valentine's Day" (Season 3) - the confrontation between Elisa and Jack in the church in front of the statue of St. Lucia, the patron saint of judgmental statues, takes an unfortunate turn when Jack will never touch Elisa's big boobs again

8. "Hardball" (Season 1) - Where to start? Jenna's voting for "Osama in '08," Liz makes Josh do the worm, and Alec has pictures of Josh rough-housing with Lance Bass at SeaWorld

7. "Cougars" (Season 2) - Val Emmich made us all "gay for Jamie," even if that's not a thing (bonus points: dance remix of 'Muffin Top'!)

6. "Tracy Does Conan" (Season 1) - Dr. Spaceman (pronounced Spechemin, naturally) is introduced, and LaDonica has not been real helpful to Kenneth the Page

The Top Five (A.K.A. where it gets real, y'all)

5. "The Rural Juror" (Season 1)
This is where 30 Rock became the genius show it is known as today. What other show would create an entire episode off of two words they just can't pronounce together? Jane Krakowski's Jenna Maroney character became not only funny, but pertinent to the story's development. Rachel Dratch had a phenomenal guest shot as a completely misunderstandable Barbara Walters. Fey's Liz Lemon wanted to be an actress, but she wasn't blonde. Lonny Ross' Josh had to let a security guard watch him pee to get a screener of Jenna's movie. Tracy Morgan's Tracy Jordan develops the Tracy Jordan Meat Machine, which isn't the worst celebrity product idea Baldwin's Jack Donaghy's ever heard of ("You're working out with Whoopi!"). The character development is in high supply, too. It's one of the finest episodes for the whole show, and definitely Maroney's personal best.

4. "Somebody To Love" (Season 2)
This ingenious episode introduced us to Celeste "C.C." Cunningham, a "D" congresswoman from Vermont who Jack hooks up with but then can't stand to be apart from, despite their need to be secretive. They meet at a party thrown by John McCain and Jack Bauer. Yes, John McCain is very real. Jack McBrayer's Kenneth Parcell loses Jack's suit pants and does ridiculous stunts to get them back. NBC's parent company, the Sheinhardt Wig Corporation, has been turning children orange. Liz is convinced her neighbor, Fred Armisen's pita pocket Raheem, is a terrorist, and becomes an American hero who saw something and said something. Finally, in what might be the funniest thirty seconds of modern television comedy, we find out that C.C. had a Lifetime movie made about her, "A Dog Took My Face and Gave Me a Better Face to Change the World: The Celeste Cunningham Story," starring Kristin Wiig's Candice Van der Shark. The clips of the Lifetime movie are mind-blowingly funny. This is how 30 Rock beats its competitors: it knows how to use its guest stars. Speaking of which...

3. "Believe In The Stars" (Season 3)
Oprah Winfrey on 30 Rock could have been stupid. It could have been ridiculous. It could have been forced. It could have been horrible. It wasn't. Instead, it was the most inspired bit of stunt casting in the history of television, weaving in Oprah brilliantly as a hallucination for Liz, when in reality, Oprah was nothing but a spunky 7th grader named Pam who, nonetheless, solved a race/gender conflict between Jenna and Tracy with class. Speaking of that conflict, we saw Tracy dressed up as Becky, Liz's college roommate and a white woman with a monster claw who was going to lunch with her girlfriends and wanted to sit outside. ("Lipstick!") We also saw Jenna, a black man, singing "Ease On Down The Road" from The Wiz. We found out there's no such thing as Olympic tetherball, which caused Kenneth to lose his faith in Jack, which caused Jack to break Kenneth. Jack met Maulik Pancholy's Jonathan when he thought he was M. Night Shamaylan. Oh, and did I mention Liz gets out of jury duty by pretending to be Princess Leia? One of the best-written episodes of the series, and Fey's best acting work to date.

2. "Blind Date" (Season 1)
It's no secret 30 Rock had some difficulty getting off the ground early in its run. What's often forgotten is the genius of "Blind Date," an episode that saw Jack set up Liz with his friend Thomas. That is, of course, Gretchen Thomas, the brilliant plastics engineer-slash-lesbian. Jack corrects Liz's file when he finds out she's not a lesbian, though her shoes are definitely bi-curious. But as it turns out, Liz does love Gretchen, just as the Gayle to her Oprah. But Gretchen shuts it down before they go to IKEA together. Meanwhile, Jack becomes obsessed with Kenneth Ellen Parcell, an unreadable poker player who defeats him because Jack can't discern his tell. He almost gets rid of Kenneth, but Jack decides to keep him around, because of what the Italians (who have never won a war or mass-produced a decent car) say: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. After all, in five years, we'll all either be working for Kenneth or be dead by his hand. For anyone who ever says that early Rock wasn't truly its best, just point them to this expertly executed third episode.

1. "Black Tie" (Season 1)
30 Rock doesn't get any better than this. A masterfully written, acted, subplotted, directed, and cast work, it includes the magnificent Paul Reubens, also known as Pee-Wee Herman, as a prince incapacitated by generations of inbreeding who dies for Jenna at his 25th birthday party. Literally. Jack asks Liz to accompany him to the party, where they run into Jack's ex-wife, Bianca, played brilliantly by Isabella Rosellini. When Jack panics, he introduces Liz as his live-in girlfriend, which sends Bianca into a wild rage. "The whole thing makes me want to vomit!" Meanwhile, Frank is tempted to cheat after a tiring altercation with his wife and kids ("How is that Elmo's fault? Did Mommy have some wine to drink before she called Elmo?") by Tracy and a woman with smooth jugs, but Kenneth talks him down in a brilliant spoof of the angel/devil dynamic seen, well, everywhere. The whole episode is entirely plot-relevant, yet it stands out in every way possible. When Glee wants to do a Madonna episode but manages to not advance a single plot, it should be reminded of "Black Tie": a fun, on-location episode that did something different but still developed its characters in truly interesting ways. Maybe one of the top five sitcom episodes ever written, "Black Tie" is a testament to exactly why 30 Rock has become the critical darling and audience favorite it is.

Agree? Disagree? Take it to the comments!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Stories Behind The Songs, Part II

One hour, ten hours... Same difference. At any rate... Second verse, more emotionally invested than the first.

10. "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing," Aerosmith
It's probably the cheesiest rock song ever written. It doesn't even sound like Aerosmith, really. But to me, it's just a great anthem of undying love. Not only that, but I use it to be able to say in conversation, "Oh, yeah, I like Aerosmith." ...what? They're not all going to be brilliant reasons. I just really like the song. It's the song I geek out to, really. Check out Allison Iraheta's softer cover that removes some of Steven Tyler's, erm, histrionics.

9. "Halo," Beyoncé
The hard-pumping religiously allegorical "Halo" is arguably her best effort. Though the beat is a little overused (you can hear it, or a version of it, in Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone," Leona Lewis' "Happy," and Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield," all produced by Ryan Tedder), it's still irresistible. It's also the only time I feel that Beyoncé truly restrains herself. On other songs, her crazy personality is fully on display, but on this one, she keeps it under control. It's a Beyoncé I can admire, not the Beyoncé I'm a little scared of.

8. "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Bonnie Tyler
Oh, my relationship with this song is so interesting. Starting from driving in the Toyota Corolla with my best friend blasting this song to listening to Glee's Lea Michele do her cover version and watching it somehow rocket to number one on the iTunes charts to watching the literal video (haven't watched it? Go. Now. Do it.) over and over again until I remembered those lyrics better than the original ones. The best part? It's a horrible song. Awful. Completely nonsensical. The video's even worse. But I love it. It's truly amazingly bad. My ultimate guilty pleasure.

7. "Knock You Down," Keri Hilson f/ Ne-Yo & Kanye West
"I never thought I'd hear myself say, 'Y'all go ahead, I think I'm gonna kick it with my girl today.'" This is my favorite hip hop song because it is so beautifully orchestrated. The three artists' parts are weaved together beautifully. I consider it a hip hop masterpiece. But it is also a difficult song to listen to, because of when I really loved it most. I loved it, and a good friend of mine who I'm no longer close with loved it too. We would sing it loud and proud driving on 360 with the windows down and music blaring. It's a highlight song, but it does remind me of times gone by that I'm sad don't exist anymore. But to paraphrase the song, when life knocks you down, you just gotta get back up again.

6. "Yesterday," The Beatles
I gotta say, leaving this out of my Top Five is really hard. It's my favorite Beatles tune, quite out of step for the Fab Four. It's an aching tale of a metaphorical morning after a loved one leaves. This song has helped me live through at least one difficult time where I needed to remember the past while still moving on. It is cathartic and a means for living with the past. When you're at your lowest point after a breakup or a friendship ends, take a listen to this song. It can help you realize that just because yesterday is gone doesn't mean you go with it. Listen to Syesha Mercado's heavily stylized cover that recasts the speaker as a woman wronged. It's not better, but it's a pretty damn good stand-alone.

Now, for the Top Five. I would say that most of these could be interchanged. But the following order is probably the most accurate for me.

5. "Paint It Black," The Rolling Stones
Who among us hasn't envisioned that our world gets darker when we're in a bad mood? The Stones took this to an extreme, imagining a world where everything is painted black. The guitar is almost Middle Eastern-influenced, and the lyrics are powerfully gripping, creating an anthem of depression. I will say, however, that I didn't love this song quite as much until Siobhan Magnus tore it up on this past season of American Idol. As good as the original is, I actually prefer Magnus' "demented toybox" version. It's damn impressive, and the sonic scream she pulls out at the end could be irritating but turns out to be the perfect finale. A wonderful interpretation of a wonderful song.

4. "Because of You," Kelly Clarkson
If there's one contemporary pop artist I've followed with the most consistency, it would be Kelly Clarkson. She was my first big concert, the first album I learned all the lyrics to, the first pop star I was ever disappointed in for changing too much, and the first comeback album I ever owned. All in all, she was, and is, my American Idol. This song explains perfectly why I love her so much. Written first when she was sixteen, it's amazingly deep for a pop hit. In it, Clarkson sings about her parents' divorce and how damaging the relationship with her mother was. Sure, I loved "Since U Been Gone" and "My Life Would Suck Without You." I even liked the random "Addicted," "How I Feel," "I Want You," or "Save You." But "Because of You" is special. It's the moment I knew Kelly Clarkson wasn't the average pop star. She's an artist, and she's something special to me.

3. "Falling Slowly," The Swell Season
"I don't know you but I want you all the more for that." Talk about a universal feeling. That gal or guy you see across the room who catches your eye and you can't stop watching. The chance encounter that lasts only a fleeting second but you want to last forever. The aching feeling when you realize that you've truly, completely fallen for someone who doesn't yet love you. It's not a hymn of unrequited love, it's a hymn of a love not yet in existence that you can just taste. I've felt it many a time. It's something you can't fight but in your most difficult moments you succumb to far too often. But just the emotion and the lyrics wouldn't be enough. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are extraordinary artists who evoke incredible emotion of their audiences. I can honestly say that no song makes me more emotional. It's a tearjerker.

2. "So You Can Cry," Ne-Yo
Speaking of songs about pain... This catchy ballad by current R&B king (sorry, Usher) Ne-Yo is about getting over the past and moving on, because life should be a celebration, not a funeral dirge. Like "Yesterday," which is more about remembering the past but still about moving on, "So You Can Cry" appeals to me as a reset button, a way to completely throw away the past and move on with your life. There was at least one period of my life that so desperately needed to be forgotten and thrown away that I wish I had heard this song long ago during that time. It might've helped, because one thing I know now is that in the greatest moments of crisis, music may not be a miracle cure, but it can be a great emotional outlet.

And here we are. Number one. My favorite song of all time is...

1. "You Don't Know Me," Ben Folds f/ Regina Spektor
...the most non-emotional song on this list. Huh? Isn't this all about the story about the song? How did this one win? Let me explain. This was the song of my summer in 2008. Up until that point, that was the best summer of my life (trounced by the summer of 2009 and 2010 is on its way to trouncing it as well). It was bubbly, fun, indie but pop-influenced: the best of all possible worlds. It is the one song I can never tire of listening to (though, strangely, it is behind "So You Can Cry" on my Most Played iTunes list), and the one song I immediately feel sheer joy for when it plays. When someone suggested that American Idol season 9 finalists Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze cover it, I felt immense pleasure that it was being referenced and leapt into defensive Mama Bear mode to protect my favorite song from such debauchery. I have no more love for any other song. This is my song. This is my story. (Cliché ending, right? It had to come sometime.)

Well, there it is. My 20 favorite songs and the reasons why I love them so much. What are your favorites? Give me a taste in the comments section of either Part I or Part II.

The Stories Behind The Songs, Part I

I was planning on moving to 30 Rock first, but I have to figure out exactly which episodes are my favorites before I do that. So it's music first!

Rolling Stone recently came out with a list of the Best 500 Songs ever. Somewhat expectedly, it was heavy on rock and roll, but especially on classic rock (Rolling Stones, Beatles, U2, etc.). I can appreciate some of the selections (Top 10 placement for John Lennon's "Imagine" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect"? Hell yeah!), but others (why does "Paint It Black" not even break the Top 100? Why doesn't "Yesterday" break the Top 10?) really frustrate me.

Thus, I've formulated this theory: it is impossible to compile a subjective list of best songs ever. Each person has different memories of different songs, has different tastes, and therefore no one will be able to create a rubric for grading every song ever written and deciding which is "best."

What is possible, however, is to compile a personal favorite playlist: 20 songs one likes the most. They don't even have to be good songs, really: what is important is the emotion behind the song. What connection does one have to the song? What's the story behind the song?

In these two posts, I'll detail my favorite 20 songs of all time, as well as explain exactly why each of them is so important to me personally. Readers, I don't expect you to agree. You shouldn't agree. But I challenge you guys to come up with your top 20 (or 10, or 5) songs not from a technical level, but from a personal level, and post them in the comments section. You can explain them or you can not explain them, but make sure each song means something.

One note: not everything below is going to be super deep, but there will be some that are pretty personal. I'll do my best to not name names when the explanation is sticky.

20. "Russian Roulette," Rihanna
I absolutely hated how the press handled the Rihanna/Chris Brown incident. It was like they were afraid to pick a side. Like Brown somehow wasn't completely in the wrong. Jesse James cheats on Sandra Bullock and he's a sub-human, but Brown beats his girlfriend and we should "hear both sides of the story." It was sickening. This was Rihanna's first single off her fourth (and best) album, Rated R, and it is by far the most emotionally-loaded song she's ever written. Love is, for her and for all of us, a sick game, one where we never know what is right behind the door. Is it safety or is it jeopardy? The song is beautifully orchestrated and layered. It inspires an emotional reaction at each bated breath and especially at that first cold gunshot.

19. "The High Road," Broken Bells
I can't stand people who follow indie music just so that they can say they follow indie music. (People who legitimately enjoy indie music, however, actually compose a good portion of my best friends, so don't read that wrong. I hate the posers, not the true indie fans.) While I like some independent artists here and there, I would never consider myself an "indie kid" or anything in that vein. (The last song was Rihanna, for crying out loud.) However, a friend introduced me to this song, and I fell in love with it. The first part is just goofy enough to be a blast, like the intro to a Mario game, and the softer outro is a brilliant choice to end it. After hearing this song, I bought the album, and am still to this day the only person I know who owns the Bells' album. So no, I'm not an indie kid, but this is one group I cop to being a fanboy for, and this is the song that started it all.

18. "Don't Rain On My Parade," Barbra Streisand
Admittedly, the Streisand version isn't my favorite version of this song. There's no doubt she has the raw emotion in her voice, but it's always struck me as a little too grand. No, my love for this song first started with Lea Michele's cover version in the midseason finale of Glee, "Sectionals." It's a brilliant song and a brilliant performance, but it's the story I really relate to. Rachel, Michele's character, is the most talented singer on the show, full stop. Yet other characters and fans alike reject her because she steals the show too often. Then, when they most need her, she pulls this out of her hat and kills it. There's a central truth there that the best will be the best no matter what, and just because they're overexposed or too self-aggrandizing doesn't take that away.

17. "Like a Star," Corrine Bailey Rae
Rae's soul-filled waltz about a broken relationship that's just so damn addictive is absolutely beautiful, and especially meaningful since the death of her husband between her two albums. Her British croon is certainly popular elsewhere (Duffy, ADELE, Amy Winehouse), but she does it better than any of her more popular contemporaries on this track that taught me that every relationship has its ups and downs, but for true love, you can live with the annoyances and irritations.

16. "Is That All There Is?," Peggy Lee
"Then one day, he went away, and I thought I'd die. But I didn't. And when I didn't, I said to myself, 'Is that all there is to love? Is that all there is?'" The speaker in Lee's fatalistic anthem doesn't see a point in, well, anything, even death. Everything is a disappointment. I know that I have had, and I'm sure others have had similar, thoughts that life isn't worth living if there's no joy or fun in it. (See also: Jenny in An Education.) Here's the truth, however: life is worth living when you surround yourself with loved ones you can trust. In fact, life can be beautiful. You don't ask, "Is that all there is?" but rather, "What's next?" That's an important lesson for anyone. It certainly was for me.

15. "All Alone," Chris Richardson
We've hit the first song absolutely no one will know! (It's actually probably the last one too...) Richardson was a finalist on Season 6 of American Idol, and was generally considered a lightweight by, well, everyone, including me. However, his debut single (which woefully underperformed) showed up on a recommendation from iTunes. It was only $.99, so I went ahead and bought it. Thank God I did. I take back anything I ever said about Richardson: his tone is great, his lyrics aren't too deep but they're decent, and the song is infinitely listenable. It's Justin Timberlake-esque pop, but unlike the far too ubiquitous former *NSYNC member, Richarsdon can keep me hooked. I just wish he'd release more music!

14. "Paparazzi," Lady Gaga
Trust me, it was not easy to decide whether it would be this or "Bad Romance" that made it onto the list. (I almost put both.) Some like to dismiss Gaga as nothing but a one-trick pony. I would like to ask those people exactly when they stopped paying attention/started smoking hallucinogenics. Gaga has more than a few tricks up her sleeve, and "Paparazzi" was her first reinvention. She transformed from the party girl to an introspective pop star looking at the photographers who follow her around in a completely different way: instead of scorning them, she inhabited them and made herself her man's stalker. The video was her first insane one (starring True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård), setting the stage for "Bad Romance," "Telephone," and most recently, "Alejandro." When you think about it, "Paparazzi" is the reason why we, and especially I, hang on Gaga's every movement. She's not just an artist: she's a pop culture phenomenon. (If you want a cover to check out, try Felix Theis' acoustic cover. Find it on YouTube.)

13. "My Funny Valentine," Frank Sinatra
Here's a little O'Keeffe family trivia: this song was my mom's first Valentine's Day gift to my dad when they were engaged. Two years ago, as a harkening back to that, I burned a CD of twenty different "My Funny Valentine" covers for my parents for their 20th anniversary. There's something so sweet about the song, and I consider it the anthem of my parents' incredibly strong marriage. My favorite cover is Carly Simon's quieter, more lovely than loving version, but I also love the R&B-twinged Melinda Doolittle cover and Sinatra's original, though I do think it's a song for a woman to sing to a man, not vice versa. (Saying a woman's figure is "less than Greek" sounds significantly more sexist than saying it of a man's figure.)

12. "Say My Name," Destiny's Child
Two artists have two entries each on this chart. Beyoncé is the first: one as a solo artist, one as part of Destiny's Child. (There would have been a third if I could have decided on a Regina Spektor song, but they're all too evenly matched for me to pick a favorite.) "Say My Name" had a striking video that I still remember to this day: that may have been because this was the first music video I ever saw. The then-four members of Child were positioned around an apartment, each member in a differently colored room and dressed to match. The action then shifted to a garage-esque setting, and the singers did a rotating dance that would become iconic. The song is super-catchy, with just the right amount of sass. I smile instantly when the song comes on, remembering all the times I listened to the song as a kid and watched the video. It's the ultimate kiss-off song, and one that I will probably remember the words to forever.

The final song of the lower tier is...

11. "You Oughta Know," Alanis Morrisette
This was not an easy one to remove from the Top 10, but I couldn't find one to drop in its favor. My science teacher once referred to Morrisette's music as being "angry lesbian music," which is incredibly true. However, this song is also a beautiful testament to exactly how thin that line between love and hate really is. Personally, I have hated people I knew I loved. Neither of those emotions is illegitimate: when love is unrequited, hate is born. This passionate rant of a woman scorned may be a tale of hatred, but there is also no doubt that she loves her ex-lover as well. Love is too complex to be trivialized as a one-emotion issue. It is incredibly complex and incredibly passionate, and that's what I love most about this song.

Part II will be up in a little over an hour, so stay tuned for that. It gets loads more personal, I can guarantee you that.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gleeless: My Dissatisfaction With The Finale

To paraphrase a wise, apparently-barren woman, "Somewhere in a stately manor in the countryside of England, Journey is crying."

Kids, you should know off the bat that this is not going to be a happy post because I was supposed to move onto 30 Rock and music. Since I'm still on Glee, it can only mean one thing: rant.

If you haven't watched last night's finale, stop reading. This is gonna be spoilery.

The episode last night, "Journey," was rushed, ignored plot, and was completely ingenuine to Glee's roots. Then agian, that shouldn't be a shock: these last nine episodes of the spring have all, in one way or another, failed to live up to the Great Glee Promise.

What is the Great Glee Promise, you ask? Flash back with me to the first thirteen episodes. Remarkably solid, all thirteen had a spirit that you would be hard-pressed to deny. Even the lowest points ("Acafellas," "Hairography") had redeeming moments ("Imagine," for example) that reminded us why we loved the show.

Ryan Murphy, the show's creator, made a promise to Gleeks everywhere that he would stay true to the spirit of the show when it took five months off. When it came back in April, it wasn't the same show we once loved.

That's not all bad: some of the episodes have been great. But on the whole, the episodes have taken a darker turn into dramatic territory, only alleviated by ditzy Brittany (Heather Morris). Even Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), the Chuck Norris-esque iconic character, has faltered into melodrama several times.

However, Glee is not bad at drama. Look at "Theatricality" and, especially, "Dream On." Those two episodes were masterpiece dramatic theater. Mike O'Malley's performance in the former as proud father to Kurt (Chris Colfer) was indescribably passionate. The duet of "I Dreamed a Dream" between mother (Idina Menzel) and daughter (Lea Michele) was inspired.

What makes it difficult, then, is when Glee fails to either live up to the Promise of funny, inspiring television OR be dramatic. Last night, the show failed spectacularly to be either.

I'm sure there are some who genuinely liked last night's episode. I ask you to recollect with me on exactly what happened last night. The competition was treated like an afterthought, with the group's Journey medley minimized. (Why wasn't the new version of "Don't Stop Believin'" given proper treatment? It sounded killer!) Not only that, but we were expected to be surprised when Vocal Adrenaline won for their cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody," which was a million times better. The plots had no resolution, with barely-there writing explaining things away. Shelby Corcoran (Menzel) got Quinn (Dianna Agron)'s baby. Rachel (Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith) kissed and are in love. Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) is still in love with Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison). Sue has a heart and voted for the kids, so she convinced Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) to give them one more year to turn things around.

It was all a reset button. A "hey, we're gonna keep doing the same thing for another year" excuse. A reason for Season 2 that could have easily not come to pass.

Glee showed at midseason that they know how to do a finale. This was a major disappointment.

Murphy and the show's writing staff needs to consider exactly where they want Glee to go next season. Do they want it to live up to the Promise? In that case, all the melodrama needs to go, and more humor needs to be injected.

Or would they prefer stick with the "Theatricality"/"Dream On" direction? If they do, then here's what they gotta do, pronto.

1. Eject Sue Sylvester. The woman is born to be in the original Glee world, not this one. If we're gonna see a darker direction for the show, she needs to get her own spin-off where she can be simply Sue.

2. Stop the stunt casting. No more Idina Menzels or Jonathan Groffs. All the characters have to be completely real and genuine. I would even dump part of the main ensemble (Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowicz, and my lovely Morris).

3. Make the songs appropriate. Crap like having a mother and daughter do "Poker Face" isn't gonna fly. Nor are episodes entirely devoted to being "funky" to get out of a "funk." Every episode must act as the first few did: drop the hokey themes and assignments and let the music tell the story.

I'm sad that Glee is going through this identity crisis, but I know that it can win its audience back quite easily. They just need to remember who they are and why the show is so great.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gleeful Part Four: Mob Mentality

The conclusion of my Gleeful series comes with the big final category: group numbers. If you've watched just one episode of Glee, even just the back half of one, you know how each episode ends: with a big song to tell us all what we've learned. If that sounds biting, it's not meant to be: group numbers are commonly known as the best the show has to offer. We all love the solos, the duets, even some of the guest performances, but the group numbers are Glee's life's blood.

Not to say each one is good (God, "One" really was awful, wasn't it?), but when they're good, they're phenomenal. But beyond each group performance is a truly standout performer, and as an added bonus, I'll select my standout performer on each of the following ten tracks. (Sometimes they're more obvious than others.)

Honorable Mentions

"Gives You Hell" - Originally by the All-American Rejects
Rachel's kiss-off to Finn using the first syllable of the week's theme, "Hello," starts off at too high a pitch, but when the group comes in, it becomes a rollicking, fun number that calls to mind the original without sounding too familiar. It's a realistic number for a high school glee club to perform on the spot. Points for that. Standout performer: Lea Michele (though those first few notes are a little painful).

"Run Joey Run" - Originally by David Geddes
Who didn't have the echoing chorus of "Run, Joey, run, Joey, run" rattling around their heads for hours after this performance? It's one of the worst songs ever, and Rachel rehabs its reputation, showing us that anything once thought bad can be made good again. Also: that video is priceless. Standout performer: Mark Salling, for setting up the story and hilariously overacting in the video.

"Like A Virgin" - Originally by Madonna
The Madonna episode does not sit well with me upon further reflection. But nothing could kill my love for the clever spin on this risqué Madonna standard. It's sung in three parts by three different couples, and the staging was amazing. Though it was all a dream sequence, it still remains memorable. Standout performer: Naya Rivera, who gets her first solo lines and uses her siren-esque tone to entrance listeners.

"My Life Would Suck Without You" - Originally by Kelly Clarkson
Okay, it can skew a little Kidz Boppy. But don't tell me you don't remember that mash-up of dance sequences. Don't tell me it wasn't in your head for the next few days as you lamented the coming months without Glee. And don't tell me it wasn't a perfect final performance. I just wish they'd done it in competition over that horrifyingly cliché Rolling Stones number. Standout performer: Michele, though she couldn't outsing Clarkson (but who can?).

"It's My Life / Confessions, Pt. II" - Originally by Bon Jovi / Usher
The original mash-up, the boys' Bon Jovi / Usher mix was considered a tie to the girls' Katrina and the Waves / Beyoncé combination, but truly, the boys ran away with it. A perfect blend of "live in the moment" and "the consequences of living," it was a perfect song for the boys' vocal strengths, and remains memorable for starting the mash-up trend. Standout performer: Kevin McHale, showing how his voice can be great.

The Top Five

5. "Imagine" - Originally by John Lennon
Okay, the song alone would have made it to the top three. It was the horrendous "let's improve the deaf kids' song" attitude that the performance had that really ruined this. The song itself was beautifully performed, a standout from what is still Glee's weakest episode to date. Standout performer: Amber Riley, restraining herself wonderfully.

4. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" - Originally by Bonnie Tyler
Tyler's one and only big hit has an amazing redemptive quality. Be it through performances on American Idol or literal videos surfacing on YouTube (haven't seen it yet? GO), the song, once considered a bit of a joke power ballad, finds a way of always being contemporary. This version is no different. What a fresh take on a somewhat musty song. Standout performer: Michele, because we truly believe that every now and then she falls apart.

3. "Bad Romance" - Originally by, duh, Lady Gaga
SO. MUCH. FUN. Elaborately costumed and staged, with the solos spread well between the women (and, er, Kurt), it was also welcome that Rachel didn't get a solo: more room for the superb Riley, Agron, and especially my standout performer: Rivera! She nails the French lyrics, and she sings the last portion of the song better than even Gaga does.

2. "Don't Stop Believin'" - Originally by Journey
Blasphemy! Sure, this is where Glee got its start, and it is truly an amazing performance. It's fun, joyous, and, well, Gleeful. But it's still not their best. They came so close to perfection so early, but there was one performance that topped it... (Standout performer: Michele, already!)

1. "Somebody to Love" - Originally by Queen
The solos were spread. The bombast was fully present. The harmonies were glorious. And the show hit its stride. I still wish we could have seen their reprise at Sectionals, because this song has never been done better, not even by the original band. This song is what Glee is all about, and for her powerhouse ending, the standout performer is Riley.

If I had to rank the No. 1 performances against each other, it would probably fall:

4. "Poker Face"
3. "Endless Love"
2. "Don't Rain On My Parade"
1. "Somebody to Love"

But they're all phenomenal. (And they all have Michele in them. Just throwing that out there, Rachel haters.)

Hope you guys enjoyed the Gleeful series. Next up is two new series of posts: one on 30 Rock and one on favorite songs. After that, we'll be in Emmy season, along with which I'll continue posting about Top Chef and Mad Men as they return.

Any questions about this post? Thoughts? Take them to the comments!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gleeful Part Three: Hello Solo

Boy, am I glad I waited until tonight to write this one, because it contains an entry from one character I would never have thought to consider. Let's just say that I am officially pumped for Quinn's version of "To Sir, With Love" next week, because tonight, on "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," girlfriend brought it.

Quickly, to define a "solo" in the context of Glee: Amber Riley and Jenna Ushkowicz audibly back Lea Michele on Rihanna's "Take A Bow," yet it's considered a solo. However, "I Say A Little Prayer" is considered an ensemble performance despite the fact that Dianna Agron is clearly the lead vocal. Why? In the first, Michele is undoubtedly the anchor, while in the second, Agron is not nearly as central, and in fact, the performance is pretty equally split among Agron and her supporting vocalists (Naya Rivera and Heather Morris). Get the difference? Hope so, because here we go!

Honorable Mentions

"Bust Your Windows" - Amber Riley
Riley cast Mercedes as a scorned woman who, quite appropriately, busts the windows of Kurt's car. It could've easily come off as a joke and shown the Achilles' Heel of Glee, but it was done in a powerful styling that beats Jazmine Sullivan's original.

"Dancing With Myself" - Kevin McHale
Okay, time to voice an unpopular opinion. Honestly, a lot of people would put this in their top three favorite solos, not just an honorable mention. I'll admit that I sing along to this Billy Joel cover, but it's nothing that special. Honestly, it's just amazing a male could turn in a solid solo. Finn's only had a few and they've all been beyond mediocre. Puck lacks vocal strength. Kurt's a little too fond of his castrato. Artie at least had this, but McHale's voice is too nasal and can even be grating. (I won't even get into how infuriating his characterization is.) Still, it's a cool interpretation of an older song, and it fits amazingly well with the plotline, so it gets a mention.

"On My Own" - Lea Michele
No one does a ballad like Rachel. Just moments into the pilot, we get a too-small slice of this Les Miserables number, and, as always, Michele brings the house down. Her voice really is the best on this show, despite others' insistence to the contrary. She may not have the same passion (we'll debate that point in, oh, five songs down), but technically, it's on another plane.

"Rose's Turn" - Chris Colfer
If only this was a minute longer, I would rank it top two easy. The power and passion behind it is amazing. Colfer has never performed with more ferocity. The lyrical changes are a little cutesy, and as mentioned, it's way too short, but nonetheless, it is one of the best male vocals of the season in any category.

The Top Five

Not only are these my top five performances from the solo category, a lot of them are my favorites of the entire season. Glee is often best when showcasing one performer's talent.

5. "Don't Stand So Close To Me / Young Girl" - Matthew Morrison
The performance that so infamously caused Rachel to completely miss the point, it's a genius mash-up, making both songs so much better. I love when Morrison stretches beyond white boy rap (hello, "Ice Ice Baby" and "Bust A Move") to real vocal riches (this, "One Less Bell To Answer / A House Is Not A Home"). Both fun and meaningful to the plot, this is the best main cast adult vocal of the season.

4. "Home" - Kristin Chenoweth
I say "main cast" on the last performance because very little has a chance of holding a candle to this incredibly theatrical, powerhouse rendition of The Wiz's "Home," in and of itself a bit of a fun callback to Chenoweth's involvement in another Wizard of Oz-brand production, Wicked. Capping off a musically devastating episode ("One Less Bell / A House," "A House Is Not A Home," "Beautiful"), this vocal brought it all home. What power from such a tiny package.

3. "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" - Dianna Agron
Hey, champions of Mercedes and Kurt who argue that no one else has passion behind their vocals: you wanna see real passion? Check out this performance by a very pregnant and very angry Quinn. It may not be pitch-perfect: the screams are a little off, for example. But it's a raw, emotional, believable performance from a character and an actress whom I had no faith in before. I was beyond impressed.

2. "And I Am Telling You" - Amber Riley
"Do I even have to tell you what song?" was how Mercedes started this performance, acknowledging the cliché of having the big black girl do the song Jennifers Holliday and Hudson made so famous in Dreamgirls. Wanna know what's not cliché? How Riley takes both former Effie Whites to town and puts them both on notice that this is how this song is sung. It's pure power in both vocal and delivery, and as emotional as any performance I've ever heard, Glee or not. Worthy of a standing ovation every time.

1. "Don't Rain On My Parade" - Lea Michele
Rachel idolizes Barbra Streisand. Rachel has been working on this performance since she was three. Before Rachel even descended the aisle at Sectionals to the tune of the big band, we should have known exactly how bombastic this performance was going to be. And yet we were stunned. So much passion, so much love for the theater, so much absolute power is packed into this performance it sends chills up the spine each time. Michele is truly our great star for this generation, and this performance proves it. Rachel is the star of glee club, and Michele is the star of Glee.

Comments? You know where to put them.

...No, not there. That's inappropriate. I meant the comments section. Obviously. Sheesh, mind outta the gutter...

The Class of 2010 in Oz

This was a speech meant to be given sometime during the graduation festivities this year. Sadly, it got cut, as there was no proper time to give it. Still, I'm very proud of this speech, and I feel its one everyone in our class and beyond should hear. Enjoy, and feel free to leave any comments.

Graduation is, of course, a time of joy and congratulations. It is a time when we can all take a breath of relief knowing that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives. We are all continuing on to exciting new ventures; some of us moving on to different cities, some to different states, and, for a few of us, on to a different continent.

While we are all both excited and a bit nervous about these different worlds we have to explore, graduation is also a time of reflection on four years past and the last chance we have as a class to come together. In these past four years, we have grown together as a unique family known as the Class of 2010, and today, the feeling is bittersweet as that family breaks apart.

But like many classes that have come before us, the Class of 2010 will remain remarkable for years to come, and while challenges ahead may worry and sometimes scare us, the inherent qualities present in every person in this class will allow us to rise to those challenges and make our mark on the world.

When thinking about what makes our class special, I thought of L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The inspiration for classic musicals like The Wizard of Oz and, more recently, The Wiz and Wicked, Oz is a tale of one girl, Dorothy Gale, and her attempts to find her way back home after being thrown into a mysterious land with no friends or allies besides her little dog, Toto. Throughout her journey, she meets new friends all seeking the titular wizard of Oz in hopes of finding something they lack. What Dorothy’s companions lack is exactly what our class has in droves.

Dorothy’s first companion, the Scarecrow, desperately seeks a brain. The St. Michael’s Class of 2010 is intelligent, well-versed, and full of wit. Walking down the senior hallway this year, the average person might be shocked at the high caliber of conversations happening between friends. No matter what the topic of choice, this was not a class that relied on the kind of dialogue you’d see in another high school. From world issues to independent music to football season statistics, the Class of 2010 knew what we were talking about and were nothing if not eloquent and loquacious in our speech, a signal of our greater acumen. However, this class also avoided becoming hypercompetitive and intelligent to the point of arrogance. It is a group both elevated and moderate in brainpower, and those are important qualities rarely seen together.

Another of Dorothy’s companions was the Cowardly Lion, who desperately wanted to find his courage. From our student athletes to actors, you would find no shortage of bravery in each person of this class. If there was a risk to be found, like applying to a college you had only an outside chance of getting into, or taking an advanced class that would require more work but might yield greater rewards, this class took the chance boldly and with great bravado. Going the safe route was something never seen in this group, because anything less than our best wasn’t acceptable. The courage of this class is and should forever be seen as nothing short of astounding.

Diehard Wizard of Oz fans might have noticed that I skipped Dorothy’s second companion, the Tin Man. I did so because what he sought from the Wizard is what is most important to this class: heart. Our class has heart in every sense of the word. Filled with love for one another that we explored on retreats, especially on Kairos, the members of this class have a mutual respect and admiration for one another that is rarely seen among high school students. Filled with hope for the future, our hearts never deflated in the face of greater challenges. The Class of 2010’s heart is its best quality, because whenever we weren’t the best in other areas, we still held on to our faith, determination, and love for one another.

This class will be remembered for so many reasons, but it is with both excitement and sadness that we now graduate and part from one another. We leave behind families and friends, as well as memories of a high school experience that will hold special significance for everyone throughout their lives. But to the families, who fear losing their beloved children to college and worry about their futures, take solace in knowing that each student in this class has the courage, the brains, and the heart of Dorothy’s traveling companions. And don’t forget the ending of the story: even after all that traveling and all those adventures, Dorothy ultimately knew that there was simply no place like home.

I just want to thank each and every one of the members of the Class of 2010 for being the greatest class anyone could hope to be a part of. I'll miss everybody when I'm in Los Angeles next year.