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by Steve Leftridge

24 Feb 2010


There are those out there who prefer the audition shows to the actual American Idol competition, and tonight’s first live broadcast, on which the Top 24 girls competed, proved that those audition lovers might be on to something this time. Oh, yes, it’s ladies night, oh, what a night… if you enjoy maudlin, uninspired singing over lugubrious arrangements, followed by awkward prattle from the judges. It was a very disappointing night from the girls, especially since the ladies are, by and large, a far stronger collective than the boys and Simon had made news this week by predicting that one of the girls would win the whole thing. And what’s up with the tacky set changes, with the judges sitting in front of an under-the-sea backdrop that cuts out the audience?  Boo. Then again, perhaps that nautical motif is appropriate, if only because the evening indeed felt like watching a sinking ship. In any case, here are the evening’s awards:

Best performance: It’s tough to come up with anything here, as none of the 12 singers flashed anything truly special. The night was dominated by mid-tempo songs and, call it nerves, every performance was oddly distant. I’ll give last night’s edge to Ashley Rodriguez’s version of Leona Lewis’s “Happy”, although with reservations. She’s one of the only girls who has the chops, the performance skill, and the presence to be taken seriously as a potential star. If anything, she pushed a little hard last night; if she relaxes, she’ll be a standout. Runner-up: Crystal Bowersox has a chance to catch fire. Advice: Lose the harmonica. She can’t really play it, and it just got in the way when she needs to be leaning into that mike and belting with power.

by Michael Landweber

22 Feb 2010


It’s a foreign policy nightmare. A country with a radical Islamic government that hates the U.S. is developing a nuclear weapons capability. Nukes and terrorists are pretty scary on their own; combine the two and it’s time to hide in the bunker. If only our enemies would talk to us. We could work it out.

But wait. What’s that you say?  An American President is sitting down right now with the leader of this Islamic Republic? They’re not only talking, but they’re within striking distance of an agreement to end the rogue weapons program. All they need is to agree on the composition of an international inspection regime. Furious international diplomacy ensues – and an accord is reached. There will be peace in the Middle East.

Clearly, this is the crowning achievement of the Obama Administration. The culmination of its stated policy of engagement with our enemies. Oh, wait. It’s not the Obama Administration talking to Iran. It’s the Taylor Administration talking to the Islamic Republic of Kamistan – no, you won’t find it on a map – in the first episode of this season of 24. In the real world, Iran is still charging ahead with its nuclear program and thumbing its nose at any proposed compromise.

by Steve Leftridge

18 Feb 2010


A few days ago, Ryan Seacrest tweeted that he had just watched the final cut of tonight’s episode and described it as “gut wrenching” and the “most dramatic [he’d] ever seen”. Perhaps Ryno was trying to draw folks away from the Olympics—or at least relegate DVR space to them—in favor of watching the judges whittle the 70-odd contestants down to the highly-anticipated (but previously leaked) Top 24. Yes, the Dirty Double-Dozen was just a Bing away for the last two weeks, but that didn’t stop American Idol from dragging out the official unveiling over an excruciatingly boring three hours.

So with Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White winning gold on another network, Idol stretched across two nights what could have been effectively accomplished in 15 minutes; instead, they made 46 contestants walk to the stage one at a time so the judges could act out a tired fake-out (“You know there were a lot of talented singers this year, and we only had room for 24…”) before letting them through, often delivered with Simon’s little wink, the subtlest in all of show business. The only entertaining twist on this charade was Ellen’s, who lampooned the whole thing by talking at length about how cruel it was to keep contestants’ fates a mystery by talking at length.

by Terry Sawyer

12 Feb 2010


At the outset, I admit that I used the shady rhetorical trick of finding incidental common threads and declaring them definitional. On the other hand, it’s the perfect huckster sleight of hand with which to skewer Runway‘s tiresome embedded advertising. When I spent some wonderful time in unemployment earlier this year, I developed something bordering on an addiction to right-wing radio (the guiltiest of guilty pleasures for an unrepentant liberal). While I loved to sit and argue by myself, I repeatedly groaned whenever the host would melt into tent revival testimonial for sponsors like the website that acts as your hard drive back up. Rush Limbaugh could be in mid-diatribe when suddenly he would segue into a seemingly personal anecdote that would turn into cheap shilling for gold, online meeting software or inhalable heavy metals. By ladling the advertising into the script, the players do far more then give advertisers a space to marketing themselves; they lend the brands their accrued authority and credibility. They advocate for these corporations rather than merely allowing advertising to fund the entertainment.

In an age where everyone purports to be a media critic and bias sleuth, it’s an awkwardly retro mode, an aesthetic choice that makes both Project Runway and talk radio gaudy. With the AM cognoscenti this tackiness amounts to a badge of authenticity, but on Runway, our supposed glimpse into the world of superior taste, it forces the show into constant, embarrassing interruption. This throwback in style and attitude where the “stars” of programs hold up cereal boxes and smoke Pall Malls on stallions is not the kind of homage that, in the demolition phrasing of the show, one could call “fashion forward”.

by Steve Leftridge

11 Feb 2010


Group Day. The fatigue and the frustration. The mania and the mascara. The chiding and the childbirth. Yes, American Idol, after sending 85 golden-ticket-holders on a quick turnaround back home, 96 contestants competed in groups for a second round of cuts. Previews and lead-ins for this show hyped all kinds of drama with fights and meltdowns and general emotional devastation, looking like clips from The Blair Witch Project. Assuming folks at home aren’t tuning in for a singing competition, the producers last night focused over half the episode on rehearsal tears and tantrums.

There’s almost nothing more tedious than a bunch of teenagers trying to work out vocal harmonies, so the show attempted to ferment as much commotion as possible by forcing singers to quickly and chaotically find their own groups, limiting rehearsal space (they had to either seek cramped spaces or rehearse next to other groups’ competitive caterwauling), giving them tricky, word-tripping song choices, and limiting prep time so that late-night hours would lead to frayed nerves and short tempers.

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Culture Belongs to the Alien in 'Spirits of Xanadu'

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"The symbols that the artifact in Spirits of Xanadu uses are esoteric -- at least for the average Western gamer. It is Chinese culture reflected back at us through the lens of alien understanding.

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