Knee-jerk review: ABC's "Pan Am"

1. Looks like it has at least twice the budget of NBC's "The Playboy Club." Fantastic, retro 60s production design. Plush and sleek.
2. To us, Christina Ricci has always been rather odd looking.
3. It's a bit more soapy than we expected, but why wouldn't it be? Anything that skews female will (rightly or wrongly) work the romantic angles. We should have expected that.
4. The sister rivalry subplot feels kind of fresh, though since this is a TV show even the "plain" sister is hot by normal people's standards.
5. Will the "Lost"-style character flashbacks carry over into the series or was it just a pilot gimmick? They worked okay.
6. Curious to see more of that crazy Bay of Pigs evacuation.
7. Where have they been hiding Karine Vanasse?
8. If we hadn't read an article proving it's true, we never would have bought the idea of stewardesses working as government spies.
9. Unlike the stock-character product-placement phoniness of "The Playboy Club," this show feels more organic and layered. It helps that the "we're a new breed of woman" revisionist feminism is mostly downplayed. They're stewardesses, people, not suffragists.
10. Girdles? Seriously?
11. Bridget is annoying. And she's barely in the show.
12. Who owns the Pan Am name and logo now? If this show hits, someone could probably make a lot of money selling baby blue leather flight bags.
13. The biggest concern is the pacing. This is one... slow... show. Glacial at times. Pick up the pace, folks.


Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Terra Nova"

1. Cracker-jack premise: ecologically-destroyed future Earth sends colonists back through time to the dinosaur era to start over. Love it.
2. It's a Hollywood rule that Stephen Lang cannot play a good guy, so we were immediately suspicious of his true intentions when he showed up. And sure enough, by the end of the episode he looks like he's not to be trusted.
3. Call us chicken, but it's never a good idea to go "OTG." Outside the gates. Not in the Cretaceous Period, anyway.
4. Spielberg's fingerprints are all over this, what with the heavy-handed, overly sentimental Family (with a capital F) themes.
5. Love this world.
6. But as of now, we're not particularly endeared to the married couple leads. In the future, it's illegal to have a third child. This seems perfectly reasonable. The planet looks like Coruscant - one big giant polluted city - and everyone wears breathing masks. So our couple decides to have a third kid anyway and dad goes to prison. And we're supposed to feel sorry for them why exactly? Worse, when asked why they had the third kid, he just shrugs "Seemed like a good idea at the time." What an ass.
7. No way do we buy the whole escape-from-prison, break-into-the-colonist-center sequence. A clumsy contrivance to add some tension and conflict in the first half hour (and to introduce that favorite trope of Spielberg's, the Absent Father, via the prison sentence). Which is stupid, because there's plenty of organic, natural tension at Terra Nova.
8. That wide shot of Terra Nova is a terrible painting. Look, kids, where we'll soon live: Matte Painting World!
9. We do like those rifles with the built-in flashlights.
10. Do shows now have to have an overarching, "Lost"-style backstory mystery? Is it written into the contracts?


Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Prime Suspect"

1. The consensus seems to be that Maria Bello is too good for this show.
2. There's a definite haze of been-there, done-that here. How many more gritty NYPD-set police procedurals can one viewing nation tolerate?
3. It may be steeped in realism, but it's just hard for us to buy the level of antagonism, sexism, and open disgust Bello's character has to face in her own squad room. It's feels contrived. So these guys have never had to work with a woman before? Never had to face a coworker who may have pulled a string to get a promotion? We call bull.
4. Plus, the show does such a good job painting those other cops as arrogant, lazy, intolerant idiots it's very hard to muster much interest in what happens to them.
5. They're sharing a drink in the middle of the day, people. In the squad room. Hollywood thinks that makes them, you know, complex. We think it's makes them unsympathetic jackasses.
6. It's also a little precious the way everyone's got those authentic New York accents.
7. In other words, it's trying too hard and we just don't care.
8. That doesn't mean it's not polished and well-made. We're just not interested. No thank you.

Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Person of Interest"

1. Now that's a pilot. Hoo-wee.
2. There is an undeniable thrill that comes from watching a supremely skilled and cold-bloodedly confident Special Forces bad-ass conduct business. With Jim Caviezel, Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer has a successor in the don't-cross-me staredown.
3. Smart, lean, exciting.
4. Our only complaint is some of the on-the-nose, spoon-feeding dialogue that's there just to be completely sure viewers at home are following along and don't missing anything.
5. Big third act twist! Bonus points. We hate ourselves for not seeing it coming.
6. But is Caviezel's character too invulnerable and too resourceful to create genuine tension? Will audiences ever wonder about whether or not he'll prevail? We predict he'll get kidnapped and beaten up once per episode to help with that.
7. Michael Emerson is always smooth, isn't he?
8. Genius premise, but haven't we all just about had enough of J.J. Abrams and his hit factory?
9. The 9/11 subplot feels somewhat organic here. So many movies and TV shows shoehorn it in to make things feel topical or add some level of sympathy for the characters.
10. Of all the new shows we've seen thus far, this is the one we're most excited about.

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Glee"

1. Our patience is wearing thin, McKinley High's New Directions.
2. This show is surely one of the most illogical and ridiculous things on the air. We spend half the time analyzing the stupid plot contrivances and implausible character choices. It's like the producers aren't even trying to be realistic. Like, at all. Exhibit A: it's fundamentally impossible that the Glee Club are social pariahs so long as the varsity quarterback and two hot cheerleaders are members. That's just not how the high school hierarchy of popularity works.
3. But there's something addictively exuberant about some of the dance numbers, such as this episode's "We Got the Beat" lunchroom number or the "It's Not Unusual" number in the quad. When they work, they work.
4. But then there's all of those other stupid scenes without singing and dancing that just don't work.
5. As un-P.C. as this may sound, we're getting tired of Kurt. And his wardrobe.
6. But the person we're most tired of is Sue Sylvester. Her conflict with Mr. Schu hits the same beats in every single episode. Plus, in the real world, both of them would have been fired long ago. She's psychotic, he's pathetic.
7. Yes, Lea Michelle remains a member of the Future Ex-Mrs. Cheese Fry Club.
8. Coach Beiste is probably our favorite character.
9. We also find strange amusement in the rapid-fire "previously on" recap that comes at the top of every episode that ends abruptly with a-- "Glee!"

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Fringe"

1. Oh how we love this show.
2. It's clearly a descendant of "The X-Files." But one could argue that this show is better in that the overarching mythology still makes sense and the producers aren't afraid to answer questions and keep the plot moving forward. That's in contrast to the frustrating way "The X-Files" was determined to keep everything as murky as possible for as long as possible. (We hated "X-Files" mythology episodes.) For every question that was answered, three new ones were posed and eventually audiences stopped caring and changed the channel. This is the same sort of thing that crippled "Lost."
3. Very clever of the writers, the way so many lines of dialogue had that "Peter is gone and I don't even know it" double-meaning.
4. Agent Lee's horn-rim glasses. Very 1960s chic.
5. It's clear evidence of genre bias the way Emmy ignores this show. John Noble has been doing sterling work since the very beginning and now with Anna Torv playing two very different versions of the same person (the first scene of this episode should go directly to Emmy voters), the oversight is becoming ridiculous. You can't tell us Torv's work last season wasn't better than the hammy theatrics of Kathy Bates on "Harry's Law" (Emmy loves movie stars) or the tired, empathetic retread of Mariska Hargitay on "SVU" (Emmy loves nominating the same people over and over).
6. The first page raises your security clearance, the second page says we'll prosecute you if you talk about what you're about to see.
7. We like Astrid's new haircut.
8. Note to self: erasing someone from time requires a cathode-ray tube.


Studio audience breakdown on "The Price Is Right"

86% tourists from out of town
79% will watch the whole show on the TV monitors rather than looking at the stage
77% self-proclaimed die-hard TPIR fans
73% will need the audience's advice to make every decision on stage
68% spunky and spry retirees
60% from the Midwest
55% overweight
42% will scream louder than they did at the Duran Duran concert they saw when they were 13
37% groups in matching T-shirts with cute phrases ironed on the front
34% college students
22% will hug Drew Carey a little too hard
21% have zero chance of ever making the right bid to get out of Contestants' Row
20% active military in dress uniform
19% friends/spouses of self-proclaimed die-hard TPIR fans dragged along
14% locals taking the day off
13% couples in matching T-shirts with cute phrases ironed on the front
11% RV drivers
7% newlyweds
6% too frail/small to spin the Big Wheel

Fantasy "Survivor"

The pop-culture savants at Grantland have done it again. They've concocted a fantasy-football style game based on CBS's hit "Survivor," exposing all of the show's cliches and themes.

Take a look:

* No points for unintentional nudity
* All hook-up points scored at triple value (they deserve them for hooking up with someone who hasn’t showered for a month)
* Making a catty exit speech: 25 points
* Wining a “tie vote” challenge: 10 points
* Stealing or hiding food: 15 points
* Killing a mammal and eating it (i.e., no fish or insects): 15 points (only killer gets points)
* Receiving medical attention: 20 points
* Adding additional flair on tribal vote card (smiley faces, hearts, symbols, etc.): -10 points
* Announcing that you are "in control of this game": 5 points
* Accusing someone of eating more food than they were rationed: 5 points
* Being sent home with an unused immunity idol: -20 points
* Jeff Probst stops addressing you by your real name and starts using a nickname: 25 points (one time only)
* The Loved One who comes to the island is not a parent, spouse, kin, or sibling: 20 points
* No Loved One comes to the island: 100 points
* Claiming your real job gives you an advantage in the game: 25 points
* Crying in Tribal Council: 5 bonus points
* Jury member makes a survivor cry in the Final Tribal Council: 20 points
* Getting injured in an immunity challenge in an unathletic manner: 15 points
* Having so much trouble swimming that it briefly seems like you might drown: 10 points
* Being unable to light a fire: -5 points
* Being unable to make fire in a tie breaker: -5 more points
* Comparing another contestant to vermin in Tribal Council: 10 points
* Faking possession of an immunity idol: 10 points (one time only)
* Unsuccessfully hiding the immunity idol: 5 points
* Claiming that you will "teach these young people a thing or two": 10 points
* Saying something that makes Jeff Probst raise his eyebrows: 10 points

Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Law & Order SVU"

1. Now we remember why we quit watching this show.
2. Though Linus Roache should have his own spin off: "Mike Cutter, D.A." We love his character. So good to see him again. We miss the original "Law & Order."
3. Mariska Hargitay looks very old and tired here. Maybe she should have left the show with Chris Meloni.
4. And what's with her crying scene? Eliot's retiring, he's not moving to Norway.
5. We still can't believe Ice T has created a television acting career for himself.
6. Same with Richard Belzer. We remember watching him as some scary R-rated comic on a 1980s HBO comedy special.
7. "SVU" is just plain crazy. The season premiere isn't as loopy as some recent episodes, which often pile on plot twist after plot twist at the expense of logic and plausibility, suggest that every suspect is a criminal mastermind and/or foamy-mouthed sociopath, and never met a salacious detail that wasn't worth exploiting. Tonight we get discussions of gang rape, forced oral sex (and the disposition of the resulting fluid), and mass murder, along with some sanctimonious preaching about African civil wars, Euro-trash politicians, U.S immigration policy, and classism.
8. The show wants to educate you, sure, but it mostly wants to shock you with sex and violence.
9. Once upon a time, "Law & Order" would use a real world headline only as a jumping-off point. But here, the season premiere pretty much spends the first 30 minutes following the same exact narrative as the infamous Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case. What is this, "Dateline" with Ann Curry? Where's the fictionalization and dramatic license? Yawn.

Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Whitney"

1. Perhaps you've heard of it? NBC has spent what is surely a fortune in promotion. We've seen Whitney Cummings in TV spots, on the sides of buses, on thirty-foot-tall billboards, and stuck to plywood walls of construction sites. We get it. There's a new show on called "Whitney."
2. NBC is not only showing it love with advertising, this show also has a plum post-"Office" timeslot. NBC's doing everything it can outside of tying you down and making you watch.
3. "Half of all marriages end in sweatpants." That's kind of funny. "I don't mean to be rude means you're about to say something crazy rude." That's kind of lame.
4. Which summarizes this show in a nutshell. Kind of funny, kind of lame.
5. It's very traditional. Live studio audience, wacky characters, bright no-contrast lighting, set-up/punchline jokes. Interesting that the Cheese Fry's inventory of new sitcoms has continued to lead to this question of reality versus artifice. Should sitcoms strive to capture the natural humor in our lives (like "Modern Family") or create an alternate universe that's completely bonkers (like "Cougartown")? Is one better than the other?
6. Case in point: in the real world, no one knocks themselves unconscious trying to pull off a pair of pants.
7. But there is something genuine and honest about a comfortable, veteran couple worried about maintaining that romantic spark.
8. Good, but not great. And we had such high hopes.
9. Luckily for Whitney, her other show is much better; she's a co-creator of "Two Broke Girls."


Knee-jerk review: NBC's "The Playboy Club"

1. Hmmm. Not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. Also not at all as good as it could be.
2. Clearly a "Mad Men" ripoff, but without the somber, downbeat realism and basic-cable edgy fearlessness. It wants to be sexy, but it's stuck on NBC, people. If only it were on FX or Showtime.
3. Surely one of the show's reasons for being is to polish the Playboy brand, what with the Hugh Hefner voiceovers and whispered suggestions about how progressive and feminist the whole hot-girls-in-bunny-outfits actually is. We wonder if this show wasn't Hef's idea.
4. The Cheese Fry doesn't often throw this word around, but actress Amber Heard is beautiful. Incredibly so.
5. The 1960s mod production design may be the best part of the show. Who wouldn't want to live in that guy's two-story apartment with the circular staircase and the sliding bathroom door?
6. But come on, a Chicago mobster murder in the first 15 minutes? Really? Shouldn't you save that for sweeps at least?
7. And he's killed by... wait for it... a high heel. Get the symbolism? Nudge nudge.
8. The most interesting thing may be the logistics of the Chicago Playboy Club. You have to present a key to get through the door. And once you're there, they slide a nameplate onto the wall so everyone knows which members are present. (Wikipedia tells us that membership at the Chicago club was initially $25 a year.)
9. To us, Eddie Cibrian looks like a kid playing grown-up.
10. The best-developed character is Laura Benanti's character, the older "bunny" (should that be capitalized?) who's trying to reinvent herself.
11. It's an amusing diversion, but ultimately too fluffy.

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "New Girl"

1. We stipulate that your enjoyment of this show will have a lot to do with whether or not you find Zooey Deschanel's nerd quirkiness endearing or annoying. We like it, but it's easy to see how someone might hate it.
2. We've made a big deal recently about TV shows that feel real versus TV shows that are clearly existing in a writers-room alternate universe. "New Girl" is definitely not a portrayal of the real world. No, this is Sitcom World, where everyone's witty and good-looking and getting dumped is the worst thing that could happen to you.
3. Four 20-somethings share a huge, spacious loft apartment? One's a bartender, one's a trainer, one's a marketing guy of some kind, and we're not sure what Zooey does. No way they can all afford that place.
4. We wish we had a theme song.
5. The show deftly captures what it's like to have roommates who aren't your best friends. You like your roommate, you hang out with your roommate, but there's still that tension.
6. We could use a Douchebag Jar at our office. Brilliant.
7. Zooey's cheating boyfriend is played by an actor who starred as possibly one of the most sociopathic characters in the history of television advertising. Whenever we saw this commercial, we wanted to punch this guy right in the balls as hard as possible.


Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Two Broke Girls"

1. Very charming.
2. And also doing as much as it can to at least try to look like reality, rather than a laugh-tracked alternate reality where entry-level jobs pay for huge city apartments, no one locks their front door, and everyone's acquaintance is a cutesy-quirky "character" with a snarky catchphrase.
3. We also like that the show didn't take the easy route and make spoiled rich girl Beth Behrs an airhead. Here, she clearly has a considerable education and a clear sense of decency. Which dovetails nicely with Kat Dennings' street smarts and unapologetic misanthropy.
4. Some very funny lines. Laugh out loud lines.
5. We like also the final card showing us the tally for the girls' savings. Clever running gag idea.
6. We know it's only a sitcom, but there's something vaguely feminist about the show that feels fresh and lively. Two smart, strong women (who so far don't seem to need men) pooling their resources to work for a better life.
7. Yes, Kat Dennings is hot. Especially with those boots.
8. We're not sure the show needs Garrett Morris as the cashier. We predict he'll be gone soon.

Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Two and a Half Men"

1. No matter how awful Charlie Sheen may have acted towards CBS, Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre, it seems to us really hateful to kill off his character with such glee. "He exploded like a balloon filled with meat." Wow. Like, icky. The whole funeral open was exceedingly unfunny.
2. We never were fans of this show. It was always funny in that forced set-up/punchline sort of sitcom way. But it is also completely focused on crude, graphic sex jokes to exclusion of all else. (This despite the fact that it features an underage character.)
3. Ashton Kutcher did fine in what's a somewhat thankless role, but the dynamic between his character and Jon Cryer's character seems completely different than the Jon Cryer-Charlie Sheen relationship. We applaud the producers for daring to go in a completely different direction. But will it work? More importantly, will we ever watch again to find out?
4. We noticed the title sequence billing of Cryer and Kutcher. One of those Towering Inferno credit agreements, it seems, where one gets the left-hand slot, but the other gets the upper-slot.
5. Angus T. Jones was barely in the episode for reasons unknown. He was there for a couple of delightful fart jokes, however. His agent must be so proud.
6. Even if you don't watch it all the time, surely you can still sing it with us: "Mennnn."
7. They couldn't help themselves, could they? Urn of ashes must always lead to hilariously unintentional cloud of spilled ash. Must be a sitcom rule somewhere.


Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Free Agents"

1. Now this is funny. And kind of odd, which we appreciate.
2. Historically we have not liked Hank Azaria. We're not sure why. But he's good here. A screwed up divorcee who knows he's screwed up but just can't help himself.
3. The flying Dutchman is easier with three people.
4. Unlike "Up All Night," the workplace here at least has some basis in reality. You or someone you know might actually have a job sort of like this. Bonus points for that.
5. Add Kathyrn Hahn to our list of future ex-Mrs. Cheese Frys. She's what we call quirky hot.
6. With the co-worker characters, the show is walking that fine line between colorful-but-real and wacky-but-phony. So far it's the former. So far.
7. Potato.

Three interactions with noisy moviegoers

G.I. Jane (1997) - Offender: stupid high-schoolers. Crime: talking and laughing during the movie. Our response: an ear-splitting "Shhh!" followed by our very best stink-eye stare-down when they looked over to see who dared tell them to keep it down.

The Core (2003) - Offender: douchebag high-schooler with his dimwit friends. Crime: carrying on a cell phone conversation in the middle of the movie. Our response: a loud "Shut up!" which prompted a fellow moviegoer to add in a "Can you get off the phone?!" They did and then we spent the rest of the movie wondering where in the parking lot the retribution beatdown would happen.

Mission Impossible 3 (2006) - Offender: middle-aged fool. Crime: performing open-mouthed crunching on a brought-from-home bag of smelly popcorn as the movie started. Our response: gently touching his arm and hissing "Do you mind please keeping it down?"

The lesson to us: only go to movies in...

1. An empty theater (first show on a weekday, preferably) so you can sit as far away as possible from your fellow loathsome humans. They cannot be trusted.

2. A 100% sold out theater (opening weekend evenings) so that the dull murmur of the hundreds of people will drown out the more asinine moviegoers. There's also a peer-pressure in effect: when someone's a jerk, it won't fall only on your shoulders to enforce civility.

Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Up All Night"

1. Hmmm. Disappointing overall. The funniest bits were in the endless NBC promos, especially the direct-address bits where Christina Applegate and Will Arnett purr into the camera all sexy, only to reveal that their big "fantasies" involve getting some help with the baby.
2. The show itself is amusing, but not funny really. You'll smile, but you might not laugh.
3. We'll give it a few more chances. We do understand that it can take a new show some time to find itself, but then again, life is too short to watch episode after episode while six-figure writers try and work it out. Call us when it's ready, you know?
4. Also not keen on Maya Rudolph's character. Or even that whole workplace setting. Characters on TV shows are never ordinary people with boring jobs. Christina Applegate isn't a marketing manager or a teacher. No, she's the producer of a talk show. We can all relate, can't we? It's such a tough job.
5. The domestic stuff with the baby feels genuine and works with subtlty. That stands in sharp contrast to the broad, forced, this-is-a-wacky-sitcom humor at the TV show office.
6. Will Arnett is just this side of genius.
7. Christina Applegate, to us, is a little overrated in the comedy department. Funny and appealing, yes, but not out-and-out hilarious.

15 ways a 2-year-old avoids going to sleep

Based on a true story.

1. She wants a drink of water.
2. She wants to go to the bathroom.
3. She wants to give you her stuffed lion.
4. She wants her stuffed lion back.
5. She wants her other baby doll.
6. She wants a napkin to clean up the water she spilled on her sheet.
7. She wants you to sing the theme from "Sesame Street."
8. She wants to shake your hand.
9. She wants to go the bathroom again.
10. She wants her mother.
11. She wants a tissue to blow her nose.
12. She wants to jump up and down.
13. She wants you to sing "Rock a Bye Baby."
14. She wants you to pick up the bottle of water she just dropped on the floor.
15. She wants her other, other baby doll.


You call this music?

Our recent viewing of the MTV Video Music Awards (on a network that no longer runs videos) left us feeling two steps away from the AARP. We'd heard of a few of the musical acts featured on the show, but the majority of singers and bands were completely alien to us. There ought to be a YouTube video montage of our puzzled face and grunts of "Who the hell is that?"

We decided to take a look at the Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart and see which, if any, of the top 20 songs this week we knew.

1. "Moves Like Jagger" - Maroon 5/f Christina Aguilera
We love Maroon 5. "Wake Up Call" is on our list of songs of which we never tire.

2. "Party Rock Anthem" - LMFAO
Our devotion to Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" might be a big help with staying somewhat current with pop music (Lady Gaga made her big splash on SYTYCD with her first hit "Just Dance"). We know this song from that show. And we bought it on iTunes. So far, so good.

3. "Pumped Up Kicks" - Foster the People

4. "Lighters" - Bad Meets Evil/f Bruno Mars
We know Bruno Mars, of course. He's charming if weightless. And we think we've heard of Bad Meets Evil. But we couldn't pick this song out of an audio lineup.

5. "Last Friday Night" - Katy Perry
It's probably not cool to admit an affection for Katy, but every song of hers seems like a finely-tuned pop-music Swiss watch, perfectly crafted and sleekly executed. How can you not like "Teenage Dream"?

6. "Super Bass" - Nicki Minaj
Apparently, Nicki is a big deal. We're also aware that she dresses outrageously, which is very important these days. But we don't know her music.

7. "How to Love" - Lil Wayne
All we really know about Lil Wayne is that he is one scary-looking tattooed dude.

8. "Good Life" - OneRepublic
We know the band, but not this song.

9. "Give Me Everything" - Pitbull/f NeYo, Afrojack, and Nayer
We think this one was performed on the VMAs. Not sure. Four in a row now we don't know. Pitbull is always a slick dresser. We couldn't pull off that look, that's for damn sure.

10. "Stereo Hearts" - Gym Class Heroes f/Adam Levine
We've heard of it, but don't know it.

11. "Cheers (Drink to That)" - Rihanna
"What's My Name" and "Love the Way You Lie" are gems. We don't know this one, but it's new - maybe in time we'll recognize it. In general, we don't get all the hubbub over Rihanna. Seems like any 20-something singer could have the same career if given the same songs.

12. "I Wanna Go" - Britney Spears
Don't know this one. We seem to be aging out of the Britney skeevy club-pop genre.

13. "Tonight Tonight" - Hot Chelle Rae
We have this on iTunes. A jangly anthem that's a staple of movie trailers and TV spots right now.

14. "Rolling in the Deep" - Adele
Who hasn't heard this song over and over and over since the spring? We get it, she's talented. She's also overrated in the same way that Amy Winehouse was overrated. It always seems to us to be more about admiring their work to appear cool and discerning, rather than actually buying their music.

15. "If I Die Young" - The Band Perry
We know this song. A country crossover. Dark.

16. "You and I" - Lady Gaga
This is her new one. We don't know it. There's something of a Gaga backlash brewing it seems. But we remain convinced that she's a genius, even if she's a little odd. Comparisons have been made to Madonna, but Gaga has a better voice and a stronger theatrical streak (she commits to her craziness in ways that Madonna never did; Madonna always seemed to be winking so we knew she was in on the joke). And Gaga is succeeding in a world far different than the one that Madonna dominated in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, music label monopolies drove the artists and spent millions in marketing dollars and MTV videos. There wasn't much competition. That was before the internet and digital downloaded gutted the music business and fractured the audience. To succeed now demands a new set of skills in self-promotion.

17. "She Will" - Lil Wayne/f Drake
It'd be an interesting study to look at this proliferation of the "featuring" element in hip-hop/R&B songs. It seems to have started sometime around 2000 as a novelty (usually mixing gritty rappers with female singers), but now it's become commonplace.

18. "You Make Me Feel" - Cobra Starship/f Sabi
We like this one. We bought it on iTunes. But the better Cobra Starship song is the infectious "Good Girls Gone Bad."

19. "Someone Like You" - Adele
Sorry, but... yawn. She sang this on the VMAs. Stately and important, yes, but also slow and dull.

20. "I'm On One" - DJ Khaled/f Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne
Nope. We can tell you that Drake is the guy in that 7-Up commercial where the singer broke apart like a robot, but the soft drink put him back together.

So... out of 20 "hit" songs, we've heard of 7 or 8. Not a great batting average, but most of these songs seem pitched to a younger demographic.

In other words, sometimes we prefer the cozy embrace of SiriusXM's 80s channel.

Uninformed fall TV preview

What little we know about the upcoming slate of fall television shows we've learned from TV spots, billboards, and glossy supermarket-checkout magazines. But that's more than enough for us to form certain opinions, such as our utter lack of interest in NBC's "Free Agents" (coworkers sleep together, hilarity ensures) or the CW's "Ringer" (twins fight, thrills ensue) based solely on our fervent disinterest in Hank Azaria and Sarah Michelle Gellar.

The eight new shows we'll be sampling:

"Charlie's Angels" (ABC) - We'll take a look. But we all know there's simply no way ABC didn't screw this up like NBC screwed up the "Bionic Woman" remake a few years back. We're also not fans of making John Bosley a 20-something hunk. But if they keep the theme song (and the explosion logo), we'll cut them a small bit of slack.

"New Girl" (Fox) - By now we've probably seen every joke from the pilot thanks to the endless spots on Fox, but this is still the show we're most rooting for. That said, we stipulate that the sort of adorably awkward and quirky pixie girl Zooey Deschanel specializes in doesn't exist in the real world. But we don't watch Fox to get a look at the "real world." We watch Fox to see parallel universes that involve people trapped in amber and disappearing Joshua Jacksons.

"Pan Am" (ABC) - Could this "Mad Men" in the air? It should be, it could be. But it's probably not.

"Person of Interest" (CBS) - Seems appropriately gritty and dark, but it may be trying too hard to be a post-9/11 statement show. We'd also like to note that this is the same network responsible for the insufferably cheesy "Hawaii Five-O." (Then again, it's also the home of the best show on broadcast TV: "The Good Wife.") Bonus points for post-"Lost" Michael Emerson.

"The Playboy Club" (NBC) - We were excited by this other 1960s period drama what with the sexy backdrop and hot women. But then we learned it revolves around a mob murder. That can't be good.

"Two Broke Girls" (CBS) - We have a crush on Kat Dennings. The end.

"Up All Night" (NBC) - Despite a very strong cast (Will Arnett rules), we're skeptical if the show can mine a season's worth of material out of, you know, just being tired and rundown because of a baby.

"Whitney" (NBC) - Whitney Cummings is genuinely funny and NBC seems to have decided that this is the show that deserves the bulk of it advertising budget. They're pushing it very, very hard. They either know they have a hit or they're shoving a lame show down our throats a la NBC's "Joey."


Why bad movies get made

This is perhaps the most common complaint made by avid moviegoers and followers of the Hollywood film industry. Why do crappy movies get made?

The answer is, of course, complicated. Filmmaking is a decentralized business where no two movies are put together the same way (compared to the standardization of building construction or Coca-Cola bottling), where hundreds of people who may have never met before spend three months together creating the end result (compared to the close-knit fraternities of banking and legal systems), and where tens of millions of dollars go into producing something you will likely use for only two hours (compared to cars that last many years or a tube of toothpaste that you'll squeeze for weeks). It's a crazy business unlike any other.

But here's a quick rundown of some factors that might lead to that bad movie showing up at your local cineplex.

1. Profitability trumps quality. You may think that movie is lame and ridiculous, but if the studios are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars, they don't much care what you think. To then, it's a huge success and they're already planning two sequels. Hollywood is a business driven by profits, not artistic excellence. This is even more true of the six major studios who have to answer to shareholders.

2. The movie wasn't made for you. In other words, "crappy" is in the eye of the beholder. Except for those handful of sophisticated movies made with an eye towards Oscars, Hollywood studios mostly market to younger audiences. Teenagers represent the biggest audience. Not only do teens go a lot, but if they find a movie they like, teens might go more than once. This repeat-business is what drives super-hits like Avatar, Titanic, and Star Wars into the box office stratosphere. (This is also why most movies stick with the PG-13 rating. More and more, R-ratings are seen as a risky move that cuts out that lucrative teen audience. The Hangover is the rare R-rated superhit.) What this all means is that if you're a 40-year-old with discerning tastes, you probably won't like a lot of what's released by Hollywood because they're not making movies for you. They'd like if it you came, sure. They hope you will. But they design many of their movies with the assumption that you probably won't go. (The grail for Hollywood is the so-called "four quadrant" movie - a title that appeals to all four demographics: young male, young female, older male, older female. Movies that can draw all four and hit that bullseye are always monster hits.) Bottom line: your 12-year-old nephew loves that movie you think is terrible. Which of you is right?

3. Someone powerful wanted it made. If you're watching a bad movie that involves some A-list actor or director, it's a good possibility that what you're seeing is something called a "passion project." Translated, that means it's a project that would never get made in a million years were it not for the involvement of the big name. It's that pretentious period piece the Oscar-winning actor always wanted to make or the dark World War I drama the superstar director wrote eight years ago and has been obsessed with ever since. These get made, if only because the producers and studios want to get in the A-list talent's good graces. We think the best example of this is Click, a deeply weird and dark movie that would have never gotten made were it not for Adam Sandler starring in the lead. We also suspect this is how Larry Crowne happened. (Then again, there is a bright side to this phenomenon: it's also how Inception got made.)

4. The thing just went off the rails. There may be some in Hollywood who gleefully crank out bad movies, but for the most part, no one consciously sets out to make a crappy film. Everyone goes into it with the very best of intentions. Everyone dreams of Oscars and winning the weekend box-office derby. If you were going to spend 12-18 months of your life on something, would you really waste your time on some awful, cheesy project if you could help it? But with countless creative and business decisions involved, the whole thing can very easily go sideways. Not every choice is the right one. You just hope to be right more often than you're wrong. (It's always an interesting exercise to read the original script of a bad movie - the script is usually much stronger than the final product, which shows how far off-base movies can go as they grind through the whole process.)

5. There's a pre-existing audience for the material. Not only do movies now cost millions to make, but they cost millions to market. With so much entertainment competition out there, it's harder and harder for movie studios to cut through the noise and make an impression on audiences bombarded by internet ads, TV spots, billboards, video games, and 200 TV channels. One marketing executive put it thus: unlike most companies that might launch a new product once a year, Hollywood releases a new product every Friday. So marketers have to go from zero awareness to creating enough incentive to get people off the couch and standing at the box office to spend their $30. Nike doesn't have to do that. Starbucks doesn't have to do that. Which means that if a movie can be based on a TV show or a toy or a previous movie... that's a pretty attractive project. Instead of starting from scratch, now the studio is starting with something that audiences already know. And with tens of millions of dollars on the line, it's easy to see why Hollywood might pick a film version of "Bosom Buddies" over a strange new comedy no one's heard of. In short, Hollywood wants to mitigate its risk. The best way to do that is to create a movie that has some element audiences already know. (The other way to mitigate risk is to cut the budget, so that the movie doesn't have to do as well or attract as big of an audience to earn back its money and turn a profit. A lot of good movies are seen as failures only because their budgets were too big for the limited appeal they had with audiences.) While this strategy gave us Alvin and Chipmunks, it also gave us The Help.

6. Hollywood is driven by fear. Always remember that the producers and executives who make the decisions want to keep their jobs. And the best way to that is to play things safe. If they make a Tom Hanks movie that sucks, it's an easy position to defend: "Hey, it's Tom Hanks! He's a star!" No one will be fired for greenlighing a Tom Hanks movie. It's perceived as a slam dunk. Likewise, no one will be fired for greenlighting a movie based on a Hasbro game. What does get people fired? Greenlighting something risky or different or edgy (the kinds of things that usually result in great movies) that doesn't do well. If a studio spends millions on something out of the ordinary and it tanks spectacularly, someone will have to be held accountable. This rarely happens because no one wants to stick their neck out. And why should they? How often do you risk your job?

7. Audiences tend to like crap. Whether you agree with this or not, the simple fact is that audiences vote for movie quality every time they buy a ticket. If audiences stopped going to see mindless-mayhem action movies or insipid, sexist cookie-cutter romantic comedies, Hollywood would stop making them.

Seven stages of fantasy football

1. Shock and disbelief – Did you really just waste a pick on Alex Smith? What the hell is the matter with you? You shouldn’t have been drinking during the draft.
2. Denial – Don’t worry, you can still win the championship with two backup running backs and a 40-year-old receiver. It’s not that bad. It only looks bad on paper.
3. Anger – The one week you finally start the surging Detroit defense and they give up 85 points? Someone must pay and pay dearly. Maybe throwing the remote control out the kitchen window will help... no, turns out that doesn’t help. And now you can’t change the channel and you’re stuck watching Raiders-Chiefs on channel 752.
4. Bargaining – Okay, if Matt Hasselbeck throws for 300 yards and Marion Barber scores five TDs, you’re still in this. Miracles can happen, right? Right? You can always find that super-sleeper on waiver wires, the one scrub player that’s already been picked up and dropped by five other teams. But it’ll be different with you. You can make it work.
5. Guilt – You’ve wasted seven weekends of your life rooting for those go-nowhere New York Giants and all you have is a 2-6 record to show for it. "What does the outside look like on Sundays, daddy?" "Leave me alone, kid, Eli’s finally in the red zone."
6. Depression – Who are you kidding? All you know about football you learned from “Friday Night Lights” and Madden videogames. You couldn’t tell a Cover-2 from a Skinny Post if you had a gun to your pathetic head. You’re useless. No wonder you drafted Alex Smith and started a 40-year-old receiver.
7. Acceptance – There’s always next year.
Full disclosure: this was created for a private fantasy football league (go Anthrax Avalanche!), but we thought our few loyal readers might also enjoy it.