Jem and the Holograms

When I was a little girl, I was a very big fan of the cartoon Jem and the Holograms. The show, which lasted three seasons, was about a fictional all girl rock band that was fronted by music manager Jerrica Benton. Her alto ego Jem was created with a holographic computer that allowed her to disguise her features and transform herself from mild mannered executive to a rock star. A lot of the episodes focused on Jerrica trying to hide the fact that she was Jem. Think of it as a much more high tech Hannah Montana.

I don’t remember much more about the show other than the theme song (“Truly outrageous!”), that they battled with another band called the Misfits and that Jem had a boyfriend named Rio who had purple hair, which I thought was very cool. Somewhere in my parents’ house my Jem and Rio dolls are probably still floating around. It was a fun show, but obviously there wasn’t much substance behind it because it didn’t make a very lasting impression on me. I actually had to go to Wikipedia to fact check that my memories of the show were correct and that I wasn’t getting it confused with Josie and the Pussycats, which I also loved.

I never would have predicted that Jem and the Holograms was a peek into our future.

As you may have heard by now, the talk of the Coachella music festival this year was a performance of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg with the hologram of the deceased Tupac Shakur (NSFW).

Now this isn’t the first time that artists have been brought back from beyond the grave to perform. Natalie Cole won a Grammy for her duet with her deceased father on “Unforgettable.” Fred Astaire danced in a Dirt Devil commercial 9 years after his death.

I wasn’t a big fan of it then and I am even less a fan of it now.

While the Tupac hologram was a cool trick and certainly was shocking for an audience that didn’t know it was coming, it is a slippery slope. I liked Tupac a lot. I was sad when he died (we may or may not have poured some beer out on the sidewalk in front of our sorority house in tribute) as he was a talented rapper that was gone far too soon. I assume that Snoop and Dre had the best of intentions for this performance.

But you have to wonder where this all ends. Is it fair that after an artist’s death that they can be “brought back” to do just about anything? This time Tupac’s image was brought back to perform with friends. But what about next time? While Astaire’s widow gave permission for his image to be used in the commercial, his daughter thought it was in poor taste and tarnished his memory. Family members may not always have the best of intentions. I could totally see Courtney Love signing up for a hologram Kurt Cobain, which I’m guessing is pretty much the LAST thing he would have wanted. Shouldn’t we just respect their memory and let them be? There is just something a little distasteful about cashing in on all of this.

Of course, the obvious question is whether there are people who would actually pay to see this live. I’m guessing there are, which I don’t really understand. You aren’t seeing the person who has passed. I would have loved to have seen Cobain or the Beatles perform. But I didn’t. I certainly am not going to plunk down cold hard cash to see a hologram of them. I’d rather listen to the work that they created when they were alive and authorized rather than some circus side show created without their permission. It just all seems so unseemly. Let these poor souls rest in peace.

However, it already looks like this is catching on. Yesterday the group TLC announced that they were going to use technology to bring back deceased member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. And this foolishness has the Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston families written all over it. Maybe the East Coast/West Coast rap war will be rekindled if P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean Combs decides we need a hologram Notorious B.I. G. I even read a rumor on-line about Justin Bieber performing with Elvis Presley.

Maybe they can come up with a hologram of these people rolling over in their graves. Truly outrageous indeed.

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Veep

On paper, the new HBO comedy Veep appears to have been created in a laboratory specifically for me. As a political scientist, I’m a sucker for shows or movies set in the world of politics, especially those that focus on either the executive branch of the judiciary (the legislative branch generally bores me). The West Wing, Ides of March, An American President, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Bob Roberts and Parks and Recreation are all things that I was drawn to and enjoyed. As a Seinfeld devotee, I’m always happy to see one of the former cast members in something and I have a special fondness for Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  I always identified with Elaine in a lot of ways, especially when Kramer referred to her as a “man’s woman. You hate other woman and they hate you.” I’ve always gotten along better with men and a lot of women don’t like me because of that. Add in a former Arrested Development cast member Tony Hale(Buster Bluth) and all the ingredients are there for me to totally fall in love with this show.

So I was a little disappointed when I didn’t.

Veep isn’t a bad show. Not by any stretch. There is a lot to like about it. But I was kind of stunned when the end of the show came and I wasn’t bowled over. As I’ve written before, comedy pilots are especially difficult to do well and Veep may have suffered the burden of my too high expectations. I was so excited about the show that it was going to be difficult for it to live up the hype. I usually try to temper my anticipation, but this show seemed to be so in my wheelhouse that I failed to do that this time.

Growing up, no kid dreams of being Vice President. Neither do any politicians – the office is either a stepping stone for their own run for president or is a conciliation prize for their failed attempt to become commander in chief. It is never the actual planned destination. One of the reasons for this is that the vice president doesn’t inherently have a lot to do except for break ties in the Senate and wait for the president to die. It’s really up to the president how much they want to give the VP to do – Clinton and especially George W. Bush opted to give their respective second in commands more to do. George H.W. Bush tried to hide his VP as much as possible.

Louis-Drefyus’ Selina Meyer falls more into the latter category and that may not necessarily be a bad idea. A failed candidate for the presidency, Meyer and her staff seem incapable of totally getting their act together. A lot of the first episode is spent with her team trying to put out fires, mostly of their own making. While this isn’t great for the executive branch, it is a lot of fun to watch.  Their situation isn’t made any better by the President’s complete disinterest in her; a running joke is Meyer asking her assistant if the President has called. The answer is always no. Their only interaction with Oval Office is the smarmy twenty-something liaison that is sent to give the Veep her marching orders. Her entire staff hates him, probably because they realize that even at his lowly station at the White House, he is more important than they are. In the pilot, Meyer is sent to fill in for the President at an event. When the Oval Office completely overhauls her speech at the last minute, she is forced to speak off the cuff and unscripted. It does not end well.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is very funny as the somewhat ditzy Vice President. I don’t know if it is my history with her as an actress, but I am predisposed to laugh at anything that she is in. She has great comic timing and I am looking forward to seeing what she does with this role. The rest of the supporting cast is strong as well, with Hale, Anna Chlumsky and Matt Walsh.

My main issue with the pilot was that it wasn’t quite as funny as I expected. There is a lot going on and with the rapid dialogue it wasn’t always clear what was always going on. I think that style will be fine once we get to know the characters, but for the first episode it was a little confusing. Not Game of Thrones confusing, but enough that it distracted me a bit from what was going on. There is a lot of cussing in the show and that isn’t something that I am against. However I thought they relied a little too much on cursing as the punch line in the pilot. As I mentioned in my Jim Jefferies review, there needs to be more to a joke than it is just shocking or using somewhat shocking language.

What is interesting about the show it that it is fairly apolitical – you never know what party the administration represents. One of the reasons I stopped watching the West Wing was I thought the show was getting a little too preachy in its politics week in and week out. That doesn’t appear to be an issue with Veep. While there are some references to issues, they are mostly secondary and fairly benign. There has also been some speculation before the pilot aired that this show was somehow based on Sarah Palin. That is not the case. People were apparently making that assumption based solely on the fact that the show features a female vice president.

Though I didn’t fall in love with Veep, I definitely fell in like with it and I will be back to see how the show progresses. The pilot was a very solid opening entry and I look forward to seeing what other shenanigans Meyer and her bumbling staff manage to get themselves into.

The pilot episode of Veep is available on HBO On Demand, HBO Go, iTunes and youtube.

Jim Jefferies – The Egg 4.21.12

I consider myself a pretty funny person. I’m not sure if that is something that you are supposed to say about yourself or if that is something that other people are supposed to say about you. But I crack myself up all the time and enough other people have told me that I am funny that I don’t feel too off base in my assumption. I like to make other people laugh; as a fairly shy person I use humor as a way to break the ice and get to know people. In a different world with a different personality, I’d love to be a stand-up comic. But there is a huge difference between making your friends or polite strangers laugh and doing it for paying customers. I just don’t possess the thick skin necessary to go out there night after night and take your chances. Making people laugh is not an exact science and when it goes badly, it can go REALLY badly. And I’m just not built for that kind of vulnerability and possible rejection.

However, that means I respect the hell out of the people who are wired for this particular career path and I enjoy going to see stand-ups when they come to town. I don’t know how vibrant of a local comedy scene that there is here – this isn’t NYC or LA – but we do get our fair share of touring national acts that descend upon the area. In the past few years I’ve seen Seinfeld, Louis CK (the best), Chelsea Handler, Denis Leary, Kathy Griffin, Lewis Black, Stephen Lynch and Ron White. I’ve even seen Dane Cook, which was very disappointing (and which I probably deserved for going to see Dane Cook). Usually I am familiar with the comic before I’ve seen them; I may not know all their routines, but I have a general idea of their style of comedy and what to expect. If they have previous comedy specials, I usually have seen them.  I broke the mold a bit this weekend when I went with friends to see Jim Jefferies. His name was vaguely familiar, but I really didn’t know much about him beyond the fact that he was Australian and that he was decidedly not for the weak of heart. I considered youtubing him before the show, but decided that I wanted to go into the show blind. You never know how often a comic writes new material and I didn’t want to take the chance that I would take the element of surprise out of his routine. I wanted to see if he could make me laugh without the benefit of familiar jokes or the goodwill that he might have garnered if I knew him from a TV show or movie.

And he completely exceeded my expectations.

When I left the show, my face actually hurt from laughing as hard as I did. And I immediately ran home and downloaded every special of his that I could find. He didn’t displace Louis CK as the best I’ve ever seen (that will be a difficult feat) or my inherent loyalty to and affection for Jerry Seinfeld, but he has definitely catapulted his way to the top of the list of best comedy show experiences.

Now his comedy is decidedly not PC; if you are easily offended, he might not be the comic for you. Though I may not have a thick skin when it comes to myself, I’m pretty hard to shock or offend otherwise. It is, in my opinion, a lot easier to “work blue” as they used to say. The few comics who choose to not cuss or stay family friendly have inherently made it more difficult on themselves. But just because it is a little easier to get laughs with salty language doesn’t diminish how funny it can be when done well. I’ve seen comedians who rely only on shock value for laughs, which wears thin pretty quickly. That wasn’t the case with Jefferies. If you can look beyond his usage of the c-word and the other f-word, two words that I’m not particularly fond of but can tolerate in this setting, there is real skill and humor in his delivery. He is a natural storyteller and the two hours that he was on stage just flew by. I was only happy that the show came to an end because I wasn’t sure how much more I could take; I was already having difficulty breathing because I was laughing so much.

Jefferies was hysterically funny with his prepared material, which appeared to be mostly new from the search I did on-line after the show. But it was his handling of an unscripted moment that pushed a really great night into the realm of outstanding.

Over dinner before the show, I was lamenting that as much as I enjoy going to shows, the behavior of the local audiences has become increasingly embarrassing. For some reason, crowds in this city seem to think that going to see a show requires audience participation and insist on yelling things out to the performer. This isn’t just limited to comedians; I went to see Amos Lee and someone was compelled to yell out to ask him what he did the night before. I don’t know if it is the alcohol consumed or their desire to be in the spotlight briefly or if they think that this behavior is expected. Not that this would be excused otherwise, but they aren’t even particularly witty in what they yell out. I mean, what did you do last night? We all live here; we know that there isn’t much to do that is particularly exciting. The whole act reflects badly not only on the idiot who yells things out, but the entire audience. It makes us look like a bunch of yokels who don’t know how to behave properly. It drives me so nuts I sometimes dread going to shows because I just know someone is going to do it. I’m sure it happens everywhere, but I’ve noticed that it happens with regularity at shows in the Capital District.

It is especially bad when comedians come to town. Again, I don’t know if people think that they are expected to heckle as part of the experience. Most performers tell them to shut up and then generally ignore outbursts and then the disturbances seem to dissipate. Perhaps the people who would be inclined to yell pass out as the show continues.

Saturday night was no exception. Very early in the show, some doofus in the crowd decided to yell something at Jefferies.  But this time what transpired was the most epic takedown of an audience member that I have ever seen. Jefferies crucified this guy; if the heckler wasn’t being such a jerk that brought this on himself you might have almost felt sorry for him. While most times the person in the audience gets a line or two, this guy didn’t know when to quit when he was ahead. And when he continued to engage, Jefferies went in for the kill. It wasn’t even a remotely a fair fight. It was all to profane and hilarious to recount, but I remember turning to my friend and saying “is this really happening?” After the dummy insinuated that he wasn’t getting his money’s worth from the show, Jefferies offered to pay him out of his own pocket to make him leave. Of course the idiot came down to the stage to get the money, but then insisted that he shouldn’t have to leave. The whole exchange culminated with Jefferies hitting the guy in the head with the microphone. It. Was. Amazing. It is one thing to hear tales of how some comedians handle hecklers, but it was quite another to see that awesomeness in person. Jefferies became my hero. The whole thing electrified the audience as well as Jefferies and the rest of his set was just a little bit better because of it. He was doing just fine before that, but post altercation he kicked it up a notch.

Do yourself a favor and if you aren’t familiar with his comedy (and don’t think you’ll be offended), go to youtube immediately and check him out or find his two comedy specials, I Swear to God and Alcoholocaust. He mentioned during the set that he is currently working on a show for the FX network, which makes me unbelievably happy. I may have just discovered Jefferies, but I’m already anxious to see what he’ll do next. An amazing night of comedy.