Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Summer Solstice Edition

Summer is officially here! To all my friends that are teachers – your watch has ended. To my friends that are parents – your watch has begun. This is shaping up to be a weird summer for me since I don’t have much of anything on the calendar. I already took a quick vacation and my summertime commitments are pretty limited. So really, all that summer means to me is time to catch up television, which is alright by me.

Speaking of catching up, this new edition of the roundup is your chance to get up to speed on all pop culture that you may have missed. It’s the longest day of the year, so you have time!

Television

Movies

Trailers

  • Detroit:

 

  • Pitch Perfect 3:

 

  • Goodbye Christopher Robin:

 

  • Netflix’s Atypical:

 

  • Transparent, season 4:

 

  • Thank You For Your Service:

 

  • Daddy’s Home 2:

 

  • Happy Death Day:

 

  • The Trip to Spain:

 

  • Annabelle Creation:

 

  • Okja:

 

  • Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press:

 

  • Brigsby Bear:

 

  • Midnighters:

 

  • Jungle:

 

  • American Assassins:

 

  • Friends From College:

 

Music

Stand-Up

Books

Theater

Podcasts

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • An orchestra covered Daft Punk’s ”Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”:

 

  • A vintage cover of “Say It Ain’t So”:

 

  • Lightening McQueen gets a 30 for 30 short:

 

  • Game of Thrones characters sing “I Will Survive”:

 

Some Thoughts on NBC’s The Wiz Live!

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Apparently the third time is the charm.

To date, NBC’s experimentation with live musicals has been spotty at best; most people were tuning in to hate watch rather than from a genuine enjoyment of the product that the network was putting out. Sound of Music Live! starred Carrie Underwood who is musically very gifted but who couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag; Peter Pan Live! was just kind of a mess – Walken was all over the place and the production lacked any sort of personality whatsoever. But NBC doesn’t care why people re tuning in; ratings count the same if you are watching out of sheer admiration of what they are doing or because you want to laugh at it. So they went back to the well one more time this year, this time for a live production of the The Wiz.

Now on paper, The Wiz seemed like a smart selection. Part of the problems with these live musicals in the past has been the production selected. The Sound of Music movie is so ubiquitous and beloved that there was no way that their live telecast was ever going to live up to the standard set by Julie Andrews and company. Even if they had nailed it – which they didn’t – it was probably going to feel like a disappointment. Plus the stage musical is just slightly different enough from the movie that it was slightly disorienting to watch; viewers want the familiar beats that they are used to. I’m guessing no one watched the Sound of Music film adaptation and walked away thinking that was good, but it needed more of the Baroness. In regards to Peter Pan, it turns out that a lot of the thrill of that musical was seeing the actors fly, which ain’t going to cut it in today’s modern world. The added landmine of the racial and gender politics in Peter Pan made it problematic from the start. The Wiz, however, is familiar enough to people both because of the movie starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson and because of its source material (The Wizard of Oz, duh), but it is new enough to a large enough segment of the population to also seem a little fresh and different. It also brought some much needed diversity to the network landscape with its predominantly African American cast. I wasn’t 100% convinced based on past results that The Wiz was going to be good, but it at least had the best potential to be something other than a train wreck.

NBC also put a lot more effort into making sure that The Wiz Live! had a stronger all-around cast. While previous productions had featured a handful of stars, The Wiz Live! was stacked with talented people. The burden for the success of the show was more evenly distributed; where a lot of the responsibility of The Sound of Music Live! and Peter Pan Live! fell on Carrie Underwood and Allison Williams, respectively, this time out there was less pressure on one main character. That allowed NBC to cast newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy without putting too much on the 19 year-old’s shoulders since she was backed up by Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, David Alan Grier, Common, Elijah Kelley, Amber Riley and Uzo Aduba. That’s an embarrassment of riches and while I firmly believe in NBC’s ability to mess up just about anything, the odds that The Wiz Live! would at least be tolerable were in their favor.

Turns out that The Wiz Live! was not merely tolerable, but it was also a whole lot of fun. The production was chock full of great songs and catchy choreography that the talented cast handled with ease. While in previous years the live musicals felt like something of a slog, The Wiz Live! flew by; the nearly three hour show felt like it was over almost as soon as it began. It helps that there is not a lot of fat in The Wiz; the time spent on songs greatly outnumbers the amount of spoken dialogue, so that it all hums along like a well-oiled machine. This also minimized the possibility of “the Underwood Effect,” as it played to the overall strength of the cast and provided few opportunities for wooden delivery of lines. Ne-Yo completely exceeded my expectations and was fantastic as The Tin Man; I was unfamiliar with his acting background prior to watching, but I thought he was just a whole lot of fun. Almost everything about the show was on fleek – not only were the performances great, but the costuming and make-up were fantastic as well (notable exception – I was not really digging whatever it was that they created for the Scarecrow’s costume). This time out, it just all fell into place. Part of the fun of these productions is watching live with Twitter, but even the online snark was hard to come by. People simply were digging The Wiz Live!. The stumbles of the previous attempts at live musicals were worth it to get to this point.

Of course, there were a few areas that could have stood some improvement. I stand by my contention that these productions would all benefit from being performed in front of a live audience; the actors would be able to feed off the energy of the crowd and musical numbers wouldn’t be greeted with silence. This logistically shouldn’t be that hard for NBC to pull off and I think it would only bolster these musicals going forward. The camera work continues to be a problem as well; they couldn’t quite figure out when to use a wide shot or a close-up and the cameras were occasionally focused on the less visually stimulating action. Whether this was a fault with the camerawork itself or the control booth I don’t know, but it was perhaps the weakest part of the musical. Perhaps they could bring in the Sunday Night Football crew for the next production, since they are more versed in the delicate dance of covering a live event. There were also a few errant notes here and there, but that is getting very nitpicky. The performances overall were great and occasionally you just aren’t going to hit the note that you thought you were. That’s part of live theater. There was also a noticeable lack of Toto, which got a lot of people on Twitter riled up. Just a guess, but live television and animals were probably a combination that they were trying to minimize.

Some other random thoughts:

  • There were some changes made to the musical in storyline and some of the references were updated for a modern audience. I had to chuckle when Queen Latifah dropped Spice Girls’ lyrics.

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  • I’m honestly impressed that they worked a Molly wop reference into a network program. I’m sure that sent plenty of people to Urban Dictionary.
  • You know, I never really thought about it before, but Dorothy is a little presumptuous in all these promises that she makes to The Tin Man, The Scarecrow and The Lion. She didn’t even know that The Wiz existed 24 hours ago and now she’s assuring everyone that he’ll give them whatever they want.
  • In a surprise twist, I indirectly knew people involved with dressing the performers and the make-up team. Who knew that there were so many talented people within two degrees of separation of me.
  • In a nice nod to history, Aunt Em was played Stephanie Mills, who originated the role of Dorothy in the Broadway production. #Fullcircle
  • There was so much great dancing in The Wiz Live!; Ne-Yo got down….

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  • And the Emerald City is apparently the hottest club in town:

 

  • Uzo Aduba knows how to make an entrance:

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My only major complaint about The Wiz Live! is that it is a hell of a lot easier to write these blog posts when these productions are terrible. Those posts write themselves. About twenty minutes into The Wiz Live! I realized that this was not going to be the case; I would have to put my sarcasm aside for this one. I am somewhat optimistic about these live musicals going forward; hopefully NBC and everyone involved has learned how to successfully pull these shows off and how to cast and select the right musical. Fox will try their hand at the live musical game with Grease Live!, which I don’t have a ton of faith in based on the learning curve for pulling these shows off as well as the fact that I have a special place in my heart for Grease and I’m sure they will fall short of my expectations. But for now, these live musicals have finally emerged as something that can be watched unironically. Congrats to the cast and crew of The Wiz Live!; you did it!

Peter Pan Live!

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It’s that time of year again when NBC decides that the edgiest thing that they can come up with is a live production of an old musical. Thanks to big ratings for last year’s Sound of Music Live! – which I enjoyed mocking – we’ll probably be getting these events for the foreseeable future. That’s fine by me; I’m always ready for an event that gives me plenty of opportunity to unleash the snark.

As I was getting ready to settle in for the nearly 3 hour (!) broadcast, it dawned on me that I may not have ever actually seen Peter Pan before. That’s not that surprising of a revelation – my huge Disney/fairy tale blind spot has been the subject of many posts – but I was willing to concede that my working knowledge of things Pan might have been derived from the fact that a bunch of my friends were in a production of Peter Pan when they were in elementary school. I went to a different elementary school (Milton Terrace 4 life!), but this school play was discussed a lot. I’m pretty sure at some point, once all the elementary schools were dumped together, I even watched some of the home movie of this play. It even came up at our high school reunion last weekend.

However, while I am pretty positive that I’ve never seen the Disney version of Peter Pan, I do recall that at some point I saw a traveling production of the musical. I want to say it was at Proctors and that it was a Girl Scout field trip, but I’m not too certain of the details. I’ve also seen Hook, a movie that I vaguely remember but that for some reason a lot of people I know love.

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So I wasn’t going into Peter Pan Live! quite as blind as I thought I was. I knew the basics and that was probably enough.

One of the biggest problems with Sound of Music Live! was its star; Carrie Underwood seems like a lovely person and has a beautiful voice, but she cannot act her way out of paper bag. When your lead can’t act, that’s kind of a problem. That shouldn’t necessarily be an issue with Allison Williams; we know she can act and while she’s a downgrade in the voice department, we know that she can sing. So we’re already off to a better start. I predicted three things to be most worried about before Peter Pan Live! began:

  • Technical issues – there’s a lot of aerial work in Peter Pan, which means a lot of potential for something to go wrong. I won’t say that I’m rooting for a wire to snap or someone to hit a wall, but I’m not going to say I’d be disappointed by it either.

 

  • Christopher Walken – Look, Walken is a national treasure. He’s the best and he’s had a long and storied career in Hollywood. But he’s a weird dude and he can easily slip into a parody of himself. If they don’t reign him in, this production might get campy real fast.

 

  • Tiger Lily – This musical has an outdated and offensive look at Native Americans as originally written. NBC has already said that changes have been made for better cultural sensitivity, but I have my doubt that there is any way to depict that story that isn’t cringe-worthy. I guess we’ll wait and see.

 

So with those potential pitfalls identified, let’s see how they actually do. Without further ado, here’s my running diary of watching Peter Pan Live!

8:00 – This is a pretty long sweeping “aerial” shot.

8:01 – “Two is the beginning of the end for all” – that’s an uplifting thought; at three years old, we’re on the decline.

8:03 – Was Mr. Darling always this uptight? He kind of sucks.

8:04 – Umm….if these folks can afford servants, why do their kids all have to share a room with a dog?

8:04 – Who names a dog Nana anyway? Cute dog though.

8:05 – So what you’re saying is that you are worried about an intruder at the window and your solution is to leave the kids at home with a dog to supervise?

8:06 – The maid can’t watch the children because she was “instructed to make Christmas pudding?” Straight talk – YOU are her boss; you can change her priorities. These people deserve to have their children stolen.

8:08 – Those kids fell asleep pretty damn quick. I don’t know what the dude who wrote Go the F*ck to Sleep was complaining about. Bedtime seems pretty easy.

8:09 – A simple childproof lock on that window and none of this would have happened.

8:11 – Was Allison Williams supposed to be crying? Because it sure didn’t look like that.

8:12 – Nobody in this play has heard of stranger danger. It’s a miracle these kids have lived this long.

8:13 – This would have been quite the twist if that maid in the closet was dead.

8:15 – How old is Wendy supposed to be? I’d be annoyed at my bedroom being called a nursery after age 4.

8:16 – Soap? Sewing needles? These kids live in a CVS.

8:25 – None of the things that Peter Pan is bragging about in this song are all that impressive.

8:26 – CHICKEN DANCE

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The Bluths would be proud.

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8:27 – Let’s go back to the possibly dead maid. This is kind of boring.

8:31 – What’s Melissa Joan Hart doing here? And why is her husband so into Tinkerbell?

8:33 – There are mermaids in Neverland?

8:34 – Dead fairies. This just got dark.

8:35 – “She says that you’re an ugly girl and she’s mine.” Tinkerbell throwing some shade.

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8:36 – Wendy is sure desperate for some affection; she’s driving pretty hard to the hoop for a kiss from a total stranger. This may mark some deeper issues.

8:38 – “Girls are much too clever to fall out of their carriages.” Who knew Peter Pan was a feminist?

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8:39 – Wait. Totally reinforced gender stereotypes. Never mind.

8:40 – You hide from a dog in THE DOGHOUSE? Smarten up, Peter Pan.

8:41 – Are we supposed to be able to see the wires?

8:42 – Here’s Jimmy Fallon doing his best Peter Pan:

 

8:44 – How freaked out have the stage hands have to be with all these kids on wires?

8:45 – Are they drunk? They don’t seem to be flying in any discernible direction. Michael especially.

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8:50 – Pirates..this might get more interesting. Almost Walken time.

8:51 – I swear one of those pirates is Mark McGrath.

8:51 – Christopher Walken’s eyebrows are phenomenal.

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8:52 – Smee’s tattoos look very fake.

8:52 – I’d be pissed if I was on this crew and Hook didn’t address me by name. I mean, Billy Jukes got a shout out.

8:54 – Why would a pirate dream of a pink umbrella? There’s subtext here.

8:55 – “A hook for every boy and a boy on every hook.”

8:56 – WALKEN IS DANCING!!!!

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8:57 – More subtext – the way Hook sits on that cannon.

8:58 – Damn it – even in Neverland we can’t get away from racial issues.

8:58 – These kids sure love top hats. At least three lost boys are wearing them. Plus John Darling of course.

8:59 – Worst Mardi Gras Float ever. (Walken being carried)

9:01 – I am 99% sure that Smee just said cock instead of clock.

9:02 – Hook is really enjoying sitting on that mushroom.

9:01 – Very convenient that the pirates brought their fiddles.

9:03 – Smee and Hook tangoing? I have no memory of this.

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9:04 – “So damp and rich a cake? Who wants a damp cake? This plan makes no sense.

9:05 – I’m dying to know who got stuck playing the bright blue crocodile.

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9:06 – Tinkerbell was the original Mean Girl.

9:07 – Or a psychopath.

9:08 – Tinkerbell ordered the murder of Wendy; her punishment – she can’t be Peter’s friend for one week. #whiteprivilege

9:10 – Peter is obsessed with Wendy making them pockets. He’s mentioned it three times. I have no idea what that even means. Is that a British thing?

9:11 – These Lost Boys have pirates and other excitement and they are interested in Cinderella. Their priorities are all out of whack.

9:12 – Hamlet? What kids know anything about Hamlet?

9:13 – Peter said the cake is too damp and rich. I told you so.

9:14 – Wendy said not to eat the cake before dinner, not throw the cake out the window. Save it for later, dummies!

9:15 – Tweet of the night:

9:16 – A tarantella? I once did the tarantella for extra credit in my AP English class after we read Glass Menagerie. True Story.

9:17 – I won’t grow up = the original “We Don’t Need No Education.”

9:20 – Wendy is a grammar Nazi

9:21 – I don’t understand the ground in Neverland. Is that supposed to be a map or can the Lost Boys walk on water?

9:22 – Smee looks a little like Justin Kirk from Weeds

9:24 – I think Peter is having some serious buyer’s remorse with Wendy.

9:25 – The saucer fell off Peter’s head. Does that count as a flub?

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9:26 – I’m pretty impressed that some of Tiger Lily’s men can bench-press the Lost Boys

9:27 – I think the problem with this play is no one in it has any personality. Williams is fine, but she’s not all that charismatic.

9:30 – DeGiorno also had a solid tweet;

 

9:31 – Helpful hint Wendy – don’t date a guy who wants you to be his mommy. It never ends well. Not that I know. #Itotallyknow

9:32 – Hey – he wasn’t kidding about the mermaids

9:33 – He already has pockets? Then what has he been going on about???

9:35 – “Let’s get on with the fighting; I’m bored.” Preach, Pan. Preach

9:36 – Peter needs to stop flying around and get out of dodge

9:37 – I thought Allison Williams was going to be stuck upside down for a while. That would have been….something.

9:40 – I have never seen Michael with that kite.

9:41 – Peter Pan is the not the sun and the moon. That would be Khal Drago.

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9:44 – Uh Wendy. I think you have some competition.

9:47 – This dance number is going on way too long.

9:51 – Peter Pan has three women chasing after him. Let that sink in.

9:54 – “Maybe he’ll change.” That thought has kept many relationship alive.

9:56 – Considering her children are missing, Mrs. Darling is pretty calm

10:04 – The Darling are going to adopt all these kids? The better invest in some bunk beds.

10:06 – If I were Wendy, I don’t know that I’d have a lot of faith in Tinkerbell guiding me to safety.

10:07 – Peter doesn’t like to be touched; he’s the new Christian Grey.

10:08 – The Lost Boys have a surprising amount of baggage.

10:08 – The kid playing Michael is trying to infuse so spunk into this production:

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10:09 – Everyone in this play has mommy issues.

10:10 – Honestly, this is a terrible play for little girls; all they are seen as are potential mothers.

10:17 – Peter Pan is breaking the third wall.

10:18 – I remember that clap if you believe part being way more dramatic.

10:18 – How in the hell does this have 40 minutes left?

10:19 – It sure sounded like one of those pirates was meowing when everyone else was barking. Rebel.

10:20 – How did Jack the Ripper get dragged into this?

10:21 – I have seen no evidence that Captain Hook is even remotely this evil.

10:22 – An A+ to the pirate that slapped Hook’s hook and made a face of pain. That’s commitment.

10:23 – Hook has some inferiority issues. Everyone in this play should be in therapy.

10:29 – This loyalty to the King seems misplaced.

10:30 – Have Michael, John and Wendy all forgotten that they can fly? Seems like that might come in handy.

10:32 – Wendy’s last words were terrible.

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10:34 – Peter Pan, You area no Avenger. Even Hawkeye is better than you.

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10:36 – To be fair, Hook does have legit beef with Pan.

10:37 – This is the most lackadaisical climactic fight scene that I’ve ever witnessed.

10:38 – Ha! A hook-bump!

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10:39 – Hook gave that fight up pretty easily. He’s Walken the plank *badum dum*

10:40 – Peter Pan can’t lie? Is he also Pinocchio?

10:42 – Hey Melissa Joan Hart! Ever heard of a spoiler alert??

10:45 – I sincerely hope that we’re wrapping this up. I’m spent.

10:47 – The Lost Boys just agreed to be quiet then immediately break into a boisterous musical number. Mr. Darling ain’t gonna be happy.

10:49 – Would be burglars – window in the Darling joint is never locked. Pass the word.

10:50 – UGH. Stupid Minnie Driver. I forgot that she was in this.

10:53 AGAIN WITH THE F&* POCKETS!!

10:54 – So here’s the lesson of this play – Wendy falls in love with Peter, who throws her over because she’s old and then takes her daughter away.

10:55 – The Darlings are multi-generational bad parents. Sure kid – I know how dangerous Neverland is, but have a good time.

10:55 – Hooray. It’s over!

So production wise that was better than Sound of Music, but it still wasn’t very good. Peter Pan isn’t that interesting of a play and no one had any real personality. It was perfectly fine, but not all that entertaining. And there is no reason this thing needed to be three hours; they could have easily done it in two. Some trimming might have helped the pacing. Each time NBC does this, we discover another component that they are missing; next time out, not only do they have to find someone who can sing and act, but they have to be charismatic as well. Since they are doing The Music Man next, I have the most logical suggestion for the star:

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He can sing, he can dance, he can act (sort of) and he’s got charm coming out the wazoo. Plus he’s already part of the network family. Think about it, NBC!