Danny Pudi is a busy man these days. In addition to starring as fan favorite Abed Nadir on NBC’s half-hour comedy, Community, he is also a new father of twins and has an independent film, My Friend...
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Midway through last year's Talking Funny, a round table discussion among some of the world's most famous stand-up comics, Ricky Gervais claims, "In comedy... I think, you have to be the underdog. There's no place for being above the audience." He asserts that he plays a character on stage, ironically presenting himself as better or more knowledgeable than the people in the seats.
Judging from some of Gervais' more recent television projects, the mastermind behind The Office and the similarly brilliant entertainment industry satire Extras has become so mired in self-satisfaction that any ironic distance between Gervais as performer and Gervais as character is all but lost. To put it another way, there exists a fundamental divide between what Gervais is doing and what he thinks he's doing. Which is a shame, because while his material can often still be very funny, it's a bit harder to laugh along with the school bully than it is with the class clown.
Much of Gervais' work is, by design, intertextual. In addition to his stand-up act, Gervais has played "himself" across a number of series, including warped travel program An Idiot Abroad and Life's Too Short, the Gervais and Stephen Merchant-scripted mockumentary starring Warwick Davis (also as himself). In each, "Ricky Gervais" is charged with berating and demeaning the central character to comedic effect, whether it's constantly thwarting Davis's attempts at a film comeback, or devising elaborate and unpleasant challenges for frequent Gervais/Merchant whipping boy Karl Pilkington on his travels around the world. Taken together with his acerbic Golden Globe appearances, Gervais emerges as a carefully curated persona whose position consistently rests above his audience. And his "character" has been so relentlessly presented that it's now almost completely insufferable.
It's a bit of a shame, then, that each project developed by Gervais and Merchant has been incredibly ambitious, and would work beautifully under the right circumstances. An Idiot Abroad boasts some of the finest travel photography on television, and outside his element, Pilkington comes across more as an everyman than as the uninformed dunce Gervais often insists he is. When traveling abroad, Pilkington (whose perspective on things is, admittedly, often hilariously stupid) is treated seriously, lending the series its greatest comedic weight. The show only suffers when Gervais is on screen (or heard via telephone), making the cheapest of jokes at Pilkington's expense, and, if his whinnying laugh is any evidence, finding them far funnier than the audience does. In Life's Too Short, the presence of Gervais is even less necessary -- his appearances cast a long shadow over the rest of the series, which, especially because of a fine, funny performance by Davis, is a reasonably well-crafted showbiz send-up. Even the jokes regarding Davis's height are surprisingly nuanced when they don't come straight from Gervais' mouth.
So The Ricky Gervais Show, the animated version of Gervais, Merchant and Pilkington's long-running podcast, should in theory be the most offensive entry in Gervais' recent oeuvre, considering it consists mostly of picking apart Pilkington's skewed worldview, to the satisfied laughs of Gervais and Merchant. While it might be intellectually uncomfortable to laugh at Gervais' authoritarian bullying of Pilkington, the show (which began its third season on HBO last week) remains, somehow, incredibly funny. Gervais, of course, became famous for crafting some of the least comfortable laughs on television, but it's a strange phenomenon to laugh at his jokes as some form of guilty pleasure.
That The Ricky Gervais Show works in spite of Gervais himself is a testament to the kind of vision that characterizes the best parts of Gervais' series. The animation is sharp, sort of ironically cute, and brings life to the trio's discussions, while the conversations themselves are far more focused and thematically coherent than in their original podcast versions. But perhaps more importantly, Pilkington has become imbued with a greater sense of agency as the series has gone on; he may be the target of the joke, but now he's self-confident enough to fight back.
Illustrating all of this in the season premiere is a brilliant comedic set piece involving one of Pilkington's goofier ideas for a movie premise: a convoluted idea for Mission: Impossible 7 that involves Tom Cruise's brain being unwittingly implanted into the head of a man named Bryan. A nicely crafted bit of animation casts Gervais and Merchant as a pair of 1970s-style studio executives as Pilkington makes his pitch. Proving that he is at the very least a good sport, Pilkington at one point, fully engrossed in the fiction, interrupts a cackling Gervais, barbing, "Are we going to finish this meeting or what?" It would serve Gervais well to allow himself to be undercut like this more often. He may be right that comedy works best for the underdog. It's just that he hasn't occupied that spot for a very long time.
With promising new shows, the fate of CW?s ?Ringer? is unclear. Article source: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118053274.html?cmpid=RSS|News|TVNews
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While the campy, late-night infomercials may give a good laugh, "As Seen On TV" products are hotter than ever. The cost-effective and consumer friendly products, ranging from super lint rollers to foot cream, have helped turn TeleBrands, into a billion dollar direct-marketing company.
The products promoted by the New Jersey-based company come from several sources, including manufacturers, inventors, and even the CEO, but not every idea is a slam dunk. "The ones that are successful in test marketing are fairly few, because the odds of coming up with a success are pretty slim, which is just the nature of the business," TeleBrands founder and CEO A.J. Khubani told The Huffington Post. "Being in it so long, I just -- out of necessity -- started inventing some of the products myself."
After nationwide, American Idol-style product auditions and tens of thousands of dollars in marketing, Khubani and the TeleBrands team crosses their fingers and hope for a breakout success.
Check out some of the current bestselling "As Seen On TV" products below.
VS. = Indicates how show performed versus their previous NEW airing. Source: MediaWeek, Ratings: in[...]
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"Some things never change."And some things do.This week's fantastic episode of Mad Men ("At the Codfish Ball"), written by Jonathan Igla and directed by Michael Uppendahl, had its eye on the future, with several characters contemplating the shifting mores of 1966 as they--and the viewers--were confronted by traditional values rubbing against modernity. But, as the episode itself depicts, things do change and they have to. Society may march on with some of those rigid structures intact but with it comes progress as well, and the sense of change and of the future is embodied in the characters of Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Megan (Jessica Paré), and Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) here, each of whom undergoes a transformation of sorts (whether physical, psychological, or social) before the installment ends.The entire notion of the campaign envisioned by Megan toys with the notion that certain things never really change, whether it be spaghetti, beans, or a mother cooking dinner for her child. The structure of the campaign posits that shifting cultures and times--from the prehistoric to the futuristic--don't diminish certain foundations, relationships, or eventualities. Children need to eat, parents need to feed them. The earth--and the moon--keep on turning.That this becomes the thing that saves the Heinz account (and, as a result, potentially SCDP as well) is crucial, particularly because it's not only Megan who dreams up the campaign, even with a better tag than...
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"Fashion Star" has whittled the contestants down to a small group of designers, and now, it's time to shake up the weekly runway format. For this week's challenge (Tues., May 1, 10 p.m. ET on NBC), the remaining designers are focusing on their personal brands and creating campaigns for their collections.
The mentors -- Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson and John Varvatos -- will give the designers guidance and insight into what makes a successful campaign. Not all of the designers take the advice, though ...
We've got two exclusive sneak peeks at the upcoming episode, "What's Your Campaign?," one of which features Richie's take on this particular challenge and her designer mentee, Nzimiro, the recipient of her cutest nicknames.
"A campaign is a real game-changer," Richie says. "This is the designers' opportunity to stop people dead in their tracks when they're walking down the street, and I'm not sure if Nzimiro's headed in the right direction."
But it appears she's gotten through to Nzimiro with her opinions about sweaters, leaving him with the final parting words of "one love" and an awesome handshake -- just two more reasons to love her mentoring style.
The other clip gives us a revealing look at the judging. Who does Jessica Simpson say really "knocked my panties off"? And who did John Varvatos bow down to? Watch our two exclusive sneak peeks of this week's ad campaign challenge to see.
Nicole's mentor visit with Nzimiro:
Jess and John talking about Nzimiro and Kara:
Tell us: Are you watching "Fashion Star"?
"Fashion Star" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.
I remember being blown away by An American Family, which was a compelling and unorthodox documentary miniseries when it was made back in 1973 that showed the world the "typical" American family was anything but. Much time has passed since the Louds captivated our psyches (HBO recently did its own take on the wacky family, starring a rather fetching Diane Lane as the reluctant matriarch), so it's worth exploring what today's "average" American family looks like.
The new American family has taken all the old averages -- divorce rates, notions of wealth, favorite pastimes, social norms, etc. -- and dumped them on their perfectly coiffed heads. As psychologists try to make sense of our new normal and America's drastically altered demographics emerge ready for dissection, I've been keen to observe the impact of the redefined American family. Look no further than the recent political debates that had us discussing everything from Mitt Romney's Mormonism to Newt Gingrich's marriage trifecta, not to mention John Edwards' trial over using campaign money to fund extramarital trysts. (Good thing he's not running for anything.)
The American family's structure is no longer a perfect slice of apple pie. We've got nests that are no longer empty as jobless millennials move back in with mom and dad and redefine our latest obsession with what it means to be "occupied." Some families are led by a single parent; some kids are cheered on at soccer games by two moms or two dads; some childless families treat their dogs better than most human children are treated. No matter how you slice it, the new American family has many flavors, and there's simply no such thing as convention anymore. (And now that mom brings home as much bacon as dad, or more, it no longer matters who's frying it up in the pan.)
Big strides are being made to acknowledge our new notions of family. Same-sex marriage is slowly being legalized, and a new Pew Research Center report finds interracial marriage at an all-time high (more than 15 percent of new marriages). Not all the changes are so heartening, though. Most of us are at least peripherally aware of our shifting demographics, but here's a steely glance at today's American family in all its glory:
-- Marriage and childrearing: In 2008, only 52 percent of us were married, compared with 72 percent in 1960. The United States now lays claim to the highest divorce rate of any industrialized nation, which some psychologists connect with our escalating tendency toward narcissism. The last few decades have also signaled a move toward cohabitation and the birth of more children out of wedlock (41 percent of all births). More than 25 percent of women with more than one child had some of them with different men, which is part of today's "blended" families, including heterosexual and gay couples bringing children from prior relationships into new partnerships. In 2010, a year when more American women were employed than men, we also saw a shift back to the one-income household, this time with men staying at home on daddy duty while their wives battled it out in the boardroom.
-- The vanishing middle class and the new income gap: The percentage of American families who live in middle-income neighborhoods has declined considerably since 1970; more families now live in either low-income or affluent neighborhoods. Two results: The disparity in "standardized test scores between rich and poor children is now 40 percent bigger than in 1970," and the gap between them in completing college "has grown by more than 50 percent since the 1990s." While more than half of children from high-income families finish college, "fewer than 10 percent of low-income children finish." One Harvard sociologist says that our country's sense of community is in jeopardy because our affluent citizens and middle- and lower-class citizens live their lives in such essentially different ways. And, interestingly, while it is the nuclear family of yesterday that played out marital woes behind closed doors, this generation's dysfunction plays out publicly in the form of Facebook status updates that change from "married" to "divorced" as quickly as we check in on Foursquare.
-- Technology and premade play: Forget rock, paper, scissors; even crayons are so very yesterday as today's tech-savvy kids require a wireless connection for entertainment. With our kids plugged voraciously into social networks, smartphones and video games, the way they relate to other people might never be the same. It's been suggested that the media is playing the role of surrogate parent to many of our country's children. Will "Facebook" replace "Mama" or "Dada" as Junior's first word?
And while the media is babysitting our children, are politicians trying to parent our brood? That's what psychoanalyst Molly Castelloe said recently, pointing to former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, whom President Obama has called the "most popular politician on earth." In a 2010 campaign speech, Lula said: "The best example I can give of the art of governing is the art of being a mother. Governing is nothing more than acting like a mother taking care of her family, assuring everyone the right to have opportunities. Incidentally the word 'govern' is really wrong... it should be 'to care for.'"
Big business is showing its chops at parenting, too. Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, recently trended big-time on Twitter when she infamously proclaimed that she leaves the office every day at, gasp, 5:30 to have dinner with her family. Who knew big tech moguls kept bankers' hours? Oh, and how can we ignore the endless loop of bump watches in all the tabloids as celebrity parents make childbearing and rearing more aspirational than ever? (#lookmanoepidural)
St. Angelina and her ever growing brood aside, Americans don't seem particularly easygoing about those who deviate from the nuclear family. Many voters were appalled by Marianne Gingrich's accusation that her former husband asked her for an open marriage, but tongues have wagged even more furiously about polygamy's roots in Mitt Romney's family tree -- even though the former Massachusetts governor has decried polygamy as "awful" and has been married for 43 years to Ann, she said of this recent gaffe: "I love the fact that there are women out there who don't have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids." Thus furthering the claim that the Romneys are clueless when it comes to how the average American is living these days.
And why do we even care what they say, you might ask? Because, for better or worse, richer or poorer, the pursuit of a solid family unit -- whatever that looks like, whatever that means to us individually and whether you are more a helicopter than a dragon -- family is still a top priority for most of us. In this brave new world of parenting and family life, we sure have come a long way since the Louds. Views on what the word "family" means nowadays will surely be debated throughout this election, and in Mommy (or Daddy) and Me groups from Manhattan to Modesto.
Don't read on unless you've seen "At the Codfish Ball," Sunday's episode of "Mad Men."
I wrote a couple years ago that you could almost sum up "Mad Men" "by calling it a prelude to Sally Draper's inevitable years of therapy," and those words were never truer than they were after Sunday's episode.
Three generations were arrayed around that ballroom table, united by frustration, disappointment and bitterness. But everything that happened to the other characters -- all the pained judgments they'd made about themselves and the crushing judgments from others they'd endured -- paled in comparison to the stunned look on poor Sally's face.
We've seen this unfortunate girl experience any number of upsetting and confusing situations, but seeing your grandmother performing an intimate act on the family friend who had been treating you as his date only moments earlier has to set a new record for Most Horrible Memory Sally Has in Her Brain. At this point, even Freud would throw up his hands and say, "Too confusing. Count me out."
"At the Codfish Ball" was very much a variation on the season's discomfiting themes, which are all about decay, disgust and decline; as Sally memorably put it, an uncomfortably "dirty" atmosphere seems to have oozed through the entire city. Yet this week's hour was unmistakably a "regular" episode of "Mad Men": It wasn't as structurally ambitious as last week's trippy outing, it wasn't as dark and chilling as other hours we've recently witnessed, and it wasn't quite the "welcome back" party platter that the season premiere was.
No, this was an episode that focused intently on a few characters, and thankfully it occasionally had a lighter tone (anything with this many golden Roger quips is going to be more fun than an episode that dwells on violence and serial killers). Still, there was a great deal of discipline evident in the hour, which had a very tightly woven tale to tell about a single theme: It all revolved around how we disappoint and lie to ourselves, and how we sell ourselves short. When is compromise giving up on our true ambitions? When is holding on to certain dreams childish and unrealistic? Each character was trying to figure that out, especially the female characters, most of whom have no map or guide to how they should conduct their lives, personally and professionally.
It was lovely to see Peggy and Joan grow closer, but it was hard not to come to the conclusion that they were reinforcing each other's desire to put the best possible face on disappointing situations. I'll be the first to admit that there's a truckload of complexity embedded in each woman's situation, one that an episodic review can't begin to unpack. Sure, Joanie was smart and strong to kick her bum of a husband to the curb, and her realization that she could go it alone gave her a very different perspective on Peggy's "shacking up" news, a perspective Mrs. Harris wouldn't have dreamed of entertaining just a few years ago.
Yet as Peggy and Joan hugged each other, it was hard not to think that they were trying even harder to convince themselves that they'd done the right thing; convincing the other person was almost a secondary goal. Peggy moved very quickly from saying that Abe's proposal about living together was "better" than a marriage proposal to knitting her brow and wondering if she'd done the right thing by accepting his alternate proposition.
And isn't it sad that Joan's idea of romance is two people living together partly out of affection but partly out of logistical need and convenience? In some ways, Emile Calvet was the voice of the audience in this episode. Sure, he was facing disappointments and humiliations of his own, and perhaps that caused him to lash out, but he had a point, as did Mrs. Olsen: Don't put up with less than you deserve. Don't we want more for these women? Don't we want them to want more for themselves? Or is that kind of thinking just going to set them both up for more letdowns?
The flip side of that "making do" philosophy was Mrs. Calvet's observation that "we should have everything we want." It was a sentiment perfectly designed for the ears of Roger Sterling, the king of lazy entitlement. Yet even he was attempting to get back in the game in this episode and was more actively in search of clients than he ever has been to date. When will he realize that it's all a waste of time, and that these corporate types don't want to give his rebellious agency the time of day? And I suspect that Mrs. Calvet didn't even believe that sentence as she said it; she may want that to be true, but marriage and life have taught her that nobody gets everything they want. I suspect she began to think of her encounter with Roger as an unwise and unenlightening mistake even before it really began.
What gave the episode its great tension was the push and pull between characters trying things and those same characters getting shot down, and picking up the pieces of their dreams from the wreckage. Every victory was shot through with defeat, every disappointment was somehow instructional and couldn't just be ignored or dismissed. The episode was full of people trying to talk themselves into and out of things: Megan pitched Don her idea and successfully helped Don pitch it to Heinz, and then fought a growing sense of disappointment as she realized no one would ever give her full credit for the idea (notice how Stan blithely accepted her statement that the concept had been "beginner's luck," and doubted that the idea had been hers in the first place). Peggy talked herself into thinking the Abe situation was liberating, instead of presumptuous on his part. Don convinced himself he had a shot with these heavyweights, only to realize he was the wallflower at this ball.
One of the most notable things about the episode, I realized on a second viewing, was that we got a Don Draper Pitch, a real one -- we haven't seen one of those for quite some time. After being told by Bert last week to get his head back in the game, he did so with a vengeance, using the swanky dinner as an opportunity to stealth-pitch Heinz and doing it with the patented Draper charm offensive of old. (Sidebar: Notice that he told the client they had no other ideas to present, the kind of statement that got Peggy fired from the account so long ago.)
The pitch worked, but, like so many other characters, the moment of triumph was soon poisoned and spoiled. Ken's father in law schooled him on exactly how much damage Don had done with his impulsive anti-tobacco ad; it could mean that SCDP remains a mid-level agency with mid-level clients forever. The big dogs want an agency they can trust, but they can't trust Draper. Don New York Times ad represented one of many Pyrrhic victories this season and this hour: He got a plaque, but he may have ultimately messed up not just his career but the entire company's future with in one bold stroke.
Megan's dream of being taken seriously as a creative went awry; Don's dream of landing huge clients was punctured; the Calvet's marriage was clearly as badly damages as Don and Betty's ever was; disappointment and disillusionment was everywhere. But it's hard to pick the most crushing moment for this show's array of supremely complex, realistically challenged female characters: Is it the tragedy of Sally (whose become quite skilled in the art of lying and hiding her real emotional life from everyone) seeing something awful yet again, and not having the skills or tools with which to process what she'd seen? Or was it the pain of seeing poor Peggy's heart break right in front of us?
Elisabeth Moss once again did career-best work in her Minetta Tavern scene with Abe. Peggy, who has been so battered and bruised by the limitations she must labor under professionally, showed up transformed for this man, whom she thought might bring satisfaction and joy to her personal life via a marriage proposal. Strip away the hard-drinking advertising professional, and there's still part of her that wants the dream that she was raised to believe in: She showed up glowing, wearing pink, looking like a princess, waiting for the declaration of perfect love from her prince.
Slowly, as it sank in that Abe's proposal was more practical and logistical and affectionate than romantic, and certainly not the proposal she'd been waiting for, her smile became more and more of a mask. It was not an indication of her inward feelings but a shield she put up to cover her inner disappointment. Roger has been obsessed with finding the moment "where it went wrong," but Peggy fought hard not to let this enormous letdown become a dividing line and ruin her chance for companionship. Even so, it's hard not to agree with Peggy's mom, and to think that Abe would eventually leave her and one day marry someone else. Generation after generation, parents put expectations on their children, some of which are self-serving and misguided, some of which come from a place of real love and a desire to see one's offspring steer their lives into a ditch. But parents can't stop children from making their own, tailor-made mistakes.
Should Peggy just accept being alone, or, at best, being an eternally single cat lady? Or should she accept Abe's honest love and affection for what it is -- a probably temporary situation that will provide much-needed companionship as long as it lasts? Neither situation is satisfying, and for a professional woman, the culture doesn't provide much in the way of guidance or sympathy on these fronts.
Maybe, like everyone else, Peggy was determined to make the best of a difficult situation. Or maybe she was selling herself short and too readily allowing "reality" to crush her expectations. What we're seeing this season, however, is that these ad men and women have increasing trouble convincing themselves that the rot hasn't set in, that they can still get what they want. And if they get it, won't it just be ... dirty?
So is this how it is? Will this sense of malaise and decay and disappointment continue to suffuse the season, which is more than halfway over? If so, where does it go from here? Of course other seasons have shown characters going through a tough time, and Don has more or less pulled his life out of a skid. But the pervasiveness of the disillusionment this season gives me pause. We used to see things through Peggy's hopeful, ambitious eyes; we used to live for the wins the characters use to rack up. I love the complexity and ambiguity of the show, but will it continue to arc downward, until the projected end of Season 7? Like a worried parent, I must confess to wanting more for these flawed, absorbing, misguided, fascinating people.
The wins seem fewer and further between, and the sense of gritty disappointment is almost pervasive. Generation after generation, dining on bittersweet letdowns and dream-deflating compromises, not baked beans. Some things never change.
A few final notes and favorite lines: