Sunday, May 28, 2017

Becoming Bond Is The Bond Film George Lazenby Needed To Make

George Lazenby has spent four decades as an enigma. An Australian actor who was plucked from nowhere to play James Bond, Lazenby famously rejected an offer to continue starring as the secret agent following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and never reached the same level of fame he briefly touched in 1969. Lazenby provides his version of events and sheds light on why he walked away from the iconic 007 role in the Hulu documentary Becoming Bond.

A colorful film, Lazenby is the sole voice in Becoming Bond. The actor, then 76 years old, sat in front of a camera and gave some wildly entertaining stories as he described a journey from Australia to the U.K. and his accidental ascendency into becoming James Bond. The movie flashes from Lazenby’s interview to actors playing out his narrative. Jeff Garlin, Dana Carvey, and former Bond Girl Jane Seymour are among those who act out his colorful anecdotes.

The tales Lazenby spins in Becoming Bond reach such moments of ridiculousness that the interviewer asks him if the stories are real. Lazenby simply replies, “How could I remember it if it wasn’t true?”

From being born with half of a kidney to bringing a bag of bats to school, Lazenby paints the picture of a rambunctious youth. After working his way from being an auto mechanic to a car salesman, the Australian chased the daughter of the Governor General of New South Wales to the U.K., where he eventually found work as a male model. Lazenby details exploits and acid trips during the Sexual Revolution that are more Austin Powers than James Bond. His stories are so enjoyable that even if they are fairly inventive it does not subtract from the entertainment value of Becoming Bond.

By 2017 we have become accustomed to the idea of a new Bond, but at the time of his casting Lazenby was replacing the Bond – Sean Connery. How Lazenby was chosen for the role even involved some enjoyable chicanery. He swiped a suit belonging to Connery and lied about his acting experience (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was his first film). After filming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service without a contract, he turned down a multi-picture deal and a one-million dollar bonus.

Passing on that deal cemented his place as an anomaly. Who in their right mind would pass on a chance at this type success?

This part of the documentary is the definitive part of Becoming Bond. The film provides Lazenby with the appropriate forum to explain his decision to abscond from the role of 007 within the context of his life story. He describes the decision as being a more instinctual one. Acting as James Bond was never his end goal and that it did not feel right to continue. Lazenby acknowledges the missed financial security more films would have provided, but a greater moment of truth comes as he offers advice to his audience. As the film concludes the Australian looks at the camera and says “Defy what is expected of you and write your own story.”

In its own way, Becoming Bond allowed Lazenby to do just that. Through the documentary format he built up a renegade image that went far beyond the norm. The Aussie has a rebellious quality that could be revealed in something as minute as growing a beard against the wishes of his producers. Lazenby’s confidence allowed him to finagle his way into being Bond, but it also ultimately played a role in him leaving the franchise after just one flick.

Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig have all left their own stamp on the film series. Because he played Bond only once, Lazenby and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service have unfairly been estranged as the outcasts of the 007 films. Becoming Bond allowed Lazenby to bolster his image as a renegade and redefine his legacy in the Bond franchise. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Desert Island Discs: The Most Important Cultural Archive Of The Last 75 Years

For 75 years the BBC’s Desert Island Discs has asked its guests to think of the songs that they would take with them if they were to be cast away on a deserted island. Their selections are varied, ranging from classical to contemporary, but help to structure a broad interview that also provides insight into their achievements. Through its simple format, Desert Island Discs has created the most important cultural archive of the 20th and now 21st centuries.

Started in 1942 by Roy Plomley, Desert Island Discs has aired over 3,000 episodes. Plomley and his succeeding hosts Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley, and Kirsty Young have adopted a firm yet fair approach to interviews.  The program primarily converses with an Anglo-American cavalcade of guests who have often provided overlapping cultural influences that can be appreciated on both continents.

Unlike long-running late night shows like The Tonight Show, each episode allows the audience to feel as if they have a greater understanding of each guest’s life and career. The musical choices are often a way of providing insight into different moments of a guest’s life. Alan Alda’s inclusion of Mozart’s “Clarinet Quintet in A, K 581” ranks among the most revealing choices. The piece was not only an important part of the M*A*S*H finale, but was also included because that song was played by his wife’s chamber music group on the night that they first met.

Many selections, such as Tom Hanks’ and George Foreman’s choices of “Momma Said Knock You Out” are more light-hearted. To date the most requested piece of music has been Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy”. In January Desert Island Discs celebrated its 75th Anniversary by interviewing English football legend David Beckham. While Beckham provided fascinating details about his personal life and playing career, he did not include any music from his wife’s group, The Spice Girls.

Other guests who have provided remarkable tales include Rod Steiger, who provided unflattering thoughts on his working relationship with Marlon Brando. Gene Wilder gave an interesting take on how the meddling of network executives negatively impacts comedy. Host Kirsty Young may have allowed for one of the show’s most uncomfortable moments when she asked Motown creator Berry Gordy how he rated as a husband. Gordy, who has been married three different times, audibly squirmed as he attempted to find an answer that was good enough.

R-L: Hosts Plomley, Parkinson, Lawley, Young
Guests are also asked to choose a book and a luxury item to help ease the burden of solitude on the island. Choices have ranged from toothbrushes to booze. Because the luxury item cannot be a living creature, the most outlandish choice may belong to John Cleese. The comedian could bring fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin with him on the condition that he was dead and stuffed.

Because Desert Island Discs has been broadcast for so long, it has documented an incredible number of important figures beyond their A-listers. Historians, poets, chefs, and guests with careers of public service have been interviewed. Matthew Barzum (while he was the American Ambassador to the U.K.), then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and even Justin Welby (the Archbishop of Canterbury) have been interviewed on the show. Listening to older episodes that feature members of Parliament reveal an interesting look at the politics of another country. Through this medium it is possible to see how issues in the U.K. can also mirror America’s own political changes.

From Scottish poet Liz Lockheed to Grace Kelly to Ed Sheeran, the depths of important figures featured on the show have resulted in the creation of a valuable cultural archive. The unique constant of being able to learn something about each guest and feel as though you have become more familiar with them is a quality that is unique in any show, but for Desert Islands Discs it is a standard that has lasted three quarters of a century.

Desert Island Discs is currently broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The complete archive of Desert Island Discs is available internationally as a podcast or through the BBC’s website:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Rock, Katy Perry Cap SNL Season 42 With Packed Finale

Dwayne Johnson and Katy Perry closed out SNL’s Forty-Second Season with a packed episode that nodded to some of the biggest moments of the season and allowed NBC’s sketch comedy to end the year on a positive note.

The Rock became the 18th member of the show’s Five-Timer’s Club just one week after Melissa McCarthy became the newest member of the select group of hosts. Johnson last hosted the show in 2016. In his monologue Johnson was joined by fellow Five-Timers Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin. The three toyed with the idea of a Johnson-Hanks presidential ticket, with both referencing their movie careers as a way to entice voters.

The Finale opened with Alec Baldwin “playing” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on a grand piano. As the song progressed he was joined by SNL cast members and Scarlett Johansson playing familiar members of the Trump entourage. A reference to Kate McKinnon’s post-election Cohen serenade and the seasonlong political satire, SNL found a way to bring most of the year’s political figures into one sketch.

The first two segments of the episode featured departing cast members Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan. Bayer starred as an annoying girlfriend in a Cartier jewelry Digital Short and Moynihan partnered with The Rock in a wrestling bit. Bayer and Moynihan also reprised characters in Weekend Update. Bayer returned as a perky meteorologist and Moynihan played his signature character, Dunk Uncle. Both were also present in the last two sketches of the night, including a graduation scene that marked the Class of 2017.

The best sketch of the night was the Xentrex Digital Short, which featured The Rock as a patient seeking an intense erectile dysfunction medication. Other great moments included a hip-hop video that included Tom Hanks returning as David S. Pumpkins and Johnson as mad scientist who went too far.

Musical guest Katy Perry appeared on SNL in advance of her new album Witness. Her first song, “Swish Swish,” featured an elaborate cavalcade of drag queens and a curious backpack-wearing dancer. Her second appearance, "Bon Apetit" placed Perry at the center of a bizarrely banquet table surrounded by dinner guests. In both instances her design team may have been a little too bold, but Perry at least gets points for trying something outside of the box.

The finale appropriately capped a strong SNL season. There was not a single lackluster sketch and it was satisfying to watch Bayer and Moynihan depart the show with great performances. By including references to some of their most successful moments on the season and allowing Hanks, Baldwin, and Johansson to join in on the fun, the SNL finale delivered spectacularly. 

Saturday Night Light Live Ends Strong Season 42 As A Show In Transition

Saturday Night Light Live began its forty-second season with the surest bet in television. The show's most dynamic cast member, Kate McKinnon, was poised to play the next president and Alec Baldwin would briefly lampoon Donald Trump during the election cycle. Instead, McKinnon's Hillary impression has been mothballed and Baldwin is suddenly the most popular actor affiliated with the show.

As SNL closed its season last night with performances from Dwayne Johnson and Katy Perry, the show ends in a state of transition. Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer, two of the show’s longest-tenured players, are departing and the next nucleus of players is forming. Despite an unexpected change of events, SNL ultimately harnessed the chaos of political events to turn in a good season with strong writing. Here is a snapshot of SNL Season 42 and a look towards potential changes for next year:

Changing Cast: Shuffling cast members between seasons is not new for SNL. The preseason dismissal of two important cast members, Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam, was very surprising. SNL creator Lorne Michaels brought in Mikey Day, Alex Moffat, and Melissa VillaseƱor as new featured players. All three appeared very early on in the season, although only Day and Moffat have consistently appeared in sketches throughout Season 42.

So far the biggest known casting challenges for next season will be replacing longtime cast members Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer. Moynihan is leaving after nine seasons for the new CBS sitcom, Me, Myself, & I. Bayer is the show's longest-serving female cast member. 

Donald Trump: Politicians and elections have been a consistent source of material and rejuvenation for SNL. The show made a significant change prior to Season 42 by allowing Alex Baldwin to take over from Darrell Hammond as the show’s Trump impressionist. The show made fun of the election early and often and appeared ready to begin wrapping up its coverage of the unparalleled 2016 election. When they staged a cold open where Trump and Hillary Clinton traded barbs, only to have Baldwin and McKinnon become exasperated with the chaos of politics, SNL seemed poised to have reached the end of Trump sketches. Since the election subsided, Baldwin’s Trump impression has become the most viral aspect of SNL and has made an appearance in nearly every episode.

The biggest hurdle SNL will face between now and the start of Season 43 is how to lampoon politics in America. Despite the popularity of these sketches, the show risks becoming too political. It must find a balance between keeping an eye on the Beltway and staying fresh. As the season concludes it is unknown if Baldwin will retire the impression. The final pieces of this puzzle may come from Washington as the rapid pace of events may be difficult to plan for in advance.

Weekend Update: Michael Che and Colin Jost have anchored Weekend Update for three years and finally appear to have developed a cohesive chemistry. When they first began together they lacked a solid approach that did not play well. Over time they have developed an uneven approach involving some verbal jest that has slowly matured into their signature style.  

Michael Che still struggles to read cue cards. At times the flubbed lines have led to some funny moments, but he has also continued to fumble more than his fair share of punchlines in the process. Che is a talented writer. His Black Jeopardy sketch is one of the funniest of the season. Che needs to hone his delivery to solidify Weekend Update. When lines are dropped as often as they have been the most reliable segment of the show becomes painfully awkward and can make the pairing seem interminable.

Hosts: SNL closed out the season by welcoming two hosts to the Five-Timers Club: Melissa McCarthy and Dwayne Johnson, with The Rock becoming the first minority to ever host the show five times. The season had a strong run of hosts, including Tom Hanks, Dave Chapelle, Emma Stone, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.  

The 2016-17 slate of hosts was well-balanced, although bringing more new hosts into the fold would help pump fresh blood into SNL. While the veteran hosts likely bolstered the show this year, bringing in new faces like Key & Peele, Rachel Bloom, or Hannibal Burress could help transition the show to a new level.

The Current Cast: Newcomers Mikey Day and Alex Moffat are certain to return next season and the talented Melissa VillaseƱor may be able to lend her gift for impressions more frequently in Season 43.

SNL’s women remain its most outstanding players. McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Sasheer Zamata have performed a central role in a large percentage of the show’s most successful sketches and videos. Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney also turned in solid seasons. Perhaps being given greater opportunity following her role in Ghostbusters, Leslie Jones may have turned in her best year yet on SNL. She appeared more often and in a wider range of roles. Hopefully SNL’s writers continue to give Jones the opportunity to grow.
Pete Davidson had a strong debut three seasons ago, although he has not shown much growth beyond his pot smoking kid brother persona. A greater variety of roles next year would allow Davidson to provide a greater contribution to the show.

The 11 Best Sketches of SNL Season 42

Politics dominated Season 42, but SNL also had a great run of sketches this year that ranged from an Uber Ride and Slacktivism to an Elevator. Here are the best SNL sketches of the year:

Enhancement Drug* - A late addition to the list, Enhancement Drug features the Rock as he seeks way too powerful erectile dysfunction medication. 

Thank You, Scott – Louis C.K.’s brief digital short provided a hilarious satire of social media slacktivism. The quiet self-congratulatory vibe Louis C.K. gives off sells the piece as he sits on his couch and shares articles with his 84 Facebook friends.

Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot? – Beck Bennett struggles to understand host Benedict Cumberbatch’s sex appeal in a hilarious game show sketch with Cumberbatch, Vanessa Bayer, and Aidy Bryant.

Live Report – Keenan Thompson and the Action News team are at the scene of an accident, but it does not take long before the real news becomes how the stunning Margot Robbie is married to her less-than-spectacular husband. Played by Mikey Day, the sketch nails the disbelief of the news staff as they try to figure out how the unexpected match occurred. 

Christmas Miracle – Kate McKinnon is at her best when she can immerse herself into character. A twist on a prior sketch involving alien encounters, McKinnon plays a victim of a sordid meeting with Santa Claus and Crinklemouse.

Sean Spicer Press Conference Cold Open – Tapping Melissa McCarthy as the person who would imitate White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was an unlikely yet brilliant choice. McCarthy brought her trademark physicality to the role and created a signature character for the actress. She appeared as Spicer in several sketches throughout the season, including the May 13 episode when she became a member of the SNL Five-Timers Club. Also brilliant in this sketch: Kate McKinnon as Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Posters – The after school special sketch began with Pete Davidson struggling in math. During a dream the posters on his wall try to explain to him why math is important. Emma Stone stepped in with a hot dog and things devolved from there.

Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton Town Hall Debate Cold Open – Season 42 was defined by Alec Baldwin’s litany of Trump impressions. This debate sketch referenced Home Alone 2, mocked the ridiculousness of the town hall debate, and included Bobby Moynihan’s dancing Ken Bone. What separates this Cold Open from the other sketches is Baldwin lurking behind Kate McKinnon as she tried to talk with the debate audience.

Five Stars – Aziz Ansari and Moynihan star in this Digital Short where an Uber driver and his passenger try too hard to impress each other for something as tawdry as their Uber ratings.

Black Jeopardy – We needed Black Jeopardy in 2016. With an unusually fraught election cycle, America needed to laugh at our differences so we can realize how similar we all are. A semi-recurring sketch, Black Jeopardy may not be able to return after reaching new heights in this episode. Tom Hanks portrayed Doug, whose Make America Great Again hat at first seems like a recipe for disaster as he plays Jeopardy with African-American contests, but all involved find that they have a lot more in common than they realized. By not mocking Doug or overplaying the character Hanks and the SNL writers created a terrific sketch.

David Pumpkins – The best sketch of the year asks the question “Who is David Pumpkins?” The answer: his own thang. The ridiculousness of Tom Hanks as a cheesy horror ride side show remains too good to be true. Complimented by a chainsaw-wielding Leslie Jones, dancing skeletons, and tour guide Keenan Thompson who says “It’s a hundred floors of frights. They’re not all gonna be winners.” David S. Pumpkins was the sketch of the year.

Runners Up: Jeff Sessions Gump Cold Open, Girl at a Bar, Escorts, Vladimir Putin Cold Open, and OliveGarden.

*Updated 5/21/17 after further consideration.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The xx, Sampha Take I See You Tour To The Mann

Oliver Sim (R) and Jamie xx (L) at The Mann, 5/17/17
The xx brought their I See You Tour to the Skyline Stage of The Mann Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night. The British indie pop band’s set brought an ethereal chill to the warm May evening as they played an hour-plus set in Philadelphia’s outdoor Fairmount Park venue.

Making their first stop in Philadelphia since 2013, The xx are touring in support of their third record, I See You. The band opened with “Say Something Loving,” the second single from their most recent album, before launching into two tracks from their first album – “Crystalised” and “Islands.” As the night progressed The xx played from each of their three albums, ranging from the quiet “VCR” to the emotional “Performance.” The band’s colorful lighting scheme helped to paint an appropriate ambiance around their music, which is built on electronic dream pop and the soothing vocal duo of bassist Oliver Sim and guitar player Romy Croft. DJ Jamie xx rotated between his elaborate turntable, percussion, and keyboard setup.

Romy Croft at The Mann, 5/17/17
The xx saved the best moments for last as they revved up the crowd with “Loud Places,” the second single from Jamie xx’s 2015 solo album, before heading backstage for the encore. After a brief pause, Jamie xx came to the stage for a brief DJ set while Sim and Croft returned. The band began the encore with “On Hold” then slid into their breakthrough instrumental track “Intro.” After thanking the audience, The xx closed out the set with a beautiful rendition of “Angels.”

Opener Sampha set the tone for the evening. A great choice as an opener for The xx, Sampha played for approximately 45 minutes as he and his band played a blend of electronic music that had a more pronounced R&B vibe than The headliner’s own work. His well-received set included an impassioned performance of “Timmy’s Prayer” and the intimate “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano.”

Sampha will be returning to Philadelphia later this year as a part of the Made In America Festival. An impressive artist of a similar, yet different mold than the xx, he is clearly a rising star with impressive gifts as a live artist. The xx’s lengthy I See You tour includes stops at the Glastonbury Festival, Primavera Sound, and Lollapalooza as their continue their ascent as one of the world’s premiere bands. 

Sampha at The Mann, 5/17/17

The xx at The Mann, 5/17/17

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Flat Circle Interview: Joe Giglio

The Flat Circle will feature a recurring interview series with people from different areas of the entertainment and media industry. and WIP's Joe Giglio
Joe Giglio is a sportswriter and podcast host for NJ Advance Media. In addition to being a host for 94.1 WIP, he also hosts two Philadelphia-area sports podcasts: Talkin’ Phillies and The No-Huddle Show. Giglio discusses his sports media influences and the changing media landscape. He also provides some thoughts on the current state of sports in Philadelphia.

Giglio can be followed on twitter and facebook.

When did you first know you wanted to work in sports media? 

Right before my senior year of college...after spending three years working toward a sport management degree. I went to school hoping to be the next Brian Cashman or Howie Roseman. Now I criticize them for a living.

Is there a writer or personality who inspired you to pursue work in sports media?

Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons on the writing side. Mike and the Mad Dog on the radio side. Bill Simmons' travel the road less taken career path. I took something from each, even if I didn't realize it when I was growing up.

In this era of entertainment media you have to balance multiple responsibilities. Radio, podcasts, television work, and writing. What do you think is the most important skill to develop in order to meet such diverse demands?

Flexibility. If you're rigid or married to one idea of doing things or one way of producing content today, you're cooked. I don't really consider myself a radio host or sports writer or podcaster. I'm a sports guy who produces content. 

You write for, are a talk show host for 94.1 WIP, and have two podcasts that cover Philadelphia sports teams. The New York and Philadelphia fans are passionately involved with their teams. Does that pose a challenge for media members?

Passion from fans is the reason why this job is fun. My situation is unique. Covering/writing about many teams in multiple markets (that typically don't like each other) can be challenging, but I just write/talk/podcast for the audience I am trying to connect with for each situation. 

In addition to your duties for and WIP you are involved with the podcasts Talkin’ Phillies and The No-Huddle Show. Are podcasts different from creating a radio show and, if so, how are they different?

Much different. Podcasts can be more relaxed. Radio is about timing, pacing and juggling 100 things per segment. From phones to teases to watching the clock to trying to connect with someone who's flipping around the radio, it's a balancing act for four hours. Podcasts can be more off the wall because you know the audience purposely came to listen.

ESPN has experienced a vast amount of change within the last month. What do you think of the changes and do they have long-term ramifications for the industry?

It's a shame, but not surprising. They spread themselves too thin while losing too much money. It's like any other business. Plus, for as many people that complained and sulked at good journalists losing their jobs, it's our fault. If more people clicked on the stories from (insert reporter that lost their job), ESPN probably would have kept them. If you can't make money or generate revenue, media companies will adapt to feature the people that can. Like it or not, Stephen A. Smith makes a ton of money for ESPN. 

As for ramifications? Of course. The whole industry is competitive and it just got even more uncertain moving forward.

A few Philadelphia sports questions: all four teams are immersed in some phase of rebuilding. Which teams have the best shot at a title and who is most likely to get there first? 

Best shot: Sixers. They can build a special team with the Simmons-Embiid pairing. Gets there first: Eagles. The NFL is wacky, postseason success can come fast when a run starts and they have the right QB. Plus, there's more risk with the Sixers.

What do you think of the Phillies giving Pete Mackanin a two-year contract extension last week?

I have a different Mackanin take than most. It's not a huge deal, and I don't buy that he's "the guy" for them. In reality, they picked up an option year and added another option for the following year. If they loved him and knew he was the manager for when the team was ready, we'd be talking about a deal with three or four guaranteed seasons. 

76ers Forward Ben Simmons
The NBA holds its draft lottery on Tuesday. This is likely the very last draft of the rebuilding phase of The Process era for the Sixers. What position do you think they need to address in the draft and who do you want to see play with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid next year? 

They need to look more at fit than in recent years. Many want a point guard, but it has to be the right fit with Ben Simmons gearing up to be the primary point guard. I think they need a forward more than most people. The depth chart outside of Covington and Saric isn't deep—assuming Simmons is the point. 

If Lonzo Ball is available when the Sixers pick would you take him and deal with the drama of Lamar Ball?

I want no part of Lonzo Ball on the Sixers, but it has nothing to do with his dad. Lonzo is a ball dominant, pass first point guard. Ben Simmons is likely going to be a ball dominant, pass first, run the floor and go coast-to-coast type of point-forward. It doesn't mesh. I think they'd stunt each other's games by playing together.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The New Slapshot: Brockmire Is The TV Series Baseball Fans Need

Baseball and comedy have a long and irreverent relationship. Major League, Bull Durham, and The Bad News Bears all laugh at the game and the people surrounding it. IFC's unconventional and crude Brockmire is the next member of a memorable lineup of baseball comedies. The edgy series has a familiar vibe as the audience follows a cantankerous cast with personal problems. The cast are all brought together by the game while creating a show that is also reminiscent of one of the premiere sports films ever made.

Brockmire begins as play-by-play man Jim Brockmire has an epic meltdown in the broadcast booth while calling a game in Kansas City. The series leaps forward ten years as Brockmire finds himself in a rural Pennsylvania town that has seen better days. He has become a globetrotting and downtrodden alcoholic who is oblivious to the world's perception of him. Brockmire, who is oblivious to what a viral video is, finds that his on-air mishaps became one of the first viral sensations and has made him a pathetic figure. Upon arriving in the town, he finds that he was brought in to serve as the public address announcer for the Morristown Frackers by the team’s owner, Jules James. James, who is played by Amanda Peet, took out a risky business loan and is banking on Brockmire to be the viral attraction who helps resuscitate her town's interest in baseball. 

Hank Azaria is brilliant as the acerbic Brockmire. Through "pontifi-drinking," his character finds enjoyment in his return to baseball through the multitude of oddities surrounding the team. The Frackers have everything you need in a baseball comedy, including a Japanese player with a one-man media contingent (Daisuke Tsuji) and an aging Hispanic player (Hemky Madera) who plays the game with an enjoyable flair. Brockmire not only makes fun of the characters on the team, but mocks the game itself. In an era where pace of play and a culture of throwing at players are a constant source of debate, the show does not seem to mind making fun of the game it is built around. 

As the first season progresses Brockmire becomes reminiscent of the hockey movie Slapshot. Like the 1977 comedy starring Paul Newman, the show also focuses on a cast of misfits who are playing minor league sports in a declining town that resort to cheap stunts to boost attendance. Jim Brockmire's mere presence as the public address announcer is a circus act. The team runs a Free Cold Medicine Day promotion and a Fifty Cent Beer Night. Similar to the Charlestown Chiefs, the Frackers also brawl their way back into popularity as the town begins to notice that something a little extra special is going on.  

Like Morristown, baseball needs Brockmire. The game can take itself too seriously at times and needs to laugh at its flaws and idiosyncrasies. Baseball has begun to experience a growing internal conversation regarding its culture. A sport where retaliation is frequently dealt with by a 98 MPH fastball in the ribs, baseball’s long aversion to displaying more personality is at a crossroad. The most recent World Baseball Classic witnessed a melting pot of styles that included epic bat flips, no-look tags, and an expression of passion that is not regularly seen on a Major League diamond. Bryce Harper, one of the game’s true superstars, waged a campaign in 2016 to Make Baseball Fun Again. The unwritten rules of baseball have placed the game’s culture in a corner and a new generation of players is trying to find a way to define itself. Baseball is fun, but sometimes it forgets that over the course of 162 games.

Led by a “charismatic open wound,” what better way to remember that the game is supposed to be fun than a comedy series with a press box and dugout full of oddballs? 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Australian Bands Are Defining Music In 2017

Great things often come in bunches, but so much incredible music is emerging from Australia that it may be the site of the next New Wave. Australia already has an extended history of producing memorable music. AC/DC, INXS, Rick Springfield, and Nick Cave are among the biggest names to have emanated from Down Under, but Oz Rock has also seen great alt rock bands as well. Jet, Vines, and Tame Impala have all realized some incredible moments.

There are several Australian indie bands who are at different stages of their careers that all are either currently rising or poised to explode internationally. Geowulf is currently building off of a series of singles.The Paper Kites and Holy Holy each have a pair of great albums out. Tash Sultana's "Jungle" is an early pick for the 2017 Song of The Summer. Each possesses a different style, but they all bring an element of excitement to their work. Whether if be through keen songwriting or virtuoso guitar parts, these Australian bands represent some of the most enjoyable new music out there: 

Tash Sultana -  When I first heard Tash Sultana's "Jungle" I thought, "Wow, they are great. I have to see this band." Finding out that Tash Sultana is actually just one person was nearly as mind-blowing as the liquid guitar parts that open up the incredible reggae-infused single. A shredder who can channel a little Carlos Santana, Tash Sultana is currently touring in support of her debut EP Jungle. The multi-instrumentalist, who even plays horn on her newest single "Murder To The Mind," has an infectious star quality about her that cannot be overstated. 

Holy Holy - Holy Holy uses different methods to reach for the big moments. Whether it be through epic vocals ("Wanderer") or well-crafted jams ("Shadow"), Holy Holy's music is simultaneously bold and beautiful. The track "History" may be be the best example of Holy Holy's style. By finishing off lyrics like "All I want is to hold a little piece of history between my teeth" and "The crawling tongue of fear, exactly at your ear" with an epic band moment, it is evident that they are not content with subtle nuance. While they can jam, Holy Holy also has a nose for catchy pop music. It is only a matter of time before Holy Holy breaks through in North America. 

The Paper Kites - A group that is currently touring North America while promoting their second album twelvefour, The Paper Kites features a unique versatility to their sound that primarily stems from their perfectly blended harmonies. With skills that seem as if they are deeply-rooted in trad music, The Paper Kites exudes a vibe that could just as easily exist from a band at the corner pub. The intimacy of their harmonies can draw a listener in as they sing quieter songs like "I Done You So Wrong" and "Bleed Confusion." Quicker-paced tracks like "Woke Up From A Dream" and "A Lesson From Mr. Gray" show a knack for more pop-savvy songwriting. "Electric Indigo," the lead song from their newest record, is a perfect showcase of the band's flair for packing emotion into a song: 

Geowulf - A band that originated in Australia that is currently based in the U.K., Geowulf's charming song "Saltwater" exploded to over 4.5 million streams on Spotify within its first year and is also featured in a Corona commercial. Geowulf's subsequent two singles "Won't Look Back" and "Don't Talk About You" are just as mesmerizing. The band wields a gift for crafting music that contains lush electronic hooks. If and when Geowulf release their first album you can look for this group to rival dream pop luminaries like Beach House. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Beverly Goldberg Is The New Lucy Ricardo

Beverly Goldberg has a bit of a mouth. Beverly Goldberg wears ugly sweaters. Beverly Goldberg loves her children way too openly. There is no one else on television quite like her and you may have to think for a while to recall the last time a sitcom aired in which the mother is as audacious and unconventional as she is. 

Played by the brilliant Wendi McLendon-Covey, Beverly Goldberg is the colorful, caring, very Jewish mother of a 1980-something family in Jenkintown, PA. The Goldbergs depicts a family as the children come of age and travel to places like Wawa, Veterans Stadium, and the mall. The Goldbergs thrives on recreating eighties moments big and small with so many great family scenes that are centered around the involvement of their mom.

More than some other family sitcoms, the premise of The Goldbergs has allowed for the growth of a character like Beverly. The show is created by Adam F. Goldberg, who loosely situates the show around his family and the area and era surrounding his childhood. Because the character of Beverly Goldberg is based on the actual Beverly Goldberg, the Mom Moments help her be much more believable. McClendon-Covey even wears some of the quintessentially '80s clothes from the real Beverly Goldberg's own wardrobe. The brazen fashion of some of those bedazzled sweaters is not a mere recreation, but the genuine article of clothing. 

What makes Beverly Goldberg so real are the little things. McLendon-Covey infuses a lot of Mom Quirks into her character. That helps to create moments that are filled with tension as she horrifies her teenagers in ways that only a mother can. She makes the hand gestures for "need to make," smothers them with love as their classmates look on, and (even worse) wants to hang out with them. From sneaking into a high school Halloween party and treating a Cabbage Patch doll like a child, Beverly also has more than her fair share of over-the-top moments.

Perhaps an accurate reflection of reality, most mothers in family sitcoms are the straight-laced characters who roll their eyes at her husband's antics and keep the family together. Clair Huxtable shook her head at Cliff, Debra Barone struggled with the in-laws, and Jill Taylor drove Tim to the emergency room. They may have their crazy moments, but it is rare to find a traditional family sitcom where the mother is the most outlandish character. Lucy Ricardo is the rare exception and Lucielle Ball may be the only other actress to play the mom role with the physicality to do things like tussling with her own son in a high school wrestling match and Jazzercise with such gusto. 

What ultimately allows the character of Beverly Goldberg to be so endearing is that she loves her children. While the way in which she shows affection sometimes stand apart from other sitcom matriarchs, it also grounds her character and makes it so authentic. So many mothers go the extra mile for their children. Beverly Goldberg would run a marathon for them (in bold workout attire). 

There are so many great sitcom moms, but Mrs. Goldberg is unique. If her character was portrayed less crassly, The Goldbergs would miss out on its best laughs and some of their greatest moments as a television family. The way in which Beverly Goldberg is portrayed gives her character a rare place in television. Wendi McLendon-Covey is creating a special legacy by creating a personality who is changing what we have come to expect from the role of a mother in a family sitcom.