18
Apr
11

The Unreal Housewives of Staten Island

Yes, it’s been a while (a year and a half!), but I was busy with other stuff and did not have time for my poor little blog.

Reading back over my previous entries, I realize there’s currently nothing on TV remotely as entertaining as My Antonio (or Rock of Love or — reverential hush — Mad Men), but I’ll give it a shot…

Drita (VH1)

Watched the first episode of VH1’s  Mob Wives last night and am of two minds:

1) Disappointed in the formulaic set-up, with its typically in-your-face, heavily made-up, bruisingly ethnic “stars” — geez, can we get a show about sophisticated, low-key, normal Italian-American women on the air? No, that would be boring — along with same-old “confessional” segments, eye-rollingly obvious editing and coached, over-heated dialogue.

2) Intrigued by the idea of turncoat Sammy the Bull Gravano’s daughter coming back to Staten Island, after 10 years on the West Coast, ostensibly to write a book about her life. Also Drita the Albanian already fascinates me. She’s by far the most intimidating of the bunch, no matter how much Renee Graziano tough-talks. You can see how the husky-voiced Drita could go from jokey to homicidal in about two seconds, red hair flying and neck veins bulging. She’s kind of awesome.

Also curious about how the “forgotten borough” of Staten Island feels about Mob Wives, probably the most high-profile TV show ever set there. I don’t think this is the kind of publicity it’s looking for. Unlike the Jersey Shore, SI is mainly residential and kind of suburban, not exactly a destination for curious tourists. But maybe MW will be a shot in the arm for the neglected borough (ba-da-boom).

Countered the empty calories of that show by immediately watching the second installment of PBS’s Upstairs Downstairs afterward. Very interesting episode about the arrival at 165 Eaton Place of a new, asthmatic maid who happens to be a Jewish-German refugee plus a related subplot involving the Fascism-obsessed chauffeur and the chauffeur-obsessed young Lady Persephone. For all the series’ humor (thank you, Eileen Atkins), this was  pretty depressing, what with the doomed maid, foolish Persephone (just wanted to slap her!) and maddeningly insensitive Lady Agnes. But a good, bracing antidote to Mob Wives.

27
Oct
09

Nice Italian Boys

So My Antonio didn’t exactly go out with a bang, but somewhat quietly with A.S. Jr. choosing bubbly Brooke over wacky Miranda just as I (and many others, I’m sure) predicted several weeks ago. (And in the fine tradition of dating reality shows, they’ve already broken up.) At least Mama Yvonne stayed out of the picture when it came down to her bambino’s final decision. I’m glad the show’s over with, as I didn’t love myself for watching it. Wonder how long it’ll be before ex-wife Tully Jensen, the most interesting person on the show, will surface with her own show. Couple months?

And in with the new (and another show starring an Italian guy with an opinionated Buddy's back!Mama, which I realize is redundant)… The second season of Cake Boss premiered last night and it seems that the show’s popularity has increased a thousandfold judging by the media coverage. Good for Buddy and la famiglia, I say. As for the new episodes (I guess we’ll continue to see two new eps each week),  it looks like the loud-bickering-Italian-family aspect of the show has been punched up a bit, with more yelling from Mama, more attitude from Mary, more drama in general. Not really necessary. But I did enjoy Buddy’s sisters ganging up on him and hiring an assistant, who seems amiably clueless and therefore perfect for this family. And Mauro’s feisty, candy-demanding son was a hoot.

The cakes did not disappoint. Buddy sure has some impressive customers: The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, for which he made a cake with an enormous Venus Flytrap and assorted other realistic-looking flowers (his specialty); and Dylan Lauren (of Dylan’s Candy Bar fame), for whom he made an elaborate Candyland cake. There was also a cake with an embedded engagement ring, part of an in-store marriage proposal, which was actually quite sweet (no pun).

Despite all the yellin’, Cake Boss is really a very good-natured show, which is a big part of its appeal. Even when Buddy pulled a humiliating prank on Cousin Anthony involving a young woman/potential love interest, the kid took it in stride. It’s truly feel-good TV.

26
Oct
09

And who are you supposed to be?

don-betty-photosLet me be the millionth person to comment on the magnitude of last night’s episode of Mad Men. Betty’s long-awaited confrontation with Don regarding his past was handled even better than I’d imagined and I have immense regard for the show’s writers. Don’s reaction — a painfully realistic emotional/physical crumpling — was pitch perfect. The subsequent scenes between Jon Hamm and January Jones were exceptionally nuanced. (I don’t remember seeing such powerful TV couple interaction since Edie Falco confronted James Gandolfini on The Sopranos. But MM, of course, is way more subtle.)

To push the suspense/unease even further, we were kept wondering about Miss Farrell (Suzanne, actually. Was one of the writers a New York City Ballet fan?), who is waiting in Don’s car during the Big Confrontation.  We finally see her walk dejectedly home with her suitcase.

There were other noteworthy aspects of the episode including a surprisingly scruple-filled Roger Sterling, who turns down the advances of an old flame/possible client because he is happily married (!), and some great scenes between Joan and her loser husband (whose dad, we and Joan find out, had a nervous breakdown. Um hmm.) When a defeated Greg whines, “You don’t know what it’s like to want something your whole life, plan on it and not get it,” she throws a vase at his head in exasperation. Yes! He then joins the Army as a surgeon which makes both of them happy. Not bad for us, either, since Vietnam is looming and Joan would make a lovely widow.

And the ending, with chastened Don accompanying Bets and the kids on their trick-or-treating rounds, was equally strong. Sally and Bobby are dressed as a gypsy and a hobo, respectively. “And who are you supposed to be?,” a neighbor asks Don. Cut to end credits accompanied by the plaintive “Where is Love” from Oliver!, the ultimate orphan story.  Two more episodes left!

(photo: AMC)

22
Oct
09

Opposite ends of the TV spectrum

I haven’t written about My Antonio in a while, which doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching it, just too embarrassed/unmotivated to document it. Plus the whole tortured-Antonio/dominating-Mama/gullible girls dynamic was getting more than a little annoying. But now that A.S. Jr. is down to two candidates, a few notes:

(photo: VH1)

Tully being menaced by Yvonne (photo: VH1)

I’ve actually started sympathizing with ex-wife Tully, who just cannot do right by Mama Sabato, who hates her guts for marrying Antonio when he was a mere stripling of 18. Last episode, Tully tore a stomach muscle while dismounting from a horse and wound up in the hospital with internal bleeding. Though Antonio interrupted his make-out session/date with needy Playmate Christy to rush to Tully’s side and continues to express all kinds of concern, Mama Yvonne somehow doesn’t believe her former daughter-in-law is actually “sick” (as she keeps saying). In this week’s episode, Mama visits Tully in the hospital basically to say that she has no chance with Antonio. Stupid scene.

Meanwhile, Antonio has two separate dates with the remaining contestants: a fun, sporty, action-packed day in the water with the relentlessly cheerful Brooke; and a romantic helicopter ride/blindfolded food-tasting date with Miranda, who’s getting on my nerves despite being a New Yorker. Aside from acting awkwardly girlish, she did something with cards called an angel reading, which is probably as ridiculous as it sounds.

Anyway, after showing up at elimination in a wedding dress and bearing old wedding photos, Tully was gently dumped by Antonio, much to Mama’s relief. No surprise there.

Strange show: In last week’s episode,  Antonio seemed genuinely surprised to be involved in his future wedding rehearsal. I have to wonder if he’s really at the mercy of Mama and the show’s producers, who seem to enjoy springing unexpected stuff on him. If his confusion and ongoing torment over elimination has all been a big put-on, he’s a better actor than I thought.

Now, on to the opposite end of the television spectrum, namely the wickedly witty

Isn't anyone hot for teacher?  (photo: Carin Baer/ Fox)

Isn't anyone hot for teacher? (photo: Carin Baer/ Fox)

Glee, which boasted many highlights last night. So nice to see the über-talented Matthew Morrison (Will) showing off his stuff with a rousing version of “Bust a Move,” surely one of the catchiest songs to come out of the last two decades. He also does a sexy dance around Ken’s bride-to-be Emma to “Thong Song” (the groom’s choice for first-dance song). Go, Mr. Schue! In another great scene, Will and Sue (Jane Lynch) swing-dance energetically, part of a funny storyline involving her short-lived romance with TV newscaster (and cad) Rod. This unexpected fling resulted in shockingly decent  behavior on Sue’s part, before the inevitable shift back to cantankerous mode. It almost came as a relief.

The ep’s most hilarious moments came courtesy of Puck (Mark Salling), especially during a flashback to his family’s annual ritual of watching Schindler’s List and eating Chinese food off separate TV trays. After his mom expresses disappointment over the fact that he doesn’t date a nice Jewish girl, Puck dreams about Rachel and wakes up realizing that she “was a hot Jew and the good Lord wanted me to get into her pants.” Then after a steamy make-out session with the reluctant Rachel (who’s  still pining for Finn), he asks, “Are you questioning my badassness?” He later sings a tuneful version of “Sweet Caroline”– a tribute to “Jewish icon” Neil Diamond — to win her back. Go, Puck!

Oh, and Coach Ken, jealous of the obvious attraction between Will and Emma, makes his team choose between glee and football with predictable results.

Questions: When will Will realize that his wife is a conniving semi-bitch? When will Ken realize that being a consolation prize is not what he really wants? When will Rachel fall in love with Mr. Schue and have her heart broken yet again? When will Sue realize that adopting Quinn’s baby is exactly what she needs to be a complete woman?

19
Oct
09

Good Hair?

good hair

(photo: Roadside Attractions)

For the most part I found the new Chris Rock doc Good Hair very enjoyable and informative, though naturally, it oversimplified the basic argument that the relaxation or transformation via weaves of naturally “nappy” hair on the part of African-American women is a bad, prohibitively expensive, culturally backward practice. My main problem is that there were virtually no women with natural hair included in the film to balance out Rock’s portrait of a culture torturing themselves with chemical burns from relaxers or rendering entire communities bankrupt with the cost of weaves.

On the plus side, we hear personal stories from a variety of personalities, including Al Sharpton (who’s pretty funny), Maya Angelou (wonderfully grounded), various actresses and regular women, mainly in L.A., New York and Atlanta. And also from men who have opinions on black women’s hair, from financing it to touching it (or — most likely — not touching it). Rock conducts interviews with all of the above, visits India (the source of most weaves), and brings us backstage at the incredibly entertaining Bronner Bros. Hair Show in Atlanta, an annual event that should be televised on ESPN if it isn’t already. Rock comes across as especially thoughtful and restrained in the film, so his several funny one-liners are all the more hilarious.

Alynda Wheat’s very interesting commentary on EW.com offers a solid rebuttal to Rock’s film, and its resulting reader comments are equally worthwhile.

As someone who remembers the ’70s, when hip African-American girls and women wore short ‘fros or just tied their tresses back into big, fluffy ponytails (the bigger the better!), I mourn the fact that so many black women straighten their hair these days. It was considered so unprogressive back then! But of course, women in general have been progressively “improving” themselves since the ’70s — when “natural” was in — with cosmetic procedures, fake boobs and other enhancements, so it’s not really fair to single out African-American women for changing their hair to reflect current standards of beauty. Most of us have given in to some extent. Then again, since “nappy” hair is such a basic characteristic of blackness, it does sometimes seem particularly self-negating. Obviously this can be, and has been, debated back and forth for days…

15
Oct
09

Glee and Ghosts

Sue Sylvester

One of my favorite Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) quotes from last night’s Glee: ”I don’t trust a man with curly hair. I can’t help picturing small birds laying sulfurous eggs in there and I find it disgusting.” This episode was rife with funny lines, most of them courtesy of Lynch, whose haughty, preposterous character steals every scene she’s in. I’m not a betting woman, but I’d put money on an Emmy nomination (oh hell, Emmy win!).

Then there were the uniformly solid musical numbers, including a scorching rendition of Jill Scott’s “Hate on Me” featuring the fantastic Mercedes (Amber Riley) on vocals and Mike (Harry Shum Jr.)  popping, locking and generally looking amazing. Plus Kurt in a fluffy angora sweater. I’m beginning to love these “kids.”

No graceful way to segue into…

Steve and Tango

Steve and Tango (photo: Syfy)

…Interesting Ghost Hunters ep last night: The team investigated historic Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario. Military sites are often hotbeds of paranormal activity, which makes sense considering the untimely deaths that often occurred in these places. Lots of spontaneously opening and closing doors at the fort, including one that slammed shut on demand. Plus weird knocking sounds from behind a glass wall in the officers’ quarters and a ghostly figure glimpsed by Grant. All very creepy. There were also some big, fat spiders lurking about to scare the bejesus out of poor arachnophobic Steve, who wonders about his condition, “How did this happen to me?” The comic relief provided by Steve’s many fears and Tango’s reactions is one of the show’s charms.

Speaking of which, there’s a new GH spin-off coming next month. According to Syfy: Ghost Hunters Academy features a group of college students, led by seasoned TAPS investigators Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango, who search for the paranormal in haunted hotspots around the country and around the world.

The commercial almost gave the impression of a competition with shaky participants freaking out, but the official description doesn’t really sound like “American’s Next Top Ghost Hunter,” which is too bad. That would be very amusing.

14
Oct
09

Frankie’s First Cake

“For a certain breed of cake,” says Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, “you gotta come to me.” That sentiment was illustrated perfectly in one of last night’s episodes (originally aired several months ago). Buddy was hired to make a graphically gruesome cake for a Zombie Walk (?!) in Asbury Park and an erotic, stripper-themed cake for a bachelorette party. Was he up to the tasks? Hey, he’s not called Cake Boss for nothing.

The young couple ordering the zombie cake want it as bloody and gory as possible. Buddy jumps right on board, envisioning a ghoulish creature clawing his way out of the dirt in front of a tombstone

Finished Zombie Head

finished zombie head

with “a buffet of flesh and rotting things for the zombie to eat!” Though the bakery crew is initially grossed out, they are soon happily fashioning brains and bloody body parts from modeling chocolate. The result — composed mainly of red velvet cake, grey fondant and lots of red food coloring — delights the undead gathered at Zombie Fest, who immediately fall upon the cake and stuff their faces like something out of a George Romero movie. Buddy, a bit freaked out by their enthusiasm (and perhaps their scary makeup), is nonetheless proud of his work.

stripper cake is assembled

stripper cake is assembled (photo: TLC)

Since the stripper cake was ordered by the sister of Buddy’s assistant Tone Tone, the Cake Boss feels obligated to indulge her request for something erotic (plus you know he loves a good challenge). But, “No sexy cakes!,” yells Mama when she gets wind of the idea. “Exotic, erotic, no way, no how!” Buddy won’t be deterred and orders several of the girls to each sculpt an anatomically correct stripper out of modeling chocolate, then asks Tone Tone, since he’s gay, to make one too. Naturally Mama finds out and freaks out: “Not acceptable!” Buddy may be the cake boss, says Mama, but, “Who writes the checks at the end of the week?” “You,” mutter the shop guys, looking sheepish. The artists modify the strippers by clothing them in tiny edible shorts, except for Tone Tone’s outrageously well-endowed figure, who gets an apron, to be whipped off by Buddy upon delivery at the bachelorette party.

Mama approves (she apparently doesn’t realize what’s under the apron) and everyone’s happy, especially the girls at the party who scream as if they’re at a real strip club. You can understand the appeal of Buddy’s job. When was the last time people screamed with delight at your work?

The second episode featured a cake ordered by the Museum of Natural History for its indricotherium (huge, prehistoric animal) exhibit; Buddy makes the museum folks very happy with his immense, nearly 400-pound, mammal cake, though I’m not entirely sure if including  a little caveman (for size perspective) was paleontologically correct.

There was also an elaborate Sweet 16 cake, which included the birthday girl’s favorite things: city life and the beach (represented by shopping bags, a Starbucks cup, flip flops and seashells, among other edible decorations). Unfortunately, the cake is dropped down a flight of stairs on delivery day by Danny and cousin Anthony, who look appropriately horrified at the mess. Buddy loses it for a minute, then rallies his troops to drop everything and recreate the cake, which they do in and hour and a half flat. It arrives at the party on time and is a big success.

Also in this episode, Lil’ Frankie’s in a rut and we learn that he used to work on Wall Street, before Buddy gave him a job at Carlo’s. The big guy wants a chance to decorate his own cake and Buddy obliges by giving him the cake for Mary’s daughter’s dance recital after-party.  Of course the testy Mary is dubious and, unless I was hallucinating, I thought I heard her say something like, “No offense, but I consider him your bitch,” about poor Frankie. “She was being Mary,” explains Buddy. So, there’s a lot of pressure on Frankie and we see him staying late at the bakery fretting and decorating. But in the end he delivers a lovely ballet-themed cake to the party and Mary’s daughter Lucia looks delighted. Whew.