Friday, September 30, 2011

The 50 Coolest States in America, Part 2: #3 Louisiana

Hey there, and welcome back to part 2 of our ongoing series which might be, but will in reality totally not be, 50 parts: The 3rd coolest state in America, Louisiana! (If you missed part 1 on Delaware, click here.)
Yes, it's the wonderful state of Louisiana, propelled into the top 5 on its nonexistent open container laws alone. But there's more to the Pelican State (the Pelican State? Really? Um, okay.) than being able to take a to go cup with you anywhere. There's nice weather in the winter. And you never have to worry about a drought. And beignets! And, of course, the Crescent City itself, New Orleans. My god, New Orleans is fabulous. Granted, my only experience there thus far was a 3 day span in early February 2008 that just happened to coincide with some festival known as Mardis Gras, but I can assure you that it will not be my last trip there, assuming it isn't destroyed by one of the monthly natural disasters we've been having these days. To hear the story behind why NOLA is such a magical (and, at times, terrifying) place, read on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Red Light Green Light

Full disclosure to those of you who have been or are currently in the restaurant food server industry, I am a regular Ron Paul (perhaps Ron Swanson) when it comes to the concept of wait service. I look at the bloated and inefficient mechanism of waiters, waitresses, and servers as a needless and costly burden on the American dining public. For the most part I find them to be a superfluous bureaucracy that gratuitously inflates the cost of a meal by upwards of 20% just to do a simple job (picking up my food and bringing it to my table) that I am fully capable of and actually prefer to do on my own. I have to admit I even see the validity of Mr. Pink's argument for not tipping in Reservoir Dogs.

Sure there may be certain situations where a wait staff is necessary, perhaps with large scale dining events or maybe elaborate meals requiring special preparation, etc., but most of the time I can walk up to the counter to get my grilled cheese sandwich platter or order of chicken wings, thank you very much. Additionally as a big drinker of water, I would like the ability to get up and get as much water as a want as frequently as I want; free of my server's throttling pace. Really, the worst part of wait service is the distinct lack of choice; this expensive option is thrust upon me at every traditional sit down dining establishment. It would be less onerous if one could have the freedom to choose, like self service and full service gas. Ideally, if I had things my way most restaurants would be run like Fuddruckers: you order your meal up front, they give you a cup for your unlimited refills and a vibrating pager, you seat yourself, you eventually pick up your food, load up on a massive unlimited fixings bar, enjoy your meal, and leave it for the bus service. Perfect.

Of course, I doubt that kind of radical change is coming anytime soon. In the meantime however I am willing to settle for at least one change in the current wait service process. I think even the most ardent of wait service supporters will find this minor reform suggestion of mine to be prudent and agreeable. Basically, it has to deal with the start of the ordering process. In the modern restaurant setting, after being seated and given time to study your menu, the unspoken signal to your server that you are ready to order is the overt closing of the menu. Often times in a party, everyone has to close their menu before the server comes over to assume everyone is ready. This process may look quite unobjectionable on the surface but there is much room for improvement.

I believe we need a more overt, unambiguous, separate signal than the old close and lay. Having some sort of dedicated signal that alerts the server that you are ready to order will go along way in streamlining some of the inherent inefficiencies of the process. Often times I find myself selecting an item, closing the menu, and then redundantly opening the menu again to explain the order when the server comes. Also, as a historically unpredictable diner who is prone to calling unexpected audibles at the line, I would like to have the menu open all the way until I put my actual order in, just in case I need to make a quick change. Additionally having a more blatant signal would also save the waiter time from not having to constantly check to see if your menu is down.

As to the type of signal, it can be anything that is simple and overt. A button similar to the overhead assistance button on an airplane that emits a tone and puts on a light, a switch that pages the waiter, a small bell you ring, a sign you flip from "not ready" to "ready"; all could work. We could take a page from Brazilian barbecue restaurants and enjoy a similar system of having a red/green table icon that you flip, but instead of green "I want to stuff more meat in my face" and red "I have packed every part of my digestive system with meat, please no more", it would be green "I am ready to order" and red "Give me some time".

Although we as American diners will never truly be free until we all come together to exercise our inherent liberties and throw off the burdensome obstacle of wait service that stands in between the us and our meals, the least we can do is make the process a bit less inefficient and cumbersome with some minor but effective reforms. Now if we can only find a better way to improve slow water service.

Pilot Season (Week 1)

It's that time of year again. The air is getting a little crisper, and all the worst-performing shows of the last television season are getting replaced by a shiny new batch of crap. So I've decided to revive a feature I used to run on my old blog in which I selflessly watch all the network pilots as they air and give a quick rundown of my findings.

Here's the results of last week. . .

Ringer (CW)

Since Brian De Palma hasn't made a film in a while, I'm wondering if he hasn't been moonlighting as an exec at the CW, since apparently somebody at that network decided that the Hitchcockian suspense thrillers were the new hip thing this fall (doppelgangers and mistaken identities abound!). Which is not to say that the Master of Suspense isn't doing a triple lutz in his grave at this show's hackneyed attempt at appropriating his work. The show stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as a recovering burnout/alcoholic with a criminal past that goes on the lam when she's asked to testify in a murder trial, and then steals the identity of her New York socialite twin sister (also played by SMG) when the sister conveniently disappears. The pilot is probably worth watching, if only because it includes the most hilariously bad greenscreen boating scene that's ever been filmed (which I hope (?) is intended as a tribute to Hitch), along with a super-serious acoustic cover of Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4". Also, for everyone out there that has been lamenting the lack of Nestor Carbonell's unnaturally full lashes on primetime TV following the cancellation of Lost, this show might help fill that void.
Projected lifespan: 1 season

Free Agents (NBC)

As a devoted Simpsons fan, I consider Hank Azaria's voice to be nothing short of a national treasure, but it's easy to forget how funny he can be in corporeal form as well. And who better than the voice of Kirk Van Houten to play a recently divorced PR exec making a pathetic attempt at getting his groove back. I kind of wish the writing on this show was better, but between Azaria and Anthony Stewart Head there's more than enough on-screen talent to go around. Though I'm somewhat concerned that this premise, which is based on a British sitcom of the same name, might not have more than 6 episodes of decent storylines in it.
Projected Lifespan: half a season

The Secret Circle (CW)

This show can most easily be summed up as the Charmed to The Vampire Diaries's Buffy, though it's probably more similar to The Craft. And while this last season of True Blood didn't do much to convince me that witches make for great television, I actually didn't mind this show. Sure, it's got the usual supernatural teen soap opera bullshit (the quiet new girl in town with hidden supernatural powers and the brooding hot guy that inexplicably latches onto her), but the villain is kind of badass and the special effects are surprisingly well done.
Projected Lifespan: 3 seasons

Up All Night (NBC)

In a lot of ways this show isn't much more than a televised adaptation of Baby Blues, though for someone who has spent exactly zero hours as the parent of a newborn child I found it sort of charming. This might have something to do with the fact that I'm totally fascinated Will Arnett playing a character that isn't a bufoonish sociopath, or that years of watching Married With Children has left me with a residual crush on Christina Applegate. On the other hand I don't really like Maya Rudolph, and since there are only three characters on this show, she gets a lot more screen time than I'd prefer. So lets just say I'm cautiously optimistic about this one.
Projected lifespan: 2 seasons

H8R (CW)

This is easily one of the most unwatchable shows I've ever seen, and I don't mean that in a "this is trashy reality TV and not worth my time" kind of way. I mean it's literally very uncomfortable to watch. The show follows pretty much the same format as the similarly disdainful-of-proper-English-spelling Punk'd, except instead of watching terrible things happen to otherwise likable celebrities, we get to watch irredeemably annoying celebrities try to convince their most vocal detractors that they're decent human beings. And what better way to convince someone that you're not a total asshole than by relentlessly berating them in from of a camera. The only thing I'll say in favor of this show is that the "haters" are at least obnoxious enough to make their celebrity foils look marginally better by comparison. Though I should caveat that I'm using the term "celebrity" here very loosely, considering the show is hosted by Mario Lopez, and he's by far the most accomplished star featured on the show. I also take issue with the underlying assumption of the show that everyone is actually a decent person if you just get to know them, considering some of their subjects, like Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis, are clearly just terrible people that have committed unconscionable and/or illegal acts to achieve their notoriety.
Projected Lifespan: 4 episodes

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Advertising Video of the Week

In response to Emerson's post earlier, I still think this is the best Geico commercial ever, but there's no real wrong answer to that question. Unless you pick the googly eye money stack ads where Rockwell is playing in the background. Those are terrible.

And the best commercials ever are still the Budweiser lizards. Hand down.

Never hire a ferret to do a weasel's job. Words to live by.

I Don't Own a Car, but I Still Want Geico

Last week Jimmy went on a rant about shitty commercials. I thought it might be a good idea to cleanse our palettes and bask in the glory of one of the best commercials currently playing on boob tubes everywhere:

Does Geico have the best commercials of all time? It certainly seems likely. Consider this obvious hall of fame candidate:

All of this begs the question, is Geico insurance really that great? They must be. How else can they afford to hire all these celebrities in their commercials?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apparently Christians are Pumpkins

So, as I was perusing Facebook - which I'm totally doing way less often, I swear! - this appeared in my newsfeed, courtesy of someone who frequently clogs said feed, often with religious jargon: 

"A woman was asked what it was like to be a Christian. She replied: It is like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the patch, brings you in and washes all the dirt off of you. He cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky stuff, and removes the seeds of doubt, hate, and greed. Then He carves you a smiling face and puts His light inside of you for all the world to see. Pass this on if you're a pumpkin too! :)"

So let me see if I've got this right: God takes your head, empties it of its natural, life-sustaining contents, carves a smile on your face, and then fills your head with His dogmatic agenda light, which you then espouse to the world via the various holes in your head? This is how you would describe yourself as a Christian? As Emerson pointed out to me a minute ago, it's never a good idea to compare yourself to a vegetable. 

That said, that description sounds exactly like organized religion. Well played, pumpkin lady. Well played indeed. Now stay the fuck out of my newsfeed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The all-singing all-dancing crap of the world

As an employee of the advertising industry I would say I have a higher than average tolerance for obnoxious TV commercials, but sometimes there's a commercial that's so terrible and runs so frequently that I just can't ignore it.

And right now that's this abomination:

In both concept and execution, it's one of the most astronomically stupid commercials I've ever had to endure, and I feel a profound sadness for all of 'Bama fans out there who have witness their team get disgraced in such a fashion.

The idea, of course, is to take the take the melody from Night Ranger's classic power ballad "Sister Christian" and shoe-horn in some bullshit lyrics about college football paraphernalia. Then, like any effective commercial, it eventually digs into your head like an earwig after the two-dozen times that it airs during a single football game, and you can't get the fucking melody out of your brain. Then you realize you don't even have the original version in your head - instead of an over-earnest elegy to a teen girl giving up her V-card, you're stuck with a cloying tribute to discount sportswear.

Now don't get me wrong. I have no problem with advertisers misappropriating popular songs to sell their products. Remember that whole campaign that Burger King ran in the nineties where they just took offbeat pop songs and made it seem like they were tributes to the Whopper? Or when Carnival Cruises stripped all of the irony out of "Lust for Life" and made is seem like it was about wholesome family fun instead of drug addiction? That shit was great! And "Sister Christian" (in its original form) has been successfully used in several great pieces of media, and provides an excellent soundtrack to anything from simulated auto larceny, to well-hung pornstars trying to rip off their coke dealer. This, on the other hand, is just lazy and uninspired. I mean, if you're gonna write some awful song lyrics about consumer products, at least have the decency to write your own melody too, like those Fountains of Wayne-sounding credit report commercials.

Furthermore, if you're gonna butcher a classic song, at least make it something topical. This is a no-brainer. You're selling college sports apparel. There are no shortage of classic rock songs about sports and competition. What were Joe Esposito and Survivor doing? And don't tell me they couldn't use the money.

Though the thing I find most ridiculous about this commercial is that it totally stole its creativity-bereft concept from whoever did those equally terrible Mohegan Sun ads (who presumably also wrote their pitch on the way to the meeting). . .

So just as a warning, if I see a spot where they change the lyrics to "Jukebox Hero" to be something about cargo shorts I'm gonna personally punch every employee of Crispin Porter + Bogusky in the face.

Also, I'm not gonna Shazam your fucking commercial, so give it up.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Political Video of the Week

In the spirtit of the ongoing GOP presidential debates (which I hope to God none of you have to watch), this week's video is a very cleverly done mash up of "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys and clips from All The President's Men. For you ladies (and gays) out there, it features an in-his-prime Robert Redford. Sexy! Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Disturbing Trend

I fly a lot. Some might say it is because I am a high rolling, big spending baller who likes to party. But that’s only part of it. Over the past several months, I have noticed a disturbing trend whenever I have to go through airport security, and I’m not talking about how my balls have shriveled up to the size of peanuts after repeated x-ray screenings. Rather, every time I fly, my carry on luggage inevitably gets searched. What do they see each and every time that arouses their suspicions? Not my myriad electronic devices, not my box of recreational pharmaceuticals, not even my bathroom liquids that always exceed 3 fluid ounces. No, the only thing they seem concerned with is my deck of Magic: The Gathering cards.

Without fail, when my bag gets searched, they pull out my deck box, which has three finely tuned and extremely powerful decks inside. Each time the TSA agent looks at me suspiciously. Most recently, after rifling through a few cards, the guard asked me in the most cautious of tones, “Sir, what ARE these?” It took every bit of self-control I had not to laugh maniacally and tell him what a fool he was! I restrained myself from explaining that the cards were my method of summoning powerful spells and beings from across the multiverse! He was foolishly concerned with the safety of a silly jet plane, but within his grasp was the power to build and destroy entire worlds! Armies of demons, angels, merfolk, and giants were at his fingertips, if only he had the wherewithal to TAP THE MANA! MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

Count yourself lucky, TSA, that this planeswalker has bigger fish to fry

Monday, September 12, 2011

Revisiting the Dumbest Show on TV

So close, and yet, so far.
A few months ago, after seeing the remarkably disappointing premiere of season four of True Blood, I questioned whether or not the show was ever any good. The short is answer is "yes", and the long answer is "Well, no, but it was often very entertaining." After the entirety of season four (which ended last night) I think it is safe to say not much has changed since then. That said, after the premiere I also questioned whether or not season four would do enough to make me come back for season five. After last night's finale, I am begrudgingly going to have say that it did.

Note: we have expressed our views on spoilers here before, and honestly, you should thank me for saving you from watching this stupid show, but I'm going to talk about what happened in the finale after the jump, so if you're planning on watching it but haven't yet, um, spoiler alert.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Now This Is Something The Other Reruns Won't Show You...

Have you ever found yourself flipping through the channels on TV, looking for nothing in particular and coming across a movie or episode of a TV show that you enjoy and actually own the DVD or Blu-Ray or Laserdisc of; but instead of breaking out your copy you end up watching the whole thing on TV? Looking at it objectively, you have to admit that it seems somewhat illogical, right? Let's say it's "Terminator 2" on AMC. You have the option of taking out your copy of the film and watching it in its optimally formatted perspective, with superior sound, no edits for adult content, no edits for running time and without a single commercial break, but for some inexplicable reason it just feels right watching it as is on TV. Perhaps it's just plain laziness, the shared experience of watching a broadcast with countless others, the serendipitous appeal of unintentionally coming across your favorite programming, or a combination of all of the above that almost always make me opt for the televised rerun (especially "Terminator 2", if I catch it anywhere near that final car chase and sequence in the steel mill, I will not leave my seat until the final credits).

While I have a proclivity to the TV version, the thing I really dislike the most about going with the TV is the editing for time. It's bad enough that there are commercials but it is pretty rough when the broadcasters have to cut bits out of the movie or show just so they could fit in more ads. The most diabolical thing about time edits is how after a while of only watching the syndicated version, you end up forgetting whole scenes. Every time I initially went through a new Simpsons DVD, I was often surprised at all the extra little scenes that are never played on reruns and I that had completely forgotten about since their first airing; and had I not bought the DVDs, I would have never had the opportunity to see those scenes ever. Now, it's not like all those cut scenes where pure gold, in fact a few even seemed extraneous, but still I think it's important to get the full product.

Then of course there will be times when an edit will cut the best singular minute of a film, as is the case with Phil Hartman's cameo scene in the 1993 Mike Myers vehicle "So I Married an Axe Murderer". On the whole "So I Married an Ax Murderer" is a deeply flawed film. It is about as mediocre as early 90's comedies go, the film completely runs out of steam about halfway through to the point where, despite countless viewings, I only actually made it to the end once, and for all his many successes in creating memorable and hilarious characters Mike Myers has shown time and time again that he cannot master the character of a plausible normal human being. However there are a handful of quality, funny scenes throughout from Myers' beatnik poem in the beginning, Anthony Lapaglia's cop character's constant disappointment with the reality of police work over his TV influenced expectations, and basically all the scene involving Myers' belligerent Scottish father is probably the movie's lasting legacy (along with introducing the La's "There She Goes" to a new generation).

In a movie defined by its smaller moments, Phil Hartman's appearance as the disturbingly thorough Alcatraz tour guide recalling the horrifying tale of "Machine Gun" Kelly is really the pinnacle for me. The character and his delivery is vintage Hartman, the absurd dialog given with such excessive professionalism to the point of becoming menacing, the expert timing, the nuanced pauses, the facial expression. It only takes him 60 seconds to show just how special a comedic performer he was. The scene itself was clearly just shoehorned into the movie to solely showcase Phil. There's no reason within the film for Myers' and Lapaglia's characters to be on a tour of Alcatraz. I don't want to jump to conclusions but, if Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for a 5 minute scene in "Network", I think a extra minute or two for Phil's character could have at the very least gotten some buzz for a nomination.

Sadly however, to many of the modern audiences coming across "So I Married An Axe Murderer" on Comedy Central or on Fox during a rained out ballgame or on some outer fringe cable channel that can't afford better movie programming, this scene will simply be erased from existence. One would have dig through their local Walmart DVD bin for a copy or get Showtime or Cinemax and hope to luck into a random showing or actually take the initiative to find the film on Netflix (all plainly unrealistic levels of enthusiasm for a movie of this middling quality) to fully enjoy this movie the way it was meant to be. I think the networks can spare one less Video Professor commercial to fit it in.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seriously Summer, What the Fuck?

You have always been my favorite season, summer. Between your absence of school, the presence of my birthday, and the way you encourage women to dress, I have always loved you. I love going to beaches with you. I love drinking beer with you. I love wearing less clothing than I should when you're around. These things are all still true. It's what made you my favorite.

But now? After all this shit? I mean, when you're not 95 degrees and humid as a sauna, you're raining. Hell, you're doing it right now. The fucking hurricane was just the icing on the cake. You used to be dry, but the last couple years have been a water-logged disaster.

And the heat. My god, the fucking heat. Don't get me wrong, you were never chilly, but I had my AC on for like 47 consecutive days in July. I mean, I like hot weather, but this has been ridiculous. I understand it isn't really your fault, but what's done is done; you're not my favorite anymore.

I'm an autumn man now. I'm not in school. The weather is usually wonderful. The Phillies are actually playing meaningful games these days. Football starts. Halloween is awesome. Thanksgiving is awesome. And whiskey tastes better in the fall. I never thought I'd see the day, but summer, you're #2 now. Even the prospect of another mind-numbing Yankees-Red Sox ALCS can't change my mind about autumn. So get the fuck out of here already, and take your weather with you. I'm tired of this shit.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Carted Off

Definitely one my pettier complaints, but a valid complaint nevertheless.

Let me paint you the scenario, dear reader. You are out doing some mundane everyday shopping task: groceries, batteries, office supplies, new socks and underpants, assorted restaurant size jars of condiments, whatever. You drive and park in the lot of your local supermarket, hardware superstore, warehouse club, big box discount store, etc. You walk up to the entrance and grab one of the many shopping carts queued up near the door. The doors slide open you as enter the store, pushing the cart in front of you, and you start making your way to the aisles; some people are more focused and direct and like to go immediately to their target area, others like to meander and take a look around the store. Regardless of your shopping approach at one point early on you may find yourself parking your empty cart and walking away from it to get a closer look at the shelves or walk down a particularly crowded isle or go through a bin, etc. When you return your cart, you are frustrated and annoyed to find that in that momentary lapse, some low down, son of a bitch has already stolen your empty cart for their own, forcing you to go back out of the store to get a new cart.

I told you it was going to be petty.

Now I would let a thing like this slide if it was an uncommon occurrence, but this has happened far too often for me to just write it off as chance, it's a straight up societal issue. Consider the mindset of someone who would take an unattended cart in the middle of a store. First off, why didn't they get a cart like everyone else on the way in? I may understand taking the initiative in procuring a seemingly abandoned cart when it's a busy shopping situation and there really aren't any free carts available, but often times these thefts have happened to me during normal times with plenty of carts available outside. So this person must be either lazy or incredibly short sighted.

Secondly, they must be lacking in common sense as well. When confronted with a seemingly orphaned cart, what is a most likely reason for it being there?: (a) a fellow customer is momentarily away from their empty cart to check on something and will be right back or (b) the establishment, in an effort to make life more convenient for their shoppers, has left random empty carts all throughout the store for their use. I am even willing to entertain the possibility that a cart may have been legitimately abandoned when a customer suddenly decided to abandon it in the middle of an aisle and walk away, but still how often does that really happen? Basically if you objectively look at the situation, there is no good reason for someone to take an "empty cart" from the middle of a store.

I should not have to be handcuffed to my shopping cart and guard it as if I was the President and it was the nuclear football when I enter a store. I shouldn't have to put a random item in my cart as an anti-theft measure while I walk over to peruse another aisle (oh and there have been times when people have actually taken my random stuff out and then took the cart. These are the downright despicable people that you'd run into if you end up in the ninth circle of hell). I understand that's hard enough getting to people wear pants at a Walmart let alone exercise decorum and propriety, but I don't think I'm being unreasonable. Just assume all the carts in the store belong to somebody and if you suddenly are in need of one get it from the entrance. Hell, I don't even care if you're wearing pants or not, just keep your hands off my cart.