Sunday, January 03, 2021

Who is 'the host of Jeopardy!'?

With the final week of Alex Trebek at the helm of Jeopardy! upon us, a few thoughts:

• According to a press release from Sony, Trebek makes notable comments at the top of Monday's show (January 4), and there will be a tribute segment at the end of Friday's show.

• It seems we're maybe going to get a series of guest hosts for a while, and I think that's an excellent idea. There's no need to rush into anointing the successor; take the time to get it right.

• In the following week (January 11), uber-champion Ken Jennings begins his turn as guest host. His aptitude for this seems to have been met with some skepticism among fans, but I say give him his chance. He's had enough time in the limelight to become at ease with it, and his ability to do the schmoozing with contestants might surprise us all. Or not. My gut feeling is that he will not become the permanent host, but who knows.

• Quite forgotten amidst all this is the one fine audition that's already in the can: Jeff Probst's 100-episode stint as host of Rock & Roll Jeopardy! (1998-2001) on VH1; episodes also aired on the Game Show Network for a time. He's a smooth question reader and an amiable personality, and his long tenure on Survivor has only made him more capable. Sometimes the solution is right under your nose …

• Other possibilities? This is difficult, since we don't really have professional game show emcees anymore; Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak is now the last of the old guard. As I've said before, it's unfortunate that third-tier comedians and random actors have become the go-to choices to host game shows. It's been reported that politico George Stephanopoulos has expressed interest in the gig. He's a nice chap — give him his turn as guest host — but I don't think he's The One. I think one direction to consider might be a larger than life personality — the Millionaire team had the right idea when they snagged Regis Philbin. It will take someone with gravity and gravitas to successfully follow Alex Trebek.

An episode of Rock & Roll Jeopardy:

 

Friday, January 01, 2021

Music that moved me in 2020

Most played (new songs)

For songs released in or near 2020, Pet Shop Boys win the year with “New Boy,” a “b-side” from the “I Don’t Wanna” single. It’s one of those brilliantly maudlin midtempo meditations they reel off effortlessly, like “Only the Wind” and “Always,” which are often buried as extra tracks on singles and are better than most of what’s on the accompanying album.


The runners-up are the Pets’ “Only the Dark” from this year’s Hotspot album and “Do You Feel,” which emerged as the favorite from La Roux’s latest album, Supervision.


Most played (oldies)

Don Henley’s synthy “Sunset Grill” wins by a point over three tied songs — Tori Amos’ “Silent All These Years,” The Lighting Seeds’ “Don’t Let Go” and Paula Abdul’s “The Promise of a New Day (7” Edit).” When I went to an Eagles concert in Tupelo with my parents back around ’99 or so, the highlight for me was “Sunset Grill.”


Most interesting

From the first time I heard it, I thought Miley Cyrus’ “Midnight Sky” was the most interesting song of the year. It feels like she’s channeling the dark electronic sounds of The Weeknd on this one, and the whole Plastic Hearts album is sounding strikingly good.


What’s so hot about the Hot 100?

It’s becoming a trend that one song from Billboard’s Hot 100 of the year makes my year-end chart. This year, somewhat surprisingly, it’s Billboard’s top song of the year, “Blinding Lights,” by The Weeknd, which sits at #59 on my year-ender. It’s probably his best since "Can't Feel My Face," although I ended up playing “In Your Eyes,” with that killer sax riff, more (#27 for the year); it is currently in my top 10, having recently topped my chart, and could have finished even higher if its run had come earlier.


Lukewarm

Some of my core favorite artists significantly underperformed with new releases (this, sadly, has been a recurring theme in the last few years). With Chromatica, it’s time to accept that Lady Gaga isn’t going to reach the heights of The Fame / The Fame Monster / Born This Way and, to a slightly lesser degree, Artpop, again. Chromatica, to my ears, has a disturbing homogeneity, particularly when compared to her first few albums. It does land a couple of songs on the year-end chart — “Alice” (#51) and “911” (#56). Then there’s Erasure, whose last several albums have underwhelmed; their lone entry from The Neon is “Shot a Satellite” (#62). And the Pets’ Hotspot had some gems, as always, but it was not at all what I expected for the conclusion of their trilogy with Stuart Price, who has essentially been a Pet Shop Boy for the past decade.


Posthumously

It’s not unusual for me to have a Roxette song in rotation, and the late 2019 death of Marie Fredriksson had me hunting for some deeper cuts. They finish the year with several entries — “Wish I could Fly” (#32), “Queen of Rain” (#44) and “Perfect Day” (#66). And my favorite Eddie Money tune, “I Wanna Go Back,” is in at #78, while the posthumously released George Michael song “This is How (We Want You to Get High)" scrapes in at #95.


Ava Max

“Sweet but Psycho” was big enough to repeat; it was #53 for 2019 and #90 for 2020. “Kings & Queens” finished at #115 this year.


The chart statistics are courtesy of scrobbling via Last.fm.


Go here for recaps dating back to the 2000s.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Movies: The Car (1977)

 Just how much menace and dread can be extracted from the revving engine of a tricked-out Lincoln Continental Mark III with illegally tinted windows? That's explored at length in 1977 horror-thriller The Car, renowned among some as a so-bad-it's-good chestnut; critics had fun describing it as "a total wreck." My grandmother drove a Lincoln Continental back in the early '80s, and I remember it as an incredibly long vehicle with those little panels that would come down and hide the headlights when not in use. I was fascinated by those.

Starring Josh Brolin as the sheriff, The Car followed in the recent dust of highway thrillers like Duel, and its poster is simply fantastic with the car's angry face and the windswept lettering.  I remember it as one of the first movies that scared me as a kid when it was on TV, probably as a "movie of the week" on one of the big three networks back in the days when they aired theatrical releases as Event Programming. The titular auto zips around a desert town terrorizing its residents, seemingly without anyone behind the wheel, and it all looks pretty great in HD. Hammy dialog aside, the threatening face of that rampaging vehicle stirs dread every time it appears. Though the plot may be thin, it has its effective moments; the best one gives new meaning to the phrase "drive-thru" in a harrowing scene involving one of the leading damsels. It all builds to a sudden, fiery conclusion, with the movie never signaling what drove the car to its murderous rampage, literally or figuratively. As with so many things, the journey is more satisfying than the destination.

The Car is currently streaming on Netflix.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

RIP Alex Trebek

 

Alex Trebek was one of the last of the old guard, from the days when game show hosts were professional emcees and not third-tier stand-up comics or random actors playing the part. He always seemed to enjoy his work, and it seemed like he would always just be there, reading endless daily double clues and making small talk with the regular folk who made it to the stage of that great celebration of knowledge called Jeopardy!.

We all know that one, of course, but there were numerous others (Pitfall and Battlestars, anyone?). Here are a few deeper cuts from Trebek's career to celebrate a great legacy:

Classic Concentration // Buzzr recently began airing the Concentration revival, which is helmed by Trebek with a bit more playfulness than he displayed on Jeopardy!. The episodes hadn't been re-run since NBC dropped the game, and it's a fun show that deserved a longer run than it had on NBC daytime, 1987-1991.

High Rollers // Speaking of fun, I love the dice-based High Rollers (1974-1976, 1978-1980), in which players knocked out the numbers 1-9 to win some impressive prizes. Trebek is in top form in this lighter format.

To Tell the Truth // NBC's 1990-1991 run of Truth went through several hosts, with Trebek arguably turning in the best performance. Episodes can be found on YouTube.

Wheel of Fortune // Yes, Trebek presided over several episodes of the legendary Wheel — once for April Fool's Day in 1997 (while Pat Sajak did Jeopardy!) and also as a substitute in 1980. The April Fool's event is on YouTube.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Notes for the new Unsolved Mysteries

It's great to have you back, Unsolved Mysteries. I'm still working my way through rewatching the entirety of the Robert Stack episodes and am currently on season 6 (sadly, it's no longer free on Prime Video at the moment, although it’s free with ads via imdb). The new Netflix series started strong — the two opening episodes about truly mysterious deaths are very good — but it steadily nosedived from there. As a superfan of the show, I have a few suggestions and general observations:


We don't want to read Unsolved Mysteries. I don't care how great the mystery is — we don't want to read subtitles for 45 minutes. This is comfort food TV, not a stuffy foreign film. The offending episode, "House of Terror," about the murder of a French family, is, indeed, a fascinating case, but we don't want to read it.


• Keep things moving. One of the good things about subscription television is the emergence of sophisticated documentary programming without the constraints of the network television format. It's also a potential pitfall … all of that room to breathe and expound can lead to glacially slow programming. The old Unsolved Mysteries rarely gave the viewer an opportunity to lose interest; each mystery almost always wrapped up before the next commercial break. The storytelling was tight and incisive. Please keep it that way — this model of only one mystery filling out the entire show is fatiguing.


• The UFO episode was simply terrible. Not even a grainy Polaroid or out-of-focus home movie footage? Just people talking about what they saw? I love a good UFO yarn, but this was really weak.


• Consider a host. Robert Stack obviously can't be replaced, but it feels odd without the narration to help set the scene.


Six more new episodes arrive on October 19.


Also see // Streaming Unsolved Mysteries

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Movies: Midsommar

Somebody's been watching The Wicker Man. Like that '70s classic (and the cheeky Nick Cage remake), Midsommar takes us to an isolated clan practicing increasingly creepy pagan-like rituals, smiling and gracious all the while. It is fertile territory for a thriller.

Midsommar plods along in the Swedish sunshine for a bit until director Ari Aster takes a hammer to viewer's kneecaps with a singularly disturbing scene. This moment defines the movie, much like a particularly disturbing sequence in his interesting debut, Hereditary, defined that movie. It's treated as a big moment; the music and the visuals of the awaiting crowd amongst the jagged, rocky landscape create a palpable dread of whatever is about to unfold. And, once it becomes apparent, the realization of what is about to happen is almost as shocking as seeing it reach its horrific conclusion. The results are displayed in graphic detail, with another horrifying act capping the gory sequence. It is disturbing, and it will be too much for some viewers.

The two principal characters of Midsommar are in the midst of a fragile relationship, and Aster weaves the emotional wreckage of that into the tapestry of insanity unfolding in the Swedish countryside. The movie is rather long and might benefit from excising the opening half hour or so, which establishes the relationship of the leads and is the weakest portion of the film.

Nothing else in Midsommar equals The Big Scene, but it is an enjoyably unsettling experience that will linger in the mind. 

3.5 out of 5

Midsommar (2019, 227 minutes) is currently streaming on Prime Video.

Also see // The Wicker Man (1974)
The Wicker Man (2006)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Song of the decade

Does a decade's worth of music mean anything anymore? To me, it doesn't feel like it, and hasn't really since the '90s, which probably just means that I'm old. Time flies and a lot of life is happening, so I'm just getting around to taking a look at the past decade. Rather than serving up a big list, I've decided to simply crown my most-played song of the twenty-teens.

The winner is '90s survivor Robyn with "Dancing on My Own," which was released in June 2010 as lead single from the excellent Body Talk album (my #9 album for the decade, including music from all decades, per Last.fm), and which she cowrote and coproduced with Patrik Berger. It's a devastating dance music ballad, all swirling synths and heartbreak, that should have shot an arrow through the heart of the pop music audience. It is the epitome of the melancholy cast against a euphoric upbeat arrangement, which defines so much of my favorite music. How does a song this brilliant (and featured prominently in HBO's Girls) not even crack the Billboard Hot 100? Despite making no impression on the chart, it did, deservedly, go platinum in the U.S.