Monday, 28 May 2012

The [Celebrity] Apprentice- Season 5/12 (TV Series)

Just over a week ago, real-estate mogul Donald Trump found his fifth Celebrity Apprentice in former talk show host and comedian Arsenio Hall, with season 2 American Idol runner up Clay Aiken forced to take second place once again. Having been the first season of Celebrity Apprentice, as well as the first American version of the show I have ever watched, the 15-episode series has been entertaining, and melodramatic to say the least.

This season featured 18 participants, featuring the likes of magician Penn Juilette, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider, and former Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza, among others. For those who don’t know, the format is as follows: the celebrities are split up into two teams and given a task (often tying in with an existing brand) to help raise money for charity. A project leader is appointed amongst the teams, who takes control and has the final say as to how their groups approach the various tasks. The winning team is either the team that raises the most money, or the team that client likes the most and sometimes both. The losing team however is sent to the boardroom with Trump, where one is fired. Simple.

Well actually…not really. With so many celebrities and therefore so many egos at play, The Celebrity Apprentice has been one of my favourite shows to watch this season. Donald and co. put these 18 faces through their paces, and then forced them to speak their mind on their various teammates in the boardroom, often creating fireworks in the process. It would even be safe to say some of the best moments all season have taken place within the boardroom, with comedienne Lisa Lampenelli losing her temper as well as her mind a number of times, as well as various heated showdowns between Arsenio Hall and former Danity Kane member Aubrey O’Day, culminating in the latter to temporarily walk off the show.

It’ll be a long wait until the next season of The Celebrity Apprentice, but after being gripped to my TV screen from February to May watching the show unfold, it’ll definitely be worth it.


Key Episodes: Hero Worship, Failure To Launch, Walking Papers

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Haley Reinhart- 'Listen Up!' (album)

Haley Reinhart said she felt “at ease” with the fact that she finished in third place on last year’s 'American Idol'. That easy, breezy temperament and calm attitude that twenty-one year old Haley possessed during her season shines throughout her debut album ‘Listen Up!’.

Haley Reinhart grew from the underrated underdog to a fan favourite during her time on Idol, performing stellar cover versions of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ Elton John’s ‘Benny and the Jets’ and Gaga’s ‘You and I’ before it was even released. Travelling down a number of different musical avenues in front of the camera and the judges I had no idea what to expect when I heard she was signed to Interscope records, the same label as the eventual winner in the same season, Scotty McCreery.

The album is a jazzy throwback that’s part Dusty Springfield, part female Cee-Lo Green, which isn’t a style that is unheard of today, although magically the album is able to stand out and separate itself as a great filler-free piece from a former Idol contestant.  ‘Listen Up!’ hits you in the face with its opening track ‘Oh My!’ featuring B.O.B, who connects with Reinhart perfectly despite their distinctly different musical styles. Reinhart’s fantastic voice takes us through ten tracks about the good (Now That You’re Here) the bad (Wasted Tears, Undone) and the messy (Free, Liar) sides of a relationship; you hear the power in her voice in the good, the desperation in the bad, and the quizzical yet confident in the messy.

ETA: Reinhart is the third non-winner of Idol’s tenth season to release a full album, after runner-up Lauren Alaina, and overall Haley she should be happy and at ease with the fact that she came third. If not, we might not have had this great album.


Key Tracks: Oh My!, Free, Undone

Thursday, 24 May 2012

8 Great TV Shows That Ended After 2 Seasons

We all have TV shows we love. And we all have TV shows that we feel were gone to soon.
I noticed a lot of the shows I’ve loved have ended after two seasons, a somewhat strange number that makes less sense to me than shows that end after their first. So anyway, I present to you in no particular order, 8 great shows that ended way before their time:

Dead Like Me (2003-2004)
Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy, Laura Harris

This is the show that inspired me to write this list in the first place. ‘Dead Like Me’ focused on the ‘Daria’-sounding Georgia “George” Lass (Ellen Muth), an 18 year old girl who becomes one of many grim reapers after a fateful encounter with a rogue toilet seat from a Soviet space station. The show may sound ridiculous, but ‘Dead Like Me’ was one of the most original and funniest shows of 2003, showing that even though your life may suck, being (un)dead is undoubtedly worse.
Networks: Showtime (US), Sky1 (UK)

Samantha Who? (2007-2009)
Christina Applegate, Melissa McCarthy, Jennifer Esposito, Kevin Dunn

One of the most surprising television hits in recent history, 'Samantha Who?' debuted in 2007 and became the most watched sitcom on television that year, surpassing juggernaut Two and A Half Men. Christina Applegate starred as Samantha, a victim of a recent car accident who was suffering from amnesia. Samantha realises that before her accident she was…well…an absolute bitch, and therefore hated by most people. Aided by childhood friend Dena (Melissa McCarthy) and fellow hilarious yet bitchy Andrea (Jennifer Esposito), Samantha sets out to make amends to everyone she’s ever hurt or offended, which is a hell of a lot of people.
Networks: ABC (US) E4 (UK)

Tru Calling (2003-2005)
Eliza Dushku, Zach Galifinakis, Jason Priestly
Wanting to disappear out of the Buffy spotlight and inevitable typecasting for years to come, Eliza Dushku opted out of a proposed 'Faith the Vampire Slayer' spin-off of Joss Whedon’s cult favourite 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' to star in 'Tru Calling'. Dushku starred in this supernatural drama as Tru, a recent medical school graduate who takes a job at the city morgue. However, the dead start to reach out to Tru for help, as Tru revisits the day they died to try and save their lives. The show had a strong first season, but was cancelled by Fox after a very short 6 episode second, and last season.
Networks: Fox (US) Sky1 (UK)

Dollhouse (2009-2010)
Eliza Dushku, Tahmoh Penikett, Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams

The second entry from Eliza Dushku saw her reunite with TV and film mastermind Joss Whedon. This time, Dushku played Echo known as a “doll”, a human in a complete blank state. Echo, along with many others is imprinted with various personalities and hired out by wealthy clients for business engagements. Ranging from the ordinary to extraordinary the show focused on Echo’s eventual self-awareness in her blank state. With an interesting, complicated and therefore niche premise, the show was expected by most to only last one season, but SURPISE! Fox decided to give the show another (and final) shot with a second season, bringing the total number of episodes to a grand 27.
Networks: Fox (UK) Syfy (UK)

Dirt (2007-2008)
Courtney Cox, Ian Hart, Josh Stewart

Probably the most underrated and unknown show on the list is 'Dirt', which saw Courtney Cox return to television 3 years after the end of Friends in 2004. Hailed as “Devil Wears Prada meets Nip/Tuck”, Cox starred as the ruthless and ice-cold Lucy Spiller, editor-in-chief of fictional tabloid DirtNow. Each episode focused on the work that goes into making a tabloid publication that actually…well, prints the truth, as well as the affect it has on the subjects of Spiller’s cruel and heartless articles.
Networks: FX (US & UK)

The Office (2001-2003)
Rickey Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis

The only English, and not-cancelled-but ended show on the list is the original version of 'The Office', created by Stephen Merchant star Ricky Gervais. 'The Office' was loved around the world as much as it was here in the UK and spawned a number of international versions in Germany, Sweden, France, and the U.S, where the show will enter its ninth season in autumn. The Office is often also thought of as the show that brought the “mockumentary” style to television, used in 'Modern Family' and 'Parks and Recreation', among others.
Networks: BBC1 (UK) BBC America (US)

Dirty Sexy Money (2007-2009)
Peter Krause, Jill Clayburgh, Natalie Zea, Donald Sutherland

When lawyer Nick George’s (Peter Krause) father is murdered, George decides to become the lawyer to The Darlings, the richest family in New York City. George, who has ties with the Darlings themselves, takes the job as he believes that they are the link to his father’s mysterious death. 'Dirty, Sexy Money' seems to me more than any other show on the list to have had the staying power to remain on the air today. Viewership started out exceptionally strong, but dwindled towards the end of the first season.
Networks: ABC (US) E4 (UK)

Eli Stone (2008-2009)
Johnny Lee Miller, Victor Garber, Loretta Devine

Oh, Eli. Eli Stone starred Johnny Lee Miller as the title character, a high flying lawyer based in San Franciso. After a near fatal brain aneurism Stone begins to hallucinate frequently at home and at work, but soon realises that his hallucinations are closely linked with his cases and the various people in his life. Eli Stone bared some similarity to Ally McBeal in its content, but the show is a must if you are a George Michael fan, as every episode features, and is named after one of his songs…he even makes an appearance during one of Stone’s aneurisms dancing on his coffee table…
Networks: ABC (US) 5 (UK)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

John Mayer- 'Born and Raised' (album)

Mayer takes a turn down Folk and Bluegrass Avenue for his fifth LP, 'Born and Raised', taking influence from such artists as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Mayer, who has recently had a tumultuous battle with Granuloma, causing him to cancel a number of his tour dates and appearances hasn’t let the conflict affect the soft yet smoky tone in his voice that has carried him so far into his career.

Born and Raised is an interesting fit for the Mayer discography, as stylistically it sways further away from third album 'Continuum' and fourth effort 'Battle Studies' while still managing to maintain Mayer’s signature style. The album is incredibly therapeutic and soothing but still forces you to take notice of the piercing lyrical content. Mayer coos “All at once it gets hard to take, It gets hard to fake what I won’t be, ‘Cause one of these days I’ll be born and raised” on the title track, while in the harmonica-ready ‘Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey’, John lets us know that he’s “trying to find the man I never got to be”, leading me to think of it as a metaphor for his change in musical style on the album. 

'Born and Raised' in general along with the cover artwork, remind me of a more mature well put together version of Panic at the Disco’s ‘Pretty.Odd.’ (to be more specific, the sombre moments that take place on the album), which despite what you may think, is actually a good thing. John Mayer has managed to bring a new genre to his music without alienating those who are fans of his previous work. In other words, instead of wondering towards a foreign sound, he brought the genre to him.


Key Tracks: The Age of Worry, Born and Raised, Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Gossip Girl- Season 5 (TV Series)

l-r: Serena (Lively), Blair (Meester), Chuck (Westwick),
 Dan (Badgley) and Nate (Crawford)
This season of 'Gossip Girl' has become very similar to a car crash- I know I shouldn't watch it but I just can’t look away. Season five has seen just as much treachery, deceit and over-the-top indecency as the four that have preceded it, which is exactly what’s making Gossip Girl incredibly repetitive and frustrating to watch.

The principal characters Serena (Blake Lively), Chuck (Ed Westwick), Blair (Leighton Meester), Dan (Penn Badgley) & Nate (Chace Crawford) are joined by new permanent character Charlie Rhoades (Kaylee DeFer), who was actually revealed at the end of the last season to be an actress named Ivy Dickens hired by Serena’s aunt in order to con the family out of millions of dollars. This remained the last truly shocking thing that’s happened on the show since, apart from the unexpected return of…a certain former character whose name I won’t reveal for those who haven’t caught up yet.

Rhoades/Dickens (DeFer)
This season also sees Elizabeth Hurley guest star throughout the series as Diana Payne, the head of ‘The Spectator’, a gossip blog desperate to take Gossip Girl herself out of business. However, along with most other storylines in the show, what Payne was actually trying to do got caught amongst the over complicated waves of goings-on that take place on the Upper East Side.

A main problem that runs throughout the show is the fact that there are no likeable characters; as every character is out to get someone else for one trivial problem or another. The show is consistently defended by the fact that in real life, there are no strictly good or bad people which is an incredibly good point…although of course this isn’t real life…it’s a television show, which makes it extremely difficult to sympathise or empathise with any of the group: you’ll love them one minute, and hate them the next.

Since some may think I have unfairly bashed Gossip Girl, I’ll end on a positive. Since season 2, Nate has been riding on the coattails of other characters storylines, but it’s safe to say that Crawford has obtained the most use out of his character in the last 24 episodes than he has in years, and with the show set to end for good this December with a short and hopefully sweet 11 episode run, let’s hope 'Gossip Girl' goes out that way.

In short, this season has been an incoherent mess.


Key episodes: "Riding in Town Cars With Boys" "G.G"

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Parks and Recreation- Season 4 (TV Series)

Thank God the show is coming back for another season. Although the show has struggled rating-wise since its inception, 'Parks and Recreation' will be back for a full 22 episode season in Autumn. The cast and crew delivered some of their best episodes to date as the show saw Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) run for city council with the help of friends from the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee, Indiana; Ann (Rashida Jones), April (Aubrey Plaza) and husband Andy (Chris Pratt), Tom (Aziz Ansari), Donna (Retta), Knope's boyfriend Ben (Adam Scott) Chris (Rob Lowe) and last but definitely not least, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman).

top l-r: Andy (Pratt), Ann (Jones), Ben (Scott), and Knope (Poehler)
Oh and Jerry (Jim O’Heir) but no one cares about him.

With such a large principal cast it’s a wonder how the show managed to give each cast member enough screen time, hilarious lines, as well as great character development and fit it into a 20 minute slot each week. But 'Parks' has managed to do just that, while also squeezing in the occasional guest star (this season has featured Paul Rudd as Leslie’s part-time political adversary, and full-time man-child Bobby Newport and the always hilarious Kathryn Hahn as his cut-throat campaign manager, Jennifer Barkley).

Parks and Recreation is currently one of the funniest shows on television, currently airing on NBC in the United States, (a.k.a the home of the underrated sitcom) which also broadcasts '30 Rock' and cult-ish favourite 'Community', two other shows which have had reasonably poor seasons audience-wise. However, Parks still hasn’t managed to find a home here in the UK where it's bound to have a strong following on a channel such as E4 or Comedy Central. The answer as to why it hasn’t been snapped up yet remains unknown to me, but the show is a solid standout that deserves a hell of a lot more recognition.


Key Episodes: “Ron and Tammys” “Campaign Ad” “Lucky” “Win, Lose or Draw”

Friday, 11 May 2012

2 Broke Girls- Season 1 (TV Series)

left: Max (Dennings) and Caroline (Behrs)
Before ‘2 Broke Girls’, I would’ve said that the half-an-hour laugh-track sitcom was dead. Or at least dead to me. After dipping in and out of several other CBS sitcoms such as 'How I Met Your Mother', 'Rules of Engagement' and the dreadfully unfunny 'Two and a Half Men', I’d already said “no” to '2 Broke Girls' before I’d even given it a chance. But as time went on and critical buzz continued, I decided to give the show a viewing.

The show follows the brazen and sharp-tongued Max Black (Kat Dennings) who works in a diner in Brooklyn, New York. In the first episode she is accompanied by Caroline Channing (Beth Behrs) a sweet, ultra girly (ex) heiress who is forced into the working class after her father is arrested for embezzlement, therefore losing everything she’s ever had. The binaries of the two character personalities are an obvious premise for a sitcom, but it still makes for interesting and watchable television.

Max and show-saver Earl (Morris)
What actually saves this show from just being another middling sitcom among a wave of others is Caroline’s idea for the two to start a cupcake business, where the pair would “only” need to save $250,000 to open up their own  shop. The end of every episode ends with a tally of how much Max and Caroline have made (and sometimes lost) throughout the show. It is this defining feature that has kept me coming back episode after episode.

Truth be told, '2 Broke Girls' isn’t necessarily always laugh out loud hilarious. The show contains maybe three or four chuckles an episode, mostly coming from the fact that the show is pushing the boundaries of sexual innuendo for the often prudish prime time American schedule. Other characters in the diner such as chef Oleg (Jonathan Kite) and owner Han (Matthew Moy) are for the most part, two-dimensional racial stereotypes. However Earl (Garrett Morris) the cashier and Max’s father figure of the show is a great, if not the greatest character in this bumpy but enjoyable female-led sitcom.


Key Episodes: “And The Rich People Problems” “And The Broken Hearts” “And The One-Night Stands”

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Where Are All The Dark Skinned Women?

If a number of you were asked to name some of the top selling, and most successful music artists at the moment, the names BeyoncĂ©, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna would spring to mind for most. Those that would name these three specifically might also come to say that music, and pop music especially is currently dominated by black artists such as these aforementioned women, and maybe even rank them among the most attractive women in the industry. In fact, BeyoncĂ© herself was recently crowned 'People' magazines “world’s most beautiful woman”, also appearing on the cover.

Rihanna and Battleship co-star Brooklyn Decker
But what stuck out to me was the appearance of Miss Knowles…sorry, Mrs. Carter, on the last issue, looking incredibly light on the cover…and not in the form of weight. Similarly at various press conferences for Rihanna’s first feature film Battleship, the Bajan superstar looked incredibly pale in skin tone, appearing to almost be the same colour as her all-white cast mates. I wondered if it was just me who thought this, but various others on the bloggersphere pointed out that if you covered her face, you wouldn’t be able to tell that that one: the woman in the picture is Rihanna, and two: if she is even remotely black.

Photo retouching, more specifically, retouching a black celebrity’s skin tone such as Beyonce’s to look lighter sadly is nothing new to most of us, as it’s something that is consistently done, to which I think is in part, to make these black beauties appeal to a universal audience, fearing that a darker woman might alienate parts of the public. It also leads me to believe that dark skinned black women are often seen “lesser than”, and often demonised because of their skin tone, with a large number of darker women being cast in Reality TV shows, often being portrayed as, surprise surprise, the bitch (think Tiffany “New York” Pollard, and Omarosa). In fact, on a season 2 episode of Tyra Banks’ competition America’s Next Top Model, she stated during the judging panel section of the show that she has noticed that a number of black women hate to be made darker in photo shoots, referring to a contestant who appeared unhappy to portray performer Grace Jones in a celebrity themed challenge.

Many come to blame the lighting or the “photoshopping” of an image that makes their favourite star look the way they do. However, there are cases in which neither of these are plausible excuses. Which brings me directly to Kimberly Denise Jones, aka Lil' Kim.

 Lil' Kim in 1999 (left) and again in 2012 (right) 
It is blatantly obvious to see the transformation that Lil' Kim has made aesthetically over the years. Kim recently appeared on "BET's Rip The Runway" in which she performed a medley of tracks, in front of a live audience. However, I couldn't believe that the woman standing front centre of the stage was Lil' Kim herself, as the MC appeared to have much lighter skin, an incredibly narrow nose, and very fair hair, looking nothing like the "Hard Core" rapper from the 90s. 

For someone who is often called one of the pioneers of hip-hop, a genre that is in large dominated by men, it is incredibly worrying to see someone transform themselves to the extent to which she has done. It sends out a terrible message that in order to be a successful female within the music industry, and maybe even as a woman in general, there is something unnatural or unattractive about having darker skin. One artist set to change that is Harlem, New York rapstress Azealia Banks, who has found both critical and commercial success, without feeling the need to appear lighter or fairer than she naturally is. 

Similarly with Missy Elliott set to release a new album in June, along with Dawn Richard (an artist who herself has commented on the isolation of being one of very few darker skinned singers) releasing more music soon, it appears as if this may not always be the case within the music industry. 

I for one sincerely hope this isn't.