Friday, October 29, 2010

Smarkass Comments: Aborted TNA Instant Analysis (10.28.10)

One of the things I've been doing for 411mania lately is an Instant Analysis (review) of TNA Impact on Thursday nights. Well, halfway through last night's episode, a crisis came up and I wasn't able to finish watching the show (or writing my review). So, instead of letting it go to waste, here's what I had...

SEGMENT ONE: The Knockouts Live Up to Their Name

And Impact began with a backstage brawl... because one of those hasn't happened in a couple of weeks. Surprisingly, this one didn't involve Abyss; it was Mickie James and Tara, but quickly grew to involve Madison Rayne, the Beautiful People, and Sarita. It was a typical brawl, but with more screaming and hair pulling. And, like a typical TNA brawl, it just went on and on and on... Until they finally made it to the ring and Ric Flair came out with security. Then, it became 'everyone slap Ric' while he debated if he should hit Tara or Mickie James back. When he threatened to 'make a woman' out of both of them, I worried we'd finally hit the point where Flair feels the need to prove his manhood with an orgy in the middle of the ring. Thankfully, he just booked a match and ended the ten-minute brawl that stopped being entertaining nine minutes previously. Though, would someone explain to TNA that a match involving these six women after watching them fight for ten minutes isn't exactly exciting? Please? They do that every goddamn time: either have a long brawl lead into a match or have a match lead into a long brawl... What's wrong with just having a good match?

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

SEGMENT TWO: Making Fun of Concussions

Flair and Bischoff acting all buddy buddy is hard to believe... but I did love Flair wondering where Bischoff was for the last half hour... 17 minutes into the show (with commercials). Yes, the brawl may have lasted only ten minutes, but it felt like half an hour. After this, Bischoff and Flair made light of the idea of wrestling with a concussion. I know they're heels, but WHAT THE FUCK? Why not break out some steroid and somas angles while they're at it? Make light of pain killer addiction maybe? Why not have Brian Kendrick or some other young wrestler fake his death from heart failure? There are some subjects you just avoid in the wrestling business and this is one of them.

The Pope was out with a casket and cut a promo on Abyss because of his interference in his TV Title match last week. I do love hearing the Pope deliver a sermon, but that was interrupted by Abyss coming out. Abyss was pretty decent on the mic, too, saying the Pope isn't safe anymore -- and neither is any of his congregation, taking two members of the audience with him. Um, yeah? Decent start, but the finish was a little strange.

Jeff Jarrett was at his arrogant heel best by mocking Samoa Joe and Ken Anderson. Short, sweet, and completely dickish. He came close to hammering on the concussion angle, but was vague enough that it didn't come off as poor as the Flair/Bischoff stuff.

Rating: 5.0 out of 10 for everything except the Flair/Bischoff stuff, which falls somewhere in the negative... what the hell were they thinking?

SEGMENT THREE: Jay Lethal vs. Robbie E. in a Jersey Shore Street Fight
Match Result: Robbie E. pinned Jay Lethal via hairspray
Match Length: Around five minutes

Matt Morgan was out to educate Ric Flair on concussions and Flair's response: "It's the business. It's called professional wrestling." Wow. Veering wildly between after school special and horrible ignorance... THIS IS WHAT I CALL ENTERTAINING WRESTLING TELEVISION!

A Street Fight... something else that hasn't happened on Impact... er, since last week. This sort of match was a smart decision in that it allowed Robbie E. to hide some of his weaker points in the ring. More a brawl than a wrestling match, Lethal kicked things off in charge, while Robbie made a short-lived comeback before Lethal turned the tables with a kendo stick. Lethal's decision to go to the corner Cookie was standing by was an easy to spot opportunity for a clearly beaten Robbie E. to win and earn a title shot at Turning Point. And it was thanks to Cookie using hair spray against Lethal. Lethal beating on Robbie was entertaining, but the ending was forced and kind of awful.

Backstage, Angelina Love was visited again by creepy Winter who replaced the seamstress... but Velvet Sky returns and there's no Winter! Spooky. Katie Lea as Winter is done very well and this story is different. I'm not hating it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hell's Kitchen 8.03-8.06

Man, fuck the producers. When we last left Hell's Kitchen, there was a preview strongly suggesting that Raj (the fat, mentally unbalanced older chef) was going to stab someone. Shots of paramedics, angry confrontation, ominous music... all that was missing was big overlaid text saying "NEXT EPISODE: RAJ STABS SOMEONE! WATCH!"

Yeah, didn't happen.

Part of me is glad about that. But, only a part. I think that makes me a horrible person.

Only finally saw the four most recent episodes, because of various real life factors involving Michelle and her family that resulted in, Friday night, watching four episodes of the show with a break for supper. In those four episodes, I learned one thing that I actually already knew: when guys fight, it's obvious and doesn't last too long; when women fight, it's obvious and sneaky and lasts for fucking ever. Every goddamn season, the red (aka women's) team nearly implodes because they all decide to hate one another, shifting alliances on a week-by-week basis depending on who decided to fuck whoever else over lately. Sometimes, a guy is thrown in so we can see him pull his hair out, wondering what he did in a previous life to deserve this. In the blue team, people confront one another, but it doesn't drag the whole team down. I don't know... is Hell's Kitchen an unexpected study in gender group dynamics?

The show isn't really about anything else right now. Definitely not cooking.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE Smackdown 10.08.10

Before getting into the second episode of Smackdown on SyFy, I want to direct your attention to 411mania where some changes in my writing duties have occurred. Previously, I was co-writing the High Road/Low Road column with Sat, doing the TNA Impact 4Rs, and overseeing the TNA PPV roundtable previews. High Road/Low Road and the TNA PPV roundtable remain the same, but I'm now doing an Instant Analysis of TNA Impact and the WWE Monday Night Raw 4Rs. In addition, I'll also be doing the WWE Superstars 4Rs. So, if you like my writing about wrestling, there's more of it each and every week. If you don't... why are you reading this post at all?

As for this week's Smackdown, I'll handle it in a random thought style as I watch (well, starting around half an hour into the show on the midnight replay on the Score...):

* Edge returns to Smackdown and what else returns? His awesome jacket! Hell yes! His match with Jack Swagger was better than their bout at Hell in a Cell. Edge was really working his ass off to do some different and innovative offence. Good exchange at the end, leading into Edge's win. If they keep improving with each encounter, this feud could make both men look fantastic.

* Missed the Divas match, wanting to catch the end of South Park. I stand by my choice.

* The Big Show stuff with Hornswoggle and the Dudebusters? Awful.

* "Dashing" Cody Rhodes & Drew McIntyre vs. Kaval & Kofi Kingston was decent. That's a feud I wouldn't mind seeing more of, honestly. The match, though, was too short.

* The Kane/Paul Bearer promo was standard stuff for this feud with the Undertaker. Nothing special, but well done overall. A little over halfway through the show and it's been a two-segment show (and those two segments featured one match...). A pretty weak episode.

* I'm tired and kind of want to go to sleep.

* I have been enjoying the clips of previous Rey Mysterio/Alberto del Rio encounters. Good way to build to their match.

* Line of the night courtesy of Todd Grisham: "MVP's got gold: he's a baller."

* During the commercial, turned it to the Giants/Braves game to watch Ankiel hit a pretty awesome home run. Out of the park and into the water!

* Dolph Ziggler/MVP for the IC belt was a dull affair that was more about the Dolph/Vickie/Kaitlyn story than the match itself. And that's a story I don't care about. I like Kaitlyn well enough, but whatever.

* Soooooooooo tired...

* The Rey Mysterio/Alberto del Rio match was good. Rare to see Mysterio so dominant in a match. del Rio looked more like a rookie, albeit with some decent offence, but that's fine against a two-time world champ like Rey Rey. I'm just happy to see Mysterio not using his typical hit-and-run offence and changing things up when the situation calls for it.

Overall, not a strong episode. The bookending matches were really good, though.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Favourite Interview: Ken Finkleman (March 2006)

For the last two years of my undergrad, I wrote for the Arts & Entertainment section of the student paper, the University of Western Ontario Gazette. My first year, I was a volunteer/writer, and, my second year, I was an editor. I interviewed a lot of people during those two years; mostly people in indie bands that were playing in town. But, my favourite interview of all time was with Ken Finkleman, the writer/director/star of some CBC TV series, most notably The Newsroom, a sitcom about a newsroom. It was done in the single camera style, the first season back in 1996-97 before returning in 2002 with a TV movie Escape from the Newsroom leading into two more seasons. Between the two version of The Newsroom, he did three mini-series that I have never seen, sadly (and discuss in the interview briefly) and, in 2006, he did a six-part mini-series called At the Hotel (my excuse to talk to him).

The phone interview I had with Finkleman was fantastic. Over an hour of talking -- mostly me listening to him hold court over my 23-year old self. I wasn't usually fannish or flustered, but I was a bit with Finkleman. Before the interview, CBC sent me some preview episodes of At the Hotel, but Finkleman didn't really want to talk about the show. That was cool.

At The Gazette, Q&A interviews were frowned upon even though that's the style I like reading the most. So, I had decided from day one to try and make my interviews as quote-heavy as possible. I'd ask basic questions if only so I could use what the subject said instead of having to say it myself. I would structure the interviews around what was said, not what the article 'should' be about. Going into the Finkleman interview, I had read an 'interview' with him in one of the big Canadian papers and it was roughly the size of my interview, but featured, maybe, three things Finkleman said, filling the article with information that the writer or editor thought was necessary -- the point of the article. Finkleman wasn't even needed! I always tried to avoid that style.

Also, the published article (which has the wrong author credited on the website) needed to be cut down a bit, because I wrote too much. That was rare for me; I was usually very good at hitting the desired length, but I didn't bother this time. I wanted it to be long and contain all of the cool stuff Finkleman said. I'm not entirely happy with the edited version and kept the original for that reason (the only time I've done that). Partly because I like the full version more automatically and, partly, because it was edited as part of training potential editors for the next year, so it's not as clean as it would have been had Anna (my fellow A&E editor at the time) done it.

Still, I look over the article and still see too much of myself, not enough of him. This was also the interview that prompted me to begin reading Haruki Murakami and, for that, I owe Finkleman a debt.


Ken Finkleman doesn't like my first question. I ask him about his new series At the Hotel, there's a pause of around ten seconds and he begins to ask me questions about myself. He asks about the paper and school, which leads to poetry and recommending that I read some poems by James Merrill. I can hear him looking for the book in his office because he wants to get the names right.

After a few minutes of this, Finkleman returns to my question and says, "Your first question is terrible. It's the sort of question you think you're supposed to ask and it's one I've been asked hundreds of times. The best question to ask is whatever made you inquisitive. Are you an inquisitive person? If you were sitting beside me on a plane, what would you ask me?"

An interview with Ken Finkleman is part conversation, part lecture. He seems to have so many things he wants to say that he begins one thought and before he can finish it, another one asserts itself. He references various writers and filmmakers, always asking "You know who he is?" As an interviewer, it can be challenging, but as a listener, it's captivating and highly entertaining.

At one point, Finkleman discusses getting older, saying, "As you get older, you appreciate things differently. I don't mean to say that because you're young and don't have as much experience, you can't appreciate things, but as you get older. Like sex. Sex is better. Oh, fuck – infinitely better when you're older.

"Poetry – you appreciate that differently. And, it's not because I have more experience, it's not that. It's like as you get older, your brain changes and you think about things differently."

Finkleman is the director, producer and co-writer of the six-part CBC mini-series At the Hotel and is most well-known for the popular, award-winning comedy series The Newsroom, which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in.

He is generally regarded as one of the most intelligent and creative people working in Canadian television. The third run of The Newsroom won a 2005 International Emmy Award for Best Comedy, a Gemini Award for Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series, and two Directors Guild of Canada Awards, for Outstanding Achievement in Direction – Television Series and Outstanding Team Achievement in a Television Series – Comedy.

But, Finkleman doesn't really want to talk about any of that. Any mention of his work is made to strengthen an argument he is making.

Most of the interview is taken up answering the question I would ask him if I was sitting beside him on a plane: why television? Why not films or prose or theatre? What is it about television that appeals to Ken Finkleman so much?

His answer is much simpler than you would expect: "Well, movies are hard to get made – especially in Canada. In Hollywood, it's hard, but you can get caught up in a community and get them made that way. And, at one time, I found myself in a community. Unless you want to do a studio hack job – you want to do something interesting, so you need a name attached."

Finkleman continues, "There are anomalies. But, even then it's because they know each other. Have you seen Capote? That had Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but he was only in it because he knew them. You need a name and the only way to get that is to socialize with the names."

Finkleman explains, "In Canada, you're in the position where you don't have the names to justify a big enough budget. They want a name to put on the marquee, which brings people into the theatre, which makes money. It doesn't have to be the biggest name, but one that will make the investment worth it."

Star power isn't the only drawback, Finkleman adds, "Canadian movies are in and out of theatres in a week. You devote a year – two if you're also writing – to a film and then it's just gone."

Television shows are similar in their temporary status, but in that case, it's by design. "In TV, it comes and goes – and more people watch it. Even if they don't like it, they're more forgiving because it's free," Finkleman laughs.

Even with shows he's done, Finkleman says he's the same way. "There are some episodes I really like and others I don't." But, the serial nature and the fact that there's always a second chance glosses over that quickly.

"It's extremely rewarding," Finkleman explains. "You withstand the failures. And it's fun. Shooting is fun."

This leads Finkleman off on a new tangent: discussing the purpose of fiction. He paraphrases Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, saying, "Good fiction connects – I'm sorry, the story connects in an indefinable way with the story inside reader. It has the quality of déjà vu. Isn't that amazing?"

He explains, "It's the reader and the work. The work is nothing without the reader. And the people that don't get it, resent it and call it pretentious."

The P word is a sore spot with Finkleman as his work is usually praised by critics or panned as pretentious crap. "It's never pretentious. It's always an attempt to express something big and meaningful. It can't be pretentious, it's just what it is. Deep down, I know I'm not pretentious.

"If a critic calls something pretentious, you know he's an asshole."

"It's because I'm a Jew from Winnipeg," Finkleman explains. "It would be okay if I were a German with a cigarette and long hair and a leather jacket and tattoos. But I'm not, so I'm not supposed to attempt to discuss those things."

Three series Finkleman did between runs of The Newsroom, More Tears, Foolish Heart and Foreign Objects, remain favourites of his because there he was able to flex his artistic muscles and explore themes not often explored on TV. But, fans waiting for them to show up on DVD may have a long wait.

Although Finkleman has a core of fans of his work, he doesn't believe that would translate in sales the way The Newsroom DVDs do. "There's no hook. There's nothing that would make people in stores pick them up."

He adds, "We did a study and found that there are 300,000 fans out there, across the country. What does that mean? Because I don't know. Is that good? Is that bad? I don't know. If you put 300,000 people in a stadium and me on stage, that would be pretty impressive, don't you think?"