September 26, 2011

You Are Now Leaving Wisteria Lane

*Updated on 5/11/12

A seemingly happy wife and mother named Mary Alice puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger...and an idyllic neighborhood is never the same.

Not since Knots Landing have television viewers been so enraptured by the weekly dramas of a bunch of cul-de-sac-dwelling suburbanites. For the past seven years, Wisteria Lane on ABC's Desperate Housewives became a ground zero for soapy fun. It quickly became a place where secrets - along with several criminals - were harbored, where wealthy former models slept with their gardeners, where neglected wives went off their rockers and shot up supermarkets, where accident-prone single moms got kidnapped by vengeful ex-cons, where on-the-lam families hid from eco-terrorists, where shady politicians got skewered by picket fences during tornados, where airplanes crashed into holiday parties, where serial killers held pregnant women hostage, where bitchy real estate agents got electrocuted by telephone poles, where...

You get the idea.

Debuting on October 3, 2004, Desperate Housewives, in a way, filled a void left by four sexy women who used to chat and gossip over lunch and see each other through some juicy trials and tribulations. If Sex and the City celebrated the comedic dramas of female, urban singles, then DH went further and celebrated the comedic dramas of female, suburban marrieds (and divorcees). Instead of sitting around a table and supporting each other while sipping cosmos at a trendy Manhattan hotspot, Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), Lynette Scavo (Felictity Huffman), Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longora), and Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross) sat around a kitchen counter supporting each other over cups of coffee. And they did more than just cry on each other's shoulders and lend a sympathetic ear. Like the title of the show suggests, every episode consistently featured these women going out of their way to maintain order around the neighborhood and in their homes. Whether it was lying to cover up for a husband's crime, sabotaging a bake sale to get back at a rival, stealing other people's identities to save a life, or corrupting a carpool to avoid walking an extra block in heels, each housewife did whatever it took in order to protect their loved ones and get what they wanted.

While brushing up on the history of femme-centric television, one might discover that gathering around a table to dish about love, lies, and life in general was originally an art perfected by four Miami seniors named Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. The Golden Girls essentially invented the TV Girl-Talk Forum the moment they broke out the cheesecake and sat down to vent their problems. So it may come as no surprise that Marc Cherry, Desperate's creator, had been a writer on the classic sitcom during its last two seasons. The Golden influence on Housewives is evident.

DH also filled another void in prime-time television. It brought back the Nighttime Soap to small screens and tweaked the genre in way that made it more easily digestible for the savvy audiences of the 2000s. It introduced three-dimensional characters we grew to love, placed them in sudsy situations in a believable way, and recognized the absurdity of some of them through delicious one-liners and tongue-in-cheek dialogue that remained consistent throughout the years.

While many complain that the show never regained its mojo after that stellar first season - especially after sitting through the much-maligned second season (Alfre Woodard's got her son locked up in the basement!) - I pity those who were quick to give up and tune out. Having learned their lesson, producers delivered a third and fourth season that reminded loyal followers why they kept coming back to The Lane (new gay neighbors, back-from-the-dead spouses, and Dana Delany, oh my!). Then came the high-profiled stunt for the show's fifth season, that five-year jump into the future. Partners swapped, children grew up, and a new villain moved in (Neal McDonough's bent-on-revenge Dave). As for Season 6, fans were given a double dose of mystery when the Bolen family arrived in town (see Torchwood's John Barrowman get blown up in a Prius!) and the Fairview Strangler terrorized the neighborhood (Poor Eddie!). And the writers must have been getting a little nostalgic when they brought back first-season Man of Mystery Paul Young for the seventh and penultimate season (More revenge! This time with a switched-at-birth twist!).

Clearly the show is a liberal dressed in a conservative's clothing. The fictional and picturesque town of Fairview is located in the conveniently ambiguous "Eagle State" (Anywhere, U.S.A.). It's neither red nor blue but a bold shade of purple, maintaining its appeal to moms in Missouri as well as party boys in West Hollywood. This couldn't be exemplified any more than in Marcia Cross's Bree Van de Kamp, who was modeled after Marc Cherry's very own mother. Bree may be an uptight, church-going, gun-toting Republican with a penchant for pie-making, but she's got a gay son and a less-than-perfect daughter she loves with all her heart.

And now that the groundbreaking dramedy's eighth and final season is hitting the home stretch, I'm sure a retrospective of sorts is being planned for what will most likely be an emotional farewell. I look forward to seeing how this season's mystery, in which all of the ladies have implicated themselves in the murder of Gaby's evil stepfather, will be resolved (In a nifty twist that brings everything full circle, they find themselves in the same situation Mary Alice was in so many seasons ago, particularly Bree). And with March's shocking death of resident beefcake Mike Delfino (series veteran James Denton), the producers and writers have let it be known that they're not playing it safe as the countdown to the finale begins. The final scene in the pivotal episode, in which Mike fell victim to a mob-related drive-by shooting on his doorstep in front of wife Susan (Hatcher), was a gut-wrenching moment for viewers who grew to love the couple after the many ups and downs they endured over the years. And many of those years were poignantly revisited in a flashing montage of clips just as the fatal bullet hit Mike in the chest.

Like many suburban satires before it (American Beauty, The Ice Storm), the Housewives have made their case: Small-town life can be just as scandalous (and dangerous) as any crime-ridden metropolis. Rapists, drug dealers, and murderers aren't downtown - they're residing in that nice 3-bedroom behind your hedges.

Thanks for the memories, ladies (and Mr. Cherry).

Here's to seeing you at the wrap party.


September 18, 2011

Celeb Sighting of the Week

Despite my star-studded Thursday night at the pre-Emmy nominee party for writers at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (hello Matt LeBlanc, Julie Bowen, Elisabeth Moss, and cast of Downton Abbey), last week's brush with fame would have sent my mother's heart racing, so I declare Richard Chamberlain as my Celeb Sighting of the Week.

The star of such TV classics as The Thorn Birds and Shogun had passed me on the sidewalk, heading to the Starbucks in West Hollywood (the one across the street from 24 Hour Fitness) as I was walking back to my car after a cardio session at said gym.

For those of you who still have no clue who I'm talking about, he played Uncle Saul's old flame on Brothers & Sisters last season and assumed the role of Allan Quartermaine in that remake of King Solomon's Mines with Sharon Stone in the 80s.

Still don't know? Whatever. My mom will get a kick out of it.

September 12, 2011

20 Years Ago: "Baby Baby"

The song that changed my 11-year-old life back in 1991 was the first #1 hit for Christian pop star Amy Grant. Who knew she'd have four more Top 40 singles ("Every Heartbeat," "That's What Love Is For," "Good For Me," "I Will Remember You") break out from the Grammy-nominated Heart in Motion? I didn't, but for the next two years, I became a fanatic. Actually, you can read all about it...HERE.

Happy Anniversary, Amy. You were my early 90s.

September 09, 2011

That Day in September

There are countless stories that begin like mine, particularly those coming from the East Coast. And they usually all start out the same way: It was such a beautiful day...

I was asleep on that Tuesday morning. It may have been well past 9 because my first class of the day wasn't until after noon. Like many a senior at Boston University, I had stayed up late the night before during which I had attended a free screening of Mark Wahlberg's Rock Star down at the new multiplex by Boston Common. I could've sworn I heard the phone ring in my half-awake state. Moments later, a knock at my door startled me. It was my roommate, Steve.

"It's for you," he said from behind the closed door. I got up, took the cordless receiver, and watched him trudge back across the cramped living room to his side of our small Buswell Street apartment.


It was my mother. I wasn't surprised since Tuesday is one of her days off from work, but it was relatively early, and she didn't sound so good: "Turn on the news." She could probably tell from my voice that I had just woken up and didn't know what was going on. "It's awful," she moaned.

I flicked on the 14-inch Toshiba in my room and tuned in to The Today Show. Instead of seeing Katie Couric and Matt Lauer's smiling faces I was presented with the skyline of downtown Manhattan. One of the Twin Towers was on fire. No, make that both of them. While I became transfixed on the tube, my mom continued to go on in my ear about a plane crash and "that they think it was an attack."

After a few moments we said our goodbyes, promising we'd stay in touch throughout the day (luckily, none of our family or close friends were in harm's way). I went back to Steve and filled him in on what was developing in the world around us. I popped in a VHS cassette tape and started recording the news. Something told me that history was being made and that this day was to become one the world would never forget.

Then, while Matt Lauer was talking to an emergency official - while cameras were fixed on the burning towers - it happened. The collapse of the first building. I let out several Oh-my-Gods. The billowing clouds of smoke enveloped downtown Manhattan, and my Hollywood-trained mind couldn't help but think of the pivotal scene in Independence Day in which a wall of fire swept through the streets. It was like my brain was on a delay. Was this really happening? But weren't there people in those buildings and on the ground? How is this happening?

The shocks continued to deliver their one-two punches. The Penatgon. The crash in Pennsylvania. And all those other planes in the sky. The world as I knew it - the cozy, privileged American life I was given - was threatening to end. This is how it happens, I thought. Not with a bang, but with several of them.

The gorgeous day started out numb. There were the IMs exchanged with friends at NYU (cell phones were useless). There was the hazy walk to That Bullshit Class I Needed To Fulfill a Credit. There were the empty seats of students who had chosen to stay glued to their television sets in the dorms. There were the random students I didn't know crying in the middle of the sidewalks on Commonwealth Avenue. There were those F-16 fighter planes zipping across the sky above campus. There were the mobs of people staring at the TV monitors at the student union. There was the candlelight vigil later that night in front of Marsh Chapel. There was that body count, updated hourly everywhere you turned.

For the first time in my 21 years on this earth I, a relatively peaceful-minded, Catholic-educated only-child from a loving family with no history of war veterans, started to feel what Americans must have felt back in December of 1941 when Japanese bombers surprised U.S. fleets in that quiet section of Hawaii: anger. I now knew what it felt like to witness the opening salvo to a war. My red-blooded American self wanted revenge, wanted to retaliate, wanted justice. The urge to hunt down the mastermind behind this massacre and fight back was sudden. Why was I so quickly consumed by the desire to kick enemy ass? Was it the years of being fed a steady diet of action flicks in which evil-looking men with evil-sounding accents were blown to smithereens by the muscleheaded likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis? Or was it just a basic, primal need to right one giant wrong?

Without any hesitation, I felt the need to do something to aid my fellow Americans. I couldn't donate money; I was living off savings from my summer job and three student loans. So I decided to donate blood. After waiting over thirty minutes in line to sign up at the Red Cross station that had been set up at the student union, I discovered that my donation couldn't be accepted due to the fact that I had lived in the UK earlier that year when the Mad Cow outbreak crippled the British meat industry. Anyone who had spent a prolonged amount of time in that infected zone was unable to donate blood until further notice. I felt helpless, useless.

Throughout the next two months, I collected magazines and newspaper articles, kept an ear open for updates on this newly coined War on Terror, and listened to all the stories that started to emerge from the physical and emotional rubble, one of which involved BU alum and recent graduate Lisa Frost, who had been on one of those fateful flights that was supposed to carry her to a new life in California (I was to take a similar trip after my own graduation nine months later). Nothing else mattered. My mix CD became one dark ode to despair. Linkin Park's "In The End" became my theme song. That day in September, in a way, defined my senior year of college. I was a member of the First Post-9/11 Class, one of many young hopefuls sent out into a world that was different from the world we knew when we first went in.

When I traveled back to New York for the Thanksgiving break that year, I ventured downtown to visit a friend who had lived near South Street Seaport, just blocks away from Ground Zero. When I walked up into the cold air from the subway station near Water Street I turned around and saw the vast emptiness in the sky, the black void where those two towers once stood. I stopped to take a moment, reflect, and soak in the magnitude of what had happened in this very spot. I also couldn't help but remember the last time I had been down here, the last time I stood on this ground and looked up at those majestic behemoths of concrete and steel. An old movie ticket stub reminded me; I had caught a matinee of The Others at the multiplex across the street from the World Trade Center on August 12. One month earlier.

Now, ten years later, the details of that day remain just as vivid. The details of that day will also stay with me as a reminder to take nothing for granted and to appreciate all the blessings, trivial and otherwise, I have.

Remembering and honoring,


September 08, 2011

Random Thought of the Week #25

1. I feel like I've been stabbed in the soul whenever I stumble upon a Facebook profile that boasts a person's date of birth from the year 1991.

2. If we're Facebook friends, and you sit down next to me at a coffeeshop without recognizing me, then I guess I should follow Greyson Chance's advice and unfriend you.

September 06, 2011

LAYERS: 2011 Fall Playlist, Vol. 1

You conquered those Back-to-School sales, survived that Labor Day barbeque, dug out your favorite cardigan, and now it's time to brainstorm Halloween costumes. In other words, where the f**k did summer go?

While you chew on that, I have found 25 tracks to keep you warm and toasty when the autumn chill sets in and you save up for a couple of grande caramel apple ciders at Starbucks. Listen carefully...

1. "You & I" by Lady Gaga
2. "Shield and Sword" by Clare Maguire - The video for this stunner of a single makes the British songstress out to be the love child of Adele and Gaga. And while there's some truth to that, the rest of her album, Light After Dark, is begging to be heard:

3. "Night of Your Life" by David Guetta feat. Jennifer Hudson
4. "Disaster" by JoJo - Because it wouldn't be fall without a pop piece from this sassy little tartlet. Previously seen as one my Theme Songs for the month of September.
5. "Radioactive" by Marina and the Diamonds:

6. "Titanium" by David Guetta feat. Sia - Easily the best track off of Frenchie's dance disc, this power jam was also another September Theme Song. Catch it here.
7. "Love Slayer" by Joe Jonas
8. "Out Of My Head" by Lupe Fiasco feat. Trey Songz
9. "Someone Like You" by Adele
10. "#1 Nite" by Cobra Starship
11. "Domino" by Jessie J:

12. "Mr. Know It All" by Kelly Clarkson
13. "Change Is Gonna Come" by Olly Murs
14. "Lift Me Up" by Christina Aguilera
15. "Vision in Blue" by Ace of Base
16. "Prayin'" by Plan B
17. "Feel So Close" by Calvin Harris:

18. "Djay" by Mona Lisa
19. "All Fired Up" by The Saturdays
20. "Major Minus" by Coldplay
21. "Called Out In The Dark" by Snow Patrol
22. "Invisible" by Skylar Grey
23. "Gold Forever" by The Wanted
24. "Pass At Me" by Timbaland feat. Pitbull
25. "Love Gun" by Michelle Williams



Psychotics of the 90s

For the first half of the 1990s, not only did I have my nose stuck in the pages of paperback horror novels, I spent a good amount of time being infatuated with a particular genre of film. The Psychological Thriller was alive and kicking back then, and it seemed like anyone could turn into an obsessive loon. Perhaps Glenn Close reignited the trend when she boiled a rabbit and chased Michael Douglas around with a knife in 1987. Since then, Hollywood went to work, turning ordinary folk into menacing monsters that wreaked havoc on pretty unsuspecting white people. Psycho mailmen. Deranged lawyers. Murderous doctors. No profession was safe, and no one could be trusted.

For me, it all started with 1991's Deceived, the film that sparked my interest in the genre. Funny girl Goldie Hawn turned in a rare dramatic performance as a woman caught in a web of danger and betrayal when her husband (teddy bear John Heard) is killed in a mysterious car accident. The words "Goldie Hawn" and "psychological thriller," to this day, still leaves a funny taste in my mouth, and if I were to Netflix this movie today, something tells me it still wouldn't hold up.

However, some of these other thrillers just might...

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) - Psycho Nanny

I caught a matinee of this R-rated film (the second I ever saw in a theater) in the Bronx with my father when I was 11, and the audience couldn't have made it a more memorable experience. When Ernie Hudson's character popped up in the end to rescue little Emma from delusional bitch Peyton (an icy-perfect Rebecca De Mornay), a man sitting in our row jumped up and screamed, "My man Solomon!" And when the nefarious nanny gets her due (SPOILER ALERT) and is pushed out the attic window, falling onto the family's newly built white picket fence, the theater erupted in cheers. The crowd was so into the action, you would've thought I was watching a ballgame over at Shea Stadium. Best scene: Peyton goes up a 5-year-old bully in a playground, twists his arm, and snarls, "Leave Emma alone. If you don't, I'm gonna rip your fucking head off."

Single White Female (1992) - Psycho Roommate

The film that turned stilettos into deadly weapons was a slice of GenX girlfriendship gone horribly wrong. Allie (Bridget Fonda) has a gorgeous NYC apartment all to herself after finding out her fiance (Wingsman Steven Weber) cheated on her. So, she does what any other white-girl-alone-in-the-big-city would do (besides becoming BFFs with her gay next-door neighbor) - she puts an ad out for a new roomie. Enter Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the slightly quirky brunette who gradually takes over Allie's life one calculated move at a time because - creepy alert - she wants Allie to be the twin sister she lost in a drowning accident. Forget last year's insipid Rachel Bilson carbon-copy, The Roommate, and get on board this crazy train:

The Good Son (1993) - Psycho Playmate

Coming off the fluffy fun of two Home Alones and My Girl, Macauley Culkin's handlers must have been itching for something a little different for their precocious client. And thankfully this spin on The Bad Seed was the perfect project for him to go against type. I mean, who wouldn't want to see little Kevin McAllister cause a 10-car pile-up, attempt to drown his baby sister, and utter the line, "Don't fuck with me," to a wide-eyed Elijah Wood? Back in the seventh grade, I couldn't wait to grab some popcorn and get a taste of this wintertime kid-thriller.

The Crush (1993) - Psycho Teenager

A 90s version of Lolita with Westley from The Princess Bride and the cute chick from that Aerosmith video? Sold.

Unlawful Entry (1992) - Psycho Cop

Yuppies Michael and Karen (Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe) find an intruder in their posh L.A. home and enlist the help of friendly cop Pete (Ray Liotta) who installs a new security system for them and develops a fatal attraction towards Karen (sample dialogue: "I got a cop who wants my wife!"). Needless to say, the shit hits the fan: assault, murder and (woo hoo!) a cocaine framing. *Comparable Contemporary: 2008's Lakeview Terrace.

The Temp (1993) - Psycho Secretary

Before Lara Flynn Boyle played a bitch of a lawyer on The Practice she played a bitch of an assistant in this camptacular thriller (just note the casting of Faye Dunaway) about a homicidal chick who would do anything to climb up the corporate ladder - and does.

Pacific Heights (1990) - Psycho Tenant

No, it's not the name of some short-lived Aaron Spelling soap. It's the title of the flick in which a razorblade-loving Michael Keaton terrorizes Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine in their swanky piece of San Francisco real estate.

Color of Night (1994) - Psycho Patient

Bruce Willis is a color-blind psychiatrist whose patients are mysteriously being knocked off one by one. Is it the troubled hot chick he's banging, who has ties to the members of his therapy group? Or is it someone else in the off-kilter group, which includes a kook with OCD, a suicidal ex-cop, a pyro, a nympho (Miss Scarlet herself, Lesley Anne Warren), and a transgender teenager? Check out the over-the-top trailer here.


September 01, 2011

Theme Songs of the Month: September 2011

It's been seven years since this pop tartlet came on the scene with the precocious "Leave (Get Out)".

Now, at the wise and ancient age of 20, JoJo is sticking to the same catchy formulas, albeit with a more mature tone, and delivering the quite-fantastic "Disaster," which isn't one (thank God).

A definite addition to my upcoming soundtrack to September:

And tying for this month's honorary title is Sia's noteworthy vocals on David Guetta's empowering "Titanium" (sure, the Mary J. Blige version is cool too, but let's stick with this original):

Catfights, Cleavage and Carrie-Anne Moss: 'Models Inc.' Turns 25

In the early 90s, as anyone familiar with the oeuvre of uber-producer Aaron Spelling knows, the successful  Beverly Hills, 90210 begat ...