December 31, 2013

Screw Resolutions: 14 Things To Do In 2014

These ain't no stinkin' resolutions. The following is simply a list of things I wish to do in the new year, little things to be mindful of while I navigate these sometimes treacherous waters we call social media...and that thing I call a life. Let's see what I'm capable of in 2014, shall we?

1. Stop using "Um" to start my status updates and tweets.

2. Resist the urge to call TVLand "the network where former sitcom stars go to die."

3. Say the word "love" more often. To people. To their faces.

4. Invest in a pair of Rockports. Something like these. With light blue laces.

5. Unsubscribe to e-newsletters that continuously flood my inbox.

6. Send publishers that book treatment I've been delaying.

7. Flirt more.

8. Get around to reading this.

9. Get my passport stamped again.

10. Continue to say "no," and be okay with it.

11. Finish The Fall on Netflix.

12. Practice more empathy.

13. Make more lists.

14. Continue to let go.

May 2014 bring you happiness and more.


December 20, 2013

Remembering Ned Vizzini (1981-2013)

Back in 2007 I had the privilege of meeting Ned Vizzini in an apartment in Hollywood while celebrating a mutual friend's birthday. Coincidentally, I had finished reading his novel, Be More Chill, several months prior and had fallen in love with his writing. The novel, an Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Book of 2004, is about a high school loser who takes a pill to make himself cool and popular. It was one of the best pieces of fiction I had read in a while, and I had been thrilled by the circumstances that allowed us to cross paths. Rarely does one get a chance to meet - and befriend - someone whose work you enjoy and admire.

From then on, Ned became a "writer friend," one of those acquaintances I'd meet up for coffee every once in a while. I was always inspired after our conversations, hearing about his latest projects and sharing what we were enjoying at the time (and sure, I had some writer envy). And then there were birthday and holiday gatherings throughout the years. He treated me to a birthday mojito at last year's festivities and burned me a copy of Alphabeat's new album (my favorite Danish pop group) when I attended a Christmas party he and his wife Sabra had hosted. He even took some time out of his schedule to help me with a little video project I had worked on during the summer of 2010 (he pops up at the 2:11 mark).

When I received a call from our mutual friend last night, telling me about the news of his death being plastered all over Twitter and Facebook (the guy has many dedicated fans and followers), I had to check for myself and hoped that it was some kind of bizarre hoax or publicity prank. Sadly though, after receiving another phone call confirming the news, I was speechless. What was heartbreakingly jarring is the fact that one of my peers had taken his own life. The amount of thoughts and speculation that follow such an act are many, but all that matters is that this talented human being who touched lives is no longer on this earth.

News like this just stuns a person into a state of disbelief, and you can't help but flash back to all the memories you had with him. I had been corresponding with Ned via email shortly before Thanksgiving, asking him if he was interested in being a guest contributor for Bello Mag. Naturally he was busy, but I was proud of him for landing a staff gig on J.J. Abrams's mid-season drama, Believe. I wished him well and hoped "to see you soon!" As for the last time I physically saw him, it was back in April at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at USC. I wanted to show my support, sit in on a panel he was sharing with director Chris Columbus, and hear them excitedly talk about their new project, a young-adult fantasy series called House of Secrets.

The posts inevitably followed across all social media platforms:

Nick Buchanan at recently posted about Ned's passing, quoting from an interview which discussed the writer's past struggles with depression. Ned's soundbite was as follows: "My favorite distraction from suicidal thoughts is riding my bike. Bad thoughts get caught under the front wheel and good ones whiz up the back into brain."

This quote reminds me of one of the last times I had met up with Ned for coffee. It was at L.A. Mill in Silverlake, and after parking my car, I found Ned chaining his bicycle to a fence. He had said that he loved riding in his neighborhood. I simply thought it was because he was being environmentally conscious and saving up on gas money.

Now I know why.

Ned, here's to celebrating nothing but good thoughts.

December 19, 2013

Porn for Bibliophiles: "S" by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Christmas came a little early when I received a copy of S, an ambitious mystery novel from the mind of J.J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst.

The concept: It's a book within a book. The Ship of Theseus is the "book" written by a mysterious "author" named V.M. Straka, and inside its pages are the corresponding scrawlings of a college senior named Jennifer and a "disgraced grad student" named Eric who try solve a much bigger mystery made manifest in a collection of letters, postcards, and newspaper clippings stuffed inside the 400+page book.

It's basically porn for bibliophiles like myself.

The hardcover itself is ingeniously designed to look like a used, vintage copy from a library (checkout dates are stamped on the back cover, and the spine is categorically labeled). A lot of thought apparently went into this meta-story, and I wouldn't be surprised if a movie adaptation is being developed as I write this (of course, it'll have to reach some kind of best-selling status to warrant one).

And hey, if they can invest in a creepy teaser trailer for this book (watch it here), they can easily turn this into something for the screen, big or small.

I cannot wait to tear into it. But first, I'll have to complete the massive paperback that is The Passage, which I plan to crack open on my upcoming holiday flight to New York.

*Thank you Kaila for the gift!


Dear Universe: A Message From Me to You

During this season of giving and reflection I just wanted to say thanks again for making my 2013 pretty uncrappy.

Keep it up.

Much love,

December 18, 2013

Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera: Pop Diva History in the Making?

Last night's magical moment during the anticipated Christina Aguilera-Lady Gaga duet on The Voice arrived at the 2:34 mark when Mother Monster and Xtina grabbed each other's hand in a gesture of solidarity, obliterating all of the rumors that stained the blogosphere, pitting both superstars against each other in she said/she said bitchery. Needless to say, I was experiencing severe Whitney-Mariah flashbacks to 1998 when both singers performed "When You Believe" at the Academy Awards.

Sure, the whole thing could've been an ingenious PR move from both sides, but you have to hand it to Aguilera for sending out the message -- after the awesome performance -- that female artists need to stand together, continue to support each other, and leave all the diva rivalry bullshit behind.



December 17, 2013

BLOG OF THE YEAR: The 2013 Review

First of all, thank you for consciously clicking on the link that took you to this post. It means a lot. Really, it does. It gives me warm fuzzies of validation inside. You've taken the time from your busy Facebook/Twitter feeds to see what this 2013 Review is all about, and I appreciate it.

If you're new to these parts, welcome. And if you're a First Echo regular, then welcome back; you probably know what you're in for -- a whole lotta critique and commentary on the portions of popular culture that pinged on my packed radar this year. I've got a list of items as long as Miley Cyrus's tongue.

In a year full of royal babies, upsetting trials (George Zimmerman), WTF celebrity deaths (Cory, Paul, et al), and viral sensations (enough with the Harlem Shake), there was plenty to talk about. 2013 didn't fail to supply the goods. For every Buzzfeed list celebrating the nuanced facial gestures of pop artists, there was an inspiring, faith-restoring clip on Upworthy. And for every 12 Years a Slave, there was a Lone Ranger (or After Earth).

As for yours truly, it was certainly a transformative year. But at the risk of sounding like one of those lengthy "holiday update letters" you receive from friends and relatives you rarely see anymore, I'll just list everything -- in one long, random stream of consciousness -- that made my 2013: new car, new job, new bed (thanks, Ellen Degeneres!), 15 airplanes, 13 celebrity interviews, 7 cities slept in (including 1 mountain forest), 3 countries visited, and 1 addiction to Scandal. Of course, there were some not-so-happy moments (A root fracture! Continued debt! The loss of a friend), but why dwell on the negative? If anything, this was the year I truly understood the meaning of gratitude. I never thought I'd write this, but here it is: It took a trip to South America to make me realize how grateful I should be - and am. It's more than just looking on the bright side of things; it's a matter of counting every blessing, big or small, and constantly reminding yourself to soak up all the good stuff while it lasts. But enough with the inspirational chatter (there'll be more on my experiences in Peru when I publish my travel feature next year).

Once again, I've gone ahead and listed what I've thoroughly enjoyed during these last 365 days (give or take). Please allow my attempts to infotain you before you get drunk at the next holiday gathering and make a fool of yourself...

*based on what I've viewed at press time

1. Before Midnight - The art of conversation is rarely exhibited in cinema, especially in a soundbite culture that has whittled down dialogue to 140 characters or less. Richard Linklater's third entry in his Jesse-and-Celine saga revels in those intimate moments of lengthy chatter, refuses to romanticize anything about the trappings of relationships between men and women, and dares to voyeuristically place the audience in a marriage that is far from perfect.

2. The Spectacular Now - A "teen" movie without the gloss, without the pretense, without the obnoxious pop soundtrack. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller shine as a pair of high school seniors who form an unlikely relationship in Small Town, USA, and the result is an intimate and resonant drama of John Hughesian proportions.

3. Philomena - Six words: Judi Dench can do no wrong.

4. Prisoners - It's dark, Domestic Drama crossed with brutal Revenge Flick, but what director Denis Villeneuve, writer Aaron Guzikowski, and the brilliant cast (headed by a fierce Hugh Jackman) ultimately do is hold a mirror up to an American culture seeped in violence and simmering rage. What's fascinatingly disturbing is the film's subtle way of telling its audience that anyone -- anyone -- is capable of evil.

5. Gravity - A stunning technical achievement from the man behind Children of Men (a top 10 fave from 2006), this immersive space thriller is a tale of survival that hooks you at the first frame.

6. The World's End - Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's exhilaratingly entertaining pub crawl uses a sci-fi trope like an alien invasion to wryly comment on friendship, nostalgia, the state of the world, and the absolutely frightening process of getting older.

7. August: Osage County - Meryl Streep, in a role that will undoubtedly earn her an umpteenth Oscar nod, is the morose centerpiece in this ensemble drama that takes family dysfunction to darkly comedic new heights. Witness Julia Roberts unleash a rage unlike any character she's ever played. See a devastatingly vulnerable Benedict Cumberbatch fall in forbidden love. And marvel at Margo Martindale's broken soul of a sister.

8. The Place Beyond the Pines - A meditation on the relationships between fathers and sons and the legacies they leave behind, Derek Cianfrance's drama is cut into three powerful acts, set over a 15-year timespan, that respectively showcase three magnetic performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and relative newcomer Emory Cohen.

9. Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett commands the screen as a woman of privilege who loses her cushy life (thanks to her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, played by Alec Baldwin) and gradually starts to lose her mind. Jasmine is a character desperate to cling on to what she once had, and watching her fall apart is at times funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully tragic.

10. American Hustle - Admission: Part of the thrill of this rollicking crime drama is seeing its A-list talent dress up in late 70s garb and act like the crazily greedy figures they're portraying. It's a period piece that feels very now, populated with people who do bad things for semi-good, understandable reasons. Sure, it's blatant Oscar bait -- and it doesn't give a shit.

You're Next (A fabulously frightful family slasher film)
Disconnect (Crash with chat rooms and identity theft)
G.B.F. (Or, what will easily be nicknamed Mean Gays)
Trance (An art heist film by way of Danny Boyle channeling Christopher Nolan)
Star Trek Into Darkness (Popcorn perfection).

During my first year without cable, I managed to keep up with the Kardashians Joneses and transform myself into a proud, streaming couch potato. Thanks to HuluPlus, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go, I was able to binge my way through shows about lawyers (finally finished Damages), imprisoned lesbians, and adorkable British blokes.

1. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix) - A great show works on so many levels, and OITNB touches upon a plethora of issues few dramas tread on. Effortlessly and ingeniously blending themes of sexuality, female friendship, identity, psychology, redemption, fate, and corruption (especially within America's prison system), Jenji Kohan's behind-the-bars drama isn't as dark and heavy as you'd expect, but it's not light either. Taylor Schilling, who embodies a J.Crew-and-Whole-Foods prepiness, surprises as Piper Chapman, a traditionally pretty fish-out-of-water who reluctantly succumbs to her harsh environment; it's the most compelling de-evolution of a TV character we've witnessed since being introduced to Breaking Bad's Walter White in 2008. As for the rest of the brilliant ensemble, there aren't enough Emmys to dole out for the amount of diverse talent that carries this show.

2. Breaking Bad (AMC) - Delivering one of the most satisfying (and inevitable) final episodes in TV history, Vince Gilligan & Co. brilliantly tied up the tragic saga of Walter White, a character destined for the TV Icon Hall of Fame. The final 8 episodes delivered several one-two punches we never saw coming, propelling the story towards its deadly denouement. Television drama has never been so tense, so poetic, and so gorgeously cinematic.

3. Orphan Black (BBC America) - The outrage over star Tatiana Maslany's Emmy snub back in August was inevitable...and totally called for. The Canadian actress blew me away with not two, but seven portrayals of women who discover that they're key players in a cloning conspiracy (Take that, Toni Collette circa United States of Tara). The puzzle pieces have just begun to come together, and I can't wait to see where this intricately plotted story is going.

4. House of Cards (Netflix) - Kevin Spacey covets a role he was destined to play in a series that is destined to further change the way we watch television. This David Fincher-produced political potboiler is sinister in all the right ways, and actor Corey Stoll is truly the revelation of the year as Congressman Peter Russo.

5. Enlightened (HBO) - Laura Dern, in a criminally ignored performance on a criminally neglected show, is brilliant as Amy Jellicoe, a David going up against a Goliath, which happens to be the corrupt corporation she works for. Mike White's highly addictive tragicomedy brilliantly says so much about so much -- the state of the corporate world, the treatment of mental health, the trappings of fortysomethinghood -- with so little.

6. Scandal (ABC) - Having binged on this deliriously delicious drama's first 20 episodes back in the spring, I am now a full-fledged fanatic, live-tweeting during episodes and following most of the cast on Twitter. I haven't been riveted by such crazy cliffhangers and plot twists like this since the early days of Alias, and before that, Melrose Place. OMGTV indeed. Shonda Rhimes, you crazy.

7. American Horror Story: Coven (FX) - Ryan Murphy knows his powerhouse actresses. And thank the gods that he brought Angela Bassett to television. There was never a dull moment in AHS's third go-round, and much of it was due to the cast's razor-sharp performances and the sinfully scrumptious scripts.

8. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central) - Vagina jokes have never been funnier...or more intricately layered with biting social commentary. Schumer is a welcome addition to the Funny Ladies Club (see: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling).

9. The Americans (FX) - You may or may not remember 1999's disturbing yet highly engrossing Arlington Road (starring Jeff Bridges as a man who suspects his neighbors are terrorists), but if you do, you'll find brilliant shades of it in this awesome Cold-War-in-the-80s series that sees Felicity (Keri Russell) turn into an ice queen with a gun and the gay brother from Brothers & Sisters (Matthew Rhys) transform into an ass-kicking soldier torn between honoring his home country and saving the one he's slowly adopting as his own.

10. The Blacklist (NBC) - I feel like patting NBC on the head and saying, "Well done, Peacock! Well done!" for giving network audiences a thriller that's thisclose to rivaling those found on cable. And hello, Megan Boone, who may very well be the next Jennifer Garner.

HONORABLE MENTION: Family Tree (HBO) - From the improvisational mind of Christopher Guest comes this quiet underdog of a comedy that delivered one of the best gags of the season: Nina Conti as Bea Chadwick...and her hand puppet Monk (due to a childhood trauma, Bea needs to express her emotions through a stuffed monkey, and the side barbs the little creature spits out are hysterical). It's awkward, it's heartwarming, it's unapologetically British.

A pop diva-filled fall (Katy! Gaga! Britney! Beyonce!) couldn't distract us from the fact that the rest of the year featured some musical standouts from artists who came out of nowhere and dared to change the game...

1. In A Tidal Wave of Mystery by Capital Cities - Sure, Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian's ubiquitous "Safe and Sound" is nice and all, but there's so much more to discover on their magnificent debut album (and previously released EP) like: their hypnotic cover of Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" and the electro trumpet-filled "Kangaroo Court," which needs to be played on more radios (see below). These former commercial jingle writers also win the award for Best Song Title of 2013: "Farrah Fawcett Hair," a spectacular track that unpredictably combines narration from NPR's Frank Tavares, soulful, gospel-like theatrics...and Andre 3000.

2. "High Society" by Betty Who - A great pop song is one that can be played on repeat without getting tired, and that's what this irresistibly breezy, all-consuming love song excels at. The Australian singer, who made waves with her song appearing in that Home Depot marriage proposal video earlier this year, delivers some easy-on-the-ears vocals and silk-smooth lyrics. She's like Robyn without the Euro-quirk, Katy without the excess. Her next collaboration with producer Peter Thomas, "All of You," should propel her into a bigger spotlight. Because this girl needs to own 2014. Listen for yourself:

3. Ice On The Dune by Empire of the Sun - The eclectic duo from Down Under elaborate on their electronic soundscapes and deliver a sophomore album that electrified the summer (sorry, Daft Punk).

4. Heartthrob by Tegan & Sara - Talk about a delayed breakout: this twin sister act has been around for a decade, but it took the excellent pop production stylings of Greg Kurstin to propel T&S to new heights and earn them new fans - myself included - with this sparkling gem of an album.

5. "Sweater Weather" by The Neighbourhood - Surfer noir rock and all of its melancholy glory:

6. "My Heart Is Refusing Me" by Loreen - The Swedish pop tart with pipes gave listeners a riveting, EDM-driven single that is equal parts pulse-racing, emotionally cathartic, and quite transcendent. Arguably the best dance track of the year:

7. Bad Blood by Bastille - Fronted by singer-songwriter Dan Smith, this London-based group is delivering some early 90s alternative pop-rock realness blended with a unique yet familiar sound that is very early 2010s. And any band that un-ironically mashes up Corona's "Rhythm of the Night" with Snap's "Rhythm is a Dancer" to evocative effect is A-OK in my book.

8. "Chocolate" by The 1975 - Consider The 1975's breakthrough single a slice of alt-rock-pop from 1995. It rolls along and builds up towards an anthemic bridge you'll want to sing along to while downing a few pints at the pub with your mates (even though you may not be able to decipher the heavily-accented lyrics).

9. "Royals" by Lorde - While the Women of Pop were busy roaring and living for the applause, this teenager from New Zealand snuck in and basically changed the game. With awesome lyrics that shame pop for celebrating the vapid and shallow tropes often found in Top 40, it's an anti-establishment anthem that thankfully doesn't get bogged down with cynicism.

10. "Same Love" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis feat. Mary Stewart - The long-neglected category of Pop Music With a Message came back during a time when this country needed it. The headline-making rap duo surprised with this marriage equality anthem, bravely taking hip-hop to new heights and exposing the genre's embedded prejudices and hypocrisy.

"Wake Me Up" (Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc)
"Mirrors" (Justin Timberlake)
"We Can't Stop" (Miley Cyrus)
"Change" (Churchill)
"Good For You" (Icona Pop)
"Her Favorite Song" (Mayer Hawthorne)
"Gypsy" (Lady Gaga)
"American Girl" (Bonnie McKee)
"You Will Leave A Mark" (A Silent Film)
"The Wire" (HAIM)

Happy Holidays, kids.

And here's to having 2014 kick 2013's ass.


December 14, 2013

Cornucopia IV: The 2013 Fall Playlist, Vol. 4

It's the final playlist of the year, and before you go out and get sloshed at another family/office holiday gathering, open your ears and ride out 2013 with these tunes I've curated for your aural pleasure.

And yes, I will openly admit that Ricky Martin is included on this playlist as well as a dance jam that's been out for a while now (apologies for the delay). What else? I kick off with Gaga's best track from ARTPOP, followed by a One Direction single that actually doesn't suck. And when you get to Tegan and Sara, feel free to blare it at the gym while you burn off those Christmas cookies.

1. "Gyspy" by Lady Gaga
2. "Satellites" by Cash Cash
3. "Story of My Life" by One Direction
4. "International Smile" by Katy Perry:

5. "On The Radio" by The Saturdays
6. "Hard Out There" by Lily Allen
7. "Soldier" by Samantha Jade
8. "Shudder to Think" by Tegan and Sara
9. "Over Your Shoulder" by Chromeo:

10. "How I Feel" by Flo Rida
11. "Amy" by Goodie Mob feat. V
12. "Tidal Wave" by Sub Focus feat. Alpine
13. "Time To Save Our Love" by Brian McFadden
14. "Come With Me" by Ricky Martin
15. "The Mother We Share (Moonboots Remix)" by Chvrches:

16. "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" by Lorde
17. "Call Me What You Like" by Emeil Sande
18. "We Own The Night" by The Wanted
19. "Hand On Heart" by Olly Murs
20. "Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Vocal Down Mix)" by Lana Del Rey


December 12, 2013

Wow. The American Music Awards Had Some Pretty Offensive Categories in 1985

The title of this YouTube clip may be "Madonna Live from The American Music Awards, Los Angeles 1985" -- and sure, it's great to see the Material Girl in all of her pre-Gaga glory -- but the following might as well be called "Look How Racially Insensitive The AMAs Were 28 Years Ago."

Really? Was there no other way to describe a genre of music that was inherently pop?

The first category is mentioned at the :20 mark. Then again at :43. And then the nominees in another similarly named category get announced at 3:15. Just watch...and gape in disbelief:

And sure, you may also find Purple Rain beating out Thriller just as offensive.


December 11, 2013

13 Things You Probably Didn't Know About 'The Golden Girls'

When one nostalgically binges on all seven seasons of The Golden Girls like me (I swear I have a life), you pick up on a few things. Certain patterns appear as you continuously witness the consumption of countless cheesecakes inside a fictitious Miami kitchen and hear one St. Olaf story too many.

Here's what I noticed after playing my DVDs of this 80s classic over the past several months (and if you're already familiar with the following factoids, excuse me for underestimating your fanaticism)...

1. Actor Harold Gould, who played Rose's long-term boyfriend Miles Webber from Season 5 to Season 7 (and throughout most of the short-lived spinoff, The Golden Palace), also appears in the first season as Arnie Peterson, Rose's first serious beau after her husband's death.

2. The same can be said for Sid Melton, who played Sophia's deceased husband Sal (in flashbacks and dream sequences). He also appears in a Season 6 episode as a jester in a medieval-themed restaurant where Dorothy and her high school crush (Hal Linden) go out on a dinner date.

3. Memory Slip! Starting in the fifth season (1989-90), it becomes apparent that Bea Arthur had started using cue cards during certain scenes, especially if they involved lengthy monologues. The same can be said for Estelle Getty; it became known that she had entered the early stages of dementia at some point in the early 90s, when the Golden franchise was coming to and end (a tidbit brought up during an episode of Lifetime's Intimate Portrait).

4. Dorothy's last name, Zbornak, is shared with stage manager Tom Zbornak, who came on board two years after the show's premiere. Coincidence?

5. You may notice a slight change in Sophia's look after the show's first season. The reason: Estelle Getty got a facelift during the show's first summer hiatus.

6. Character Continuity Mistake #1: Dorothy's son, Michael (Scott Jacoby) appears three times throughout the show's run. In his first appearance, Dorothy refers to him as a 30-year-old. In the second, he's 21. However, in his last episode, he's in his 30s again.

7. Character Continuity Mistake #2: After Miles leaves Rose to go back into the Witness Protection Program (he ratted out The Cheeseman, a Chicago mobster), he is later referred to in the following episode as having gone on a class trip with his university students.

8. Throughout four seasons, Blanche can be found reading the same red paperback novel. Either she's an extremely slow reader...or the propmaster was slacking off on the job.

9. The idea for The Golden Girls emerged during the taping of a 1984 TV special in which actresses Selma Diamond (Night Court) and Doris Roberts (Remington Steele) appeared in a sketch promoting new show Miami Vice as Miami Nice, a parody about old people living in Florida. In the audience was the network's senior vice president, Warren Littlefield, who liked the performance and envisioned a sitcom based on geriatric humor.

9. Tom Whedon, a writer-producer on the show for several seasons, is the father of Buffy creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon.

10. In the pilot, Dorothy says she's from Queens, but throughout the remainder of the series, she's referred to as a Brooklyn native.

11. Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives and Devious Maids, was one of the show's story editors starting in Season 5. He later became a producer along with writing partner Jamie Wooten.

12. During the second season, an attempt to spinoff the show was made. Rita Moreno appeared in a backdoor pilot called Empty Nests, a comedy about a middle-aged couple who live next door to the girls. It obviously didn't work, because by 1988, it was retooled to focus on the life of widower Harry Weston and his two adult daughters (Empty Nest).

13. And as for that exclamation point-shaped carving on the door? I finally had to do a little research because it has been bugging me for years: Bea Arthur apparently did it before taping the pilot episode (as a possible gesture of good luck).


November 29, 2013

Cornucopia III: The 2013 Fall Playlist, Vol. 3

Tis the season to binge on everything from turkey and those episodes of American Horror Story: Coven I've missed thus far.

Sure, binge eating and viewing is all the craze right now, but what about binge listening? There's a gourd-load of tunes out there right now racking up gigabytes on my hard drive, and my iPod is about to burst. Just how many? Enough to quickly follow this up with a Volume 4 (stay tuned).

1. "Do What U Want" by Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly
2. "Somebody Loves You" by Betty Who
3. "We Remain" by Christina Aguilera
4. "Love Me Again" by John Newman
5. "Wild Child" by Adrian Lux & Marc Schossow feat. JJ
6. "Feel Good" by Robin Thicke
7. "Sleepwalker" by Bonnie McKee
8. "Walking On Air" by Katy Perry
9. "Don't Wanna Dance Alone" by Fifth Harmony
10. "Satellites" by Cash Cash:

11. "Meant To Be" by TLC
12. "Bones" by MS MR
13. "Team" by Lorde
14. "California Soul (Diplo/Mad DeCent Remix)" by Marlena Shaw
15. "Say Something" by A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera:

16. "Letting You Let Go" by Paper Route
17. "Loved Me Back to Life" by Celine Dion
18. "Perfume" by Britney Spears
19. "Could This Be Love" by The Wanted
20. "Let It Go" by Demi Lovato

November 19, 2013

'Jagged Little Pill' Becomes a Musical? Welcome Back, 1995.

Hearing about Alanis Morissette's seminal Jagged Little Pill being turned into a Broadway musical was like receiving news that my best friend had built a time machine for us to travel back to 1995 and relive all of our best moments.

How did I not know about this sooner? Why did I have to learn about it through NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast one week after the initial press release? And why do I have no shame in admitting that I subscribe to an NPR podcast?

The Nostalgia Machine revved up once again as I started to search the web for articles on this exciting development. I immediately started flashing back to that fateful day at Iona Preparatory when I borrowed this CD from a friend in Religion class in between "scripture lessons" (the class was more like a free period overseen by a priest who had no problem telling jocks to "quit the bullshit" if they acted up -- ah, Catholic school).

Up until then, my knowledge of this then-angry 21-year-old Canadian chick consisted of the following: she played a mean harmonica, once dated Uncle Joey from Full House, and appeared in a childhood favorite of mine, You Can't Do That On Television. Little did I know what I'd be in for...

Jagged Little Pill is one of those rare albums from the last 20 years that shines as a whole. Every track works individually and forms a cohesive set of tunes that defined an era I was proud to live through. From the personal hopes and desires listed in "All I Really Want" to the devastatingly chilling a capella, hidden track "Your House," JLP is an electrifying opus that works on many levels.

It's safe to say this musical adaptation won't feature any Fosse-like theatrics. This sounds more like a straight-up rock opera along the lines of American Idiot or (maybe) Rent.

And I want a ticket to previews now.


November 14, 2013

13 Things I'm Thankful For in 2013

As we brace ourselves for another smorgasbord of holiday calories, let’s look back at what I thoroughly appreciated this year (2013, where did you fly off to?). Here are the people, places, and things I couldn’t – and still can’t – get enough of. And I am utterly grateful for them.

1. Henry Cavill – We could thank Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan for making this slice of British hotness slip into that Superman suit in Man of Steel, but we’re ultimately grateful for Cavill’s gravitas, smoldering performance…and the pause button on our Blu-ray players.

2. Jenji Kohan – The woman behind the brilliant ‘Weeds’ is also responsible for giving us one of the best TV shows of the year: Orange Is The New Black. It’s undeniably a game-changer, loaded with multiple storylines and a stellar ensemble overseen by one great showrunner (and I had no idea what the woman looked like until I Google imaged her -- she looks like fun).

3. Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter – There’s a new vice on the shelves at one of our favorite grocery stores (I prefer the crunchy kind), and it will please your taste buds on those Friday nights when you’re stuck at home on the couch with Netflix and a bottle of Chardonnay. Try it on a few apple slices and thank me later.

4. Having friends in entertainment industry-related unions – Because there is no way my wallet can sustain the dozens of movies I want to see this holiday/award season. Thank you, friends of guilds, for getting me into screenings or secretly sharing your DVDs of movies that haven't been released yet.

5. – The website is a constant presence on Facebook, helping all of us perfect the art of procrastination by delivering linkable lists and articles like “18 Forgotten 90s One-Hit Wonders” and “21 Reasons Why ‘Hocus Pocus’ Is The Best and Most Important Part of Halloween.” Nostalgia has never felt so good. Or trite.

6. The casting process behind Fifty Shades of Grey – Who knew this much in-and-out drama surrounding the selection of actors for the adaptation of a book I have no intention of reading could be so much fun?

7. Miley Cyrus memes – After delivering the Twerk Heard Around The World, the former Hannah Montana was immortalized in hysterical memes created by some of the most creative interwebbers out there in cyberspace. Thank God for Photoshop.

8. Shazam – I overworked this Godsend of an iPhone app this year while trying to pinpoint the names of songs on the radio that perked up my ears. Thanks to this trusty tool, I now know who sings “The Wire” (new alt-girl group HAIM).

9. Alfonso Cuaron – I knew the director was the real deal after Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – and he really sucked me in with 2006’s mesmerizing Children of Men – but now more audiences are being wooed by his wonderful and innovative filmmaking prowess in Gravity. It’s about damn time.

10. Cronuts – These pastry hybrids are popping up in bakeries across the nation, and I am savoring every flaky crust and every flavored cream filling. Diet, schmiet.

11. Ibuprofen -- I'm currently in need of a root canal (appointment yet to be scheduled), and these little orange-colored capsules have quickly become my friends.

12. Black truffle salt -- Good lord, this stuff is good. Turns any omelette, bag of popcorn, pizza, or piece of meat into a gourmet foodgasm.

13. My embarrassment of travel riches -- Never in my life have I used my passport so much within a year, and I am truly grateful for the opportunities that came my way in 2013, allowing me to jet off to places like Puerto Vallarta, Peru, the Dominican Republic...and San Francisco. Many thanks go out to all of the travel publicists who have hooked me up with some fantastic experiences I will never forget.


November 10, 2013

Let Kelly Clarkson Help You Survive Black Friday

Come November 29, I shall join the millions of crazed Americans as they storm the stores at midnight after Thanksgiving, ready to cut any bitch who gets in between them and the last available purple twerking bear in the toy aisle at Target.

I've made it a tradition to go out to my neighborhood superstores to see what's being snatched off the shelves in the wee hours of the morning. I prefer to go alone so that I can zip through the lines of shopping carts (and strollers) and make my experience as painless as possible.

And helping me this year will be Kelly Clarkson. I'll be blaring her new single from Wrapped in Red in order to brighten my spirits and pump me up for some holiday cheer -- just as long as no one steals my parking space at the mall.

Enjoy the retro-sounding jingle that's sure to be a classic...and give Mariah Carey's 19-year-old "All I Want For Christmas Is You" a run for its money.


November 03, 2013

'Gypsy' Is Easily Lady Gaga's Best Track from 'ARTPOP'

This past weekend was certainly a "pop emergency" for Mother Monster as her fourth studio album, the highly anticipated ARTPOP, leaked all over the interwebs (like that can of green paint that spilled all over the hatchback of my Prius three years ago). The culprit? According to Gaga's angry tweets, it was those sneaky pirates in...Japan.

While the album is the supersonic pop experience we all expected, there's one track that shines bright and stands out: "Gypsy." Starting out as what sounds like a piano ballad with some beautifully evocative lyrics, the song soars into an anthemic chorus custom-made for dance floors around the globe: "I don't wanna be alone forever, but I can be tonight..."

The title refers to the lifestyle the pop icon has adopted, hopping from country to country, longing to have someone accompany her on her lonely journey. It even includes a background chant that lists all of the places she's visited (places like Malaysia, Sweden, and Norway get shout-outs). It's inspiring, it's empowering...

It's basically this era's "The Edge of Glory."

And if it isn't the next single, then Gaga has a lot of explaining to do.


October 31, 2013

What L.A. Gives Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween

That Time Guillermo Diaz from 'Scandal' Made Me Blush

I happened to dig up this video clip from last year's Comic Con, and to my surprise, it featured a brief interview with one of the stars of ABC's Scandal while I was working the red carpet at a Walking Dead party.

Back then, I knew nothing of the show. I had yet to nurture my obsession with Olivia Pope & Associates. Now, in hindsight, I'm enjoying this delayed nerdgasm.

*The blushing part comes at the :28 mark.


October 29, 2013

Pop Culture Rant of the Week: Witch is the New Vamp

Nothing is sacred.

Those three words couldn't be any truer the longer one lives and works in the pop-culture-regurgitating machine that is Hollywood. Why? Well...

After celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hocus Pocus two weeks ago with a bowl of popcorn in bed on a Friday night, I have now learned that Disney is toying with the idea of a sequel. Teenagers of the 90s, proceed to geek out.

Then there's the Charmed reboot over at CBS. Because no one remembers a long-running show that ended, oh, seven frickin' years ago. Alyssa Milano, you have every right to be pissed.

Meanwhile, Lifetime's Witches of East End seems to be enjoying its premiere season, and FX's American Horror Story: Coven is proving to be one hell of a ride (two words: Minotaur sex).

Poor ABC. They must be kicking themselves for prematurely canceling Eastwick a couple of seasons ago.


'The Midnight Hour': A Forgotten 80s Halloween Classic

The Midnight Hour debuted on ABC in 1985, but it wasn't until a few years later when I caught a rerun of it on cable (actually, on Lifetime, when the "television for women" network was known for repeating Reagan era TV movies). And since then, it became one of those vaguely remembered pieces of pop culture I was intrigued by.

The plot was simple: Teens unleash evil spirits on their small town on Halloween night, and the crap. Hits. The. Fan.

The campiness was so good that, if it were a pint of Haagen Dazs, it would be devoured it in one spoonful. Dick Van Patten as a dentist-turned-demon? Shari Belafonte as a vamp? Peter DeLuise as an undead jock? Pure 80s bliss. And let's not forget a pre-TNG LeVar Burton as Vinnie, one of the luckless pranksters who meets his demise in a foggy cemetery -- right before the unforgettably awesome choreographed zombie dance number.

Thank the YouTube gods for making this available to rewatch. I know what I'm doing before going to bed tonight and grabbing a handful of M&Ms...


October 16, 2013

This is Why 'Entertainment Weekly' is My Bible

It's like we're on the same cycle or something, reading each other's minds, sharing the same pop cultural priorities.

Thank you, EW staff, for this glorious issue. Mulder and Scully never looked hotter.


October 15, 2013


I will obviously be clearing my schedule when CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story premieres on VH1 next Monday.

Why? Um...because it looks like a sensationalistic piece of comfort TV that I will consume with relish.

And thanks to the recently released "supertrailer," my excitement has tripled in intensity. Where in God's name did they find that Clive Davis doppelganger (at the 1:20 mark)? Brilliant.

Thank you, cable gods, for enabling my addiction to riding the 90s Nostalgia train for all its worth. Feel free to produce The Ace of Base Chronicles or The Real Real McCoy Story. I will gladly serve as a consultant if need be.

TLC's CrazySexyCool is one of the definitive albums of the 1990s and one of the first CDs I had purchased with my own money (shout out to Nobody Beats The Wiz on Central Avenue in Yonkers!). Everything about it brings me back to high school (the dances, the Discman sessions on the bus rides home), and I cannot wait to relive every flannel-shirt-and-baggy-jeans moment next week.

Forget Dreamgirls. This be some good shit right here:


October 11, 2013

The Music Video for Bastille's 'Of The Night' is a Marvelously Morbid Piece of Musical Noir

Back in March, I was all about Bastille's "Of The Night," an eerily effective mash-up/cover of the 90s dance classics "Rhythm is a Dancer" and "Rhythm of the Night" (by Snap! and Corona, respectively).

And now, nearly half a year later, we have been blessed with one hell of a music video. It's dark, it's gritty, and it perfectly complements the slightly sinister sensibility and melancholy of the song.

The video, beautifully directed by Dave Ma, is like a more cinematic episode of Law & Order in which a veteran police detective drives from crime scene to crime scene, envisioning the bodies of victims singing to him in unison. It's musical noir!

Sure, it's creepy and sad, but it works...and spits in the faces of all the overly glossed pop vids currently clogging up the YouTube channels.


October 10, 2013

My Trip to Peru: A Case of Vacation Photo Revenge

For years now, I have endured dozens and dozens of Facebook posts from friends who are more than happy to share photos from their fabulous vacations, "business trips," or getaway weekends. You know the kind -- those snapshots of the picture taker's legs with a pool in the background...or that hot couple showing off their Speedos off the coast of Mykonos.

Well, it's about time I jump on that bandwagon and serve up some jealousy-inducing pics from my recent 10-day excursion in Peru...

Machu Picchu: Soaking it all in.
Ollantaytambo: the Incans sure knew how to do cardio.

The circles of Moray. 
I found my throne.
Machu Picchu: consider my jaw dropped.
5 Americans + 1 Canadian + 1 Puerto Rican = 1 amazing group
The city Cusco (had to crop out the Starbucks on the right)

Of course there's more where these came from. And I wouldn't know where to begin in describing one of the most amazing experiences of my life. (Alpaca for dinner! Hiking over salt flats! Being serenaded by a shaman!) It will all be chronicled in a future travel feature or two. 

Stay tuned.

October 07, 2013

Sean Lew: Future 'SYTYCD' Champion?

Hot damn.

The fact that this future SYTYCD contestant was born the year I graduated college doesn't bother me. Not in the least bit. Because he is awesome. And he is clearly at the top of his dance class.

Watch this kid serve. Hard.

*The moms of those other kids must be piiiiised.

I'm guessing Mother Monster herself will catch wind of this viral video and eventually invite him on stage during her next tour. What do you think?


September 26, 2013

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Is Awesome. Simple As That.

The more skits I see from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the better I feel about the SNL veteran taking over The Tonight Show and kicking Jay Leno to the curb in 2014.

And this is one of those reasons why I feel like late-night is finally experiencing a much-needed rejuvenation: a lip sync-off with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (obviously promoting his directorial debut, Don Jon) and Stephen Merchant, the tall, gangly Brit who can pull off a mean Will Smith interpretation.

Just skip to 3:15 to witness some lip syncing realness and then 8:05 for some Nicki Minaj epicness.


September 24, 2013

Passport to Peru: The 2013 Fall Playlist, Vol. 2

This next batch of songs has the fortune of being a part of my South American soundtrack when I journey down to Peru tomorrow.

I couldn't ask for a better collection of delightful earworms that will provide some much-needed entertainment on 8-hour flights, excursions through Machu Picchu, and late nights in Lima. Ears up, kids...

1. "High Society" by Betty Who - I'm kicking off things with the Australian chick who provided the song in that Home Depot marriage proposal that went viral earlier this month. Sure, "Somebody Loves You" is a great roller disco anthem from the 80s, but it's this catchier, sparkling gem that has made me an obsessed fan of the indie pop tart. It's perfect for any run-away-and-forget-your-problems scenario. Play it. Then repeat. And repeat again:

2. "Heart Out" by The 1975 - The 80s continue to make a comeback in this British alt-rock-pop ditty from a group that deserves some of your recognition. Press play over HERE.

3. "In The Stars (Galaxy Mix)" by Icona Pop

4. "Shot At The Night" by The Killers - M83 produces for Brandon Flowers & Co. on this pretty awesome single that returns the group to its electro-rock roots. Listen HERE.

5. "No Strings" by Chloe Howl
6. "You Make Me" by Avicii feat.
7. "Hero" by Jessie J

8. "Piano" by Ariana Grande - This girl's got potential, and this track is easily beats her current single, "Baby I":

9. "Gorilla" by Bruno Mars

10. "Work Bitch" by Britney Spears - As much as may be ruining Brit-Brit's musical integrity with this derivative piece of club trash, it's still club trash you can get drunk to.

11. "Overdose" by Ciara
12. "A Light That Never Comes" by Linkin Park & Steve Aoki
13. "Sorry" by Naya Rivera feat. Big Sean
14. "The Way We Are" by Aiden Grimshaw
15. "I'll Be Around" by Empire of the Sun
16. "Spirit" by Deloreon
17. "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus
18. "Disco Love" by The Saturdays
19. "Vacation" by G.R.L.
20. "Stay The Night" by Zedd feat. Hayley Williams
21. "L.A. Story" by Sammy Adams feat. Mike Posner


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 ...