Screw Resolutions (Again): 15 Things To Do In 2015


If I was able to accomplish 11 out of the 14 things I had planned to do this year, then I have high hopes for 2015. Hence why I've decided to put out another to-do list for the upcoming new year...

1. Whenever people tell me they love a "new" song by an artist, I shall refrain from saying (with snark), "Oh, that song I was listening to 4 months ago?"

2. Visit the Magic Castle.

3. After developing an obsession with Tatsu on Melrose, make sure to consume ramen in moderation.

4. Sign a publishing contract/get a book deal.

5. Take advantage of the recipe book that came with my Magic Bullet. (a gift from Maury Povich - long story...well, not really.)

6. Finish reading Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

7. Send more cards or old-fashioned letters to people in the mail.

8. Go to Hawaii. Or Portland. (Unfortunately, I need to use my vacation days wisely in 2015.)

9. Try Fireball. Just once.

10. Write a letter to myself at age of 18 when I turn 35 at the end of March.

11. Feel free to feel vulnerable.

12. Date more.

13. Get nominated for an Emmy. (Ha, that's for sure. Could this just be filler?)

14. Kick ass.

15. Shorten this list for 2016.

Happy New Year, y'all.

@TheFirstEcho


2014 in 4 Minutes


Vox put together a nice little montage that's just as long as "Auld Lang Syne," so while you're reflecting on your own year on December 31 (and looking for someone to kiss at midnight), give this a play:

@TheFirstEcho


#TBT: That Time Katy Perry Covered Sam Sparro's "Black and Gold"


So, this really happened?

My favorite song of 2008, "Black and Gold," was apparently given the acoustic treatment one year later by a pre-Teenage Dream Katy Perry. Before any Sam Sparro purists scream "WTF?" know that this came from her Australian tour EP in 2009. And know that Adele also covered the awesomely mesmerizing pop number.


For those not familiar with the original track, here's a refresher:


@TheFirstEcho


BLOG OF THE YEAR: The 2014 Rewind


While it's easy - and understandale - for some people to bitch and moan about 2014 being a crap year, ("I'm done! Bring on 2015!") I can honestly say I loved 2014. I can't remember the last time I was this fond of a year. Maybe 1997? But if you weren't a fan of these last 365 days, then I'm sorry. Trust me, I've been there. There were times I felt like my life was stuck in a cesspool of crap from which I'd never escape, and I would roll my eyes at every shiny-happy year-in-review letter I got from friends and relatives. That said, I don't blame some of you for doing the same when you read the next paragraph...

At the end of 2013 I had wanted 2014 to deliver. And, after looking back on the last 12 months, it certainly did. It began with a winter trip to Vancouver and Whistler. It surprised with a promotion at work. ("That's MR. Manager of Creative Planning, thankyouveddymuch.") It continued with a highly memorable road trip through Chicago, Columbus, Toronto, and Montreal. It delighted with a weekend getaway in Palm Beach with my mother. And then, it wrapped up with some literary representation and dreams of a book deal in the near future. (Three rejection letters from major publishers and happily counting...)

But enough about me.

Let's get to the good stuff, the highlights of the year this pop culture junkie absolutely loved...and highly recommends you check out if you haven't already. (*Click away to see what I enjoyed in 2014.)

                     MOVIE PICKS OF 2014

                         TV PICKS OF 2014

                        MUSIC PICKS OF 2014
  @TheFirstEcho


DREAMING: The 2014 Fall Playlist, Vol. 3


For the final playlist of the year I have gathered a number of tunes that should act as the perfect soundtrack to your holiday weekend. So before y'all succumb to your food comas, make sure to sample this cornucopia of goodness...

1. "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor
2. "Got Love" by Tove Lo
3. "Teacher" by Nick Jonas
4. "Just Like Me" by Betty Who
5. "Shut Up And Dance" by Walk The Moon
6. "Dead Air" by Chvrches
7. "Style" by Taylor Swift
8. "Gladiator" by Dami Im:


9. "I Won't Let You Down" by OK Go
10. "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
11. "Under Control" by Calvin Harris feat. Hurts
12. "When We Were Young" by Dillon Francis, Sultan & Ned Sheppard:


13. "Dreaming" by The Knocks
14. "Come Alive" by Chromeo feat. Toro Y Moi
15. "Ready To Run" by One Direction
16. "What Is Love" by Kiesza
17. "Torn Apart" Bastille vs. Grades
18. "Never Been Better" by Olly Murs
19. "The Heart Wants What It Wants" by Selena Gomez
20. "Capsized" by You+Me
21. "Medicine" by The 1975

Listen to it all (well, except for some - cough - Taylor Swift) here on Spotify:

@TheFirstEcho


Nerdgasm of the Month: Watching the 'Jurassic World' Trailer on Repeat


"The Park Is Open."

I know what I'll be doing all Thanksgiving weekend long...

Watching this trailer over and over and over and over...

[in my best John Hammond voice] Behold, and welcome to Jurassic World:


TLC's "Creep" Just Turned 20 Years Old


File this under: Holy Crap, I'm Old.

One of the songs that defined most of my high school experience turned 20 on Halloween last month (it was officially released as a single back on October 31, 1994). It was a track prominently featured during several school dances I attended during my freshman year at Iona Prep in the suburbs of New York.

I hear this song, and I can't help but flashback to baggy Tommy Hilfiger jeans, Timberland boots, and plaid flannel shirts on Friday nights.

And, to this day, I still can't get enough of it.


@TheFirstEcho


Call My Agent: The Age of Literary Representation


It feels like I have entered a new stage of my life here in Los Angeles.

The reason: I now have literary representation. I have an agent. I now have "people." People who can talk to your people. I'm one of the many many folks in this town who rely on individuals to pimp out their creative work and then wait by their iPhones to hear the latest developments and be on the receiving end of numerous rejections.

This was the day my 22-year-old self had been waiting for. It's the first step towards what I hope will be many more steps.

However, it wasn't quite the experience I had envisioned for myself.

The whole process wasn't as glamorous as one would expect. There was no glass-walled conference room with me seated at one end and a team of suits on the other with nothing but a fruit and muffin platter between us. No champagne corks were popped. No hands were shaken.

Everything all came together...over email. There were a few phone calls. And then, three days of trying to decipher the terms of my contract and one signature later, it became official.

Regardless of how it all went down, I'm happy that, after nearly a year of putting together the pieces of my book, I finally have someone who believes in me and wants to get my writing seen by every publisher possible. I like to think that my 26-page proposal will be enticing enough to throw a few offers my way (the dream of anyone working on their first book).

And the work shall continue. Only six of my twenty chapters are complete. I still got a ways to go, so if you don't see me out and about for the next two or three months, please know that I am probably holed up in some cafe or in the shadows of my bedroom, isolating myself in order to finish my non-fiction endeavor. (For those who have asked: it's part memoir, part satire on health and lifestyle guides. I'll let you know more the more I know it's closer to becoming a reality.)

Thank you, Garson & Wright.

Fingers crossed and reaching high,

@TheFirstEcho


Song of the Month: November 2014


WALK THE MOON's "Shut Up And Dance" is giving Neon Trees's "Sleeping With A Friend" a run for its money in the 80s Pop-Rock Revival category.

Just when I thought 2014 didn't have any more spectacularly awesome tracks up its sleeve, along came this fantabulous track I happened to catch on the radio while commuting home after a tedious 11-hour day at work.

This just might be a last-minute addition to my Best Of list of the year:

@TheFirstEcho


#TBT: That Time I Got Chased Out Of The Glendale Galleria By Security


Picture it: Glendale, 2010. Two weeks before Halloween.

On a very family-friendly Sunday afternoon, six men start stripping in the middle of the Glendale Galleria (in front of Crabtree & Evelyn no less) and proceed to dance and grind to "It's Raining Men."

And yours truly was one of the masterminds behind this failed flash mob (one of many that took place throughout Los Angeles that weekend).

You see, I was the producer for a viral campaign promoting the DVD release of Vampires Suck, which involved a series of public stunts that recreated the Twilight spoof's homoerotic dance number. We were hired by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, so we were a totally legit production...except for one tiny detail.

We neglected to inform the aforementioned shopping mall of our plans and totally went in unannounced.

Cue the mall security guard who immediately came over to stop the performance. Cut to: a dozen other mall cops who started running after us the second everyone on our crew scattered and fled the scene. Eventually, despite my pounding heart, I was able to calmly talk to the Head of Security in the stairwell of the mall's parking garage (some of the dancers and I were cornered and trapped at one point). We explained our case and apologized for the sudden burst of beefcake that had been put on display.

Although I'm sure a soccer mom or two (and some giggling teenage girls) got a kick out of it.

You can catch some of our footage here (needless to say, none of the mall footage made it):


Now I know how that kid must've felt in Johnny Knoxville's Bad Grandpa.

@TheFirstEcho


MOMENTS: The 2014 Fall Playlist, Vol. 2


From the looks of the cover, one might think this second volume of fall tunes may be a little dude-centric. True, but the ladies are in full force as always. This marks Taylor Swift's first appearance on any playlist of mine - and once you listen to #4, you'll understand why I gave in. Then there's Tove Lo's "Moments," after which this compilation is named, because it. Is. Everything. (Seriously, her debut album, Queen of the Clouds, is one of the best of 2014.) But the real surprise may be Hozier's slot at #5, a track that will indeed take you to church and cause your jaw to drop when you hear this 24-year-old Irishman's voice.

1. "Lips Are Movin" by Meghan Trainor
2. "Moments" by Tove Lo
3. "Glory Days" by Betty Who
4. "Out of the Woods" by Taylor Swift
5. "Take Me to Church" by Hozier
6. "Wrapped Up" by Olly Murs feat. Travie McCoy
7. "Slow Acid" by Calvin Harris

8. "I Wanna Feel" by Secondcity - Yes, what you're hearing is a sample of Toni Braxton's "You're Makin Me High" from 1996:


9. "Lay Me Down" by Avicii feat. Nile Rodgers with Adam Lambert
10. "No Enemiesz" by Kiesza
11. "Dangerous" by David Guetta feat. Sam Martin
12. "Wilderness" by Nick Jonas
13. "Waves" by Mr. Probz
14. "Wasted Love" by Steve Angello feat. Dougy)
15. "Bright Lights (Radio Edit)" by Syn Cole
16. "Disco in Space" by Blake Lewis
17. "Knock You Out" by Bingo Players
18. "Baby Don't Lie" Gwen Stefani
19. "Froot" by Marina and the Diamonds
20."Illuminate" by Afrojack & Matthew Koma
21. "I Got You" by Duke Dumont feat. Jax Jones

Listen to it all here:

@TheFirstEcho


1989: A Good Year For Many Other Things Too


While you listen to Taylor Swift's brand-spankin' new album, 1989, for the 23rd time this week, I'd like to direct your attention to other things that entered the world during the year T.S. popped out in a hospital somewhere in a town that is probably priding itself on being the birthplace of a superstar.

Let us reflect on and honor those who contributed so much to pop culture 25 years ago...

1. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

2. Madonna's video for "Like a Prayer":


3. Seinfeld's debut on NBC.

4. The first official episode of The Simpsons on Fox.

5. Back to the Future Part II:


6. The B-52's "Love Shack":


7. This piece of literature:

8. The Dodge Dynasty, a fine automobile named after a TV show about rich women with shoulder pads who slapped the shit out of each other:


@TheFirstEcho


Last Week A Bigoted Redneck Got Served A Big Plate of Justice in Dallas


Bravo, Texas. Bravo.

Here's the video. (The accidental TGIFriday plug comes at 6:09)


When Your Halloween Costume Gives You Major Moose Knuckle


This past weekend I attended Halloween Havoc XIV, my friend Matt's 14th annual costume bash, where (naturally) I provided a playlist of tunes for all to enjoy (lining up Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" with vintage Britney's "Drive Me Crazy" does wonders for a dance floor).

This year I decided to go with a hybrid costume, putting a demonic spin on Alice in Wonderland's Tweedledee (hence the name Tweedle-Demon; thank God I added a name tag to clarify for people). And I appreciated all the compliments I received throughout the night.

But after checking out a few snapshots on Facebook and Instagram, I noticed that my red suspenders did nothing to help my sweatpants situation, particularly in the crotch area.

You live. You learn. And you have a good laugh.

Luckily nothing else came up.

*Thanks to @marzaar for the photo.

@TheFirstEcho


Since We're on a 90s Kick, Here's This: 'Swans Crossing'


A very young, pre-Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar...

That girl who lived in a submarine with her dad...

And that theme song...

Ah, Swans Crossing, the short-lived syndicated teen soap that dominated the summer of 1992:


And here's a little sample:


MINDBLOWING FACT: did any of you know that Mira Sorvino appeared on this?

@TheFirstEcho


#TBT: That Time I Sweated My Ass Off on Style Network


It was a sweltering day in August of 2011. And those hot indoor studio lights didn't help. But these awesome folks and I squeezed onto a couch and managed to get through a taping of The Look For Less to help a friend out. 

From left to right: actor-director (and former producing partner) Michael Medico, stylist Meg Titus, yours truly, S Factor manager (and fellow Cumberbitch) Stephanie Gradski, and Paul Mitchell events director Greg Bonhomme.

They're good people.


Why R.L. Stine's 'Party Games' is a Tricky Piece of Literary Nostalgia: 3 Ways to Read It


Plaid flannel and babydoll dresses may be making a comeback at the mall, and dance music appears to be returning to its house roots, but there's another reason why 2014 is feeling very 1994: author R.L. Stine has returned to Fear Street, the series of books that dominated the Young Adult section in bookstores during the Clinton era.

The latest entry, Party Games, is dedicated to Stine's Twitter followers, the thousands of twenty- and thirtysomethings who came of age during the author's literary heyday (yours truly proudly included). They're the ones who have longed for some 90s nostalgia in the form of good old-fashioned teenage bloodshed and have taken to social media, urging him to revisit the fictitious town of Shadyside and its infamous dead-end street.

Party Games is the story of 17-year-old Rachel Martin who gets invited to a birthday party hosted at a mansion on mysterious Fear Island, where the titular games turn deadly for guests. The birthday boy happens to be game-loving Brendan Fear, "pale and serious-looking" with "a shy smile," a descendant of the powerful Fear dynasty that practically ran the town back in the 1800s. (Hence everything being named after them -- see: the entire Fear Street Saga.)

R.L. Stine is celebrated because of the sheer amount of material he has been able to churn out over the past two-and-a-half decades. His books are easy-breezy paperbacks filled with numerous cliffhangers designed to keep young readers hooked on every word. Three years after debuting Fear Street, he dropped Goosebumps on the younger siblings of those readers, and from there, he became a household name and broke publishing records.

So it may be difficult to criticize a writer who is so loved by kids (and former kids) yet whose signature work is full of simple-to-follow plots and less-than-inspired dialogue.

I realize it's impossible to capture the same thrill and excitement I had whenever I picked up the latest Fear Street at Barnes & Noble during my pre-high school years. Reading the latest installment now is definitely not the same experience as it was back then.

Therefore I believe there are three ways to critique -- or three perspectives from which to approach -- Party Games:

1. As a 14-year-old living in 1994.

2. As a 14-year-old living in 2014.

3. As a present-day, grown-ass 34-year-old man attempting to relive his early adolescence.

Reading it as a teen living in the 90s, Party Games should really be subtitled as a "Super Chiller," simply because it's over 200 pages and has a lot of story to tell. But this being 2014, a time when publishers of young adult fiction can make more money with a hardcover title (higher prices), a first-print paperback is out of the question. Either way, the story is rapidly paced, just like previous Fear Street entries. Cliffhangers galore!

Hypothetically reading it as a 14-year-old in present day America, Party Games moves pretty quickly because of its short and swift chapters. But the characters seem a little blah, almost like cardboard cut-outs. And there are way too many fake-outs. (The previous chapter was all in her imagination! It was a prank!) Come on, is this what was considered scary 20 years ago?

Finally, as a 2014 thirtysomething who is well-versed in all YA fiction from the 90s and proudly owns every Fear Street title in existence, the obvious excuse to pan Party Games could stem from my arguably matured literary tastes. I assume a 14-year-old who reads this now would share the same views. After all, today's YA titles are light years away in sophistication when compared to the YA novels of the 90s. Vampire sex, dystopian bloodbaths, and brutally honest portrayals of teens-in-crisis is what dominates the shelves these days. (Again, in hardcovers, probably to make the adults who read them feel less guilty.)

But would it be fair to criticize Stine's latest work based on what's currently in the market? Yes and no.

After reading the twist-filled Party Games, I can see that R.L. Stine, "one of the bestselling authors of children's books in the world," (sorry J.K. Rowling) hasn't really lost his mojo. But his mojo doesn't quite fit in today's YA world. Now at the age of 71, it seems like Stine is writing for teens as if it were still 1989 (when the first Fear Street title, The New Girl, was published). And the world we live in now resembles nothing like the one from 25 years ago.

Stine, as crafty and swift as his writing is, appears to be stuck in a time warp in which characters insult each other with comments like "lousy creep" and "stupid jerk." And do today's teenage girls still call a hot guy "a hunk"? But I have to give him this: he can whip up a variety of ways to describe the moonlight while running from danger through a dark patch of woods.

One can't help but think that his sweeping success with the more juvenile Goosebumps has somewhat allowed his finger to slip off the pulse of the fickle, hard-to-market teen audience. He can't turn to his son Matt, who once modeled for the cover of The Perfect Date, for inspiration and the scoop on what's trending among adolescents (The junior Stine is now in his early 30s). Therefore Stine's current crop of "teen" books still come off as PG (PG-13 at best) horror tales while his competition continues to tiptoe along the border of R-rated territory (perhaps because most YA fiction has never had a wider, more adult audience until now, which is another discussion for another day).

If Goosebumps exists in a safe, Disney Channel-like realm, then Fear Street falls somewhere within the confines of an ABC Family universe -- risque antics neutered by slight sugar coating.

Sure, you could argue that this reader has merely outgrown these kinds of books, that I am too old to appreciate and enjoy literature aimed at readers less than half my age. But a closer look at bookstore shelves will show you that not all YA authors of yesteryear are trapped in (or relegated to) the past. Christopher Pike, the other bestselling author of 90s teen fiction, has been pumping out sequels to some of his classics (The Last Vampire has now been rebooted as the Thirst saga), and he has even kicked off a new trilogy called Witch World. Having read his latest offerings, I can see that his writing is sharper than ever and has successfully adapted to a 21st century marketplace. Loyal readers and fans will tell you that Pike has always dealt with more mature subject matter when compared to Stine, but his current novels show an expanded grasp on his readership. The edge he had in the 90s (one that my 14-year-old self noticed back then) hasn't dulled whatsoever. Now in his 50s, Pike has demonstrated a depth and richness in his writing that was only teased two decades ago.

If R.L. Stine's idea of keeping up with today's generation and updating his stories is to include blatant, throwaway references to Skype and Netflix, then a non-fan (a hard-to-please 14-year-old) might advise him to respectfully close his laptop, retire, and enjoy the rest of his life -- at the risk of sounding ageist.

And let's talk about the heroine at the center of Party Games: Rachel is a girl who works part-time as a waitress at the local hangout (how quaintly Saved by the Bell) where she observes all the other "kids" from her school. Yes, she repeatedly refers to her peers as "kids" throughout the book -- has she been inhabited by the spirit of an elderly curmudgeon? No, she's just written that way -- by a 71-year-old man in a teenager's first-person POV.

She's also in what appears to be a potentially abusive relationship with her boyfriend Mac, a dude who warns her to stay away from the birthday festivities on Fear Island. She (Stine) describes Mac as follows:

"I knew he had a bad reputation. I heard he'd been suspended from his old school for fighting. I'd seen his violent temper. But I also thought he was a good guy at heart. He was kind at times and very soft-spoken, even shy. He had a tender side he didn't let many people see. Yes, he was very possessive, even though we'd only been seeing each other for a few weeks. And he resented the time I spent with Amy and my other friends. But I kind of thought that meant he cared. Stupid me..."

Yes, stupid indeed. She clearly doesn't show any signs of self-respect, and that may be a bit of a problem. File this under: #WhyIStayed

But Stine, in the end, somewhat redeems her (and himself) by placing Rachel in some nightmarish situations during which she demonstrates some resolve and backbone (in one chapter she must claw her way out of a "death pit" by creating a ladder from a pile of skeleton bones). Like most of Stine's heroines, she thankfully manages to stand up for herself and fight back.

The book is divided into four parts, and once you get to the intense second denouement (it's like Return of the King, there's more than one ending), you realize that Stine is having fun with the reader, jumping back and forth between horror themes. Some may be disappointed by the Big Twist while others will just be happy to enjoy the rest of the ride.

I'm torn. While a part of me treats this as enjoyable trash, the other appreciates the opportunity Party Games offers to a new generation of readers, a chance to visit the town of Shadyside and discover the horrors that lurk in the shadows.

Will I buy the next Fear Street entry, Don't Stay Up Late, when it comes out in time for my birthday next spring?

You bet your nostalgic bookworm ass I will.

@TheFirstEcho


SURRENDER: The 2014 Fall Playlist, Vol. 1


Raise your pumpkin lattes!

Fall is not only a great time for more cerebral entertainment. (Hello, award contenders and award-winning novels!) It's also a season for harvesting new music. And I've got a bounty of tunes to keep you cozy while that autumn chill rolls in...

1. "Runaways" by Betty Who
2. "Love Me Harder" by Ariana Grande feat. The Weeknd
3. "Real Love" by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne:


4. "Blame" by Calvin Harris feat. John Newman
5. "Surrender" by Cash Cash
6. "Jealous" by Nick Jonas - *Yes, it's true. This doesn't suck.
7. "Modern Hearts" by The Knocks feat. St. Lucia:


8. "Go All Night" by Gorgon City feat. Jennifer Hudson
9. "Habits (Stay High)" by Tove Lo - *From what is quickly becoming one of the best pop albums of 2014, Queen of the Clouds.
10. "Burnin Up" by Jessie J feat. 2 Chainz
11. "Drive My Car" by Nick & Knight
12. "Love Who Loves You Back" by Tokio Hotel:


13. "Heroes" by Alesso feat. Tove Lo
14. "Cheap Sunglasses" by RAC feat. Matthew Koma
15. "The Days" by Avicii feat. Robbie Williams
16. "Nobody But You" by Mary J. Blige feat. Sam Smith
17. "Rude (Zedd Remix)" by MAGIC!
18. "Never Gonna Leave You" by Adele - *The lost track that will hold you over until her 2015 album hits us.
19. "Animals" by Maroon 5
20. "Don't Be Gone Too Long" by Chris Brown feat. Ariana Grande

@TheFirstEcho


Song of the Month: October 2014


Tove Lo, the Swedish import who's currently making an impact on American radio with her single, "Habits (Stay High)," recently released her debut album, Queen of the Clouds, and I have to say it's one of the most refreshingly dynamic and original pop albums I've heard in a while (don't be surprised if it appears on my Best of 2014 list in December).

"Moments" is one those brilliant tracks from Clouds, an unapologetic manifesto with a soaring chorus that will have you embracing whatever flaws you think you may have.

It also includes what is possibly my favorite lyric of 2014:

"I can get a little drunk, I get into all the don'ts, but on good days I am charming as fuck."

Listen and love:


@TheFirstEcho


'Desperate Housewives' 10 Years Later: Remembering A Primetime Soap Benchmark


A seemingly happy wife and mother named Mary Alice puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger...and a seemingly 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 eight seasons Wisteria Lane on ABC's Desperate Housewives was a ground zero for soapy fun. It quickly became a place where secrets -- along with several criminals -- were harbored, where a wealthy a former model slept with her gardener, where a neglected wife went off her rocker and shot up a supermarket, where an accident-prone single mom got kidnapped by a vengeful ex-con, where an on-the-lam family hid from an eco-terrorist, where a shady politician got skewered by a picket fence during a tornado, where an airplane crash landed into a Christmas block party, where a serial killer once held a pregnant woman hostage, where a bitchy real estate agent got electrocuted by a telephone pole, where...

You get the idea.


Debuting on October 3, 2004, Desperate Housewives arrived at just the right time, filling 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, which ended eight months before, celebrated the comedic dramas of urban female singles, then DH went further and celebrated the comedic dramas of suburban female 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 three seasons. The Golden influence on Housewives is evident.

Lesson: When women gather together, spectacular things happen.

DH also filled another void in prime-time television. It brought back the Nighttime Soap to small screens, tweaking the genre in way that made it more easily digestible for the savvy, sophisticated audiences of the post-Aaron Spelling aughts. It reminded networks that American audiences still had an appetite for serialized plots, especially those that took the "guilty" out of "guilty pleasure." Premiering just one week after another groundbreaking ABC drama, Lost, the Desperate pilot was a shining example of sharp character development and provocative storytelling that treated viewers with respect.

Much like the aforementioned Knots Landing, the show introduced three-dimensional characters general audiences 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.

Speaking of consistency...

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 season (More revenge! This time with a switched-at-birth twist!) and placed all four leading ladies in their own cover-up scandal in their final year, a storyline reminiscent of Mary-Alice's season 1 predicament (the ladies implicated themselves in the murder of Gaby's abusive stepfather).

Clearly the show was a liberal dressed in a conservative's clothing. The fictional and picturesque town of Fairview is located in the conveniently ambiguous "Eagle State" (Anywhere, USA). 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 personified 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 had a gay son and a less-than-perfect daughter she loved with all her heart.

Like many suburban satires before it, most of which have found success on the big screen (American BeautyThe Ice Storm), the Housewives 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.

But ultimately, Housewives heralded a new soapy era at ABC, helping to build a home for similarly plotted shows like Brothers & Sisters and Revenge, and most recently, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, which are, simply put, rapidly paced soaps disguised as political and legal dramas, respectively. (Shonda Rhimes -- the new Aaron Spelling? Discuss.)

Happy 10th, ladies.

@TheFirstEcho


R.L. Stine Says 'Fear Street' TV Series "Might Be Pretty Close" to Happening


One of my literary idols, R.L. Stine, was recently interviewed on HuffPost Live to answer questions from fans, wax nostalgic on the recording-breaking Goosebumps series, and promote the new season of The Haunting Hour premiering on the HUB in October.

That's all fine and dandy, but what really perked up my ears was the mention of Fear Street the YA horror series that practically defined the 90s for me. A new title, Party Games, is being released next week (I pre-ordered my copy back in July -- I don't play), and this prompted a fan, @Blair_Hoyle, to ask about Fear Street being adapted for TV, an idea I've supported since the birth of The CW, a natural home for the series if there ever was one...and since I started writing my own pilot based on the scary goings-on in the town of Shadyside.

See where the discussion leads to, starting at the 9:00 mark:


Stine's answer is a tricky one. Yes, a movie studio owns the rights to Fear Street -- which turns 25 this year -- and yes, it's probably stuck in development hell, but if one were to read between the lines, the message is clear: Hollywood (and the writer himself) is going to wait and see how Jack Black's Goosebumps movie will do in 2015 before they invest in other properties.

Right now I'll take his promise-that's-not-really-a-promise with a grain of salt and absorb myself in Party Games for the time being.

@TheFirstEcho


Revenge of the Husky


Husky.

According to Wikipedia, it’s “a general name for a type of dog used to pull sleds in northern regions,” like Alaska. These canines are described as “energetic and athletic,” able to pull heavy loads through harsh, wintry terrain.

“Husky” was also the name of the section in which I had to shop for my Catholic school uniforms at Liebman’s Children Clothing in my hometown. The store is somewhat of an institution, dressing thousands of boys and girls in southern Westchester County since 1927, so perhaps the term “husky” was an acceptable description back then for boys of the “big-boned” variety. Today it just seems like a blatantly polite substitute for “The Fat Kid Rack.”

From the Husky Boys Clothes page on Land's End website. Is it me, or does nothing about this fair-haired young man say "husky"?

Nothing makes you feel more insecure than your clothing size being ironically labeled after an "athletic" animal, and nothing makes you feel more like an outcast than having your school uniform be located in the eerily quiet basement where they store the creepy, defective mannequins. While some of my classmates modeled their new sweaters and skirts for their smiling parents up on the street level of the store, I was relegated to what was essentially a dungeon for The Unusually Sized. A dungeon full of clearance racks and rejected outfits that would never find homes in the closets of the boys and girls of New Rochelle.

Having a pair of dead eyes stare at you while attempting to squeeze into a pair of gray slacks does nothing for the self-esteem either.

At the start of the school year 1990, I was entering the fifth grade at New Rochelle Catholic Elementary. I was excited to get my new uniform because this was the year I became an upperclassman, which meant my pants graduated from the requisite navy blue to gray – just like the rest of the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I was on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged junior high student, and that one step closer to parochial maturity made me feel good. I was a big boy now, figuratively and literally.


While my mother kept herself busy looking for new socks I desperately needed (damn growth spurt), I trudged downstairs to the windowless basement to find my pair of gray slacks. There was one fitting room down there next to a dark, enclosed space that was filled with boxes and various inventory. It was more like a makeshift booth with a curtain. After rummaging through the Husky rack, I went into the booth and drew the curtain behind me. I don’t know why I didn’t bother to go back upstairs to try on the pants – maybe my Butterball self didn’t feel like immediately committing to the cardio of going back up that lengthy staircase.

At first I didn’t notice the torso and head of the little boy mannequin that stood in the corner of the fitting room. I caught his reflection in the mirror and jumped. His face was chipped, and he appeared to have been designed sometime in the 1950s. He had a vintage look to him. He didn’t look like the other little boy mannequins I had seen on display at the mall, but he had that permanent painted-on smile that was more than just creepy. It chilled my 10-year-old bones.

Let me clarify: I didn’t have some kind of irrational fear of mannequins. Sometime during my childhood I developed a distrust of them. Maybe it was that episode of The Twilight Zone that planted the seed, the one where a woman starts hearing strange voices coming from department store dummies while shopping – only to find out that she isn’t human after all. She’s a mannequin that comes to life every night and doesn’t know it (thanks Rod Serling). Or maybe it was Today’s Special, that cable children’s show in which a male mannequin came to life every night, thanks to a magic hat, and interacted with Jodie, the department store’s display manager, and Sam, the bumbling, Muppet-like security guard. I always confused the actor who played the magical mannequin with The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams. (I know, right? Of all people!) There was something off about their overly cheery demeanors. Their laid-back friendly dispositions belied, in my eyes, a sinister force capable of unspeakable acts.

Or maybe it was the recurring nightmare that had left me mentally scarred a few years back, the one about the Japanese geisha figurine my parents kept in a display case in our living room. In the dream the white-faced statue kept tormenting me when no one was looking. I had tried to tell my family that the statue was alive and threatening to do bad things to me, but no one believed me. What would Freud say?

While testing out my new school slacks in that cramped, poorly lit fitting room I could have sworn I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. Did Little Mannequin Boy turn his head, or was it just a trick of shadow and light? The reasonable part of my brain told me he couldn’t do anything to me if he tried – you know, since he had no legs. How would he chase after me? Silly boy.

The dead silence of the basement also didn’t help ease my young impressionable mind. After quickly putting my jeans back on, I stepped out of the booth and heard a rustling behind one of the boxes in the dark space of the room. I couldn’t tell if the black void led to some kind of corridor that ran under Liebman’s – or perhaps some portal to a hell dimension from which evil mannequins sprang to prey on chubby little boys as part of their plan for world domination. Did I just stumble upon a plot between Liebman’s Children Clothing and sinister beings from another world? Did the owners of the store make a deal with these creatures? Is that why the Husky section was placed down here, so that these soul-sucking mannequins had easier access to the town’s overweight, younger population?

As you can see, I was a budding conspiracy theorist.

On second thought, that would make a great Goosebumps book. You’re welcome, R.L. Stine.

Needless to say, I survived that particular visit to Liebman’s.

Being referred to as “husky” wasn’t all that bad, but if it were up to me, I would have come up with another label for the sizes of little boys who weren’t so little -- you know, like Men’s Medium. Husky may have been cute back when Eisenhower was president, but its overt politeness now comes off as condescending. We know your child is bordering on obesity; why not shop for his clothes in the men’s section at Macy’s instead?

If we're to make overweight children feel more insecure about themselves (and apparently there are a lot in this country right now) by subjecting them to trite labels, why not re-label all other sizes? Let's redo the entire size chart for everyone else!

If I owned a children’s clothing store, I’d incorporate the following:

Boys Small = PIPSQUEAK
Alternative label: RUNT

Boys Medium = BORINGLY AVERAGE
Alternative label: COULD USE SOME MEAT ON HIS BONES

Boys Large = STRAPPING
Alternative label: POTENTIAL JOCK

Boys XL = ROBUST
Alternative label: BIG GUY

Let's see how that would affect millions of childhoods across the nation.

Sincerely,
The Husky

*This has been an excerpt from a chapter of a book-in-progress I'm currently shopping around.

@TheFirstEcho


The Truth About Carrie Bradshaw (And The Seemingly Fabulous Lives of Writers)


Sex and the City has been off the air for a decade now, but the fashionable trials and tribulations of Carrie Bradshaw and her trio of gal pals still live on in the hearts of many.

Haters and cynics have been quick to criticize how the show unrealistically portrayed the lifestyle of a writer, particularly one who lives in Manhattan and manages to stock her closet with a plethora of designer labels.

Throughout its six-season run, the show has vaguely attempted to justify Carrie's living situation. Her apartment has been described as rent-controlled. And...that's about it. Yes, her weekly newspaper column got turned into a book, and in season 5 she mentioned how thrilled she was to write for Vogue at $4.25 a word, a pay rate that is practically unheard of in today's world where print is a dying medium (less readers = less advertisers = less money) and online journalism is mostly built on a foundation of volunteer (i.e. non-paying) work. And really, how long does an advance from a soon-to-be-published book last for someone with Carrie's spending habits? That paycheck can only cover a finite amount of fabulous meals and fabulous cocktails at fabulous restaurants -- as well as a fabulous wardrobe.

Let's approach this from a socioeconomic standpoint, particularly in the era during which SATC took place: The late 90s and early aughts were a time when print media was still a viable platform on which to earn a modest, fixed income. Blogs had yet to take over. The term "news feed" wasn't even a thing yet. Therefore legit and established writers like Carrie could have feasibly paid their bills. But not with one source of income.

Any writer will tell you that, if you're name isn't Stephen King or Anna Quindlen, it's a daily hustle to make a living as one. No writer can live off one published piece of work. There's a reason why "writer" is an umbrella term to cover words like "journalist," "columnist," "critic," "novelist," "author," and "blogger." Most writers have to work in all types of literary fields. In my opinion, the more you can adapt to different styles, the better writer you become.

But I digress.

As a burgeoning writer myself (I'm currently "in talks" with a literary agent in regards to my own book - did that sound as obnoxious as it felt writing it?), I've started to realize something. When I now look at all of the Manolo Blahniks and Cosmopolitans Carrie Bradshaw has gone through over the years, I understand how she did it, how she was able to get away with it. I have uncovered the secret that explains how this woman was able to conduct a luxurious lifestyle without completely wiping out her bank account. I have discovered (hypothetically, of course) THE TRUTH.

Here it goes...


She got all that shit for free.

Hear me out:

When a writer develops a pretty decent reputation, especially while attached to certain media outlets, there are people -- particularly publicists -- who will reach out to said writer and request him/her to give their client -- namely a film, restaurant, fashion designer, or hotel -- some coverage in the media. It's almost like a movie star or athlete being approached to endorse a new vitamin-infused energy drink. Those celebs probably have a garage overflowing with bottles of the product. However, whereas they may receive a hefty amount of money for promoting that drink, writers get little to no dollars -- just a free sample.

I should know. Rather than live with a closet full of couture, I have an entertainment center loaded with enough books and films to stock up my local Barnes & Noble. Most of these are titles I've either written about, reviewed, or endorsed in some way. Half of the films I see in theaters every year are complimentary (even the popcorn, sometimes). Those amazing meals I've had the pleasure of savoring at chic restaurants? On the house. And those trips to Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Canada in the past year? Free.

Now, how much did I make writing about those aforementioned movies, menus, and travel destinations? What I was paid as a writer last year amounted to less than what I currently make in a week at my full-time job at Stun Creative. But make no mistake: I am grateful for everything I've received. It is certainly better than getting nothing at all.

However, it's all an illusion, this romanticized image of a writer living large. A writer only appears to afford such luxuries when, in fact, he or she is receiving complimentary schwag for the sake of publicity. And there's absolutely no shame in being showered with gifts like a fashionable $300 winter coat to wear during a press trip to Whistler Mountain...or a brand new wireless Bluetooth speaker from the generous folks at iHome Audio.

This is a practice that can probably be traced back to...let's just say "a long time ago." Look at Truman Capote! That soft-spoken shorty had access to all the trimmings of New York City's high society. I wouldn't be surprised if he used his connections to get hooked up with a three-piece suit for a party or a tasty meal at Manhattan's Stork Club.

Therefore it's reasonable to assume that Sex and the City's heroine never actually purchased those designer duds she wore on a regular basis, and she probably didn't pay for those drinks and appetizers at that hot new bar in the Meatpacking District...because she wrote about them in her newspaper column. And got paid in free goods. It's like a barter trade -- give some free publicity, earn a nice perk.

The only time this became blatantly clear was during the first Sex and the City movie: Carrie, now a published writer of several books, had become more of a household name (within the film, that is). She even got a wedding-themed Vanity Fair photo spread dedicated to her marriage to Big. And then there was that Vera Wang wedding dress she received as "a gift" from the designer herself. You could hear the collective gasp of envy in the theater when Carrie opened that big white box.

And let's not forget that all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi in the 2010 sequel, the result of an Arab sheikh's attempt to get Samantha to devise a PR campaign for his sprawling resort. Without her PR connection, our gal Carrie would have never gone on that Middle Eastern adventure (and I'm sure she wrote about her exotic experiences, especially running into Aiden, for her weekly column).

So, in conclusion, I'm just like Carrie Bradshaw. Or maybe that's something I tell my deluded self to make me feel better about my life. Heck, my bedroom is laid out just like hers, with a large closet space connected to a bathroom with two doors.

Either way, you know what I'm talking about. The next time you pop in one of your Sex and the City DVDs and start drooling over Carrie's Christian Lacroix ensemble, remember: she most likely didn't drop a single dime on it.

Gotta run. I'm off to Palm Springs to stay at the Welk Resort for a little weekend writing retreat.

And yes, I got the room for free. #sorrynotsorry

@TheFirstEcho


10 Songs Perfect For Crying Alone On Your Bathroom Floor


We've all had those bad days, those depressing times when we needed a good cry, to unabashedly feel sorry for ourselves, to feel like the world is covered by one giant, dark cloud that is about to unleash a shitstorm of pain and heartache.

Fall is upon us, nights will grow longer, and we all know how people's moods tend to change along with the leaves. So why not have a soundtrack to accompany those miserably melancholy moments?

Grab a bottle of red, keep some Kleenex nearby, and let it all out:

1. "Why" by Annie Lennox - Why? Because its somber orchestration perfectly captures the mood of someone who needs to let go of all the bad shit that's been festering inside. The song simply facilitates release, an emotional purge everyone needs every now and then. Also? It accompanies one of the best scenes in 1995's Boys on the Side.


2. "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell (the 2001 version) - A great theme song for regret. It goes well with a side of heavy sighing and contemplation. Kudos to the music supervisor of the holiday neo-classic Love Actually for choosing this tune for one of the film's most devastating scenes (it kicks in at 1:15).


3. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt - Raise your hand if you've ever felt undesirable after being on the wrong end of unrequited love! Well, Bonnie's got a song for you...


4. "All By Myself" by Celine Dion (and various artists)
- If Bridget Jones can blare this on the stereo after going through a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of wine while cocooned in oversized pajamas on her couch, then you can too. No shame. #SorryNotSorry


5. "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler - From the soundtrack to the grandmother of all chick flicks, this is the song that always made my mother change the dial on the radio whenever it came on. She didn't need to burst into tears while commuting to work. But you might need to when you reminisce about your bestie and glory days long gone.

6. "Why Does It Always Rain On Me" by Travis - An ode to insomnia, self-loathing, and the search for sunny days. Enjoy!

7. "2AM (Breathe)" by Anna Nalick - There's light at the end of the long and dark tunnel, and Anna Nalick is here to lead the way.

8. "My December" by Josh Groban - Seriously, just check out the 2003 cover of this Linkin Park song from 2000, and you'll be all like, "Holy shit."

9. "Someone Like You" by Adele - So your man found someone new. Go ahead, wish him well, but I know you're hurting deep down inside. Keep telling yourself you're going to be okay. But in the meantime, the arrangement of this 2011 megahit is really telling you to curl up in a ball on the cold tile of your bathroom floor and cry for your losses.

10. "Karma Police" by Radiohead - Just keep repeating "This is what you get" over and over while rocking back and forth in the dark.

@TheFirstEcho


My 700th Post: I Said Yes!


699 blog posts later, and here we are.

The above meme is a result of an idea I had while eyeing some Ring Pops in CVS last night on the way home from work. For anyone who can't take another engagement ring photo on their Facebook feed.

You're welcome.

@TheFirstEcho 

Um, PS - I don't really have diabetes.


LABOR DAZE: The 2014 Summer Playlist, Vol. 3


Goodbye, Summer of 2014.

Thank you for giving us some great beach weather, Chris Pratt, and enough Ice Bucket Challenges to last until the next charity-driven meme turns into another viral gimmick. But before you go, let's celebrate you one more time before we all start to stress out over our Halloween costumes...

1. "Bang Bang" by Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj
2. "Big Girls Cry" by Sia
3. "This Is How We Do" by Katy Perry
4. "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor -
5. "Classic" by The Knocks feat. Powers
6. "Paralyzed" by BT feat. Christian Burns:


7. "It Was Always You" by Maroon 5
8. "Everything You Wanted" by Clubfeet:


9. "Lovers on the Sun" by David Guetta feat. Sam Martin
10. "One More Day" by Example
11. "Do or Die (Stay With Me)" by Afrojack & Thirty Seconds to Mars
12. "Anaconda" by Nicki Minaj
13. "Ordinary Human" by OneRepublic
14. "Superheroes" by The Script:


15. "Leave Your Lover" by Sam Smith
16. "Everything Remind Me of You" by Tessanne Chin
17. "Here For You" by Gorgon City feat. Laura Welsh
18. "Break The Rules" by Charli XCX:


19. "Beautiful Life" by Armin Van Buuren feat. Cindy Alma
20. "All The Way" by Timeflies
21. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough (Van O Remix)" by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

@TheFirstEcho


Song of the Month: September 2014


Too bad this sumptuous jam didn't drop earlier this summer. But no bother. If you're looking for a tune to close out The Summer of 2014, look no further.

The Knocks (a.k.a. Ben "B-Roc" Suttner and James "J-Patt" Patterson - not to be confused with the bestselling crime novelist) have crafted a fine, groovetastic number called "Classic" featuring vocals from some chick who goes by the name Powers.

Enjoy the hell out of this one, kids:


*Also, you've probably noticed that I've taken out the word "Theme" in the above headline and abbreviated this series of posts as "Song of the Month." It's just better, no? And yes, it helps with search engine optimization purposes.

@TheFirstEcho


Ann Coulter's Ice Bucket Challenge


Thanks to B. Scott's recent post on Facebook, I took the liberty of updating it a bit.

@TheFirstEcho


Pop Culture Rant of the Week: Ice Water Mothers


1. Mothers of the world: keep your hands on the wheel and your iPhones off your babies in the backseat. I'm sure your precious children are capable of cute shit at home.

2. I love my friends, especially the ones who know better than to dare me to dump a bucket of ice water on my head. Consider us old-fashioned; we like to directly donate money to charities we wholeheartedly support.

3. The Ariana Grande video for "Break Free" (featuring Zedd, can't forget about him) debuted this week. I didn't think it was possible to produce a prozac-induced remake of Britney's 2000 classic "Oops I Did It Again," but here we are (seriously, I like the girl, but she must have more than two facial expressions in her):


4. This trailer for The Babadook. I'm getting some serious The Others vibes. My guess: there is no monster. The mom is just going nuts and ends up murdering her child. The end.


5. And finally, not so much as a rant but a reflection: Watching Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, and Dead Poets Society will be all the more special from now on.

@TheFirstEcho


Matt Bean: Entertainment Weekly's New Editor or Photogenic Poster Boy?


Earlier this year the seats of power shifted at Entertainment Weekly.

Out went Jess Cagle and in came Matt Bean as the mag's Editor in Chief.

Bean hails from SportsIllustrated.com, and his headshots (below) apparently hail from the School of Dapper Gentlemen. Which makes me wonder if we'll be seeing a lot more of this photogenic writer on TV (morning news, talk shows, etc). The above photo was taken for last month's Comic-Con issue, so naturally, Bean had to perfect his "hot nerd" look.



Either way, whether or not they're prescription lenses, the glasses are a nice touch.

@TheFirstEcho