Pop Culture Rant of the Week: The Conundrum of '13 Reasons Why' and 'Big Little Lies'


Big Little Lies (HBO) and 13 Reasons Why (Netflix) are two of the biggest and most talked-about shows of the spring. Both are adaptations of bestselling novels. Both have sizable fanbases.

And both are being considered for second seasons.

This is a mistake IMHO.

If I remember correctly, BLL was sold to us as a "limited series." As in, "miniseries." As in, "just one singular season." On the other hand, 13 Reasons Why was not sold to us that way -- probably for good...um, reason. (Netflix loves keeping those doors open.)

Audiences of both shows want more. They're insatiable. If you are among them, ask yourself: Why am I pining for a second season? Why can't I be satisfied with each show's perfectly executed conclusions? Did I forget they're based on novels that aren't part of a trilogy or series (like the sprawling Game of Thrones)? Do I want another season of each just so that I can later bitch and complain about how it's not as good as the first? (Because half of the time, that's what happens with the sophomore run of a hugely popular show that captures the zeitgeist -- See: Empire, Desperate Housewives, and certain Ryan Murphy productions).

I am fine with both shows living within the capsule of a single story. I don't want new stories. I don't want new characters introduced to flesh out those new stories. I don't want creativity to be compromised. I want them to stay perfect in my memory, forever sealed and preserved for TV history.

But then again, I remember this is America. When something takes off, when something is an instant success, the eyeballs of those behind said success turn into cartoon dollar signs. We don't do things like the British do with their television hits; they're all about single-season programs (The Office, London Spy, Fawlty Towers). We push further. We take creative risks. We expand universes. We come up with superfluous backstories. We strive for at least 100 episodes to secure a sweet syndication package. We eventually run things into the ground.

Had Gone With The Wind been adapted in the 2010s and raked in a shit-ton of money at the box office (or in ratings), I can imagine there would be a producer somewhere scurrying to turn it into a five-film franchise. Gone With The Wind: After The War, presented in IMAX. In fact, someone did try it... back in the 80s. (Check it.)

Franchise. That's one F word I've grown the hate the longer I live and work in an industry town that milks things for all their worth...before rebooting them a measly decade later. After all, "franchise" is the spawn of capitalism, and that is the social system on which this country is arguably built.

So, go ahead. Stay tuned for 13 More Reasons Why and Bigger Little Lies. Just don't complain to me if and/or when they fall short of your expectations.

@TheFirstEcho

Hot Duet Alert: Dua Lipa and Miguel's "Lost In Your Light"


It may be April, but I've already started gathering tunes for my Summer 2017 playlist, and shooting to the top is this all-caps HOT collaboration from Dua Lipa, whose voice I'm loving more and more, and the sizzling Miguel.

The pair's vocals work beautifully on "Lost In Your Light," a track that needs all the traction it can get IMO.

But enough with all of these words. Just listen:

@TheFirstEcho

The Frustrating Brilliance of the 'Girls' Finale


Back in 2012, I placed HBO's Girls at the top of my annual "Best of TV" list. I praised it as follows:

"Those who have ignorantly labeled or dismissed Lena Dunham's polarizing comedy about entitled twentysomething white chicks living in Brooklyn as a Millennial Sex and the City should be pitied for their lack of open-mindedness, their trite arguments, and the huge sticks they have up their asses. Because they apparently haven't scraped away the surface to see that underneath the whiny, woe-is-me sensibilities is an acutely observed portrait of post-collegiate life, packed with embarrassing mistakes and complaints we've all been guilty of making (but never wanted to admit or remember). Many comedies and dramas have attempted to paint the Twentysomething Experience, usually with no real resonance, accuracy, or success. What this show has that others didn't is a creator at its helm who's actually living it in real time (note: writer-director-star Dunham is 24) as well as a female lead who actually looks like she's torn through an occasional pint of Ben & Jerry's (and yes, that matters)..."

Throughout the past six seasons, my view on the show didn't waver despite the fact that many have equally praised or bitched about the four titular heroines who populated the coming-of-age dramedy. (I admit: those two middle seasons weren't my favorites.) I accepted that the show, like its protagonists, was Messy and Awkward. Those were two of its "brand pillars," as marketers would say. Girls did its job in making me look back at my 20s, regardless of my gender, and acknowledge it as a time when I stubbornly held onto my own assumptions, made mistakes, and thought I knew what I wanted when I actually didn't know jack.

But as the show soldiered on, and as the characters headed deeper into those 20s, realizations were made and lessons weren't just learned -- they were ignored and learned again in subtle, beautiful moments when least expected. In other words, they matured. Two must-watch standouts that reflect this were Season 5's devastating "The Panic in Central Park" and Season 6's Emmy-worthy "American Bitch."

The final episode of Girls was another reminder that life is never neatly wrapped up in a big bow. And that's what made it satisfying in its own funky way. Lena Dunham's Hannah trades in the big city for some upstate greenery to accept a cushy job and raise her fatherless child in a picturesque house, and Marnie (Allison Williams) accepts the role of Hannah's non-lesbian domestic partner as a way to distract her from her own directionless life. (FYI, the previous episode had already bid adieu to Shoshanna and Jessa in an appropriate non-finale.) But not all is well. Suburban ennui sets in, and Hannah realizes motherhood is not what she expected. In one fun scene, after having a breakdown with her mom, she storms off and has a run-in with a teenaged girl who can't deal with her own parental situation at home. It's one generation attempting to console the next -- and if you thought Millennials were a handful, this glimpse into GenZ problems can't warrant enough eye rolls.


For more of my thoughts, check out my piece over at The Huffington Post.

@TheFirstEcho

Pepsi's Crappy New Ad Just Got a Hysterical 80s Sitcom Makeover


In less than 24 hours, the entire Internet agreed that Pepsi's "tone-deaf" music video-commercial, starring Kendall "never-drank-Pepsi-in-her-life" Jenner participating in an unspecified protest, is one of the worst pieces of advertising in recent memory.

But thank God for @JustTheTenOfUs on Twitter. The account, dedicated to redoing movie trailers with the theme song from the short-lived 80s sitcom (and Growing Pains spinoff) of the same name, just published an edit set to the Pepsi fail seen around the globe.

Enjoy:


@TheFirstEcho

Dear Virgin America...


To Whom It May Concern,

I have been a proud Elevate member since 2008, and I still remember falling in love with you guys back then with your great bicoastal routes (I'm a frequent LAX-JFKer), sleek look and vibe (nice mood lighting), and entertaining safety videos -- from the charming animation to the choreographed musical numbers.

However, during these past several months, as you gradually make your transition into Alaska Airlines, I have been very disappointed with you. (Flashback: Delayed flight #941 to SFO on October 28, 2016 prompted me to transfer to another plane, only to find out my seat had been triple booked, resulting in me being escorted off the plane and delayed even further.)

Specifically and most recently, I want to discuss my experience on Thursday, March 30. It started with Vegas-bound flight #490, which was scheduled to depart from LAX at 7:25pm. Due to the severe winds in Las Vegas, my flight was delayed by an hour, which was understandable. As a result, I transferred to another flight, which was scheduled to leave earlier (the # is unknown, but my record will indicate it). This new flight was also delayed, but no matter -- I anticipated arriving in Las Vegas to properly kick off my birthday (my account should also validate this information) as well as carry out an assignment for a travel article I am writing for Bello magazine. It is a feature tentatively titled "The Vegas Diaries," a first-person account chronicling my experiences with the hotels, restaurants, and entertainment offerings of the Caesars franchise.

That said, it would be difficult for me to NOT mention in my piece the following developments -- what essentially turned out to be one of the worst travel experiences of my life.

I could be upset and complain about the aforementioned delays. I could be upset and complain about the fact that we were unnecessarily put on the plane and waited an additional hour on the runway -- only to be returned to the gate and told to get off the plane (*more on this later). I could be upset and complain about the wrench thrown into the evening's plans, forcing me to cancel on a group of people who had traveled to Vegas from other parts of the country earlier that day. I could be upset and complain about not having eaten any dinner due to the unexpected late night.

I could be upset and complain about the shoddy handling of the overall scenario, especially the high tension and yelling matches throughout the terminal between passengers and the customer service reps who struggled to resolve the situation. I could be upset and complain about the chartered bus that I had to take as alternative transportation to my destination. I could even complain about how the bus arrived an hour late and then departed LAX at the godforsaken midnight hour. I could be upset and complain about the discomfort of the bus's seats. (I suspect they also double as torture devices.) I could be upset and complain about how our bus nearly left behind two elderly women after a brief pit stop at a gas station in the middle of the cold desert. I could be upset and make a report after eavesdropping on a customer service rep conspiring to prevent two passengers from getting on said bus because of a hostile exchange that unfolded earlier between them. And finally, I could be upset and complain about how I arrived at my hotel at 5am -- a full eight hours later than expected -- and had to proceed with my Friday schedule while running on three hours of sleep.

I could be upset and complain about all of those things...but I won't.

What I am mostly upset about is that fact that we had been put on a Virgin America plane when its pilots were nearing the end of their legal flying time. What I'm upset about is that we had been scheduled to fly into risky weather conditions with pilots whose mental and physical conditions were just as risky. What I'm upset about is that all of the above developments could have been easily avoided -- the lives of over 150 people could've been less interrupted -- if a better system had been established in which our pilots could have continued to fly and serve their passengers.

That all said, I would like to know what you're doing to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again. Because as of right now, despite your new transition, I am becoming more and more convinced to book my future travel elsewhere and recommend others to do the same.

Please feel free to reach me if you need more info or have any questions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

- Hiko Mitsuzuka

The Art of Adulting in the 2010s: Or, Writer Posts Self-Indulgent Birthday Blog


It feels like yesterday when I was a 23-year-old production assistant, driving a Ford Focus through Laurel Canyon, nursing a hangover with a Red Bull, and pondering whether or not I should succumb to the trucker hat trend that was invading the city of Los Angeles.

But many years later paint a different picture. Today I stand on the precipice of those late 30s, driving a two-door coupe with a sunroof (because nothing says "single and childless" like a two-door coupe with a sunroof), drowning myself in caffeine to meet deadlines, and pondering whether or not I should seriously adopt a low-sugar diet because, y'know, health.

My friends and I are dealing with some scary stuff nowadays. Stuff in the form of IRAs, preschool applications, mortgages, the death of a parent, the end of a relationship, health scares, the reality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer being twenty years old, and an administration that doesn't seem to care about the well-being of any minority group whatsoever.

Pardon my Japanese, but this shit sucks.


However, most of my friends and I live in a place (the aforementioned L.A.) and work in an industry ("Hollywood," to put it simply) that sometimes allows us to act a decade younger than our actual ages. In other words, being in your late-30s in the 2010s is not at all the same as being in your late-30s...thirty years ago. Whether or not this applies to other places in America, I am not sure, but I welcome comments and personal insight from others.

TV host and recently married Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick, at 44, has often talked on his podcast about the "extended adolescence" that many of us (GenXers, Millennials, and those in between) have been granted, and this a result of either our upbringing or (mostly) the culture our society has shaped over the past 30 years. The pop culture we enjoyed in our childhoods and adolescences is constantly being rebooted at an unprecedented rate in our adulthoods, forcing us to remember what it was like "back in the day," mentally and emotionally reverting us back to our younger selves.

In other words, there is always a reason to ride the wave of nostalgia nowadays. 2009's short-lived Melrose Place reboot on the CW sent me back to the eighth grade. Last year's stinker, Independence Day: Resurgence, made me look back fondly on the summer of 1996. And the current incarnation of Beauty and the Beast is prompting me to replay Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson's 1991 duet on my Spotify playlist and reminisce about life during a pre-Clinton White House.

There are other explanations for this "extended adolescence" as well, like higher life expectancies and the growing presence of child-free couples. (Look up the demographic that is "Dual Income No Kids," it's a thing.) As for any other explanations, I'll leave that up to the sociologists and behavioral experts. Because I am not one.

But back to reality:


Whoever coined the term "adulting," however long ago, was clearly in need of some validation. Because that's what it's mainly used for. "Here are the keys to my new condo! #homeowner #adulting." We thirtysomethings love to celebrate certain rites of passage with a hashtag that indicates we've arrived. Even more amusing is when it's used ironically: "Prominently displaying my old Power Rangers action figures at the office in honor of the new movie. #adulting." (No, that wasn't me.) But when "we've arrived," does that mean we've come to end of something? Have we stopped ourselves from going any further? Have we finally perfected the art of adulting?

In fact, the "art of adulting" is somewhat of a bullshit phrase. It isn't an art at all. Because to call it an art would imply there is a mastering of skills needed for maneuvering through all of the challenges that come with being a human over the age of 30. And really, has anyone mastered that? Not to be trite, but life is all about learning those proverbial lessons, big or small, that hit us in our everyday lives. It's a constant process, just like aging.

However, if you feel like you have mastered the art of adulting, I congratulate you. I also think you're deluding yourself, but good for you. Keep at it. I wish you the best.

As for me, I prefer to call my "extended adolescence" an "extension of my 20s." I don't feel like what a late-thirtysomething should be like because there is no standard now... and holy crap, I'm now realizing I'm older than the characters on thirtysomething.



Every now and then I might act a little reckless and not-my-age. I might wear a T-shirt with a visual pun or ironic phrase. I might have a third cocktail at the bar. I might shake my ass to that new David Guetta and Nicki Minaj single. Hell, I may even stay up until 3am on a Saturday night -- cleaning my bedroom closet. Does that count?

How about this: to indulge myself, I am going to celebrate my birthday this year in the Capital of Recklessness: Las Vegas. (I leave on a flight later tonight and expect to have a drink in my hand an hour after I arrive.)

Which reminds me: I better pack some antacids and aspirin (and those corn pads for my foot).

Just in case.

@TheFirstEcho

Obsession of the Week: MUNA's "I Know a Place"


This past weekend I discovered the cure to feeling sorry for myself. And it came at the perfect time (being stood up two nights in a row kind of leads to shitty feelings).

That cure is MUNA. Who the hell is MUNA? A trio of gal pal musicians who look like they frequent a few bars in Echo Park. Musically, think: HAIM-esque vocals with the sparkling, catchy production value of Betty Who.

The song that hooked me in? The below "I Know A Place," a gorgeous, soaring anthem that's also a response to last year's Orlando shootings. Get uplifted. I certainly did. (PS - We need more socially-conscious electro pop like this.)


And afterwards, I listened to their new album. Favorites include: "Loudspeaker" and "Crying on the Bathroom Floor."

@TheFirstEcho

Todrick Hall's 'Straight Outta Oz' Might Be This Year's 'Lemonade' (VIDEO)


Viral superstar-turned-Broadway performer-turned-R&B-pop dynamo Todrick Hall just released his full-length, debut album (and accompanying visual album, below), Straight Outta Oz...

...and it. Is. Magnificent.

The deluxe 22-track collection is an outstanding musical autobiography accentuated by a mesmerizing Wizard of Oz motif that works to resonating and gorgeous effect, chronicling his life from its oppressive beginnings, through his years of self-discovery, to his rise to fame as an undeniably gifted singer-songwriter-dancer.


From the gate-busting open that is "No Place Like Home" to the grandmotherly memories remembered in the choir-backed "Proud" and the daddy lessons learned in "Over the Rainbow," (check out Wayne Brady in a dramatic role) Todrick looks back on his childhood with both melancholy and reserve.

Then, it's on to the adolescent years: The uplifting "Black & White" takes us back to the 90s (with a little homage to Britney's "Baby One More Time" video). This is a time in our young hero's life when he is told to reel in his big dreams and limit his possibilities, but he ain't having it. "Color," with vocals from James Armstrong Johnson, reflects on his first relationship with a boy, an interracial romance that later leaves him heartbroken in the next act of this saga.


And as for that next act? It absolutely soars as Todrick breaks free from his roots and moves to Hollywood, where he tries to stay connected to his past ("Little People"), gets wooed by the flashiness of "Oz Angeles" ("Expensive"), and mends his broken heart ("If I Had a Heart"). Finally, we watch (and hear) our star explode onto the scene with a brand new attitude ("Lyin' to Myself"), navigate a gauntlet of manipulative characters ("Papi," "Green,"), and quickly learn how to grow a backbone, stay true to himself, and even demonstrate some social awareness ("Wrong Bitch," "Water Guns") while traveling down that "yellow brick boulevard." All of it culminates in the show-stopping finale, "Low," an anthem featuring RuPaul, who practically comes off as Todrick's fairy godmother/mentor, and a fierce army of reimagined characters from The Wizard of Oz.

And all throughout, the cameos are plentiful: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tracie Thoms, Raven-Symone, Tamar Braxton, Amber Riley, and a bevy of drag queens -- to name a few.

Straight Outta Oz is an astounding pop achievement, packed with a variety of visual stylings that brilliantly blend fantasy with coming-of-age poignancy, sex appeal, and social commentary. No doubt this ambitious production carries the influence of Beyonce's panache and penchant for bold theatrics. (We're all still recovering from last year's epic Lemonade.) However, what we're witnessing here aren't the musings of a diva scorned. It's the birth of a powerful artist who has long been gestating and planning to unleash his brilliance on the world.

Todrick Hall has finally arrived.

Watch this amazing 71-minute opus here:


@TheFirstEcho

REVIEW: 'The Belko Experiment'


The Belko Experiment, from director Greg McLean and writer-producer James Gunn, is a bloody-good exercise (emphasis on bloody) in human savagery. Yes, it’s an awesome Office Space-meets-Battle Royale mashup, as the posters would indicate, but it’s also somewhat of a disturbing revelation...

My latest review for ScreenPicks is now available over here.

In Honor of International Women's Day...


This summer, two sets of gal pals will be getting down and dirty. While one involves the untimely, coked-up death of a stripper, the other features a whole lotta urine raining down on New Orleans revelers.

First up: Rough Night, from the broads behind Broad City.


And then, there's Girls Trip:


I shall be buying tickets to both R-rated romps thankyouveddymuch.

@TheFirstEcho


Gerard Butler's 'Geostorm' is the Kind of Crappy Disaster Flick I Love (TRAILER)


Gerard Butler in a disaster flick? All I want to know is: how come did this didn't happen sooner? (And no, we're not counting Gods of Egypt.)

The trailer for Geostorm (all other hybrid titles were apparently taken by straight-to-DVD titles like Stonehenge Apocalypse and Icetastrophe) has everything I live for in a film about global catastrophe:

a. Overly CGI-ed mass destruction.
b. A cast of international folks looking up at the sky in fear.
c. Our hero (Butler) dramatically turning to look at a large monitor in a control room.
d. A chillingly ironic cover of a classic song. (Here, it's "What a Wonderful World.")
e. And this: "From the producer of Independence Day."

Grabbing my popcorn now...

Bounce: The 2017 Spring Playlist


The thaw begins.

Chase the winter doldrums away with this new, handpicked set of tunes, my soundtrack for the next three jam-packed months (birthday in Vegas, Easter in Florida, and May in South America).

@TheFirstEcho

Jeff Sessions & Donald Trump's Favorite Song


I can just imagine the current POTUS and that 70-year-old Southern weasel we now call the Attorney General getting down to this Robbie Williams jam during Oval Office afterhours.

The song, from the British singer's fantastic The Heavy Entertainment Show, was released as a single back in the fall, and it couldn't be any timelier.

@TheFirstEcho

Quintessential L.A.


This morning I was at the gym and drinking a protein shake while reading a script on my phone, spying on an Instagram model two machines over, and looking up to watch a live police chase on TV.

Los Angeles is like, "Dude, this is way too L.A., even for me."

#TBT: The Soundtrack to My Awkward Years


Most people have gone through those "awkward years," that pre-adolescent time when you're figuring things out for the first time, when you're just starting to identify your likes, your dislikes, and your passions. (If you happen to be one of those lucky individuals who breezed past this phase, then screw you. Just kidding. Maybe.)

Many of us have the photos and numerous #TBT postings to prove it. As for me, I also have the soundtrack to prove just how awesome I was from the ages of 11 to 15 -- please note how the italics imply sarcasm.

Those who know me well know that, if I didn't have my nose stuck in the pages of a paperback novel written by Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, or R.L. Stine in the early 90s, I was rocking out to the Adult Contemporary hits of the era. While kids my age were blaring Nirvana, Dr. Dre, or Naughty by Nature, yours truly was appreciating the orchestral strings in Annie Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass," the soothing harmonies in k.d. lang's "Constant Craving," and the seductive, acoustic open to Daryl Hall's slow jam "I'm in a Philly Mood." And as I've mentioned here before, I was also putting Amy Grant's Heart in Motion on heavy rotation every week in between new episodes of Picket Fences on CBS, a network that was clearly beyond my age demographic.


It didn't stop there.

12-year-old Hiko was quite familiar with the early discography of Michael Bolton and Carly Simon's Coming Around Again. (Many of those tracks I associate with road trips in my mother's Pontiac 6000-LE.) And before her heart went on for Titanic, Celine Dion scored points in my book for pumping out powerful love song after powerful love song. (Just try not being moved by "The Power of Love," "If You Asked Me To," or her rendition of Carole King's "Natural Woman.")

And then there were the duets. Oh God, the duets. These were my jams in the early 90s, a period chock-full of male-female collaborations of the power ballad variety (I have the cassingles to prove it):

There was that climactic key change in Elton John and Kiki Dee's "True Love" (from Elton's Duets); The perfect blend of Celine Dion and Clive Griffin's vocals in Sleepless in Seattle's "When I Fall in Love"; The unlikely partnership of James Ingram with Dolly Parton on "The Day I Fall in Love," straight from the soundtrack to Beethoven's 2nd -- and nominated for Best Original Song at the 1994 Oscars (I shit you not.)


Suffice to say, these were not your typical music selections of a preteen growing up in the suburbs of New York City at the dawn of the Clinton era. And looking back, I can only offer three correlated explanations for my musical proclivities and penchant for easy listening:

EXPLANATION #1: As an only child, I was surrounded by adults throughout most of my formidable years. I had no sibling influence. I listened to what the adults listened to. I was exposed to Baby Boomer sensibilities and tastes. No babysitter available? Take Hiko to the movies and plop him in a seat with a bunch of 40-year-olds in the theater to watch Cher slap Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, cry during Sally Field's meltdown at the end of Steel Magnolias, or witness a young Christian Bale get separated from his parents in the traumatizing epic Empire of the Sun. All kid-friendly fare.

EXPLANATION #2: I didn't have a sizable circle of friends. Hence my delayed awareness of Top 40 tunes. (Thankfully this would change as I learned to drive...and learned to concurrently love the songs of Alanis Morrissette, En Vogue, and TLC.)

EXPLANATION #3: Perhaps I was an "old soul," a label given to me several times throughout my life. Or did I just become one as a result of the above circumstances?

In hindsight, I now love who I was at that age. I own it. I was awesome in my own, weird way. Maybe this explains why I currently brand myself as "pop culture junkie"; perhaps I'm making up for lost time from 25 years ago or making up for lost music I could have enjoyed more with my peers.

But there's one thing I do know: if I were to meet a 12-year-old in 2017 who's obsessed with Adele or knows the entire discography of Michael Buble or Josh Groban, I may not be able to refrain from giving him a giant hug.

That all said, enjoy this collection of tunes -- straight outta my awkward years:


@TheFirstEcho

Pop Culture Read of the Week: Being Woke in 2017


A few brief thoughts on these past two weeks...

Simply put: Enough is enough.

We are not putting up with this shit. We see right through you. We know what's going on. We will not be distracted by bait. Our eyes are open. Our ears are listening.

We are woke.

First of all, ELIZABETH WARREN will not be silenced. And Jeff Sessions will be unmasked for the corrupt bigot he is:


We know THE BACHELOR's tears are fake as shit. Dude, don't cry because you have to send three women home. You still got a bevy of babes to take advantage of with your flaming douchebaggery.

Donnie, watching your CABINET assemble is like watching an origin story -- not of a band of superheroes but of team of supervillains. This group is overflowing with greed, ignorance, and deafening hypocrisy. All I see is a bunch of overprivileged white folks sitting on top of piles of cash, smoking cigars, and laughing maniacally into the air...Air that's been made more toxic thanks to their climate change denials and defunding of any efforts to save this sick planet.

If you're still arguing about how Beyonce's Lemonade should've won the GRAMMY FOR ALBUM OF THE YEAR, I urge you to read Amanda Petrusich's New Yorker piece on the state of awards shows in the age of social media, digital echo chambers, and stuffy traditions that refuse to adapt to an evolved culture. An excerpt:

Is this—viral currency, some event or song or shtick that somehow permeates every membrane—the new rubric for figuring out what we mean by “best”? The days of omniscient, authoritative proclamations of quality seem to be largely behind us. No matter what it is you’re into, it’s terrifyingly easy to find others to validate and echo your desires. These days, “good taste” seems like a silly and old-fashioned idea. All taste is good taste; the heart wants what it wants; everything is permissible so long as it is inclusive. So who needs an organization like the Recording Academy to issue decrees from on high? In a speech at around the three-and-a-half-hour mark, the Academy president, Neil Portnow, said, “What we need so desperately are more reminders of all that binds us together.” Golden trinkets, at least, still do not seem to be this thing. 

BETSY DEVOS, how does it feel to further contribute to the downfall of American civilization by robbing children of their future education? Not only is your privilege showing -- it's poised to suffocate the millions of people who will be affected by your lack of experience and your mind-blowing ignorance.

We now live in a world where an electronic DJ is supposedly harboring secret intel on the POTUS's involvement with a foreign adversary (See: MOBY AND RUSSIA).

To the body-shaming trolls who tore into LADY GAGA during the Super Bowl's Halftime Show (which she slayed): May your blow-up dolls turn sentient and exact revenge on you.

YouTube megastar PEWDIEPIE got the boot from Disney's Maker Studios for making anti-Semitic jokes in his latest video. Next thing you know, Steve Bannon will be recruiting him to run Breitbart.

And to the "FRIEND" ON FACEBOOK who insists on posts painting Trump in a good light, your false equivalencies are some of the most ridiculous pieces of bullshit I've seen on social media.

Stay woke, my friends.

@TheFirstEcho

Dear Evan Hansen's "You Will Be Found" is the Anthem We Need Right Now


Dear Evan Hansen, which officially opened in New York City just two months ago, is becoming the kind of Broadway musical that not only speaks to a generation -- it's a salve for all theater nerds -- it's poised to become the next phenomenon that resonates across all walks of life.

It tells the tale of a socially awkward teen (brilliantly played by Pitch Perfect's Ben Platt, who is, well...pitch perfect) who finds himself caught in a web of lies shortly after a fellow classmate commits suicide, sending ripples throughout their school and the homes of two families.

I had the absolute pleasure of attending a matinee back in December, and the fantastic, piano-pop-rock soundtrack immediately and firmly planted itself in my head, particularly "You Will Be Found," the centerpiece showstopper that will undoubtedly become the theme for anyone who's ever felt like an outsider. All thanks to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's music and lyrics.

While the message is somewhat familiar (the "you are not alone" sentiment has been heard before in numerous songs meant to uplift and inspire), the powerful delivery of the performances will leave you shook. And given our country's current anxieties, we need a tune like this to make us feel those warm tinglies that are necessary for soldiering on through whatever shitstorm you may be in.

Listen now:


And if you're looking to sample the rest, the Original Cast Recording album is now available...basically everywhere.

@TheFirstEcho

Prepare for March 15: #TheIdesOfTrump


On March 15th, each one of us will mail Donald Trump a postcard that publicly expresses our opposition to him.

And we, in vast numbers, from all corners of the world, will overwhelm the man with his unpopularity and failure. We will show the media and the politicians what standing with him (and against us) means. And most importantly, we will bury the White House post office in pink slips, all informing Donnie that he’s fired.

Each of us — every protester from every march, each Congress-calling citizen, every boycotter, volunteer, donor, and petition signer — if each of us writes even a single postcard and we put them all in the mail on the same day, March 15th, well...you do the math. No alternative fact or Russian translation will explain away our record-breaking, officially-verifiable, warehouse-filling flood of fury.

Hank Aaron currently holds the record for fan mail, having received 900,000 pieces in a year. We’re setting a new record: over a million pieces in a day, with not a single nice thing to say. So sharpen your wit, unsheathe your writing implements, and see if your sincerest ill-wishes can pierce Donald’s famously thin skin. Prepare for March 15th, 2017, a day hereafter to be known as #TheIdesOfTrump.

Write one postcard. Write a dozen! Take a picture and post it on social media tagged with #TheIdesOfTrump! Spread the word! Everyone on Earth should let Donnie know how he’s doing. They can’t build a wall high enough to stop the mail. Then, on March 15th, mail your messages to:

President (for now) Donald J. Trump 
The White House 
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW 
Washington, DC 20500 

Not my original post, but someone else's great idea! Copy and share.

@TheFirstEcho

Is Donald Trump The Long-Lost Son of Mama Fratelli from 'The Goonies'?


That resting bitchface...

The perpetual air of grumpiness...

Um, can we get a DNA test up in here?

@TheFirstEcho

Songs of the Month: February 2017


London Grammar's "Big Picture" is the kind of near-ethereal tune you'll probably hear in a movie trailer for some sweeping, modestly budgeted drama about life's many mysteries and nuances. It belongs on a soundtrack for those moments of reflection, when you're going through an existential crisis and questioning your purpose on this planet.

It's hypnotic and beautiful, although I would have preferred a more climactic payoff. But still, enjoy:


Then there's Martin Garrix's "Scared to be Lonely," featuring the fantastic Dua Lipa and posing the question "Do we need somebody just to feel all right?" It's one of those EDM-light semi-ballads that are all the rage now (thanks Chainsmokers). And it works:


@TheFirstEcho

#TBT: Because You Need The Escape, Here Are 30 Movies Turning 30 This Year


Buckle up for some nostalgia overload...

Masters of the Universe - I was a He-Man fan. Therefore I saw this in the theater when I was little. And now I thank my parents for sacrificing their time to sit through this piece of schlock.


Baby Boom - Diane Keaton + a Nancy Meyers production = A Boomer anthem of a movie.


Adventures in Babysitting - One of my favorite 80s flicks. And no, "Thor's not a homo."


A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors - Possibly the best sequel of the franchise. Starring future Oscar winner Patricia Arquette!


Moonstruck - The movie my parents dragged me to see because they couldn't find a babysitter. My #1 memory from this film: cracking up over Olympia Dukakis shouting, "You're life is going down the toilet!" Because #pottyhumor.


The Lost Boys - This movie made me fall in love with vampire flicks. From here on out I consumed a number of movies featuring Reagan-era bloodsuckers: Once Bitten, My Best Friend is a Vampire, Fright Night, and Vamp.


Fatal Attraction - Adrian Lyne's spectacular cautionary tale for married men during a pre-Tinder era. That poor bunny...


Three Men and a Baby - And yes, that baby is now in her 30s and married with kids of her own. (And she's actually a twin.)


Dirty Dancing - And last but not least, the movie every girl in elementary school absolutely LOVED. And like Emma Stone in Crazy Stupid Love, they've all tried to reenact that climactic run-and-lift.


Lethal Weapon - The granddaddy of buddy-cop movies. And a great non-traditional Christmas flick.


ALSO: Predator, The Princess Bride, Robocop, Wall Street, Full Metal Jacket, Spaceballs, The Witches of Eastwick, Beverly Hills Cop II, Jaws: The RevengePlanes Trains & Automobiles, The Evil Dead II, Monster Squad, Broadcast News, Empire of the Sun, Raising Arizona, Near Dark, Harry and the Hendersons, The Running Man, Hellraiser, and The Secret of My Success.

@TheFirstEcho

Why I Haven't Deleted Uber Yet


If I have learned one thing as I get older, it is this fundamental lesson: don't be quick to judge or make a snap decision.

Hence why this past weekend I hesitated to cancel my account with an app I don't use that often to begin with. (I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking, and I'm in love with my new car, so the need to rely on the kindness of strangers behind the wheel isn't as great.) While #DeleteUber was on fire across all of my social feeds, I read up on people's reasons for getting rid of the service and switching over to Lyft as their mode of transportation. At first, I understood the rage behind their rapidly spreading boycott.

The movement started after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a temporary halt to rides heading to John F. Kennedy airport as a gesture of solidarity with visitors who were detained there after Trump's sudden order to restrict entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries. (Note how I refrain from using the word "President" in front of his name.) Uber continued to send drivers to JFK and announced it would NOT charge surge pricing.

Some people thought that was a crappy thing to do and saw it as blatantly capitalizing on a crappy situation.

Then it came out that Uber CEO Travis Palanick is on Trump's Economic Advisory Board. What an asshole! I thought. This added fuel to the boycott fire...even though Palanick had issued a statement opposing the travel ban. But people immediately decided to go Team Lyft instead.

I did not. And as of today, I'm kind of glad I did not.

According to CNBC:

...Competitor Lyft donated $1 million to the ACLU, which is fighting Trump's travel ban in court. For a lot of people, that was a clear reason to delete Uber and install Lyft instead.

Now Lyft usage is surging, and it's passed Uber in daily downloads, according to TechCrunch. But the #DeleteUber crew seems to have missed Lyft's own ties to the Trump administration.

In 2015, financier Carl Icahn made a $100 million investment into Lyft. His interests are represented on its board of directors through John Christodoro of Icahn Capital. And Icahn did a lot more than Kalanick to help get Trump elected. He was an early and vocal supporter of Trump during the campaign, claiming that the businessman would be much better for the economy than Hillary Clinton, and Trump appointed Icahn as a special adviser on regulation in December. 

Icahn isn't the only Trump adviser with a connection to Lyft. Founders Fund, the venture capital firm founded by Trump adviser Peter Thiel, led Lyft's B round and invested in the next two rounds as well.

Kalanick has made no secret of his libertarian political views, which are more closely aligned with Republicans. But if activists are upset about his support of Trump, boycotting Uber for Lyft isn't necessarily the solution.

So, the moral of the story? Everyone's got dirt on their hands. And what we have here is a tale of two companies vying for the spotlight in a game of optics, appealing to their customer bases in any way possible.

Who needs a taxi?

@TheFirstEcho

The Vegas Sessions 2017


A proper weekend trip to Vegas deserves a proper playlist.

I'll be heading to Sin City in about 24 hours, and I've thrown together a few tunes to provide a soundtrack for the hedonistic activities that will inevitably unfold over three nights.

Netflix Doesn't Want Us to Leave Our Couches


Netflix, the streaming giant that's on the verge of owning all of our souls, has apparently remade Norman Lear's seminal 70s sitcom One Day at a Time -- this time with a Cuban-American, Los Angeles twist. And the trailer (along with the fantastic new theme song by Gloria Estefan) is promising a good time to be had by all. (Vulture and The Los Angeles Times are already giving it rave reviews.)


Then there's Santa Clarita Diet, the Drew Barrymore-Timothy Olyphant dark comedy that MAY be about cannibalism. Luckily for me, I had the pleasure of watching the pilot and working on the fun promotional campaign (below) -- so I know what's up. So...start binging on February 3.


@TheFirstEcho

#TBT: Why 1997 Was My Favorite Year


WARNING: Major nostalgia ahead.

As unfathomable as it is to think that 1997 is now twenty (20!!) years ago, I can't help but travel back to a time when I didn't have to worry about rent checks, hereditary health issues, or contributing to a 401k.

1997, as I remember it, was a great year. Here's why...

The debut of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on The WB - Who knew the TV adaptation of a campy little film from 1992 starring Kristy Swanson (and Paul Reubens) would go on to become "one of the best television shows of all time"? (Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, Time...) What had attracted me to the show was its teen horror premise. To me, it was as if someone had adapted R.L. Stine's Fear Street book series into a weekly drama that I could enjoy. Little did I know how rich of a narrative Joss Whedon's saga would turn out to be.


The music video for Spice Girls's "Say You'll Be There" - It was a perfectly cheeky attempt to let the ladies play scantily-clad Barberella extras in the California desert.


The Lost World: Jurassic Park - After seeing Jurassic Park on the big screen for the first time at an impressionable age in 1993, it became my Star Wars. So when the sequel came along four years later, it became the first highly anticipated film of my adolescence.


I came in 2nd Place in the state of New York... in the Forensics category of Oral Interpretation at the annual speech-and-debate tournament in the capital city of Albany. My poetry and prose readings of Shel Silverstein and Stephen King killed. And my teammates at Iona Prep ruled back in the day.

Backstreet Boys arrived in the U.S. with their self-titled debut album - If you're like me, you remember where you were when you first heard "Quit Playing Games With My Heart." I'm pretty sure I was driving my dad's white Toyota Camry somewhere in Westchester County, New York when it came on the radio, and I asked myself, "Who are these Boyz II Men wannabes?"


And finally...

Why 1997 Sucked: Producers killed off my favorite TV character at the time, Sydney Andrews, on Melrose Place. At the end of the fifth season, she was mercilessly plowed down by a car -- in her wedding dress -- outside the church where she just tied the knot to Baywatch alum David Charvet. R.I.P.


@TheFirstEcho

Song of the Month: January 2017


If you’re looking for an anthemic track to get you pumped for the new year, open your ears to the lead single from new artist/producer Zayde Wolf (a.k.a. Dustin Burnett), “Golden Age.” The song is loaded with plenty of motivational lyrics (and epic electro-pop drumbeats) to get you going.

Listen here:

@TheFirstEcho

Obsession of the Week: 'Search Party' & 'Party of One'


So, to kick off the new year, I binged the entire first season of Search Party, TBS's mystery-comedy starring Alia Shawkat and the scene-stealing John Early -- in 2 days. That's a total of ten suck-you-in-quickly episodes filled with insufferable characters you'll grow to like, weird side plots, and a refreshing quirk I can't find anywhere else on television.

I had the opportunity to attend the show's premiere party in New York, but considering it was just shy one month of my annual holiday visit, I now wish I had jumped on that wagon sooner. This show is meant to be binged. Each 22-minute episode flies by, and I can't get enough of the ominous-cool theme song and score. Not to mention the retro-awesome Nancy Drew-esque key art for the show.


And you can catch the first episode to start your own obsession...here:


Then, another "Party" I'm obsessed with is Dave Holmes's Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs. The former MTV VJ brilliantly breaks down his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood across chapters named after popular songs that punctuated his formative years. I'm only halfway through and intend to savor every pop culture-referencing page.

It's like he and I had similar adolescences -- mine in the 90s, his in the 80s.

Get on them - NOW.

@TheFirstEcho