#TBT: J.J. Abrams in 1993's 'Six Degrees of Separation'


Holy crap.

After catching the final performance of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway this month (after which I got a tipsy Allison Janney and a drunk John Benjamin Hickey to sign my playbill), I went into full nostalgia mode, reminiscing about the time I played Dr. Fine in the Boston University Stage Troupe production of the same play during my freshman year.

Then, it was time to look up clips of the 1993 film adaptation starring Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, and a baby-faced Will Smith. And little did I know who else makes an appearance in one of the movie's best scenes...

Who is it? Future creator of two of my favorite TV shows (Felicity and Alias) and mega producer-director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams. He plays one of the Ivy League brats, the son of the character I played in a small underground blackbox theater so many years ago.

Soooo...does this make me one degree of separation away from my writing-producing idol?

Check out the clip below. You can't miss him.


To repeat, holy crap.

@TheFirstEcho

Katy Perry's 'Witness' and the Rise of Dystopian Pop in the Trump Era


Before Witness even dropped, it seemed like there were dozens and dozens of thinkpieces dedicated to dissecting the current state of Katy Perry's career. Pop music pundits had good reason to assume the 32-year-old singer's political activism would inform the sounds of her next project after seeing her stand on the celebrity frontlines of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. However, there were immediate criticisms ready to call bull on her intentions to create "purposeful pop" after releasing the album's first social-PSA single, "Chained to the Rhythm," and following it up with the blatant, food-as-sex-metaphor bop "Bon Appetit."

And while fans may be confused by the theme of this particular "era" after the release of those two songs (not to mention "Swish Swish," which I'll get to later), listening to Witness in its entirety may help clarify some things.

One thing's for certain: Gone are the easy-breezy flourishes of 2010's Teenage Dream and some of 2013's Prism, which may upset many, especially those looking for some radio-friendly summer jams. Several years later, there's a particular gloom and melancholy that hangs over Witness, and that is arguably a result of a few things: 1) Katy's no longer a cupcake-bra-wearing 25-year-old in blue wigs and skin-tight jeans getting her boy toy's heart racing. (She's now older, perhaps wiser.) 2) Katy is troubled by the machinations of our current administration and worried about our future (and dammit, she's got something to say about it).

Look, every artist goes through creative stages. Every musician experiments with new sounds. And every pop diva should be allowed to express her mood du jour, even if it results in a less-than-stellar album (a moment of silence for Kelly Clarkson's My December and Britney's Britney Jean).

Unfortunately, we have reached a Katy Perry nadir with Witness. This gloom and melancholy, when paired with some awkward lyrics -- don't get me started on the laughable "Save As Draft" -- simply come off as self-indulgent and terribly misguided.

The album opens with the titular track, a mission statement with a lonely chorus that sees our gal pining for a connection. (Don't we all?) This is Katy basically telling us, "Get ready for me to sing about some big and important themes!" What follows is a mostly forgettable collection of tunes that fails to soar. Rather, it just glides...

For more of my commentary, check out my latest piece on HuffPost.

@TheFirstEcho

The Radical Empathy of 'Master of None'


During a recent episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, music journalist Stephen Thompson had written down two words to associate with the second season of Aziz Ansari's Emmy-winning Netflix series Master of None: "radical empathy."

His commentary was part of a glowing review of a television show that feels so very necessary right now. Why necessary? Because Master of None, which is about the comedic misadventures and romantic entanglements of New York actor Dev Shah (Ansari), is doing something no other TV show has done in recent memory. It is providing a much-needed stage for characters (and actors) that are not often found on screen, big or small. And by doing so, it is giving these names and faces a chance to share their perspectives, tell their stories, during a time when spotlights in film and television are usually hogged by individuals who are seen as bankable or "audience-friendly." (Translation: able to guarantee big box office receipts or big ratings.) 

And what's so beautiful about this is that none of it feels forced or contrived. None of it reeks of a major studio feeling obligated to fulfill a diversity quota. None of it feels like it's being written, produced, or created by people who have no legitimate understanding of the experiences of The Other. Master of None is refreshingly, genuinely woke, a show about living in the Biggest Melting Pot on Earth that actually looks like the Biggest Melting Pot on Earth.

Last season's flashback-filled episode, "Parents," won a well-deserved writing Emmy for its casually groundbreaking and nuanced portrait of the immigrant experience as well as heavily Americanized first-generation children. (Full disclosure: as the child of an immigrant, it was personally one of the most resonating pieces of television I've ever watched.) After all, when was the last time you watched an Indian-American man and his Chinese-American friend make a conscious effort to appreciate their respective heritages on TV?

This season, there are several contenders vying for that aforementioned award. There's the delicate juggling act on display in "First Date," seamlessly edited to brilliantly demonstrate the assembly-line mechanics and politics of online app dating. The women Dev meets range in ethnicities. While some flash by in brief moments, others stick around, and they're given more room to breathe, share their experiences, and give viewers a more developed image of a person who may not look like the type they usually date. Meanwhile, the color-blind casting never seems deliberate...


To read more, check out my latest piece on HuffPo.

The 'Murder on the Orient Express' Trailer is My Nerdgasm of the Week (VIDEO)


I was raised by an Agatha Christie fan (my mother's bookcase was loaded with her novels the way mine was loaded with R.L. Stine's), so I was on board this train ever since I heard Kenneth Branagh was behind this remake of the star-studded 1974 adaptation.

The trailer for this new edition just dropped, and my initial thoughts? The way the characters are introduced here is kind of awesome (love that slow, single take through the train car).

But...an Imagine Dragons song? Really?


PS - I know who did it.

@TheFirstEcho