Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Monday Mornings

In Television on March 25, 2013 at 1:22 pm


Monday mornings are the low point of the week for many people.  Unless you love what you do, it is the beginning of the grind.  Surgeons generally love what they do, but that doesn’t mean that they look forward to Monday mornings, especially the ones who work at Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, OR.  Granted, the surgeons in this case are actors that work in a fictional hospital, but when you get immersed in the storylines, you tend to forget that these are not real doctors.  Based on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s novel with the same title, Monday Mornings is a unique David E. Kelley drama that features compelling, albeit graphic, surgical procedures.  However, the real intrigue happens within the walls of Room 311.

Every doctor and surgeon at Chelsea General is a Type-A personality with an abundance of confidence in their skills, but when Monday mornings roll around, each one sits in the auditorium of Room 311 on pins and needles as they wait to see who is going to have to justify their actions in front of their peers.  The weekly grilling sessions are conducted by the judgmental, often times ornery Chief of Staff, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina).

In spite Dr. Hooten’s looming wrath, the doctors and surgeons of Chelsea General never let the threat of being called “in front of the class” in Room 311 prevent them from doing what they feel is the best course of action within the confines of the hospital or otherwise.

In a recent episode, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao), stopped at a café on her way into the hospital.  Standing in line behind a young couple with an adorable, giggling infant, Dr. Napur questioned them about their seemingly happy 10-week old baby.  Within moments, she realized that there was something wrong with the baby, because actual laughter doesn’t usually occur until a baby is at least four months old.  Imagine the horror of thinking that you have the happiest baby in the world one moment, and the next moment, she is being prepped for a dangerous procedure to remove a rare brain tumor that was only diagnosed because of a serendipitous moment in a café.

Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber), a top neurosurgeon with an empathetic side that is atypical for the profession, is abruptly awakened in the middle of the night by an emergency page, which is a fairly common occurrence.  But the situations on Monday Mornings are usually anything but common.  In this case, the page was coming from a medic in Afghanistan trying to save his best friend’s life after an IED explosion.  Dr. Wilson, who does independent contracting with the military, speaks to the medic via video conference to gather information about the patient, and then proceeds to do a virtual examination by controlling the camera on a high-tech robot from half way across the world.

From his home in Oregon, Dr. Wilson and his girlfriend, fellow neurosurgeon, Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan), guide the medic through a craniotomy.  As implausible as it seems, the operation is a success, and the soldier’s life is saved.

Meanwhile, back at Chelsea General, a 32-year old man in peak physical condition collapses in a hotel room while on a rock climbing trip with his husband.  The man’s husband and his sister rush with him to the emergency room where he is treated by trauma chief, Dr. Jorge “El Gato” Villanueva (Ving Rhames).  Dr. Villanueva (aka “the big cat”) calls for a consult from Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim), a brilliant neurosurgeon with a terrible bedside manner which is exacerbated by his lack of command of the English language.  As the two doctors look at the brain scan, Dr. Park determines that there is no hope for the man due to a catastrophic bleed, and says to Dr. Villanueva…“he dead, gone.”  The two doctors are the only ones who are not intimidated by the prospect of defending their actions in front of their peers because they are steadfast that their courses of action are always correct.  Dr. Villanueva’s confidence is bolstered by his imposing physique, while Dr. Park is unfazed by criticism, no matter how harsh.

In this episode, the duo must deal with a difficult situation.  The husband of the 32-year old man doesn’t want to use extreme measures to preserve a life that, in a best case scenario, will result in a permanent vegetative state.  The sister, on the other hand, wants to do anything possible to save the only family that she has left.  The siblings had been estranged from their parents after they disowned the son when he told them that he was gay.

Dr. Park, the painful realist, tells the husband and sister that surgery is a futile option.  Dr. Villanueva, the eternal optimist, regretfully agrees.  Ultimately, the doctors’ opinions are disregarded as the matter is settled by the legal department, who determines that the sister has the right to make the decision because gay marriage is not legally recognized in Oregon.  A disturbing, calculated choice is made by the legal department and Dr. Hooten as they determine that the potential for a wrongful death lawsuit by the sister could be more damaging than a potential pain and suffering lawsuit by the husband.  The hospital lawyer tells the reluctant Dr. Park that it is a win-win situation if the likely outcome happens, and the patient dies during surgery.

In the middle of the surgery, after opening the patient’s head, Dr. Park walked out in frustration over being forced to do a procedure that he deemed unethical, a decision that put him on the hot seat in Room 311.  When questioned by Dr. Hooten, Dr. Park replied…“Surgery futile…not ethical do…just prevention lawsuit…patient gone…sister wrong…if do, patient probably die…not do…not ethical…not apologize.”

Dr. Hooten responded (in his customary sarcastic tone)“Well that was very well put Dr. Park.  Strunk & White could not have more eloquently made your case.”

Monday Mornings, airing Monday nights on TNT, is a brilliant show that seems to be flying under the radar.  The storylines are thought-provoking and suspenseful.  Molina and Rhames are the most interesting characters to grace the medical drama landscape since Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie).  The weekly sneak peek into Room 311 is both compelling and uncomfortable as it gives viewers the chance to look behind the curtain to discover secrets that are not meant for public consumption, while experiencing the dread of being scolded in front of your friends by a parent or a teacher.

David E. Kelley and Dr. Sanjay Gupta have finally given people a reason to look forward to “Monday Mornings.”  Hopefully, the show will garner enough ratings to keep it on the air for several years to come.

Showtime Original Series – “Shameless” – An Entertaining, Sensory Overload of Depravity

In Television on February 11, 2013 at 11:15 am


Pushing the envelope on television is something that we have come to expect and accept as a society.  After a while, the shock value tends to diminish, and it becomes harder to rise above the din to make a viewing audience shake their head in disbelief.  Showtime’s Original Series “Shameless” has always pushed the envelope more than others, but this week’s episode – “The Helpful Gallaghers”  – has proven that there is no low that is too low and no subject is too taboo for a show built on a foundation of depravity.

Shameless has the potential to make you laugh out loud at the hi-jinks of the most dysfunctional family in the history of television, but it also has the potential to make you cringe when it goes way beyond the boundaries of good taste.  The worst offender is the patriarch of the family – Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) – a scheming alcoholic who thinks nothing of using his children to get what he wants.

The current storyline has Frank hitting a new low.  In an attempt to get free tickets to a Chicago Bulls game, he shaved the head of his 10-yr old son – Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) – to convince people that he is dying of cancer.  Though he wasn’t able to make his own Chicago Bulls dream come true, the consolation prize was a week at sleepaway camp for Carl with other terminally ill children.  However, Carl is perfectly healthy.  He just has a maniac for a father who convinced him that he has cancer.  It is an infuriating storyline, but somehow, you manage to stop focusing on Frank’s disgusting antics long enough to enjoy watching Carl’s impact on other kids at the camp.

While Carl is away at camp, the chaos at home continues.

The oldest of the six siblings and de facto head of the family – Fiona (Emmy Rossum) – holds a get-together for her fellow co-workers  to discuss the sexual harassment that each is dealing with at their supermarket job.  There isn’t another show on television that would discuss the harassment in such graphic details, but that’s what Shameless is all about.  There is no such thing as innuendo on the show.  What you see is what you get.

Fiona’s boyfriend – Jimmy Lishman (Justin Chatwin) – does his best to help her run the dysfunctional household, but he is dealing with issues of his own.  When the couple met, he introduced himself as Steve Wilton, in an attempt to conceal the fact that he came from a wealthy family.  His indiscretions made him the black sheep of the family, which is probably why he was able to blend in with the low-income, scrapping-to-get-by Gallaghers.  In this episode, the skeletons in his father’s (Harry Hamlin) closet come out in a shocking way.  On any other television show, it would have been the one shocking moment, but on Shameless, it is just par for the course.

Meanwhile, the eldest Gallagher son – Phillip “Lip” (Jeremy Allen White) – goes with his girlfriend to pick up her half-sister after the girl’s mother dies of an overdose.  Because the girl’s father is a child molester, they choose to bring her back to the Gallagher home until they can find her a proper place to live.  The girl instantly befriends Debbie Gallagher (Emma Kenney), an 11-yr old girl who runs a daycare center in the house to help the family earn money.  During an ordinary conversation between the two, something extraordinary happens.  Any further detail would be a huge spoiler for those who haven’t seen the show yet, but suffice it to say, the turn of events only could have happened on Shameless.

Any of the events that took place in this week’s episode would have been the primary storyline on any other show.  But Shameless is not like any other show.  It is a weekly sensory overload of depravity that keeps the audience coming back for more to see what will happen next.   It may be hard to believe, but this week’s show featured even more depravity that cannot even be described without requiring proof that all readers of this article are at least 18 years of age.

Shameless is definitely not for everyone, and should not be viewed with children anywhere in the vicinity, but if you’re looking to watch a show that seemingly has no boundaries, then this show is must-see television.

Grammy Awards 2013 – Why I Watched THAT METAL SHOW Instead

In Music, Television on February 10, 2013 at 11:14 pm

That Metal Show

The Grammy Awards are viewed as the biggest music night of the year…for music fans who love mainstream music.  For people who don’t like mainstream music – particularly those who are fans of Hard Rock and Metal – it is just another night.  The Grammys reduce Hard Rock/Metal to one category even though hit is a huge genre with many sub-genres.  As a result, artists nominated in this category usually do not belong together, but they are lumped together to compete for what amounts to an obligatory award that isn’t even presented on television during the three and a half hour broadcast.  Instead of drudging through endless performances and awards that do not interest me at all, I decided to watch an old episode of That Metal Show instead.

Scrolling through my DVR looking for an episode of That Metal Show to watch, I decided on the one featuring Don Dokken and George Lynch, which originally aired on 6/26/10.  The first discussion between Eddie Trunk, Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson was about David Ellefson returning to Megadeth as the band planned to perform “Rust In Peace” in its entirety on tour.  Ironically, Florentine casually mentioned that the album was once nominated for a Grammy, and then joked…“I think that it lost to the Moody Blues in the Metal category…it’s ridiculous.”  To which Trunk sarcastically replied…“That means a lot…Grammys and Metal.

In the Hard Rock and Metal communities, the Grammy Awards are basically a joke, and have been since Jethro Tull beat out Metallica for the Grammy in 1988.  Jethro Tull is a great band in its own right, and their misplaced Grammy categorization had more to do with an out of touch nominating committee than it did with the band, but they felt the wrath of metal fans just the same.

Tonight, the award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance was given to Halestorm, an up-and-coming hard rock band from Red Lion, PA that features a kick-ass female vocalist named Lzzy Hale.  They are definitely a much better fit than Jethro Tull ever was in the category.  However, their victory is likely to receive some criticism from metal fans because they beat out Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Anthrax and Lamb of God, all of whom are highly regarded in the metal community.  The sad part is that no one would have questioned Halestorm winning a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance against other similar bands if they had their own category.

The Grammy Awards have continuously tripped over themselves when it comes to the Hard Rock/Metal category.  Their limited knowledge of the genre ensures that they will continue to do more harm than good with their nominations.  If they had any respect for the genre, they would have a minimum of two categories and the awards would be presented on the air, not off camera as they currently are each year.

If VH-1 was smart, they would create an awards show around Trunk, Florentine and Jamieson and go head-to-head against the Grammys with a live broadcast.  Until that time, hard rock and metal fans are better off watching old episodes of That Metal Show than they are watching an awards show that makes no effort to cater to their musical taste.

Top 5 Super Bowl Commercials of 2013

In Sports, Television on February 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Babyland - Kia

In the world of DVR’s and on-demand programming, there is only one day each year when viewers don’t look to skip over commercials.  There is seemingly no time to take a bathroom break during the Super Bowl because no one wants to miss the commercials that we all try to avoid during the rest of the year.   With an average price of around $3.8 million for a 30-second spot, you would think that advertisers would do whatever it takes to put their best foot forward.  This year, only a handful of advertisers hit the mark with their Super Bowl commercials, while most of the others were forgettable at best.


Here are the Top 5 Super Bowl commercials of 2013…


[1]  KIA – Space Babies

Every parent dreads hearing the inevitable question from young children… “Where do babies come from?”  After this year’s Super Bowl, it’s safe to say that many parents will use Kia’s “babylandia” explanation…


[2]  Doritos – Fashionista Daddy

Just as much as parents don’t want to explain where babies come from, most dads have no interest in playing princess, no matter how much they love their daughters.  Of course, with a little incentive…


[3]  NFL Network – Deion Sanders (a/k/a – Leon Sandcastle)

Not your ordinary Super Bowl commercial.  NFL Network’s entertaining way to get people to tune in for the upcoming combine coverage in February will have more appeal to true football fans than to those who only watch football one day a year…


[4]  M&M’s – Love Ballad

M&M’s Super Bowl commercials are always entertaining.  The latest, featuring Meat Loaf’s “Anything For Love” is not as funny as the 2012 naked M&M’s in a club, but it was creative enough to stand out as one of the best of the year…


[5]  Budweiser – Clydesdales

Anyone who has watched the Super Bowl in previous years is certainly familiar with Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales.  This commercial, which tugs on the heartstrings with Steve Nicks’ “Landslide” playing in the background, is a sort of prequel to all of Budweiser’s previous commercials…

NFL Honors 2013 – A Truly Entertaining Awards Show

In Sports, Television on February 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Alec Baldwin

Most awards shows seem to drag on forever as they honor the same things all night long.  Some have entertaining hosts, but often times, the hosts just add to the boredom.  Alec Baldwin, on the other hand, made sure that NFL Honors 2013 was entertaining from beginning to end, and ensured that it will be something that football fans look forward to each year.  You had to be a football fan to appreciate all of the jokes, but realistically, that is the target audience anyway.  The theater was filled with current and former NFL stars, all of whom were seen laughing whenever the camera panned to them to capture their reactions.


There was no subject that was too taboo for Baldwin to handle…

“It was a tough season for the Saints, who kept insisting that there isn’t, nor has there ever been, a bounty system in New Orleans.  And no one is hoping that’s more true than Commissioner Goodell.”  To his credit, Roger Goodell laughed, as he truly seemed to appreciate the humor.


Speaking about Peyton Manning…

“After four neck surgeries, he left Indy for Denver and led the Broncos to the AFC West title, capped off with 11 straight wins…Is it me, or did Peyton stop feeling the pain right around the time Colorado legalized marijuana?”  Peyton tried to hold in his laughter, but couldn’t contain himself.


On Adrian Peterson coming up nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time rushing record and the replacement refs…

“Nine yards…do you know how short that is?…That’s like one first down to a replacement ref.  Remember those guys?  I know that Aaron Rodgers does.  Actually, some of the replacement refs are working this show tonight, including the guy running the teleprompter…and everything is going just fine…

“Hello, and welcome to the NFL Honors, banana underpants, next page, goodnight and thank you!”


On Archie Manning…

“A lot of folks in these parts consider Archie Manning to be the unofficial mayor of New Orleans.  Of course, if he were the real mayor, he would be on trial for corruption charges.  I’m just kidding, New Orleans politics is clean…like Ndamunkong Suh’s game.”

Baldwin’s monolog lasted just over ten minutes, and set the tone for an evening of entertainment amidst the presentation of awards.


Robert Griffin III (RG3) took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, while Carolina Panther rookie LB, Luke Kuechley took home the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

Bruce Arians was named Coach of the Year, the first time that an interim head coach has ever won the award.  Considering the circumstances that he faced with the Indianapolis Colts this year, this award was well-deserved.

J.J. Watt being named Defensive Player of the Year was no surprise at all, as he was in a class by himself this season.


One of the most meaningful awards of the evening was presented to Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys.  He was named the winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for the work that he has done outside of the gridiron in putting an end to domestic violence.  Witten’s father was abusive, so he understands what it’s like to live in that kind of environment.  He spoke about breaking the cycle of abuse, and not letting it continue from generation to generation.  Witten’s love and devotion for his own children is admirable given his upbringing, but being a “shining light” in the lives of other abused kids is the reason that Witten won this prestigious award.  With all of the negative headlines that come out of the NFL all too often, it was nice to see the good that players do for those less fortunate than themselves.


After Witten received his award, Baldwin took the stage again to lighten the mood with his comedy about more taboo subjects…

Talking about New York…

“Our area was hit pretty hard by a disaster of epic proportions this year.  Governor Christie estimates the recovery will take years, and cost upwards of $50 – $60 billion.  I’m talking, of course, about the New York Jets.  What a mess!”

“The only thing in football more imaginary than Manti Te’o’s girlfriend is the offensive package for (Tim) Tebow.”


The award presentations resumed with Adrian Peterson being named Offensive Player of the Year.

One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.  There hasn’t been much love lost since their days together on the Green Bay Packers, so seeing Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers on stage together was something to behold.


RODGERS:  “We’re here to present the award for Comeback Player of the Year.”

FAVRE:  “You know Aaron, everyone loves it when a great player makes a comeback.”

RODGERS:  “Yeah, but not always.  You know some people wish that great players would just retire and stay retired.”

FAVRE: (Patting Rodgers on the back) “Good to see you too Aaron.”

RODGERS:  “Yeah, you too man.” 

After a fake attempt at a man hug, Rodgers looked at the audience and said…“that was awkward.”  It was awkward and uncomfortable to watch, but entertaining just the same.


The NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award was given to Peyton Manning, the only real choice for the award.  Peterson’s recovery was nothing short of miraculous, but the fact of the matter is that he didn’t miss any games because he was hurt at the end of last season.  Since he didn’t leave, he realistically couldn’t come back.

Manning accepted the award graciously, and added some comedy of his own to the situation…

“What a tremendous honor to receive this award from two of the best quarterbacks of all time…Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.  It sure is great to see the two of them up here together.  It’s great for football.  I feel  pretty confident, me and Andrew Luck will be up here presenting this award one day together.”

Luck gave an uncomfortable smile, but it is clear that he and Manning have a much better relationship than Favre and Rodgers.


For all of his comedy and sarcasm, Baldwin showed tremendous reverence when it came time to honor Steve Sabol, the creator of NFL Films who passed away earlier in the year.

“This past September, the NFL family lost one of its most beloved members.  A man who never played a down, coached a down, or owned a team, yet he was able to change the way we experience football.  It’s hard to even imagine a show like this without the work of the great Steve Sabol…Tonight we pay tribute to the greatest storyteller the world of sports has ever known with some of the iconic moments that Steve Sabol gave to us.”

It is impossible to be a football fan and not appreciate what Sabol has meant to the game, and while he may be gone, his legacy will live on forever through the NFL.

The NFL family lost a number of other people this year, and they were all acknowledged in a montage after the Sabol tribute.


NFL Honors was brilliantly produced, and a lot of credit should be given to Baldwin for being able to transition out of the more serious moments to bring some levity back to the room.

Baldwin walked up into the crowd to interview Commissioner Roger Goodell and Samantha Gordon – a 9-yr old football phenom whose YouTube video went viral and made her an Internet sensation.


BALDWIN:  “I’m here with NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and 9-yr old gridiron sensation, Sam Gordon, perhaps the most unstoppable player on any football field.”

GOODELL:  “Who knows Sam?  You may be the first woman to ever play in the NFL.  Would you like that?”

GORDON:  “No.  I’m coming after your job.” (The crowd erupted with laughter)

BALDWIN:  “Commissioner Gordon…I like the sound of that.”

GORDON:  “But first I want to try something easy, like hosting an awards show.”

The crowd erupted with laughter again as Baldwin gave a stoic look into the camera, and then gave her the chance to host as she announced the performance by the band One Republic.  Gordon was adorable and funny, but the musical interlude was the one unnecessary low-light of the evening.


The evening wound down with the announcement of the Play of the Year – Ray Rice’s incredible, improbable first down on a screen pass that occurred on fourth down with 29 yards to go, a play that may very well have been the stepping stone to the Ravens Super Bowl run.

The NFL Honors came to a close with the presentation of the MVP Award – given to Adrian Peterson, a running back who nearly broke the all-time rushing record on a surgically-repaired knee that usually keeps players out for at least 9 months.  Those who come back from ACL surgery typically take at least a full season to get back to normal.

In a quarterback-driven league, Peterson’s accomplishments stand out above all others even if he wasn’t coming back from a major injury.  He truly was the MVP, because without him, the Minnesota Vikings may very well have been picking at the top the draft rather than making the playoffs.

The NFL Honors is only in its second year, but if they can produce shows like this going forward, it will become a must-see over Super Bowl weekend for all football fans.

Hard Times: Lost on Long Island

In Family, Life, Life Lessons, Television on July 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm


No one ever thinks that it could happen to them…until it does…and then they understand just how quickly the “American Dream” can turn into the “American nightmare.”  In what has to be one of the most depressing documentaries ever, Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that bad things happen to good, hard-working people.

There used to be a perception that people who needed any kind of government assistance were lazy, unmotivated and perfectly content to “live off the dole.”  In some circles, that perception still exists, and while it may be true for some, it certainly is not true of those who were once considered middle class and upper middle class not too long ago.  Anyone who thinks otherwise should take an hour out of their day to watch this eye-opening HBO Documentary.

Seeing the shear agony on the faces of those who were brave enough to share their story with the world should be enough to at least alter the perception of those who think that government assistance is a crutch that merely prevents people from trying to find steady employment.  It simply is not the case.

Growing up on Long Island, I didn’t see much poverty, although I’m sure that it always existed in places that I never frequented.  My only real exposure to poverty as a kid was in Manhattan when my father used to take my brother and me to the Bowery to see the “bums.”  Back then, they weren’t called homeless.  And though many years have passed since I last visited the Bowery, I do remember that the “bums” did not seem particularly desperate, rather more resigned to living on the street and drinking heavily.  That’s not to say that some of them weren’t in real pain, but they just didn’t seem as hopeless and sad as people are today (even those who still have a home).

For those in dire straits, the sobering statistics shared on Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island offer very little in the way of hope:

  • 25 million unemployed and under-employed people in America
  • There are 4 job-seekers for every available job
  • Average length of unemployment is over 9 months long
  • The longer people are out of work, the less likely they are to find a job
  • Long-term unemployed suffer more often from physical and psychological health problems
  • More than 5 million personal bankruptcies have been filed since 2008
  • More than 6 million homes have fallen into foreclosure since 2008
  • Today, a record 45 million people use food stamps
  • Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have more than tripled since 2007

In May of 1947, the suburban dream began on Long Island in Levittown with 2000 affordable homes being rented and then converted into purchases with no down payment and monthly mortgage payments equal to the rental price.  The concept then spread across America.

The first apartment that my wife and I shared together was a rental in Levittown.  When the homeowner died and the house was sold, we were asked to leave the property.  The job market at the time for elementary education teachers on Long Island was very difficult, so my wife gave up on the dream of becoming a teacher and we moved to Manhattan.

Even though my wife had given up her teaching dream, we still planned on living the “American dream.”

After moving around a bit, we ended up back in the suburbs of Suffolk County, where we saw first-hand that life on Long Island quickly got to be very expensive.  Being a real estate agent at the time, I foolishly believed that the irrational exuberance of the real estate market would continue and home prices on Long Island would keep rising, so we purchased a home at the height of the market.

All bubbles burst, so it is not at all surprising to me (in retrospect) that the real estate bubble burst as well.  And as a result, the suburbs are now the fastest growing area of poverty in America.  Those who think that foreclosure and bankruptcy could never happen to them should not think in such absolute terms.

The stories featured on Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island were about successful people with good jobs who lived within their means.  But when income is lost for whatever reason, it is impossible to continue to live the same lifestyle, even for the most disciplined among us.

Unlike most fictional stories that come out of Hollywood, this documentary did not feature many happy endings.  Only one of the people featured in the program was finally offered a job (after a two-year search).  The others continue to struggle and one story ended in tragedy.

Dave Hartstein, a 35-year-old chiropractor and father of three (including an infant with Downs Syndrome), died after contracting Hantavirus while cleaning out the basement of his home to put it up for sale.  He and his wife, Heather (an out-of-work school teacher), had filed for bankruptcy and were trying to work out a loan modification with the bank at the time.

At the end of the documentary, a still shot of the Hartsteins walking with their kids is displayed as Heather sadly states…”We had the dream, the dream was lived…the dream ended.”

Please share your experiences (anonymously if you would like) in the comment section below.  If you, or someone you know, has been out of work for a long time or forced to rely on any kind of government assistance during this economic crisis, please share this post on Facebook (or privately).  At the very least, those who are suffering will know that they are not the only ones who are going through difficult times.

American Idol Finale: Predicting the Season 10 Winner

In Music, Television on May 25, 2011 at 6:54 am

The chances of correctly predicting the winner of American Idol this season are truly 50/50.  Will the better performer from last night win it all, or will the other contestant’s fan base help to seal the victory?  In all honesty, the outcome doesn’t really matter.  Both young country artists will get record deals, and most likely each will record the original song that was written for them for the finale.

Perhaps last night’s finale was entertaining for country music fans.  But for the rest of the country, this finale just fell flat.  Despite the judges attempts to create excitement around the performances, there were no memorable moments from the show.  Actually, there was one, but it had nothing to do with the show.  The most exciting part of the show came when Fox broke in with a severe tornado warning in my area, forcing us to pause American Idol on the DVR and seek refuge in a closet.

Thankfully, we were able to fast-forward through most of the show, including parts of some of the performances, which surely would have had Simon rolling his eyes if he was still a judge.

Scotty McCreery won the coin toss, but elected to defer to Lauren Alaina, making the coin toss an exercise in futility.  Alaina obviously chose to go second.  This act of chivalry shows that the finale was not really a competition, but rather a country music television show which would have been more at home on CMT.

For their first song, the contestants got to choose their favorite performances of the season.

McCreery started the show off with “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry.  No offense to McCreery, who is adored by millions, but I thought that he’d be “gone” long before most of the others in the Top 13.  Those who love him probably loved the performance.  Those who don’t were probably as bored as I was.

Alaina, fighting through a damaged vocal cord which caused rumors to spread that she would be replaced by Haley Reinhart, did a decent job with Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.”  Despite the setback, she looked very confident on stage, but it was evident that she was having difficulty hitting the big notes.

The second song was chosen by the Idols of the Idol contestants.

George Strait chose one of his own songs for McCreery to perform.  His rendition of “Check Yes or No” was a snoozefest.  Of course, I don’t know the original version, so it might have been great.  Given the choice, I will check “no” for this performance.

Carrie Underwood chose “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis for Alaina.  She did a decent job with it, straining to overcome her injured vocal cord at times, but overall, it was better than McCreery.

Why the judges didn’t comment until each contestant performed twice is beyond me.  I’d like to think that the producers made a wise decision in not forcing the viewing audience to listen to the same generic comments twice.

Jennifer Lopez told Scotty that she couldn’t think of a more explosive way to start the show.  Really?  Explosive?  Was she watching the same show as the rest of us?

Randy Jackson, wearing the dumbest outfit that he has ever worn on the show, proclaimed that they were both “in it to win it.”  You have to wonder at this point if he is somehow cashing in every time that he utters that idiotic catch phrase.

Steven Tyler, who has gone steadily downhill as a judge from the beginning of the season to the finale, spewed some gibberish before stating that Alaina won the first two rounds because “she’s prettier than Scotty.”  When Tyler talks about how pretty these girls are, he always sounds like a dirty old man.

For their third and final song, each contestant performed an original song that was written specifically for them.  It would be surprising if either song gets much airplay on pop radio as both songs are made for country radio.

McCreery performed a song called “I Love You This Big.”  Clearly, many voters feel this way about Scotty.  Anyone who has been reading my reviews of American Idol this season knows that I don’t feel this way.  I think that he is good for what he is, but I am still shocked that he became this unstoppable force on the show.

Alaina performed a song called “Like My Mother Does.”  It was a typical formulaic country song.  Alaina did a decent job with the song, as she always does.  Personally, I was just happy when the song ended, putting a cap on a very disappointing season of American Idol.

Actually, there was one more performance to end the evening.  For reasons that no one but the American Idol producers will understand, David Cook ended the show with a cover version of “Don’t You Forget About Me.”  The song was originally made popular in the 80’s by the band Simple Minds.  The irony of the band name and this decision by the Idol producers was not lost on me.

Even the most diehard Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina fans will admit that this was the most boring finale ever if they are honest with themselves.  There was not one standout performance, and no excitement.  A season that once had great potential, went out in such boring fashion, that you have to wonder if the audience will shrink next year as better shows like The Voice and X-Factor threaten the American Idol empire.

This finale could have been the best ever if the voting during the season had gone a different way.

Pia Toscano had plenty of detractors, but she would have been a much better finale contestant.  James Durbin would have walked away with this victory if he replaced either of the finale contestants because he would have made the show exciting.  Since I don’t have the luxury of choosing the winner between the two best contestants, I have no choice but to pick who the winner of Country American Idol will be.

And the next American Idol is…

Scotty McCreery.

It defies all logic that a one-trick pony who has never delivered an over-the-top singing performance will win a singing competition.  But the voters love him, and that is what matters most on American Idol.  He and Alaina will probably both go on to have careers in country music.  Alaina is the more deserving of the two, but that hasn’t mattered all season, so there is no reason for it to matter when crowing this season’s champion.

Perhaps the most telling moment of the finale was having someone other than the two finalists close the show with a song called “Don’t You Forget About Me.”  Personally, I cannot make that promise to David Cook, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina or American Idol for that matter.  This show may not have run its course for many, but for me, there is no reason to return.


American Idol: Top 3 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on May 19, 2011 at 6:55 am

Season 10 of American Idol is finally coming to an end, and thanks to the surprise elimination of James Durbin last week, it is doing so with a whimper rather than with a bang.  Without Durbin’s theatrics, this may very well end up being the most boring finale in the show’s history.  If this week’s show is any indication of what’s to come in the finale, this once-promising season hit its peak much too soon.

This week, the remaining contestants were given the opportunity to perform three songs each.  The first song was the contestant’s choice, the second was Jimmy Iovine’s choice and the final song was the judges’ choice.  The order in which these songs were performed will probably be more important in determining the finalists than the quality of each performance because the last song is what will be on the voters’ minds as they start dialing.

Regardless of which contestants advance to the finale, the end of this season couldn’t come soon enough.  There is very little excitement or intrigue with the remaining contestants, and even the judges’ families must be getting tired of listening to the same recycled comments after each performance.  Is there anyone on the planet (aside from the irritating Ryan Seacrest) who can stand to hear Randy Jackson proclaim which contestants are “in it to win it?”

As usual, this week’s show had its moments, but overall, it was one of the more boring late-season performances in the show’s history.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):


[3]          Scotty McCreery  – Consistency is never an issue for McCreery.  He is always solid, but never spectacular.  Even though the judges tried to give him songs to force him to show his range, McCreery only goes so far before reverting back to his comfort zone.

For his song choice, McCreery chose Lonestar’s “Amazed.”  This seems like an appropriate song given the fact that the voting nation seems to be amazed by McCreery.  However, it was not amazing.  It was typical of his weekly performances.  And though he has gained confidence in his stage presence since the beginning of the season, somehow the “leaning tower of Scotty” returned in full force for this song.

Jimmy Iovine chose “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?” by Thompson Square.  It was about the same as all of his other performances, only this time he was leaning awkwardly with a guitar instead of doing it over the piano.

The judges chose “She Believes in Me” by Kenny Rogers.  It was an obvious attempt to get McCreery to shoot for a big note.  He did, but overall the song was too mature for him, and his performance lacked the character of the original, but it won’t matter.

McCreery is adored by the voters and the judges and should easily cruise into the finale.  Of course, that seemed to be the case with James Durbin last week, so there’s always a chance that there is another surprise this week.

[2]          Haley Reinhart – At the beginning of the season, no one could have predicted that Reinhart would have made it this far.  She is defying the odds on a weekly basis by surviving while more highly-regarded contestants go home.  Those with an open mind will realize that she has earned it, but those who focus on her early-season performances, will surely be shocked if she survives yet another week.

While her competition was choosing safe songs, Reinhart took a huge risk by tackling Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.”  But the risk paid off.  It was the best overall performance of the night, in spite of the slight interruption caused by an embarrassing trip on the steps.  To her credit, Reinhart didn’t miss a beat.  She regained her composure and continued to deliver one of the best performances of the season.  Unfortunately for Reinhart, she peaked early in the evening.

Jimmy Iovine chose “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac for Reinhart.  It started off brilliantly as Reinhart captured the essence of Stevie Nicks while adding her own signature sound to the song.  As the song progressed, her singing transitioned from special to light, airy and kind of moody.  It was still one of the better songs of the night, but it wasn’t as impressive as her first song.

The judges inexplicably chose “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette for Reinhart’s final performance.  She did a decent job with the choruses, but the verses were very weak.  It seemed as though she didn’t have enough breath to squeeze in the multitude of lyrics in the song.  She would have been better off if this was her first song of the night rather than her last.  If the judges really wanted to showcase her talent, they would have been better off choosing “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles.


[1]          Lauren Alaina – Can Alaina become the next Carrie Underwood?  She certainly has the talent to do so if she is provided with the right songs and packaged the right way.  As one of the early favorites in the competition, it is not at all shocking that she has made it this far, and would not be a surprise to see her in the finale.

Unlike Reinhart, Alaina got better as the night went on.  The song that she chose for herself is one that she claims to have been singing since she was a kid, but it wasn’t evident from her performance.  Her rendition of “Wild One” by Faith Hill was decent, but nothing special.  It sounded more like Dolly Parton than Faith Hill, and it wasn’t very impressive.  Even though the judges liked watching her have fun, this performance didn’t measure up to most of her performances in recent weeks.

Jimmy Iovine chose “If I Die Young” by Perry, largely for the lyrics.  It was a good fit for Alaina’s voice, but she did get caught up in the emotion of the song for a brief moment.  Like Reinhart, she quickly regained her composure without missing a beat.  While her singing was very good on this song, she was very statue-like on stage.  This was Pia Toscano’s downfall, but Alaina’s likability will most likely inspire the voters to pick up the phone for her.

The judges’ choice for Alaina was perfect.  Her performance of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” was a great way to end the show for Alaina.  Aside from Reinhart’s inspired performance of “What Is and What Should Never Be,” this song was the best of the night.

Overall, Alaina has delivered performances worthy of landing her in the finale for most of the season.  The order of the songs definitely helped her this week, as she got to save her best song for last.


Haley Reinhart delivered arguably the best and worst performances of the evening.  Unfortunately for Reinhart, her best performance was very early in the show, and her worst came at the very end.  This season has been nothing if not unpredictable, so there is always a chance that she upsets one of the remaining favorites and squeaks into the finale, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Country music is alive and well in America, and it seems that this year’s finale is destined to be a battle of the young country music performers.

It hardly matters which two contestants make it to the finale.  Without James Durbin’s electrifying performances, this finale is destined to fail to live up to expectations.


American Idol: Top 4 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on May 12, 2011 at 7:05 am

The final four contestants each performed two songs this week.  The first theme: “Songs That Inspire” smartly offered a wide array of choices.  The theme for the second song, however, did not.  No disrespect to Lieber & Stoller intended, but having the final four contestants choose from their catalog was an uninspired decision by the American Idol producers.

Was there truly any purpose to offer such a narrow song selection when the supposed best singers are still left standing? When you take into account that this season’s votes have shown that the American Idol audience is dominated by young girls, and most of them won’t know any songs by Lieber & Stoller (who both turned 78 years old recently), the choice was even more puzzling.

The producers of American Idol seem too smug to make smart decisions about the direction of the show, which may ultimately lead to them losing their stranglehold on ratings dominance.  But then again, these are the same people who think that Ryan Seacrest is worth $15 million per year, so no one will ever accuse them of having impeccable judgment.

This week’s show had its memorable moments, but there were also some very questionable ones as well.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[4]          Scotty McCreery  – In light of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, McCreery’s choice for the “Songs That Inspire” was very timely and appropriate.  McCreery’s performance of “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson was typical of his usual offerings, but because the lyrics are so poignant and timely, it ended up being one of his best moments on the show.

Unfortunately, his second song, while applauded by the judges and his fans, was not very good.  His goofy version of “Youngblood” by The Coasters showed his lighthearted side, and left the judges impressed with his ability to deliver a humorous performance, but if not for the fact that he is one of the favorites, it most likely would have been more heavily critiqued.

Based on his body of work and his performances this week, McCreery should be concerned about being sent packing, but it seems that he is destined to appear in the finale.  He is a good performer, but he has yet to deliver a vocal performance that blows you away.  To quote Steven Tyler’s lyrics, McCreery’s weekly performances are “the same old story, the same old song and dance,” but it doesn’t seem to matter to the voters or the judges.

[3]          Lauren Alaina – She seemed inspired while performing “Anyway” by Martina McBride, but Alaina took a big step backwards with her second song (“Trouble” by Elvis Presley).  During both songs there are moments where you can see the amazing potential that Alaina has to be at least as popular as Carrie Underwood.  But there are also moments where you can see why she was in the bottom two last week.

“Anyway” was a good song choice for Alaina, and she made the most of it by showing off her sweet tone and her pure power.  If this were the only song that she performed tonight, she would undoubtedly make it into the Top Three next week.  However, her performance of “Trouble” may be the very reason that she is in “trouble” this week.

After appearing in the bottom two last week, Alaina cannot feel safe when this week’s voting results are announced.  Her concern is certainly warranted.

[2]          Haley Reinhart – Last week, Reinhart received some harsh criticism for choosing a Lady Gaga song that wasn’t known by the masses.  Even though the judges didn’t like the song, the truth of the matter is that she did a good job with it.  However, her decision to choose “The Earth Song” by Michael Jackson as an inspirational song was ill-conceived.  Out of all of the songs that she could have chosen in the category, this was not the one that will inspire voters to pick up the phone to support her.

However, Reinhart stepped up once again when it was time to perform her second song of the night.  Her rendition of “I Who Have Nothing” by Tom Jones (or Jordin Sparks) was very good, perhaps the best of the evening overall.  But it did not compare to the incredible version that Sparks delivered when she performed it on Idol.  It may very well have been the song that helped launch Sparks to victory.

Reinhart certainly earned her place in the Top Three with her performances this week, but she still may be the one on the outside looking in based on her popularity.

[1]          James Durbin – The one thing that Durbin has going for him is that he consistently picks songs that will resonate with the audience.  Tonight’s first song was definitely one that inspires but it has lost some of its magic quality due to its overuse.  “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey is a song that defines a generation, but it has become too closely associated with the TV show “Glee.”

Durbin is a very good singer, but he is not Steve Perry good.  He did some nice things with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but it sounded more like something out of the Broadway show “Rock of Ages” than a Journey performance, but it doesn’t matter.  Durbin’s stage presence is so good, that the crowd can’t help but love him.

His second song choice seemed truly bizarre, but he actually pulled it off nicely.  It’s safe to say that this is probably the first time that “Love Potion Number 9” by The Searchers was performed like an 80’s metal song.  And though it seemed a bit odd, in the end, it turned out to be one of the better moments on the show tonight.

Unless there is a very shocking vote, it looks like Durbin should cruise into the finale.


If it were up to me, this would be the time for Scotty McCreery to leave.  He will most likely be a successful country singer, but if people really take the time to evaluate him in this competition, it is painfully obvious that he has yet to blow anyone away with his vocals.  In the real world, he may have the most success out of any of the contestants, but that doesn’t mean that he should beat them in a singing competition.

Scotty McCreery’s career will be defined by what he does once American Idol is over.  He doesn’t deserve to beat out any of the others purely based on his vocals, but his popularity may push him over the edge.

At first blush, it would seem that Lauren Alaina is more popular than Haley Reinhart, but she did end up in the bottom two last week.  Even though Alaina may have been the best singer with her first song, her second song was average at best.

On the other hand, Haley Reinhart saved her best for last, and that may help sway votes in her favor.

It would only be truly shocking if James Durbin was eliminated this week, but it’s doubtful that he’s at any risk of that happening.

Even though it would not be my pick, I predict that Lauren Alaina will go home this week because her strongest performance was at the beginning of the show, and Haley Reinhart’s was at the end.


American Idol: Top 5 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on May 5, 2011 at 10:32 am

With only five contestants remaining, each one was given the opportunity to perform two songs.  The theme for this week was “Now and Then” (a current song and a song from the 60’s).  With such a young cast, you would think that the current songs would be much better than the songs from the past, but that was not the case this week for any of the contestants.

Before the show started, Ryan Seacrest turned to Randy Jackson for their usual useless banter.  Seacrest asked Jackson what the contestants needed to do now that they’re in the top five, and Jackson gave his stock answer about wanting to see “who’s in it to win it” (as if some of them were there trying to lose at this point).

As the weeks go by, this judging panel which seemed to breathe new life into the show early on is becoming a drag.  Their comments, for the most part, do nothing to add to the show.  This is a stark contrast to The Voice, where all of the judges are entertaining and more informative.

Thankfully, this season is coming to an end in the next couple of weeks.  At which point, I guess we will all get to see who was “in it to win it.”

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[5]          Jacob Lusk – In a baffling move, Lusk chose to sing both parts of a duet for his current song (“No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown).  Clearly, he has no problem tapping into his feminine side, but trying to sing the male and the female parts was awkward and he didn’t do a very good job with either part.  As usual, Lusk was overly dramatic with this performance, which was one of his worst of the season.  The only good part of the song was the back-up singers.

Lusk reluctantly took Jimmy Iovine’s advice and took a chance by doing a song that most wouldn’t expect from him (“Love Hurts” by Nazareth).  He did a much better job with this song than his first song of the night.  He was on key, less dramatic and stayed true to the song while making it his own.

[4]          Scotty McCreery –  To his credit, McCreery stepped out of his comfort zone and moved beyond his usual safe, deep voice country sound.  His performance of “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry was lively and energetic, and he has clearly gotten much more comfortable being on stage.

McCreery stepped back into his comfort zone with his second song as he performed “Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley.  While it was a safe choice, he did a nice job with the song and did as much as he could to make it his own.

Overall, McCreery did a good job (as he usually does), but still has yet to deliver a performance that will be remembered by the time he takes the stage again the following week.

[3]          James Durbin – For many weeks, Durbin has simply dominated this competition.  Because of that, he seems to have built up such goodwill that he is almost immune from being critiqued by the judges.  Based on his body of work, Durbin is still the one to beat, but this was far from his best week.  His first song “Closer to the Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars was decent, but certainly nothing close to what we’ve come to expect from him.  As usual, his stage presence was spot-on, and you got the feeling that you were watching a James Durbin concert.  However, this song was not a great choice for him (despite what the judges and Iovine said about this being his niche).

 His second song of the night was much better, even though it wasn’t on par with his usual vocal performance.  Singing “Without You” by Harry Nilsson was a good choice, but because of the lyrics and the vibe of the song, it was very emotional.  Durbin deserves a lot of credit for getting through the song (albeit with tears filling in his eyes).  Even though it wasn’t his best performance vocally, it will be one that will be remembered for a long time because of the emotional value.

[2]          Lauren Alaina – Before the top 24 were ever chosen, Alaina seemed to be one of the favorites to win it all.  She lost her way for a while, but she has come back so strongly that you have to think that she might be the only one who can defeat Durbin in the finale.  Her first song, “Flat on the Floor” by Carrie Underwood proved that she has the makings of a star.  She is much better than Underwood was at this point in her career.  And at only 16 years of age, the sky seems to be the limit for Alaina.  She has clearly found her niche, and if she has the right songwriters, she should be selling millions of albums whether she wins this competition or not.

For her second song, Alaina chose to perform her parents’ song “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers.  Because this song has been done so many times on Idol already, it is challenging to make it resonate with the audience.  Fortunately for Alaina, she was up to the challenge.  Her version of the song was sweet and powerful and she showed off the beautiful tone to her voice.  If she keeps delivering performances like this, she has a good chance of winning it all.

[1]          Haley Reinhart – When the competition first began, I have to admit that I didn’t see much in Reinhart, but the judges did.  Now that she has come into her own, it seems that the judges have started to abandon her at times with unfair criticism.  Her first song of the night was suggested by Jimmy Iovine.  It is a Lady Gaga song called “You and I” that is unreleased, and has only been performed live to date.  Reinhart has not only grown as a singer throughout the competition, her stage presence and choice of wardrobe has also improved greatly.  She now looks the part, and her confidence seems to be growing by the week.

Despite what the judges said, this was a good song choice for her.  Panning her for choosing a song that is not well known by the public was laughable.  How many times has almost every contestant been guilty of that through the years?  The fact of the matter is that choosing a song that everyone knows is helpful, but only if it is performed well.  A good, unknown song that is performed well can be just as impressive, and sometimes more so.  This was the case this week.  Even though I never heard the song before, I thought that Reinhart did a great job with it, as it was a natural fit for her voice.  Randy Jackson saying that he didn’t love the song is irrelevant because she didn’t write it.  Even though it wasn’t a favorite of the judges, the song showcased Reinhart’s raspy, edgy voice.

Her second song of the night was also chosen by Iovine.  I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect when Reinhart started performing “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals.  She started off singing it acapella, and then transitioned into singing it with the accompaniment of the band and back-up singers.  The suggestion to start of acapella by Sheryl Crow was an inspired one because it really made Reinhart stand out from the crowd.  When she finished her very unique and cool version of the song, she deservedly received a standing ovation, and was told by the judges that it was the best performance of the night.  This time, the judges got it right.

Reinhart is still a long shot to make it into the finale, or even the top 3 for that matter, but she has certainly earned her right to compete next week with the fan favorites.


Unless the voting audience totally ignores how good Haley Reinhart was this week, it would be a shock to see anyone aside from Jacob Lusk going home this week.  He has been a mainstay in the bottom three, has received the harshest criticism by the judges and quite frankly, he is just not as good as the others.


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