Archive for the ‘ TV ’ Category

Sixth season. When’s the movie?

After months of waiting – I couldn’t get Yahoo! Screen to run properly due to region issues, then it went out of business and the DVD release got postponed more than once – I finally had the chance to see the sixth and final season of ‘Community’, my favorite television series ever. And though I initially had some concerns, most prominently the departure of Yvette Nicole Brown (who played Shirley Bennett) and Donald Glover (who played Troy Barnes), I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. It certainly is different from the first three seasons, but the thirteen episodes displayed all the quirks and intelligent sitcom writing I’ve come to love about the show.

What does jump out is that the different medium allows for a different pacing. Because the writers weren’t confined to the network mandated 22 minute limit, they could branch out a little in this season, though never over half an hour. That may seem a little off-putting at first, because the delivery isn’t quite as rapid-fire as it used to be, but once you get used to it, the extra breathing room actually enhances the emotional weight of the acting. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a bigger emphasis on the drama, but it doesn’t exactly hurt it either. And due to the season’s highly conceptual nature, I feel the extra time was needed. Some of the season 5 episodes with the same tendency (‘Geothermal Escapism’ most prominently) suffered from the time limitations.

One of the revelations of this season is the addition of Paget Brewster as the consultant Francesca ‘Frankie’ Dart. I must admit that I’ve been a bit of a fan of Brewster since her guest role in ‘Friends’ and this character is more proof of why she’s great for any sitcom: she has a dramatic gravitas without letting her comedic talents suffer from that. Perfect for a character who functions as sort of a voice of reason. Albeit flawed, because we are dealing with Greendale Community College here. In fact, Frankie’s struggle to adapt to the cast’s ongoing insanity is the source for a majority of this season’s comedy, although Ken Jeong’s surprisingly restrained and heartfelt performance as Ben Chang isn’t far behind.

Keith David, the other “new kid” who plays Elroy Patashnik, has a bit of a weird dynamic with the rest of the main cast. David is a class act for sure, but you could see that the writers were a little too committed to making him a substitute for both Troy Barnes and Pierce Hawthorne (portrayed by Chevy Chase, who left the fold quite some time ago) to play to his strengths. Him being the only African-American actor on the main cast does offer a proper canvas for Greendale’s hilarious political hypercorrectness – which consistently borders on racism, of course – but I feel David’s character doesn’t quite get the development it deserves. Then again, there are some moments that suggests he was meant to be sort of a shielded personality and I love David’s acting.

It’s quite obvious that the crew decided to go all-out one more time now that they were working with more creative freedom than ever. The end tags are really something else this time around, often litterally. ‘Grifting 101’, which features large portions of Matt Berry (‘The IT Crowd’) just the way we love him, is an even weirder brother to the brilliant season 2 episode ‘Conspiracy Theories And Interior Design’ and as such would have been too bizarre for network television. In a similar way, I think ‘Modern Espionage’ would have at least suffered the pressure to emphasize the paintball element more. ‘Laws Of Robotics And Party Rights’ features some laugh-out-loud silliness that shouldn’t work, but does. All combined with the heart that is so important ‘Community’. In a way, that combination makes this season a little thank you gift to all the fans that have stuck by the show’s side for six seasons.

Naturally, we can’t discuss a final season without talking about the finale (‘Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television’) and I can only say it is exactly what we could have asked for. It’s funny, the season 5 finale failed at its attempt to translate the general wonder what the story would be if there’s no more story, but it’s exactly that sentiment that is played out so perfectly this time around. With a short guest spot for a surprisingly slender Yvette Nicole Brown to make it feel more complete. It’s a very wordy episode with very little gags or jokes, but it’s perfect. I can see why the big Winger speech, this time delivered by Abed Nadir (as always expertly played by Danny Pudi) made the cast cry and seeing Jeff Winger (synonymous with Joel McHale’s development as an actor) actually care deeply about anything is the perfect way to round the story out. It’s a tearjerker for sure, but not as depressing as you might expect.

Ultimately, season six is directed at hardcore ‘Community’ fans obviously and those of you who are – including yours truly – will enjoy it immensely. A few episodes fall flat – I’m not too fond of ‘Intro To Recycled Cinema’ and ‘Wedding Videography’ is decent, but the concept has been done better before – but all in all, it’s a great season to round out what I consider the most brilliant show ever to have appeared on television. Now all we need is that movie that the series promised us. In fact, it does it again at the end of the finale. Please, Dan Harmon, if you won’t do it, I will, and we all know no one would want that.

Critical Fanmail II: South Park

Dear Trey Parker,

Two laughs in a 22-minute episode. That’s embarrassing for a show that once was the greatest animated sitcom on the face of the planet. And they weren’t even belly laughs like the ones I used to have back when the show just started. Or even back in the days of “I’m not just sure, I’m HIV positive”. Let’s be honest, ‘South Park’ has been in a downward spiral for a while. The most recent season I own on DVD is the fourteenth – hit and miss, but with a few true gems – and I have no intention of acquiring any of the more recent ones. My days of eagerly awaiting a new ‘South Park’ episode are over.

Deep down inside, I would like to say that you couldn’t have lost it. My initial reaction was that you just don’t care anymore. But anyone who has seen the documentary ‘6 Days To Air’ know how much of an effort everyone involved with the show is still making. Even your most recent episode ‘Stunning And Brave’ sees you trying to ridicule current affairs with an attempt to highlight the absurdity of what we have come to consider normal. That’s always been the power of the show, but the satire doesn’t seem to work anymore: the jokes just aren’t funny.

Starting with season 15, the show seems to have lost its edge. The season still contained two good (‘Crack Baby Athletic Association’, ‘City Sushi’) and one brilliant episode (‘Last Of The Meheecans’), but it’s been feeling like I’m watching a mediocre cover band do ‘South Park’; the elements that make the show good are in place, but it misses a certain spark of brilliance. The same goes for season 16, where only one episode (‘Cartman Finds Love’) comes even remotely close to classic ‘South Park’. The two seasons that followed were a waste of time.

What really worries me is that there’s no end to the slump in sight. I gave you the benefit of the doubt multiple times, but I’m about to give up. When the show threatened to stagnate in the past, you and your crew found a way to inject a new impulse into the show by – for example – increasing Butters’ role or not killing Kenny off at the end of every episode anymore. Naturally, I hope you still have one of those tricks up your sleeve, but I think you would have pulled that one out already if you had.

Unfortunately, ‘South Park’ has been relegated to a status where I would leave it on if I come across it on television, but the days that I would plan my schedule around new episodes of the show are in the past. Maybe you should consider pulling the plug altogether. But I’d rather have you proving me wrong.


Kevy Metal

Jon Voyage!

After watching Jon Stewart’s last appearance as the host of ‘The Daily Show’, I felt the need to share a few thoughts to add to the long list of shared thoughts that plague the Internet already. That seems a little excessive, but Jon Stewart’s show was such an important part of the Kevy Metal household, that it truly is the end of an era to me. And as much as his crew – both on- and offscreen – deserves all the credit they can get, it was Stewart’s charming, witty and sometimes shamelessly nerdy personality that made him a welcome addition to our living room for years. Sometimes it even felt like he was right there with us. An impressive feat that isn’t given to every show host.

My parents and I started watching every episode of ‘The Daily Show’ as soon as we had a TV channel that aired the program. I can’t exactly pinpoint the date we started watching, but judging from the many compilations that were featured in the show in these last few weeks, it must have been about six years ago. Stewart was a breath of fresh air for us. Not only was his delivery in terms of humor fantastic, he also had a surprisingly universal approach when compared to the America-centered worldview of most American anchors. His sincere interest in all things Middle East hardly has any competition worldwide.

What is more important, however, is the function that ‘The Daily Show’ has had as a springboard for young, talented comedians. Despite joining the show prior, Stephen Colbert is commonly seen as a protégé of Stewart, with Colbert even mentioning him as the reason he started moving into political satire. ‘The Daily Show’ was also responsible for getting John Oliver to the United States and therefore granting him the stage that later enabled him to start ‘Last Week Tonight’ about a decade later – a show that might equal, possibly even surpass the quality of ‘The Daily Show’ these days.

For me, it was the show that introduced me to a number of fantastic comedians. Sometimes these were younger talents that got their chance to shine to a sizeable audience through the program (the brilliant Wyatt Cenac, the downright crazy Kristen Schaal) and sometimes, I was introduced to a comedy veteran for whom ‘The Daily Show’ just happened to be the medium that introduced me to their work; most prominently Lewis Black, who remains one of my favorite comedians to this day. I’m not sure how much emphasis there is on comedic acting among cast and crew, but people like Jason Jones and Aasif Mandvi have grown to full-blown comedy actors throughout the history of the show.

Let’s not forget the interviews. Some of the best interviews were the ones that had nothing to do with whatever the guest was promoting – Ricky Gervais’ monologue about raccoons having sex with panda’s springs to mind. Occasionally, a genuinely interesting interview popped up. It was through ‘The Daily Show’ that I was introduced to Ramita Navai’s amazing book ‘City Of Lies’. It actually went so far that my mother begged the show to stop promoting interesting books; it was quite an assault on our bank accounts at some point. Stewart’s political interest made people like Barack Obama show a bit of their true selves and sometimes set to “unmask” people in a different way, like his on-screen frustration opposite journalist Judith Miller about her role in the Iraq war by publishing faulty information.

Now that this icon has quit the show, all we can hope for that his replacement Trevor Noah will get an honest chance to prove himself. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly impressed by his few appearances on the show, but it was his performance on BBC’s ‘Live At The Apollo’ about his experiences as a child of a mixed race parents in South Africa that convinced me that he is able to at least put on a good and credible satire show. And as long as he’s got the current team of correspondents – Hasan Minhaj, the silly genius of Jordan Klepper and the perfect combination of beauty, brains and humor that is Jessica Williams – we can be sure that the legacy of the show will be safe.

Of course things won’t be the same again. The second most important man in our living room – second only after my father – won’t appear quite as often anymore. Jon Voyage!

My douze points for 2015

So there we have it. Sweden’s song ‘Heroes’ won the Eurovision Song Contest 2015, not because it’s such a good song – the first verse sounds promising, but the chorus butchers it – not because it’s sung so well – it’s not – but because it’s been directed as a music video. It’s not often that I get to quote my sister, but she’s right: five years from now, everybody might remember the drawn figures, but I already can’t recall what the song sounds like. It makes me think of Eddie Vedder’s reluctance to do videos, because he wants people to remember the songs instead of the visuals. Israel’s entry is stuck in my mind though.

It’s funny to see that none of my predictions came entirely true. Okay, the first one was statistically likely rather than musically, but I still figured Norway would win. The song had a good climax, it just took too long before it arrived there. However, it’s likely that I judge the songs differently than the majority of the audience does, as my following list of favorites – my sept to douze points, if you will – will show you. Out of these titles, only the first one came close to the number of points it deserved.

Before I move on to my honorable mentions for this year – four instead of five this time – there’s two more things I’d like to say. First of all: thank you Eurovision, for appointing Mirjam Weichselbraun (the blonde one) as one of the moderators. Something about her eyes continued to hypnotize me. Secondly, and this one is aimed at my fellow Dutchmen: couldn’t we, at some point in the discussion about Trijntje Oosterhuis’ dress, have addressed the fact that the song was so shitty? Seriously, how do you get so much repetition into three minutes?

Without further ado: Good evening Vienna, Heerhugowaard calling. Here are the results from the alternative Dutch jury.

Estonia: Elina Born & Stig Rästa – Goodbye To Yesterday

Okay, so maybe Stig Rästa – who wrote the song – shouldn’t have sung it himself, but ‘Goodbye To Yesterday’ is a good song and 20 year old Elina Born has both the voice and the emotional gravitas to carry a song like this one. Especially here, because she was notably less nervous than during the semi-finals on Tuesday. Despite the higher tempo, the song reminded me of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s brilliant ‘Summer Wine’ – I have a weak spot for their beautifully bitter duets – with a a little bit of old James Bond soundtracks thrown in for good measure. It’s got a nice driving rhythm and while the harmonies would have worked better with a better male singer, it’s a passionate and honest entry to this year’s Eurovision. Also, that has to be one of the most perfectly falling tears in television history.

Greece: Maria Elena Kyriakou – One Last Breath

For the second time in three years, Greece surprises me very pleasantly with their Eurovision entry. But where ‘Alcohol Is Free’ was just plain fun two years ago, ‘One Last Breath’ is a classic Eurovision power ballad that I don’t only think deserved to earn much more votes, I actually also more or less expected it to. Maria Elena Kyriakou has an amazing set of pipes and while there are some  parallels to be drawn to Celine Dion, she doesn’t have the irritating “breathy” way of singing the latter has. In fact, Kyriakou has a little more power and a very subtle raw edge sneaking in a few times. I absolutely love the last minute or so of the song. In an ideal world, where songs don’t have a three minute limit, this song would have been longer and taken more time to build toward that fantastic climax.

Spain: Edurne – Amanecer

Seriously, where the hell did this come from? For years now, Spain has submitted decent, but forgettable Pop songs. This is something completely different though. First of all, “little roja riding hood” blew me away with her powerhouse voice and her passionate performance. Secondly, I have a degree of admiration for artists that still use their native tongue, despite the fact that it’s no longer required. But the atmosphere here is the real game winner – besides Edurne’s amazing voice of course. The orchestral arrangement leaves absolutely nothing to be desired and the way the strings blend with the piano is fantastic. The electronic percussion is sparse, but the drama it adds to the way the tension in the song is built-up is indispensible. This is something to envy as a composer, one of which here – interesting to the Metal fans here – is Masquerade guitarist Thomas G:son.

Georgia: Nina Sublatti – Warrior

During the semi-finals on Tuesday, ‘Warrior’ struck me as “quite good”. The more I listened to it, the more I started falling in love with the subdued aggression and dark, defiant character of the song and the strong voice of that strangely beautiful young lady. A true grower apparently, because the level of the competition on Tuesday was truly cringe-worthy. The song sounds a little like a crossbreed between Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ and the Jim Steinman-produced work by The Sisters Of Mercy. Bonus points for Sublatti for writing and co-producing (with, again, Thomas G:son) the song herself. Still, that wouldn’t mean anything if the actual song – a female empowerment anthem – and her vocal performance weren’t so mind-blowingly marvellous. It does, however, make me curious about an entire album of her material. My prediction that this would be Georgia’s highest charting Eurovision song has – astonishingly – not come true, but here’s what should have happened: twelve points go to Georgia and see you in Tblisi next year.

My Eurovision predictions for tomorrow

Another year, another Eurovision. For those of you who don’t live in Europe or Australia: the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual, widely broadcasted festival to which countries submit three minute Pop songs to compete with each other. There are results of varying degrees of quality, hilarity and entertainment value.
Those of you who have visited my weblog for longer than two years know that my full report will follow the day after the actual Contest, but based on what I have seen in the semi-finals and the video clips, I can share the following predictions with you.

This year’s Contest will be won by a male-female singing duo. My guess would be Norway’s Mørland and Debrah Scarlett, but I’m hoping for Estonia’s Elina Born & Stig Rästa. Czech Republic’s Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta – by far the best male singer of this year – were favorites as well, but they were sadly voted out.

Nina Sublatti’s ‘Warrior’ – a Destiny’s Child-like female empowerment anthem – will give Georgia their highest ranking ever. More specifically, that would mean somewhere between positions 1 and 8.

Wheelchair bound singer Monika Kuszyńska from Poland will gather a lot of sympathy votes with her ‘In The Name Of Love’. Whoever directed that performance did so brilliantly, showing images of when Kuszyńska was still able to walk. That doesn’t in any way attack her song, which is actually quite a decent power ballad.

None of the so called “Big Five” will end up in the top 10. Italy’s ‘Grande Amore’ will be the highest ranking track out of the five.

Australia’s Guy Sebastian will receive much more sympathy votes than he deserves with his middle of the road Pop song ‘Tonight Again’ simply because this is the first time they are actually taking part.

Not much of a prediction, rather a “post-diction”: whoever voted Portugal’s Leonor Andrade and her ‘Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa’ out is an idiot.

Always risky, but my guesses for the top 5, in no particular order: Norway, Greece, Russia, Sweden and Latvia. That doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with that, though Maria Elena Kyriakou’s ‘One Last Breath’ (Greece) is Eurovision gold.

Serbia’s Bojana Stamenov will finish just outside the top 5, even though it doesn’t quite deserve that spot. Let’s just say the mediocre song does have some elements a majority of the Eurovision crowd can relate to.

I am very curious to see how much of this will actually turn out to be true.

Just to round things off, I’d like to share with you what we’re missing out on now that Portugal is out of the race. Leonor Andrade’s voice mixes the power and passion of the Portuguese Fado tradition with more conventional Pop melodies and her performances has some sort of beautiful anger boiling beneath the surface. The song sounds a little like Journey minus the guitar histrionics. The modulation in the last chorus is a little cheap, but apart from that, it’s a shame this didn’t make it to the finals.

Six seasons and a movie!

“All stories are about death and resurrection.” These wise words from Abed Nadir in the season 2 episode ‘Messianic Myths And Ancient Peoples’ have become all too true for all of ‘Community’ itself. As have the words “six seasons and a movie”. About two months ago, NBC announced the cancellation of ‘Community’. Unsurprisingly to many, because the series seemed to be on the brink of extinction throughout its existence. Why is beyond me, because it is still the most intelligent and just simply funny show on television. Ever.

Which is why the news that reached us at the beginning of the week was the best news I’ve heard in a long time. Yahoo! announced that it would be streaming the 13 episodes of season 6 on Yahoo! Screen. Honesty forces me to say that I’m not familiar with the medium, but any medium giving ‘Community’ room to air – even NBC, with its dubious position when it comes to their greatest comedies – is a good one in my book. Sony Pictures deserves a lot of credit for not giving up on the show either. Both media probably know that they should give Dan Harmon and his crew room to be as creative or crazy as they like. It’s what got the show its hardcore fans, such as yours truly.

Harmon promised us around the time the cancellation was announced that a sixth season would also mean the movie from the earlier quote would be made. That has also piqued by interest. Especially because season 5, despite being hilarious and warmly true to the show’s premise, prove that the series may have outgrown the TV format. The enormous escapades as seen in ‘Geothermal Escapism’ and the heartwarming – as I’m a fan of the literary genre – dystopia tribute ‘App Development And Condiments’ were almost limited by the 22 minute restriction. It would be interesting to see how a 90+ minute feature film would turn out if Harmon could get someone like Justin Lin, who directed the first paintball episode ‘Modern Warfare’, to direct it.

The main cast of Joel McHale (as Jeff Winger), Danny Pudi (as Abed Nadir, TV’s most brilliant character ever, thanks in part to Pudy’s incredible portrayal), Yvette Nicole Brown (as Shirley Bennett, who has been somewhat underused lately) and the gorgeous Alison Brie (as Annie Edison) and Gillian Jacobs (as Britta Perry)  has already been confirmed to be on board for season 6. If I interpret the credits correctly, that means Jim Rash (as Dean Craig Pelton) and Ken Jeong (as Benjamin Chang) will also be a part of season 6. This is a good thing, because these people have proven they are funny, but also able to carry the gravitas to deliver acting-wise. I also hope Jonathan Banks will be able to reprise his role as criminology teacher Buzz Hickey, as he was a fantastic addition to the show. An extension of Jon Oliver’s return as psychology professor would be pleasant as well.

More hopes and wishes I will not have. Because if history has proven us one thing, it’s that anything that Dan Harmon and his crew come up with is good. The vast majority of it is even pure comedic genius. Through this way, I just want to thank everyone involved for the sixth season that this show deserves. Despite breaking all the rules of TV logic. Or maybe even because of that.

My douze points for 2014

About half of the eleven Eurovision predictions I did earlier today came true. That didn’t diminish any of the joy, however. This year, there is a winner who more than deserves it, my entire country is happy because it came in second – the greatest Eurovision success in a long, long time – and Graham Norton’s commentaries on the BBC were thoroughly enjoyable. Between his sarcastic remarks, there were even some words of sincere admiration for the Dutch entry. Personally, I think the Netherlands sent a better delegation last year, but I have a weak spot for Ilse de Lange with her cute smile and sympathetic charisma.

The fact that this year’s entry from the Netherlands was less satisfying for me than last year’s is more or less in line with the level of the entire Eurovision Song Contest. There were more good songs and the vocal efforts were much, much better on average in 2013. Nevertheless, this year’s winner was nothing short of fantastic and I’ve seen some enjoyable acts. Some of them more intentionally than others, as always.

So like last year, I will share with you – my dear readers – my own top 5 of the festival. Or my six, sept, huit, dix et douze points if you will. It was slightly more difficult to gather five acts that I actually really liked this year, but they exist and these entries all deserve my honorable mentions.

Russia: Tolmachevy Sisters – ‘Shine’

Judging from the enormous amount of booing the audience emitted for the 17 year-old twin sisters representing Russia, I may be getting a lot of crap for mentioning this song, but I’m looking at this from a musical angle, not a political one. In fact, looking at this politically may give the lyrics an ironic aftertaste, but the fact is that ‘Shine’ a strongly written Pop song with bombastic strings backing a big, hooky chorus. That’s just the way I like it. The voices of the Tolmachevy Sisters work very well together and their vocal symbiosis lifts the chorus to its larger than life status, although I suspect there are some extra backing vocals on the backing track. The sister who does the higher part every alternate line does an amazing job. In the semi-finals, this was the first song to leave something of an impression on me and although a few songs surpassed them, this song definitely has some lasting value after the contest. And let’s be honest: these girls are just adorable.

Switzerland: Sebalter – ‘Hunter Of Stars’

With me being an outspoken hater of whistling in recorded songs, this may come as something of a surprise to those who know me, but Sebalter’s song was a delightful breath of fresh air in this year’s contest for me. Not the best vocal effort, but ‘Hunter Of Stars’ is a lightweight, upbeat Pop song without having the annoying electronic Europop bombast of majority of this year’s entries. Sebalter’s backing band contained a badass banjo player and the singer himself proves why he should be taken seriously as a musician by playing an awesome violin solo which could have been a guitar solo on any neoclassical Metal song. Once again, Switzerland surprises with a song that is free of pretense, but not without its musical value, just like Anna Rossinelli’s fantastic ‘In Love For A While’ three years ago, which sadly finished last at the time.

Slovenia: Tinkara Kovač – ‘Round And Round’

A lot of criticism has been projected onto Tinkara Kovač for consistently holding her flute during the performance of her song ‘Round And Round’. Being more interested in the music than the actual performances, I couldn’t care less. In fact, I think Kovač performed one of the most consistently amazing Pop songs in this year’s contest. Slovene and English mix remarkably well and Kovač strong alto fits the song perfectly. I think the song is extremely well written as it works towards several emotional climaxes with such ease that you’d almost forget that the song is relatively complex with all the subtle changes in the accompanying parts. Also, ‘Round And Round’ has been bugging the hell out of my father and me because the song’s chorus strongly reminds us of another song and we can’t figure out which one. Those of you who have suggestions are cordially invited to leave them in the comments section.

Italy: Emma – ‘La Mia Città’

One of the very few songs to be sung in the native language of the performer and the only decent Rock song – no, Finland’s horrible, horrible song doesn’t count – was delivered to us quite surprisingly by Italy. Emma Marrone has a great, powerful voice and the musical backing is somewhat typical Italian Poprock, albeit with a greater deal of force than you’d expect based on what can be heard on their mainstream radio. Emma proves herself as a strong performer and I am definitely tempted to check out one of her albums after what she did here. The dual vocal harmonies gave me goosebumps and have sort of an Alice In Chains vibe in their darkness. This is probably the most impressed I have ever been by Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest and that’s not just because Emma’s a good looking lady. She’s a Rock monster in the guise of a goddess.

Austria: Conchita Wurst – ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’

As I’ve said before: Austria’s “lady with a beard” – technically, I’d say Conchita’s a guy in a dress – is the only one who would have deserved to win the contest this year. Of course, a lot of media coverage was on the unlikely combination of the beard and the dress, but Conchita had both the best song and the best voice of this year. ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ sort of reminded me of Shirley Bassey’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ in its structure and orchestral backings and the vocal delivery is powerful, heartfelt and just downright impressive. The song actually nearly brought me to tears. Despite the relatively sober presentation, the camera captured Conchita’s emotional gestures perfectly, but even without that, it’s just a relief to see that the jury and audiences have decided the best man or woman should win this year. ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ is by far the best song of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest and Conchita Wurst owns the best voice. Congratulations!

My Eurovision predictions for tonight

The non-European viewers of this weblog may not be interested in this, but then again, I know some American people who are into the Eurovision Song Contest as well. Much to the annoyance of my mother and my Metal friends alike, I’m always looking forward to the contest. My full report will be posted tomorrow, but based on what I have seen in the semi-finals, I have made some predictions and I have some other conclusions I’d like to share with you as well.

Since the general level of the compositions and – even moreso – the vocal performances this year was thoroughly disappointing for yours truly, I think the scores of the top countries will be higher than the previous years.

Russia will receive less points than their Tolmachevy Sisters’ song rightfully deserves based on the political situation in Ukraine. They can definitely forget about their douze points – or really any for that matter – from said country for sure.

By the same logic, Ukraine will receive more points with their incredibly middle of the road Pop song ‘Tick-Tock’ than Marina Yaremchuk deserves.

Norway’s Carl Espen will end up in the top 10, because his introspective ‘Silent Storm’ will do better with the traditional Eurovision crowd than most of the bookmakers expect.

My own country of The Netherlands will end up on a higher position than last year, despite the fact that last year’s song was much better. I was impressed by the work of Belgian director Hans Pannecoucke, whose registration perfectly captured Ilse DeLange’s game winning smile on exactly the right moment.

Of the pre-qualified contestants, Italy’s Emma Marone will claim the highest position. If only because her ‘La Mia Città’ is the only good song of the six.

Austria’s Conchita Wurst will end up in the top 5. Not only based on the remarkable act, but also because he/she (I don’t know what Conchita prefers) is by far the best singer I have heard so far. The song is Eurovision gold.

Azerbaijan will continue their streak of high positions with Dilara Kazimova’s ‘Start A Fire’.

San Marino will finish last. Their place as finalist is the only “prize” Valentina Monetta will receive for her persistence, with this being her third participation.

In good Eurovision tradition, I won’t agree with the top 5.

Watching the ESC on the BBC instead of on the Dutch public network will be a good decision. Graham Norton will be much better for my blood pressure than Jan Smit and Cornald Maas.

We will see how much of this will come true in a couple of hours!

Looking back: Community season 4

Frequent visitors of this weblog may have already noted my music obsession. Those of you who know me personally are most likely aware of my obsession with NBC’s ‘Community’, which is in my humble opinion the best TV show ever made. For the music freaks, this may be a bit of an annoying departure, but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the controversial fourth season of the brilliant sitcom.

A quick summary of what it was that made the season so controversial for those unfamiliar with the story: series creator Dan Harmon was sideroaded by Sony Pictures for reasons that are still unknown. Harmon wasn’t the show’s sole writer, but the vision was his, so many fans, including myself, didn’t quite know what to expect of these series. Especially since several other key figures of the ‘Community’ crew also departed, among which writer and producer Chris McKenna and the directing brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, all of whom have been vital to many of the series’ key episodes.

Now that the series have finally aired in Holland – I know I could have watched online, but I think the wait and excitement are part of a series experience – I can finally have an opinion on it. And I must admit: it wasn’t as bad as some reviewers have lead me to believe it would be. Granted, the season was short (13 episodes instead of over 20) and Harmon’s influence was certainly missing, but I still found it to be an enjoyable season. It did have the general air of a tribute band with original members – you’d be surprised how many of those exist – because while the brilliant actors were still there, as was the general idea of the series, but there was something lacking. I’ll try and explain.

I don’t think season 4 will have the replay value of the earlier seasons because the humor of this season lacks the subtlety of earlier seasons. When I revisit those earlier episodes, I still discover new things that are incredibly funny – keep in mind that I have watched those a ridiculous amount of times – but with these episodes, there aren’t many surprises even the second time around. It’s not necessarily a problem, but I do think the replayability adds to the general quality of a show. In addition, much of the show’s genius meta-humor and popculture references appear to be in the episodes because they need to be, not because they’re spontaneous strokes of brilliance.

Also, the comic talents of Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta Perry, were severely underused. In some ways, I’ve always thought it may have been a burden on her that she’s a good looking blonde woman, as several interviews I’ve seen with her prove that she is truly naturally funny. In addition, some of the writers seem to have mistaken the naivity of Troy Barnes, played by the superb Donald Glover, for stupidity. On the other hand, the popularity of the Abed Nadir character, brilliantly portrayed by Danny Pudi, caused the writers to enlarge his role, which isn’t always to the series’ benefit, as his sudden appearances are part of his character’s charm. And where both season two and three had brilliant animated episodes (respectively the stop-motion Christmas episode ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ and 8 bit game animated ‘Digital Estate Planning’), the Muppets-like ‘Intro To Felt Surrogacy’ ultimately fell flat, favoring shape before content.

Having said that, the season does still have the general ‘Community’ vibe and a bunch of fantastic episodes. And these aren’t necessarily the episodes done by the house writers of the show. For instance, actor Jim Rash, who plays Dean Craig Pelton in the series, debuted as a writer with the episode ‘Basic Human Anatomy’, which is one of the best episodes of the season. The ‘Freaky Friday’ homage is a bit obvious, but applied very well to the general story and containing several moments of clever humor. New writer Jack Kokuda contributed to ‘Herstory Of Dance’, which I found strong story-wise, while Abed’s story was simply charming.

While the Halloween episode ‘Paranormal Parentage’ (written by veteran Megan Ganz) may not have been aired in time for the holiday, I found it really funny – anarchist vegetarian Britta dressed as a ham is downright brilliant – and well-written. And I’m not quite sure how the Thanksgiving episode ‘Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations’ was aired in relation to the holiday, but it was a very enjoyable episode. Abed’s ‘Prison Break’ reference may have been the best joke of this season. Using Yvette Nicole Brown’s character Shirley Bennett in a funny matter rather than the group moral was a good choice as well. The two episodes closing the season may have been a tad overdone, but they were good nonetheless.

In the end, questions will remain. Would Dan Harmon have wanted Jeff Winger – portrayed by the never disappointing Joel McHale – to actually meet his father? Would the end of the season be what he had envisioned? And more importantly: now that Harmon has agreed to be back on board for a fifth season, did these series provide him a satisfying starting point? I’m just glad that Harmon is back. His presence was missed, but after all: a mediocre season of ‘Community’ is still streets ahead (pun intended) of many a sitcom’s good season. The fifth season is prospected to also consist of 13 episodes, which I consider the ultimate stepping stone to six seasons and a movie.