AT&T keeps taking it

A week or so ago I talked about the Economist running full-page AT&T ads in the very same issue in which they bashed the announced AT&T purchase of AT&T.  (For anyone keeping track, I’ve yet to find any more AT&T ads there)  Tonight, while watching Traffic Lights (there’s literally nothing else in my TiVo) I caught one of those ubiquitous T-mobile ads mocking AT&T’s service on the oh-so-trendy iPhone.

Chances are you’ve seen the ad, they’ve been running for months, and I have to admit raised my interest enough to get me to look into their service.  In an homage to Apple, they star two people who declare themselves either an iPhone (a young, good-looking guy with a balding accountant-looking companion) or a T-mobile myTouch 4G (a fetching, girl-next-door, purple-dress wearing Carly Foulkes) in front of a plain white background, who then go on and dialogue about the failings of the former and the superiority of the latter.  The ads vary, but the theme is always that everything you love about the iPhone is weighed down by AT&T (and Verizon in one ad).  T-Mobile is smart in not attacking Apple, cultishly adored for their products’ abilities, but instead the reviled telecoms.  Given T-mobile’s history of winning awards for customer service and customer satisfaction, it’s a good strategy.

Which makes me wonder, why exactly are these ads still running?  The buyout is not a hostile takeover bid, T-Mobile seems to be accepting it (rather Deutsche Telekom, their parent, is eager to offload its poorly placed subsidiary and focus on stronger markets).  If I’m a T-mobile customer, the ad seems to tell me to start looking at Sprint or Verizon, which is bad no matter whether the buyout succeeds.  If I’m a savvy consumer looking for a new phone and carrier (which I am), this ad only cements that it won’t be AT&T and thus it won’t be T-mobile, again lose-lose.

My only idea is that the ads were produced, airtime purchased, and placement approved well before the merger talk.  With nothing else in the stable to replace it with, T-mobile might have thought that the airtime is a sunk cost and the ads might boost their image (and thus the eventual combined value of the AT&T).  The ad certainly isn’t new, so it’s not like this is a new strategy or even an update.  Or maybe there still is internal struggle to remain independent and this is one internal faction’s move to signal the non-inevitableness of the deal.  But maybe it’s just a hedge that the deal will ultimately be blocked by regulators.  Either way, it’ll be interesting to see just how long the ads stay on air.

Media type: TV commercial
From: T-mobile (watched originally on FOX)
Title: not sure
Watch it: 

The lovable archvillain

I have to confess I haven’t consumed too much media today, so my pick of “Krusty Gets Busted” is a little out of left field.

This is the first Sideshow Bob caper in the Simpsons’ universe and despite the early animation and lack of history in many of the characters (Apu and Chief Wiggum seem so generic!) it has all the lovable elements from a Sideshow Bob episode.  Kelsey Grammar’s voice-acting is superb, putting the snobbish lilt to well-written dialogue in sharp contrast to the outlandish clown outfit.  While the crime is not overly-complicated like later (“Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” being my personal favorite), the Simpson children are characteristically overly-astute (House anyone?).

Villains are always much more interesting characters in most stories, think Darth Vader or Ben Linus and Charles Widmore on ‘LOST’, but rarely is a villain both intriguing and flat-out humorous.  Apparently the writers purposely molded Sideshow Bob’s later exploits and themes on Wile E. Coyote (of Road Runner fame), so the absurdity only heightens the fun.

While some of the joy in this episode draws from knowing the later adventures, on its own “Krusty Gets Busted” is a decent watch.  Fans of the show will enjoy seeing major characters before their personalities were built up and the well-worn pattern of a Simpsons mystery.  Casual watchers may not find as many funny moments in the show, but a Yale-educated, devious clown sidekick is always good for a few laughs; throw in the typical oafishness of Homer that defines the first few seasons and you’ll have yourselves a great 20+ minutes.

Media type: TV show
From: The Simpson
Title: “Krusty Gets Busted”
Watch it at:

A changing demographic?

I’ve spent a couple posts now bemoaning the role of modern women on television: the naggers, the background eye candy, the emotional wrecks, etc.  It turns out I’ve been missing one show that has so far refused to put women in those roles: White Collar.

A career forger (Neil Caffrey, beautifully played by Matt Bomer) escapes prison only to be re-caught and put to the work for the FBI.  I know, you’ve already seen Catch Me If You Can.  In USA Network’s television series the characters are dashingly attractive, charming, intelligent, and obsessively well-tailored, think more Ocean’s 11.

There are a total of SIX women with reoccurring roles and not a single one has

Special Agent Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason)

failed to rise to the occasion on their own at some point in the two short seasons.  If you lost the sexual tension, any of these characters could be played by either sex and you’d seldom notice an issue (ok, Neil’s season one pursuit of his ex-girlfriend might be a bit progressive in this scenario).  An insurance adjuster tracks and out-wiles thieves, two FBI agents not only act with initiative but taunt Neil his captivity, a cat burglar/former fling plays to her own agenda and rarely offers selfless favors, a kindly older women reveals a past of dubious legality, and the loyal FBI agent’s wife pushes cases and spurs the leads to action.

If you’re familiar with USA, you’ll know the show follows an almost rigid pattern: the first and last few minutes focus on the season-arc while the middle 45 deal with some crisis-of-the-week.  Characters keep secrets and run hidden agendas, betrayal and trust drive stories.   You’ll also know the usual show has maybe 10 regular characters, so when I say that six (SIX!) are women in this cops-and-robbers genre, you can appreciate the heft.  And unlike, say, Burn Notice the strong female characters aren’t constantly over-compensated by being femme fatales with near-homicidal urges.

I’m not the first to theorize that cable feels more comfortable ignoring the ratings-driven stereotypes seen on the majors.  Personally, I think making every character independently strong has let the show move in directions most cop shows can’t: any two characters can have an issue without needing a lead to step in and keep the audience’s attention.  This helps keep a fresh edge despite the usual failings of successful shows (ever more complicated plots, ridiculous histories being drudged up, multiple lifetimes’ of experience and expertise despite youth).  Instead of a will-they/won’t-they Ross & Rachel dynamic, we’ve seen Neil struggle with conflicted attraction to multiple women as each relationship seems viable and realistic; and we’ve seen women walk away in pursuit of their own interests.  As shows that feel realistic tend to be more enjoyable and watched, I look forward to watching White Collar for quite a few more heists and capers.

Media type: Television
From: White Collar
Title: “Under the Radar”
Watch it at:

The fairer sex

I usually shy away from narcissistic media.  Kismet (a play about a play), Tropic Thunder (a movie about a movie), Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy(a book about a book, ok, it’s a stretch).  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a great example of narcissistic media, feeding off a belief in the brilliance of one’s field often comes across as neither entertaining nor illuminating.

Episodes struck me as such a show and so I ignored it until a friend recommended it.  I found it cheeky and self-deprecating, this show about a British writing couple trying to recreate success in LA has its moments of both humor and introspection.

It is the character of Beverly, the British wife/writer (Tamsin Greig) that has most intrigued me.  Beverly is a chronically pessimistic, unhappy, nit-picking shrill compared to her just-go-along husband who is willing to take on all setbacks as an exciting challenge.  Her one-liners are what we wish we were witty enough to think much less say, and her frank portrayal of reality in the face of so much Hollywood fakery helps us sympathize with her alienation.  But I can never really get behind her in the face of her husband, who seeks only to  please all parties enough to do what he loves.  Their dynamic is the real heart of the show (and, one suspects, the show-within-the-show) and anyone who’s ever had to drag a loved one into something interesting can relate.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that many of the female leads today are the fun-blocking, nagging wife roles.  These women hold back those lovable, goofy, well-meaning men from occasionally enjoying themselves.  This isn’t new to the small screen, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was criticized for casting all the women as balls-and-chain to the likable guys and their pursuit of identity.  Women are being portrayed as the grounded, realistic sex forcing the dreamers to accept their plight.  I struggle to think of a single fun-but-not-flighty female lead currently on (though I’m hardly an expert on everything currently playing).  Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, Claire Dumphy on Modern Family, Fionna Glenanne on Burn Notice, even Marge from the Simpsons are all downers (the ensemble cast of Community stands out).

Comedians have been playing up the stereotypes of the sexes for ages.  But shows like Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to succeed with female characters that aimed high and kept it light, though its hard to mention either show without reflexively saying “strong female role model,” that’s how unique of a situation it is.  Come on TV-land, let’s see a different type of woman.

Media type: Television
From: Episodes
Title: episode four
Watch it at: (sadly just episode one)

SLOW – Red Light Ahead!

Or maybe yellow light.

I’ve noticed NBC has really clawed its way back to the top of prime time network comedy after its post-Seinfeld, post-Friends collapse.  30 Rock and the Office have stood out, but they’re not quite enough.  NBC reached out this year with a new show called Perfect Couples‘ and since it’s Hollywood we shouldn’t be surprised that a rival network has a show that touches on the same theme: Traffic Light.

Both shows are about the wacky trials and travails of the 30-something crowd.  Whether you’re 30, 60, or 15 you can understand the painfulness of becoming an adult: leaving behind the near-limitless potential that defines childhood.  Or at least, that’s what the shows are hoping for.  It’s interesting that this “growing up is comically hard” theme used to be the domain of Friends, Scrubs, and even the Office.  You know, shows about 20-somethings?  Here of course goes the obligatory line about how this generation seems to hit milestones later and later.

Still, PC and TL have their moments, mainly pushed by the more outlandish of the characters.  Unfortunately, this means that TL is doomed for mid-season replacement as its lone wildcard is the commitment-phobe Ethan, played cheekily by Brit Kris Marshall.  While funny and providing room for a conveyor belt of eye-candy guest stars, there’s only so much of the goofy bachelor routine we’ll handle.  And tonight showed that the other two couples are lacking both the comic plots and acting chops to really carry the show.  PC on the other hand has two “crazy” couples (the ultra-devoted, and the ultra-impulsive) that are written and acted well, and even lets the straight-man couple Dave & Julia have their moments of insanity.

But these early-30s relationship shows are like bite-sized candy bars: the initial kick feels good but there’s no lasting satisfaction.  After you enter a social scene that doesn’t involve a keg and flirting banter about midterms, we all can relate to the sacrifice of some individuality for security, the unrealized dreams we had for careers, and the distance of friends who’ve succumbed to careers or family.  These are all comic things that we can laugh about it, but in the end a 30-minute sitcom needs to make us escape our lives a little.  It can’t be like a stand-up routine, just exaggerated observational humor.  Shows like Arrested Development, Community, Seinfeld, and Futurama were amazing because they took characters that were simply unreal and let them play in situations that the audience knew didn’t exist!  What’s more, these shows appealed to anyone not just those reflected by the white, middle-class cast and situation.

I think it’s at this point that I point out it’s a crime that both shows basically stole their theme from the League.  FX’s solid late-night comedy about a group of guys who socialize over fantasy football does a much less lame version of showing men reverting to inner boy and carving out some irresponsibility from their lives.  And not a single character can claim to be the straight man in this comedic group.  Also, unlike its network counters, the League manages to show the women as full characters, not just nags or emotional wrecks; surprising for a network that exclusively targets men.


Media type: Television
From: Traffic Light
Title:  Credit Balance
Watch it at: