Sunday, August 31, 2014

NBC Offers Sneak Peek at New Rom Com That Goes From A TO Z

A new romantic comedy called A to Z will premiere on television in early October, but in the meantime, NBC is trying to generate some buzz by offering the first episode online.

A to Z stars Ben Feldman, who played the emotionally fragile Ginsberg on Mad Men, opposite Cristin Milioti, known for her Broadway performance in Once as well as for showing up as the titular mother in the last season of How I Met Your Mother.

In this one, he's A (or Andrew), a bit of a nebbish, a sweet guy who believes in fate and destiny and that sort of thing, even though he works for a dating website where they prefer people not find "the one" so they can charge them to find another one, while she is Z (or Zelda), a lawyer who is a bit more practical and cynical. But they're both nice and charming and fairly adorable, and it's easy to root for them in episode A (or "A Is for Acquaintances") where we see them meet and spar a bit over whether he really saw her from afar at a concert years ago. We're told right from the get-go that they will hit it off well enough to date for "eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour." But after that... Whether they get married or it's just Splitsville, we'll have to get all the way through episode Z to find out. Or, as NBC frames the question, "Is it true love forever or just a detour in destiny?"

Both performers are up for it and if it was just the two of them, A to Z would be hitting on more cylinders. Narration from Katey Sagal is also pleasant enough. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are right out of Sitcom Central Casting, so they are each saddled with a slutty, annoying best friend -- hers is a not-very-bright party girl who's all about snaring men, played by Lenora Crichlow, while his is a slobbery, sloppy wannabe player always looking to score with the chicks, played by Henry Zebrowski. Andrew also has an uptight, super-controlling lady boss called Big Bird, played by Christina Kirk, just so all the stereotypes are covered.

Do I want to see what zany hijinks and K-Razy misunderstandings these second bananas will cause for the sparkly main couple? No, actually, I don't. Which is a shame, because Feldman and Milioti are about as cute as it gets. And after he maimed himself and got sent off to the psych ward on Mad Men and she got bumped off on HIMYM, they both deserve to play solid, compelling characters who stick around for awhile. And have better friends.

I suppose I can hope that the main premise -- what will the letters of the alphabet reveal for Andrew and Zelda at the end of their 8:3:5:1 term? -- is intriguing enough to keep me around. And that somebody decides to replace the supporting players.

A to Z premieres on NBC on October 2. In the meantime, you can check out the first episode here to see if it's your kind of thing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lather/Rinse/Repeat: It's the Emmys!

What is there to say about last Monday night's Emmys except "same old, same old"?

It's certainly nothing new for Emmy voters to pick the same winners year after year. You know, like Candice Bergen,who won five Emmys for Murphy Brown, or Don Knotts, with five for The Andy Griffith Show. 

Ed Asner as Lou Grant
And then there's Cloris Leachman, who won eight over the years for different shows and Ed Asner, who won seven, five of them for playing the role of Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant.  MTM herself also has seven Emmys on her mantel. Tyne Daly is right behind with six, with four for Cagney and Lacey. I'm not going to quibble with any of those, although I have to say, the winning streaks of John Larroquette (who won four consecutive Emmys for Night Court) and Rhea Perman (with four for Cheers) certainly gave me pause back in the 80s.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep
Given the Emmy predilection for repeats, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Jim Parsons collected his fourth Emmy this year as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for The Big Bang Theory or that Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her third in a row as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Veep. Louis-Dreyfus already had two on her mantel, with a Supporting Actress Emmy for Seinfeld and a Lead Actress Emmy for The New Adventures of Old Christine. Allison Janney, who won two this year, is another perennial fave. She'd already taken home four Emmys for playing C. J. Cregg on The West Wing, so this year's wins as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Mom and Guest Actor in a Drama Series for Masters of Sex gives her six overall. Jessica Lange can't compete with those numbers, but she did just win her third Emmy in the Miniseries/Movie category and her second for American Horror Story.

The two big Supporting Actor categories -- for Drama and Comedy series -- gave Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul his third and Modern Family's Ty Burrell his second. Anna Gunn also took home No. 2 for Supporting Actress for Breaking Bad, while Kathy Bates, who has been nominated twelve times, won for only the second time. Hers was for her Supporting turn in American Horror Story: Coven, in the Miniseries/Movie category.

Even though it's a repeat, I'm still glad that the very deserving Bryan Cranston took home his fourth Emmy as Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for Breaking Bad after not hitting the podium for a few years, and that Juliana Margulies was recognized again as Outstanding Actress for a stellar season of The Good Wife.

That leaves Benedict Cumberbatch alone among the Lead Actor nominees. His win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for Sherlock was his first. What a surprise! His Sherlock cohort, Martin Freeman, was also a first-time Emmy winner, although he was nominated in two categories this year.

The show winners were just as much a part of the lather/rinse/repeat cycle. It's five in a row for Modern Family as Outstanding Comedy Series. And two for Outstanding Drama Breaking Bad, although this will be the end of that road, since the show has finished up for good. After eight wins for The Daily Show in the Variety Series category, The Colbert Report has now won two. But everybody looks like pikers next to The Amazing Race, which has now won ten Outstanding Reality/Competition Emmys.

Since 2010, television movies and miniseries had been lumped into the same category, but this year they were split up, meaning that Fargo (the mini) and The Normal Heart (the movie) could both win. If they put it all back together next year, there's no telling who will win.

That's just one of the television academy's tough choices, like what constitutes a guest actor as opposed to a supporting one.

The guest honors were handed out in the Creative Arts ceremony a week ago, with Uzo Aduba from Orange Is the New Black emerging as a winner over two castmates plus Joan Cusack from Shameless and two Saturday Night Live hosts. "Guest" used to mean a one-off. No more. Adube has appeared in 38 of the show's 39 episodes, according to IMDB. Joe Morton also won as a "guest" for Scandal, although he was in the credits for all 24 of this season's episodes, and winner Allison Janney was in seven of Masters of Sex's total 24. By contrast, Jimmy Fallon won for hosting one episode of SNL.

But then, there are a lot of questions about Emmy definitions. Why are Fargo or American Horror Story considered miniseries instead of plain old series, when True Detective is a series, not a mini? Why are Orange Is the New Black and Shameless called comedies instead of dramas?

It's part -- along with the repeat winners -- of the reason the Emmys bug me. Still, they got good ratings this year. So you know they will be back, handing out statuettes to The Amazing Race and Allison Janney one more time. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ISU Completes Casting for Fall CPA and Westhoff Shows

The Department of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University has conducted their annual fall auditions, meaning the shows you'll see at ISU's Center for the Performing Arts and Westhoff Theatre this September, October and November now have actors attached.

The first show of the season will be Noel Coward's Hay Fever, a daffy 1924 script about an eccentric family enjoying a weekend at their home in the country. Father David Bliss is a novelist, while mother Judith is an overly dramatic grande dame of the theatre. Their children Sorel and Simon are just as flaky as their parents, enjoying playing games and tricks to keep themselves entertained. Each member of the Bliss family has invited a guest for the weekend without telling anybody else, which adds confusion (and a few extra crazy people) to the equation. Tennis, anyone? Sonja Moser will direct Hay Fever for ISU, with a cast that includes MFA actress Bethany Hart as Judith and Nico Tangorra as her husband David. Sorel and Simon will be played by Kaitlyn Wehr and Kyle Fitzgerald, with Lauren Sheffey as Judith's former dresser who is now the housekeeper and Eliza Palumbo, Alejandro Raya, Gabriela Rivera and MFA actor Colin Trevino-Odell as the hapless guests. Nicole Greco will appear as Amy, a character who appears to have been added to Hay Fever for this production. Look for Hay Fever at Westhoff Theatre from September 24 to 28.

Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) is a very different kind of drama. MFA directing candidate David Ian Lee will take the reins of Ruhl's frisky look at how women might've come to discover the pleasure of the vibrator back at the end of the 19th century. For ISU's Center for the Performing Arts, MFA actors Colin Lawrence and Natalie Blackman have been cast as Dr. and Mrs. Givings, the couple who discover a new use for electricity, with Allison Sokolowski and Graham Gusloff as a patient and her husband, Brandi Jones as a wet nurse with a different outlook, Dario Carrion as an artist who makes an impact on the household, and Kelly Steik as the doctor's assistant. In the Next Room will take the CPA stage October 2 to 11.

Next up is Quiara Alegria Hudes's Water by the Spoonful, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is the second of three "Elliot" play by Hudes, all involving an Iraq war vet named Elliot Ortiz who has a tough time adjusting to life back in the US. Water by the Spoonful shows us not just Elliot, but his mother and his cousin, as well as a group of friends who only know each other through an internet support group for recovering addicts, charting the difference between the families we're born with and the families we create for ourselves. Water by the Spoonful is scheduled for Westhoff Theatre October 23 to November 1, with MFA candidate Leah Cassella directing MFA actor Ronald Roman as Elliot, Lauren Pfeiffer as his cousin Yasmin, Eddie Curley as a phantom of Elliot's imagination, and Jaime Taylor, Joey Banks (also in the MFA acting program), Anastasia Ferguson and Hananiah Wiggins as the denizens of the online forum.

Continuing the list of strong female playwrights represented on this year's ISU schedule, Lynn Nottage is up next. Nottage is another Pulitzer Prize winner, although she took that award for Ruined in 2009 rather than By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, the 2011 play to be directed by Don LaCasse for ISU. Vera Stark is funny and irreverent, a take on a black actress from the 1930s who leapt off the screen and into Hollywood history. Vera was a maid in real life before she played one for Hollywood, but she was a big hit before she suddenly disappeared forever. What happened to Vera Stark? We'll find out November 6 to 15 in the Center for the Performing Arts, with MFA actress Faith Servant as Vera, Mary DeWitt as the star who plays Vera's high-maintenance boss on and off the screen, Brianna Haskell and Gabrielle Lott-Rogers as Vera's friends, also looking for stardom, Dan Machalinski and Wesley Tilford as a director and studio head, and La'Mar Hawkins as Vera's one great love. That's all in Act One. In the second act, they all take different roles as a panel of academics and TV guests trying to solve the Vera Stark mystery.

There will also be a production of David Mamet's Oleanna, that misogynistic potboiler about a feminist student with an agenda who tries to take down her male professor, apparently taking place in Centennial West 207 at some point in the semester. The eighth MFA actor in the program, Robert Michael Johnson, has been cast as the professor opposite Betsy Diller as the student.

To keep up to date on all of these productions, visit ISU's Upcoming Events page, check out their Productions page, or take a look at the CPA Facebook page. The graphics in this post are all taken from other productions or printed versions of the plays. When ISU releases the graphics for their productions, I will try to update it with those.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Phil Shaw's Memorial Tribute in Three Acts at ISU's CPA August 24

Phil Shaw, 1948-2014
It's an understatement to say that Philip Shaw was a major force in Bloomington-Normal theater.

As an actor, singer, director, playwright, composer, collaborator, mentor, colleague and friend, Phil played a huge role in many lives and many productions, adding an amazing amount of creative energy and too many memories to count to the local theater scene.

Phil Shaw in Send the Light

That's one of the reasons it will take three acts to stage a tribute to Phil, who passed away last February at the age of 65. As an Illinois State University student and alum, he was on and around their stages constantly. As one of the founders of Heartland Theatre, he launched an artistic home for countless local actors and directors. As one of the creative forces behind Send the Light, the documentary style musical drama about bringing electricity to rural communities, Phil illuminated the material with his joy and larger-than-life contributions. As an advisory board member and supporter of New Route Theatre, Phil once again generously shared his talents and his vision to make theater more accessible and more inclusive in Bloomington-Normal.

Given all of that (and countless more performances, directing gigs and contributions to theater around these towns), it makes perfect sense that Phil's family and friends would put on a show to pay tribute. What they've organized is a three-act memorial performance, including photos and presentations. No specific word has come out on what will be included, although Sally Sparks Hoffman Gowdy has talked about "breathtaking rehearsals" that include talented people like Jeni Bratcher-Crafton, Barb Lemmon, Rhys Lovell, Mario Mancinelli, Michael James McNeil, Kyle O'Daniel, Jennifer Rusk, David Shields, and Leslie and Rachel Sompong. It isn't at all surprising that a lot of people want to share their memories of Phil in the way he would've loved most -- on stage.

This Tribute in Three Acts tribute will take place at ISU's Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, August 24, beginning at 1 pm.

Monday, August 18, 2014

John Chu, Ann Leckie, Mary Robinette Koval and Charles Stroud Win Hugo Awards

Science fiction's highest honors, the Hugo Awards, were handed out last night in London at the World Science Fiction Conference, this year affectionately known as Loncon 3.

And I am happy to say that my friend, John Chu, took home the Hugo trophy for Best Short Story. It's a wonderful honor, much deserved for a beautiful story called The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, published by Tor.

John gave a lovely, heartfelt speech, most of which is included in this Guardian article about the Hugos. John said, "When I started writing, so many people told me... ''I'm not racist, but…' or 'I'm not homophobic, but…' There were so many buts, and they all told me, in polite, civil and sometimes these exact words, that no one was interested in or would publish ever anything that I would ever write. So to win a Hugo, and for this story, I can't, I literally cannot put into words how much that means to me." He added, "Thank you to anyone who has ever said a kind word to me."

Bravo, John Chu! If you want to see exactly why he won, you can read The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, a story that combines love, family, telling the truth and a meteorological rebuke for telling lies, at And if you want to see his speech or any other parts of the ceremony, the World Science Fiction Society has provided video of the event from start to finish here.

Other Hugo winners included the film Gravity, which took the prize for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and "The Rains of Castamere" episode of Game of Thrones, which was named Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice won Best Novel, probably the most prestigious of the Hugos, one that has been given in the past to stars of the science fiction and fantasy world like Isaac Asimov, Lois McMaster Bujold, Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, Robert Heinlen, Frank Herbert, Ursula LeGuin, J. K. Rowling, Verner Vinge and Connie Willis. Ancillary Justice also took home a Nebula, an Arthur C Clarke award and the British Science Fiction Association's top award, making Ann Leckie a very well-lauded author with her debut novel.

Best Novella went to Charles Stroud for Equoid, while Mary Robinette Koval won Best Novelette for The Lady Astronaut of Mars.

Kameron Hurley was a double winner, nabbing the award for Best Fan Writer as well as Best Related Work, which we won for an insightful and important piece called We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative. The link here is to the article as it appeared on SFWA's site, but it was first published by A Dribble of Ink, the blog that won Best Fanzine.

And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, an award presented by Dell Magazines, went to Sofia Samatar, author of  A Stranger in Olondria.

To see a list of all the winners, visit the Hugo site here. To watch the Hugo awards ceremony, click here. Approximately the first 20 minutes are a slideshow of book covers and other relevant images, after which hosts Mur Lafferty and Sheila Williams begin the awards program.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Community Players Has a Rummage and Bake Sale for You!

Community Players Theatre has announced a combo rummage and bake sale to be held at the theater on Saturday, August 23 from 8 am to 2 pm. No word on whether the sale will include any overflow from their props or costume stock, or whether your sales clerks might be actors you recognize from previous productions, but... Hope springs eternal! And you'll certainly find out if you stop by.

They are promising "great bargains and delicious treats" for sale if you stop by. And if you'd like to partake of some Mexican food before trying out the newly purchased baked goods, you can see what Oogie's food truck has to offer on the sidelines.

Community Players is also open to donations to boost their stock and add to the array. If you want to donate something, you're asked to bring it by the theater on Robinhood Lane on Thursday, August 21, between 3 and 8 pm.

For more information, check out the Facebook page created for the event.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's Cary Grant Day Tomorrow on TCM

Yesterday was my birthday, but tomorrow is the day Turner Classic Movies sends me the gift of a whole day of Cary Grant movies. I can't think of a better birthday present.

The Cary Grantapalooza starts at 6 am Eastern/5 am Central time with one of Mr. Grant's best. The Awful Truth, directed by Leo McCarey, is what has come to be called a screwball comedy. Specifically, it's a divorce comedy, with Grant and Irene Dunne as a husband and wife who split up and then flirt with getting back together. Dunne combines a certain daffy charm with intelligence and wit, making her an excellent match for the dashing Mr. Grant. Add Ralph Bellamy as the Wrong Man and Joyce Compton as the Wrong Woman, a performer named Dixie Belle Lee whose act includes fans blowing up her skirt, and the always adorable Asta, a very famous fox terrier, as Mr. Smith, their dog, and you end up with a winning romantic comedy that makes it clear why Cary Grant was already a hot item by 1937.

After The Awful Truth, it's time for Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby, the 1938 Katharine Hepburn/Grant comedy which plays both actors against type. Hepburn is a loopy heiress with a missing leopard named Baby and a mischievous dog (once again played by Asta), while Grant is a bespectacled professor of paleontology whose entire life is turned upside-down by Hurricane Hepburn. It's a famous example of another niche in the romantic comedy genre, the one where a woman with wild ways hooks up with (and loosens up) a buttoned-up man. See: Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve, Something Wild... Bringing Up Baby was famously not a hit at the time, just about when Katharine Hepburn hit the Box Office Poison list. But it's been rediscovered by generations of film students and rom com fans, making it a perennial favorite. Bringing Up Baby starts at 6:45 am Central time.

Howard Hawks also directed His Girl Friday, the super-fast-talking 1940 comedy based on The Front Page, which airs at 8:30 am. Rosalyn Russell plays Hildy, the reporter (and ex-wife) trying to work around her controlling editor, played by Grant, while he does everything he can to keep her on his payroll and in his life.

My Favorite Wife, which pops up at 10:15 am Central time, will look familiar to fans of Move Over Darling, a Rock Hudson/Doris Day trifle from 1963. You'll recognize the old Enoch Arden plot, where a presumed dead spouse (Dunne) returns at the precise moment the left-at-home spouse (Grant) is moving on with someone else. And, yes, it's a comedy. It pairs Grant with Irene Dunne again, this time with Garson Kanin in the director's chair and Randolph Scott as the Wrong Man. It's also much, much better than Move Over Darling.

His Girl Friday, My Favorite Wife and The Philadelphia Story, playing on TCM at 11:45 am Central time, were all released in 1940, a banner year for Cary Grant. Jimmy Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a "man of the people" writer who vies against dapper ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven, played by Grant, for the affections of Hepburn's Tracy Lord. Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress, as was Ruth Hussey, who played the fourth member of the quartet. Why no nomination for Grant? I have no idea. He and Hepburn are perfect for each other and perfectly directed by George Cukor.

Arsenic and Old Lace brings Grant up to 1943, putting him into a classic comedy about two older ladies cheerfully dispatching lonely men into the Great Beyond by way of poisoned elderberry wine. He's the normal nephew, trying to juggle corpses, gangsters and cops while hoping to keep his aunties out of trouble. Arsenic airs at 1:45 pm Central time, followed by The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, with Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple, at 3:45 pm Central time.

Every Girl Should Be Married, a bit of a mess of a film from 1948, is notable only because Grant plays opposite Betsy Drake, one of his real-life wives. It plays at 5:30 pm Central, a good time to take a snack break and wait for Hot Saturday, in the marquee spot at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central. This little-known 1932 potboiler is all about small-town girl Ruth Brock, a good girl bank clerk, whose reputation is unfairly sullied. If you want to see what Cary Grant looked and acted like before he was CARY GRANT, check out Hot Saturday.

You'll see a very different, older, more settled Cary in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a movie that's more about how tough it is for a city-dweller to move to the country. Note that his character's name is Blandings. If you'd like to see mature Cary put-upon by house-building nightmares, check out Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House at 8:30 pm Central time.

Gunga Din shows yet another side of Mr. Grant. Adventure Cary goes to India with pals Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to stop the Thuggees. And Sam Jaffe, a Jewish guy from New York City, plays Indian water carrier Gunga Din. You can judge Gunga Din's questionable politics for yourself at 10:15 pm Central time.

Destination Tokyo, the after-midnight movie, is a more standard war story from 1943, with Grant captaining a submarine that ventures into dangerous waters. That leads him into 1952 and Room for One More, a family film about parents "Poppy" and Anna Rose, who build their family by adopting orphans. It's sweet and a little sappy, not one of the movies people usually think of when they think of Cary Grant, but still... It has its charms, and it's another opportunity to see the wonderful Cary with Betsy Drake, wife no. 3.

I'm afraid that's the end of Cary Grant Day. TCM is on to Charlie Chaplin Day at 5 am on Thursday. But if you're like me, you'll pull out DVDs of Holiday, Notorious, North By Northwest, Charade, To Catch a Thief and maybe even Mr. Lucky to keep the party going.