Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nielsen Rated

There were two Leslie Nielsens, as it turned out. Who knew?

Depending through what prism you looked at him, Nielsen, who passed away the other day at age 84, was either a serious, steely-eyed man who played in B-movies and spoke with a hard-boiled style, or he was a rubbery-faced clown who became a caricature in his second life as the lead in the "Naked Gun" movies.

But after the "Naked Gun" series, which was spawned from his hilarious send-up of himself in the "Airplane!" movies---both franchises written, produced and directed by Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers---it was impossible to take Nielsen seriously. Not that he wanted us to, and not that taking him for a clown was a bad thing.

The original "Airplane!" came out in 1980, and one of the delicious things about it was the brilliant casting of players like Nielsen, Peter Graves, Robert Stack and George Kennedy---actors who were never associated with anything remotely funny. Yet here they were, seemingly having a blast satirizing everything they'd done prior to "Airplane!"

The delivery of the lines was just like it would have been for deadly serious films like the ones "Airplane!" most aped---the "Airport" series---but the words were for play and for laughs, yet Nielsen et al. spoke them as straight as an arrow.

Nielsen was plucked by Abrahams and the Zuckers to star in the short-lived TV series, "Police Squad!," as Lt. Frank Drebin, a character that would eventually be transferred to the big screen vis a vis the "Naked Gun" films.

Nielsen's Drebin was Maxwell Smart-ish---that is, Drebin was a buffoon and incompetent, yet he always got his man. Surrounding Nielsen was always a backdrop of sight gags that barely paused throughout the entire movie.

Nielsen himself was a sight gag, when you think about it.

Leslie Nielsen displayed a flair for comedy that no one---and I mean no one---thought he possessed. Maybe not even Nielsen himself.

Nielsen parlayed his new-found role as a comedic actor in other non-"Naked Gun" projects, but he mostly played the same character, albeit in different clothing: the class clown, crazy uncle who could say juvenile words like "fart" and make you laugh in spite of yourself.

Nielsen worked as long as he could, before health issues took their toll. And there was a reason behind that, according to him.

"Doing nothing is very hard to do," he once said. "You never know when you're finished."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Leftover, But Not Left Out

Is there a more wonderful, more thrilling time to raid a refrigerator than on Thanksgiving night?

Is nothing better than to feel that first tummy grumble, right around 11:00 p.m., and know that in the icebox lies mountains of food to silence those grumblings?

If you hosted Turkey Day, that is.

It's one reason---hell, the main reason---that my wife enjoys hosting Thanksgiving. You can't forage for leftovers if you've spent the day at relatives'.

But I won't throw her under the bus. I'm just as guilty of "leftover envy."

It's a lot of uncovering, unwrapping, reheating and replating, but what's better than chowing down on Thanksgiving, Part II as the witching hour approaches?

We only serve five on Thanksgiving, yet we annually purchase a 25-27 pound bird. Because hot turkey sandwiches the day after the holiday, positively rule.

Eat. Rinse. Repeat.

It's the usual fare as you'll find in most American homes---turkey; stuffing (my wife's famous Italian stuffing featuring ground sausage and rice); mashed spuds; green bean casserole; sweet potatoes; Italian mushrooms (cooked for hours in water and oil and mixed with sliced onions); rolls; cranberry sauce (gelled AND whole); jello mold; cherry pie; and pumpkin pies (two of those).

There's always enough for several meals, which means we chow on that smorgasboard all weekend. Then, to top it off, I make my famous Turkey Frame Soup on Sunday, a family tradition.

You can't accuse us of not getting the most out of our turkey.

All told, from Thursday through Monday, at least, we're picking away at the big bird until just about every shred of it is gone.

The real challenge is to clear the downstairs fridge on Wednesday, because it will be bursting at the seams the next day, and throughout the weekend.

I still can't understand those who would eschew tradition and do fish or a ham on Thanksgiving. I don't know about you, but we only make one turkey a year in our house. Why substitute?

We always overdo it with the food on Thanksgiving. Sometimes I think we made too much.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bristol's Two Left Feat

Bristol Palin is dancing her way toward the bottom of the pile but being electronically delivered into the hearts of Americans.

Bristol is one of the top three remaining contestants on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars", a show that is hemorrhaging credibility like red ink from the federal budget.

Bristol is the daughter of ultra conservative political wonk and Tea Party proponent Sarah Palin, who fancies herself as a presidential candidate in 2012.

Rumors abound that Sarah Palin has mobilized her Tea Partiers to flood ABC with phone calls and e-mails in the portion of the voting that calls for the general public to weigh in on which dancers should stay and which should go every week.

The result of this alleged campaign?

Bristol, who's a fine young woman but a mediocre dancer---especially when compared to the recent competitors who've been voted off the island---is one of the last three standing, despite poor marks from the show's judges and superior scores from her competition.

Something's rotten in Alaska.

The look on the face of singer/actress Brandy, who was the latest to capitulate to Bristol on Tuesday night, was both heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch.

Brandy was legitimately stunned beyond comprehension when her name was read as the one who'd be saying goodbye that night. The crowd was stunned, too. You could hear a pin drop after host Tom Bergeron made the announcement.

The judges were stunned.

Most of America, I think, was stunned.

Somewhere, Tea Partiers were high-fiving each other.

ABC's method of voting across the country is coming under some serious fire. Apparently one of the cracks through which Bristol's competitors are falling is the one that doesn't verify the e-mail addresses of those voting online. One e-mail per vote, but if you're making up phony e-mails that no one is verifying...

You get the idea.

Bristol and "DWTS" partner Mark Ballas

Bristol, 20, joins actress Jennifer Grey, who's been getting high marks through most of the competition, and 19-year-old actor/rapper Kyle Massey as the three remaining finalists, as the show winds down for the season.

There's a creeping feeling that Bristol will end up as the winner; after all, she's survived this long with less-than-wonderful dancing.

But even if she doesn't win, the fact that she's still alive is an indictment of ABC's voting system. Aside from not verifying e-mail addresses, maybe the network should look at reducing the influence the public's vote has on the competition. In other words, simply weigh the judges' scores greater than the folks using phones and their computers.

This way, the public can still influence the results, a la "American Idol," but if the judges' scores are overwhelmingly favoring one dancer (Brandy had received a perfect score the night she was dismissed), then it would be nearly impossible for the general public to elevate a weak dancer above a superior one.

If Bristol Palin wins, "DWTS" will take a serious hit in the credibility department.

You can't trust the general public in these sorts of contests, where popularity so often trumps actual ability and talent.

ABC will deserve all the heat they get if so-so hoofer Bristol Palin wins this competition.

She's a sweet girl, but often has the look of a deer in the headlights when she dances. I think even she knows she's not that good.

But it's not her fault she's come this far. It's not even the Tea Partiers' or Mama Palin's.

It's the system's, and ABC needs to fix it before the next season of "DWTS" starts this winter.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Size DOES Matter

When it comes to sizes of things, this country was practically founded on the premise of small, medium, and large.

We have small (Rhode Island), medium (Michigan) and large (Texas) states. We have small (villages), medium (towns), and large (cities) municipalities. We have small (ponds), medium (rivers/lakes), and large (oceans) bodies of water. We even have small (jockeys), medium (baseball players), and large (sumo wrestlers) human beings.

That perfectly efficient way of designating sizes bleeds into our clothes and our foodstuffs.

You just can't beat small, medium, and large. They're about as American as it gets.

So who do those coffee people think they are?

I'm cranky with the coffee folks, and not just because they charge $4.79 for a cup of fancy-shmancy joe.

The coffee people, with the delicious exception of Caribou Coffee, insist on ramming very un-American like sizes down our throats---literally.

Tall, grande, and venti is the coffee shop's small, medium, and large.


In every other joint in this country---from the greasy spoon diner to the five-star restaurant---the beverages are sold using the tried and true S, M, L system.

Some places eschew medium, or small. That's fine. Having two sizes instead of three is OK by me.

But this tall, grande, and venti stuff is for the birds.

And worse, the word they use for small sounds like it would be the large version---"tall."

When I hear tall, I don't think small. Call me crazy!

Yet tall is small in the world of overpriced coffee.

Maybe that's how they do it in the tony coffee shops in Europe; I don't know. But this is America and we speak small, medium, and large---in just about everything.

Starbucks is a place I won't patronize, and it's not just because of the size name issue.

When this lousy economy began affecting the coffee houses, Starbucks had a golden opportunity to seize the moment and do a couple of things.

For example, they could have temporarily reduced prices or began offering real specials. It would have been a marketer's dream: make your competition look bad by boldly announcing price breaks until the economy gets back on its feet.

What's the markup on a cup of brew, anyway?

Oh, shut up and get over yourselves!

Yet Starbucks didn't do that, of course. Instead, they closed locations and laid off a gazillion workers.


Heaven forbid they knock 75 cents off the price of a "tall" drink.

I mentioned Caribou Coffee, and they won me over a couple months ago. We stopped at their Royal Oak location after a day in downtown Detroit. It was chilly and rainy and a perfect day for a hot beverage.

I tensed as soon as I walked in, because I can never get those damn coffee sizes right and I was sure Caribou used that oddball system of sizing.

Yet there those three magical words were on the menu hanging behind the workers: small, medium, and large.

Caribou Coffee is my new most favorite coffee joint.

I'd have given them the shirt off my back if it wasn't so cold.

I wear size extra venti, by the way.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Neophyte Nerd

I hope Rick Snyder is a good governor.

I hope he can take the chicken feathers he in inheriting and turn them into chicken salad. It would be nice if he's also capable of turning water into wine and spinning straw into gold.

I hope Snyder, elected last week to be Michigan's new governor, won't be derailed and stonewalled by his lack of political experience, despite his party having strong majorities in the State House and Senate. I hope his belief that a state should be run like it's a business is more than just ideology and is actually full of substance.

I hope he can create jobs, weaning the state from its automotive mama and bringing it into the late-20th century, much less the 21st.

I hope he can broker deals that benefit the state's economy. I hope he keeps the tax incentives in place for the Hollywood folks.

Rick Snyder, Governor-elect

I hope he runs a tight ship and is fiercely protective of Michigan's workers and is sensitive to the social needs of those who are unemployed.

I hope he can use the GOP's new majority in the U.S. House to Michigan's benefit.

I hope he can keep tourism humming along and the DNR happy and I hope he doesn't neglect Detroit, because like it or not, a healthy Detroit is crucial to the health of Michigan.

I hope he can do all this quickly, because he has, at most, eight years to get it all done---and that's presuming he wins re-election. If not, I hope he gets a lot done in four.

I hope Rick Snyder is a good governor, because we just elected a political neophyte who doesn't know the first thing about governing.

I hope on-the-job training serves him, and us by extension, well.

I'm not a Republican, and I didn't vote for him, but I hope Rick Snyder is a good governor.

I do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Along Came John (Almost)

Vice President John Engler?

It almost was, according to a recently published memoir from former President George W. Bush.

Bush, in "Decision Points," writes that the former Michigan governor was among nine finalists for the Veep nomination in 2000.

Engler, Bush says, was one of four current and former governors considered for the ticket, joining Oklahoma's Frank Keating, Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

But among those four, the top two candidates were Engler and Keating.

"I knew I could work well with either one," Bush writes.

If that had happened---Engler as Bush's vice president---how would that have changed the political landscape in the Mitten State?

John Engler as U.S. Vice President? Not as far-fetched as you might think

The 2000 presidential campaign occurred right smack in the middle of Engler's third term as Michigan's governor (this was pre-term limits). Had Engler joined the ticket, he would have left for Washington, since Bush, of course, became president.

Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus would have become governor, serving the remainder of Engler's term. As it was, Posthumus ran against Democrat Jennifer Granholm in 2002 and lost, despite GOP victories all over the country and in the state.

So why not Engler as VP, the position that went to Dick Cheney?

Engler's inability to deliver Michigan to Bush, despite the GOP wave, was one reason, some suspect. For that transgression, Engler didn't get a cabinet position, either---something for which he was also being considered at one point.

I didn't agree much with John Engler's policies, but there was a window of about 2-3 years when the governor was considered an up-and-coming star within the Republican party. Once Bill Clinton's second term was nearing an end, and the jockeying began for presidential runs, Engler was at his hottest.

Engler for VP. Engler in a GOP cabinet. Engler as head of the RNC. And it wasn't all just talk; the Republicans liked Engler. But after Bush lost Michigan, the elephants didn't like him so much anymore.

Had Engler been tabbed by Bush, though, giving Governor Posthumus a nearly two-year head start in his own 2002 gubernatorial run, maybe the latter beats Granholm. As a die-hard Democrat, even I have to wonder if the state would be in the shape it's in today under those circumstances.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Springer's Baggage Claim

Jerry Springer comes with a lot of baggage. Literally.

Springer, 66, is the host of Game Show Network's "Baggage," and there's no better host for such a program.

The man they call "The Grandfather of Trash TV" is finally hosting a show where there is no pretentiousness.

Unlike his "The Jerry Springer Show," which is celebrating 20 years on the air (believe it or not), "Baggage" doesn't purport to help people or to enlighten its audience. It's a shlocky dating show, pure and simple.

The format of "Baggage" is rather cute, actually.

Springer tries to match a young man or woman with three potential suitors, each of whom has three different sized suitcases beside them, representing the baggage they carry as a person.

The type of baggage is revealed gradually, with each suitcase getting bigger, matching the potential seriousness of the quirk it contains.

For example, the smallest suitcase may be opened and reveal a sign that says, "I still sleep in footie pajamas," or, "I eat my dinner foods in alphabetical order."

But the larger suitcases may have signs that say, "I had an abortion," or "I've been arrested three times for DUI."

Throughout, Springer has ample opportunities to smirk, make snarky comments, and basically function as Bob Eubanks from Hell.

Springer on the set of "Baggage"

But it's all good, because "Baggage" is just having fun; there's no thinking that any match the show makes will actually last past the first date.

I think it's a fresh, brutally honest take on the dating show format. No hiding the contestants' faces, like in "The Dating Game." No hurried through one-on-ones, like in the old "Buzz!" show hosted by Annie Wood.

The suitors are a mere 10 feet from the one they hope to woo, and they're not hiding behind any disguises---physical or otherwise. It's up to the man or woman to decide who to select, baggage and all. Period.

I guess what bothers me about Springer's "other" show is the preposterous presumption that he's genuinely trying to help people, when in fact all he's doing is exploiting them for our eye candy.

"The Jerry Springer Show" is a three-ring circus; "Baggage" is a fun, breezy send-up of how imperfect we are, and whether those imperfections are important to the one Springer is trying to match.

"Baggage" is the perfect vehicle for Jerry Springer. It won't last 20 years like his signature show, but at least it doesn't bill itself as something it's not.