It’s been an amazing week for boy bands, has it not? It’s almost as if we’ve time warped back to 1999. I’m talking, of course, about my two new current obsessions, The Wanted and One Direction. Both are boy bands with four Brits and one Irish dude, both have amazing songs currently on repeat, and, most importantly, both groups are experiencing insane recent success.
The Hunger Games advance tickets went on sale yesterday morning. With a month to go until the film’s March 23 release, it’s already dominating Fandango, accounting for 83 percent of the site’s total sales. Fans of the Collins books — and anyone who might just be interested in checking out what could become the next “Twilight”-like movie craze — can purchase their seats via MovieTickets.com and Fandango.com.
One Direction started out as five young guys who auditioned as solo artists for Simon Cowell’s British television mega-hit The X-Factor. After each getting through the first audition, they all struggled at the next stage, known as “bootcamp”. They were then, unfortunately, all cut. But Cowell, seeing incredible potential in all five boys, decided to bring them back into the competition, but this time as a group. Thus, One Direction was formed. The fledgling band made it all the way to the finale (for video of all their performances on the show go here) eventually finishing third behind Rebecca Ferguson and winner Matt Cardle. Disappointed, the boys thought that was the end, but their mentor, Cowell, thought otherwise. In an unprecedented move he decided to sign the non-winners to his record label. With that, One Direction were ready for world pop domination.
Last night I parked myself in front of my television to watch all three and half hours of the 54th Grammy Awards. Overall, it was…. meh, with only a few shining moments of brilliance. To me, it seems that every year the producers of the show find it necessary to bring out the oldest and most tired greats of the music industry. Now, I’m not one to deny Paul McCartney’s greatness or Springsteen’s, or Glen Campbell’s, or Tony Bennett’s, or The Beach Boys’, but seriously? If the show wants to stay fresh, they’re going to have to leave the old folks in their homes. Onto the performances….
Yesterday HBO went on a publicity rampage and released 17 new stills from season 2 of its smash hit Game of Thrones. Although we already have two trailers, these are the first official images we have gotten for season 2, and they could not look better!
Since this season is based off the second book in George R.R. Martin’s saga called Clash of Kings, lets start with the various Kings battling for the throne…
Amid all the craziness of the New York Giants winning Super Bowl 46, something exciting was happening in Madison Square Garden. An undrafted player out of Harvard called Jeremy Lin was putting on a show. Frankly speaking, basketball is not my favorite sport. I’m a diehard football fan through and through and I thought nothing could tear me away from the excitement of my victorious team rolling down the Canyon of Heroes. But as I checked my Twitter feed Monday night, I noticed an interesting trending topic: #Linsanity. I also happen to follow a lot of New York sports fans and they all were talking about this Asian kid. Spike Lee, the constant sideline presence, tweeted Jeremy “Enter the Dragon” Lin, coining yet another nickname. For this individual player to take headlines away from a team that just won perhaps the biggest game ever in perhaps the greatest city ever was truly something special.
I may not know a lot of the technical aspects of the game, but I know that Lin can play. Only in the NBA can an Asian-American Harvard grad’s success shock everyone. Lin scored a career-high 25 against New Jersey on Saturday, and added seven assists and five boards. Two nights later, against the Utah Jazz, he got his first career start and played all but three minutes in the game. Another game, another new career high: 28 points, with eight assists and eight turnovers. Last night he got his first double-double with 23 points and 10 assists against the Washington Wizards. You could almost taste the excitement erupting from a city already drunk with it.
It has been a wonder to watch how we, the disbelieving yet adoring public, react to him. The fans are really careful to not talk too much about him; as if no one can truly fawn over “Linsanity” yet because the mere mention of his name might jinx the whole thing and bring his success to a startling halt. I’ve never seen a fan base think so little of and still so much of a single player before.
There is a legitimate argument to be made, though, that Jeremy Lin is exactly what no Knicks fan wants to call him: A very good and possibly long-term team point guard. Apologies for the possible jinx, New York, but it’s true. There are plenty of YouTube videos out there that show Lin beating the likes of John Wall, number one pick in the NBA draft a couple years ago. But aside from his very good fundamentals, and aside from the gape-mouthed Knick fans, Lin and all of the hype bubbling around him has been very fun to watch for a very simple reason: He is having the best time ever.
He’s looked positively at ease on the Garden floor, but we’re reminded that none of this makes sense, really, every time he breaks character to smile disbelievingly at his own play. While playing the Jazz, Lin received the ball wide-open and sunk a three-pointer just as the shot clock’s buzzer sounded. It was his 26th point of the game—breaking his two-day-old career high—and as he backpedaled down the court for Utah’s next possession, he attempted a cool, winking nod. It lasted for about a second, and then he smiled like a kid and stuck out a blue Gatorade-stained tongue.
It was like he didn’t believe it himself, like he didn’t know exactly how to react. Maybe neither do we.
A funny thing happened last January; a show called Downton Abbey premiered on PBS to a somewhat quiet reception. Then the whispers started. On some of my favorite entertainment websites and blogs, the mentions of the BBC program became steadily more frequent. I quickly noticed that every article or post about this British import was positive. To me, the premise was iffy at best; a drama set in turn of the century England that follows the story of the Lords and Ladies of Downton Abbey and their extensive serving staff in the days after the Titanic tragedy. I could already see myself falling asleep. I was the girl that appreciated good television, but normally watched shows more in the vein of Gossip Girl or Friday Night Lights. Stuffy Brits sitting around a grand dining table with perpetual frowns was not my idea of must watch TV. But, soon enough, the buzz was too overwhelming, and I had to check it out for myself.
Fast forward 90 minutes, and I was hopelessly hooked. My first realization was that this show had superb, and I mean superb acting. The leads (Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham, Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, and especially Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess) could quite literally not have been better. Next came the writing. This show was created and written by Julian Fellowes, who has an good pedigree (The Young Victoria, Vanity Fair, The Tourist).
His work on Downton Abbey, however, eclipses everything else. It is nothing short of genius to make a teenage American girl attached to characters with whom, on the surface, she has nothing in common. I say on the surface because as the episodes progressed, I was surprised by how much of myself and my family I saw in these characters. It doesn’t hurt that, like the show, I live in a family with three daughters who are very different from one another. But the way that these characters interact feels incredibly natural in this almost fantasy-like setting. It is also a credit to Fellowes that he is able to ratchet up the drama and tension to excruciatingly high levels while keeping the show grounded in reality.
My favorite aspect of the entire show is the tumultuous relationship between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. In order to truly appreciate its brilliance, a bit of backstory is required: Because Lord Grantham had only daughters, a close cousin is in line to inherit the Abbey and all its wealth, the eldest daughter, Lady Mary, is therefore engaged to him. Unfortunately, that cousin dies in the Titanic leaving the family in a state of shock and uncertainty. After a while, the next heir is found, a distant cousin who lives with his mother in relative modesty. Enter Matthew Crawley. Matthew and Mary dislike each other on sight and resent the family’s insistence that they become engaged. Mary especially looks down upon Matthew’s middle class upbringing and Matthew finds Mary an insufferable snob. Well, lets just say those feelings don’t necessarily last, and thus a love story for the ages is born
However, this is just one of many elements to that come together to make this show great. The previously mentioned Dame Maggie Smith is absolute perfection as the family matriarch (her one-liners consistently steal the show). The cast that plays the servants do so with gritty realism, poignancy, and plenty of juicy drama of their own. The cinematography is spectacular, thanks in large part to the very real setting, Highclere Castle and the score is haunting and memorable.
But underneath all of that is what makes Downton Abbey truly addicting and why, in my opinion, it has turned out to be such a big hit in the United States. Simply, it’s a soap opera. Like Dallas and Dynasty before it, Abbey is all about family. We love them, we hate them, we can’t live without them… add British accents? Gold. What I find truly remarkable however, is that Americans are starting to embrace quality television again. This show made national headlines when its second season premier beat the Kardashians in the ratings. This statistic was especially sweet because for about a year I had begged friends and family to start watching the show and there it was, right in front of me, proof that they listened.
I believe the Downton craze will only grow. Just last month, the show won its second Golden Globe for best mini-series and its momentum is growing. More and more of mainstream America are buying into this phenomenon and I hear nothing but good things from everyone who watches it. Downton Abbey has all the ingredients to be around for a long time to come.
Since Glee premiered over 3 years ago, it has had the unique distinction of being the only television program of its kind on any of the major networks. With the immense success of projects like High School Musical and other kids programs about music, Fox saw a great opportunity with Glee. Unlike its predecessors, however, the show was a little funnier, a little darker, and a little sexier. It tackled real issues like teen pregnancy and coming out of the closet and before the first season was up, it had started a full-fledged phenomenon. Its young stars were catapulted into stardom, particularly lead Lea Michele with her once-in-a-generation voice, as people across the country could not get enough of these singing kids.
However, like a lot of success stories, Glee started to believe its own hype. The episodes became more about famous guest stars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Carol Burnett, Neil Patrick Harris, etc.) or tribute episodes (Madonna, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson) than about the plot. The story of the underdog show choir and its cast of misfits got lost somewhere along the way. I tuned in for the music (which to be fair is still top notch), but more importantly for the characters that I had actually started to care about. However, three seasons in, the writers seem to have lost their way and the show is starting to decline in quality and popularity. In tonight’s episode, fans will see yet another gimmick as Ricky Martin will play a new Spanish teacher… yes you read that correctly, Ricky Martin. I rest my case. But in all honesty, I probably will keep tuning in because there are some story lines that I feel still have potential (for instance new villain Sebastian was an inspired addition). But just a channel away, a new show is rising with the goal of knocking Glee of its golden pedestal. Enter Smash.
Smash boasts a pretty incredible resume. Lets start at the very top… Steven Spielberg himself is an executive producer, which should be an immediate indicator of quality work. Now to the cast: Academy Award winner Anjelica Houston is a regular as is Emmy Award winner Debra Messing. Jack Davenport (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame) and American Idol runner-up Katherine McPhee also star. The story line of Smash is refreshingly original; it follows the creation of a hit Broadway musical from the initial idea onward. NBC put the pilot on iTunes for free about a month ago as a promotional tool, and having heard good things about the show, I jumped at the opportunity. When the credits rolled on my laptop screen, I smiled to myself. This show was great, really great, and I knew immediately I was hooked. The characters seemed real, if a bit cliched, but I found myself caring about them and their stories’. The musical numbers were superb. I thought that Glee was well directed but Smash has them beat. It feels way more professional (and rightly so, I mean Glee is supposed to be high school after all) but even so, I was enamored with a couple songs in a way I didn’t expect. My favorite moment by far was the final minutes when the two young actresses are singing their hearts out at the callback. The song is an original composition, made specifically for the show, and it’s absolutely fantastic. In fact, I downloaded the tune off iTunes, which I almost never do. It ended the pilot on a strong high note and left me eagerly anticipating the next episode.
I think Smash has the chops to match and even overcome Glee‘s success. As viewers start abandoning Glee, they could be migrating to Smash. It fulfills America’s love of cheesy song and dance, but it couples that with great writing and a captivating storyline. I also think the show will make newcomer Katherine McPhee a legitimate star. She gets to showcase her flawless voice a couple times in the pilot, and in a cast full of heavy hitters, she was able to stand out. Last night, the pilot formally aired on NBC and I watched it with my mom. Her reaction was priceless; she, like me, was instantly sucked in. Afterward, we excitedly talked about watching the next episode together. I think this is good news for Smash that a teenage daughter can love a show as much as her mother. Oh, and just for the record, I don’t think my mother has ever seen an episode of Glee… just saying 😉