Sketch of the Night
”Bird Bible” (O’Brien, McKinnon) I am honestly surprised that this aired when it did in the show -- and good for Mike O’Brien to get something so obviously his and so obviously weird on that early in the proceedings. And a special congratulations has to be given out to whoever it was that actually illustrated the Bird Bible – top-notch work, there.
”Dance Floor Killer” (Bennett, Parsons, Ensemble) The sight of the cast, dancing around to the songs of the ‘80s, while a stoic and sinister -- and obviously a serial killer -- Jim Parsons stares off into the distance was my favorite visual gag of the show. I almost wish the sketch had not elaborated on this any further, which eventually ended with Parsons verbally outing himself as the killer. I kind of just wish the whole sketch was the dance show with Pasrons just standing there looking evil, yet no one suspects he’s the killer.
”12 Years Auditions” (Thompson, Bayer, Strong, Wheelan, Zamata, O’Brien Parsons, Pharoah) First, I never thought the day would come that someone portrayed “12 Years” director Steve McQueen on “SNL” – and, well, here we are! Well, I’ll give credit to “SNL” for this: “12 Years a Slave” has often -– and rightfully so -- been described as a movie that can’t be parodied because of its subject matter. I can only imagine that was looked upon as a sort of a challenge. And, you know, I think they pulled it off. Strangely, the situation depicted has crossed my mind. Like, when Paul Dano showed up for his audition and looks at that dialogue, good grief, how do you say that? Also, Jay Pharoah has the best “I have my eye on you” look of maybe anyone alive today.
”Spotlightz” (Bayer, Parsons, Wells, Killam, Zamata, Bryant) There’s really only one real reason that this is funny and it’s because no one does a better “I’m a child and I’m acting” voice than Vanessa Bayer. I am entranced by this voice.
”Weekend Update” (Strong, Jost, Pharoah, Thompson, Killam) I’m starting to not like this new trend of late night personalities telling me how much it means to them to be on my television entertaining me. It’s one thing when someone is saying goodbye, but on a first show -– Fallon did it on his first “Tonight Show," Colin Jost did it here on “Update” -– it just feels too sentimental. Instead of taking a moment to audibly “take it all in,” Jost should have, instead, just come out of the gates firing.
I once wrote that it’s almost as if Seth Meyers was created in a test tube for the sole purpose of hosting “Weekend Update.” That’s not the case for Jost –- and no one is doubting that Jost is funny; he's been a writer at "SNL" since 2005 and is currently co-head writer -- he’s just going to have to work hard to become good at hosting "Update." And, look, it was his first show, so it’s forgivable that he has that wide-eyed look of a new morning anchor just out of journalism school. If you go back and look at Cecily Strong’s first “Update” compared to now, it’s night and day. (Speaking of Strong, I wish there had been more interaction between her and Jost.) It’s just a shame that the way the schedule is set up, by the time he gets into a grove, it will probably be right when the cast breaks for the summer. Right now, “Weekend Update” is officially a work in progress.
Pharoah and Thompson were fine, as always, as Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley (though, it’s almost an odd pairing because Thompson’s Barkley sides on the goofy side while Pharoah’s Shaq is disturbingly canny). Though, it was Killam’s Jebediah Atkinson going through each Best Picture nominee that made “Update” last night. It’s almost as if Killam’s little accidental trick that he did with his index card proves that this character is magic.
”Elevator” (Parsons, O’Brien, Bryant, Thompson) Well, what a nice night for Mike O’Brien. He gets his terrific “Bird Bible” sketch on the air and his “guy poops his pants after a bomb goes off” sketch. I mean, that’s really running the gauntlet between subjects.
”Jim Parsons Monologue” (Parsons, Pharoah, Moynihan, Killam, Thompson, McKinnon) Boy, Bobby Moynihan sure does play a creepy George Costanza. Parsons tripped over a couple of lines, but the parade of former television stars was fine. But did anyone out there really think that in real life Jim Parsons is a scientist who loves “Star Trek”? Is this a real problem for him? I suppose it could be?
”Cold Open: The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (McKinnon, Pedrad, Bayer, Pharoah, Parsons, Thompson) Kate McKinnon’s Ellen DeGeneres impression is still a delight. And with DeGeneres hosting the Oscars on Sunday night, it was a good bet that we’d see DeGeneres in some capacity during the show. Though, it is surprising that this sketch wasn’t about the Oscars instead of just another sketch about DeGeneres’ daily talk show. “SNL” has on staff the person who does the definitive impression of tonight’s Oscar host and they don’t do an Oscar sketch. This seems like a big missed opportunity.
”Murder Mystery” (Killam, Zamata, Parsons, Strong, Bennett, McKinnon) The premise started off strong: Everyone is given wacky character traits – except for Parsons, who is given very vague instructions. The problem is, this is a really funny idea, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. Like, it’s much funnier to just hear the concept versus actually watching this sketch not know how to play itself out.
”Cowboys” (Bennett, Parsons, Wheelan, Thompson, Mooney) Especially airing in the ten to one timeslot, I wish this had just gone “all in” and been weirder than it actually was. It’s as if it couldn’t quite pick its tone. “Am I a weird sketch? Am I a mainstream sketch about a birthday? Whoa, I get surprisingly violent at the end there, don’t I?”
”Peter Pan” (Parsons, Bryant, Milhiser, Mooney, McKinnon, Moynihan) Tinkerbell? More like Stinkerbell. (Ugh, I’m sorry, it’s early.) Anyway, this was not great. And with a couple of actual gems spread throughout the show, it’s just strange this aired so early and brought the show to a thud. Why something like Vanessa Bayer’s “Spotlightz Acting Camp” wasn’t in this slot, I will never understand. Perhaps this played better at dress, but this seemed dead on arrival during the live show.
Average Score for this Show: 5.51
· Lady Gaga 6.06
· Melissa McCarthy 6.03
· Edward Norton 5.91
· Paul Rudd 5.90
· Drake 5.82
· Jimmy Fallon 5.80
· John Goodman 5.76
· Josh Hutcherson 5.75
· Jonah Hill 5.73
· Bruce Willis 5.68
· Kerry Washington 5.60
· Jim Parsons 5.51
· Tina Fey 5.35
· Miley Cyrus 5.20
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter. Click below for this week's "SNL," Not Ready For Primetime Podcast featuring Mike Ryan and Hitfix's Ryan McGee.
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The movie's depiction of the AIDS crisis has sparked some emotionally charged reactions from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well. But as a beauty editor, I was also caught up in the dramatic physical transformations of actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Months later, I am still awestruck by makeup artist Robin Mathew's ability to create such convincing rashes and lesions on a $250 [supplies] budget.
So, how exactly did she do it? Mathews recently dished about her "Dallas Buyers Club" beauty secrets.
Spoiler alert: Read on to find out how this professional snagged an Oscar nod thanks to her ingenious use of grits, MAC lipstick and a lot of tanning products.
What was it like working with the most tanned man in America, Matthew McConaughey, and Jared Leto, an actor who is no stranger to makeup?
Both Matthew and Jared were amazingly supportive of this makeup process, and they were 100 percent involved. They realized how important it was that they look like, you know, like they had these different stages of full-blown AIDS. And it was difficult because the only time the camera wasn't rolling was basically during our lunch breaks and makeup changes.
The director, Jean-Marc Vallée, shoots without any camera or lighting setup. So we didn't have a grip or lighting department. The camera was always ready to roll in 5 minutes. We just shot, shot, shot and never stopped. For them to actually say, hold on a second. We gotta take 45 minutes, or whatever it was to do this important makeup change, really was a great deal of help and support. And I'm so grateful for that, and it make a big difference in the film, I think.
What type of research did you conduct to really nail down the aesthetics?
We were lucky through the production to hook up with Dr. David Hardy, an infectious diseases specialist. He really talked me through what the physical stages of AIDS looked like.
There's three common physical traits we see with people with full-blown AIDS -- they get extremely skeletal in the face; they get a rash called seborrheic dermatitis, which is kind of a rosacea-colored, patchy, flaky dry rash; and then, of course, lesions. So it was so important that they look like they were really sick. Like they were AIDS patients ... pure realism. It couldn't look like makeup and it couldn't look like a Hollywood version of AIDS. It had to be real, which goes along with this director's style of shooting, and I’m so excited after viewing the film that we accomplished that.
How were you able to pull off such a huge feat with just a $250 materials budget?
I have no idea how we were able to shoot the entire film with the $4.5 million dollar budget that we had. It's 100 percent the most under-budgeted film I've ever done. After looking back, scrounging around, and begging and pleading for supplies from people, then calling in favors and even using food products in the place of prostheses, I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm so glad that we had the money that we did because we wouldn't have got the realistic looks we were able to get. There's such raw, gritty detail to a lot of the makeup in the film.
We were looking at the pictures, and I said, normally I would use a prosthesis for this, but what can I substitute? It looked like grits and cornmeal on top of other makeup products. So I hand-painted underneath and then I applied a makeup-effects product to make the skin look taut, dry and wrinkly. As that dried, I pressed in grits and cornmeal to make a pustule rash. We first tested it on Matthew, and he loved it and was a big advocate for it. I thought it would be the end of my career.
What was the makeup process like transforming Matthew and Jared throughout the film?
Both Matthew and Jared came to us 40 pounds thinner than they normally are, so they were pretty darn skeletal to start with. But because we would shoot so out of sequence, we would have to change them back and forth from their sickest looks to their healthiest looks many times in a day. To do that, I used products that take the red out of the skin, and I used that all over their face and bodies to make them look pale. Then I started with a contour color, a dark makeup shade, and I contoured every bone that I could find in their face or every part of their body that was showing in the costume that they were wearing that day. As they got more sick and skeletal, I just continued that contouring process further by looking at photos and where I couldn't see the bones, I actually drew them in. Also, I drew tons of veins on their face and hands when they were at their final stages. I'd add highlight to the bones as well.
To make them look healthy, like they had gained 20 pounds, for Matthew I gave him a slight tan and I'd reverse highlighting and contouring. So everywhere I had gone in before to make them look skeletal and done the dark makeup underneath the bone and light makeup on top of the bone to make it protrude, I did the opposite. For Matthew, I also used dental plumper, these four little pieces that clip on his upper and lower teeth, and they have a bit of dental material that pushes cheeks out from the inside to make them look fuller.
My key makeup artist and I spent four and a half hours contouring every bone on their bodies for their scenes. She started on the back, I started on the front and we just went to town.
Why did you use tanning for Matthew's character, Ron Woodroof?
It was actually Matthew's idea and it wasn’t necessarily to make him look heavier, but healthier. He totally came up with it. Obviously it's the opposite of pale, but Matthew and Jared had so many levels of sickness to show the different stages of AIDS throughout. [For] one of the first levels of sickness for Matthew, when he showed up in the morning on set ... we didn’t do anything to him. He was super skinny and had stayed out of the sun for months, so he wasn’t anywhere as tan as he normally is. The next level would be to make him pale, so I’d start with the highlighting and contouring. But as a person, he realized he looked healthier when he had a bit of a tan, and it was his idea to add that back in.
I did it all by hand with a tanning product because, again, up to five times a day I'd have to change him back from his sickest look to his healthiest look. So anything I did had to be completely removable instantly.
Can you tell me about that bright pink lipstick Jared's character, Rayon, wore?
I adore that lip color myself and I can tell you it's a MAC color. That look is actually inspired from the '60s actress Jane Forth. There is a pretty famous photo of her where she almost has identical makeup on. That, of course, is when Rayon is her healthiest and heaviest. She's not quite the hot mess she ends up toward the end of the film.
I especially liked waxing off all her eyebrows and being able to do those fun looks where the eyeshadow comes up on the brow. I came up with the idea that Rayon would be influenced by her mother, the first female she probably had contact with in the beauty world. And Rayon would be influenced by actresses of the ‘60s because that's when her mom was in her heyday. So I choose Jane Forth, actress Brigitte Bardot, model Twiggy and there was also a shout out to Serena from “Bewitched.” Because this was set in 1985 and Rayon is a cool cat, she was also inspired by actresses and singers of the '80s. So there was also a nod to Dolly Parton and a Pat Benatar look as well.
Were there any scenes in the film that were particularly emotional for you?
Absolutely. Watching the film after so many times, there were scenes where I just couldn't help but burst out crying -- two of them being when Rayon is looking at herself in the mirror right before she dies, and she's putting on makeup to try to cover up her lesions. She says, I'm going to be a pretty, pretty princess no matter what I do when I meet you. And then the scene in the hospital when she says, I don’t want to die.
Both Jared and Matthew were so into their characters ... they were their characters. With Matthew, there were times he was talking to [actress] Jennifer Garner's character about getting treatment and he actually got so scared that he started crying. And it's not in the script or the film.
They were very emotional times throughout shooting, but we shot so quickly that we didn’t have time to think about it. We just dealt with the emotions and kept shooting.
This has been edited for clarity and length.
Mike Breach, 28, a New York barista, specializes in "baristart," a self-coined term for art made in the foam of lattes.
Using only a toothpick, Breach is able to mark detailed faces in the foam, only to have his coffee creations fade away quickly.
Breach started his work to avoid boredom. "I had massive amounts of time at a lonely hotel barista station with not too many orders," Breach told The Huffington Post in an email interview.
"I passed the time challenging myself with increasingly complex designs... People really reacted to it so I kept going and here I am today."
Each portrait takes about five minutes to make and lasts about as long.
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"Independence Day" director Roland Emmerich had already revealed that Goldblum was in talks to reprise his role in the upcoming sequel, but it's surprising to hear Goldblum admit why he's not appearing in the upcoming "Jurassic World." It's the same reason he didn't appear in "Jurassic Park III" ... nobody called him.
When you hear about "Jurassic World," do you think to yourself, I could still do that? I know you didn't come back for "Jurassic Park III."
Yeah, and they haven't called me for "4," I know Steven Spielberg isn't directing it ...
Is that why you didn't do the third movie, because Spielberg didn't direct it?
No. Nobody asked me.
I didn't know that. I always assumed it was your decision.
No, nobody asked me, but I was perfectly satisfied with the two that I did. I'm still satisfied with that and I'll be the first in line to see anything else, so, you know. But, "Independence Day" ...
When I spoke to Roland Emmerich last summer, he was adamant you were coming back, along with Judd Hirsch and everyone else except Will Smith.
Oh, good, so he's talked about it. Yeah, they've talked to me about it and I've talked to them about it and they're excited and I'm anxious and eager to see -- I haven't read anything -- what they cook up. You know, I think they're trying to put it together.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
This is a developing story, check back for updates.
Katz sued the National Enquirer for $50 million earlier this month after the tabloid falsely claimed he gave an "exclusive" interview saying he and Hoffman were gay lovers and that he saw the Oscar winner using drugs before his death.
"Here you have Phil's family and his friends grieving, and the Enquirer comes along seeking to make a buck through putrid lies," Katz's lawyer, Judd Burstein, said via a press release. "Worse still, it appears that the Enquirer sent out a press release hyping the story so that it could sell more copies of the magazine. I do not know how these people can sleep at night."
Apparently, a senior Enquirer reporter and some researchers found an individual named David Katz who claimed to be the playwright and "sounded distraught," Burstein told The New York Times. They believed it was the right person.
“The issue was never me being outraged at being accused of being gay — we’re theater guys, who cares?” Katz told the Times. “The issue was lying about the drugs, that I would betray my friend by telling confidences.”
The Enquirer withdrew the article, apologized and gave Burstein the contact information for the man who allegedly posed as Katz. The Enquirer and its publisher, American Media Incorporated, also agreed to fund the American Playwriting Foundation, which was formed in honor of Hoffman and will grant $45,000 per year for an unproduced play.
Hoffman was found dead in his New York City apartment on Feb. 2 of an apparent heroin overdose. He was just 46 years old.
Sorkin finished his Jobs screenplay, which is based on the Walter Isaacson biography, "Steve Jobs," earlier this year. Back in 2012, the Oscar-winning screenwriter revealed that his script's structure was going to be different from traditional biographic films.
"I hope I don't get killed by the studio for giving too much away," Sorkin told The Daily Beast, "but this entire movie is going to be three scenes, and three scenes only, that all take place in real time."
As Sorkin relayed, the film's three scenes would take place "before a product launch." "The first one being the Mac, the second one being NeXT (after he had left Apple), and the third one being the iPod," he said. Whether or not the film retains that format is unclear.
The untitled film is the second about the Apple co-founder to make its way through Hollywood. Last year, Ashton Kutcher starred in "Jobs," which tracked Jobs' life and the rise of Apple. The film made just $16 million at the North American box office. (Justin Long played Jobs in a Funny or Die mockumentary called "iSteve," but that film was not released in theaters.)
Fincher's next film is "Gone Girl," an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-selling thriller. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star in the feature, which is out on Oct. 3.
For more, head to THR.
Flash back to a decade ago, when I was the faggot popping up in Baldwin's face with a camera (although since I was in a wig, makeup and women's attire, I suppose a better term for me would be "draggot"). It was at a chaotic red-carpet event in L.A., with a zillion flashbulbs popping. He turned around, and there I was, a big drag queen, inches from his face. I asked him if I could snap a photo of the best-looking guy that night.
"Sure!" he said, posing.
"Could you please move?" I continued. "He's right behind you."
Alec giggled at my little joke.
Drag queens have a highly developed gaydar, since some of us have the nerve to cruise straight men. We have to interpret body language, clothing, pheromones or whatever to determine if that particular heterosexual guy is going to screw our brains out or beat our brains out. But even as I, a stranger, attempted to jokingly insult him, Alec came across as extremely warm and personable and not homophobic in the slightest. I remember thinking, "Here's an A-list Hollywood leading man with all the looks and talent yet none of the attitude that you'd expect to go with it."
So, based on that brief but telling personal encounter, I was mystified by the vitriol of all the "Baldwin's a homophobe" posts, which rapidly multiplied. To protest his hate speech, gays were throwing all kinds of hate speech right back at him, asserting that his career was finished, that he'd sucked in his last few roles, and that he wasn't even hot anymore. Was the fact that he's nice-looking and was perceived as having insulted gays what triggered the immense backlash? Let's not forget that gay men are exactly like straight men in that they lose interest in someone once they see that person as less screwable because they've aged.
I have zero reason to be a fan of Alec Baldwin. I can't name a movie or play he's been in, and I've only seen snippets of 30 Rock, which seems fun. But no assessment of his career answers the question at the center of this controversy: Is he a homophobe? So I spoke to my faggot friend Dan Mathews from PETA, who's worked with Alec for 20 years, and Dan claims that Alec is a total sweetheart. Should we really be decimating the man's entire career over a few angry words that flew out of his mouth during an angry exchange at the end of a draining trial? Dan points out, "We often revert to high-school-era insults when we're deeply upset."
As far as I'm concerned, a member of the paparazzi acted inappropriately and got an inappropriate response from the actor he was harassing -- who had just won a case against a stalker he'd been dealing with for two years, for chrissakes! Baldwin even claims that the shutterbug almost hit his infant's head with the camera's lens. Now, I know that stars welcome photographers into their lives when they become public figures, but I also know that people are human, and even the kindest people on Earth have a breaking point. You tell me that you've never gotten on a train with a load of luggage or shopping bags or a hangover, desperate for a seat, when someone takes the very last perch available. Unless you're a saint, you might easily note the most visible characteristic of that person and spout off about "that old biddy," "that black bitch," "that thoughtless snob," "that stupid kid" or "that fat whore." (Don't ask me how I know about the last one.)
But does an occasional slip-up make you a bigot? Should you lose your job for a few heated words? Alec has denied that he used the word "faggot" and at one time claimed to have used the word "maggot." Who cares? Is the guy actively crusading against gay rights? No! He's a progressive liberal -- the only type of straight person who supports equal rights for gays across the board. And we can't cut an ally any slack? Nope, he's suddenly a demon from hell bent on destroying gay lib.
Hey, gays! Wouldn't it make a little more sense to focus on the people who are truly out to get us? There are obvious targets, like Chick-fil-A and Vladimir Putin, and there are many others out there who are, unlike Alec Baldwin, out to destroy any advances gays have made in recent years. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is currently considering whether to veto or sign into law a bill that would permit Arizona businesses to refuse service to any customer, namely gay ones, if serving that customer would violate their "sincerely held" religious beliefs. Similar bills have tanked in Idaho and Kansas, and there's another one being debated in Utah. What would impact more people: an insult flung at a photographer who may have deserved it, or legalized discrimination in multiple states?
How do you think the right-wing organizations get the money to lobby against gay rights in the first place? Every day, with our purchasing choices, from food and drink to toiletries to clothing to electronics, we pay the companies that donate to those anti-gay groups. I'm always unsettled when I'm booked to perform at a gay bar and they put me up at the local Marriott, as the chain is run by a Mormon, Bill Marriott, who likely tithes 10 percent of his massive income to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which in turn gave millions of dollars to support Prop 8, which crushed gay-marriage hopes in California. If you're gay, you're often unwittingly paying for the ammunition that is used against you and your rights. Yet getting Baldwin off the air is gay America's most pressing goal?
Gays were upset about the 2014 Winter Olympics being hosted in Russia, which had recently passed new legislation against gays. In a tepid move, President Obama decided to merely skip out on the games instead of taking a truly strong stand against Russia. And you may have heard about the repressive new law in Uganda that mandates life imprisonment for gays and emboldens murderous mobs of anti-gay vigilantes. An American conservative group called The Family partnered with Ugandan leaders to help craft this bill. And on Feb. 6 Obama dignified these hate mongers by speaking at The Family's annual National Prayer Breakfast, as every president has done every year for decades, breaking bread with the enemies who are orchestrating severe human-rights violations in other countries (possibly as trial runs before a stateside push for similar laws?). These are our real enemies, reaching all he way up to the White House, yet you're focusing on Alec Baldwin cursing a photographer? What a waste of your time if advancing gay rights, not celebrity gossip, is truly your goal.
While I can understand my friends' snarky comments on Facebook, our news media should be held to a higher standard. Yet the media were dying to catch a falling star, and this alleged anti-gay slur was to be the nail in Alec's coffin. Anderson Cooper slammed Baldwin for showing "his true colors yet again." Anderson, your true colors were revealed when you refused to come out of the closet until your hair was white, and now you're an activist? CNN's ratings were in the toilet; may I suggest that that's why Anderson grabbed at celebrity gossip and paraded it as news? Meanwhile, gay blogger Andrew Sullivan called Baldwin a "raging, violent bigot." Violent? Who did Baldwin physically attack? As if I'm really going to believe a neoconservative gay blogger like Sullivan, who privately solicited anonymous bareback sex on the Internet while publicly denouncing it, proclaiming to have the gay community's best interests at heart!
Let's not forget that prior to the paparazzo incident, TMZ hammered Alec Baldwin when he retaliated against journalist George Stark for chiding Baldwin's wife for allegedly tweeting during James Gandolfini's funeral. For that Baldwin called Stark a "toxic little queen" and threatened to fuck him up. So Baldwin has anger issues. Maybe he deserves to be angry if people are harping on the timing his wife's tweets as a sign of disrespect for Alec's dead friend. But that doesn't make Alec a bigot -- and if "toxic little queen" and "cocksucking faggot" are all that Baldwin says under pressure, I'd say definitely give him a pass. I hear worse from drag queens performing at gay bars.
Maybe our tabloidized news would prefer to focus on making Baldwin the bad guy so that they can ignore the huge corporations that donate to anti-gay groups and thus keep those corporations' advertising dollars.
Here's the saddest part of all: Alec's New York Magazine essay, titled "Good-bye, Public Life," begins with him contacting a gay-rights group in Hawaii. Here's the question Baldwin asked when he got someone on the phone: "Who would you say, by your estimation, is the most homophobic member of the entertainment industry currently in the media?"
And here's the answer he got: "Um... Alec Baldwin?"
Alec then met with the group to learn more about hate speech and its effects. It sounds like he's sorry for the perception of the slurs -- regardless of whether he actually made them or not, or whether they were even that harsh. Here's an enlightened straight guy who openly supports gay rights. But a few choice words and our junk news sent him into free fall, which he still seems to be trying to understand.
I don't know or care about Shia LaBeouf or that part of Baldwin's rant. I also admit that I did not enjoy the one episode of Alec's MSNBC talk show that I caught, an episode that featured Debra Winger, since that network is already infotainment enough and doesn't need a Piers-Morgan-like celebrity-soft-pedal hour. But even slightly unhinged and in his free-fall pattern, Alec perceptively hit the nail on the head when he said, "I think Rachel Maddow is quite good at what she does. I also think she's a phony who doesn't have the same passion for the truth off-camera that she seems to have on the air."
Actually, she is only concerned with one truth on the air. Now, I've been a big fan of Rachel since she was a radio jock on Air America -- she's brilliant -- but no one with a brain can deny that she has totally turned her show into The Chris Christie Hour at the exclusion of every other story for weeks. I understand that her reporting on the bridge-lane closure may have uncovered evidence that has led to a GOP presidential hopeful being discredited, but there are other important news stories happening. And while Chris Christie's unraveling is a fascinating mess, Obama and the Democrats are making plenty of messes themselves, which a truly progressive network ought to be exposing. Did you hear the one about Obama trying to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress without debate? Or how about the fact that it would kill jobs and reduce wages for generations and force U.S. workers to compete with Vietnamese workers making 29 cents an hour? No? Well, if you regularly watch MSNBC, I'll bet you can name every mayor and state senator in New Jersey. I stopped watching in disgust after one MSNBC segment asked, "Which Christie employee should get the axe next?" Who cares? Let's focus on stopping the "Democratic" president from outsourcing tons of our jobs overseas. If you think the closing of a few lanes accessing a bridge in New Jersey for less than a week this summer impacts the nation so heavily that it deserves a solid month of nonstop coverage, then MSNBC is the "news" network for you.
I guess Maddow's Chris Christie coverage gets ratings. Maybe that's why Anderson Cooper took Baldwin to task; the actor's MSNBC show was beating Cooper's numbers in the same time slot. Maybe conservative news outlets jumped all over this in order to smear a progressive and the progressive agenda at the same time. And maybe that stirred gays into such a frenzy that suddenly Baldwin was our number-one enemy.
But how are gays going to know how to fight their true enemies if they can't even identify them? So this member of the gay community would like to offer a sincere apology to Alec Baldwin. Hell, he's shone so much light on the charlatans who masquerade as journalists, including some high-profile gay ones, that I'd suggest giving him a GLAAD award! Watch your temper, Alec, but thank you for consistently supporting our rights among the many enlightened causes you've lent your name to.
In its first season, "The Americans" (10 p.m. EST Wednesday, FX) was an "almost" show -- it appeared continually on the cusp of ascending to a higher level of quality.
That's not to say the debut season of the show wasn't fun: Stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys were terrific from the get-go, there were epic wigs and the drama managed to be entertaining and evocative a lot of the time. But the show about Russian spies hiding in plain sight wasn't as assured, varied and consistent as it is in its second season.
That's another way of saying, holy Mother Russia, you need to be watching "The Americans." Very few shows are able to combine pleasurable episodic storytelling so deftly with solid character building and delicious suspense, but the first five episodes of the new season do that with style, not to mention period-perfect wigs. What more could you possibly want from a television program?
Though TV is generally in fine fettle these days, most commercial, mainstream entertainments on TV aren't this morally and intellectually juicy. One of the few others I can think of is FX's long-running "Justified," and as is the case with that drama, "The Americans" has a pleasant zip and vigor without the "look at this great writing" pomposity. These are shows with generally smart construction and a high level of craft in all arenas that are somehow also modest and self-effacing: They want you to have fun, and if they pick up some acclaim and awards along the way, that's cool, but beside the point.
To be clear, this show does need to score some awards, particularly in the acting department. The casting for this show could have gone wrong in so many ways: The central duo, Reagan-era Soviet spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, have to become many other people in the course of their various operations, and there aren't many actors who could pull off that kind of range -- and occasionally display murderous intensity -- and remain likable and sympathetic. Given even more emotionally and intellectually complicated scenes to play this season, Rhys and Russell rise to challenge and then some.
The need for versatility can't be overstated. During one mission, Elizabeth has to play a fragile, wounded woman who has undergone a terrible ordeal, and as she plays this invented character, you slowly recall that during her training, Elizabeth (real name: Nadezhda) actually experienced a similar assault. It's that interplay of truth and lies that keeps "The Americans" vibrating at a high pitch: Quite often when these spies are lying, they're exposing their deepest truths.
And it's not just Elizabeth who briskly tries to keep a host of contradictions from spinning out of control: This season, almost every character has divided loyalties, and that keeps things fresh and spontaneous. When people subscribe to one belief system or set of loyalties but more tantalizing alliances and ideas come along, who's to say which way they'll jump? Even they may not know.
This season, even more so than last, Elizabeth and Philip are forced to confront the possibility that their handlers care very little about the one real thing they've got: their kids. A lot of shows try to depict the challenge of maintaining a work-life balance, but in "The Americans," the stakes are literally life and death. The kids don't know that, but they're curious: Daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) knows something weird is going on in the laundry room and it has nothing to do with the spin cycle.
The show can pull off action scenes with bone-crunching panache, but in the main, "The Americans" doesn't go overboard. It can set a mood beautifully with a deep cut from Peter Gabriel, and its cast can usually supply what's needed without even speaking. Russell's eyes can convey the ferocious desire to protect what's hers, and yet the show also is willing to have fun with the droll comedy that Philip's other wife brings to the proceedings. He's not a bigamist -- using a fake identity, "Clark" married Martha, an FBI secretary, in order to get intel on American operations. It's a continual wonder that the show manages to wring so much dry comedy from the Martha situation, and yet the writers never make Clark's long-suffering fake spouse feel like a worthless dupe or a laughingstock.
It helps that Rhys has a quality of wounded melancholy that feels especially appropriate for a Russian character. Philip's eyes often seem to say, "What is the point of any of this? Never mind, onward." Rhys has to be convincing as a man who can cold-bloodedly murder a contact if necessary -- and as the man who sits in his car afterward, twitching and stunned. His devotion to his wife is one of the few things keeping him grounded, and the chemistry between those characters throws off sparks in many scenes, especially an exceptionally saucy scene in the season premiere.
One fear Philip and Elizabeth share is the potential moral degradation of their children, who are surrounded by the heedless culture that produced Tab, "Hill Street Blues" and French-bread pizza (all of which get loving nods in the second season). They fear that either organized religion or materialism will seduce their kids, even as the righteousness of the Soviet cause begins to seem like an abstraction in their own minds. It's easy to identify with their fear over what their kids will become; what adds a scary frisson is the knowledge that if something goes wrong, they might not be around to witness Paige and Henry's wonder years.
Speaking of religion, the audience for this show can be united by one faith -- the one that prays for the demise of the dopey CBS sitcom "The Millers." Margo Martindale, who is stuck on that show, was born to play Claudia, the tough-as-nails, old-school Russian operative who makes a brief appearance in Season 2. Her frenemy chemistry with Russell is one of the most magical things on TV, and we can only hope that Claudia returns later in the season.
Still, it's not as if the show is hurting for juicy, conflicted relationships. FBI agent Stan Beeman (the wonderfully understated Noah Emmerich) continues to have a clandestine affair with Russian embassy employee Nina (Annet Mahendru). Neither one of them is entirely sure to what extent they're being played, but it's a treat to watch Nina become harder, colder and more manipulative. Will Oleg, the wily new operative working at the Soviet Rezidentura, be able to win over her calculating Russian heart and mind? Only time will tell.
A few aspects of the show feel a little undercooked: Stan's home life is, unlike Philip's fake mustaches, sparse and unconvincing, and though Richard Thomas plays Stan's boss with engaging brio, the rest of the FBI side of things feels a little bland. The remainder of the season may fill in these aspects in pleasing ways, but the good news is, there's no reason to think the rest of Season 2 will be any less enjoyable than the first five outings.
Ryan McGee and I discussed "The Americans" and "Hannibal," along with three new comedies, on the most recent Talking TV podcast, which is here, on iTunes and below.
"The Americans" airs 10 p.m. EST Wednesdays on FX.
In a recent interview with The Sun, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein teased Lawrence's need to take a step back, explaining, "She’s going to have a long break for a year where she won’t do anything. It’s been non-stop for her and she deserves a rest."
"Jennifer is too nice and will do people favors and agrees to do a movie like 'American Hustle' when she could have had a rest," Weinstein continued. "She signed on to do 'Hunger Games' when she was young and wouldn’t have realized how much it would dominate her life. But she’s a professional and always will be."
Whether it was a favor or not, Lawrence's choice to appear in "American Hustle" seems to have paid off. The 23-year-old actress is up for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film. The David O. Russell-led movie has also grossed more than $140 million stateside.
When exactly Lawrence plans to take said break remains to be seen. Her upcoming projects include this year's "X-Men: Days of Future Past," and the two-part "Mockingjay" film to round out the "Hunger Games" series.
This is not the first time there has been talk of J. Law stepping out of the limelight. Late last year the star told USA Today, "I've built my career. I need to build my human life. I need to get a house and connect to the people around me and not work for a little while."
Lawrence was recently attached to a project about the inventor of the Miracle Mop, which would reunite her with Russell for a third time. HuffPost Entertainment contacted representatives for Lawrence to see if they had comment on Weinstein's statement. This post will be updated if and when they respond.