Monday, April 28, 2014

For Grizz And Country

After every Memphis Grizzlies game, my brother-in-law is fond of getting online and posting, "I am a Grizzlies maniac," with several exclamation points, depending on the closeness of the game. As of this writing, the opening series of the NBA playoffs is still undecided, but win or lose, how exciting has this been for Memphis? It's a wondrous thing to see this city come together and rally around a common cause. Just think, if we could only get the City Council to do the same. For this community, the Grizzlies mean so much more than basketball. They are a focal point around which all of Memphis' citizens can unite, and those occasions have proven so rare, it's worthy that we celebrate when it happens. My only problem is, with three overtime games in a row, the Grizz are fixing to throw me into cardiac arrhythmia. Thank God for Obamacare.

I now understand how, once you know a player's background and watch his attitude on the court, you become more invested in the games and individual performances. Your spirits rise and fall throughout the season until the storyline plays out. Judging from the last couple of games at the FedEx Forum, Grizzlies fans' spirits are pretty damn high. My wife has attended several games this season, while I am content to watch from the couch. It's tinnitus. My ears just can't take it anymore. But the entire Forum nearly burst right through the flat screen the other night. It's no wonder the Grizzlies were named "best overall professional sports franchise" by ESPN The Magazine. And that includes baseball, football, and hockey.  The city's adopting this team and these players is nearly as heartwarming as all the work these guys seem to so happily do for the community. This group has a workmanlike ethic for a blue collar town and the fit seems just right. The league needs a team like this precisely because they play as a team. I just hope the new owners don't screw it up and try to turn the Grizz into the run-and-gun Lakers of seasons gone and past. Why mess with a good thing?

How can you help but not admire these guys, especially the Grindfather himself, Tony Allen? This guy is everywhere. Statistics can't begin to show what he adds to this team. I am hesitant to admire him too much, however, for fear that they'll trade him. His defensive play is an art, and speaking of same, I'd like to add a word about defense. When you speak of the Secretary of Defense, or say a game was a defensive struggle, the accent is always on the second syllable. So why does a sports crowd always scream "DEE-fense?" Because Memphis is supposed to be different, I'd like to urge our citizens to be the only fans in all of sports to shout, "de-FENSE!" That will mess with the other teams' minds. That aside, the last two games the Forum was rocking with chants of "Z-Bo," and I thought I saw paint chips falling from the ceiling after Mike Miller went on a three point tear. Even before we learned the name, Beno Udrih, Melody and I were screaming, "way to go new guy!" at the television screen. What's better than watching Mike Conley's calm under pressure? And we definitely got the right Gasol.

A year ago, I wrote a column that said the Grizzlies were great, but the music sucked. Since then, I've heard Willie Mitchell, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, and James Brown over the arena's speakers. So, all praises to the tune selector and I hope my rant helped. Now, if I could just make a couple more suggestions. If a player on the opposing team travels, play a snippet of Rufus Thomas singing, "Justa, justa, justa walkin'." When our big men block an opponent's shot, Elvis' "Return to Sender" would be appropriate. And when one of our guys hits a three-pointer, play Jerry Lee Lewis singing, "Goodness, gracious, Great Balls of Fire." Also, the Bar-Kays' "Soulfinger" needs to be the team's fight song; only the crowd can scream, "Go Grizzlies," where they shout "Soulfinger," in the original recording. One more thing, why must they play that same inane chant in every arena right before tip-off? Let's chant "Na, Na's" with Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances." While we're at it, "We Will Rock You," is one of the worst grooves in popular music and is awkward for Memphis folks used to clapping on the two-and-four. And were you aware that every time that heavy, guitar-drenched song where everyone yells, "Hey!" is played, you are profiting Gary Glitter, a sexual deviate so depraved that they kicked him out of Thailand? Keep it simple, fellas. It might be enjoyable to watch an entire arena full of crazed fans doing the "Funky Chicken." Even more fun to be there doing it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SNL Lite

Has anyone noticed how the cast and producers of Saturday Night Live have taken over comedy programming at NBC? Now, every night is a Saturday Night Live, except for SNL itself, which ain't so great these days. With the recent occurrence of Jimmy Fallon taking over for Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show, and Seth Myers moving into Fallon's old late-night spot, with SNL alumnus Fred Armisen as his bandleader, former cast members of the durable sketch-comedy program can be seen on TV virtually every night of the week. Now in its thirty-ninth season, Saturday Night Live has been shepherded (except for four years) by Lorne Michaels, who has been called the "Kingmaker of Comedy." Michaels has the golden touch when it comes to discovering and promoting new comedy talent. The list of legends who have served under Michaels' tutelage is jaw dropping: Belushi and Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, and ad infinitum. If a cast member was lucky enough to create a successful recurring character, Michaels' might back you in a movie deal. Without Lorne Michaels, we would never have had such classic films like, "Wayne's World: 1 and 2," "Coneheads," "A Night at the Roxbury," and "MacGruber." There's no questioning Michaels' comic empire, so my question is, how did SNL go from being an edgy, satiric, and sardonic show into what's now considered prime time network programming?

It seemingly began when head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor Tina Fey, quit the show to write and star in a prime-time program called 30 Rock, produced by Michaels, which was basically a parody of SNL, including a character based on Michaels, played by Alec Baldwin. Then came "Parks and Recreation," produced by Michaels and starring Amy Poehler. NBC even made room for Chevy Chase in the cult comedy Community. Michaels has recently produced the movies, "Mean Girls," and "Baby Mama," and the bizarre TV show Portlandia, starring Late Night bandleader Fred Armisen. Fey and Poehler co-hosted this years' Golden Globe Awards on, guess which network? And please put your answer in the form of a question. During last week's edition of SNL, there was even an ad for American Express featuring Tina Fey. They're everywhere, like The Walking Dead. In addition to the sitcoms, movies, and SNL, Michaels will also produce the Tonight and Late Night shows. On Sundays, he'll conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. For a sixty-nine year old man, that's a lot of stress. I trust Michaels' blood pressure is steady enough to prevent him from pulling an Elvis and doing a header into the shag carpet of the executive men's restroom at 30 Rockefeller Center.

Of the 139 cast members who appeared on SNL, many have gone on to film and television careers. Of note, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the current star of the HBO program, Veep, also was a featured player in, oh...what was his name? You remember, that obsessive-compulsive comedian who had a show about nothing? Conan O'Brien was plucked from obscurity by Michaels, who put him in late-night and produced his show for four years. If you're counting, that's three current nighttime talk-show hosts coming from the Michaels' stable. The Tonight Show moved from Los Angeles back to New York because of Michaels. And, of course, there's always Senator Al Franken. If you ever find yourself missing former cast-members, just check your local TV listings. There's Conan on TBS, Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Fox, Tim Meadows in Bob's Burgers, Kevin Nealon in Weeds, Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell in The Spoils of Babylon on IFC, and Memphis' own Chris Parnell with Ana Gasteyer on Suburgatory, on ABC. The familiar thing about these actors is that they all played recurring characters on SNL. The problem with the current cast of SNL is that there are so many of them, no one's character has much of a chance to re-occur.

All those late-night talk shows need writers and staff, editorial directors, floor managers and the like. Judging from last weeks' SNL starring Seth Rogan, it would seem that the best of them packed their joke-bags to join Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers. Rogan is mildly humorous, but I outgrew fart jokes in Junior High. The current cast has seventeen members, including six newcomers, in contrast with the original seven in 1975. It's like getting transferred to a different prison. It takes time to learn everyone's name. Also, I am not as enamored of Jimmy Fallon as others seem to be. Like Leno before him, I think Fallon tries a little too hard, and his bromance with Justin Timberlake has become disturbing. I was always a David Letterman kind of guy, and his announced retirement might have been more sorrowful had it not been for the news of who will be replacing him. Steven Colbert has, for the past nine years, had the most subversive show on television in The Colbert Report. Assuming the role of a self-described, "well intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot," Colbert has taken his outrageous character all the way to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where he had the balls to skewer an oblivious George Bush to his face. Colbert has said that he will drop the character for the late night gig, so I'll be tuning in to find out who he actually is. It will be something new, and that beats dumbed-down, re-packaged, and re-cycled sketches from Saturday Night Live every time.