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Thumbnails 4/23/14

Lindsay Lohan's reality show; Portlandia stars on This Is Spinal Tap; Aaron Sorkin apologizes for The Newsroom; CriticWire survey; Hollywood has a major problem.


Thumbnails 12/12/2013

A.O. Scott says movies aren't dead; John Waters says kids shouldn't write to Santa; David Simon says there are two Americas; Keith Phipps says 2013 movies go "boom"; Vulture says movies with "America" in the title go "boom," too.

Tom Shales At Large

'Saturday Night Live' Lives - Still Loved, Much Needed

It's with pleasure and excitement that I welcome Tom Shales, a good friend, as a blogger on this site. Tom, the nation's best-known television critic, won the Pulitzer Prize while writing for The Washington Post from 1972 to 2010. His blog will focus on TV and whatever else he feels moved to write about. -- RE

Apparently a new bylaw at "Saturday Night Live," which began its 38th season this weekend, is "The worse the host, the more sketches in which he'll appear." So it was with big let-down Seth MacFarlane, multimillionaire comedy tycoon who hosted the season premiere. Once he arrived on the show's tiny (and, yes, "iconic") stage, he was punishingly omnipresent for the whole 90 minutes.

We can be grateful he didn't grab a cow bell and crash the musical act.

With the exception of MacFarlane - a man who has gone farther with less than perhaps even Tyler Perry -- the series seemed to be in tip-top ship-shape shape, especially considering that it begins a new year minus two of its greatest cast assets: Andy Samberg, off to make more movies, and the incomparably versatile Kristen Wiig, the funniest woman in television since Tina Fey. Or maybe since Gilda Radner. Or maybe since Carol Burnett. Or maybe since, dare we say it, Lucille Ball?


Pey or Falin, which is more realer?

I can't get enough of Tina Fey's Sarah Palin. I feel about her the way I felt about Dr. Evil in the first "Austin Powers" movie. My eyes light up whenever she's on camera. And then, of course, there are those little starbursts she sends through the screen that go ricocheting around the living rooms of America, as first reported by Rich Lowry of the National Review.

Something strange is happening, though: Fey's Palin is not only sharper and funnier than Palin's Palin, she's also more vivid, more... real (maybe because she's on TV more). It's as if she's the main Palin and the other one is the paler surrogate Palin. In other words, for you baby boomers, Tina Fey's Palin is the Dick York and Sarah Palin's Palin is the Dick Sargent. Sure, they're both bewitching in their own ways, but Fey's is the real Darrin. If you know what I mean.

I was looking forward to the VP Debate opening sketch on "SNL" as much as the debate itself, and I was not disappointed by either. I'm guessing that former "SNL" head-writer Fey contributes to these because they're "30 Rock" precise -- more pointed than what usually passes for "SNL" political humor. (I didn't make it through the obviously obligatory finanical bailout sketch in the first half hour of the show, even though Fred Armisen's Barney Frank was a hoot).


Robert Downey Jr. plays it black

Who's that black guy in between the blonde Jack Black and the tattooed Ben Stiller? It's Robert Downey, Jr.

One of these days I'm gonna play it black Play it black One of these days... -- misquoted Elvis Costello song from "My Aim is True"

What will the Jim Crow "one-droppers" who didn't think Angelina Jolie was "African enough" to play Dutch-Jewish / Cuban-black-Hispanic-Chinese Mariane Pearl make of this? The actor in the center of the accompanying image is Robert Downey Jr., a white German-Scottish / Irish-Jewish actor. He's playing a white actor who is cast in a part originally written for a black actor, so he decides to play it black. The movie, "Tropic Thunder," is a satire of Hollywood actors making an epic war movie. It's directed by Stiller, co-written by Etan Cohen ("Idiocracy," "My Wife is Retarded" -- note that the "h" is not in the first name but the last; he's no relation to Joel) and Justin Theroux (who played a director in "Mulholland Dr." and an actor in "Inland Empire"). Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel and Steve Coogan also star -- along with some big names in cameo appearances.

As Downey told Entertainment Weekly, "If it's done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don't do it right, we're going to hell." [...]