Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Infringing Tradition

Thanksgiving has traditionally been about family, giving thanks, along with of course food, parades....and football. A new tradition has been creeping in over the past decade or so......Black Friday....which frequently has been starting on Thanksgiving day. Target, Wal-Mart, Big Lots are just a few stores that have been opening their doors earlier and earlier (ex: K-Mart will be open at 6am, JC Penny's at 5pm), quite an unwelcome tradition for many.

For a holiday supposedly about family and "togetherness", that's being taken away from a countless amount of employees. Employees being forced to cut their holiday short, for  the company's top dollar. So why not just take the day off? Because that's not a possibility for many, including K-Mart employees   . Those trying to actually get the holiday off are threatened with layoffs. Employees ultimately have "little control".

Some of those workers can't afford to be out of work. With families to provide for, they need the extra wages (as they're being paid at or near the minimum wage). Therefore, they can't risk their job by asking for the day off, knowing that in response they could lose their job. So with the companies knowing that most of their employees can't afford to be without work, they open up earlier and earlier, with increasing sales.

"Thankfully", some stores are restoring what Thanksgiving is supposed to be. T.J Maxx and Home Depot both announced that they'll be closed Thursday. According to the USA Today, those 2 aren't the only stores closing their doors on Thanksgiving. 

Here's a list of other stores that will not be open on Thanksgiving, according to news reports and company statements:
Ace Hardware
Barnes & Noble
Crate and Barrel
Neiman Marcus
Bed Bath & Beyond
Burlington Coat Factory

So who will win the struggle here? Well, who knows at this point. As long as stores open, people will line up, camp out for that HDTV or that Laptop. So what ultimately matters more to executives? The Bottom Dollar? The Tents lined up for that special deal? Or their employees, and their loved ones, children, and their time spent with them? 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

SNL: Season 40 Ep. 7

This week's SNL certainly had its highs and lows (but better live skits). A few cast-members really shined, so lets get into it.

The cold open was easily the greatest cold open of the season, and likely the best political skit of the season. It saw a "schoolhouse rock" segment about a bill....and an executive order. Jay Pharoah as Obama kicking the bill down the steps was great, as was Bobby Moynihan's portrayal of the executive order which "just kind of happens"

This excellent cold open made up for an absolutely dreadful monologue from Cameron Diaz. If it isn't a musical monologue, its a "take questions from the audience" one. It wasn't even clever or unique, just scattered and all over the place. Best to forget about this one.

The "Back Home Baller" girls returned (from last year's Christmas episode twin bed short). Aidy Bryant and Leslie Jones made this passable, but overall it was just okay (although bringing back Jean and actually showing her was great).

This next sketch was pretty promotional "An HBO first look at Annie". While it may not have gone anywhere, it still had great interactions with Vanessa Bayer and Leslie Jones, both as Annie, along with Pharoah as Jamie Foxx. Those 3 together made this work (even though Diaz was kind of absent).

There was a bizarre commercial for a "nest-spresso", for your chicken needs. I'm not even quite sure how to describe it. Vanessa Bayer was great in trying to sell it, and the dialogue was good, but overall it just seemed too out there (and I'm a fan of odd ball humor).

Next up was a High School theater showcase...put on by the students. It was one of those productions where the students are trying to preach or teach to the parents, about capitalism/sexism, etc. This is one of those sketches where you might have to watch it more than once for it to really sink in (sort of like Woody Harrelson's apple campfire song). But all in all the production-level was great.

High School Showcase

As for Weekend Update, I thought the jokes were really solid. Whether it was "if you want to know more about immigration reform, ask your grandpa at Thanksgiving", or "worst place for retirement is Loud Surprise, Arkansas". Michael Che waded into the Bill Cosby mess a bit, and while it was good, it could have been fantastic if he was able to go on for another minute or two longer in an actual rant (and it certainly seemed like Che wanted to say more).

Kate McKinnon's Angela Merkel returned, and while its still good, its starting to feel a little stale, without anything truly unique about it anymore.

On the other hand, Taran Killam and Cecily Strong appeared as Charles Manson and his new wife, and it was scarily accurate how Killam portrayed Manson. Killam really is turning into the MVP of SNL. 

Beck Bennett's office "baby" boss made its return, this time outside the office and at his home with his wife (Cameron Diaz) along with Kenan Thompson and Shasheer Zamata. It introduced a new element to this character, seeing him at his home....with his giant baby chair at the table. Cameron Diaz was really present and active in this sketch. 

Oy, I don't know what SNL was thinking. Some Animal Hour Brian Fellows ripoff with Kenan. Just, no. It felt like a cheap knockoff. 

Another week, another Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett short, this time the return of Chris Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was looking for a fight with Bennett's character. It wasn't anywhere close to the Fitzpatrick for class president short last season.

The substitute poetry teacher skit returned, starring Vanessa Bayer. This went on for a bit (although Kenan's "friends" poem was pretty good). Then Diaz came in with a rather erotic poem, so that was pretty much the bit. I'm not sure why they have this as a recurring sketch.

Another featured music act, this time it was the 2nd one of the night that saw Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars joined by rapper Mystikal. This was as old-school as they come, and it was terrific (although the 1st performance, 'Uptown Funk' was pretty good as well).

The last sketch was a take-off of those nightchat phone dating ads. It was a little all over the place, with Cecily Strong/Cameron Diaz and Kate McKinnon (whose character was probably the best here). It was amusing though, as far as late night/last sketches go.

Overall, this has been a surprisingly good season so far, with the Chris Rock episode being the only true dud. Each episode has had its moments, including this week's with some strong character sketches.

Avg. Score: 6.81 (each segment was scored out of 10, and averaged, including the musical act).

Bill Hader - 8.06
Chris Pratt - 7.50
Woody Harrelson - 7.42
Sarah Silverman - 7.15
Jim Carrey - 7.01
Cameron Diaz - 6.81
Chris Rock - 6.52

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SNL: Season 40 Ep.6

A week off to help us forget about Chris Rock, this week brought us Woody Harrelson & Kendrick Lamar in a fairly consistent show.

The cold open saw President Obama and Sen. McConnell having that Kentucky bourbon sitdown that they've been talking about. Things got pretty out of control as they went 6, 7, and 9 drinks in. All in all, it was a fairly good opening political skit, but could have done better to be really memorable.

Honestly, Woody seemed a little out of it during the monologue. He started singing about the last time he hosted (1992), to the beat of Taylor Swift. He was joined on stage and saved by his fellow Hunger Games cast-mates Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, and Jennifer "Taylor Swift" Lawrence. JLaw in particular was really good in this monologue (funnier than her entire time when she previously hosted SNL).

Next saw a promo for a CBS sitcom "The Dudleys", a stereotypical sitcom with viewers wanting it to be edgier, so it was, and it kept on going, with viewers continually complaining. This was actually pretty topical, with CBS just cancelling "The Millers", and looking to be in trouble regarding sitcoms not named "The Big Bang Theory". This also featured a great cameo from "Orange Is The New Black's" Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba). This was pretty good.

The first skit was an MTV show "Match'd". It started off not really knowing where it was going, but got its twist with Woody Harrelson (playing the host) announcing that Cecily Strong (as the contestant) was actually his daughter. Beck Bennett/Kyle Mooney and Taran Killam quickly eased up as the 3 guys looking to date her. The twist definitely saved this skit, and made it passable and amusing.

There was a short about NYC's new marijuana policy. It had everything (Stefon's voice). Woody Harrelson was a leader, looking similarly to Andy Samberg's "Ras-Trent" character. And Free Funyuns!. Was it stereotypical for a pot skit? Sure, but it was well produced.


The next skit was a football halftime locker-room speech, with Woody as the coach. He introduced new ways to tackle to prevent concussions (and Jay Pharoah's reactions were priceless). Kenan Thompson also was great as the veteran player coming in to talk (and being pretty out of it, due to concussions). It was a dark, comedic take on head injuries in football, that really showed the reality of the situation.

SNL brought back the ensemble singing thing, with a CD based off the Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga duets album, titled "Young Tarts & Old Farts". It featured Aidy Bryant as Meghan Trainor (how did it take this long for this impersonation?) among others. It wasn't as good as the Michael Buble Christmas version last year when Jimmy Fallon hosted, but was fairly amusing.

Weekend Update was pretty good, although the chemistry between Jost and Che continues to be hit or miss. Relationship expert Leslie Jones returned, and just owned it. She came on to talk about "crazy bitches". Her rapport with  Colin Jost is great.

Then True Detective stars Woody Harrelson and "Matthew McConaughey" (Taran Killam) came on. Taran's McConaughey impression is just spot on, and over the top. 

Next, we saw a skit in a NYC bar with a group talking about how much has changed over the years, the pizza places, subway etiquette......and crack....lots of crack. Crack was the main element here, with Woody's character obsessed with crack. He ended up walking out, with the group then approving of meth. It was pretty much a 1-shot/1-joke skit, but it did work for some laughs.

The skit that will be the bane of my existence, the campfire song. Right after watching this, I honestly hated it, declared it the only bomb of the night. After watching it again the next day, I must admit, I actually liked it. Basically, Woody decided to sing a song about apples to his group around the campfire (Vanessa Bayer, Bobby Moynihan, Leslie Jones, Kyle Mooney). "In the usual the usual the usual way". Too Many Cooks theme vs. "Apples", its on. 

The final skit saw the return of "Last Call", featuring Woody and Kate McKinnon. It brought what you expect from the "last call" skits by now, general making out and grossness (although shrink wrap was introduced). 

So with my change of heart with the Campfire skit, there weren't any real bombs this week. While there weren't really any true stand out "skit of the season" types (although maybe my love of the campfire song will grow), it was consistent up and down.

 Avg. Score: 7.42 (each segment was scored out of 10, and averaged, including the musical act).

Bill Hader - 8.06
Chris Pratt - 7.5
Woody Harrelson - 7.42
Sarah Silverman - 7.15
Jim Carrey - 7.01
Chris Rock - 6.52

Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 Elections: Postmortem

The 2014 midterms have come and gone, meaning one thing (No more ads!). But in terms of control, it meant a net gain of 7 senate seats for the GOP as of now (with Alaska and the Louisiana runoff looking like further GOP gains). Giving the U.S Senate a 54-46 Republican majority. All in all, this was another GOP wave midterm election, so the question for the Democrats is, how did this happen?

The Democrats had a number of missteps. The first were candidates going away from issues that work. Minimum wage initiatives passed in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota. Yet they largely ignored these issues. They ignored aspects to the economic recovery (even though it is true that it hasn't reached some rural areas). In some cases (Like with Mark Udall in Colorado), they focused too much on a singular issue. Udall tried to pander to the female vote by basically making his entire campaign on reproductive rights. Candidates also alienated the Latino vote by ignoring immigration reform. This was helped by Obama delaying action until after the election. Sen. Reid also delayed other tough bills to shade vulnerable Senate Democrats from having to make tough choices (and its not like that worked out).  Of course, this wasn't the only misstep for Democrats.

Many candidates tried to run away from President Obama. Whether it was Sen's. Hagan (NC), Pryor (Arkansas) or Alison Grimes (KY), they tried to paint themselves as centrist. Here's the problem with trying to run against Obama, what did they think the Republicans were doing? Republicans are running anti-Obama, so the Democrats are going to do the same thing? (Granted to a lesser extent). The 2014 Democrats didn't stand for anything. They just hoped to pander to voters who weren't going to vote for them anyway, meanwhile ignoring their main base. That's the biggest problem for Democrats in midterms, getting that '08 Obama base of voters out to the polls. Trying to alienate him and distance yourself isn't going to do a lot to encourage that base.

Overall, the leadership with the Democrats seems old and stale (Harry Reid in particular). As for Nancy Pelosi, she's had a better grip on House Democrats than John Boehner has had with House Republicans, however who is next in line? The Democrats need fresh faces. The DNC also needs a better chairman. Ever since Howard Dean, it seems like Tim Kaine and now Debbie Wasserman Schultz have abandoned Dean's 50 state strategy. Democratic leadership needs to do better reaching out. If not, they could have a real problem in 2016, especially with GOP names like Sen. Rand Paul acknowledging that Republicans have to do exactly that (change the perception of the Republican Party).

Monday, November 3, 2014

2014 Midterm Elections: Does It Really Matter?

The 2014 midterm elections are coming up, and a number of gubernatorial and senate races are going  down to the wire, but a lot of people are already tired of all the ads, mailers and phone-calls. So I ask the question, does it really matter? Well....yes & no. I'll explain.

This past congress has been historically the least productive, with partisanship overtaking both chambers and both sides of the party-line. At times in the house, Speaker John Boehner has been over-run and unable to lead even his own party. Meanwhile in the senate, Majority leader Harry Reid seems more concerned about the Koch Brothers.....when he's supported another big money spender, Sheldon Alderson. Alderson has provided help and support to projects/business in Reid's state of Nevada. 

On-top of leadership issues in the House and Senate, the filibuster has stalled the Senate in its tracks. This is where partisan issues come into play. Throughout President Obama's second term, gridlock has been the leader of the Senate. 

Most 2014 election prognosticators give the Republicans around anywhere from a 55% to 70% chance to take control of the Senate. So what would that mean? Well....likely nothing. The same gridlock would likely prevail, but flipped from how its been the past 2 years. And if the Democrats are able to hold on? Well, just the status quo. Now yes, it might matter for appointments (Attorney General, any Supreme Court nominations that might come to pass in the remainder of Obama's term), but in terms of policies and bills, nothing would seem to change either way. With all this being said, it really paints the picture that this election doesn't matter.......but there's one thing.

Overall, the approval rating for Congress is at -68   . But Senate and House races aren't the only concern this election. All in all, there are about 8 Democrat and 8 Republican held governorships that look like the could flip parties. In the Atlantic/New England area, there's Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine. There's also some surprisingly close races in Kansas and Alaska. 

While Congress may be at a standstill, governors have a real effect on policy and change at the state level. For instance, in Connecticut, the minimum wage was raised based on the control of Gov. Malloy and the controlled state assembly. Texas saw a bill pass that closed a certain number of abortion clinics (again, because of Gov. Perry and a controlled assembly). Not weighing into these certain policies, but governors and state assemblies can enact change and get bills through. You generally see more bipartisanship (but don't quote me on that). Governor races really do matter.

While the answer to my posed question may be mixed, it really is in one's best interest to vote and make your voice heard. Yes, nothing may really change in the Senate no matter who controls it (as hopeful as I am that we will see both sides work together heading into this next congress). But policies in your own state are in the balance, where state legislatures really do get stuff done. So while you may feel bogged down by all the negative campaign ads, its your right, and duty to get out there and vote. Don't sit back and let decisions be made for you, get active in your community and make your voice heard.

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting."

- Franklin D. Roosevelt 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

SNL: Season 40 Ep.5

I'll be honest, this week's SNL was a flat-out mess. The writing was really poor, with a good amount of suspect skits, but there were a few bright spots (and a music act that inflated the score).

The cold open was better than most this season thus far. It saw Cecily Strong as Megyn Kelly interviewing Gov. Christie (Bobby Moynihan), who got him down perfectly. Kate McKinnon also made an appearance as the Maine nurse. McKinnon just makes everything better. In terms of political skit writing, this was an improvement.

Chris Rock was pretty edgy in his monologue, mentioning the NYC/Boston Marathons, and the Freedom Tower. He went on to discuss gun control. It seemed like classic Chris Rock, but either you were offended or you weren't. It was fairly hit or miss.

The first skit was a webcam show "How to dance with Janelle" with Sasheer Zamata. Chris Rock brought it up a bit as the father, but altogether this skit was a dud. No faux webcam show will ever be as good as Jimmy Fallon's "Jarret's Room".

The parody ads have been really good this season. There were two notable ones this week, first up was the Go-Pro esque "Go Probe" for colonoscopies. It was clever, and really showed how ordinary the go-pro camera has become.

The "How's He Doing?" skit (a panel of black commentators/analysts talking about President Obama) returned, and it was equally cringeworthy.

The last time I mentioned a music act it was for Hozier. This week it was Prince, who just rocked the house down. It was a little slow to start, but it really got going with Prince's guitar rifts. Its certainly a must-watch.

Weekend Update was pretty good this week. The jokes weren't as good as last week, but most importantly, youth correspondent Pete Davidson returned!

Jay Pharoah also brought back his Katt Williams impersonation for Update, and it was pretty good (although Drake from last season still might be the best Williams impression)

This next skit was very odd, and trying to be edgy just for the sake of it. It saw the Shark Tank crew getting a pitch from.....ISIS.....yes that ISIS. In the end, it turned out that Daymond John (Kenan Thompson) had called homeland security on them. It wasn't all that clever, and just seemed to want to be offensive/edgy (as stated) just for the sake of it. It didn't make any greater point.

The second parody ad was probably the best skit of the night. It featured medication for something like vertigo.....but for Taylor Swift. The basic premise was to not fight your ear's obsession of Taylor Swift, just embrace it. This was an incredibly good concept (and dare I say, rather true. Deep down, everyone does like Taylor Swift, Ha).

Man oh man, this bizarre skit between Chris Rock and Leslie Jones about getting ready for an Uber cab. The writing was dreadful, but it got even more awkward when Jones just froze midway through (it was one of the first actual live skits she's been in since being named an official cast member). It was just a train-wreck.

There was a polite bank robbery short. On an average night this season, this would have been mediocre, but for this week, it was slightly amusing considering how the rest of the show went down.

And finally we arrived to the final skit, a 1990s-era 'women in the workplace' instructional video. Featuring Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon, along with Rock and Vanessa Bayer. Once more, the writing was really mediocre here.

So, this was really the first clunker of the season. While SNL 40 up to this point has had its ups and downs, each show has been fairly entertaining, but that can't be said with Chris Rock. The only reason the score will be as high as it is is solely because of Prince, who was one of the only entertaining things about this week.

 Avg. Score: 6.52 (each segment was scored out of 10, and averaged, including the musical act).

Bill Hader - 8.06
Chris Pratt - 7.5
Sarah Silverman - 7.15
Jim Carrey - 7.01
Chris Rock - 6.52

Sunday, October 26, 2014

SNL: Season 40 Ep.4

This SNL had some fairly extreme highs and lows. Jim Carrey was his usual goofy self, and as for Iggy Azalea? Well.......yeah, lets just say less than spectacular. Onto the review

The cold open saw SNL mocking the new "ebola czar" hire. It felt rather forced, and just fell flat. Kenan Thompson was actually a bright spot, portraying Al Sharpton as the "only NY politician that would want to be seen with Obama", but not enough to save this one. The writing for political skits has really faded over the last season or two.

The monologue was rather, well, strange. Jim Carrey was dressed as "Helvis", a Elvis/Devil hybrid, singing about pecan pie. It was just, weird (but somewhat amusing).

There were 3  ads where Carrey parodied Matthew McConaughey in those Lincoln ads. The first one was solid, but the weaker of the 2 that were to follow. The 2nd one saw McConaughey with some random kids in the backseat (the strongest of the 2), and the third one saw a cross between the AllState ad and the Lincoln one.

The first skit was a Carrey family reunion, with Jim as himself. It featured a variety of his former movie characters, even a cameo from his Dumb & Dumber To co-star Jeff Daniels. All in all, it had its moments (especially when Bobby Moynihan, at least I think it was, came in as The Mask).

One of the top skits of the young season (but 1 trumped it in the 2nd half), saw a haunted graveyard trying to scare a young couple, except for Paul & Phil, who wanted to let you know that they're just good dead guys. Jim Carrey really made this work.

Michael Che was on point during weekend update, but more importantly, Colin Jost might just be coming into his own, so watch this space. The jokes were solid (prob. among the best so far this season), especially when Che talked about ebola panic. With all the romantic comedies on TV this season, SNL brought in a "romantic comedy expert" portrayed by Vanessa Bayer to banter with Michael Che with cliche romantic comedy jargon. Drunk Uncle made his return and it was a pretty good appearance. Was kind of surprised it took this long to see Drunk Uncle for the 1st time this season.

There was a "secret billionaire matchmaker" skit that was just sort of random and blase, although Carrey's "Illuminati old man" character was sort of fun.

That was followed by a Ghost chasers show parody, starring the newest cast member Leslie Jones. Her role as the easily believable homeowner was amusing, but all in all this fell flat.

There was a walking dead/high school zombie apocalypse skit. It was rather predictable, with Carrey portraying a father still caring for his zombie son. It wasn't intriguing or interesting.

Now for the skit of the show, an office Halloween party. Poor Aidy Bryant, she was "just a woman trying her best" being confused for a variety of costumes, but the stars here were Kate McKinnon and Jim Carrey who each dressed up as the young dancer in Sia's music video for "Chandelier". They then proceeded to have a dance off across the entire SNL stage. I don't know why this was stashed to the back-half, because it was brilliant.

The final skit was a bizarre Halloween emporium commercial thing, where Jim Carrey had been possessed by a demon. Not that interesting.

It was an enjoyable, but lukewarm Halloween episode for SNL. As I mentioned from the start, this show had its extreme highs and lows. The bright spot though continues to be Michael Che, who is shining on Weekend Update, and Leslie Jones should be a big component joining the cast.

Avg. Score: 7.01 (each segment was scored out of 10, and averaged, including the musical act).

Bill Hader - 8.06
Chris Pratt - 7.5
Sarah Silverman - 7.15
Jim Carrey - 7.01