Monday, October 24, 2005

Serendipity

I've been going for almost a year without cable, so I've been watching a lot of my favorite television shows through other means -- DVDs of Deadwood, Chapelle's Show, and Dead Like Me, and the occasional internet download. Since I try to stay on the good side of the law whenever I can, it's wonderful to find two hilarious, unpredictable shows whose downloads aren't just legal, but encouraged.

The first is the new Daily Show spinoff The Colbert Report, whose first week is available for bittorrent download at CommonBits. (Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.) The Colbert Report is just what it sounds like, and just as good -- a half and hour of Stephen Colbert's parodic, Bill O'Reilly-esque persona. In many ways, it's closer to the early days of Craig Kilborn's Daily Show, before Jon Stewart started exempting the anchor from self-parody. Colbert isn't as smooth or improvisational as Stewart -- he'll flub the occasional line or two -- but his humor is harsher, a little more abstract, and equally spot-on. My favorite segment is "THE W├śRD" -- when Colbert introduces a word (sometimes real, sometimes fake, like "truthiness"); they use a text sidebar to supplement/comment on Colbert's editorializing. If Colbert's talking about chugging "Crystal standing in the sunroof of a stretch hummer," the sidebar will flash to "How I roll." It's a lampoon of what O'Reilly does, but in its comic application, the closest predecessor is probably The Daily Show's use of headlines/graphics (think "Mess o' Potamia"), but more dynamic, less monologic, and without the puns. The comedy effect, sometimes a little bit delayed, is often excellent, and I think might wind up being a real contribution to television humor.

The other show I've been talking about almost non-stop lately is a little more homespun: a California DIY show Laura Portwood-Stacer turned me on to called Yacht Rock. The sh0w's title comes from a hitherto-unnamed subgenre of super-smooth adult contemporary pop from the late 70s and early 80s. The main characters on the show are Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, Hall and Oates, and the band Toto, along with their musical fellow-travelers. It's shot in the style of Boogie Nights, and has similar sense of humor about the moment. The premise of the show is to imagine how the lyrics for these lite rock staples -- The Doobie Brothers' "What A Fool Believes," Loggins and McDonald's "This Is It," Toto's "Rosanna" -- might have come out of the overdramatized trials and tribulations of a bunch of California musicians. That being said, the show is crazy -- one character gets impaled on a harpoon, Jim Messina throws up on Kenny Loggins, Rosanna Arquette aligns her chakra with Toto's lead singer. But it strikes just the right balance of irony and a measured dose of genuine appreciation. These songs are incredibly smooth, and catchy too: you won't be able to get them out of your head for weeks. Also, you'll finally be able to understand why Journey was considered "hard rock." Some of the phrases they introduce -- especially John Oates's "California vagina sailors" and "Get your dick out of your heart" -- are both totally vulgar and Strong Bad-imaginative. Just watch it -- you'll wish it would never stop.

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