Monday, December 20, 2010

Reality Bites My Ass: Tiny Furniture

I'm a really big fan of the "new adult" genre that publishers are kicking around: lit geared toward the 18-25 set, about coming of age in a world very different than that of our parents.  (Last year's Commencement is a poignant, funny example.)  In some ways, angsting in one's early twenties might seem like whining of the White Girl Problems or Stuff White People Like kind: many recent liberal arts college grads have parents who won't let them starve, a host of knowledge, and free time to burn, so what's the problem?

Maybe I'm outing myself as a liberal arts college grad here (in case the rest of this blog wasn't any indication), but there are a lot of problems.

Liberal arts degrees might not score you a plum job in the working world, but in this economy, neither will more "practical" areas of study.  More and more college grads are having to move back home for financial reasons.  And the early twenties are weird.  You're not quite a kid, not quite an adult.  The older generation might scold you for perpetuating adolescence, but with no direction or means of support, what the hell else are you supposed to do?

In her debut film Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham explores these issues more or less successfully.  She plays Aura, a newly-minted film theory grad who's spent the last four years in Ohio (if I had to venture a guess, I'd say at Oberlin) and is now returning to her native Tribeca.  Aura's single mom (played by Dunham's real mother) is an artist who never really held a day job, so she's not pushing her daughter into the realms of full-time employment.  Though Aura could use some direction.  She's recently been cut loose by her boyfriend, is growing more distant from her best friend who's still in Ohio, and just wants someone to tell her who she should be.

As Aura drifts through a hostessing gig and flirts with two losers (one of whom would be cute if he lost the hipster 'stache, the other way too hirsute and lispy for my taste), hanging out with her "bad influence" of a childhood best friend (Jemima Kirke, who's fantastically British and offbeat), I kind of wanted to shake her.  Tell her she's been given every advantage and just to snap out of it already.  And to be fair, she does get quite whiny, she has terrible taste in dudes (her ex-boyfriend doesn't sound like much of a prize either), and Dunham isn't always the best actress (neither is her mom--their scenes range from touching to downright painful).

When I didn't want to smack Aura, though, I recognized the early twenties experience in all its teeth-gritting uncertainty.

Because it's a time when the world expects you to emerge from college fully formed, knowing exactly who you are, when you're only just beginning to figure it out.  It's a time when you realize the hothouse university environment, enriching as it may be, hasn't taught you any actual survival skills, and you're going to learn more from  your mistakes than the things you do right.  It's a time when relationships change, especially family dynamics (Aura's relationship with her overachieving teenage sister, played by Dunham's real-life sister, is incredibly real in its up-and-down nature).  It's a time when you have to reassess exactly who and what you want to be, and even though you'll learn down the line that you'll constantly change your mind, at this point you just want to make a decision and be done with it.

So, sure, Tiny Furniture can be aimless and totally twee, but it also speaks a lot of truth.  Kudos to Dunham for not backing down and giving the quarterlife crisis a fair, honest representation.

Though I do wish the ending would have been more concrete.

(And I realize in making that wish, I may be missing the point.)

What do you think of this "new adult"/quarterlife genre?  Any recommendations?  Leave a comment!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Sing-Off: Glee, Without the Suck!

Yes, I still watch Glee.  As skeevy as Mr. Schu can be, Matthew Morrison is yummy and has an incredible voice (still jealous that my mom got to meet him in 2002 when he was in Hairspray on Broadway).  As annoying as Rachel can be, Lea Michele can sure wail.  Quinn and Sam are cute.  Brittany's funny when she's part of the C plot and the occasional A plot.  Mike O'Malley's the best dad ever, and the Darren Criss-led "Teenage Dream" has inspired obsession from me and my sister.  (O hai, Darren Criss.  Please don't be gay.  Please.)

Speaking of "Teenage Dream," I hate the original version.  So why do I love the cover, other than the fact it's sung by people who can actually sing?

The fact that it's a cappella.

You see, I am an a cappella nerd.  When I was in college, I auditioned for my university's group to no avail.  My brother, lucky bastard, has been in two different groups, one of which paid him to sing all summer.  And when Ben Folds released his University A Cappella album last year, it was like peanut butter meeting chocolate for me.  My only complaint is that there wasn't a version of "Zak and Sara" (my all time favorite Ben song).

Last year, I got into a little show called The Sing-Off on NBC, a mini-series of sorts in which a cappella groups from around the country competed for a big cash prize and a record deal.  I loved it, down to host Nick Lachey, his corny puns, and his constant, constant insistence that it was A CAPPELLA, NO ACCOMPANIMENT, JUST VOICES, DID I MENTION IT'S A CAPPELLA, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS IT'S NO VOICES!

This year, it's even more indulgent, more group-y, more dorky and therefore more awesome.

Here's how it works: ten a cappella groups compete for, once again, a cash prize and a record deal.  You've got everyone from a high school group where EVERYONE'S TOTALLY DIFFERENT (but of course the Homecoming Queen is the lead singer, and I spy a purity ring, EW) to the pretentious yet virginal Whiffenpoofs from Yale to a bunch of old dudes led by someone named Jerry Lawson who apparently was a big deal back in the day (anyone?).

You also have an L.A. group called the Backbeats, featuring one of Bob's friends, who happens to have a really good voice and looks adorable on TV.

Judging these musical folk are former Boyz II Men falsetto Shawn Stockman--who's largely useless, aka The Randy, Pussycat Dolls (former?) member Nicole Scherzinger (need I say she's the Paula?  Slightly more coherent though), and one of my personal musical heroes, the incomparable Ben Folds (who unlike Simon isn't an asshole with man boobs, but who like Simon gives good, helpful critiques).

A cappella takes a tremendous amount of skill, which I could never reach despite years of voice lessons and choirs.  You must possess a flawless ear: so you can pick up your own part in an arrangement and also so you can tune out the seven singers around you who are all blaring different things.  No divas, please--you must be able to blend.  Beatboxing helps.  It's intense.

Also, most a cappella puts a new spin on songs, unlike more and more of Glee lately (I do not need another shot-for-shot Britney Spears video.  Come on, Ryan Murphy).

My personal favorites are the aforementioned Backbeats (come on, one of them slept on my couch last year!  Oh yeah, and they're really good), Street Corner Symphony (gotta love Southern hipster boys), and Groove for Thought (oh my God, they're a group of music teachers from Seattle that include a father and daughter, and they're soooo dorky but they totally own it).  I also hesitated to root for Committed because they are really, really religious and that weirds me out, but my God, they sound like Boyz II Men 2.0 and I was a huuuuge Boyz II Men fan in the '90's.  When I was 14, all I wanted was to dance to "On Bended Knee" with a boy who loved me.

So let's sum this up: The Sing-Off is just like Glee, only without:

  • Auto Tune
  • That stupid "school jazz band" that conveniently appears and disappears whenever
  • Finn (need I say more?)
  • Santana and Brittany's manufactured fauxbian drama (either do a queer-girl storyline--please do, it would be interesting!--or don't.  And give Santana some motivation for her actions other than just being a heinous bitch).
  • Pregnancy
How can you NOT?  Tune in Monday and Wednesday this week!

Here are a few of my favorite performances:

Monday, December 6, 2010

TV Twin: Community's Britta Perry

Remember in the heyday of Sex and the City (or, hell, seven months ago when that abomination of a fanfic-gone-bad second movie came out) when ladies and gay guys were all, "I'm a Carrie/Charlotte/Samantha/Miranda?"  (My friend Bob swears that calling oneself or someone else a "Carrie" is the very opposite of a good thing.)  I will admit that I more or less participated, as my sister swears I'm Miranda 2.0.  Thank God my ex didn't knock me up after getting one of his balls removed.

So, okay, I'm somewhat of a Miranda.  But even more these days, I'm a Britta.

Last May, I posted a tribute to one of my favorite shows now or ever, Community.  This season, the show's  gone in some new directions (not to be confused with New Directions on Glee, which I have a love/hate relationship with, but that's a whole 'nother post): more episodes that are stand-alone, more objectification of Joel McHale (not that I'm complaining), and most of all, more of an ensemble feel.  What began in the pilot as a morality tale of a lying asshole being put in his place has evolved into a story of a group of friends, at once archetypal and multi-layered, stumbling and grappling as they search for the next stage in life.

It's been fun to watch everyone grow--even old-man Pierce has his moments, falling into the "wrong crowd" with a clique of sassy old people known and feared as the Hipsters.  However, one of my favorite character evolutions has been Gillian Jacobs' Britta, who's gone from bland everyalternagirl love interest to full-fledged human being, equally misguided and wise as she frequently knocks heads and boots with McHale's Jeff Winger.

By "favorite," I sometimes mean "painful."  Britta's blundering antics can be wincingly hard to watch.  Because at times, they are so much like my own.  Here they are, the top 5 reasons I relate to Britta more than any TV character ever:

1.  Terminally unique, for better and for worse.
When I was an obnoxious pseudo-goth-depressed law student, one of my favorite professors warned me against alienating my preppy classmates by being "terminally unique."  My dark and despairing but stubborn mind had no idea what she meant then, but now I look back and wince at what a poseur I was. Throughout my late teens and twenties, I fell right into the hipster trap of disdaining things I deemed mainstream and embracing the alternative.  There's nothing wrong with doing this, if that's genuinely what you believe.  Not me--I loved indie bands but also secretly cranked the pop music I publicly denigrated.

Even though we don't see flashbacks, Britta stands out as the girl who never quite fit in.  She's a high school dropout, she wears leather jackets, she's lived in New York and is a vegetarian.  And she's very, very vocal about all of this.  I like to think I've evolved past terminal uniqueness (and yes, I know this is an NA/AA term), and I just own it.  However, sometimes my friends tell me otherwise.  We're growing into who we are, Britta and I, and hopefully we'll get to the point where we don't need to advertise, we'll just be.

2.  "I don't think straight with nothing to prove."
Oh, how I identify with this Fun. quote.   And if she knew about it, maybe Britta would too.

It was revealed in Season One that Britta is a high school dropout, and part of the reason she's at community college is to get back at everyone who thought she was a failure.  It's unspoken that many of these people have forgotten about her, or give even less of a crap than they did ten years ago.

I did graduate high school; however, I was almost held back in kindergarten.  Not because I was behind academically, but because I was shy and physically a little behind.  Upon getting confirmation that my smarts were more than up to speed, my mom and dad (the latter of whom studied to be a teacher), basically told my teacher she was full of crap.

I found this out in seventh grade, when I ALREADY felt like a freak amidst my loud, athletic, pink around the collar classmates.  It made me even more determined not to be like them.

I graduated valedictorian (and a kickass dancer to boot).

Even now, at age 30, I often feel like I'm two steps behind everyone else.  And I need to catch up at all costs.  No matter what I accomplish, it isn't quite enough for me to prove that I'm no longer the shy little farm-town girl who walked slower and talked quieter than the rest of the class.  Ridiculous?  Yeah.  But like Britta, I constantly feel the need to "show" everyone.  Even though--surprise!--nobody cares.

3.  Likes all the wrong guys.
Even though she's a smart, tough chick, Britta's romantic judgment often leaves a lot to be desired.  In season one, she had two main hookups: professional Hacky Sack-er and hippie musician Vaughn, who eventually wrote a song declaring Britta a "gee dee bee" (figure it out), and cocky lawyer/fellow Spanish 101 survivor Jeff.  When Jeff's former girlfriend Professor Slater decided she wanted him back, Britta used her status as candidate for Transfer Queen to make a declaration of love she wasn't sure she felt.

Been there.  Oh God, have I been there.

I tend to go for the guys who are confident to the point of arrogance, smart-ass to the point of borderline disrespectful.  I like the ones who flaunt their brain cells in the face of those less astute.  And sometimes, these guys turn out to be jerks, but oh no, I keep coming back.

Vaughn is long gone, but Britta and Jeff's relationship remains interesting in its stickiness.  Do they have a genuine love connection?  Probably not.  Jeff's a preppy douche, Britta's a wannabe hipster.  But they're both cynical, darkly humorous, and enjoy a good argument.  I don't know if either is looking for romance, yet they're perfectly suited as friends with benefits.  I joked the other day to Bob that I may as well wear a T-shirt saying, "Looking for Jeff Winger."  'Cause snarky friend with hot benefits sounds pretty amazing right now.

4.  Opinionated, yet goofy.
Britta goes to protests, eschews meat and takes women's studies courses.  Yet she also does the robot, spews awkward comebacks, and once dressed as a flower for a dance recital.  Sure, the quirky not-quite-together gal has been around since Mary Richards and Diane Chambers, but rarely have I connected more with one.

I hate it when TV shows and movies manifest female quirkiness in the form of manic pixie dream girls (see also: Natalie Portman in Garden State.  I have never wanted to murder a fictional character more).  Everyone has their little weirdnesses, but it doesn't mean they're a) dumb, or b) a plot device for a sad sack whiny male to realize that life is awesome.  Britta and I both try too hard to be different sometimes, without realizing that we're strange already--just not in the ways we pretend to be.

5.  "I try to act compassionate, because I'm afraid I'm not."
This line, uttered after Britta and Jeff's paintball game tryst in the seminal "Modern Warfare" episode, hit me in the gut like a ton of bricks.  For a rare moment, these two stop posturing and sexual-tension squabbling and have an honest conversation which results in Britta's confession.  And it makes so much sense for her character, a vulnerability that feels real rather than put upon.  Britta's proud of the white liberal shell she's built around her, but deep down she's worried she's just not nice at heart.  (Jeff has similar struggles as he realizes more and more that he's not as clever as he thinks he is.)

Yeah, this hit home.  I mean, I donate to charities whose work I believe in.  I work for a nonprofit about whose mission I am passionate.  I try to be a good friend to those with whom I am close.

Yet I struggle with the fact that I'm probably not a nice person.  I'm snarky.  I'm judgmental.  I like to think I'm better than I used to be, but maybe I'm not.  And it wears on me a lot more than I'd like to admit.

That one line, so succinct and earnest, is the one that made me sit up on my couch and say, "Damn."  It put into words what I'd never been able to verbalize.

So yeah, I love Britta.  It may be weird to identify with a fictional person so deeply, but I do.  Might as well own it, right?

I think I should add Gillian Jacobs to the list of Celebrities I Never Want to Meet.  Because I'm sure I'd blather, "Omigod, I am SO Britta," and I'm sure she gets enough of that noise.

Two of my favorite Britta moments:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Caution, Navel Gazing Ahead: NaNoWriMo Reflections

So I won.

For the second November in a row, I got achy muscles from dragging my laptop everywhere, spent way too much money at Starbucks and Borders (the latter's spinach omelet sandwiches are like crack.  Delicious, eggy crack), listened to sixties and seventies rock almost exclusively, and cranked out prose that was, more often than not, total and utter shit.

And 65,000 words later, I emerged with a first draft.

If you've read this blog in the past month, you know about my involvement in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and my NaNoWriRant against certain writers who think people such as I are deluded chumps.

However, when I started writing, I WAS, in fact, somewhat of a deluded chump.  I really, really wondered why the manuscript I rewrote TWO WHOLE TIMES wasn't, in fact, getting me an agent.  I totally thought I was better than most YA writers out there, more original, funnier.

Then I started taking classes and going to workshops and applying for residencies.  In doing all this, I learned that not only are there a plethora of highly gifted folks out there, most of them worked way harder than I to perfect their craft.

I learned to identify my own issues with plotting, character development, just plain ideas.  I learned to listen to critiques--even if I didn't always agree, there was usually something in there that was helpful.  I learned that in classroom exercises, I should stop trying to impress everyone and just. freaking. WRITE.

It was during one of these freewriting prompts that I got an idea.  An idea that became last year's NaNo.  My third full manuscript, and the first one that I honestly believe has potential (and before you call me "deluded chump," I've had other non-family members say it too).  One year, one writing residency, and a gazillion revisions later, I'm STILL working on the damn thing.  My inner editor is a total bitch now.  And she's not letting me send it out till it shines like the top of the Chrysler building.

But a few months ago, things shifted.

I went through a dark period.  I was constantly sad, angry and stressed.  Things I used to really enjoy--like dance class--started losing their meaning to me, and consequently I stopped going as often.  My writing slipped by the wayside, too.  I felt like I had no capacity for creativity left, not to mention I was bereft of energy.  And when I wasn't writing, I was beating myself up for not writing.

In fact, despite the fact that I had a story I'd been jotting notes for since February (when I wasn't revising my latest project), I almost didn't do NaNo this year.

Then I thought about it.  I needed to get back in the habit of just sitting down and writing.  And this story was calling to me.  Even if I never, ever visited the project again, I had two protagonists talking to me and I wanted to get all of it down on paper.

And I did.

Mind you, November was a big month.  I signed up for another burlesque class, started going to yoga more often.  I have a full-time-plus job.  Mid-month, my best friend Bob moved back from L.A.--a wonderful, emotional experience for me--and crashed on my couch for a couple of weeks while getting his Chicago life together.  I even found time to blog and write film reviews once in a while.

But every day (almost, I think I took a break on Thanksgiving), I sat down and wrote.  And most of it's awful.  There are plot holes, characters who disappear, and inconsistencies galore.  In fact, if and when I revise this thing, I already have a list of stuff that needs to be fixed, which I'm positive is just scratching the surface.

I sat down and wrote.  I got back in the habit, refreshing me for the long process of edits ahead as I rewrite my work in progress for the umpteenth time.

I remembered that writing makes me happy.  Yes, I want to get published.  It scares me how much I want it.  But it's not about that.  It can't be.  I have friends who are published authors struggling to sell their next book.  And brilliant agented YA writers like Natalie Whipple struggle with submission as well.  I can't write to publish.  If it happens, great.  But most of all, writing makes me happy and that's why I do it.  Simplistic?  Yeah.  But totally true.

Now I have two stories I believe in.  And the two manuscripts I wrote before--though I'll never show them to anyone probably--are special to me, because they helped teach me how to write.

My astute and tough-lovey pal Xander Bennett of Screenwriting Tips . . . You Hack said once that the point of a first draft is to exist.  And now my first draft of Satellite exists.  Yay.  Awesome.

But while I'm celebrating, I'm thinking about how to tweak my work in progress, The Kids Don't Stand a Chance, so it's infinitely more readable and doesn't suck.  After spending November telling a completely different story, I'm refreshed and psyched to revise, revise, revise.

Hi, writing!

It's good to be back in the saddle again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Burlesque 101, or How I Found Empowerment By Shaking My Ass

"It's like this," I told my friend Bob, as I shook my chest in the booth at the gay bar.

I've come a long way since June.

Several months ago, I was at a crossroads.  I loved modern and musical theatre dance classes, but I felt in a bit of a rut.  Plus, I was frustrated with my writing and with other parts of my life.

I needed a new hobby.  Preferably one that got me up and moving and feeling good.

At the same time, a friend of mine was getting into burlesque dancing, and her Facebook was full of stories of women with awesome names like Jeez Loueez and comments about something called "shimmying."  Despite having danced for nearly twenty-six years of my life, I was a little unsure about what burlesque entailed.  Even the word "striptease" was opaque to me.

Understood or not, I was patently aware that I didn't think I could do it myself.

As a former theatre major, I was well-informed of Gypsy Rose Lee. Not to mention I've been dancing (other, more clothed forms) for 26 years. But I couldn't do that. Sure, it was a far cry from licking the pole a la Nomi Malone, but still . . . baring it all in public? No way!

Plus, the non-body snarking feminist in me was hesitant.  Could I really get behind an art form consisting of bumping, grinding, and clothing removal?  Was that copasetic with the sisterhood?

There was only one way to find out.

I went to a burlesque show.  Specifically, a showcase of advanced students at the studio where my friend took classes.  I naively stepped into the bar that Sunday night, unsure of what to expect.

What I got?  The dirtiest dance recital known to (wo)man.

At first, it was a little weird.  I tried to muffle my nervous giggles as the first girl did her thing, shaking her tail and shucking it all off.  But then something happened: I got into it.  The ladies of all shapes and sizes.  The silly puns and dirty jokes between dances.  The fun, creative choices of music: everything from Bobby Darin to James Brown.  The feathers and adorable shoes.

Then the head of the studio--Miss Exotic World 2005, and a finalist on the first America's Got Talent--did a fan dance like you wouldn't believe.  She was wearing next to nothing, but it was downright elegant.

I wanted to do THAT.

So I signed up for a basic class at Studio L'Amour in Chicago.  It's a friendly, funky little place (and no, they are not paying me to talk about them) where all girls who want to learn to shake it are welcomed with open (bare) arms.  I went in person to sign up because I wanted to check out the vibe.

"Um, is it okay if I wear workout clothes?" I shyly asked the studio owner/head teacher.

"Sure, I'm wearing this for class," she replied, indicating her own workout clothes.

Five months later, I'm demonstrating my shimmy for my friends. 

Mind you, I haven't shown any real skin: the studio emphasizes being comfortable with yourself, and you don't take anything off until the performance class, if you choose to go that far.  But what I've learned is this: burlesque isn't just about skin.  It's about having a sense of humor.  Embracing those silly puns while bumping the hips your mama gave you.  Getting your dance on while thinking, "damn, I look hot!"  It's not about the boys.  It's about the girls (innuendo intended).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to practice tying a tie.  So I can remove it from my person at next week's class.

Oh, and true burlesque or no, I am excited as hay-ell for this movie:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guest Post: Everything I Needed to Know About Public Speaking, I Learned From The Office (UK)

Hey guys and dolls,

Today's guest post comes from my pal Mare Swallow, whom you may remember from her excellent radio guest post last February.  Enjoy, and I'll catch ya next week! 

As a professional development facilitator and speaker, I coach my clients on how to improve their speaking skills. Lots of educational gems can be found all around us -- on TV or on the internet.

One of my favorite shows, The Office (U.K.), illustrates some of the, um, worst practices for public speaking. David Brent is the "entertaining" boss with a "cool vibe," who, sadly, doesn't really know a ton about effective presenting. Fortunately, I do, and I'll share some tips with you.

Below are some lessons I teach in my workshop. David Brent Illustrates the exact oppostite of what you should do to ensure success when you speak.

1. Always rehearse before you present. At a bare minimum, rehearse your opening.

2. Begin with a bang. No one likes to hear a boring opening. You know, "Hi, my name is Marianna and I'm going to talk about blah blah blah." Create a dramatic, interesting, or captivating opening. But not of the David Brent variety:

3. Start Strong; Finish Strong. Creative opening? Use a creative finish. Even if your talk is more subdued, you want to close with conviction. I always tell my students the worst way to end a presentation is with a flat finish like, "Well, that's it." Here's an even worse way:

Do the opposite of David Brent, and you'll be just fine when you give your next speech.

Marianna Swallow is a professional development facilitator, blogger, and writer. She's currently writing her how-to book on public speaking. See her in action at

Wanna get your guest post on?  Email me at maybeimamazed02(at)yahoo(dot)com. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNo: Oh No? Oh YES!

"So you have creative aspirations, huh?  Well, DON'T."

At least, that's what Laura Miller of would like you to believe.

A friend linked this article on her Facebook page this morning.  Basically, Ms. Miller takes it upon herself to deride all participants in National Novel Writing Month as delusional time-wasters who believe that penning a first draft makes them J.K. Rowling.

You know what, Laura?

Kiss my NaNoWriMo'ing ass.

Below is the (very polite, for me) devil's advocate comment I posted on my friend's page:

Wow. That's a lot of vitriol. Just to play devil's advocate, I did do NaNo last year, and am doing it again. I'm stil rewriting my project from last year, and will keep doing so until I feel it's good enough to submit to agents (which, initially, I did earlier this year, but not without editing and rewriting first). Like I did last year, I outlined this year's project, did character sketches and plot summaries, and spent months thinking about my plot and characters (all of which are allowed within NaNo guidelines).

Before NaNo, I had written two novel-length manuscripts. I have a blog and write for a film website. I've also spent time at an arts colony, an opportunity that was very competitive to get. I read constantly, and I've never understood so called "writers" who say they don't read. Writers read, that's that.

However, I also have a full-time-plus job, and before I did NaNo, my last manuscript's first draft took eight months to complete. As it happens, November is also when things slow down a bit at my workplace, so it gives me more time and energy into getting out a first draft, which I will subsequently rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

The point of a first draft is to exist. It should never be submitted to someone for representation or publication as is. There will always be people who don't understand that. However, there are plenty of us who do, and who will keep working on our novels for months to come.

The author of this column has a right to her opinion, of course, and it's true that this writing approach is not for everyone. I just feel it generalized a bit, as not everyone has all the time in the world to write, and it CAN be productive to churn something out in a month and work from there.

Plus, if someone's going to plunk out a crappy novel instead of watching a million hours of TV, why not let them?

Now, here's where I let shit get real:

Really, Laura Miller?  Really?  You're going to take a ton of people the world over--serious writers with our eye on publishing, folks who want to give writing a shot, lit lovers all--and tell us NOT to take part in an activity we choose to do on our own, that no one's forcing YOUR uppity ass into?  Really?

Because it's soooo bad for someone to think outside the box.  God forbid they like to read and want to take a stab at making something of their own.  No way should anyone who feels a little bored or unfulfilled or depressed channel their negative energy into something positive.  Never should someone use their typing fingers for anything other than operating a remote control.

Three and a half years ago, I distinctly remember saying to my mother: "I'm a 27-year-old temp.  Who cares what I think about anything?"

Then I went with a friend to our alma mater's production of Cinderella.  It wasn't great.  But it made me remember an idea I'd had years ago.  About the backstage drama at a community theatre production of that very show. 

The next morning, I woke up and reached for my laptop.  I wrote a seven-page story, that eventually became a 120-page novel.  Several months later I showed it to Bob, aka The Friend Who Doesn't Tell You What You Want to Hear, But What You Need to Hear.

He said, "It's good.  You should keep writing."

A year and a half later, I took my first long-term fiction writing class.  Maybe two or three of us wanted to publish eventually.  The rest were there because (cover your ears, Laura), they liked reading and writing.  They thought it was FUN.  And you know what?  We all read and wrote and listened and gave feedback and laughed and made friends and generally had an awesome time.  And we learned stuff. 

I know, I know: such a waste of time!  Think of all the shitty TV I DIDN'T watch!

In between 2007 and now, I've written three manuscripts.  I started a blog.  I've been an artist in residence.  I've also made a ton of friends, real and virtual, that have made me laugh and made me learn.

I'm still trying to get published.  I don't have an agent yet.  My NaNo from last year is still a work in progress.  Will I ever get that elusive book deal?  I don't know.

Will I ever regret writing?


To get the bad taste of Ms. Miller's article out of your mouth, I offer you a quote from the filmmakers of Up, which won big at the Oscars earlier this year:

"You want to be creative?  Get out there and do it!  It's not a waste of time."

That's what I'm talking about.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have two angsty 70's music-loving teenagers in my head, who need my attention.

NaNo forever!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Guest Post: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team

Hey y'all,
So you may have noticed October was a bit quiet around the ol' Unpro.  Basically, I've been dealing with some personal stuff, work has been insanely busy, and I really miss creative writing so I'm about to dive into National Novel Writing Month for the second year in a row of 50,000 words in 30 days.  The next couple weeks will consist of guest posts, and I'll be popping up in the comments to add my two cents (because I always have at least two cents, or four, or fifty-three).
Thanks for understanding, and this week, please to enjoy an awesome post from Meg, who's shown up on this blog to comment on Things TV Taught Us and White Girl Problems, and now has her very own blog, Questionable Taste!  Rock on with Meg as she explores her favorite cable television treasure and be sure to let her know what you think!

Everything is bigger in Texas. 
The hair, the sequins, the oil rigs, and, of course, the football. I kind of have a fascination with Texas - it's like a different world. I love big and sparkly things, and I think maybe I was a Texan in another life. Because of this, I’m going to share with you the best-kept secret on basic cable: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. I realize I have questionable taste in everything, but before you laugh at your computer screen, hear me out.
The concept is pretty simple: cameras follow young hopefuls as they shake, kick, and jump-split their way to a spot on the Dallas Cowboys’ famed cheerleading squad. In charge of choosing the ladies are DCC director Kelli Finglass and choreographer Judy Trammell (both former cheerleaders themselves) who demand excellence not only in dance ability, but also personality, handling public appearances and “looking good in the uniform" (read: not having any extra weight).

Kelli and Judy are tired of your shit.

The aspiring cheerleaders go through several rounds of auditions, with a select few making it to the squad’s training camp, where they’ll learn routines and the fine art of "sexy walking," get sized up by the audition judges on Cowboys Stadium's 60-yard flat-screen TV, and endure boot-camp-style workouts. From training camp, several more ladies are cut from the squad, being called into Kelli's office and informed that "Tonaht will be your fahnal naht." (That's my typing impression of a Southern accent there.) Tears and heartbreak ensue. So why do hundreds of girls try out for 36 spots each year? And why can I not stop watching this show?

Because Kelli and Judy are damn good at what they do. Kelli knows how to put a squad together, and Judy comes up with dance routines that are fun and sexy without being over-the-top. They’re no-nonsense big-haired Southern belles and they know exactly what they’re looking for. Show up late to a uniform fitting? Stumble in the kickline? Kelli and Judy won’t have it. Being a DCC is about more than just being hot and shaking poms. Part of what I like about the squad is that the cheerleaders have to actually be able to dance, and not everyone can do high kicks and jump in the air and land in the splits. And if you can’t hack it, you’re out.
And as someone who’s been involved with dance and theater most of her life (and on the poms squad in high school), I know the crazy and emotional ride that is the audition process. So much can be at stake, and in the end, it’s a situation over which you have no control, and the show doesn’t sugarcoat this fact. Some of the ladies auditioning are back for the third, fourth, or fifth time, often making it to final auditions but ultimately falling short. It may seem like it's just about doing booty-shaking and high kicks and cheering on Miles Austin, but it’s not as easy as it looks.
Despite its intensity, though, I totally want to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. I took poms and dance and love sparkles and can tease my hair and could probably eventually do high kicks if I worked on it. But I think Kelli and Judy would probably kick me off the squad - not sure I have what it takes.
But I really want a pair of those cowboy boots.
Are YOU guest bloggy-rific?  If you'd like to contribute to The Unprofessional Critic, email me at maybeimamazed02[at]yahoo[dot]com!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Comfort Watching: Life As We Know It

Sometimes you just need to look at Josh Duhamel in his underwear, chasing a baby.

I've been thinking a lot about comfort.  This past week, a close friend unexpectedly lost a parent.  This is a first for me--in some ways, it's kind of a miracle I've made thirty years without witnessing it yet.  I don't want to make this all about me, but it's affected me.  A lot.

It's never easy to watch a loved one grieve.  To know that they're dealing with such a devastating life change.  To realize that you most likely will bury your parents, and that day may come sooner rather than later.  That your friends, too, won't be around forever.

Life as you know it, is fleeting.

Though I'm about to enter the most intense workweek of the year, I decided on Friday to visit my parents.  It would involve several hours of travel in the span of about forty-eight hours, but . . . I just needed to see them.  

On the train home, I tried not to think about work.  I didn't stress.  I took a nap, wrote some notes for my NaNo project, listened to a mix I made for Bob, revisited a really good book, thought about the amazing ballet performance I'd seen the night before.  I tried my damndest to surround myself with the little things that make life comforting.

And then I went to a Katherine Heigl movie.

Let me explain.  I don't have the vitriol for ole KH the way some bloggers do.  Yes, I think she shouldn't bite the hand that feeds her quite so much, and if she's so concerned about making female-empowerment films, why the hell did she back and star in The Ugly Truth?  However, I don't actively seek out her movies that don't involve Judd Apatow or making fun of bridesmaid dresses.  

But the movie selection in my parents' town is considerably more limited than Chicago.  Mom had already agreed to see a movie with a coworker.  And quite frankly, even if I'd been in my home city last night, I didn't feel like watching anything dark and depressing, no matter how cool it would make me sound on Monday.

This is how I ended up at LIfe As We Know It.
Sure, the plot's predictable: schubby dude meets woman with stick up her ass.  They hate each other on sight, but are forced to get along when their recently departed friends' will stipulates that they not only raise departed friends' baby, but live in departed friends' house (all of this done without departed friends discussing this with schubby dude and stick-up-her-ass lady before their untimely death).  "Life as we know it" changes forever, montages ensue, wacky neighbors come out of the woodwork, and arguments become kisses become airport runs (just when I think screenwriters have finally discarded the airport run, here we go again).

And yet . . . I enjoyed it.  

Not just because I coveted Christina Hendricks' purple ruffled cardigan.  (And her hair.  And her lips.  And just . . . can I look like her in my next life?  I promise not to flip off crazy drivers anymore).  

Because it was comforting.

Because sometimes you just need to sit in the dark, passing the popcorn bag in between your parents, and listen to your sister tell you that Josh Duhamel was upset that the poster features a shot of him in tighty-whities, even though there are FULL FRONTAL pictures from his modeling days that you can find online.  (My family: always good for the odd movie tidbit or obscure John Hughes quote.)  Because babies are cute and the pop music score is fun to listen to.  Because Katherine Heigl wears pretty outfits.  

Because as much as I lament the decline of the movie industry and the fact that yet another remake of an 80's series has been greenlighted when a movie about Allen Ginsburg only came out in like five cities, sometimes I just need to dive headfirst into a predictable romcom.

Life As We Know It will never make it into my top ten.  Katherine Heigl can be annoying.  Apparently, Josh Duhamel is a pantsless hypocrite.  And I don't want babies, inherited or otherwise.

But on a Saturday night after a rough, sad week, it was exactly what I needed.

And speaking of fluffly treacle, here's my favorite duet from last week's Glee:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Best Kept Secrets: Friday Night Lights

Here's what you need to know: I grew up hating football.

Hey, nothing wrong with organized sports.  They're good for kids, breed team spirit, help people bond, blah blah blah.  And the entertainment industry spawns just as many assholes.  However, you couldn't convince teenage Unpro.  See, I came of age in a teeny tiny farm town where sportliness was next to Godliness.  And I was a reader/dancer/aspiring actress.  When I chose to attend college in Chicago, going the furthest away of anyone in my graduating class (of 34), exactly no one was surprised.

Though I do have a weakness for certain sports movies--A League of Their Own is what made me a feminist, and The Mighty Ducks had cuuuute hockey boys, plus Gordon Bombay is just really, really fun to say--I'm more a fan of uplifting montages with music cues so I can understand who's hitting what into where.  I guess I like the idea of sports, but not sports themselves.  So when NBC premiered a TV series based on the film Friday Night Lights (a good 'un, but not in my top five fave sports flicks), I was less than interested.

Fast forward almost one year: end of summer 2007.  Bob was on the verge of moving to L.A., but in between packing (him) and preparing to relocate seven blocks (me), he made a trip to Best Buy and blind purchased season 1 of Friday Night Lights.  Over cheeseburgers and coffee that night, we plopped down on the living room floor, fired up the DVD player, and waited to be entertained.

Four episodes and several Kleenex later, we were hooked.

See, Friday Night Lights is all about football, and it isn't.  In the fictional town of Dillon, Texas (based on the real-life town of Odessa, as chronicled in the book Friday Night Lights, written by H.G. Bissenger, cousin of Peter Berg, who directed the film and adapted the book for TV), high school football is essentially the cherry on top of a shit sundae.  The Dillon Panthers are the town's great hope--and for some players, it's the peak of their lives.  Many will escape the tiny town--often with the help of football scholarships, making the stakes even higher--but most will not, proudly sporting their championship rings into gray and paunchy adulthood as they work at car dealerships and/or live vicariously through their athletic offspring and younger siblings.  At the helm of the program is new coach Eric Taylor, who gets For Sale signs on his lawn when the Panthers lose and plays surrogate father to several kids who've had less-than-ideal upbringings.  And when a star player suffers a life-changing injury during the season opener, well, it's a whole new ball game.

Yeah, I know.  Pretty standard sports-movie stuff: coach as father figure, second stringer turned reluctant rising star, fans who at first glance just need to get a life and stop obsessively following teenagers.

So how the hell did Friday Night Lights wrestle laughter, tears, and "touchdown, goddammit!"s from two urban theatrephiles who successfully escaped their athlete-centered farm towns?

Again, it's about football.  But it isn't.

It's about families: balancing a career that both fulfills and pays the bills, with spending time with those you're supporting in the first place.  It's about relationships: falling for someone whose values are the exact opposite of yours, and maintaining love and respect for the ones who've stood by you for years.  It's about a community: zeroing in on the stifling aspects that have some yearning to leave, as well as the comfort that keeps many around.  It's about playing a sport because everyone else does; finding yourself challenged, revered and suspected all at once; caring for a grandparent afflicted with Alzheimer's; having a parent in Iraq and hoping he's safe but knowing life is easier when he's not around; wanting nothing more than to please Coach while also finding his daughter really cute.

And that last sentence?  Is just ONE CHARACTER.

Thanks to the stellar writing and acting of Friday Night Lights, even the most minor characters are everything and nothing they appear to be.  Just as you the viewer root for someone or write them off, one word or gesture changes your whole opinion.  The biggest stereotype evolves into the most complex.  And it's not all gloom and doom.  Every episode is a jewel: funny, intense, nuanced.  Kind of like life.

Seriously.  Even if Remember the Titans and Major League make you want to retch your cornflakes, give Friday Night Lights a whirl.  Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, whatever you need to do, track this show down.  Dive in, watch it, love it.

And for now, enjoy the exquisite opening credits music (four seasons in, and I still don't fast forward past it).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nightstand Watch: What Unpro's Reading

*blows virtual dust off blog*

*slams head against desk for subjecting readers to such a bad joke*

In short, y'all, I'm sorry for the lack of posting lately.  Life has been, well, happening.  I also haven't been reading and commenting on my fave blogs as much (Sadako and Nikki, I still love you!).  Hopefully I'm well on the way to getting my groove back, and bloggy absence will be no more.

Anyway, I HAVE had a little time to read lately--in fact, I've made it a point to at least skim a few pages daily.  My library books have been piling up, to the point where I've started putting them on my floor rather than my nightstand, to avoid them toppling onto my cat.   And speaking of nightstands, one of my favorite features on Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog is "Nightstand Watch," where the blogger, then the commenters, share what they're currently reading.  This week, I come to you with a little Nightstand Watch of my own.  Here are four books I've read recently, and the one I'm currently reading, in no particular order:

1.  Good Enough to Eat (Stacey Ballis)
I met fellow Chicagoan Stacey Ballis on the same night I met Jen Lancaster, at a reading/signing for Stacey's book The Spinster Sisters.  I've really enjoyed all four of Ms. Ballis' previous novels: her female characters are empowered by their imperfections, extremely intelligent, and have a great sense of fun.  Plus, her love for the Windy City shines through in every word, and there's just something about authors and auteurs who get Chicago locations exactly right, as opposed to just throwing in "Sears Tower" and "Marshall Fields" (or, ahem, "Willis Tower" and "Macy's," BOO) every other sentence.

With this in mind, I really wanted to like her latest, Good Enough to Eat.  I even bought it as opposed to borrowing, because I like to support my fave writers who aren't New York Times-bestsellers (yet).  And the concept had so much potential: an overweight lawyer goes to cooking school, opens her own organic food business, loses half her body weight, and THEN loses her husband to a woman twice her new size.  I love anything to do with food (which is why I'm still watching Top Chef Just Desserts even though I HATE Seth and his whiny mommy fixation), and exploring a woman's complex relationship with it sounded even better.  And yet . . . I was disappointed.  The writing felt a little lazy, the characters were cliches (hi, sassy yet supportive gay friend!  howyadoin, wise African American soul food chef!  what's happenin', flaky Manic Pixie Dream Girl with pink hair?), and I thought the straight men (MPDG's boyfriend in particular) got away with so much shit without consequence.  While I did enjoy the narrator's voice, the food descriptions, and the cool low-fat and full-fat recipes, most of Good Enough to Eat left me hungry.  Try Ms. Ballis' first four books, particularly Inappropriate Men and The Spinster Sisters, before you pick up this one.

2.  A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love and Faith in Stages (Kristin Chenoweth)
So I used to haaaaaate Kristin Chenoweth.  To the point where when her name was mentioned, I'd go to the bathroom and fake vomiting sounds, attempt to asphyxiate myself with a pink pillow, or just yell, "ARRRGH I WANNA KICK PUPPIES."  I mean, she's just so tiny!  And adorable!  And squeaky!  And uber-Christian!

And genuinely talented and (if her book is to be believed) hardworking.


Therefore, recommending Chenoweth's autobiography is the bloggy equivalent of me eating crow.  Big, fat, juicy, feathery crow.  What can I say?  She's totally got the wrong voice for the lead female in the Promises, Promises revival, but pulls it off anyway.  She won me over on Glee by singing a seductive cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire" with hottie patottie Matthew Morrison while twirling around a skating rink.  Most of all, the lady seems to be a genuine Christian, in that she's actually nice to people.  The fact that she regrets her 700 Club appearance and spoke up loudly on Sean Hayes' behalf (he plays a straight dude in Promises, Promises), well, I kinda dig that a lot.  So sing on, Ms. Chenoweth.  I've put out my white flag, then replaced it with a pink glittery one that would make Glinda proud.

3.  Hard and Fast (Erin McCarthy)
Yup, I'm still into romance novels.  After the most stressful of days, there's nothing quite like some sexy escapism in 350 pages or less.  Just like I thought I'd never be in to romance novels, I REALLY thought I'd never be into romance novels featuring race car drivers.  I mean, I poke fun at my dad's NASCAR-viewing habit on a daily basis, and Talladega Nights on TBS never fails to crack me up ("I am a NASCAR wife, Ricky!  I do not work!").  But thanks to the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I was introduced to Erin McCarthy's series where Sundays are king, cars are life and sex is really, really hot.  Also, the good ole boys who drive find themselves attracted to women who are talented, smart and have really great dialogue.  In Hard and Fast, dyslexic driver Ty falls for grad student Imogen and Shakespearean sparks fly.  Yes, there is Shakespeare and race car driving in the same book.  And it totally works.  Who knew?

4.  The Kid (Dan Savage)
Despite idly reading his explicitly frank advice column for years, and enjoying the hell out of The Commitment, his book on relationships, I consider myself a recent Dan Savage convert.  The dude is a dirty, fetish-y god, and I would totally stalk him in Seattle if he were into vaginas.  Don't believe me?  Check out his inspirational It Gets Better project on YouTube, or subscribe to his fantastic Savage Love podcast, where he doles out wisdom on everything from boobs to bondage with the vocal acumen of Wolfman Jack.  Or read The Kid, his 1999 memoir about adopting a child with his boyfriend Terry.  I have no desire whatsoever for spawn, but I was alternately cracking up and choking up the whole time.  Dan, on the .00001% chance you're reading this, I heart you from the depths of my Catholic-girl soul, and can't wait to hear you speak at the Chicago Humanities Festival next month.  Can I have a hug?

5.  Last Night at Chateau Marmont (Lauren Weisberger)
I've always thought Lauren Weisberger got a bad rap.  Granted, she's probably laughing all the way to the bank, after her first book The Devil Wears Prada was adapted into a fairly successful and pretty funny movie, but critics seem to haaaate her.  Look, not everything can be War and Peace.  And you know what?  Her characters may come off shallow and entitled at times, but the woman worked for Anna fucking Wintour, for God's sake.  She probably STILL has scars and eating issues!  When it comes to protagonists, however, I think nutritionist Brooke of Last Night at Chateau Marmont is my favorite.  Brooke is sweet, hardworking, and believably struggling to adjust to the fact that her husband, whose musical dreams she has financially and emotionally supported for years, is now an overnight sensation.  Brooke doesn't feel entitled to anything, just respect and equal support from her rock-star spouse.  This is a fun, fast read (I'm almost at the end and I just started yesterday), probably not worth the hardcover price, but definitely worth a good ol' fashioned borrow.

Because I STILL feel guilty about not posting lately, here's a fun video for thy pains:

What are YOU reading right now?  Any recommendations/stay-the-hell-away-from-this-book(s)? On a sorta-related thought, anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year?  Anyone out there?  Leave a comment!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Think I'm in Love: Podcasts

In the midst of stress and worry, can come something new and wonderful.

Back when I was mired in law school misery, I listened to music constantly.  Because I was hungry for new tunes in my ears to relieve the darkness in my heart, I accepted any and all suggestions from friends, and discovered The Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, and the Broadway brilliance that is Avenue Q.  (Because I have yet to meet an individual whose day ISN'T automatically brightened upon hearing "It Sucks to Be Me.")  I clutched my iPod lifeline and learned all the words, and eventually things got better.

Right now, I'm still in a funk.

And I have discovered podcasts.

Late to the party, I know.  I'd previously rejected podcasts as being waaaaay too "This American Life."

Unpro's Sidebar re: "This American Life"
I do not enjoy "This American Life."  Though I was never a big O.C. fan, I think Summer said it all with the following: "Is that where a bunch of pretentious hipsters talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?  God!"

I always figured: why listen to talk talk talk when I can groove on the sidewalk?  But then I opened my closed little mind, and discovered podcasts provide a different kind of groove.  A slow burn, a calm voice, a giggle.  A just-what-I-need-right-now buzz.  And they're FREE.

When I asked my friends to share their faves, getting through the day got just the tiniest bit easier.  And every little step helps, right?

Below are some podcasts I now heart, in chronological order of when I discovered them.  Better late than never, right?

I first discovered yoga podcasts shortly before embarking on my writing residency.  The small town I would call home for two whole weeks wasn't exactly bursting with yoga studios, and I'm not yet at the point where I can comfortably practice on my own.  Behold: YogaDownloads, which provides 25-minute yoga sessions, gentle voices, and user-friendly poses.  In my little writer's studio, I could take breaks and get my namaste on.  Awesome.

2.  The Nerdist
Nothing is more fun than listening to Jon Hamm goof on pubic-hair beards.  I totally hated Singled Out in high school, but host Chris Hardwick's come a long way: dude is genuinely funny, and appreciative of the funny in everyone else.  Where else can you hear Joel McHale's best Transformers impersonation, Weird Al geeking out over Malcolm McDowell, and the Muppets dish on social media?  Comedy is both an art and a science, and listening to The Nerdist provides one hell of an education on the form.

3.  The Moth
For those of you who are unaware (like, ahem, me), The Moth is a storytelling slam taking place in New York, L.A., Chicago, and any city that can get a grant.  It's essentially an open mic with a different theme each time, and performers cannot use notes.  Improv was never my strong point, and I'm sure I'd be floundering were I given a turn at the mic.  However, the ones who are good at this, are really, really good.  Listen to author Meg Wolitzer recount her first experience with love, and her camp boyfriend's dogged attempts to get to "first base."  You'll be laughing all the way to work.

4.  Doug Loves Movies
Comedian Doug Benson presents a sort of Nerdist on celluloid: instead of comedy being the main topic, it's movies.  Stand-ups and stars like Steve Agee and Ellen Page, respectively, join Doug in live shows to dish on what they've been watching lately.  However, the highlight of every podcast is when everyone plays "Leonard Maltin," a "Name That Tune" for movie geeks.  I'm sad to admit I correctly guessed that a movie from 1993 featuring a bunch of random people was To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.

5.  Savage Love
I'd been a fan of Dan Savage's explicitly frank writing for years (try his weekly print/online column or his book on relationships, Committed).  He's bitchy, biting and most importantly, nonjudgmental.  Name a kink, a fetish, a problem in the bedroom, and he'll give it to you straight (pun intended), with a wicked sense of humor.  But as fantastic as reading Savage Love is, there's something about hearing this dude school people over the phone.  He's the best kind of call-in show host there is, Sleepless in Seattle if Meg Ryan had a foot fetish.

Know any more good 'uns?  Leave a comment!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy: Top 5 Video Pick-Me-Ups

So I've been a little sad of late.

This is hard for me to admit.  I mean, most aspects of my life are fabulous, and a vast improvement over several years ago, when I was in law school and battling depression and anxiety.  And with the vast amount of suffering going on in the world, I always feel guilty whining about myself.

Still, some personal things in the last few weeks have me feeling down.  And I don't like it at all.

Besides the usual coping mechanisms--exercise, healthy food, reading, talking to friends--I've found some sanctuary in silly TV and videos.  Whatever works, right?  Below are five visual stimulants that can make me laugh, even when I feel like crying.

1.  Hellcats
Even if the words "CW" and "Bring It On goes to college" didn't sell me, the involvement of Ashley Tisdale (whose Sharpay in the High School Musical films reminded me a bit too much of teenage Unpro) and Aly Michalka (who was excellent in the cute-teen-movie-that-nobody-saw Bandslam) would get me to watch in a heartbeat.  And true, it's not a completely flawless show: at times the heroine, a prelaw student who reluctantly joins her school's competitive cheer squad to replace her lost scholarship, comes off a little TOO snarky.  Also, the "adult" plots are completely boring: more locker room and pom pom shenanigans, please.  That said, there's a lot of things I like: I like how the show's set in Memphis and not L.A.  I like the diverse cast, and how the potential love interest for the blonde white girl is African American.  (Yes, you see that more than you used to.  Still not a lot.)  And I'm a sucker for a good dance number.  Hellcats is mind candy at its sweetest.  I can't complain when Sharpay is gracing my TV.

2.  Joel McHale and a surprise guest on Countdown With Keith Olbermann
You thought my pick-me-up list wouldn't include my #1 celeb crush?  Think again.  When I commented on a Jezebel post regarding celeb fidelity a while back, a fellow Jez alerted me to what is possibly the most adorable video ever.  Anyone who's heard Joel's stand-up comedy knows all about his older son Eddie, but second child Isaac doesn't get as much spotlight (then again, Isaac's only two).  Not the case in this clip from Keith Olbermann's Countdown, filmed shortly after President Obama's election in 2008.  In what was probably a last-minute decision, Joel rattles off political commentary and banters with Keith, while simultaneously wrangling his giraffe sleeper-clad younger son.  Yeah, I don't even want kids and this clip had my ovaries in overdrive.  Four letters: D.I.L.F.

3.  "Two Worlds Collide" (Saturday Night Live)
From the category of Comedy Shorts That Shouldn't Work But Inexplicably Do comes this little gem, in which the adorable Andy Samberg raps about his love for "America's Sweetheart" Reba McEntire (Kenan Thompson).  Yes, Kenan Thompson plays Reba McEntire.  I remember when the short first aired, as part of the Saturday Night Live hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (celeb crush #3).  I spent the first half shaking my head in confusion, and the second half cracking up.  And it holds up on near-daily repeat viewings.  Just trust me and click Play. I'm Reba!

4.  "New Senator" (Saturday Night Live)
As you've probably guessed, I'm not one of those SNL purists who constantly goes on about how the show's sucked since Joe Piscopo left to concentrate on his burgeoning movie career.  Yes, some sketches are better than others.  But if you've got a genuinely funny host who really commits to the material, there are belly laughs to be had.  Case in point: Jon Hamm (celeb crush #2), whose two hosting gigs in as many years have yielded some new classics.  In this sketch, Hamm dons a pretty impressive Massachusetts accent to play Senator Scott Brown, who goes from party enemy to object of lust for the Democratic contingent.  Oh, and he's in skimpy outfits.  YES.

5.  Burlesque trailer
Recently, my best friend Bob announced his decision to move back to Chicago.  I can't lie: the fact that I won't have to travel 2,000 miles to hang out with him come November is part of what's getting me through the day.  Upon seeing the trailer for Burlesque, I immediately informed Bob that he will be my date to what is sure to be a glittery train wreck.  Cher advising Christina Aguilera on make-up application!  Kristen Bell goes from Veronica Mars to dance club diva!  Stanley Tucci with his hot bald head and requisite one-liners!  Vocal riffs!  Costumes!  Did I mention CHER?  Oh yes.  There will be cocktails.  And then there will be Burlesque.

Hope you enjoyed my rundown of tele-giggles.  What are your favorite pick-me-ups?  Leave a comment!