Joshua Alston

Stories by Joshua Alston

  • What Would Jesus Watch?

    Back in March, David stood ready to slay Goliath, and almost no one was there to witness it. That was when NBC debuted Kings, a modern retelling of the biblical underdog story. Among the show's blessings were its impressive cast, anchored by Golden Globe winner Ian McShane; imaginative director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend); and a favorable critical reception. But the premiere was trounced in the ratings, finishing last in its time slot and thereby missing an opportunity to defeat the giant—in this case, Desperate Housewives. After failing to find an audience, it's Kings that's in a sling. The show won't be returning for a second season.The untimely demise of Kings, which ends its 13-episode run this month, raises questions about why, in a culture where a vast majority of us say we believe in God, so few of us seem to want to watch him on television. No religiously themed show has found its footing on the major networks since CBS's Joan of Arcadia, about a teenage girl who got...
  • How 'True Blood' Lost Me

    The HBO vampire series leaves me cold, and it's not because of all the dead bodies
  • Whose Cop Shows Rule: L.A.'s or N.Y.'s?

    New York people, as a rule, are not Los Angeles people, or vice versa. For instance, no one in the history of L.A. has ever yelled "I'm walking here!" while navigating a busy intersection (because no one in L.A. has ever actually walked across an intersection). The country's respective glamour capitals are even further apart culturally than they are physically, but they have one thing in common: they both make great settings for cop shows. So why, over the last decade or more, are most of the better ones set in New York? Between NYPD Blue, the hydra-headed Law & Order franchise, and the Manhattan-set CSI spin-off, New York procedurals have stuck in a way that recent Angeleno shows (Boomtown, Robbery Homicide Division, etc.) have not. Sure, there are exceptions. The Shield just finished a stellar seven-season run, and The Closer is still going strong. But given that Los Angeles practically invented the cop show and monopolized the genre in its early years (see: Dragnet, Police...
  • Jackson's Funeral: Touching or Over the Top?

    I watched the Michael Jackson memorial service, and feel comfortable assuming that not only was it the kind of funeral Jackson would have wanted, it was also the kind of funeral anyone would want. Given the hoopla that surrounded the service, I was pleasantly surprised by how genuinely poignant and dignified it was. The speakers and performers were heartfelt, particularly longtime friend Brooke Shields, whose speech rambled in a way that underscored her emotion, and Magic Johnson, whose anecdote about a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken was one of the sweetest and most unlikely memories I've heard yet. No one paid greater tribute, of course, than Jackson's daughter, Paris, who eulogized her father--not an international pop star--with devastating simplicity. That a production of such scale could contain so many tiny moments of fragility is a remarkable feat. Sure, there were times when it was overpowering--I, for one, found the culminating medley of "We Are the World...
  • Would Michael Jackson Have Wanted Such a Big Funeral?

    As is the case with any news story that elbows all the others out of the way, the media coverage of Michael Jackson’s death has begun to spawn a backlash. That’s understandable, given how short our attention spans are, but to those dreading the wall-to-wall coverage of Jackson’s memorial, I have a simple question: how are you not completely fascinated by this? What’s so captivating about the fallout from Jackson’s death isn’t the minutiae of how he died, but rather the uncomfortable questions that arise from the most private moment of a most public person. What is the right way to celebrate a life that belonged to everyone? How does one ensure that both Michael’s family, and the strangers who thought of him as family, get to bid him farewell in a respectful manner?By day’s end, we’ll get alternate versions of the answers to these questions, but issues so fraught can never be addressed in a way that satisfies everyone. His funeral is a 17,500-person spectacle at the Staples Center in...
  • Joshua Alston: Michael Jackson's Top 8 Music Videos

    It’s impossible to discuss Michael Jackson’s legacy without talking about his music videos, those ostentatious short films that elevated the music-video form a little more with every new entry. Michael was the first artist to truly marry the sound and the vision, and his videos were always appointment worthy. He’s the reason people wanted their MTV. In no particular order, here are eight of his finest video moments. (NOTE: Since M.J.'s company has disabled embedding, you'll have to double-click videos to view.)It starts with a film within a film. Michael and Ola Ray are walking on a clear moonlit night. He asks her to be his girl. She accepts. “I have something I wanna tell you,” he says. “I’m not like other guys.” “Of course not. That’s why I love you,” she replies. “No … I mean I’m different,” he says. In light of all the bizarre Michael Jackson news that followed in the subsequent quarter century, that exchange has been interpreted a number of ways. The simplest...
  • HBO's Penis Envy

    In "Impossible to Tell," former poet laureate Robert Pinsky refers to "the rude, full-scale joke, impossible to tell in writing." Hung, a new HBO dramedy, is that kind of rude, full-scale joke. It stars Thomas Jane as Ray Drecker, a high-school basketball coach with the luck of Job: his wife leaves him for a smug dermatologist. (Anne Heche plays said wife as such a brittle, overbearing person that it seems Ray caught a break, but in voice-over, he tells us this is a bad thing.) The lakefront home he grew up in burns down, and as he has no insurance, he ends up living in a tent on the lawn. Penniless and powerless, he colludes with Tanya (the invaluable Jane Adams), a woman he meets in a class on how to get rich by marketing yourself, to market the only thing he has left: his gigantic penis. Don't feel bad if you didn't anticipate this based on the title. It could have been about an art gallery. ...
  • 'Do The Right Thing' Turns 20

    Considering all the effort put into shrouding Barack Obama in swarthy otherness during the election, it's a wonder that one biographical factoid went without much scrutiny. On their first date, he took Michelle to see Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, the dystopian meditation on race relations that, a full 20 years after its release, remains the hottest firebomb in Lee's provocative filmography. Never mind Jeremiah Wright and Michelle's Princeton thesis; if anything would have given "hardworking white Americans" pause, it's the thought of their president and first lady courting at a film that features a black mob gleefully torching a white man's business. There's even a recitation of a Louis Farrakhan quote about how the black man will one day "rise and rule the earth as we did in our glorious past," but Obama wasn't asked to reject or denounce his choice of date movie. (Story continued below...)That the film never came up is more surprising considering that the two decades since Do...
  • Conan's "Tonight Show" Reportcard -- How'd He Do?!

    With all the chatter and speculation and general hullabaloo surrounding Conan O’Brien’s debut on NBC’s , it was pretty easy to lose sight of an important detail: this ain’t Conan’s first rodeo. As you may remember, he spent 13-plus years hosting, the show that Jimmy Fallon now spends each night stabbing to death. So Conan’s debut wasn’t as much about whether or not he could do a late-night variety show, it’s whether or not he can do the same show that he’d been doing before, just in a cushier time slot. It’ll be months, perhaps, before we’re out of the curiosity phase, and ratings can quantify whether Conan can hold his own against David Letterman. But for now, the only way to judge Conan is against himself, and by those standards, he’s off to a terrific start.Most of the trepidation from Conan’s fans was based on the fact that with the earlier timeslot, it was clear that such staples as the Masturbating Bear probably would get cut. And for now, it seems they did. The more absurd...
  • Edie Falco Plays Another TV Mom

    Edie Falco doesn't mind that people still see her as Carmela Soprano, the matriarch of television's most influential family drama. She just doesn't want to be seen as one of those mothers. You know the type. The self-righteous mommies who think parenthood demarcates humanity, separating the enlightened givers from the selfish egotists. She's not the kind to rail against immunizations or lecture on the evils of gluten. And yet, she can't help herself. "I hate the words coming out of my mouth, because I know how it sounds," says Falco, 45. "But being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, and I can't believe how profound this experience has been for me."That's not a statement made lightly for someone who has won three Emmys and a pair of Golden Globes, and triumphed over breast cancer. Falco's children, Anderson, 4, and Macy, 1, both of whom she adopted, must really be doing a number on her in the way that children do—by waltzing into their parents' lives and tossing...
  • In Defense of TV Cancellations

    By Joshua AlstonBy day's end, we'll have a complete picture of what the broadcast television schedules will look like for fall. The CW, the final network to announce its fall slate, will likely confirm today what's been reported in the Hollywood trades for weeks—Privileged is out, and the Gossip Girl spinoff is probably not happening. But nothing the CW could announce will compare to the programming shockers already laid out this week....
  • Television: Why We Love Spelling Bees

    A time will come when May's most anticipated competition isn't the NBA playoffs, the Kentucky Derby or the American Idol finale. Instead, we'll be swept up in spelling-bee mania. Our favorite students' names will be written on brackets for the office betting pool. There will be elevator conversations about whether too many of this year's words are derived from Greek. Morally compromised talent scouts will idle outside farmhouses, waiting for home-schoolers to come out to fetch the mail. (Story continued below...)Unfathomable? Perhaps. But the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will crown its 82nd champion this month, has dramatically upgraded its cachet: for the third year, the final round will be broadcast in prime time on ABC. There are plenty of compelling quasi sports on television—logrolling, cheerleading, hot-dog devouring—but the spelling bee is the only one to consistently break out of the ESPN2 ghetto and into prime time.Much of the prestige bump is attributable to...
  • "4th and Long": Valor! Victory! Vomit!

    "This is a football training camp. I don't wanna hear any of that s--t about a reality show." — Michael Irvin, three-time Super Bowl champ I hate to break it to him, but "this"—Irvin's new reality competition show 4th and Long—is a reality show. In a real football training camp, the players don't live at the stadium, where the locker rooms have been converted into a live-work space. Players aren't eliminated after each practice, following an overly dramatic elimination ceremony that matches the laughable seriousness of America's Next Top Model. And in an actual football training camp, Irvin would probably have on something more practical than a head-to-toe black leather ensemble. If anything, Irvin should be proud of his reality show, because as a football-themed one, 4th and Long is unusually successful. The pure sports-reality competition has been tried before: In 2005, NBC bowed The Contender, a boxing show from reality-competition p...
  • Joshua Alston: FOX Series "Glee" Hits the Jackpot

    They say there's no fool like an old fool, but to let pop culture tell the story, it's the singing fool who has the most egg on his face. There's Greg Gregson (Chris Lilley), the deluded high school drama teacher in Summer Heights High; his forebear Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) in Waiting for Guffman; and the tone-deaf hit parade of American Idol for the past eight seasons. In 2004, the WB ran Superstar USA, an Idol spoof in which the judges convinced the most awful contestants that they were talented, having them compete for an imaginary recording contract. (Live audiences were told the contestants were terminally ill.) Our biggest buffoons, both real and imagined, express themselves in shoddy song. ...
  • 'Making the Band': What Will Diddy Reveal?

    By Joshua Alston Tonight is the live finale of MTV's "Making the Band 4," and if you haven't been watching this season, let me quickly catch you up. There's an R&B singing group called Day26, which was assembled by Sean "Diddy" Combs after a lengthy audition process. Day26 has five members: Robert, Willie, Mike, Brian and Qwanell. Qwanell is hyperemotional and likes to argue about everything, and his antics are always at risk of destroying the group. Everyone is concerned by this, of course, including Dawn, Qwanell's girlfriend. Dawn was in a group of her own called Danity Kane, which was also assembled by Diddy in a previous season. Danity Kane also had five members, but in this season, they're down to two—Diddy fired Aubrey and D. Woods, and Shannon decided not to rejoin the group. That's because they fought a lot and got on Diddy's nerves. Danity Kane was down to Dawn and Aundrea, but then Diddy decided to fire Aundrea,...
  • Joshua Alston: Five Dumb Shows That Smart People Love

    by Joshua AlstonAfter Sarah's brave admission that she digs "Greek," "Lipstick Jungle" and "The Hills," I got to thinking about why smart people make foolish television choices. Super-smart, well-educated people watch terribly stupid shows all the time, but in my experience, there are five shows smart people tend to gravitate to the most: "Family Guy"I have a weird relationship with this show. I sort of like it, and I know lots of people who swear by it. But for some reason, I'm deeply suspicious of people who like it too much. If "Family Guy" is your favorite show, I think that doesn't speak well of your character. The writing just isn't that sharp. "Family Guy" is a Tommy gun spitting out jokes, most of which rely on the audience's knowledge of the most esoteric elements of pop culture. When those jokes land, they land hard, but it doesn't happen often enough. The show seems smart because it...
  • The 'ER' Finale: ... And The Last Shall Be First

    by Joshua Alston Everyone has their pop culture blind spots, and “ER” has always been one of mine. Prior to the two-hour finale, I’d never seen a single episode of NBCs epochal medical drama. The reason for that is simple: I just don’t care for medical shows. I’ve never been into “Grey’s Anatomy,” for example, or even “House,” despite my love of misanthropes both real and fictional.It could be argued that my complete ignorance of “ER” makes me unqualified to write about the series finale. But let’s face it, a lot of people just tune into series finales. A series starts, you mean to make time for it, you don’t. You look up and it’s in its fourth season. You could try to get into it at that point, but it feels so incredibly daunting you never get around to it. The finale comes around, and even though you’re late to the party, by watching it, you get to pay your respects to something you didn’t appreciate while it was still around. Though its unfair, people tend to judge shows--dramas...
  • Amy Poehler Gets Our Vote

    If you take your comedy as seriously as your politics, the 'SNL' alum's new sitcom is for you.
  • 'Big Love' Gets Unwarranted Criticism From Mormon Church

    HBO's Mormon polygamy drama, "Big Love," has long been one of those shows that seem to exist theoretically. It's the opposite of a show like "Mad Men" or "Gossip Girl," which are far more talked about than they are actually watched; "Big Love" is a show talked about so little that, until it returns from hiatus, it's easy to forget that people watch it. But last week, there was suddenly a burst of buzz about "Big Love," with Mormon groups protesting a scene from this past Sunday's episode, "Outer Darkness." The controversy was over a detailed depiction of a temple ceremony, a ritual that is typically performed behind closed doors within a Mormon temple, with true believers and participants as its only audience.  I was immediately reminded of the furor surrounding the "South Park" episode "Trapped in the Closet," which revealed the "Xenu story" that is, depending on whom you...
  • In Which 'The Wire' Meets 'The Office,' and We are Only Mildly Amused

    You have a friend who is evangelical about "The Wire," who asks you once every two weeks if you were a fan, browbeats you into watching if you weren't, commiserates with you if you were, about how the best television show ever was snuffed out too soon because people were too stupid to appreciate it. You also have a friend who's obsessed with "The Office," who can recite an exhaustive treatise about why the American version trumps the British version, who owns a Dwight Schrute bobblehead, who fires off dialogue from the show any time someone mentions paper. Well it's time to play merry matchmaker, because your friends have plenty to talk about with last nights "Office" guest appearance from Idris Elba (who for three seasons played Stringer Bell on "The Wire.") When I first read that Elba would join "The Office" for a six-episode arc as Michael's new boss, I was cautiously optimistic. I've never seen Elba, whose most known for his intense, taciturn performance on "The Wire," do comed...
  • Q+A: Creator of Emmy-Winning 'Breaking Bad' Reveals Why 'Weeds' Might Have Killed His Show

     Why is there a pink teddy bear floating in Walt's swimming pool? And what happened to its eye? Those are among the pressing questions teased in an enigmatic scene in the premiere that will be addressed in Season 2 of AMC's Emmy-winning drama Breaking Bad. We pick up exactly where we left off at the end of Season 1, with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) completing his metamorphosis from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to crystal meth kingpin. Vince Gilligan, the series creator and showrunner, spoke to NEWSWEEK about the direction of Season 2, why he thought Cranston wouldn't win the Emmy, and why "Weeds" might have squashed the show before it began. Excerpts: ...