We’ve been fans of the beautiful Joy Bryant since she appeared in “Antwone Fisher” and we’ve enjoyed watching her have a successful career in Hollywood. Now she’s taking on a new project with “Across the Board,” a new web video series produced by Reserve Channel, an original YouTube channel. It’s an action talk show hosted by Joy where she dives deep into conversation with celebrity guests while they board around. In the episode featured below, Joy invites her “Parenthood” co-star, Erika Christensen, for a day of paddle boarding and girl talk. The duo discuss Christensen’s beginnings as a child actor, her role as a teenage drug addict in “Traffic,” being a curvy woman in a pencil-thin business, and her faith as a Scientologist.
We were sold on this as soon as we saw the two of them in bikinis, but the interview is excellent as well. We think Joy is onto something here. Check it out and look for new episodes as well.
It is time once again to return to the twisted, hilarious and wildly original world of Brad Neely‘s “China Illinois,” home of the Professor Brothers and Baby Cakes. This time, let’s take a look at the four-part miniseries named after the fictional town, which brings the characters from those other two series together for one continuous storyline, a first for Neely which in turn spawned a full-length, actually animated series on Adult Swim.
“China Illinois” begins with gentle giant Mark “Baby” Cakes in his usual mode, telling stories to his diary in his customarily idiosyncratic way. “Dear diary,” he says, “today me and Dad tried to clean our insides out, with plant hairs, tree ejaculates, and leafy-weafs.” “Tree ejaculates” are, of course, Baby Cakes’ unique way of saying “fruit,” just one of many phrases this character has coined that should obviously become part of the standard English lexicon immediately, for the sake of a more interesting future. When the unsatisfying meal is done, Baby Cakes comes upon “a lonely little pursey, with a pink diary hanging out,” completely failing to notice the bloody car accident adjacent to the lost purse.
The plot thickens when it is revealed that the owner of the purse was a professor at the local community college Baby Cakes attends, and that she was in an unhappy relationship with the self-absorbed Professor Frank, who romantically proclaimed to her, “You’ll never want to be anything more than the thing I am in.” Like his forbidden romance with his Dad’s girlfriend in “Baby Cakes Diary #4,” Baby Cakes becomes furious with Frank’s poor treatment of his newfound beloved, only to ultimately reconcile his feelings in a typically strange way by the end of the series.
Both Baby Cakes and Professor Frank are prone to expressing themselves through song, which, along with Baby Cakes’ poetic wordplay, brings an odd poignancy to an otherwise silly and very funny series. It’s surprising that an animatic cartoon that refers to Helen Keller as “history’s most famous little caca-faced animal kid” can strike deeper chords about the meaning of life, but that is a special ability Neely shares with fellow crude animation genius Don Hertzfeldt, and it is what makes “China Illinois” such an enduring creation.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced the release of several exciting new products today, including new desktops and notebooks for both professionals and consumers. Continuing in the direction in which the company has been going, these new models are sleek, stylish and equipped with many advanced features, such as Beats Audio, HP TrueVision webcams and a choice of Intel or AMD processors. Let’s take a look at some of the innovations HP has in store for the near future, beginning as soon as late October.
The HP Spectre is a very nice looking ultra-thin all-in-one desktop with a 23-inch flush glass display, 3rd Generation Intel processors and an optional solid-state drive. Perhaps most impressive of all, it features near field communication (NFC) technology that allows easy wireless sharing of photos, contacts, websites and more, all with a simple tap of the touch-sensitive screen. In fact, the Spectre can be used in conjunction with a user’s smartphone or tablet, which then becomes like a remote control for the computer’s operation. The Spectre is expected to be available in the United States on November 14, at a starting price of $1,299. The HP ENVY 20 and ENVY 23 TouchSmart PCs and the HP Pavilion 20 All-in-One PC also feature this technology, and will be available in the United States on October 23, at even lower starting prices. These devices are all a step up from traditional non-mobile units in that they provide connectivity with mobile devices the consumer may already have.
Some of the most impressive new devices announced by HP today are its notebooks, the HP ENVY m4 Notebook, and the HP Pavilion Sleekbook 14 and 15 PCs. The latter are especially nice-looking, in sparkling black or ruby red finishes, with super-slim, lightweight design. They each weigh under four pounds and measure only 21 mm thick, and at a starting price of under $500, they offer many of the same features as most $1,000+ models.
The HP ENVY m4 Notebook, on the other hand, features faster renders and more powerful graphics than the Sleekbook series, as well as a few very innovative HP exclusive features. CoolSense is a new development from HP that keeps the exterior of the notebook cool during extended use, and SimplePass is an extraordinary new security technology that uses fingerprint identification instead of typed passwords. In fact, each of a user’s fingers can be programmed to a different website, if the user so desires. For example, your index finger could bring up Facebook, while your middle finger accesses YouTube, etc. With these and other cutting-edge devices, it is easy to see why HP remains on top of the game for both professional and consumer electronics.
Taking modern technological paranoia to its logical next step, the Bryan Singer-produced digital series “H+” takes an interesting, non-linear approach to its apocalyptic future storytelling. Created by John Cabrera, best known for his work as an actor on the popular television series “Gilmore Girls,” the series takes place in a near future in which 33 per cent of the world’s population has opted to have a device implanted into their bodies that connects their minds to the internet 24 hours a day. When a mysterious virus crashes the system, large portions of the world dies instantly, and the series primarily follows a few desperate survivors in an airport parking garage, while simultaneously cutting back and forth in time to various points before and after “it happened.”
“H+” is designed to be watched in any order, as each episode takes place in a different time and space, allowing viewers to stick with the mainstoryline in the parking garage first if they choose. This storyline begins with Julie Martin (Nikki Crawford) and her husband driving to the airport “5 minutes before it happened.” As they are making their way out of the parking lot, all hell breaks loose as the system crashes and people begin dropping like flies, cars and planes crash, and the automated sprinkler system goes off all over the garage. Only Kenneth Lubahn (David Clayton Rogers) seems to know what’s going on, telling the others they should be safe so long as they remain on the lower level of the garage where the signal is out. Med student Francesca Rossi (Lela Loren) works with him to save Julie’s husband, who has also fallen victim to the virus despite being in the same underground area as the rest of the survivors.
Meanwhile, the series flashesback to Helsinki, Finland, “7 years before it happened,” where Digital Crime Unit officer Topi Kuusela (Samuel Vauramo) begins to fall for Manta (Hannah Herzsprung), a mysterious target he has been assigned to follow. It is unclear so far what exactly her connection is to H+ Nano Teoranta, the company that manufactures the implants, but with an estimated 48-episode run, it is clearly just getting started. The first 14 episodes are available now on YouTube, with new ones premiering on Wednesdays. It’s hard to tell so far if “H+” will live up to the promise of its premise, but its high production values, mysterious time-jumping narrative style and intriguing, multinationalsubplots make it seem well worth watching to find out.
Few things are more ripe for satire than reality television, especially of the competitive variety seen on shows like “Survivor” and “The Bachelor,” and The Onion has boiled the format down to its essence with the web series “Sex House.” Combining the strangers living together format of MTV’s “The Real World,” on which all subsequent reality TV shows can be blamed, with the competitive dating games of so many other trash TV staples, “Sex House” skewers the artificiality and coercion involved in creating so-called “reality” programming.
The series focuses on six strangers brought together in the seemingly posh house for the sole purpose of having sex with one another. Each of them is a conveniently pegged type: Jay (Boyd Harris) is described as a “bro,” a “trim-seeker” and a “sex lover,” and his personality would not be out of place on “Jersey Shore”; Jay’s obvious female counterpart, Tara (Ashley Lobo), is a “sorority princess,” “proud skank” and “maneater”; Erin (Fiona Robert), an 18-year-old virgin, is “naive,” “clueless” “jailbait,” while Alex (Lea Pascal) is an “alt-punk” “polysexual princess”; Derek (Chris Boykin) is the show’s only gay guy, so he is described as a “sexually promiscuous” “flamboyant fireball,” but the show’s real wild card is Frank (Jesse Dabson), a 45-year-old “big daddy” who won a Tombstone pizza contest to get on the show.
The first few episodes progress as might be expected, with the desperate Alex trying to have sex with anyone and everyone, while Jay admits that “Tara’s pretty slutty, I get it,” though he is more interested in deflowering Erin, who is “totally smokin’. I’m like, ‘I’m tryin’ to have sex with that!’” The gang plays a disastrous game of “Sexy Truth or Sexy Dare” and receives pole dancing instructions in the third episode, “Get on That Pole!” Meanwhile, the males are given some “bro lessons” by Danny Vullmer (Chris Meister), a hacky comedian who makes dated references to Urkel, En Vogue and Roseanne Barr. Things get more and more disturbing after that, as “Erin Bares It All” in the fourth episode with a shocking announcement that changes everything, and the show’s participants begin to revolt against its creators, including the “asexual” and very creepy host (Chris Agos).
In its most recent episodes, “Sex House” has gradually become more like a horror film, which only makes it funnier, beginning with the disgusting “Banana Sex Olympics” in episode 5 and continuing with “Dr. Sex” in episode 6. By the most recent episode, “Sex in a Bottle,” things are looking decidedly grim for the malnourished prisoners of Sex House, and the preview for episode 8 (which goes live today) makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse. New episodes go live every Thursday on The Onion’s YouTube channel.
The WIGS channel on YouTube could unkindly be called the online equivalent of television’s Lifetime network, specializing in stories of the lives of women that are, ironically, primarily created by men. The first of these web series is “Jan,” created, written and directed by Jon Avnet, who is probably best known for producing hit ’80s and ’90s films like “Risky Business” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” the latter of which he also directed. Like the superior “Blue,” “Jan” is simply named after its lead character, Jan (Caitlin Gerard), an aspiring photographer who has just gotten what might be her big break, so long as her life doesn’t get in the way.
Jan works as an assistant to Mel (Virginia Madsen), an established photographer whose latest project is a book called “Afterglow,” which is a collection of shots of women immediately after the completion of sexual encounters. The first session features British movie star couple Gery (Stephen Moyer, best known as Bill Compton on HBO’s “True Blood”) and Andie (Jaime Murray, best known as Lila Tournay on the second season of Showtime’s “Dexter”). Gery seems to immediately like Jan and, when Mel is preoccupied with a phone call at the crucial moment, he convinces her to take the shots instead, which leads to Jan being fired. Luckily for her, deadline pressures from the magazine Mel works for causes her to rehire Jan, though Mel takes the credit for the photographs and warns Jan that she is on thin ice.
Jan also has a junkie boyfriend, Robbie (Kyle Gallner), who is constantly pestering her and her roommate, Vanessa (Laura Spencer), and complicating their lives. This subplot should make the series more interesting, but what it mainly does instead is make everything feel less focused. The tone of the entire series is very uneven, and quirks like Jan’s initial clumsiness and her habit of getting the hiccups when she’s nervous come and go without ever really going anywhere interesting. Likewise, the late addition of a new boyfriend for Jan feels inconsequential and tacked on, despite the conflict it would seem likely to create with Robbie, the ex, and Gery, who flirts openly with Jan and drops by her place to take showers (another contrived quirk that feels less than genuine). All in all, the stakes are never really high enough, nor is Jan a compelling enough character to make this series particularly worthwhile. Check out “Blue” instead, if you want to see what the WIGS channel is like.
Described by host Amy Poehler as “a celebration of real friendship, real fellowship, and a kind of community with other girls,” the web series “Smart Girls at the Party” is a kind-hearted, fun and educational program for kids and their parents alike, but especially for young girls. Often specifically focusing on girls who enjoy activities traditionally thought of as being more for boys, the series enjoyed a significant viewership boost in its first season when it introduced its youngest interviewee, seven-year-old Ruby, who speaks precociously about feminism. Its most-viewed episode to date features a 14-year-old boxer named Precela, and another highlight features a young robotics engineer named Rachel.
These are the “girls who are changing the world by being themselves,” in the words of Poehler, who hosts the show with the tongue-in-cheek seriousness of a news anchor before ending each episode with a dance party. Along with producer Meredith Walker and musical director Amy Miles, Poehler explores the special talents and interests of each girl – or in a few episodes, groups of girls – and interviews them, always ending on a “very serious question,” such as “pizza or cotton candy?” or “which is cuter, a baby panda or a baby monkey?” However, despite poking fun at self-serious interview questions, the series never makes fun of the girls or treats them or their interests with cynicism or irony. Instead, it clearly aims to imbue its young audience with a sense of self-worth and individuality, without being boring or preachy.
Now in its second season, the series has markedly improved from its first few episodes, adding a “World Famous 20 Second Song” segment for Miles and boasting higher production values. There are also some familiar faces in the dance parties that parents will enjoy spotting, including Poehler’s husband Will Arnett (who returns from the first season), as well as her “Parks and Recreation”co-stars Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones and Aubrey Plaza. Look closely and you’ll also spot folks like Jon Hamm, David Cross and Jack McBrayer in later episodes. With its own new channel on YouTube, “Smart Girls at the Party” is slicker and more fun than ever, and is highly recommended for viewing with children, especially daughters, between the ages of five and fifteen.
Julia Stiles stars as the title character in “Blue,” a new web series produced by the YouTube channel Wigs, which is described as “a digital channel producing high-end, original, scripted dramatic series and short films about the lives of women.” “Blue” certainly fits this bill, as it has high, network-standard production values and explores the life of Francine, aka Blue (Stiles), a single mother who works in an office and moonlights as a prostitute. We are introduced to her in the middle of serving a client, Cooper (David Harbour), who turns out to be an old acquaintance from high school. Cooper has more than a simple professional interest in her, and there is speculation that he might be the father of her 13-year-old son, Josh (Uriah Shelton).
Josh is a precocious, A-student who is beginning to be curious about sex and who is too smart not to know that his mother is hiding something about herself from him, though he is not yet sure what. He befriends Cooper, seeming to need a father figure in his life to complement the good relationships he has with his mother and his grandmother, Jessica (Kathleen Quinlan), a sexy older woman prone to over-sharing about her love life. Meanwhile, beginning in the third episode, Blue has an oddly mentor-like relationship with her office co-worker, Lavinia (Sarah Paulson), who looks up to her, thinking Blue really has her life together. Lavinia seeks Blue’s advice about her relationship with her ex-husband, Walter (so far unseen), who seems to be using her for financial support due to his ailing health.
The series is created, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, who is known for his work on feature films like “Mother and Child” and last year’s “Albert Nobbs,” as well as television series such as HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under,” the latter of which has a similarly soap opera feel to it. The first season runs 12 episodes, each around eight minutes long, which means the entire first season is roughly the length of a relatively short feature film, and each episode is basically a single long scene, or two shorter, connected ones. Some of these work better than others; while Blue and Josh have great chemistry and really good dialogue in the second episode, and a subplot involving Josh’s troubles at school in the tenth and eleventh episodes is especially interesting, I have to admit I have very little interest in the relationship between Blue and Lavinia. Paulson is a very good actor, but her character is sort of weak and whiny, and it remains to be seen if her subplot will garner more interest. On the other hand, the first season ends with an intriguing development involving an older man from Blue’s past, and fans of soapy drama will definitely want to tune in for new episodes once they become available.