Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back to School, 2014

OK Folks—so we’re back to another year in Columbia TV Land!  Most of you who stumble across my blog will be new (or perennially attached to the department) students. So I’ll offer my typical “starting new here” advice, and then move on to what we should all REALLY care about—new TV shows! :D

Let’s start with the basics. Food. As a teacher, let me tell you—we all understand the need for grabbing a bite in-between classes, or caffeinating yourself on break. BUT—you can’t use this as an excuse for running late. Dunkin is fast and furious—Panera is healthy, but slower. Forget the Starbucks unless you know how to tightly control your arrival/return times. For lunch, more leisurely...My top picks (and there are often various discounts you can score): Flaco’s Tacos, Hackney’s, Tamarind, Yolk.

But fair warning:you’re likely to be in the midst of peers and professors, so watch what you say unless you’re in a secluded booth that disguises your voice, to boot! :D  Also, look for Beaver’s Donuts food truck—they periodically appear near Wabash and LaSalle and are beyond yummy.

Next. Basic learning tips (especially if you’re new here...): Take the time to actually meet your teachers. Social media rocks but for teachers with a slew of students, the best way for us to truly connect with you is face-to-face, even if only for a 10 minute hello. Hit us up before advising starts in mid-October, because then we’re swamped with quick meetings that, while important, are less substantial in terms of getting to know you. The profs will hate me for telling you this, but those first 5-6 weeks are “golden time” for you as students to have a session with us that really starts to cement a long-term relationship. We’re here to help you and genuinely look to converse with you—take advantage of those “less crazy” weeks we have!

Also—know your departmental team and meet them. IN TV: Laura Levitt-Gamis is a sweetheart who knows the ins-and-outs of everything in our department. She is the lovely lady in the main TV Office who can answer most any question. Eric Scholl is your associate chair this year—meet him!  He handles, well, a mess of stuff but let’s go with the general tag of “all things students are worried about.”  And please, meet your chair Michael Niederman. He’s beyond nice and very down-to-earth and as a chair can only teach so much. So do yourself a favor and meet him before you have a problem/question/concern—because you really should just actually MEET your chair.

STAFF: THEY ARE YOUR BEST FRIENDS HERE—THEY MAKE THE DEPARTMENT RUN IN MORE WAYS THAN I CAN COUNT, SO PLEASE DON’T DISCOUNT THEM AS “JUST STAFF” (particularly as many also teach and create). Internship stuff right now is Niki Hoffman (we’re hiring a new person soon, as Niki is Queen of all productions at the school, which keeps her pretty busy...). Want to get involved in making the department run and shine? Find Christy LeMaster. Aiming for employment in the department?  Meet David Greene and Chris West and Tamale Sepp. Honestly—just walk the 7th/14th floors and pop in and say hi for 2 minutes (tell them I said it was ok) and then come back when you need to. (Like to engineer the mechanics of things or interested in the mobile truck?—hit the 15th floor and look for Dave Mason...My 6 year-old can vouch for his appreciation of a positive “can-do” attitude.)

Some changes for our returning students.  I’m NOT associate chairing this year; I am taking a much-needed break while the amazing Eric Scholl takes over. (Yes—I still have all my action dolls and DVDs and books but they’re now at 1401-J. I will also continue to advise and offer guidance on the bigger picture things you’re facing—but now I’m back-up to Eric as opposed to the frontline. :D) Fawn Ring, our amazing producing lecturer, has left for truly greener pastures at the Art Institute. Some of her classes have been taken over by the remarkable Tyler Kempf. (IF YOU IN ANY WAY GLORY IN SKETCH COMEDY, YOU’LL WANT TO MEET THIS MAN—YOU CAN FIND HIM ON THE 14TH FLOOR ABOUT A ½ “BLOCK” BEFORE MY OFFICE.) Our fabulous news guy, Frank Bianco, also is gone to a well-deserved retirement—just come see me, Eric, or Michael if you’re yearning to head in the direction of news...

So...Oriented enough? :D  Let’s move on the fun of TV—what we’re all watching/want to watch/are sorry we watched...

There is always too much to enjoy in the summer. If you know me, you understand I spent (and am still spending) time watching everything on ABC Family and MTV (scripted). I liked most, am hopeful for a bunch more...But have had the most fun with Orphan Black (am in utter withdrawal) and Drunk History (just has been brilliant this summer) and now catching up on You’re the Worst  (I cannot begin to explain the “so wrong funny” of this show...). But, being the TV geek critic I am, I am salivating over new Fall shows.

So here are just my top “wanna wanna yes please, more sirs and madams”: (in no particular order)

1)    Veronica Mars spin off Play It Again Dick (web series 9/15)
2)    Community season 6 on Yahoo (predicted to start in January)
3)    Gotham (Ben McKenzie)
4)    Red Band Society (so odd it should work)
5)    Black-ish (this cast rocks)
6)    The Flash
7)    American Horror Story—maybe—I loved Coven so am sad I won’t see all of that amazing cast or more of that story
8)    Constantine
9)    Transparent (Amazon)

(side note: still angry Tatiana Maslany didn’t get nominated even for an Emmy; am also convinced that TPTB hate Andre Braugher for some mystifying reason...)

A final note on the passing of 2 legendary comedic talents who have shaped TV (and beyond):

Robin Williams was key not just to the history of comedy, but also the history of “off-the-wall” comedy on TV. His turn as Mork on first Happy Days and then Mork and Mindy signified a major shift in what TV could accept in the ways of improv and general nuttiness...What he did for major social issues such as homelessness in the 1980s (let alone how those comedy specials helped cement HBO’s status as must-have cable long before The Sopranos) is crucial to much of what we are able to watch now. Do yourself a favor and go watch a sampling of his TV work—especially the fabulous Comic Relief specials on HBO. His was a tragic passing and as most of us know, tragedy is the flip side of the comedic genius coin; do him honor by reviewing his work (and paying maybe just a little extra attention to those around you who suffer for their art).

Joan Rivers’ passing truly caught me off-guard as well. She was such a vibrant presence in the world of TV and comedy and a role model to many—but especially to women seeking to break into the media and comedy arts. As with Robin Williams, her role in TV’s history is mighty—from being the “go-to” host on The Tonight Show, to being banned from it for daring to compete against it rather than wait a gazillion years. And seriously—Fashion Police is probably the best thing (other than The Soup) on E!—and come to think of it, there would be no ballsy Chelsea Handler aiming to revolutionize the internet right now without Joan. We are lucky as a school to have had her visit Columbia last February—she was charming and acerbic and I’m pretty sure I peed my pants a little during her “talk.” Find her old stuff—she’s a wonderful inspiration to both aspiring comics and well, really, those who aspire to anything that others scoff at.

So on that note of loss, take the advice of your “elder”: Doors close so that windows may open. As Robin Williams brilliantly delivered in a fab script—“Carpe Diem”/Seize the Day. College—especially at Columbia—is what you make of it. Embrace the victories and the defeats as part of the same bundle that is what leads you to success.