Hyphen TV: Not a Party in the USA

January 25, 2011

Idol auditioner Yoji Asano feels the music. Deep down.

Okay you guys NOW I'm feeling that the 2011 television season has started for real. Idol? My NBC comedies? All I need is RuPaul (coming next blog post) and I'm all set. Ahh, all is right with the world once again.

American Idol's new judges have been the talk of the headlines in the weeks leading up to the three-hour, two-part premiere (my DVR weeps as it has to go into Idol overdrive), but the real question to be answered is whether there are any new Asian singing sensations to meet. So far we've only gotten Yoji "Pop" Asano, a 25-year-old from Japan who auditioned in New Jersey.

As you can see, he's got the whole J-pop style down: floofy hair, eye makeup, shimmery clothing. He says he's been imitating Michael Jackson since he was two years old -- no, he corrects himself, since before he was born. Uhh, okay. Something lost in translation there? He then broke into a truly atrocious rendition of "Party in the USA" (how dare you desecrate that work of art, dude) that was supposed to be MJ-esque, complete with a not terribly terrible dance breakdown in the middle. I would have chalked the whole thing up to an "all in good fun" kind of performance if Yoji didn't seem DEAD serious the entire time. After he got rejected, he revealed that he's "not really" a Miley Cyrus fan. Well then! At least they didn't overtly make fun of his accent? And at least he wasn't William Hung? Let's hope for some better representation in the coming weeks.

Another source of joy that's back after a break is the NBC Thursday night lineup. I don't care what anyone/the ratings say, this is still the most hilarious block of television in town -- and, even at its newly bloated three hour size, EVERY SINGLE one of the six shows has Asian/Asian American characters. I know, it seems sort of unbelievable, right? But seriously, check it out:

Community: Danny Pudi's Abed Nadir has been a pitch-perfect, possibly slightly autistic pop culture encyclopedia/quasi-meta guide for viewers throughout the show's twists on classic sitcom plotlines and dips into different movie genre-themed episodes. Abed didn't have much of a part in last week's "Asian Population Studies" episode, but any chance we all get to delight in another "Troy and Abed in the Morning" is truly a gift from the comedy gods. Those two are my favorite comedic duo to come along in a long while.

Meanwhile, the omnipresent Ken Jeong has found an outlet for his hilariously addled rage as Ben "Señor" Chang, the now-ousted Spanish teacher currently fighting for a spot in the main characters' study group and also the probable father of Shirley's baby. I'm a bit worried that Jeong's over-the-top, incensed energy might be too much if his screen time increases, but so far they've handled his character with a sure hand, and I'm ready to follow Community wherever it may go. 

Abed and Chang share a moment of confusion on Community

Perfect Couples: I'm less excited about this very familiar-feeling take on married life as represented by three NOT-SO-perfect couples (oh, the cleverness of that title). Olivia Munn, the half-Chinese actress/author/general pretty person plays Leigh, one half of the couple who irritatingly strives to be truly perfect, but cracks are readily apparent in husband Rex's heavy drinking and Leigh's almost OCD-level attention to detail. In the first episode (the show aired a sneak peek in the fall, but this is its actual pilot), none of the characters feel like much more than stock personalities hauled in from the Generic Sitcom Vault, but there were a few little moments that added some color, such as when Rex describes how he and Leigh found a church to attend, then we get a quick cut of them in a Vietnamese service, the Caucasian Rex clearly not understanding a word of what's being said. (Note: all this time [I guess because of her piece on Vietnamese American farmers on The Daily Show], I thought Munn was part Vietnamese. According to Wikipedia, her mother is of Chinese descent, but was raised in Vietnam. In case you were wondering.)

I appreciate the portrayal of a mixed-race (if pretty annoying) couple, and I'll give the show another chance, but I'm not terribly impressed so far. To be fair, it's tough to judge a show on one episode, though is it me or is Olivia Munn not very funny?? Sorry, 'Liv. Maybe being around Jon Stewart will help you.

Olivia Munn is quite attractive

The Office: Now a well-established comedy classic. I always LOL for real when Mindy Kaling's Kelly Kapoor is on screen: she's never in front of the camera much, but when she is you know she'll drop a gem. This week, her new year's resolution -- "Get more attention by any means necessary" -- and subsequent follow-through -- to Meredith, getting ready to pull out a cigarette: "Meredith, what are you doing. I could be pregnant!" -- did not disappoint. Kaling's true prowess lies behind the scenes of the show, where she is a writer and co-executive producer.

Back in '09 she signed with NBC to develop her own show...haven't heard anything about it since then, but I CANNOT WAIT. Sorry to be a name-dropper you guys, but I totally went to college with Mindy and (as if you didn't already know) she is HILARIOUS. I had the good fortune to see her senior culminating project, a series of short plays that she wrote and directed, and I was seriously crying with laughter. She's also big on portraying REAL women of all colors and sizes, and...need I say more? She is totally awesome. Bring on the star power Mindy; we're ready.

Mindy Kaling is quite amazing. Also attractive.

Parks and Recreation: As much as I clearly love some of the shows in this lineup, Parks and Rec has become my favorite above all of them. If you're like one of the many people I know who gave the show a try in its first season and then gave up, I implore you to give it a second chance. Seriously. The writing is relentlessly witty/absurd, every single one of the actors is utilized brilliantly and seem to know their characters inside and out, and if those things don't sell you on it, tune in for Aziz Ansari. The comedian has been blowing up in the past couple years with his stand-up, hosting gigs, and other projects, but he truly shines as the slightly sketchy but sweetly naive Tom Haverford. Two words: DJ. Roomba.

I have been missing this show so bad since it was bumped in the fall for Outsourced (...), and it came back with all the wonderfulness that I loved. It was great to learn what Tom did while the parks office was closed: namely, work as a discomfort-inducing Foot Locker salesman who used his employee discount to buy women's shoes: "...and the best part is, no one can tell." Missed you Tom! Welcome back!

Aziz Ansari has a bit of the blues as Tom Haverford. Somebody needs to call DJ Roomba...

30 Rock: Okay duh we all know 30 Rock is hilarious, Tina Fey is a comedy goddess, yadda yadda. Can we talk for a second about Maulik Pancholy as Jonathan, Jack Donaghy's doting assistant? Always polished, responsible, and adoring (and I do mean adoring), Jonathan is second only to Kenneth the Page in terms of earnestness in the sea of craziness that is the TGS set. Who else would prepare a song as a wedding gift for Jack, and offer up his own belt without missing a beat when said song is rebuffed? Love it.

Jonathan's Bluetooth and hate for Liz are always ready to go

Outsourced: So there's this show Outsourced.

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten our old standbys...

While Calvin Tran on The Fashion Show is not familiar with Korean garments, he is apparently intimate with ancient Chinese culture. When he heard that the challenge was to make clothing inspired by earth, air, and water, he said, "All my feng shui study, all my ancient culture and all the thing -- it flies right through my head and I was like oh, yeah." Of course Chinese beliefs of the elements are a bit more universal than Korean hanboks, but it was a letdown to see him so easily navigating Asian cultures this week when he was so dismissive of others in the past. He did end up on the winning team, even with his "pregnancy" dress that was universally disliked by the judges. Congrats on making it to the finale, Cal.

Calvin rocks some dangerously revealing cleavage as he adjusts an outfit for a woman pretending to be pregnant. That sentence is entirely true.

Dale's continued dominance on Top Chef was a little unfair this week, since he came in the top for prepping fish very quickly (how much of a beast is Le Bernadin's Justo Thomas, by the way? That guy is a fish butchering machine) and then had to prep a dish using the throwaway pieces of the fish: head, rack, wings, fins, and collars. Dale explained his advantage: "My family was doing nose to tail cooking before it was even cool. My parents would go to the market and the butchers were throwing away pigs' heads and we would take them home and roast them." What what, Asian cooking!

It was no surprise, then, that his two (!) dishes won him the Quickfire and led to him being one of two team leaders for Restaurant Wars. Dale then made incredibly intelligent decisions, from choosing the volatile Marcel as his opposing team's leader to carefully picking teammates with a range of skills, particularly boisterous front of house pro Fabio. It was no surprise that Dale's team Bodega came in first with their inventive take on late night, cheap snacks and smoothly executed service. We did see a bit of Old Dale rear his head when he cursed out some servers who he felt were too close to him in the kitchen, but Fabio quickly settled the situation and all was seemingly well again. Should we be worried that Dale is starting to lose his grip as the finale draws nearer? Keep it together, dude!

Dale Talde. Bacon. These are a few of my favorite things.

It was Jalen's turn to shine once again in the Live to Dance semi-finals. The kid is just preternaturally adorable; normally I'm kind of icked out by young kids who have clearly been coaxed and trained into being what some adult thinks is "cute," but Jalen has a natural realness that makes you believe that the darn kid really just is the most adorable child in the world. "A lot of things changed after I auditioned," he interviewed during his pre-dance package. "My tooth fell out!" A stage kid would have delivered this line with all the "ba-DUM chhhh" flair of an old hat in Vaudeville, but Jalen explained it like it really was the most exciting development he could have imagined.

Then we saw him dance around his house as he explained that he can't even stop dancing while he's washing his hands in the bathroom. All this would be epically sweet and charming if we didn't already know that the kid is a professional dancer. Certainly that fact doesn't take away from his talent or wholesomeness, but there's something sad about the fact that the show isn't really "discovering" a phenom so much as giving him another stage on which to perform. You wouldn't know it by watching his father, though. Crying in the audience as if his son were finally achieving something that the family had only dreamed of, Jalen's dad is clearly proud, and very emotional -- did he lose it like that when Jalen danced with Justin Bieber? I still love the kid, and I hope he's voted into the finale. Check out his impressive moves right here. Despite getting three gold stars from the judges, Jalen wasn't chosen to move forward and now has to wait to see if he got enough votes. Fingers crossed, little guy, but you're gonna be fine either way!

So fedoras do have a function.



Dianne Choie


Dianne Choie's TV is in Brooklyn, NY. She has a cat, several reusable shopping bags, and other mildly annoying stereotypes of youngish people who live in Brooklyn.