Ah, the pleasures of overacting

At the right times, bad really can be good. From a "Love Story" or "Gone With the Wind" spoof by Carol Burnett to "The Californians" on "Saturday Night Live," there can be fun in starting with an exaggerated tale and then cranking the acting to overload. The latest to try are some former "SNL" people who made "The Spoils of Babylon." If you get IFC (via satellite or digital cable), you can catch the entire six-part, three-hour spoof Thursday; here's the story I sent to papers:


This is the sort of job some actors savor:

Forget about subtlety and sub-text and such. Just take a deliberately
bad drama and crank it up.

“It’s always fun to do something overly dramatic and not
worry if you’re doing a good job acting,” Kristen Wiig said. “(You’re) trying
to do it badly.”

That’s in “The Spoils of Babylon,” which some viewers can
catch in full Thursday. It’s a comically exaggerated version of an old-time,
soap-style miniseries; it also gives its cast a sort of double responsibility. “You
get to play a bad actor playing a part,” Tobey Maguire said.

In “Spoils,” he’s Devon Morehouse, the adopted brother (and
forbidden lover) of Cynthia Morehouse (Wiig). Others include Tim Robbins,
Jessica Alba and Val Kilmer; in the finale, Haley Joel Osment, as Winston
Morehouse, seeks revenge. “Getting to play the evil, sort of black-hearted
bastard in this one was pretty fun,” Osment said.

And in many roles -- icluding author Eric Jonrosh – there’s
Will Ferrell, who’s at the center of this.

Ferrell and writer Adam McKay created Funny or Die as a sort
of Internet playground, making short comedy films. Then that kept expanding.
There are TV series, a new production facility and now this short (six-part,
three-hour) miniseries.

On “Saturday Night Live,” their colleagues have done mock
soap operas, first “Casa de mi Padre” and then “The Californians.” Later, the
two “Casa” writers -- Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele – wrote “Spoils”;
Piedmont directed and they rounded up stars.

“We all had different actor names on set,” Wiig said. “We
didn’t go by our real names.”

On other days, they could take serious roles – currently Maguire
is in “Labor Day” and Wiig is in “Walter Mitty.” At Funny or Die, they could
simply be overwrought actors in the overwritten “Spoils.”

“The Spoils of Babylon” finale debuts at 10 p.m.
Thursday on IFC (formerly Independent Film Channel), generally via satellite or
digital cable; the five previous episodes rerun, 7:30-10 p.m.

Finale reruns that night at 1 a.m.; then the
last two episodes rerun from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 p.m. to midnight

Entire miniseries reruns in two chunks, from
4:30-6 a.m. Feb. 13-14.

Facing steep obstacles, former Amish find new lives

On a pleasant California afternoon, Naomi Kramer visited the Santa Monica Pier. It's a place of bright lights and cheery noises ... worlds away from her Amish childhood in Missouri.

Earlier that day, she and others told reporters about the complex notion of leaving the Amish and starting a new life. Here's the story I sent to papers:


As a freshman, Naomi Kramer found everything about college
perplexing. That started with the first task – her psychology teacher wanted
everyone to send an E-mail.

“I went to a computer lab to ask them for help … and they
looked at me like I was crazy,” she said. “Like, who – at 21 years old –
doesn’t know how to E-mail?”

That was just the start of what she didn’t know. Her
education consisted of eight years in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in
Pennsylvania; she had “very basic math,” no science, limited prospects.

And now? At 28, Kramer – featured Tuesday on PBS’ “American
Experience” -- is a registered nurse with a college degree; she’s a leader of a
program that recently gave its first scholarships to former Amish people. “We
had 12 applications this year; I bawled when I read them.”

All 12 were from women, she said. “I think men do OK with
their construction skills.”

One example is Levi Shetler, also featured in “The Amish:
Shunned,” the PBS film. “I wanted to experience something greater,” he said,
“like go out, drive a vehicle or have fun – be free, basically.” Now he does
construction work and Online marketing.

By comparison, Kramer said, many women ponder nursing, finding
instant obstacles. “There are Amish women who could not complete science
courses because (science) was a foreign language to them.”

Her own upbringing wasn’t one of the most strict. Her family
had indoor plumbing; Shetler’s didn’t. Her parents also gave some leeway for
her reading. They approved the “Little House on the Prairie” books; they
reluctantly allowed the “Sweet Valley High” ones.

Still, schooling was limited. Kramer struggled to get her
high-school-equivalency degree, then for five years she worked as a waitress
while putting herself through Goshen College, in Indiana.

Now she works at the Goshen hospital. Her own parents remain
in the Amish community, but are cordial to her; “they are very nice, I’m
lucky.” She married a man who had left an Amish community with his family. “I’m
very much accepted by his family,” she said.

Others feel more personal strain. “It’s really hard to leave
(my family) behind,” Shetler said.

The people back home try to ignore personal pain, said
Callie Wiser, producer of the PBS film. “The (Amish) survived so long because
they do put their individuality below the good of the community.”

Still, Kramer said, there’s pain on both sides. She talks of
her 16-year-old brother. “He’s very smart. He would have so many opportunities,
but he … doesn’t know what’s out there.”

“The Amish: Shunned,” 9-11 p.m. Tuesday, PBS,
under the “American Experience” banner

Preceded by a rerun of the second half of “The
Amish,” at 8; check local listings

Info on scholarships and success stories: www.amishscholarship.com

Super Sunday: Her's the 12-hour rundown

OK, by now we should be geared up for Super Bowl Sunday. My two previous blogs offered an overview and a profile of Terry Crews, former pro football player who reaches the Super day via acting. Now here's the third of the three stories I sent to papers; it offers a chronological rundown.


Here’s a quick journey through Super Bowl Sunday; starting
at noon, everything is on Fox:

Early and late: Endless cable coverage. This is a key time for
Fox Sports 1, which started less than six months ago. “We are the network of
the Super Bowl, all week long …. We’ve always viewed this as kind of a second
coming-out party” for the channel, said Eric Shanks, the Fox Sports president.

Noon ET: “The Road to the Super Bowl,” the annual NFL Films

1 p.m.: “Football America: Our Story.” The passion for the
game is discussed by celebrities (Whoopi Goldberg, Rob Lowe) and regular
people, including five whose stories won tickets to the game.

2-6 p.m.: Pre-game studio show. The Fox people – Terry
Bradshaw, Howie Long, Curt Menefee, etc. – have a lot of time to talk. Stories
include bad-winter games, New York title games and Vince Lombardi’s New
York/New Jersey roots. Visiting the tailgate party, the show is expected to
catch music from Phillip Phillips and The Band Perry; the party also has the
Broadway casts of “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages.”

Shortly before 6 p.m.: This is what Fox calls its “God and
Country” section. It has a new version of a film with people reading the Declaration
of Independence. The National Anthem is sung by Renee Fleming – the first time
the Super Bowl has had an opera star; “America the Beautiful” is sung by Queen
Latifah, who also sang it (with Carrie Underwood) in 2010.

Close to kick-off, the players come back out, Shanks said.
“The NFL has changed the timing around to make sure (they) aren’t standing out
there too long and freezing.”

6:25 or 6:30 p.m.: Kick-off, for what could be a classic
game. These are “two old-school defenses,” Long said, but the offenses are
opposites. Menefee calls it “a match-up of a classic, old-school quarterback
(the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning) and this new generation” of scramblers
(the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson).

Halfime: Bruno Mars was hired to perform and added the Red
Hot Chili Peppers. It’s “a really cool mash-up that Bruno kind of concocted,” Shanks

Post-game: Locker-room interviews. Whooping and moaning.

Post-post game: Two youthful comedies get a chance to find a
new audience.

On “New Girl,” Jess and Cece get invited to a party at
Prince’s mansion; the guys – Nick, Schmidt, Winston and Coach – conspire to get
in. Guest stars include Prince – “he was fantastic,” said Hannah Simone, who
plays Cece – and others.

On “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a case is worked by Jake and Amy,
who often feud. “We have kind of a sibling rivalry,” said Andy Samberg, who
plays Jake. Meanwhile, the captain and sergeant (Andre Braugher and Terry
Crews) re-organize. “We decide we’re going to do a little housecleaning in a
very, very hilarious way,” Crews said. Guests include Fred Armisen, Joe
Theismann and more.

Getting to the Super Bowl, the non-violent way

Here's another Super Bowl story, a fun one. If you scroll down, you'll find an overview; coming next is a chronological list: 


For a football journeyman – going from team to team, collision
to collision -- these are worthy goals:

First, have a permanent, Internet place in football history.
Then be part of Super Bowl Sunday.

That’s Terry Crews, even if it happened in round-about ways.
His Super Bowl duty is as an actor on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” one of the
post-game comedies; and his Internet fame?

“You can see it on YouTube,” Crews said with a smile. “Just
Google ‘Terry Crews knocked out.’”

Sure enough, there it is. In the days before the NFL policed
such things, Crews’ helmet crashed into the helmet of a kick-off returner and
then into the leg of a teammate.

The 162-pound returner bounced right back up; the 245-pound
Crews took a moment. “I was out like a light,” he said. “It was the best
feeling I’d ever had; I didn’t have the headaches until later.”

Still, he was in the next play (a new kick-off, due to a
penalty) and kept at his football career. Later, “my wife gave me a wake-up
call. She said, ‘Hey, Terry, you’ve gotta try something different.’”

He’d never been a one-dimensional type, even growing up in
the tough, blue-collar world of Flint, Mich. Crews graduated from Flint Academy,
had an art scholarship to the prestigious Interlochen program, then had a football
scholarship at Western Michigan University.

He was an all-conference defensive end for a team that won
the 1988 conference championship, then was a late-round draftee for the
then-Los Angeles Rams. The rest went mostly unnoticed: “I played seven seasons
for six teams, mostly on special teams,” doing kick-offs and other messy duty.

That’s when his wife (gospel singer Rebecca King-Crews) urged
a new career. For two years, Crews was T-Money on “Battle Dome,” a reality show.
“It was brutal; we were sending people to the hospital.”

Some of his acting roles involved football (“Benchwarmers,” “Longest
Yard”) or massiveness, but subtler things followed, including three shows
praised by critics: Crews – a father of five in real life -- was the dad on “Everybody
Hates Chris,” the bodyguard and life coach on “The Newsroom” and now the police
sergeant on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

This is an evolving show, Andy Samberg said. “The characters
get to be versions of who plays them.”

Samberg, logically, plays a wise guy. And Crews? “He’s a
very sweet, but terrifying man,” Samberg said.

More terrifying was the moment at the Golden Globes. Samberg
had gone there in a festive mood; “I was 100 percent confident I wasn’t going
to win anything.”

Then he won for best actor in a comedy – “I thought, ‘Oh no,
I have to go up there and say something’” – and the show won for best comedy.
It’s a little like winning the Super Bowl, only without the collisions.

On Sunday, Fox airs “New Girl” and “Brooklyn
Nine-Nine” after the Super Bowl post-game show; they’re listed at 10:30 and 11
p.m. ET, but could be later.

Also, Tuesdays: On Feb. 4, “Nine-Nine” is 8:30
and 9:30 p.m.; on Feb. 11, it’s 9:30 p.m. only.  

Super Bowl: A cold night for red hot chili quarterbacks

(This is the first of three stories I sent to papers, previewing the Super Bowl)


As the Super Bowl threatened to become a Brrr Bowl, one
issue stood out.

“I just want to make sure that Bruno Mars is warm,” joked Howie
Long, a Fox Sports commentator.

Well, that is a concern. Mars is from Hawaii, the Red Hot
Chili Peppers are from Los Angeles; they’re expected to bring some tropical-type
energy to the halftime show, in an oft-frigid part of America.

As Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports, put it, this is “the
greatest game in the greatest city on Earth.”

The game is, of course, the Super Bowl. The city is … well,
East Rutherford, N.J.

Fox and others keep calling this the New York Super Bowl,
but it’s not even in New York State. Any nods to Jersey? Well, the cast of “Jersey
Boys” will perform at the tailgate party … and Queen Latifah, daughter of two
Newark-area teachers, will sing “America the Beautiful.”

She’s in a varied music line-up: The Band Perry and “American
Idol” winner Phillip Phillips will perform in Fox’s pre-game show; Renee
Fleming will sing the National Anthem … the first time an opera star has
handled a task that at various times has gone to Cher, Jewel, Cheryl Ladd and
Kathy Lee Gifford.

Fox’s Super day starts at noon ET; it will be close to midnight,
by the finish of two post-game comedies:

“New Girl,” which has Jess and Cece (Zooey
Deschanel and Hannah Simone) invited to Prince’s party. “I’m onstage with
Prince,” Simone marveled. “It’s kind of a dream scenario.”

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which just won Golden
Globes for best comedy and comedy actor (Andy Samberg). “It felt like the room
was spinning around,” Samberg said of the wins.

This week would also be his perfect scenario, except for one
catch: “I’m a huge 49er fan,” Samberg said.

His team lost the NFC championship in a battle of two
young-and-mobile quarterbacks – Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks beating
Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. The AFC had two stand-and-pass
veterans – Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos beating Tom Brady’s New England

Wilson, Long said, is the prototype of “this new breed of
kind of dynamic, athletic quarterback.” And Manning is the master of the old ways
… unless weather gets in his way.

“Weather should not play a factor in a game of that
magnitude and multitude,” argued Deion Sanders, a former NFL star. ”You know what’s
going to happen. Peyton Manning does not fare well in the cold.”

 Many people don’t,
including sideline reporters. In one recent game, Fox’s Erin Andrews said, she
got too close to a space heater. “Somebody said, ‘Your glove’s on fire’ …. It
smelled fantastic.”

This time, however, things might work out. A week before the
game, the Weather Channel was predicting an average day (just above 30),
without snow. Bruno Mars might be safe; the Chili Peppers won’t be red hot, but
they also won’t be frozen.