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To Review Early Or Not, in Theater and Film

To Review Early Or Not, in Theater and Film (photo)

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In theater, the show must go on. But the previews typically stop at some point. For “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” — a.k.a. “Spider-Man: The Musical,” a.k.a. “Spider-Man: In Retrospect, Maybe We Should Have Used Safety Nets” — that point has come and gone at least three times already. A December 21 opening became a January 11 opening became a February 7 opening became a March 15 opening. Producers claim this will be final opening date. Uh huh. People used to claim bloodletting was a cure for pneumonia, too.

Speaking of bloodletting, many theater critics decided enough was enough with the delays and published their “Spider-Man” reviews last night in conjunction with the most recent missed opening. This, in turn, prompted public frustration from the show’s producing team. Associated Press quotes Rick Miramontez, a Spider-(spokes)Man saying:

“This pile-on by the critics is a huge disappointment… changes are still being made and any review that runs before the show is frozen is totally invalid.”

Invalidating negative reviews is like a publicists super-power. Miramontez is referring to the fact that during preview performances, Broadway shows are still considered works in progress; director Julie Taymor and composers Bono and The Edge are still tinkering with “Spider-Man”‘s book and music and testing its complicated aerial effects. So if you saw “Spider-Man” on December 20 it could look very different than it will on March 15 — and not just because someone almost fell to their death that night. As a result, it’s customary in the world of theater criticism to review a show during its final previews and then publish on the day of opening. In this case, though, several critics — including The New York Times‘ Ben Brantley and New York‘s Scott Brown — decided to publish early. Here was Brantley’s stated rationale:

“I would like to acknowledge here that ‘Spider-Man’ doesn’t officially open until March 15; at least that’s the last date I heard. But since this show was looking as if it might settle into being an unending work in progress — with Ms. Taymor playing Michelangelo to her notion of a Sistine Chapel on Broadway — my editors and I decided I might as well check out ‘Spider-Man’ around Monday, the night it was supposed to have opened before its latest postponement.”

We already established the producers’ argument: we’re still working on this show, it’s unfair to judge it yet. But as critics have correctly pointed out, it may also be unfair to charge customers full price for an unfinished work. Plus, the producers have a clear financial incentive to stay in previews for as long as humanly possible. As “Spider-Man” continued one the longest preview periods in Broadway history, people continued to pay up to $275 a ticket to watch the Actors’ Equity Demolition Derby. A few weeks ago, “Spider-Man” was the highest grossing show in New York. More previews means putting off the inevitable reviews (and the inevitably bad reviews) which means more uninformed theatergoers and more money. Plus, for a show this plagued with problems, a preview — with its promise of technical snafus and flubs — is almost more enticing than a real performance. If something goes wrong, you get to say you were there when it did.

Theater critics’ tradition of reviewing a show on its official opening makes a certain amount of sense from a historical perspective. But it also makes little to no sense in a time when social media has given every potential “Spider-Man” audience member a voice with which to critique the show. As old media sat on their hands, regular theatergoers stole their thunder. And, hey “Spider-Man” producers broke with tradition, too. After all, it’s not traditional to spend four months on Broadway in previews.

The folks who made “Spider-Man” might be pissed off, but the reality of the theater world is reviews do matter, in a way they rarely do in film anymore. A good theater review in The New York Times can still make or break a musical in a way that a good film review in The New York Times can’t in 99% of circumstances. So it’s hard to imagine Ben Brantley being “punished” for publishing an early review. Broadway still needs its critics.

Film doesn’t. These days film publicists routinely give critics “embargo” dates, which a writer breaks at their own peril. Publishing early can get you kicked off press invite lists and cost you your access to talent for interviews. Some press screening invitations now come with warnings not to post any comments, no matter how informal, on Facebook or Twitter as well. It’s hard not to derive a “you-need-us-way-more-than-we-need-you” sort of message from all of that. And it’s probably true, too.

Given the fact that the “Spider-Man” producers are just “upset” and not “furious over a broken embargo,” I’m going to assume Brantley and the rest paid for their “Turn off the Dark” tickets like any other curious New Yorker. In which case, tradition be damned. You pay your money, you’re entitled to an opinion, and if you have an outlet for that opening, more power to you. Despite the bad reviews, the show will go on. Break a leg, guys.

Wait, on second though, don’t. Be extremely, extremely careful.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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