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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Retro Review: Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew

Executive Producer: Randy Jackson
Duration: 2008 - 2012 (MTV)
No. of seasons: 7
Release date: Jan 13 2008 (US)
Produced by MTV, Warner Horizon TV
Cast: Mario Lopez (host), Lil' Mama (judge), JC Chasez (judge), Shane Sparks (judge), O'Marion Grandberry (judge), D-Trix (judge)

'Did not deserve to be cancelled'

The loss of America's Best Dance Crew, when it was first announced in 2012 that it would be cancelled after 7 seasons on MTV, was largely disappointing and I would say it has left a big hole in Reality dance shows.

For me personally, America's Best Dance Crew as a spectacle and entertainment-wise, is far more exciting and colourful as a dance show than say 'So You Think You Can Dance?', which I lost all interest in when it came to the live shows, since season 8 of the show. Except for the audition rounds.

America's Best Dance Crew was a dance reality TV show contest, where dance groups known as 'crews' from America and across the globe compete against each other, in a range of weekly tasks to music in order to compete for the big cash prize and the coveted ABDC trophy. The dancing and choreography was more Hip-Hop based and less so on other standardised types of dance, in contrast to America's Got Talent and SYTYCD where you have Jazz, Modern, Tap, Ballet, Contemporary, as well as Hip- Hop etc.

Mario Lopez was a pretty good presenter and he seemed to come off as a natural on the mike as he introduces the crews, one by one. Insofar as the judges go, NSYNC's JC Chasez was the more level headed one, who tried to pinpoint the crews strong and weak points and offer constructive feedback. Rapper Lil' Mama was... okay. You could tell from her, she'd be the most outspoken judge out of the 3, because she isn't afraid of saying what she thinks, regardless of whether or not people will disagree with her. But she is an interesting character. And lastly, D-Trix of ABDC season 4 winners Poreotix; he is the judge who people either agreed or disagreed with some of his comments, so therefore I'd say he acts as a middle man between JC and Lil' Mama.

The best seasons of the series are arguably the first 3 seasons. After that, when MTV and the producers opted for the Seasons of the Superstars concept, it stripped away the essence that made ABDC so unique in contrast to SYTYCD. The music, the song choices at the time was FAR better than in seasons 6 and 7. Back then, with the weekly themes, it wasn't the case of having one artist a week, but a range of artists & genres of songs. And it worked a great deal. But with Seasons of the Superstars, we had to listen to remixed songs, as well as watch routines dedicated to that particular artist. And with that in mind, it limited many of the dance crews freedom to express themselves. Creatively and choreography-wise, some of it was just not very good.

Speaking of the remixes of the songs during seasons of the superstars, it ranged from okay... to the downright dreadful. The producers may have had a say in what songs should go with each routine, but my goodness, the DJs or be it District 78, the people who remixed some of those songs, need to do better. Before in the earlier seasons, the music was more R&B, urban-sounding that reflected the urban dance scene at the time. Because of it, I liked the remixes then. But with R&B and Hip Hop today going towards that techno, euro-dance direction, -which is awful anyway- came some of the over-produced, pop dance-based hip hop. A lot of that pop dance R&B, Hip Hop sound is reflected in the song choices of the last 2 seasons.

Had the show continued today and had I been the producer of America's Best Dance Crew, I would've got rid of the Seasons of the Superstars concept, have less of the child crews and diversify the music more, with less remixes but also have more 80s, 90s, early to mid 00s pop, R&B, dance, hip hop songs. Bringing in themes such as movie challenge, Timberland, Darkchild, 80s challenge weeks for example.

Seasons 6 and 7 might have paled in comparison to seasons 1-5 (well season 7 that is), but this show did not deserve to be cancelled. Given the amount of reality shows that are on MTV, this one is their best one by far & it is a shame that because of the poor ratings, it ended too soon. 

If you haven't seen America's Best Dance Crew but you are into dance or dance shows, then definitely watch it. 


Seasons ratings: (out of 10) 

1 - 9

2 - 9
3 - 8
4 - 8
5 - 8
6 - 7.5
7 - 7

Overall: 8.5 out of 10 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Retro Review: In The House

Created by Winifred Hervey
Duration: 1995 & 1999 (NBC), 1996 - 1998 (UPN), 1996 - 1999 (Trouble, UK) 
No. of seasons: 5
Release date: 10 April 1995 (US)
Produced by: NBC Studios, Quincy Jones Entertainment 
Cast: LL Cool J, Debbie Allen, Maia Campbell, Jeff Wood, Kim Wayans, Alfonso Ribeiro

'This show was good.....up until Debbie Allen departed'

In The House was one of those sitcoms that could've become one of the most unlikeliest hits in the genre's history, notably in Black sitcom history, had it not been for the demise in quality of the final 2 seasons & key cast departures.

Starring rapper turned actor, LL Cool J (real name Todd James), who had hits with 'Mama Said Knock You Out' and 'Loungin', In The House was LL's first acting stint, after initial success in the U.S Billboard charts as a recording artist. He was joined by Debbie Allen, who is most known to wider audiences worldwide for her role as Lydia Grant in the Fame TV series during the 80s. She is also credited for reviving Bill Cosby's 'A Different World', which was also The Cosby Show spin-off and managed to turn around the fortunes of an ailing show during the first few episodes, into a standalone hit.

As a fan, the interesting thing I find about Debbie Allen's body of work, both as a dancer, choreographer, director, producer, actress and the countless interviews she has done for TV, press, radio and in talking about her illustrious career, spanning over 3 decades, that in not one of them mentioned this series, In The House. It astounds me because it is assumed that just because the comedy series wasn't the massive hit that it was and it had Debbie in it, people choose to sweep it under the carpet and not talk about it.

Well I loved Debbie Allen in In The House, she was a total hoot. 

Debbie played mother of two & divorcee, Jackie Warren, who gets dumped by her husband, in favour of a younger woman. By day, she works as a legal secretary at Comstock, Nathan and Smythe. Jackie's 2 kids were daughter, Tiffany and son Austin, who was the youngest child. In the pilot episode, the Warrens move into a brand new house in L.A, unaware that it is owned by pro- football player, Marion Hill (LL Cool J). He of whom gets injured whilst playing Football (not as in soccer) and as a tenant of the house, rents out the house to Jackie, whilst he recuperates, as well as sleeps in the apartment above the garage. The interactions between Jackie and Marion throughout are at times humourous but also it underlines how different each of them are, in terms of their personalities. Marion is the free-spirited thinker; he is calm, doesn't like tension and tries to see things in a positive light, in spite of his injury. Jackie on the other hand is boisterous, loud, sarcastic, sometimes cynical but funny and as a parent, is very protective and caring towards her children. Her relationship with Marion earlier on is very hot and cold, but as the show progresses, she warms to him and has a more easy- going attitude than before.

For the first 2 seasons of the show with Debbie Allen, she was on point as Jackie Warren.

I really enjoyed watching the first 2 seasons of In The House when it was just Marion Hill and the Warren clan Jackie, Austin & Tiffany. It was very funny and enjoyable to watch.

I found the mother Jackie, played by Emmy award winner and veteran actress Debbie Allen (of Fame, erm fame!) hilarious to watch at times, especially as I thought she had great delivery & comic timing, as well as the funnier lines. Her constant barracking of her ex-husband and mickey taking of his bald head, had me in stitches. Some of her other memorable moments are of her dancing in episode 4, season 1, kissing Marion in a restaurant in front on Tonia in season 2 & her moments with Phylicia Rashad in season 2, when her sister made a guest appearance as Rowenna when they, Marion and Clayton were travelling to New Mexico for a photo shoot for a magazine. 

To many people, especially the elder generation, Debbie is best known for her associations with 'Fame', 'A Different World', as well as her turns as Dr Catherine Avery on the hit ABC drama, 'Grey's Anatomy'. Yet those same people, including some fans, don't remember Debbie's role in In The House. Debbie was a blast. She has played characters in sitcoms before; likewise, the fitness instructor in The Cosby Show, a shrink in A Different World, the uptight sister in Cosby, as well as recently as a cougar in BET's Let's Stay Together. But all those characters were frankly amusing, odd and zany. As Jackie Warren, she was a mixture of both herself in real life, I guess, and her sister Phylicia Rashad moreso. And for me, I enjoyed that very much. Jackie was much more grounded than all the previous characters she had played.

If In The House was the first ever project where LL Cool J's character wasn't a supporting one or reoccuring one, then In The House is also the first ever sitcom, where Debbie's character was the main character. In The Cosby Show, A Different World, Cosby, she had bit parts and uttered a few lines in a few episodes she was in. But In The House on NBC and season 2 on UPN, Debbie Allen didn't feature on the show, she was a part of it and part of the main cast. & for that, we were able to see her develop more as a sitcom actress.

I was born in 1981, a year after the original movie, Fame came out and 1 year before Fame the TV series debuted on NBC in the U.S and BBC in the UK. As for A Different World, it definitely aired in the U.K on Channel 4, but as groundbreaking a series as it was in its native US, it didn't make the same impact where I lived. I was also unaware at the time of its run that Debbie was involved in that series as a director and producer. 

But when In The House first aired on TV, and when I saw the first episode, from then on, that was when I became a fan of Debbie Allen's. It was this show and her performances that convinced me to look up her old work, as an actress, producer, dancer etc. 

In the House was first created by producer and screenwriter Winifred Hervey, whose previous credits include Mork and Mindy, Benson, The Cosby Show, Golden Girls and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. She also served as a head writer for another African American sitcom titled, The Steve Harvey Show. Surprisingly, season 1 aired on NBC but when ratings were low, In The House was then cancelled- only to come back on TV, only this time on UPN, who ran the next 2 seasons. NBC then aired the final season, which was shortlived. 

In the House has been often compared to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but the main comparisons it draws is that the actors of the Fresh Prince appeared in episodes of In The House. Other than that, there is no direct link, story-wise, involving Marion Hill and Will Smith. Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton) and Tatiyana Ali (Ashley) appeared as their namesake Fresh Prince characters in In The House season 2, whilst Daphne Maxwell Reid (the second Vivian) and James Avery (Uncle Phil) appeared in season 4 of the show.

The first 2 seasons of In The House were great but casting-wise, they should've left things as they were. Obviously, the move from NBC to UPN meant the show had to be tinkered with; however, the truth is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. In The House with Debbie Allen in it did not need fixing, nor did she need to be removed. It was fantastic, she was fantastic. It was a mistake that her character and Jeff Wood's character, Austin had to be written out of the end of the second season. When they left, the show was never the same after that, and thus it never recovered as the ratings fell further.

Season 3 was poor, but season 4 was virtually unwatchable, bland and less funnier, as the comic relief-based characters were no longer there. I don't remember much of seasons 3 and 4 these days, given as I watch the first 2 seasons on Youtube and ignore the last 2, because I didn't enjoy them first time round when I watched it on TV. Once the writers got rid of the family component of the show after season 2, - which was key to its success and the characters, Jackie and Austin, - and reverted to the workplace/teen sitcom format, it signaled the end of In The House. The ratings may not have been through the roof with Debbie Allen and Jeff Wood on the show, but it was still passable. 

I thought Maia Campbell did okay - when I was 14 and watched the series, I didn't care much for Tiffany, but as I rewatch those episodes today, I realised that she was important, to a extent and in season 2, she had a few interesting moments and lines that I liked.

Kim Wayans is a great actress & comedienne and I enjoyed her in season 2, but her character Tonia was wasted by the writers in season 3, who didn't seem to know where to fit her into the story lines properly, and she was gone by the end. Maxwell Stanton played by Alfonso Ribeiro, on the other hand, was virtually a carbon copy of Carlton Banks, -only more arrogant and uptight. He wasn't too different to his Fresh Prince character, & his performances reminded me too much of Carlton. I don't think he did enough in the role to distinguish himself from the one in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Strangely, for no given reason, there was this kid character named Rodney, who showed up earlier on in season 3 & disappeared after 6 episodes or so (& I guess was a 'replacement' for Austin). But unlike Austin, he had very little redeemable qualities about him. I know a lot of people couldn't stand Austin on the show, but he was all right by me, and he was and is far more interesting than Rodney. Whereas Rodney was bland and not very funny.

To this day, In the House fans still don't know the real reasons as to why Debbie Allen (along with Jeff Wood) left the show in real-life. But needless to say, for the first 2 seasons, it was a fun sitcom the whole family could enjoy and the writing and dialogue was insanely funny. It could've, would've and should've been more, had it not been for the cast changes and change of direction from season 3 onwards.

In all, it was a good series with Debbie Allen, Jeff Wood, and it would've been just as amusing, entertaining, as well as it would probably be a better one, had they not left after season 2.


Seasons ratings: (out of 10) 

1 - 7
2 - 9
3 - 5
4 - 2 

Overall:  7.5 out of 10 

Friday, 5 July 2013

Guide To Using Pinterest

*details last edited: February 26 2015

Pinterest has been around for a few years now, yet in spite of that & the site's growing popularity, it is still not as widely known or recognised as say Tumblr and Instagram.

So how does Pinterest work? Here's how:

  • Have you ever seen an image on the internet and thought, 'hey this looks cool, I want to show people this'?, well that is what Pinterest is partly about. One could say, Pinterest is the acronym for 'Pin your interests'. 
  • Pinterest is an online image board where you collect, upload, organise and group images and videos into boards that you have created yourself. It's similar to collecting photos and putting them in a folder. 
  • These photos and videos that you have on your boards are known as 'pins'; these pins are displayed for other followers of that board to see. 
  • What separates Instagram from Pinterest is whereas Instagram is more formal, general in terms of collecting, sharing images, Pinterest highlights your likes, preferences, interests. Therefore the images you pin are ones you like very much and based on your favourite things, be it food, places, celebrities, songs whatever you like. 
  • Other reasons that people use Pinterest include: 1) making lists of products, presents to buy for friends and loved ones, 2) recipe & meal ideas, 3) tips
  • I'd argue Pinterest is much more fandom related as well; there is a huge emphasis on creating and displaying boards containing images of your favourite actors, singers etc. I mainly use Pinterest to not just pin my favourite photos, artwork but to show my followers the things I am interested in. 
  • Pinterest is for anyone and everyone. Even though there is a large female user base, Pinterest attracts many male users as well. Their pins tend to be around things like sports, cars, video games to name but many. 
  • To pin images onto your boards, simply go to Pinterest's goodies page and where you see the official pin it button, drag and drop it onto the top of your web browser's bookmark bar. Then where it says 'pin it' on the bar, when you see an image you like, click 'pin it'. Same goes for pinning Youtube videos. 
  • A window will pop up and from there on, you can add a title, description of the image.When you are done, click on the red pin it button. 
  • When you see an image or video you like, click on it. After that, you can choose to do either one of or all 3 things: a) leave comment, b), like it and c) repin. Repin is similar to the Twitter Retweet button, in that you share the image or video with the followers of your board. 'Like it' is very much like Facebook's Like feature: if you like what you see, you can click 'Like It'. You will see an icon with an arrow, click on this. You can choose to either embed the image onto your website or blog, tweet it on Twitter or share it on Facebook. 
  • In some cases, you may come across an offending image or pin; when this happens, click on the flag icon to report it to Pinterest.  
  • On the top- right hand corner is the notifications tab; the red tab with the speech bubble automatically notifies you as soon as someone has liked, repinned your pins or followed your boards. The left icon indicates the user's profile pic, whilst the right icon denotes the photo or video they have pinned of yours onto their board. 
  • There are virtually no limitations with regards to using Pinterest, presuming that images and videos are in good taste and are not offensive. Into boy bands? You can create a board for that. Want to share your love or appreciation for your favourite celebrities? You can pin images of them on your favourite celebrities board you created, or create an individual board for him/her and add photos and videos on there. 
  • To help you get started, type in the name of the thing you want to search for in the search box., then hit the search icon. You will see lots of images/pins. When you have found one you like, click on either 'Pin it', the heart symbol for Like or arrow to send the pin to someone on Facebook. If you have Facebook that is. Unlike Twitter, you can pin as many photos and videos as you want in say a single day and not get penalised for it. 
  • To create a new board, click on the create a board box and you will see another tab. In that tab, give it a title, brief description on what it is about, and select a category from the drop- down menu. If you only want private users to see the board, where it says secret, select 'Yes'. If you want to make a group board for other users to pin on it, where it says 'Keep it secret', click on 'No' and it will switch to 'Yes'. Then select 'Save Changes'. 
  • People say Pinterest is stupid and pointless compared to say Instagram, but those are the same people who don't understand it and how it works for them to make it work for themselves. 
  • Like Twitter, you can follow and unfollow other users as and when you like, without requiring their permission to do so. You don't necessarily to have to know them to follow their boards. 
  • You may also share pins on Twitter and Facebook to your fellow followers or fans. 

  • Don't expect people to converse with you, as interaction levels on the site are low. This is not the website for you if a) all you want to do is share your own images and not use the pin button to add images from websites b) if all you expect is people to talk to you and c) you treat it like it is Instagram. Or Facebook, or Twitter - a big mistake to do. As Pinterest is in many ways different from all those sites. 
  • Remember to give credit to images that are from their original sources, where possible; if it is from a person, state who that person is. 

And there you have it: That's the step by step guide to using Pinterest. I hope this post will encourage you to sign up and use it. Sign up, give it a go, you might enjoy it a lot. I know I do!

Monday, 1 July 2013

My Favourite Artists: #1 Shinkiro

If you asked me who my 2 favourite visual artists are, I would say American comic book artist, Greg Horn & Japanese video game art illustrator, Shinkiro; for me, the work of these 2 artists inspired me to take up drawing and to do what I love doing in my spare time.

Born on December 14 1962 as Toshiaki Mori, he is known as Shinkiro, a Japanese illustrator & concept artist. Many of his works are video game related, in particular on the King of Fighters, Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting games at SNK.

One common criticism that has been leveled at Shinkiro, and of which has been cited by a number of people, is that all the characters faces that he depicts look the same. Which is very true; however, one can argue this in itself is a characteristic trademark of Shinkiro's. Artists have their own style, as well as technique that makes their work stand out from many other artists, -and his work is no exception. His style is one I find very unique. Yes the faces may look the same, but in regards to other things such as tone, composition, proportion, realism, his take on the characters arms, other parts of the body, they are all well depicted and the quality is of a high- standard photo or painting you'd see in art galleries.

What one aspect a person may find off-putting about his/her's work, can actually be an asset, in terms of it becoming a personal style or technique. Sure enough, you may not like how it looks visually, but you can't really fault the guy for trying and the amount of time and effort he took to create it in the first place. 

When you look at a piece of work by Shinkiro, you can easily tell and distinguish that it is from him. How would I describe his style? Unlike what others may think, I would definitely not classify it as 'Anime' or Manga. Far from it. I don't see it as Anime. If anything, my take of his style is that it is a Japanese/Far Eastern take on realism or hyper-realism. Disregarding the characters similar looking faces that is. His realistic air-brush style was what attracted me to his work, not to mention was something that wasn't present in many other fighting games works. Many of these were either as 3D computer renders or had 2D Anime-like faces.

It's funny really; when I first saw his work as a teenager, and noticed this theme running through it, I hated it.

Before, it irked me when I saw the faces because they were all so similar. But once I got over that issue and saw more and more of his work, I was taken by his unique style. His style today is a little different, but it is a lot better. Alas, I can tell from his Tatsunoko vs Capcom & Marvel vs Capcom 3 works he has evolved as an artist. He has a lot more range in his technique, whereas before back when he worked at SNK, it was like, it looks the same. But nowadays, it's more than that. It's much more colourful, refined and that he has gone further to add extra details to his characters.

My favourite Shinkiro piece is probably the one with Kyo for King of Fighters 95' (8th from bottom of this post). I just love how amazing it looks and how he captured that pose. Just wonderful.

I can understand why many do not like this guy's work; some have said Shinkiro has got artistic skills, but believe he is one- dimensional because he draws/paints in that one style & chooses not to go for the realistic approach. Yet what he does bring, is that photo realistic/psuedo realistic take with 2D fighting game characters. As an artist myself, I am in awe with some of his work -despite of what some detractors have said, & Shinkiro has produced a few amazing pieces.

However, I wouldn't go as far as saying I would replicate his style and draw people with the same faces. I wouldn't enjoy doing that myself. I'd much prefer drawing people with different facial features, as opposed to giving them the same look.

When I draw celebrities and people, I draw them as I see them - not give them the same noses, mouths etc.

But Shinkiro is very unique - he has left a positive mark on video game art & for the exception of say Hiroaki - whose style is reminiscent of Shinkiro's in more ways than one, there is no one quite like him today.

Tatsunoko vs Capcom

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

King of Fighters 

Fatal Fury

Streetfighter comic cover

Spider Man

Rebecca from Resident Evil 

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

Streetfighter 25 exclusive art
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