‘Mean Girls 2’: recycling Plastic

Remember your first new car. Let’s call her Blue. She was there when you kissed Aaron Samuel and also when you committed social suicide and joined the Mathletes. She was cute and funny and taught you things about growing up, peer pressure, self-respect and female empowerment. She’s also the most quotable car in existence. Grool, right?

Seven years later, you’re friends wonder why Blue’s still running. Her bright pink paint has faded to a rusted salmon. Her high school passengers have grown up and graduated, moving on to college and the professional world.

But Blue still exists in the same used car lot called high school. Her companions are the “muscle cars who think they own the world and check every passing vehicle; smart cars who don’t fit in; the I’m-so-cutesy-I-might-shake-off-my-tube-top cars; the high-performance, high maintenance sports cars,” and her new new-girl driver, Jo Mitchell (Meaghan Martin).

Of course, car analogies aside, the “Blue” I’m referring to is the “Mean Girls” (2004) franchise — built on the insecure feelings of high schoolers and Tina Fey’s hilariously quotable one-liners. Queen Fey wrote a “fetching” cult classic, which still resonates with the girls who grew up with the movie. But while nostalgia may bring us back to North Shore High, “Mean Girls 2” (2011) is just a recycled piece of plastic with few redeeming features.

The plot, which was written by Cliff Ruby, Elana Lesser and Allison Schroeder, parallels that of the original. Jo and her NASCAR mechanic dad, Rod (Linden Ashby), move to Evanston, Ill., for her senior year of high school. There, Jo befriends the wealthy, social outcast Abby Hanover (Jennifer Stone), and becomes enemies of popular Plastics Mandi Weatherly (Maiara Walsh), Hope Plotkin (Nicole Gale Anderson), and Chastity Meyer (Claire Holt).

Buffy and Willow While Martin and Stone are likable heroines (they have a Buffy and Willow vibe going on), the movie is filled with awful pranks, nonsensical plot holes and forgettable lines. Mandi inadvertently sets off a new school-wide fashion trend with a failed prank on Jo. Jo dyes Hope’s face green and outs Chastity’s hookup spots in retaliation. It’s a petty riff of a lovable franchise that you wonder why the made-for-TV movie was approved in the first place.

After all, everyone knows that one of the worst investments that you can make is on a car. And while cars might be fun ride when they’re shiny and new, “Mean Girls 2” is a cheap and rusted piece of plastic with trouble starting.

“Mean Girls 2” was directed by Melanie Mayron, and written by Allison Schroeder, Cliff Ruby and Elana Lesser. The film won a 2011 Razzie Award for “Worst Ensemble.” 


‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Gets on TV!

If there’s a hole in your heart where “30 Rock” has been, fear no more. NBC-turned-Netflix’s sitcom “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the new and improved “TGS with Tracy Jordan.”

Created by Liz Lemon — I mean, Lemon’s real-life alter-ego Tina Fey — and co-writer Robert Carlock (“Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock,” “The Dana Carvey Show”), “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the type of show Lemon wanted to produce during her stint as a TV writer at 30 Rockefeller Plaza: the quirky feminist New Yorker comedy unapproved by the big corporate networks. In reality, the show was released by NBC because the network thought “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (like “30 Rock”) would be too niche.

They were right. But that doesn’t bother Netflix — whose micro-genres include “quirky TV shows,” “irreverent TV sitcoms” and “witty TV comedies with a strong female lead.” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is all these things — and delivered in 23-minute chunks (which makes it even more binge-worthy than “Orange is the New Black” or the latest season of “House of Cards”).

While “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” would have been a pioneer a decade ago, Fey’s “30 Rock” paved the way for dozens of female-centric TV shows from “Parks and Recreation” (with Fey’s SNL co-star Amy Poehler) and “The Mindy Project” to “Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23,” “2 Broke Girls” and “New Girl.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is like an unofficial “30 Rock” spin-off, who looks and feels like its predeccessor. As the pilot opens, the show’s heroine, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, “The Office”), is at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on the familiar set of NBC’s “Today” show. Sitting across from her is anchor Matt Lauer.

Schmidt and her sister-wives were snatched up by Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) 15 years ago and forced to live in a religious underground cult in the fictional small-town of Durnsville, Ind. Its news threads resemble a cross between the “bedroom intruder” story and the Cleveland kidnappings. 

Fey and Carlock satirizes Amanda Berry‘s story among others, even auto-tuning the girls’ release. But the show isn’t about life locked up in a bunker. It’s about life after.

Approaching her 30s, Schmidt’s (like Kemper’s “The Office” co-star, Mindy Kaling of “The Mindy Project”) trying to navigate the Big Apple as a strong woman. That means living despite her past as an “Indiana Mole Women” — the adopted moniker for her and her kidnapped peers. So she lives with her sunny wardrobe and unbelievably bubbly optimism (which rivals Kenneth the Page’s).

Fey models Schmidt after her character in “30 Rock.” Once upon a time, Liz Lemon bought a whole cart of hot dogs because a guy cut her in line. Like Lemon, Kimmy Schmidt is a stickler for rules. Schmidt follows a kid (Tanner Flood) who stole a candy bar, returning him to his incompetant socialite mother, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski, “30 Rock”). When she finds out that Mrs. Voorhees has no plans to punish her son, Schmidt takes it upon herself to punish him.

This leads her to her first job as Buckley (Flood) and Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula)’s nanny as well as Mrs. Voorhees’ assistant/personal slave. Meanwhile, she finds boarding with gay diva Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and his cat-lady landlord Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane).

These characters rival the quirkiness of the cast of “30 Rock.” Like Lemon, Schmidt spends her days like a TV producer — trouble-shooting for her insecure friends (Titus has enough attitude to rival Tracy Jordan and Jacqueline can be as self-centered as her “30 Rock” persona Jenna Maroney). Unlike Lemon though, Schmidt doesn’t have a mentor like “30 Rock’s” Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). Instead, girl power carries the show.

Fey and Carlock’s 13-episode pilot season showcases female empowerment. While Kimmy Schmidt isn’t a doctor like Mindy Lahiri of “The Mindy Project” or a politician like Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation” or a TV writer/producer like Liz Lemon of “30 Rock,” she conquers mundane everyday tasks like solving math, getting a GED, or breaking up with a guy. Despite her strange beginnings, Schmidt proves that anyone can conquer anything and that women are truly unbreakable.

It’s as Kimmy Schmidt says: “I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds… All you gotta do is take it 10 seconds at a time.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was created by Robert Carlock and Tina Fey. Season one is available on Netflix. 

‘Muppets Most Wanted’: the unwanted sequel

I really wanted to like the “Muppets Most Wanted” — the direct sequel to the 2011 “The Muppets” revival. But the most entertaining part of the most recent Muppets movie — the 7th sequel to the original 1979 motion picture (adds Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) — was its self-aware opening song.

“And everyone knows the sequels never quite as good,” sings the cast, consisting of the familiar faces of Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmore), Fozzie the Bear (Eric Jacobson), Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz) and more.

The plot may be overdone, but its decent enough. It follows Kermit and friends on their world tour. Ricky Gervais plays Dominic Badguy — a scheming producer and accomplice to evil frog Constantine (“Sesame Street” voice actor Matt Vogel). Dominic and Constantine use the touring muppet show as their alibi to their thefts across Europe. It helps that Kermit looks exactly like Constantine, so Constantine switches places with Kermit — becoming head of the muppets while Kermit gets mistakenly locked up in the Siberian equivalent of Sing Sing with warden Nadya (Tina Fey).

Like director James Bobin’s “The Muppets” (2011), “Muppets Most Wanted” pays homage to the original Jim Henson films (in some scenes we see Constantine watching the old Jim Henson clips while he tries to learn and replicate Kermit’s vocal patterns). The new film even follows the familiar formula of “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984): an obvious diabolical villain character, Kermit’s distance and reunion with his friends, the frog and pig wedding, the cameo appearances from celebrities (this time including Lady Gaga, Tom Hiddleston and Usher). The plot of the 1984 film even gets mentioned in “Muppets Most Wanted.”

“It’s about getting The Muppets back together again to stop an evil oil baron from demolishing the old studio,” says Fozzie Bear.

Still, “Muppets Most Wanted” feels like its trying too hard. It feels as phony as Tina Fey’s stereotypical Russian accent (though, at least the Russian accents give voice actors a forgivable excuse for sounding a tad off). The gags are repeated, but they’re nowhere near as avant-garde as what Henson created in the late ’70s to ’80s films.

But even if this muppet movie — written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller — feels forced, the muppets are a relatively lucrative business for Disney (who bought the franchise in 2004). And we can be sure this won’t be their last act.

“Muppets Most Wanted” was directed by James Bobin and written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller.

SNL returns with 39th season

“Saturday Night Live’s” 39th season started last tonight with a focus on introducing its six new cast members.

Host Tina Fey returned to the stage, inducting her protégés to the art of embarrassing backup dancing.

“Is your father watching?” Fey asked. “Put more crotch in it.”

That’s not the only advice she gave. Fey preached female empowerment to new Weekend Update co-anchor Cecily Strong, who will succeed Seth Meyers once he replaces Jimmy Fallon on the “Late Night Show.”

Filling in for Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis, fresh faces Beck Bennett, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Michael Patrick O’Brien, Noel Wells and Brooks Wheelan joined the cast, inspiring a game show segment called, “New Cast Member Or Arcade Fire?” As guest contestant, Fey would pick out the new cast member from each pairing.

She had some help, of course. Game show host Kenan Thompson welcomed SNL producer and creator Lorne Michaels for some input.

But after some careful consideration, Michaels incorrectly guessed “the black one,” referring to Thompson, who’s been a regular on SNL for the past decade.

When not parading the new talent, the season premiere referenced “Breaking Bad,” whose season finale airs on AMC tonight.

President Obama (Jay Pharoah) introduced Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in the show’s cold open, trying to use him to sell the Affordable Care Act. You know, ‘cuz selling meth for money is what people do when they don’t have health insurance.

The “Breaking Bad” actor was also featured as Drunk Uncle’s (Bobby Moynihan) Meth Nephew, his “Breaking Bad”-watching buddy.

Lastly, Paul approved a short e-meth commercial (because they’re gonna be the next big thing after the e-cig craze). As Jesse Pinkman says, “They’re blue, bitch!”

Without a doubt, the new cast will need more exposure and getting used to. While this isn’t the largest cast turnover in SNL history, it’d be hard to replace Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader — and of course, their recurring alter-egos Nicholas Fehn, the Devil and Stefon. But like Fey, who joked about her own collection of non-existent recurring roles in last night’s opening monologue, they’ll be back, right?

“Saturday Night Live” will return to NBC at 11:30 p.m. EST on Oct. 5 with host and musical guest Miley Cyrus.  

‘Admission’ isn’t worth the price

What’s the secret to getting into Princeton? Straight A’s? A laundry-list-long résumé? Exemplary extracurricular activities? High SAT scores? Writing a great personal essay? Not having an overbearing helicopter parent? Having a mom who works in admissions?

The answer is more or less all the above. At least in Paul Weitz’s comedy “Admission.”

Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton University. Her job is to drive up and down the Northeast, selling Princeton to eager prospective students. She reads personal essay after personal essay. And she’s been doing this for the past 16 years. When John Pressman (Paul Rudd), the founder of Quest, a high school with its first graduating class, calls Portia and petitions her to deliver her spiel, Portia adds this site to her routine.

But there’s nothing routine about Quest. Portia finds herself at a school in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cows. The students are encouraged to think, and most dismiss Princeton University as a corporate giant, sitting on the same level of evilness as perhaps Exxon or Halliburton.

But 17-year-old Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), an autodidactic whom Portia meets through John, wants to attend Princeton. When John tells suggests that Jeremiah could be the son Portia gave up for adoption on Valentine’s Day years ago, Portia settles on trying to connect with her son through the guise of her Princeton profession.

Fey, known for her role as Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” and her impersonation of Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live,” plays her usual awkward on-screen self. She’s frienemies (a term from “Means Girls,” a movie Fey both wrote and starred in) with fellow admissions officer Corinne (Gloria Reuben). In one scene when Portia and Corinne pretend they actually like each other in front of their boss, Clarence (Wallace Shawn), it’s almost like a watered-down version of Fey and Amy Poehler’s 2008 “Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton Skit” on sexism. The tension behind Fey and Reuben’s fake smiles and idle pleasantries is palpable as they consent to their boss’s appeal to work together, but the amiable discomfort between Fey and Poehler was much funnier on TV.

Perhaps the fault is not with the acting, but with the writing. Fey, a former writer on “Saturday Night Live” who plays a head comedy writer on her show “30 Rock,” is very funny. Her autobiographical comedy, “Bossypants,” sold one million copies in the U.S., and topped The New York Times Best Sellers’ Book List for five straight weeks after its release. On the contrary, Karen Croner, responsible for the screenplay to “Admission” — which is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel, is not as funny.

“Admission’s” mediocre screenplay seems to rely on schadenfreude; as painful and stressful as the application process is, it’s supposedly hilarious in retrospect because it’s not happening to you. Aren’t you glad you’re not Mrs. Lafont (Ann Harada) and her son in the film’s opening sequence when they get to Princeton’s college tour late? And you’re happy you’re not Portia, right, when she throws up at a college frat party, chasing after a boy who might be her son? While Gary Coleman and Nicky from “Avenue Q” claim “Schadenfreude makes the world a better place,” it’s extremely awkward and uncomfortable to watch — especially in a character you’re rooting for.

Through Portia’s sales pitch and Jeremiah’s application process, college admissions seem rife with clichés and ironies, offering the same sage and elusive advice: “be yourself.” For a lost high school senior who hasn’t figured his life, what does that even mean? Are you a pretentious do-gooder whose dreams of saving the world? Or perhaps you’re a legacy who relies on your parents’ money and name? If those are the two types of people who are guaranteed admission, does “being yourself” meaning you’re not granted a spot on the waiting list?

Despite the moral ambiguity, trite and unrealistic nature of the film, there are a few funny moments. Lily Tomlin’s lines and delivery shine as Portia’s blunt, gun-toting, feminist mother, Susannah. “If I had to do what I’m supposed to be doing, like you, I’d kill myself,” Susannah nonchalantly says to Portia in one scene.

“Did you just say that if you were me, you would kill yourself?”

“Portia, don’t exaggerate.”

Well, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that even that isn’t worth the price of admission.

“Admission” was directed by Paul Weitz. The screenplay was by Karen Croner, based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s book.