An Ode To Manufactured Music

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I realized that I've only posted about television, which isn't the case of what this blog may be at all. I actually listen to a lot of music, read a lot of silly celebrity gossip, watch a lot of movies, and read a ton (a sick amount really) of books. So I'm going to make more of an effort to actually talk about such things, including music.

Yesterday for whatever reason, I started thinking about 90s boy and girl bands, including (oddly) S Club 7, and how people have continually bitched about 'manufactured music'. And then it kind of hit me / made sense. It's sort of impossible...somewhat anyway...for a band that doesn't play instruments to come together naturally.

Think about this realistically: you're a group of singers (perhaps lyricists or songwriters if you're lucky) but not one of you has more than a smattering of musical talent beyond that. You don't have the fundage to hire a backing band (and you won't until you have a legit record contract) - so you either have to shell out big bucks for cheesy backing tracks by someone that doesn't get your vision, or you risk being relegated to the doo-wop barbershop faction.

Thus, the music industry steps in and offers a ripe, juicy recording contract to any individuals - or small connected groups (Brian and Kevin from BSB, Nick and Drew from 98 Degrees - I'm looking at you) - interested in their shot at the big time.

There isn't much difference between putting together a group of 3-5 of these guys or gals, and those same people seeking out solo careers. Well actually, there may be one difference, in that a fair number of future banders have probably spent some time trying to make it on their own - and after the short stint of success their bands have, try to do so afterwards. Manufactured singing groups are very much a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The charisma of four or five can balance things out so that the more lacklustre members still get some lovin' (Howie from BSB, Chris from *NSYNC, Mel C from the Spice know what I'm talking about).

Thus, I am in support of the manufactured bands of yesteryear. They never asked to be taken 'seriously', as when is the last time you heard of a singing-only 'rock group'? They were just out there producing feel-good pop for the masses that still holds up for sentimentality and "I'm so lame, but it's okay, you are too" conversations.

I recently realized I know pretty much every verse, chorus, hook, and vocal gymnastic warble on the first two Spice Girls albums, despite not listening to them for half a decade. And you know what? Those girls had a reunion tour for a reason - because on their own, they just aren't as dynamic.

The same can be said about most 'respected' bands out there today - with a few notable exceptions (Pete from Fall Out Boy, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi for example) how often do you know ANY member of a band other than the lead singer? My aunt regularly hangs out with Coldplay - sans Chris Martin. Slightly less exciting, no?

And thus was the realized power of the all-singing, marginally musical pop group of the 90s: there was something for everyone! Multiple voices! Slightly different archetypal styles and personalities! Signature moves!

Am I saying it's time to go back to this? No, but I am saying that the music industry was onto something, and I'm not ashamed to say it wasn't so bad after all.

- Britt's On

A SNaiL's Pace

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So this season of SNL has been okay. And that's saying something, for a show that's been cited as dead in the water for the last few years. Of course, the first half of the year was super super strong in the political department but weak in the actual fun sketch department, while the second half has faltered a bit with the total elimination of good, recognizable female leads (other than Kristen!) and so-so hosts.

A big problem on the show has been its strong reliance on the females who have really carried the show over the last few years - Tina, Mya, Amy, Kristen, I'm looking at you. With Kristen as the last woman standing (and possibly one of the best, she's got a ton of recurring characters they are continually mining) the show is kind of at a standstill as they overexpose Kristen and try to deal with the other girls they've recently added. But is it fair to rely on the ladies, especially on a show that has primarily turned out mega-male stars? Definitely not. But I feel the time has come to do an analysis of each current cast member to see their value to the show, and prospects outside of it:

Fred Armisen
Value To The Show: He's excellent at Obama, and the fact Obama has such a huge pop culture role will keep him around. Especially since no one else can actually play Obama at this time. He's also pretty good at playing roles where facial and vocal expressions are important (as per this weekend's "I AM YOUR MOTHER" skit and the previous weekend's Grease "I got chills..." presentation folder skit). And he's got a unique look that is very translatable to different ethnicities and ages.
Success Rate Outside The Show: Very limited so far. He hasn't had any notable guest spots in the bit roles he's done. I'd say he needs several more years on SNL to have any shot out there.
Show Trademarks: Aside from Obama, there's the generally funny Nicholas Fehn from Weekend Update (although it's outdone by Kristen Wiig's travel advice chick), and bit roles - like playing menopausal what's her name in The View, and Liberachi in the Vincent Price sketches, and one half of the gay couple from New Jersey.
Bottom Line: I feel like Fred is underrated on the show, but he needs to bring more to get any sort of career off SNL. May end up as another Darrell Hammond type, although he doesn't share DH's passion for politico skewering.

Will Forte
Value To The Show: A big problem with SNL at the moment is the guys are all very interchangeable / forgettable - particularly with Will, Jason, and Bill. Will of course has the wildly popular McGruber saga that has only gotten better / more innane with time, and he's the token guy to play creepy / nerdy pedophilic types, but not much else. McGruber is a big departure from the usual role he plays actually.
Success Rate: He's done almost nothing outside of SNL, which probably doesn't bode well for him. That being said, McGruber has a pretty big following or Pepsi wouldn't have optioned it for their latest campaign. But McGruber the movie? No way, the hilarity comes from the stupidly short spots in tight confined 'control room' spaces.
Trademarks: McGruber of course, and the slightly aggravating Tim Calhoun on Weekend Update.
Bottom Line: Too forgettable to branch out or make a strong impact on the show.

Bill Hader
Value To The Show:
Similarly to Will, Bill is pretty interchangeable - to the point where I often get those two and Jason mixed up when thinking back to past sketches. His trademark skit - the Vinny Venedici show - is my least favourite, I almost always fast forward over it. That being said, I somewhat enjoy the Vincent Price sketches.
Success Rate: While he may not be a shining star on SNL, Bill has done an excellent job of establishing himself in bit roles outside the show: namely Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Adventureland to name a few. I'm hoping he recognizes that's what he does best - playing the sundance kid to someone's butch cassidy central plotline - because he's great in these scene-stealing roles.
Trademarks: Mostly Vinny Venedici and Vincent Price, plus the other half of the gay couple from New Jersey. Also, Bill, Will, and Jason have their "song memories" sketches but they aren't specific characters in those.
Bottom Line: Lacks the star power to really make a name for himself, but definitely has the charisma and intelligence to pick smart, snappy supporting roles in movies. Don't become a Rainn Wilson and try to be a leading role, it won't work Bill!

Darrell Hammond
Value To The Show: Can morph into almost any political or news pundit, also does a solid job of playing the older, grumpy characters. Plus, he's just a classic part of the show and a remnant of the 90s golden era. That being said, he's drastically underused now that politics season is over, which may lead some to think he's out of touch with the pop culture core of the show.
Success Rate: Darrell has always seemed content to let the show carry his career along - he's never been one to jump into the real acting world, at least not in any notable way. Once he leaves SNL, I think he recognizes he may fade into obscurity.
Trademarks: Donald Trump, John McCain, Bill Clinton, Sean Connery, Chris Matthews - Hammond is the master of impersonating, but doesn't bring his own recurring characters to the show.
The Bottom Line: Underused...but maybe for a reason. Definitely the best impersonater they have on staff, it's almost freakish.

Seth Meyers
Value To The Show: I have a major crush on Seth Meyers - and I feel like he always joined SNL with the goal of being part of Weekend Update / possibly part of the core writing staff. He's great on WU, although maybe not as charismatic as past solo hosts of the segment - he generally works better / well when interacting with a guest or a co-host. That being said, I always look forward to WU now that he's hosting it! I do wish he'd make a few more dips into the regular sketches - his take on David Beckham was priceless a few years ago!
Success Rate: Unlike some of his co-hosts / successors on WU (Tina, Amy), Seth never really established himself on the show. As a result, it may be harder for him to bring a unique brand of comedy to the movie / tv world beyond his wisecracking wit on WU. He's had the odd amusing guest appearance which are moreso of note becuase you'll find yourself going "Is that Seth Meyers?" rather than dwelling on his comedic prowess a la Bill Hader.
Trademark: Being the host of Weekend Update, and not much else.
The Bottom Line: The Weekend Update crown will be Seth's as long as he wants it, but beyond that? Not sure.

Andy Samberg
Value To The Show: Lorne Michaels sagely recognizes that Andy's viral popularity - i.e. Digital Shorts - are a huge boost for the show, thus, he lets Andy focus on those. Other than that, Andy mostly just plays the occasional teen/kid role, although his recent portrayal of Rohm what's-his-name has been good.
Success Rate: I feel like Andy's rise has been a bit too meteoric for his own good - he really only contributes digital shorts to the show, and otherwise plays filler characters, particularly in episodes with young hosts. Hot Rod & Space Chimps were both weak efforts. That being said, his return to Lonely Island / viral video success has been welcome / on point with his career path to this point.
Trademarks: Digital shorts, and within those, Laser Cats.
The Bottom Line: Although lauded as quite popular, I'm not sure Andy's career will hold up 90-minute feature roles. He's more of a 4-minute youtube video kind of guy.

Jason Sudeikis
Value To The Show:
Oh Jason. He's probably my least fave character on the show as his "I talk loud", frat boy kind of pigheaded nonchalance isn't funny for very long. Neither is his shit-eating grin. BUT I do acknowledge he fills a void the rest of the more mild-mannered cast members probably couldn't fill. In fact, Jason is nearly always the role of the "director" in commercials, music videos, whatever. He has no recurring characters other than the painfully irritating Joe Biden that seems more of a caricature of Jason's own personality. Sigh.
Success Rate: I can see Jason having a Bill Hader type career in bit parts, but Bill is just a lot more likeable than Jason...
Trademarks: Loud, annoying jock types or Joe Biden (um, same difference)
Bottom Line: A forgettable part of the cast, moreso than his interchangeble counterparts (Bill and Will)

Kenan Thompson
Value To The Show:
Token black guy (which is weird - where's the diversity?!?!), although his body type makes it harm for him to be as fluid in impersonations as his successors. Very campy OTT type of humour that can either be super funny, or super...unrealistic, and thus jarring. The more subtle actors often outshine him. He does have a few funny recurring roles though - including his bit part in Kristen Wiig's "Gilly" sketches.
Success Rate: Kenan's got a background in TV already, so he does do a fair bit of guesting, but nothing of note, and no bit parts in movies that are notable enough to mention.
Trademarks: Talking loud, saying WHAT? as loudly as possible, and at times, using some amusing intonations to rock some ebonics up in herr. Also he has a few fun recurring characters, although not as frequently touched upon as others, including his Deep House Dish starring role, Virginica (where is she???), and Jean K. Jean - the always amusing Def Jam french comedian that appears on WU.
The Bottom Line: His OTT comedy is a bit out of sync with his counterparts, and may account for why he's somewhat underused on the show / hasn't really established himself despite being around for awhile. Also, lots of fans of the show don't like him.

Kristen Wiig
Value To The Show: Undoubted star of the show. My boyfriend and I used to play a game with Amy Poehler to see how many times they used her per episode (almost every sketch). Kristen now takes that honour (and it's still almost every sketch). Very versatile, although best known for playing socially awkward women with great facial, body, and vocal expression.
Success Rate: Much like Bill Hader, Kristen has had some GREAT scene-stealing roles outside of SNL, including Knocked Up and Adventureland. Although she can be construed as a bit one note (always socially awkward) her ability to translate that character into everything from a shrewed television exec (Knocked Up) to a homely Target employee to a boastful one-upping diva (Penelope!), Wiig always delivers.
Trademarks: Agh so many! Judy or whatever her name the travel 'expert' on WU, also Amy's aunt the movie reviewer (may be in dead in the water now). One-upping Penelope. Target lady. The chick that LOVES surprises. Jamie Lee Curtis doing Activia commercials. Kathie Lee Gifford. Elizabeth on the View. Gilly, the troublemaking awkward child. There are many others I'm sure...
The Bottom Line: I'm unsure as to Wiig's long-term future. She's done some great supporting roles and cameos outside of the show, and she's clearly one of the current stars, but I feel like she'd do better in an ensemble situation (like Tina or Amy) rather than try to branch out on her own like say, Molly Shannon.

Abby Elliot
Value To The Show: Er...she's insanely young. I just looked it up, she's younger than me - she's only 21. Seriously? I mean I guess it gives her the potential for longevity. Plus she's prettier than most of the girls they've had on the show, which should make her a good candidate for celebrity impersonations. So far she's been mostly filler though, other than (excessively) portraying Angelina Jolie on WU.
Success Rate: Indeterminable at this point, but of the 3 newbie girls, she's the most likable I think.
Trademarks: Baby-obsessed Angelina Jolie has made at least 3 or 4 appearances since Abby started in November.
Bottom Line: Even for a featured performer, she's quite underused. I'm not sure she is really able to giv'r like Amy and Kristen have over the last few years, she seems more content to play cutesy roles for now. Can they please get her to impersonate Britney Spears? She looks freakishly like her at times.

Bobby Moynihan
Value To The Show: Captures the young, chubby, awkward character half-decently, and stands out from the general look / usability of the other actors current employed. Can be a bit annoying / much at times though, and occasionally treads on Will Forte's nerd corner a bit too closely.
Success Rate: I don't see him being versatile / likable enough to really do much beyond the show. There's something very juvenile / cutesy about his roles so far that has kind of been done (better) with Adam Sandler (a la Billy Madison).
Trademarks: Playing bratty, whiny children, Mark Payne - the wiggah bartender, and er, that's about it.
Bottom Line: Kind of a white Kenan actually.

Michaela Watkins
Value To The Show:
So far she's poised to be the next Mya Rudolph (they play the same Muppet), but she lacks Mya's ability to play things totally straight and deadpan. She can be a bit on the hammy side and hasn't shown much prowess for timing yet, but I'll give her time. Angie Tempura, her celeb blogger person on WU, is half-decent and a departure from everything else she's been given so far, but nothing special.
Success Rate: She's probably been given the least opportunity so far to really shine, plus she's already a bit on the old side (37) to really establish a name for herself. I feel she's filler - on the show and beyond.
Trademarks: Hoda Kotb has made 3 appearances already with Kristen Wiig (as Kathie Lee) on The Today show. Plus Angie Tempura. The former is not really funny, the latter I have mixed feelings about.
The Bottom Line: All filler, not so killer.

Casey Wilson
Value To The Show: I feel like Casey had more potential when she was the only featured female on the show a season or two ago - she was used more frequently and was making progress in establishing herself. Now that Abby and Michaela have shown up, I feel they're being shoved down our throats a bit and Casey has been left to the wayside. She's okay at playing kind of hammy, dramatic, drag-queen types but her impersonations are pretty blase.
Success Rate: She's been smart in getting some production credits to her name (unfortunately with 'Bride Wars' rather than a successful vehicle like "Mean Girls") but given the recent downplay of her existence on SNL I'm not confident Casey will go anywhere with her face / fronting. She has potential to play the quirky best friend type in chick flicks.
Trademarks: Er, her operatic vocal trills would be the best I can think of.
Bottom Line: Forgotten and forgettable as of late.

So there you have it. SNL needs to sort out their females so Kristen isn't carrying the show, find a few more ethnically (or age, or body type, or looks) diverse cast members to add to the mix, and focus on developing some more recurring characters for some of the more veteran cast members that are still floundering.

Till later,

Britt's On

It Was The Best Of Times...

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So two of the shows I regularly watch - One Tree Hill, and Friday Night Lights, are in seemingly paradoxical states.

Okay, different, but somehow similar. One Tree Hill, currently in its sixth season, is facing the imminent departure of the shows two stars - Hilarie Burton (Peyton) and Chad Michael Murry (Lucas, er, kind of THE star of the show). Worst of all, it looks like they'll pull a cheesy wedding day death based on a totally random, spontaneous incident where Peyton having a baby is vaguely fatal. While Lucas and Peyton have never ever ever been my fave characters, their story is kind of the heart of the show - much like Karen and Keith's was a few seasons ago (again not my faves). Without them, I'm not sure where they're planning to take the series...but we'll get back to that.

On the flipside, Friday Night Lights (FNL) has gone through 3 seasons - the latter two of which they've stretched the age of some of the main characters - Tyra, Lyla, and Tim in particular all seemed to be seniors or at least juniors in Season 1, yet are just graduating now with established sophomores come seniors Landry and Matt. The funny thing is, FNL was taped about a year ago, aired on Direct TV about eight months ago, and got renewed for two more seasons two weeks ago. So you do the math - it's been a few very swan song, poignant episodes packed with tears and drama and heart. Now the big question on all the fans lips is where do we go from here? I stated my theory already, Coach T is going to get fired and head for team underdog at East Dillon High - which gives them more flexibility if they stayed at their current school with a new cast. My friend Sarah thinks they might move to San Antonio to keep dreamtastic Timmy Riggins on the show. We'll see...

So here is the paradox. Both shows are losing some of their core cast members. What now?

One Tree Hill has suffered a bit last season, but moreso this one, because the show lacks the momentum of the four high school years (in fairness! they stretched each year - 11 and 12 - over two seasons and acknowledged it). Back then, it was about the State Championship and getting out of high school alive. The producers made a relatively wise choice of fast forwarding past college - more tideous basketball and watching them grow apart - and brought things together in a emotionally fraught and interesting season last year.

This year however, there's been zero momentum. The interesting career positions each character was in at the beginning of S5 have all been erased - Lucas' career options recently abruptly shutdown, Peyton is semi-managing a record label under a mega label, Brooke is doing nothing but working in an empty storefront and designing endless wedding dresses, Hayley has quit her teaching job but also isn't interested in singing again, and Nathan is in a minor league for basketball but with little to show for it on the home or work front. Where are we going? Where's the ambition? I want things to *finally* happen for Brooke, and I want the writers to decide whether they want to give Hayley or Nathan a fairy tale career ending as they snatched them away over the last two years. S6 did start off with a bang (literally) but it's quickly degressed from there without a final build-up.

My question with OTH in relation to FNL is would OTH have benefitted from college years? I'm not sure. I think the lateral drift of the characters would have been depressing, as it is on most shows that go to college, but at the same time the forced closeness (and desire to stay in Tree Hill) today is equally irritating. So is the prospect of killing off a major character for contractual / dramatic reasons. Just have her leave people. Have you learned nothing from S3 of The OC?

FNL...I'm guessing the grads will not be seen in college. The writers have two choices as I've mentioned - to send them off gracefully with a story arc like Smash & Street, or to feature them as minor recurring characters in their other lives. Another theory my friend Sarah had was Coach Taylor might end up at San Antonio state, thus giving him a chance to at least continue coaching Riggins, but we'll see.

Before I depart, let's rank the success of college seasons on other shows I've watched:

Dawson's Creek - 3.5/5: The show actually did a decent job of portraying college in its 90s pretentious way, Joey got better hair, and they finally did away with Dawson by making him exist in a world separate from the rest of the Creekers.
Pros: Less Dawson, continued enjoyable drama, the awesome episode with Joey and Pacey in the K-Mart.
Cons: Noticeable (although acknowledged) drift of the characters, Extreme emo Dawson and the death of his father, Busy Phillips as Audrey = worst cast addition ever.

Gilmore Girls - 4/5: A friend of mine is watching GG for the first time on DVD right now (thanks to moi) and it's making me reflect that the high school years really were fun - with the wider cast of characters from Rory's school definitely outweighing her college castmates. That being said, the show was about Rory's academics / future more than her friends, and ultimately, about family ties which the show never lost - other than that patch at the beginning of S6.
Pros: Smart move on the writers to make Rory choose Yale - it invoked serious family drama, but ultimately kept the family bonds in tact with Rory/Lorilei, Also Logan was a welcome change of pace from Dean, and seeing Rory evolve into someone more confident was nice. Plus Paris (realistically) stuck around. Also the show just let Rory grow more because it wasn't just about "getting into college" it was about boyfriends and futures and careers.
Cons: Some people complain Rory became too stylized in college which I somewhat agree with. Also, the loss of Madeline, Louise, the Puffs, and the various other high school castmates was sad, but realistic.

Buffy - 4.5/5: Let me clarify. Buffy herself went to college for approximately 1.5 seasons - but really, Season 4 of the show was "the college year" that made lots of puns and metaphors, and also heartbreaking drama, of typical college experiences (one night stands, missing home, and getting stupidly hammered to name a few). By the middle of season 5 we had nary a class scene with Buffy, who dropped out as explanation, and returned for one ill-fated class at the beginning of S6. That being said - I give Buffy a 4.5/5 for the college years because to me, Seasons 4-7 are the best of the series (4-6 really), and Willow was attending college for most of them. Season 4 was a transition / turning point, and thus, I gave it a solid mark.
Pros: The show always used typical high school drama as metaphors for the monsters it created (ex: Angel in S2). In college (s4), it did the same thing, but with a few seasons of doing this under their belt, it was much better executed (imo), and generally the funniest season of the show. S5-S7 were just way better in overriding story arcs than the earlier seasons. The fact Buffy never seemed to be in class (nor did Willow or Xander) was finally more logical, and honestly, freeing. Also, glad they acknowledged that Xander was the Pacey of the bunch - not in school, and struggling a bit, but ultimately both work it out.
Cons: S4 in particular had a relatively weak story arc, and mostly rested on its funny / smart college metaphors. Also, Buffy & friends never complete schooling which somewhat makes this a moot show.

The OC - 1/5: Marissa (Mischa Barton) died at the end of Season 3. It was stupid. The one thing I was looking forward to was seeing Ryan go to college, move on, and possibly add a new interesting female to the cast (and playing a guessing game as to who it would be?!?!). Well. The writers decided to predictably - for casting reasons, not for actual story / character relevance - pair him up with goody two shoes/show ruiner Taylor (Autumn Reeser), which, if you watch the beginning of S3 again, is ludicrous. Aside from that, Seth - the token brainiac - wasted away his unwanted gap year and decided to randomly become a movie critic by season's end, and Summer's experience at Brown was laughably bad - thus she dropped out early.
Pros: None. I hated all the characters added / focused on at this point (especially Taylor, Katelin, and Summer's stupid hippie friend) and the 3 main young leads felt disconnected without bonding together to save the day for Marissa.
Cons: Everything. See above.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head...till next time.

Britt's On

A Friday Theory

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One of my fave games is to try and guess the outcome of a show. Friday Night Lights is actually pretty unpredictable because it rarely sticks to the conventions of dramatic television, but this last episode - where it was announced a second high school would open in Dillon, Texas, thus dividing up the football 'talent' by district lines - gave me one to ponder at least for what may happen in S4.

If you haven't followed the show, we've been with the general same pack of kids since S1, despite some very sketchy time placement of some of the main characters (Tim, Tyra, Lyla should all have graduated one or two years ago now) - this year it's inevitable that everyone, with the exception of Julie and newcomer JD, will be graduating. Which begs the question...where do we go from here? The two previous graduated characters were given four-episode story arcs each at the beginning of this season and have made peace with Panther football once and for all - but you can't do that with every character on the show and expect it to feel the same.

At this point the writers have a few options (assuming the show *please please please* continues on):

#1) Give each of the graduating characters a sweet farewell storyline much like Jason and Smash got at the beginning of this season. Start with a fresh cast of characters other than Julie and JD.

#2) Start with a fresh cast, but keep the other characters on as recurring characters for a transition (or possibly final) season - see, the first season or two after the original core cast of Degrassi kids graduated from 'The Next Generation'. You still had storylines with Ellie and Paige at college, but it didn't feel *too* weird, and show still largely focused on Degrassi.

#3) Follow the kids at college with equal weight to what's happening back in Dillon.

#4) Coach Taylor loses the State Championship and gets fired - only to get hired at the new rival high school in town and therefore a fresh new cast isn't so weird after all. Dramatic tension!

#4 was my theory as of this last episode, but I really don't know where things'll go. The writers have kept some of these twenty-somethings in high school for long enough, but it'll be sad to see them go. This is why high school shows are tragic my friends. Like...what will happen with Gossip Girl? That may be a bit easier as the show has never been rooted much in the realities of high school - but it has always focused on the main cast being in the sort of same circles at the same time at the same events and in the same places. GG is a whole nother kettle of fish which deserves a seperate blog post though.

In the meantime, if you haven't already picked it up watching FNL, do it. This is easily one of the best shows on television, and aside from a bit of screwy character editing and the odd blank slate scenario, I have zero complaints about it. And this is coming from a girl who was super against watching the show in the first place - but loved it from the first episode.

Did I mention the hotness & awesomeness that is Tim Riggins (Canadian Taylor Kitsch)?



Britt's On

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