Critic's Pick

TV Picks: '7 Minutes in Heaven' and a David Bowie cornucopia

"7 Minutes in Heaven" (Above Average/YouTube). After three years' hiatus, former "Saturday Night Live" writer (and briefly featured player) Mike O'Brien has revived his claustrophobic online interview show -- conducted, like the teenage party game from which it takes its name, in a closet and finished, always uncomfortably, with a kiss. Two new episodes have appeared on the Above Average website/YouTube channel since December, the first with WWE star John Cena and the second featuring Will Ferrell, making a round total of 30 installments since 2011. O'Brien possibly did not create the High Concept Talk Show, but he was in that game ahead of Jerry Seinfeld, whose Crackle series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," has just finished its seventh series (coincidentally with an appearance by Ferrell), and Natasha Leggero's 2013 "Tubbin' With Tash," which took place in a hot tub.

His guest list leans heavily on but is not limited to O'Brien's "SNL" colleagues; Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Fred Armisen, Tracy Morgan, Kristen Wiig, Connie Britton, Olivia Wilde, Elijah Wood, Christina Ricci, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Sudeikis, Reggie Watts and Patricia Clarkson are among those who have agreed to stand close to the host, typically dressed in a short-sleeved dress shirt and tie that make him look paradoxically more childlike, and submit to a kiss. (Clarkson, having ascertained that they're both single, kisses him back; this doesn't happen much.) On some level, it's a real talk show -- that is, some of the questions can be and sometimes are answered straight, and even when they're not (to Paul Rudd: "This is a two-part question -- talk about the journey of the American Polish Jew, and also what's your favorite dessert?"), guests reveal themselves by their level of nervousness or ease. (The nervousness does seem to be authentic.)

But other features are jammed into its jump-cut minutes -- usually less than seven -- a call to O'Brien's mother or a prank call ("This is called tell a spa about a couple fight you had") or the improvised Closet Theater. O'Brien to Goldblum, e.g.: "We're going to do a little scene, we're arguing over who pays for the bill at lunch, and then at any point during it there's a sudden moment where you realize that you left, like, the gas stove running at an orphanage you were volunteering at." To Jack McBrayer: "You and I are arguing about electric cars and you suddenly notice for the first time in your life you have thumbs." To Cena:"We're tag-team partners who are in couples therapy because you turned your back on me in the last match, as you did to Billy Kidman."

The Ferrell episode, which does run about seven minutes, includes multiple scenes: "We're overly theatrical guys who have gotten trapped in paper bags, and we trying to act our way out of a paper bag"; "You're the first cowboy that sleeps in"; "So we're former gang members who have quit the gang, as they describe their initiation into the Bloods or whatever it starts to sound more and more like they have may have just been initiated into a frat." "We'd have to go on these horrible gang trips to Lake Havasu and Cancun," says Ferrell, his face hidden behind a bandana and sunglasses and his voice electronically disguised. "I remember Fort Lauderdale, Palm Springs." These bits, like most of the rest of the show, if you want to call it that, and I do, do their business quickly and go.

David Bowie (YouTube). David Bowie is dead -- still dead, sadly, though it's somehow easy to doubt it. And in the wake of his going, the cyberspace filled up with selections of his "greatest" videos -- old popular favorites like "Heroes" and "Ashes to Ashes" and "Let's Dance" and new popular favorites like "Lazarus" and "Blackstar"-- along with other digitally shareable shards of history. Here is a selection of Bowie clips and related clips you are less likely to have seen.

In 1988, Bowie joined forces with the propulsive, punky, highly athletic Québécois dance group La La La Human Steps. This clip includes both a brief documentary description of their first collaboration, set to a new arrangement of Bowie's "Look Back in Anger," in which Bowie as "a rather desolate -- dissolute, rather -- angel of death," partners the troupe's star Louise Lecavalier and the performance itself. (It was restaged, with video effects, for "Wrap Around the World," a globally mounted satellite television broadcast.) "He's proven to be an amazingly good memory for movement," says choreographer Édouard Lock, who subsequently staged Bowie's Sound and Vision tour.

In his 1999 commencement address at Boston's Berklee College of Music, to an audience of "rockers, jazzers, samplers," Bowie seems at once happy and nervous, starry and modest. He tells some bad jokes, does funny voices and impressions, sings a little biddley-boddley bop ("a George Redman composition -- West Coast band, '60s, you wouldn't know them"), departs from his prepared remarks, downplays his chops, names John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Stitt, Harry Partch and the Velvet Underground as influences, but adds "unfortunately I also loved Anthony Newley, Florence Foster Jenkins, Johnny Ray, Julie London, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Edith Piaf and Shirley Bassey." "I found what I was good at doing and what I enjoyed most was the game of what if?" he says -- mixing chanson with Philadelphia soul, Schoenberg with Little Richard, Kurt Weill with R&B -- and he calls his career "a crusade to change the kind of information that rock music contained," even as allows that he's also the fan who turns up the song as it fades out to catch the last notes of a solo.

The (too) Thin (deathly) White Duke visited the black dance party "Soul Train" in 1975 (not his healthiest days) to lip sync "Golden Years" and "Fame." The performances have gone around lately, but less so host Don Corenlius' introduction and interview: "We're very proud to have with us one who is easily one of the world's most popular music personalities -- a great welcome, gang, for the gifted singer, producer, composers, Mr. David Bowie." He adds a third pronunciation of "Bowie" – buoy -- to the customary English and American readings. ("Bow" as what you do before the Queen, and "bow" as in what you wear in your hair.) A brief audience Q&A follows; with Bowie shy and skittery and perhaps otherwise altered, it has the air of a polite First Contact.

The singer's duet with Annie Lennox on "Pressure," backed by the remaining members of Queen at the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute concert, is famous footage, but there is also this lovely, offhand record of the song in rehearsal, with the singers playing to the music and to one another rather than to a crowd, a camera and a cultural moment. Different clothes too -- casually couture -- George Michael singing along in the back and a joke at the top.

Finally, a bouquet of what might be called cover versions: After Bowie's passing, Robbie Williams posted a low-res, low-light, highly pixelated video of Bowie's "Changes," sung with Rufus Wainwright to Guy Chambers' piano; beer, wine, candles and the light of the laptop from which the singers read the lyrics add to the late-night, wake-like elegiac ambiance. The Adult Swim cartoon "The Venture Bros." has had a Bowie fixation from early on, sometimes featuring him as a supervillain (played by James Urbaniak, also the voice of Dr. Venture), attended by henchmen Iggy Pop and Klaus Nomi. In a separate homage, the 2004, first-season episode "Ghosts of the Sargasso" -- which opens with test pilot Major Tom (Urbaniak, again) crash-landing his jet, the TVC15 -- pulls dialog from the lyrics to "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes." (Side note: After a break of three years, that series returned Sunday for a sixth season.) And here is a selection of "David Bowie Makeup Tutorials," mostly for that Aladdin Sane look -- YouTube offers many.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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