Strangers Things 2: Nerds Getting S*** DONE.

Here’s my rambling breakdown of what worked and didn’t work in Stranger Things 2. SPOILERS LIKE CRAZY ARE AFOOT! Proceed with caution.

The Stranger Things sequel had a lot to live up to, so I was delighted to hear the Duffer Bros explain on the ST2 after-show that they began cooking up ideas before the series had even been renewed for a second season. That means they were, at the time, mostly free of fan reactions, given them space to develop a story based solely on the events that had taken place in ST1.

Sorry for playing Captain Obvious for the moment, but that’s a good starting point for a follow up to a popular series with a bazillion nerds binge watching it, just waiting to take apart the sequel with a fine-tooth comb. As nerds themselves, the Duffer Bros surely did their best to develop a complex, rich story that dealt with ST1’s loose ends while satisfying the nerd chorus at the same time. I mean, you can’t play D&D for as long and as seriously at the Duffers and not gain some understanding of story and character development. And, for the most part, they succeeded. Is it as good as ST1? Of course not. We no longer have the intrigue of what’s going on the Hawkins Lab. We’re no longer just as confused about where Will is/was as his mom, Joyce. That’s the nub of why so many sequels don’t work: The mystery is gone, so where do we go from here?

Thankfully, ST2 doesn’t exactly suffer from that. I make no secret about my thirst for character development, and ST2 offers a rich look into most of the characters it established in ST1. I love that Eleven has been living with Hopper in his secret cabin. I love that everyone has been incredibly fucked up after everything that happened in ST1. I love that Joyce went out and got herself a stable, nerdy, and sweet beau after the shitstorm she experienced and how it brought Lonnie back into her life in ST1, because that’s exactly what you do after something like this if you’re Joyce Byers. These are realistic reactions to having your world turned literally Upside Down. You long for normalcy, stability. ST2 refers a lot to the desire to be normal again. It’s practically the theme of the first half of the sequel. Well played on the verisimilitude within a completely fantastical set-up, ST2. Well-played. You know I love that shit.

Speaking of shit I loved about ST2, let’s talk more about what worked:

Eleven and Hopper – David Harbour is so damned believable as Chief Hopper, his presence grounds the entire series. He grounds everyone he’s in a scene with. He makes everyone a better actor just for standing near him in a shot. And, he’s basically Harrison Ford. The director acknowledges it, showing Hopper grabbing his hat, Indie-stye, multiple times over the course of the series. Millie Brown is equally believable, bringing me to tears every time she cried, so it’s no surprise that her scenes with Hop are some of the best parts of about ST2.

Hop’s not to hard on the eyes, neither.

Steve Herrington and Dustin – Unlike Hopper and Eleven’s pairing, I did not see this one coming. Steven’s character evolution has been one of my favorites from the start. The writers realized they had to turn him from the show’s human antagonist in ST1 to someone more sympathetic pretty quickly, which added complexity to his, Nancy’s, and Jonathan’s relationships to each other. And I love that! While Steve definitely still had Eau de Douche all over him at the start of ST2, his meet-cute with Dustin made Steve a Complete Character with a soft-spot for the kids he was charged with protecting. So good!!! And Dustin, played by Gaten Matarazzo, is one of my favorite characters in the show from the get-go, so I appreciated the sheer amount of screen time he had (and the screen time he had with his mom! Nice believable chemistry between those two!!).

Come for the banter, stay for the haircare tips.

Eleven’s Journey – I did not love the stand-alone episode with El’s sister, Kali. More on that later. However, I did love that her mother managed to send El an encrypted message to find Kali in order to become strong enough to close the gate at the end. The visit to Kali was necessary, but poorly executed.

Nancy’s guilt over Barb – I knew Barb wasn’t coming back. The Duffers made no secret about the fact that she was gone…and she had to be gone, because Nancy needed to deal with the fall-out of her actions that lead to Barb’s death. As heavy handed as it was written, the scene in which Nancy and Steve have dinner with Barb’s parents was the perfect way to add still more guilt to Nancy’s growing shame pile: They think Barb still alive, and they’ll spend every penny they have to find her. Nancy and Steve, however, know the truth, but their non-disclosure contract with Hawkins Lab means they can never tell them, and that means Barb’s parents can never truly put their only child to rest. That’s some dark shit, ST2, and I love that you’re not afraid to go dark. As in real life, death has far reaching implications for those left behind, and people do not move on from it quickly or, sometimes, at all.

I have been and will continue to be a Barb.

Joyce and Bob – I was on the fence about Sean Astin as Bob…at first. I have no issue with Astin. Dude has made an entire career out of being a lovable schlub, and I have no doubt at some point in the future we’ll see him on a season of Fargo playing against type, and I can’t wait for that to happen. Bob was so gosh-darned lovable in ST2, in fact, that my husband concocted a whole theory behind Bob as being a human already infested with a Shadow Monster/hive mind being, and was leading Will down the path to become infested himself. After all, the scene in the car in which Bob tells Will just to stand up to his fears was what lead to Will becoming possessed. This was likely intentional. A red herring, perhaps? Either way, it didn’t take long for me to come to this realization: Bob is exactly who he claims to be, and of course he’s going to be a hero. One of the underlying themes in ST is that nerds get shit DONE, and Bob was a nerd who got shit done. So much so, he got the most disturbing death in the series so far saving the woman he loved and her son. And, I get why Joyce was drawn to him after all the crazy shit she’s been through, so his addition to the cast made PERFECT sense.

Lucas’ evolution – When Stranger Things began, Lucas was the group’s skeptic and naysayer, an important role in any band of misfits even if it’s the most unsavory position in the group. By the end of ST2, Lucas is the one telling Max everything, a move I seriously doubt Lucas from ST1 would’ve made, given the old Lucas’ penchant for playing it safe and not wanting to rock the boat . And, even though I didn’t particularly like Max as a character, she gave Lucas a buffer to allow him to shine as a heroic character (this is also, sadly, one of the issues I have with Max’s character: she was merely a device to make Lucas more interesting, and the writers can do better than that).

Brett Gelman as Murray the conspiracy theorist – I will watch Brett Gelman play any role, in anything.

Thank god Brett was in this scene. Can you IMAGINE a scene with just Nancy and Jonathan? Snore.

Which leads me to what didn’t work in ST2:

Max, Billy, Dr. Owens, Kali, and just about every other new character – So many of them were pointless. I get that there had to be a human antagonist, and that could no longer be Steve Herrington. I get that Billy needed to be the bully of the piece, and I think that if there had been just a little more time spent on his abusive home life – and I’m talking about, like, two more scenes – I would’ve appreciated his character more than I did. And, he wasn’t bad enough compared to the non-human aggressors in ST2. The writers could have made him more vile, more complex, more subtle. Maybe that’s something to look forward to in ST3. Max was a device to develop Lucas and Dustin’s characters, specifically Lucas’, and it felt like a cop-out. Moreover, time spent on Max was time taken away from Mike, which I’ll discuss in a bit. Dr. Owens could’ve been played by anyone, but Paul Reiser Reisered it up so much I wasn’t sure if Owens was supposed to be comic relief or a bad guy akin to Reiser’s character in Aliens. Having finished the series, I still don’t know what his purpose was, and I don’t care if I never see him in the series again. Kali was fine and her character was essential to the plot (and, it shows there are others like them out there, and I’m sure they will pop up in future seasons), but her band of misfits were terrible and unbelievable. The scene between Mike’s mom and Billy, however? LOVED IT. More of that, please.

Mike’s absence for half the season – Where the hell was Mike? I mean, he was physically there, but so much time was spent on Max, there was no room for ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS in the first half of the series aside from some short scenes showing him angry over something or trying to contact El on the walkie. I get that the slow-bleed of revealing El to Mike was necessary to fill out the length of series. I get that El had to be elsewhere for most of it, learning to become strong enough to seal the gate. But I missed Mike, and there was not much of a pay-off in Max’s character to make up for it.

As usual, Seinfeld would’ve been better.

Heavy handed writing – This is what happens when you have a ton of exposition to get through: Every explanation of everything becomes super explain-y. ST1 revealed plot points to us as they were revealed to the characters, making it so we can live in the moment with the characters. ST2 explained and telegraphed every move every character was going to make, leaving behind a lot of the intrigue they created during ST1. We knew Bob was going down when he left the gun behind in Hawkins Lab. We knew the tentacle drawings were a map as soon as the first body of water was revealed. We knew the Upside Down was growing under the pumpkin patches, and that’s what was killing the pumpkins. We knew all of these things before the characters knew them, which takes the viewer (or, at least, THIS viewer) out of the moment. It removes us from the shock and dismay and surprise the show’s characters are experiencing because we already know what’s coming. However, the surprises did come in the form of character evolution, for that, I can forgive some heavy-handed exposition.

CGI vs Practical Effects – I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but I miss practical effects. One of the things I loved about ST1 was that it had a low budget feel that was totally convincing. The Demagorgon from ST1 was a guy in makeup. Sets were constructed and effects were minimal. In fact, the Duffers revealed in the after-show that the special effects crew for ST1 was one guy who worked part time. ST2, on the other hand, uses tons of CGI, and I understand that it was necessary in order to create a herd of demo-dogs, a huge shadow monster (that thing looked very cool, BTW, so good use of generated graphics there), and lots of the Upside Down’s environment. My favorite scenes, however, were when characters faced the underground tunnels solo or in small groups, dodging practical effects tentacles grabbing at their ankles. So, consider this yet another call for more practical effects TV/movies.

You, Dart, are no Gizmo, sir.

Dart – Sigh. Bonding a major character with a cute, strange animal is hackneyed, and this case, a distracting use of CGI that really took me out of the fantasy of it all. I liked that it gave Dustin some funny moments as well as one very heroic one near the end of the series thanks his bonding with Dart, but overall, the inclusion of Dart was a big miss for me.

Ghostbusters costumes: Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will should’ve shown up to school ALL wearing Venkman name tags on their costumes, leading to some hilarious “We can’t ALL be Venkmans!” dialogue.

Everyone wanted to be Venkman, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.

TL;DR: ST2 was not as good as ST1, but I didn’t need it to be. Maybe I grew up reading books or something, but I see series and stories like Stranger Things to be like long, juicy D&D campaigns played in Mike’s basement. There are going to be hits. There are going to misses. There are going to natural ebbs and flows to a tale, and not all of it is going to be a masterpiece of visual storytelling. But like books of yore, a story doesn’t need to be perfect in every aspect in order to be an enjoyable, thought-provoking, LONG GAME experience. ST2 gave me a lot to think about in terms of human complexity, our drive for “normalcy,” and how we relate to people who are nothing like us. ST is also about how nerds get shit DONE, that it’s better to crazy with someone who gets you than to pretend to be normal alone, that friends don’t lie except for when they do, and that they will always be there to light a screaming tunnel full of tentacles and demo-dogs on fire in order to save your life, no matter how much of a brat you’ve been to them before that.

As always, ST is about the kids, and they do NOT disappoint.

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I Watched ‘Disjointed’ So You Don’t Have To: True Confessions of a Netflix Junkie

Oh Netflix. I really wish I didn’t have to write about this, but here we are.

Netflix original series deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even if the genre isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, overall, I’ve found many to be well-written, well-acted, inventive, and pretty ballsy. So, a stoner sitcom isn’t something I’m gonna go looking for, but it has Kathy Bates and it’s on Netflix and funny is funny regardless of source material, so I thought…I’m at the gym. Why not?

Turns out, a BILLION reasons why not. Here are three of them:

  1. There’s a laugh track. I hate being told when things are funny. Most of Disjointed’s hackie jokes just didn’t land. But a couple of them did, and if it weren’t for the laugh track, I might’ve actually laughed at them. Get a live studio audience, or hire better writers to make rapid-fire jokes that require two or three viewings to get them all. The laugh track is over, Chuck Lorre. Let it go.
  2. Kathy Bates is wasted on this show. No, I don’t mean she’s acting wasted. Her acting abilities are wasted on this show.
  3. Dumb stoner comedy is not only dumb, it’s grossly outdated. It’s a ubiquitous genre that even dumb stoners don’t find funny anymore (dumb stoners, please feel free to weigh in on this one if you can see past your Doritos bag for a second. See? NOT FUNNY, VERY STALE). Why is Netflix trifling with this decrepit view of smoking marijuana? Furthermore, the show’s portrayal of marijuana dispensaries is beyond inaccurate.While I have never set foot inside of a bona fide pot dispensary in all of my 42 years, I was recently edified by a close friend who lives in Portland, Oregon, a state where both medicinal and recreational pot use are allowed:

    “[Disjointed] is what Pat Robertson thinks a pot shop is. Kathy Bates getting soccer moms stoned in-house while Shaggy grows magic plants in the lobby. Truth is, life-long growers – and women and brown folk specifically – have been put out of business by legal weed. This is a booming new suddenly-legal industry so guess what the brand new entrepreneurs look like? If you said hippy woman in her 60’s and her son of color . . .well. *laugh track* There are 7 million white dude bros who stand behind counters and mansplain pot strains to you. They are given business licenses that have pictures of them with their baseball caps on backwards, and they have no fear of jail. That’s not to say there are not women. Often the dude bros will bring in a girl showing midriff who works the front desk (there is no cop at the front desk). She is there because no one would want to ask her what she thinks of the strains; that’s man stuff. There is nothing grown INSIDE a shop. In fact, there is comedy to be had in how the stuff is packaged and “named” and priced. There is comedy in that, in Portland, during Girl Scout cookie season, there are scouts who are smart enough to set tables up in front of shops FACING the front doors. Those girls, I tell you what, they are the real businesswomen of tomorrow.”

Netflix execs, LISTEN TO MY FRIEND SARAH PATZEL. Make a show about the Girl Scouts who sell cookies outside of dispensaries*. Make it accurate. Make it less about pot and more about those little entrepreneurial wunderkind who thought of it. Film it on location. Hire good writers to layer jokes. Don’t dumb it down for your viewers. And, please, for the love of all that is a covered in melted cheese, DO NOT ADD A LAUGH TRACK.

There. Now you don’t have to watch this clunker. Netflix seems to drop a series every other day. Just wait until next week, and try again. Maybe then you’ll hit jackPOT see it’s just not working and I’m really very sorry.

*Please submit suggested titles in comments below. My suggestion, of course, is ‘Pot Brownies’.

Larry David + ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’: Why I Need Dark Fictional Characters

[NOTE: This post contains explicit language.]

larry david

I relate to Larry David more often than I am alienated by him, but I’m not proud of it.

And, by Larry David, I mean the character of ‘Larry David’ on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. I have no doubt that the actual Larry David functions mostly fine amongst polite society. Or, maybe he doesn’t. I don’t know Mr. David, but I know Larry David from Curb. I know him, because if I were to sit down and write out a sitcom character with each of my worst qualities highlighted for dramatic effect, I would look a lot like the character of Larry David:

I would loathe the conventions of society until they directly benefit me, and then I would rail against everyone else’s rejection of society’s rules.

Larry David is the ultimate hypocrite, but I can’t help but relate to his reactions. Staying for dessert just for the sake of staying for dessert seems dumb and arbitrary. The “stop and chat” sucks. People do abuse their sampling privileges (I used to work at a Whole Foods Market). Bad drivers really are schmohawks. Furthermore, these things should be pointed out loudly and often even if it makes everyone around you hate you and your judgements and “rules”…except it’s not okay to alienate people in this fashion, and a good portion of us living out in the world have the ability to read nuance and choose our battles, and if we are able to read those nuances and adjust our behavior accordingly, we should.

But what if we didn’t have to? 

The character of Larry David exists in a world of privilege that allows him to live in a mostly-filterless way with few real consequences. He’s the creator of Seinfeld, after all (as he is in real life), and has a lot of money, friends, and influence. Even so, Larry still suffers consequences. He has to apologize for something a million times a day. His wife, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), leaves him during the sixth season. His manager, Jeff Green’s (Jeff Garlin) entire family hates Larry, and Susie (Susie Essman), Jeff’s wife, lovingly refers to him as a “bald fuck” and “four-eyed fuck.” Ben Stiller hates Larry. So does David Schwimmer. So does Paul Riser. And Alainis Morrisette. And Wanda Sykes. It’s safe to say that most people in Larry’s life have a big beef with Larry, which ultimately drives him to move to Paris with his one remaining friend, Leon (J.B. Smoove), by the series finale. But Larry is still stupid wealthy, and he’ll never not be loved by 80-gajillion Seinfeld fans all over the world (I am one of them). So, yeah, Larry can afford to be Larry, and just because Larry is a jackass who’s borderline racist and misogynist doesn’t make him completely wrong all the time. I mean…Susie’s bedazzled sweatshirts aren’t my cup of tea, either.

I get why the character of Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm turns people off. Cringe comedy isn’t for everyone, anyway, and Larry provides some of the cringiest of cringe comedy moments in TV history. But that’s why I love it. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. The character of Larry can’t exist outside of the Curb Universe for the same reason I can’t live out my sick and twisted fantasies about peeing down the heating vent and onto my neighbor’s head while he’s down in our shared basement drinking all night and hammering nails until 4am every morning. It’s the same reason I can’t immediately interrupt someone describing to me a recent dream they had in agonizing detail to remind them that dreamtalk is incredibly boring. It’s the same reason I can’t knock someone’s device out of their hands when they are blocking a public entrance or TALKING VERY LOUDLY ABOUT VERY PERSONAL INFORMATION. It’s the same reason I recognize these desires in myself but don’t feel proud of them and certainly don’t act on them. Why? Well, I think George Costanza said it best:

We need fictional characters who live out their Dark Sides, and we need fictional characters who do it in a funny way. It’s cathartic. I can vent my frustrations at the world through fictional anti-heroes like George Costanza, Larry David, Dr. House, David Brent, and Michael Scott. I can really vent my frustrations through Julie and Billy (Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner) on Difficult People, two people I would find positively loathsome in the Real World but absolutely destroy me with laughter in the fictional world where they reside.

I relate to dark characters because humans are complicated, and it’s wonderful how complicated we are. Our complications allow us to mine the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves and find pure gold. We can turn ugliness into beauty by making someone laugh at it. Laughing at awful characters in movies, books, and TV doesn’t make light of awfulness; it makes awfulness more bearable by shining a big old bright spotlight on it. That’s why fiction is important, why art is important, why all creative endeavors are important. If nothing else, it gives us a means in which to deal with darkness in a constructive way.

So, thanks Larry David, for helping me not go nuts on people all the time, you four-eyed, bald fuck.

Rewatching House, M.D. Seasons 1-3: Yep, He’s Still an Asshole…

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I like a complicated protagonist as much as the next obsessive media consumer. In fact, I’ll take my protagonists like I take my coffee: Overcooked from sitting on the burner with way too much cream and sugar. Okay, never mind, not at all like that. I will, however, take my protagonists intelligent, hilarious, and slightly evil, and Dr. House seems to fit the bill.

Except, as I discovered my 37th time watching House seasons 1-3, Dr. House is just a straight-up asshole.

Starting with the pilot, which aired in 2004, we know exactly what we’re getting into with Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie): Bluster, insults, acting like an entitled douche, misogyny, racism…he hits all his marks right away. In the Real World, Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps) would’ve filed multiple workplace harassment claims against House, and Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) would’ve immediately quit his team (because she probably wouldn’t even bother to file sexual harassment claims with HR, especially since House’s boss, Dr. Cuddy, hired House with the full knowledge of what a gross jagwagon he is). And Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer)? Who cares what he would do? Chase’s hairdo and Australian accent made him immune to character development until the fourth season of House, I guess? Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) would probably still be friends with House because, hey. We all know that guy, right?

“But the cane and the leg injury! He can’t help it! He’s in constant pain! Wouldn’t you be an asshole, too, if you were in pain all the time?” This is a point that’s addressed consistently throughout the series, and in House S3, it’s brought into a stark light thanks to the appearance of season three’s Big Bad, Detective Tritter (David Morse), who reacts to being treated poorly by House by investigating House’s use of Vicodin. Honestly, the first couple of times I watched House S3, I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be hating on more: House, for leaving Tritter in an exam room with a thermometer up his poop chute and flaunting his drug addiction after Tritter reveals he’s a police detective? Tritter, who is every bit as big of an asshole as House? He’s one big crooked cop cliche complete with low, threatening vocal intonation, the annoyoing nicotine gum chewing, the power-hungry look in his eye, the willingness to throw all of House’s colleagues and single friend under the bus in order to take House down for humiliating him…this is TV Cop 101 stuff. Of course, I always end up rooting for House. After all, House is the evil we know and “love,” whereas the whole point of Tritter’s appearance is to hold House responsible for being a major jerk regardless of his cane. There are no winners here.

Samesies with House S1. Remember the donor, Edward Vogler (Chi McBride) who gave Princeton Plainsboro a huge amount of money, which bought him his position as the hospital’s chairman of the board? Yeah, I know. Everyone hated Vogler, including the show’s viewership. Vogler threatened to revoke House’s tenure, but when the board of directors refused, Vogler took back his $100 billion, which Cuddy laments for quite some time (kudos for accuracy!!! Usually in TV, problems resolve and then go away forever, but Cuddy’s frustration over losing all that money lasts for a while, adding a layer of verisimilitude to a show that, for the most part, is hilariously implausible). Vogler, like Tritter, exists for the sole purpose of being the one person in House’s orbit that is an even bigger asshole than House.

I will resist the urge to recap all of season three, but suffice it to say, Tritter gets his comeuppance, House gets away with his crime and learns nothing in the process (even after going through the trouble of detox/rehab as part of his scheme), and Wilson is there at the end to pick up the pieces…or, more specifically, hand House Vicodin through the bars of his cell. Poor Wilson. Will he ever learn? Spoiler alert: No. During the season finale, they ride off together on motorcycles into the sunset. I don’t know which was a worse fate for Wilson: His cancer diagnosis, or his Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, Wilson really gets the shitty end of the stick when it comes to his friendship with House.

The real question here isn’t why House continues to enjoy employment. We know the conceit and we accept it because Television: He’s a brilliant and funny White Dude. The End. Really, the more interesting aspect of House S1-3 is the evolution of the show. At first, the writers clearly needed to set up House as sympathetic character, so they had to find Big Bads for him that were even bigger assholes than he is. That’s a tough line to balance, because once you engage in the game of Asshole One-Upmanship, the viewers no longer have anyone to root for. We’re left with two assholes fighting, and we start to feel like we want a teen slasher villain to show off and just kill everyone because THESE PEOPLE ARE AWFUL. Thankfully, once S4 rolled around, the writers of the show had jettisoned Asshole One-Upmanship in favor of refining House’s character, as well as some impressive side characters that ended up being some of my favorite characters in the show. As is customary for fans of House, I refuse to acknowledge S7, AKA, the season in which House and Cuddy Finally Do It. My hatred for this plot knows no bounds.

What House S1-3 does achieve is making Dr. Cuddy (Linda Edelstein), the true stand-out character in these problematic seasons. I love that she tortured House after she perjured herself on the stand in order to keep House from going to jail in S3. I love that she auditioned Wilson for sperm donorship, same season. And, it’s a good thing PPTH has a Burn Unit because of responses like this:

House: After that look, I’m feeling frisky. Looks like you’re up.
Cuddy: I’m ovulating. Let’s go.

cuddy-im-ovulating-lets-go

(imitating House’s ex-wife Stacy [Sela Ward], who works as the hospital attorney in S2) Here’s what I think she’s gonna say, ‘Oh I love Greg, but if he goes against a patient’s wishes, you’re calling her a liar and if something goes wrong, I end up in court having to defend the big, mean doctor albeit with dreamy eyes who wouldn’t believe the nice suburban mom and even though his cane makes me melt, do the damn surgery.'”

And, of course, the scathing retort in the screen shot at the top, in response to House telling her that a new hospital patient is a friend. “I thought I’d met all your friend.”

Sure, Cuddy was complicated. She was far too forgiving toward House, but she had to be, or there would be no House for us to loathe/love. Cuddy wanted to be a mother but proved that she might be a questionable one when she told a young patient that her parents might get back together. She made a lot of bad choices. She was practically made of bad choices. However, if we’re willing to forgive House his poor choices and undiluted spitefulness in favor of his smarts and sense of humor, we owe the same to a non-asshole like Dr. Cuddy. My favorite characters will continue to be complicated, flawed, stupid, misguided, fucked-up, and addicted to something, and they will always be brilliant and funny.

Consider this foreshadowing to a future post about my favorite comedic anti-hero, Larry David, who, like House, refuses to do the stop and chat.

stop and chat

Bad Movie Mystique

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Samurai Cop is just coolin’ off.

There’s this great scene in the movie The Trust (2016) starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood. If you’ve seen the film, you might already know exactly the scene I’m talking about. Nicolas Cage’s mustachioed character, a crooked cop heisting a bank vault, grabs Elijah Wood, his crooked-cop cohort, and slams him up against the door of the bank vault, screaming “OPEN IT. OPENITOPENITOPENITOPENITOPENITOPENITOPENIT.”

open it

I’m under the impression the The Trust was supposed to be a gritty heist film packed with tense moments of not knowing who is trying to screw whom. And, for the most part, it is! And, it has one of the coolest ending scenes I’ve seen in a long time, so props to directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer (and Elijah Wood, who is like Nicolas Cage’s Bizarro Superman in that Wood has the ability to turn out excellent performances in every movie he’s in, even if I do have a tendency to confuse him with Daniel Radcliffe). However, enthusiasts of bad film are well-acquainted with Cage’s ability to turn even the most gravitas-laden movie into hot, delightful, train-wreck of a mess, which is why we love him so much. But why? Why do Cage’s tantrums tantalize us so? Why am I breaking out my bib every time I see his name top-billed on a movie poster? I have a hunch.

Nicholas Cage is not yet self-aware.

Unlike Skynet, Cage has not become sentient to his actions. Every sweaty, mouthy, scenery-gobbling display is executed completely free of irony. Cage isn’t trying to be Cage. He is simply Cage. The Cage chose him; he did not choose the Cage. As soon as Cage becomes too aware of his own inherent Cage-y-ness, the Cage will become corrupted, and, therefore, no longer the Cage. You get the idea.

So it goes for bad movies. As soon as a bad movie becomes aware of its badness, it stops being bad and becomes just boring. And, while lack of production values and even terribly-written dialogue can be forgiven to some degree (because, KUDOS FOR MAKING A THING THAT DIDN’T EXIST BEFORE. Seriously), a boring movie is simply unforgivable.

Samurai Cop (1991) and its squeak-uel, Samurai Cop 2 (2015), might be self-aware of its terribleness, but if it is, it doesn’t lead on. Every scene, every poorly directed scene in Samurai Cop feels intentional. Every flat line reading felt like it was the absolute very best the actor could deliver. Every half-assed fight scene felt like the entire production crew was slapping high-fives while the scenes were being shot, congratulating themselves on what a super badass totally awesome bitchin’ samurai cop movie this is turning out to be! “Bully for us, good sirs,” they assuredly cried, boasting of their good fortune! Every shockingly misogynistic moment seemed like the director truly believed that all those high-cut French bikini underwear (the most barf-worthy of underwear cuts outside of the g-string/thong, BTW) and all them silicone titties were 100% as sexy as it gets. Every time the main character, Joe Marshall (played by Mathew Karedas), donned a wig to cover the fact that he cut all of his hair after he believed all of this scenes were finished shooting, it feels like we’re supposed to buy that it’s Karedas’ real hair. Even the movie poster is a gem. What’s depicted has ABSOLUTELY ZERO THINGS TO DO WITH ANYTHING IN THE MOVIE. God, I love it when that happens:

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Who are these people?

 

Surely by the time the two main characters in the first Samurai Cop, Karedas and Mark Frazer (Marshall’s partner Frank Washington), got around to making the second one 25 years later, everyone was well aware that Samurai Cop The First was a “cult classic,” meaning that sequel director Gregory Hatanaka knew, too. After all, they enlisted the services of Tommy Wiseau, the ultimate coup in the wide world of terrible movies, to star as one the sequel’s many, many, many, many, many villains (there are so many characters in SC2, villainous and otherwise, I stopped keeping track after about 45 minutes). You know what you’re getting into with Wiseau. All involved with SC2 had to been aware of what they were making, right down to actor Bai Ling, who had the misfortune of starring in the worst episode of LOST, and that includes the maligned series finale.

And yet, with all of its CGI blood and airplane smoke bombs and Karedas’ striking resemblance to the unholy lovechild of Alice Cooper and The Cryptkeeper, SC2 seems blissfully unencumbered by the awareness that it’s a tightly-coiled, steaming pile of turds, and that right there is exactly what I love about it.

SyFy used to be the prime purveyors of craptacular bad movies, but by the time Sharknado 2 rolled around, the SyFy channel milieu became self-aware, and everyone stopped trying. Or, more accurately, they started trying to suck, and, when it comes to bad movies, there is no try.

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School’s out forever, my little pretties.

 

 

 

Self-Employment TV

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I watch TV while I work. Specifically: I listen to TV shows I know well and love while I work. Let me explain.

Having been self-employed for the past several years, I’ve figured out what it takes to stay focused and distraction-free while I’m stowed away in my attic office, tappy-typing away at web content (or, as one of my favorite comedians/writers/podcaster Scott Aukerman would say, “slingin’ ‘tent“) for my day job as a freelance writer. My home office needs are as follows:

  1. Coffee.
  2. Water.
  3. Dirty yoga mat for when I suddenly decide I need to practice yoga, which is usually when I’m under deadline.
  4. Space heater. My house is 200 years old. I’d call it drafty, but “open air park pavilion” is probably a more accurate description. The attic office gets cold.
  5. An endless supply of TV series, movies, and podcasts, all of which I’ve watched repeatedly. In fact, they must all be shows, movies, and podcasts (or audiobooks) I’ve seen or heard numerous times, because any new TV series, movie, or audio media will take my attention away from writing. It must be well-worn. It must be well-loved. It must be something I can ignore for long periods of time.

Number 5 on the list is what brings me here today. While I’m doing research or putting together blog posts for Actual Grown-up Work (which will henceforth be known as ACGW), I find my ears drawn to whatever is playing in the background, and I often discover something I missed the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth time around. Particularly true of one of my favorite comedy series of all time, 30 Rock. Its vivacious pace, peppy and highly-underrated musical score (created by 30 Rock show creator Tina Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond), and joke-a-second dialogue make second and third viewings of the show an absolute necessity, simply because you missed about 75% of the jokes the first time through. Trust me on this. After you watch it again, you’ll be driving your friends insane with your Jack Donaghy oneliners and your haunting renditions of “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” at every social gathering, turning you into the pariah you’d always dreamed you be.

So, I watch a lot of things while I work, and I have a lot of things to say about them. Having grown up during that golden era known as the 1980s, I’ve consumed a ton of TV. Most of it awful, some of it great. TV shows are as comforting to me as a wubby and binkie, and running them in the background while I work on ACGW helps me to stay focused, relaxed, and highly entertained. And now it’s time for me to talk about them in exhaustive detail.

It’s also time for me to talk about my serious, if new-found, love of horror movies. Oh my god, you guys, I have so much to say about horror movies YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.

If this sounds like your kind of bag, please join my on this adventure in Kandy’s Watchblog. It’ll be at least as fun as a Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.