Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Feeling Frisky…Dingo

In Television on April 6, 2010 at 9:56 am

I recently came across Archer, the animated FX series, while looking for something to watch in bed on my laptop. I hadn’t really been very interested in the show but I had heard pretty good things about it on the AV Club, so I thought: “What the hell?”

What I didn’t know, however, was that this show was created by Adam Reed, one of the co-creators of SeaLab 2021. Sealab 2021, for those of you whom do not know, was one of the original Adult Swim shows. It reused characters and animation from a cheesy Hanna Barbara 60’s show called Sealab 2020 to create its own irreverent, insane, and viciously funny stories. It’s a show that mixed the highest wit with the dumbest gags. While shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or The Brak Show seemed more popular, Sealab was the one I loved the best. So, when I realized Archer was from the same mind as Sealab 2021, I was sold.

Archer did not disappoint. Like Sealab 2021, it is a collection of horribly funny characters acting terribly to each other. Taking place in a modern-day yet still quasi-60’s universe, the superspy Sterling Archer and the rest of the ISIS intelligence agency get into stupid adventures while also dealing with the most banal mundane situations at the same time. It’s kind of impossible to describe the tone of Reed’s shows. One thing I can say, however, is that they are not for everyone. In fact, I think they are actually made just for me and my warped sense of humor. I can’t universally recommend them to really anyone but myself. But I cannot recommend them to myself highly enough.

Which brings us, finally, to what prompted me to write this show. Before Archer but after Sealab 2021, Adam Reed created a show called Frisky Dingo that I really had no idea existed. It was on a few years ago but I had kinda stopped watching Adult Swim shows and wasn’t paying attention. After enjoying Archer, I decided to go back and watch it on Netflix. I got the first disk yesterday. I finished it last night and eagerly await the next.

How can I describe this show? Words are not enough. It’s kinda about a superhero from the Bruce Wayne/ Tony Stark mold named Xander Crews, aka Awesome X, searching for a new supervillain. It’s also about the supervillain Killface trying to simultaneously raise his son and build a device to destroy the world. It’s also about a team of inept robots, a reporter transformed by radioactive ants, and a love story between an android and an anthropomorphic lobsterman. But this really doesn’t do it in terms of a summary. And that’s fine, because it’s too good for such easy categorization.

So what more can I say? Well, this game plays “in-poor-taste” chicken with me with every episode. I tend to push things, especially humor, to an envelope where it stops being funny and gets kinda sick/gross/vulgar/awful. I am fascinated by that razor’s edge and, to the detriment of many people around me, I go over the line way too much. But Frisky Dingo is right there with me. In fact, in the game of chicken, even I have to veer away occasionally as I sit, shocked and pulverized by the horrible humor have just witnessed. It is…well, just breathtaking.

Yes, that is Killface using a corpse's torso as a ventriloquist's dummy. Yes he is trying to drink while speaking. Yes, he made a termite joke despite his dummy not being made of wood.

So as I said before, I can’t really recommend it. It has things that once seen cannot be unseen or once heard cannot be unheard. But unlike the hand steamer that a eastern European woman tried to sell me at Woodbury Common, it really is perfect for me. So I thought I’d share. I only wish it hadn’t taken so long for me to catch on to this.

They get so big so fast

In Television on January 20, 2010 at 3:19 am

I wouldn’t say I get a lot of my pop culture knowledge from my mother.  In terms of my enjoyment or criticism of movies, TV, or books, I would not say she has been a huge source of inspiration.  I value her opinion, of course, but our mutual interests tend to diverge greatly.  So why am I even bringing this up?  Well, I have developed a pet peeve for television that my mother instilled in me at an early age.  I didn’t think it was unusual gripe until my wife brought it to my attention.  What is it that drives both my mother and me up the wall when we watch TV?  It’s the portrayal of newborn babies on most television shows.  They are always too big and too old.

I admit, this is not really a huge pop culture topic.  It’s probably of little interest to the most of you, but it was on my mind so I thought I’d bring it up.  It’s just a constant memory of my childhood.  Whenever a sitcom protagonist had to deliver a baby on a stuck elevator, every time a beloved TV dad rushed to the hospital just in time for the birth, or anytime a flustered television made a snarky, sarcastic comment about Lamaze breathing, a baby would follow.  This little spud, if shown on TV, was always way too old.  You’d see mommy holding a 30 inch, 15 pound behemoth of a baby, free from blood or other placental goo, just chilling.  My mother never, ever failed to comment: “That baby is at least 3 months old” or something along those lines.  This is a trait I have inherited.

This is what an average TV newborn looks like.

It’s funny, too, because I’m not particularly interested in babies, TV or otherwise.  I have never been present for a childbirth or have children of my own.  I accept all kinds of ridiculous, unbelievable characteristics in my entertainment media, from ridiculous plot points to pretty terrible science.  So why does the baby thing bother me at all?  Also, what alternative would I prefer?  Real newborns rushed over from a local hospital to appear on an episode of Perfect Strangers, ripped from the arms of a waiting mother so Cousin Larry can have a realistic baby to hold onto (I’m not sure anyone ever really delivered a baby on Perfect Strangers, but with the hacky popularity of that gimmick, I can assume it happened)?  Or how about a realistic doll?  Maybe just a bundle with no baby actually seen?  See, these ideas are no better.  I have no alternative method to suggest.

So, does anyone else have any weird pet peeves with TV that stem back to your childhood.  Or am I the only crazy one.

MI-5: The new obsession

In Television on January 9, 2010 at 12:25 am

Okay, so I know I tend to develop unhealthy relationships with the media I interact with.  I mean, I’m currently on the job hunt.  I shouldn’t be spending so much time with video games, board games, movies, and TV shows.  My wife watching started watching this British show called MI-5 on Netflix and she became really into them.  What started as a way to spend time with her watching them has quickly turned into an obsession for me.  I’m not quite sure if I can put my finger on why I like it so much.

The show, put simply, is about a specific group of spies dealing with foreign and domestic threats to England.  But that just kind of just scratches the surface on this show.  The first thing I appreciate about the show is it’s “George R.R. Martin” treatment of the cast.  Basically, anyone and I mean anyone can be killed at anytime.  You think I’m kidding?  In the first two episodes, a would-be major character gets killed in an unbelievably horrible way.  This leads to a pretty high cast rotation as tons of characters disappear, usually in horrible ways, making way for new characters to get executed, maimed, or otherwise disappeared.  No one is ever really safe, so the tension in this show is a palpable, asphyxiating thing.  It’s pretty amazing, to be honest, in that it demonstrates the correct amount of danger a job like spy might provide.

Another great thing about the show is its grittiness.  It never seems slick or sexy, just terrifying, violent, and horribly stressful.  You watch James Bond, you think: “How cool would that be.”  You watch MI-5, you think: “Thank God that’s not my life!”  Someone gets shot in the head, you find yourself thinking: “Phew…at least that lucky bastard didn’t get tortured to death.”  It’s awesome.

Don't get too used to these faces. I'm serious. One of the luckier one of these individuals gets to die by the relatively painless method of car-bombing.

It’s not perfect, however.  In England, it’s called Spooks and while I resent the “Mi-5 for the acronym-obsessed yanks” insult that it is, I find it a better name.  Spooks sounds silly to me.  Also, it seems like England is the cesspool for terrorism and chaos in the free world, where British agents save the free world on a near daily rate from assassinations, car-bombing, and suitcase thermonuclear devices.  It is often like the plot of Chuck without the playful, tongue-in-cheek tone.  I can’t tell if the show is great, or just pretty good with a classy British veneer that tricks my small-minded colonial mind.  Either way, it has become my new thing and I recommend to you all.

Geek casting

In Movies, Television, Uncategorized on August 30, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I heard the other day that Jamie Bamber, Apollo on Battlestar Galactica, is going to be on the final season (I assume final) of Dollhouse.  Coupled with Helo, this is another BSG alum moving onto another geek show.  I feel like Dollhouse is becoming a bastion for geek actors from canceled shows, as Summer Glau is making her way to the house straight from the terminator show, which she was on after The 4400, right after her Firefly days.  Joss Whedon’ regulars, Ronald Moore’s people, various people from various Scyfy (or however they spell it now) programming and USA shows all work in the same geeky circle and continue to over and over.  How does this happen?  How does Katie Sackhoff end up on The Bionic Woman?  How does Tricia Helfer end up everywhere?  She was on Chuck, Supernatural, Burn Notice, and Warehouse 13 along with work in video games (Command & Conquer, Halo: ODST) and cartoons (The Spectacular Spider-man, Green Lantern: First Flight) in the last two years.  I mean, who does this casting?  How does this work?

Well, it probably has a logical answer.  It seems in Hollywood, people get caught up doing the same kind of thing and have a hard time breaking from that mold.  If someone becomes a fan-favorite on a geek show, that becomes the audience they can appeal to.  Therefore, they end up doing similar types of shows or movies for years to come.  While maybe Johnny Depp can get away with picking strange, eclectic roles to challenge his abilities, most mid-level, TV star celebrities don’t have that advantage.  They happily take whatever work is there to make a good living.  The funny thing must be those people whom have no interest in geekiness but keeping falling into those type of gigs.  Is Summer Glau a geek?  For her sake, I hope she has some interest in that kind of stuff because I see a long, Walter Koenig-like convention career when the world realizes she can’t act and her hotness (personally, not a big fan but I guess I’m in the minority) fades.

Summer, these guys have a seat all warmed up for you.

Summer, these guys have a seat all warmed up for you.

Another answer might be that some actors enjoy working on geek projects.  The best example I can give for this is Christian Bale.  Bale is considered a solid, respected actor with a resume of interesting, adult roles.  So what does he keep doing?  Equilibrium, Reign of Fire, Terminator: Salvation, Batman Begins. During the span in which he made these flicks, he has made plenty of non-geeky, perfectly respectable pieces of cinema.  He clearly likes being in movies where he gets to wear outrageous outfits, wield bizarre weapons, and fight all kinds of science fiction adversaries.  I say, good for him.  I’m glad he keeps appearing in our type of flicks, though the Batman-voice is getting pretty goddamn old.

I’m glad that I see the same old faces when I watch geeky media.  It’s always nice to see that Miles Dyson survived Terminator 2 and landed on Eureka.  I’m always happy to see Jane in the Buy More.  I just hope they enjoy being there as much I enjoy seeing them there.  Hmm…yeah, they get to make millions working on television.  I’m sure they’re fine, in retrospect.

Tranquilizer marksmen

In Comics, Movies, Television on August 27, 2009 at 11:21 pm

This is one of my favorite little cliches found in the world of movies, TV, or comic books.  You know when you have a hero who is blessed with incredible talents, well-honed skills, and all the luck in the world.  The guy or lady who never seems to get hit by the stray bullet of the lucky shot.  This defines most protagonists in action media, right?  If they got killed by something as simple as a tiny mistake in a random combat situation, that would be the end of the show.  I mean, who wants to see the end of Batman by the hands of Mugger #4 who gets a lucky shot with his snubnose .38.  Nobody, really.  So, instead Batman will face down against a man with a firearm and disarm him with a modified Australian aboriginal weapon.  No one complains, because we want to see more Batman adventures.  This goes for every action hero who faces lethal danger on a daily basis.  So how do you defeat such someone so larger than life?

Easy.  The simple tranquilizer dartgun.  As you have doubtlessly seen a dozen times, all you need to do is vaguely aim in the direction of our hero and pull the trigger.  The hero will be hit, get knocked out, then be captured.  This always leads to the adventure where the hero is imprisoned and needs to escape.  It’s a staple of the genre.  While the protagonist never has a problem with the far more accurate and difficult firearms, it is the dartgun with the shitty range, crap accuracy, and weak penetrating power that always seems to tag them.

I noticed it today while watching an episode of Gargoyles where Goliath gets knock out by a well shot dart while easily dodging automatic fire from multiple submachine guns moments before.  It happens a bunch on Batman: The Animated Adentures constantly, with Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, or, shit, anyone gets Bats with some kind of slow-acting poison, mind-controlling serum, or instant knockout juice.  Comics do this stuff all the time, too.  Especially with heroes that have no special defenses yet go head-to-head with world-ripping powers.  Besides Batman, I’m looking at you Green Arrow, Black Canary, Cyclops, Punisher, Daredevil, Ironfist, Hawkeye, and on and on and on.  Or James Bond, too.  The nigh-bulletproof can always be brought down low with a tranq dart, a room full of knockout (but not lethal) gas, or something similar.  Remember when those evil cultists were able to get hallucination darts shot into multiple targets running at full speed in Young Sherlock Holmes.  That shit would be amazingly hard, as the natives in the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark demonstrate, yet by going with the non-lethal poison, these dark priests have 100% success.  Good for them.

If even one of these guys was using tranquilizer darts, it'd be sleepy time for Dr. Jones.

If even one of these guys was using tranquilizer darts, it'd be sleepy time for Dr. Jones.

So, I was kind of lying before when I said that the use of tranquilizer darts would be effective against heroes, however.  While it might allow the villain to render the hero helpless or even capture her, if you try to go for the kill, something will inevitably happen to keep you from carrying it out.  So, I guess all you antagonists are screwed.  Sorry.

Oh, one quick point:

Don’t you hate when the villain has the hero dead to rights but something happens to fuck with the plan.  Like the cops show up or the boat’s pulling away or the cave is collapsing.  So, the villain decides to not take the .25 seconds to shoot the hero but runs, because they view the new threat is too impending to take the time to carry out the simplest of executions.  They do, however, have time to say something like: “This isn’t the end!” or “I’ll see you dead!”  That shit always strikes me as stupid.

I simply love what you’ve done with your hair

In Movies, Television on August 21, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Sorry about the lack of posts yesterday.  My computer was being evil.  I hope some upgraded video card drivers will do the trick.  But enough with the real world, onto the bullshit.  This topic is one that has not occurred to me but, after my wife started talking to me about it, I realized it should have.  This is especially true after watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as this is the most recent offender.  What am I talking about?  Well, it’s the poor combination of long hair and combat situations.

When Peter the Great attempted to modernize and Europeanize his Russian military, one of his simplest innovations was the cutting off of the traditional long beards and hair of the men in the army.  Stray hair and the working of rifles, it seems, were not a good combo.  Creators of geek media, however, often fail to keep this in mind, as Nina has noted.  Much like my problem with people and their tendency to not wear helmets, this is something that she sees everywhere.  Women (the usual culprit) but also men, seem to keep their hair long and in their faces when they should cut it short or at least pull it back.  For instance, in the new G.I. Joe movie, Scarlet and the Baroness are portrayed as women whom count on their ability to aim powerful weapons and get into obligatory fistfights.  I guess they’re so good, however, that vision isn’t important.  Just check out these hair-dos (or should I say hair-don’ts?…No, probably not, actually):

Don't even get me started with their outfits.  It seems the best way to shut them down is to remember the safety word.

Don't even get me started with their outfits. It seems the best way to shut them down is to remember the safety word.

It seems like a stray breeze could end this fight.  I’m not saying they even need to chop off their luxurious locks, though it would be a good idea, but how about a headband, bandanna, or a fucking hat?  These are just the latest offenders.  The Whedonverse (be it Buffy, Angel, or Firefly) do this shit all the time.  Buffy I will excuse because she fights in heeled boots and fuck-me pants.  Clearly she’s too stupid to realize her job would be easier if she took it more seriously.  Hell, I’ll even give River a pass, as she seems to suffer from the kind of mental trauma that makes her a psychic, a kick-ass killer, and a robotic actor.  So the slayer and the space-slayer can perhaps be explained away.  But Zoe?  She should know better.  And don’t get me started on Dollhouse.

I guess the biggest bad-asses in the future are tall, statuesque models too.

I guess the biggest bad-asses in the future are tall, statuesque models too.

I know, I know.  It’s just a movie or TV or whatever.  It’s a visual medium that has to appeal to all kinds of people and its escapist fun and I shouldn’t read too much into it and blah, blah, blah.  But, we also want mainstream people to take us seriously when talk about the quality of our shows and movies but we allow this kind of shit to fly because…I’m not sure.  Say what you want about Battlestar Gallactica, at least Starbuck has a practical haircut and, while we’re on it, a body that more says bulldog than model.  I can appreciate that.

One of the most beautiful women...if you consider that there are only about 30,000 people left alive in this universe.

One of the most beautiful women...if you consider that there are only about 30,000 people left alive in this universe.

Monday’s “That Guy:” Pamela Reed

In Movies, Television, That Guys on August 17, 2009 at 9:30 pm

After last’s week pantheon pick of Keith David, I thought it would be a good time to change things up.  Despite the usual focus of this blog on generally geeky topics, I’ve picked a “that guy” that would not seem to be a huge geeky pick.  She’s a pretty common sight on TV especially, but has appeared in her share of movies, as well.   There are two main reasons that my “that guy” of this week, Pamela Reed, has been chosen.

Pamela Reed always reminded me as a combination of Jane Curtain and my Aunt Pat.

Pamela Reed always reminded me as a combination of Jane Curtain and my Aunt Pat.

First, my wife has been watching a ton of Jericho on Netflix recently.  Ms. Reed, whom is married to Major Dad (George Hearst to Deadwood fans, Mr. Delta Burke to snarky assholes, and Gerald McRaney to the rest of you) and Skeet Ulrich’s mother on the show, was on the screen when I sat down to watch some of this show with Nina.  We both were like, how come we know this woman.  She is infinitely familiar.  So, that feeling we had was reason enough to make her my “that guy.”

So, let’s examine some of the hits I know her from.  She was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Detective John Kimble’s partner in Kindergarten Cop. She was supposed to be the substitute teacher, then go too sick, forcing Arnold to declare his lack of tumors and so on.  She was also in Junior, so I guess she works well with Conan, though I never saw that flick so I can’t say much about her in that.  She did quality work in Proof of Life, Cadillac Man, and Bob Roberts. That, including her role in Jericho (which is actually a geek show) and Amy Poehler’s underwhelming Parks and Recreations. Pamela Reed is a very likeable actor, bringing a quiet wisdom, slightly tough edge, and maternal warmth to her performances in the past 20-odd years.

So…what’s my other reason for including her?  Well, after seeing her on Jericho, I remembered a short-lived NBC show from the late 80’s or early 90’s called Grand. I thought I was the only person on earth whoever heard of this show.  Pamela Reed was one of the major characters.  It was an odd show that explored the lives of the rich, middle-class, and working poor of a small Pennsylvania town.  It featured John Neville, Michael McKean, and Bonnie Hunt but the thing I remember best is the creepy opening.  Check it out.  The weird way they stare at the camera in those odd artificial poses?  Weird.  Nice to know I didn’t imagine the whole thing.  You are my witnesses that this show existed.

Appa, Appa, Appa!

In Television on August 13, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I just finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender.  It really goes down as one of my favorite kid-friendly cartoons of all time.  The animation is above-average to excellent, the characters are richly complex, and the writing is emotive, sharp and actually funny as hell.  I would recommend it completely to anyone.  Enough with the commercial.  Let’s get to the topic.

Every night, I ask Nina what I should write about.  It’s a nice conversation to get the ball rolling and she usually gives me plenty of good ideas.  Recently, since we started watching Avatar, she talks about basically one thing: Appa.  Appa, for those whom don’t know, is the flying air bison that the heroes of our show fly around on.  Here he is:

Here is Appa...or as my wife calls him, Cuteness.

Here is Appa...or as my wife calls him, Cuteness.

Yup, he’s a big, six-legged flying bison with an arrow on his head matching the airbenders whom breed his kind.  He, like Ang the Last Airbender, is the only member of his kind.  My wife loves this guy.  A lot.  Let’s look at him in his battle armor:

See, I would be scared of this thing.  All Nina sees are hearts.

See, I would be scared of this thing. All Nina sees are hearts.

Let’s look at Ang meeting Appa for the first time:



And finally, let’s see what my wife loves the most.  The way Appa flies lazily, with his legs hanging limply:

Yup.  This is about as much effort as he puts into it.

Yup. This is about as much effort as he puts into it.

So that is Appa in a nutshell.  I hope you liked him as much as Nina…but that is not humanly possible.

Geek media referencing geek media

In Television on July 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm

My wife and I have started watching Supernatural. Since I never watched this show before or really hung out with anyone who did, I’m not sure how this show is received by the geek community at large.  For those who don’t know, it’s about a pair of brothers hunting monsters and demons to avenge their family and stop the end of the world.  I like it and find it to be a pretty solid show with well-developed characters and strong plotting.  It gets a little repetitive sometimes with the constant “I have to save my brother” deal, but I am very entertained by it.

I could go on and on about its treatment of common monsters, its slow-burning main story, and other such topics, but I’d rather concentrate on something I especially appreciate with this show.   That is, the characters reference the mainstream media surrounding the supernatural world they live in.  They live in a world where monsters from the movies are real, but they acknowledge it.  While a small detail, it creates an extra dose of realism to an otherwise…well, supernatural setting.  It grounds it enough to make this wacky world relatable.

Yeah, I know, I know.  Dramatic shot of hunky WB turned CW dudes.  Laugh it up you sons-of-bitches!

Yeah, I know, I know. Dramatic shot of hunky WB turned CW dudes. Laugh it up you sons-of-bitches!

Want an example of what I mean?  In one episode, one of the brothers, Sam, keeps living the same day over and over.  Instead of saying “Woh, I live the same day everyday,” he says something along the lines of “It’s just like Groundhog Day.”  When a string of monster attacks from an eastern-European vampire, a wolfman, and mummy occur within days of each other, it turns out to be a shape-shifter obsessed with old Universal horror movies.  They are occasionally compared to Mulder and Scully, which is funny because it annoys them as characters  despite actually being on a similarly structured sci-fi show.

It’s a nice change of pace compared to so many shows where no one seems to have ever seen a geek show before.  So, I will deal with a little fraternal angst from time to time when I get to enjoy a pretty well-realized world.

Should Avatar be Asian?

In Movies, Television on July 16, 2009 at 11:00 pm

So, I’m hoping to avoid offending anyone with this post.  I’m also hoping for world peace and a unicorn.  Just kidding about the unicorn, as this post will attest.  Back to this point, I know race, ethnicity, and culture can lead to heated discussion, so of course I want to tackle it.  In this case, I am talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Nickolodeon kids animated series.  This show takes place in a fantasy world of high adventure and magic.  Instead of a sanitized European medieval setting, say like Adventures of the Gummi Bears, this show takes place in a more Asian-inspired world.  There are many aesthetic choices linking architecture, writing, clothing, weapons, and all around basic culture to various eastern Asian historical periods.  Elements from ancient China, the Japanese Shogunate, and medieval Korea are some of the most commonly represented in the show, as are myths and allusions to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.  So it would seem the show was specifically Asian-inspired, right?

aang and company

Well, yes and no, to be honest.  First of all, the show was developed by American creators and produced as an American show, not a translated Japanese show.  Despite the western origin of the show, the show is still inspired wholly by Asian culture, right?  Well, again, it’s a little complicated.  The people from the Water Tribes, for instance, seem to be inspired by people from northern North American peoples in clothing and lifestyle.  Some Earth Kingdom civilizations incorporate ancient Mesoamerican elements in their architecture and art.  More confusing is the blending of different cultures.  The aforementioned Water Tribes build structures from ice and use Native American-inspired weapons, but use Chinese Tai-chi as the basis of their waterbending magic use.  The Air Nomads seem to be styled off of Shaolin monks, yet they fight using a modified Ba Gua style and ride on flying bison, a north American-inspired animal.  There are many cultural elements incorporated in unexpected ways throughout the series.

So what’s my point?  Well, M. Night Shyamalan is directing The Last Airebender, a live-action film version of the cartoon.  The choice has been made to cast mostly white, non-Asian actors for the major roles in this film.  This strikes me as an odd choice, due to the heavy Asian influence of the world.  Yet, while Asian-inspired, the world of Avatar is not actually in Asia, nor do the character necessarily all look to be of Asian descent.  Is this a racist decision by filmmakers, afraid of the idea of releasing a major American film starring (gasp) people of Asian ancestry?  Is it a case of finding the best people for the roles regardless of race?  Is it an attempt to create a unique world flavored by various cultural elements but free from the real-world constraints of race and ethnicity?  Is this offensive?  I am hardly someone to make a definitive judgment.  I leave that to each of you.