Saturday, May 23, 2015

Songs Of Thrones


A few comments....

* Red Nose Day is a major charity event and enough of an entity unto itself that the release of this sketch was in all likelihood not timed to coincide with the latest 'Game Of Thrones' episode.  Yet that said, it's quite a coincidence that this came out days after perhaps the most controversial and poorly-received GoT episode of the entire series.  It's almost like some publicist was like, "oh geez, quick, get that clever spoof out before we officially jump the shark!" 

* It's also not great timing that Iwan Rheon (one of the main figures of that much-hated final scene) plays such a prominent role in this video....and yet his weirdly goofy energy works here.  Apparently he's best known in the UK for comedy roles, which makes his GoT casting all the stranger, but you can see a bit of that comic timing at play here, even while he's about 30% channeling Ramsey Bolton at the same time.

* GoT is approaching 'The Wire' in terms of how weird it is to see the cast members in roles outside of the show.  To me, many of them ARE the characters, aside from some of the actors who had quite prominent careers known to me before the show began (Dinklage, Lena Headey, Alexander Siddig, Jonathan Pryce, and the king of the GoT/Wire connections, Aiden Gillen).  To this end, it's very strange seeing, say, Ramsey Bolton or Theon or Samwell Tarly in normal street clothes.

* The flipside of this is Mark Addy, as it took me a few seconds to remember that he was actually on the show.

* Alfie Allen needs to get himself cast in a young David Bowie biopic as soon as humanly possible.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My "Survivor: Second Chance" Alterna-Ballot

Fifteen of my 20 choices for the “Survivor: Second Chance” vote ended up making the cut for next season, so really, I shouldn’t be too upset at the results.  Considering that two of my picks (Mikayla and Max) were only made due to apathy at the rest of the choices, I’m not even too upset that they were left out.

Yet still, I’m pretty surprised that neither Sabrina nor T-Bird earned enough votes for a return appearance and I’m especially bummed out that we’ll again be robbed of more Shane Powers.  That one was the real heartbreaker.  Of all 32 people on that ballot, if you’d given me free reign to pick just one person for a return….well, okay, I probably take Stephen and Kelly ahead of Shane, but Shane was #3 with a bullet!  (Or, a dart, in his preferred parlance.)

Since Mike Holloway finished in the top 10 of voting but couldn’t play since he won this most recent season, that means Shane didn’t even wind up in the TOP ELEVEN of voting?!  Come on, people!  He was ousted by Keith and Spencer, both of whom undoubtedly benefited by playing within the last calendar year, whereas Shane played way back in 2006.  I’m gutted.  Since Shane has reportedly been considered for past all-star seasons and was on the ballot here, hopefully CBS eventually just brings him back for a future season and cuts out the middleman.  This is why democracy doesn’t work!

That said, I can’t say I’m surprised Spencer and Keith made the new cast, same with high-profile recent names like Kass and Abi-Maria.  Monica Padilla making it over Sabrina and T-Bird is a real kicker, however, since she was even pretty obscure in her own season.  (And I’m also surprised Carolyn didn’t get in simply by dint of the fact that she was such a major part of the actual current season.  Between losing the final vote to Mike and then losing out on S31, rough night for her.)  Then again, there is a long and proud history of lightly-regarded Survivors roaring into prominence or even victory (Amber, Parvati, Cochran) winning on a second visit to the game once they gain a bit of experience.  Parvati and Cochran went from jokes to being considered two of the all-timers, so who knows, maybe this will be Monica’s time to shine.

I should note that in general, I’m pretty excited about this coming season.  While returning players are more often the rule than the exception in Survivor, this is only the third time the show has fielded an ENTIRE cast of returning players.  The first was S8, which was basically a fiasco that became uncomfortable to watch due to the real-life issues and drama between the players.  S20, in contrast, was arguably the best season in Survivor history due to some great gameplay, memorable personalities and 14 weeks of Russell Hantz being humiliated.  So really, it’s hard to say where S31 will fall between these two extremes; I doubt this group of returnees is quite as chummy given how they span 15 years of the show, yet there are also very few who stand out as great players.  There is a lot of room for Monica-esque players to step up and prove their value the second time around, which is I guess the entire theme.

Still, since I expressed some dissatisfaction with CBS’ ballot, I went ahead and compiled a list of my own favourite players who I would’ve liked to see return for another shot.  The rules: no former winners, nobody who has played the game more than once, and nobody who was on CBS’ ballot.  I also tended to stay away from players eliminated early due to medical reasons, and frankly, there have been enough of them over the years that you could almost fill a full cast of them alone.  My list does have the benefit of being a pure “dream pick” scenario — I’m not worried about whether any of these people are actually interested in playing again, and for all I know, CBS contacted a few of these names about a return visit and were rejected. 

I swear I didn’t plan this, but I actually ended up having exactly 16 men and 16 women, the same total as the CBS options.  Great minds think alike!  Let’s start with the ‘pairs’ who I’m including for similar reasons…

* Brian Corridan, Amy O’Hara (S11): Two early boots in Guatemala who went on to become online favourites and both are generally considered strong players who simply got stuck in bad situations. 

* Bobby Mason, Courtney Marit (S12): Two of the many comedy superstars of the first Exile Island season.  The Bob Dawg went before the merge, while Courtney finished sixth, annoying her castmates the entire time.  Since they both hated each other, bring them both back, put them on the same tribe, and let the sparks fly!

* Alex Angarita, Dreamz Herd, Mookie Lee, Edgardo Rivera (S14): That’s right, the Four Horsemen ride again!  Surely at least poor Edgardo deserves another shot after being the sacrificial lamb of arguably the best tribal council in Survivor history.

* Nadiya Anderson (S29): The San Juan del Sur cast was suspicious of the Twinnies since their proved their sneakiness on ‘The Amazing Race,’ and thus Nadiya was the first one voted out.  Her sister, however, went on to win the show.  Surely Nadiya would jump at the chance to prove she’s not the Tiki Barber of the family.

* Dave Ball (S19): Noted oddball from the Samoa season, who you may not have noticed since Russell received 95% of the airtime.

* Jenn Brown (S30): Come on, life!  Jenn brought the snarkiness and even though she mentally checked out of the game, her becoming a chaotic wild card actually made her even more interesting.

* Greg Buis (S1): The original Survivor oddball.  I couldn’t tell if he was a nutter who didn’t care about the game, or a genius who didn’t care about the game but easily could’ve won if he’d given it a moment’s notice.  Forget about Survivor, I’m intrigued just to know what Buis is doing with his life, 15 years later.

* Josh Canfield (S29): If Jeremy Collins made the ballot as a S29 go-hard who was arguably eliminated too soon, it’s hard to believe Josh also didn’t get nominated under that same logic.  Literally the first half of that season was built towards a Josh vs. Jeremy showdown, and then they were both knocked out in consecutive weeks after the merge.

* Gregg Carey (S10): Kind of a forggotten man in Palau given how everything swungg about the pathetic Ulongg tribe and then the Tom vs. Ian duel, yet Gregg was a pretty smart player who had the loggical idea to turn on Tom/Ian before they overtook the ggame.  It’s the mark of a ggood player that it took a truly unique bit of ggameplay from Tom/Ian to thwart Gregg’s plan, as they used the “threaten to force a purple rock tie” ploy to swingg thinggs against Gregg at tribal council.

* John Carroll (S4): If the Four Horsemen’s downfall wasn’t the funniest Tribal Council ever, that (dis)honour might fall on John Carroll.  This was the first time you saw tribe members flip in a vote, and John went from so-called alliance leader who was bragging about how everyone was cheering for him to eventually win to a guy who was a crying mess in his post-vote confessional.  Time and experience would hopefully make John better in a return visit.

* Gretchen Cordy (S1): Another of the Survivor originals, and seemingly the unanimous choice as the one who would’ve easily won the game had it actually been about survival skills.  Her surprising elimination and the birth of the Hatch alliance was the moment that elevated Survivor from a good show to a fascinating one.

* Helen Glover (S5): It boggles my mind that the endlessly funny Helen has never been brought back.  Maybe she doesn’t want to, maybe she’s too old, maybe her Survivor experience was soured by the cesspool that was the Brian Heidik season….whatever the case, it would be great to see Helen play again.

* Trish Hegarty (S28): Tony owes a huge chunk of his victory to Trish, who kept their alliance in line and kept him from going overboard with stupid moves.  Even other Cagayan players admitted they didn’t even know how much Trish did to bail Tony out until they actually saw the season on TV.  A good player, if one who was quick to GO CRAZY at players she didn’t like. 

* Holly Hoffman (S21): One of the few bright spots of the lousy Nicaragua season, Holly went from being on the verge of quitting early in the game to pulling it together and being basically the only likeable person out there and a threat to win had she made the final three.  Based on her Survivor upward mobility, another appearance should have her at Spradlin levels by the merge.

* Gary Hogeboom (S11): How would he fare with his super-secret “Gary Hawkins” identity??

* Tracy Hughes-Wolf (S16): I’ve written before about how seasons that feature half experienced players vs. half newbies gives the returning players a big advantage, and Fans vs. Favourites was no exception.  Into this void stepped Tracy, who absolutely played as hard as she possibly could’ve given that the cards were stacked against her from the very first moment.  If her reluctant alliance partner Chet had been just a smidge less worthless, she might’ve actually made the merge and done some damage as part of the Black Widow Brigade.

* Angie Jakusz (S10): Better known as ‘the hipster chick on the Ulong tribe.’  I liked Angie, she had some good spirit, and frankly, you could argue all of the Ulongs deserve another shot just to prove that they’re not completely worthless as a team.

* Taj Johnson-George (S18): This is a case where I have to believe Taj simply doesn’t want to play again, since she is a dream casting coup — funny, personable, played the game well, minor celeb in her own right and also married to an NFL star.  Hard to believe CBS hasn’t been beating down her door asking her back.

* Rafe Judkins (S11): Here’s a guy who I know for a fact has declined to play Survivor again, and he’s generally tried to distance himself from the show to focus on his actual career as a writer.  Can’t fault the result, as he’s written for Chuck and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and seemingly put Survivor well in his rearview mirror.  Too bad, since he was a terrific player who was both a challenge and social threat, and came perilously close to winning his first season.

* Becky Lee (S13): If you believe the scuttlebutt, Becky and Yul were an equal partnership in their season, yet Yul got all the FTC votes since he was perceived as the mastermind in part due to his outgoing personality, whereas Becky was a dialtone.  I’ll also note that the jury couldn’t have been impressed by someone who took roughly two weeks to light a fire during the final four tiebreaker.  Hopefully Becky has learned to operate matches since 2006.

* Jonathan Libby (S10): The Survivor: Palau contestants had to form tribes via a schoolyard pick on just their second day, with the two players not selected being immediately eliminated.  Wanda Shirk and Jonathan were the first two out under this rather unfair twist, in my view, though it was clear that Wanda’s age and kooky attitude would’ve probably made her an early boot anyways.  It would only be fair to bring Libby back for some ‘real’ Survivor, though obviously I have no idea what kind of player he would be.  At this point, I should note that I was kind of scrambling for a 16th male player.

* Alexis Maxwell (S28), Chelsea Meissner (S24): Alexis was a superfan who was heartbroken to be knocked out pre-merge, while Chelsea finished third in her season while serving as Robin to Kim Spradlin’s Batman.  Both are solid players who have decent resumes for a return, and still, I’m being a shallow jerk and grouping them together since I’d primarily like to see them return since they’re arguably the two best-looking women Survivor has ever cast.

* Ian Rosenberger (S10): Another player who CBS would’ve loved to bring back, yet he’s said he’s done with the game. Can’t blame him, given the weird psychological father/son mindgames he had with Tom that resulted in Ian actually quitting the game in the wake of a crazy 12-hour final immunity challenge that was essentially a remake of The Great Santini.  Ian was a terrific player who came undone at the end, and it’s too bad he’s had no interest in another Survivor series.

* Twila Tanner (S9): A hard-as-nails player who made a great move in her original season to ensure a path to the final two, even if she was dead meat against a jury that largely disliked her.  Twila would be fun to see play again if only to see how quickly she’d dismiss roughly half her tribe as worthless.

* Matthew von Ertfelda (S6): My friend Mario’s description of Matthew as the Survivor-naive monster brought to life to wreak havoc by Rob Cesternino’s Dr. Frankenstein never fails to amuse me.  Bring the monster back to see how much more he’s learned!  The guy was also  a challenge beast and, seemingly, one of the most genuinely unsettling people in the show’s history.  His tribemates were only half-joking when they thought he might be a serial killer.  (To my knowledge, he’s not.  And if you’re doubting my knowledge, just so you know, I’m Batman.)

* Michelle Yi (S14): Victim of one of the more unfair twists in Survivor history, as her post-merge randomly-selected tribe for a challenge was forced to go directly to tribal council following their loss, so she had no time to strategize.  Even worse, she was grouped with all of her enemies, leaving her doubly screwed.  Michelle definitely deserves another chance, we all know she’s good at bouncing back from big falls.

Monday, May 18, 2015

TV Opinionz!


I feel like I use the phrase “this will be the greatest thing ever” a lot, but yeah, this will be the greatest thing ever

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I’d be interested to know what the crossover is between “people who didn’t like the Mad Men finale” and “people who were hoping Don Draper would finally turn the corner in his life/people who thought Don Draper was a good guy all along.”  The finale has drawn criticism in some corners for being either too satisfying (all of the semi-fan servicey endings like Joan going into business for herself or Peggy and Stan getting together) or not satisfying enough (what exactly happened with Don?) but the most popular reading of the somewhat oblique ending is also taking some heat. 

Some might feel that Don absorbing all of this new age-style therapy and funnelling it into making the world’s most iconic Coke ad instead of becoming a better person is a cheat, and an unsatisfying way to end a long-running series.  To this I say nonsense, since if anything, having Don be one of the only main characters who didn’t evolve or gain something in some way is pretty apt.  Why would Don change now?  He’s a lousy human being.  As I wrote years ago, the seeming point of the Megan Draper character was to create someone genuinely kind to illuminate just how terrible Don himself was — he was the main character of Mad Men, but not the “hero” of Mad Men.

On the flip side, Peggy and Stan are adorable.

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Firstly, I really hope they get the song from the first trailer (an original written especially for the show!) properly released in full soon, since it sounds awesome.  Secondly, I really hope Rachel McAdams’ character is named Trudy Tective.



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The recently-concluded Amazing Race season featured a gimmick, and thankfully this one was streets ahead of the infamous “families race as a quartet” year that is universally regarded as the worst TAR season of all time.  Still, this new gimmick was in itself not great since it basically undermined the entire premise of the show.

The season featured 11 pairs, yet only six of them had pre-existing relationships (they were all dating).  The rest were random strangers paired off in “blind date” scenarios, a point annoyingly mentioned by Phil Keoghan about every five minutes.  While Phil is basically the best, this was the first year when I felt he sunk to Probst-esque levels of irritating with his constant “so, is there a love connection here?  Eh?  Eh?” at every pit stop.  The producers clearly wanted the storyline of a couple falling in love on the show SO MUCH and yet…

* two of the blind date teams seemingly instantly decided to just focus on the race, as there was no couple chemistry between them.
* one of the blind date teams kinda flirted a bit, yet it seemed more playing along for the cameras than legitimate affection.
* one of the blind date teams was comprised of two gay guys who could’ve literally passed for brothers, leading them both to be “uh, I’m not into guys that look just like me.”  One of the two also mentally checked out on the race very early while the other was really into it, so hooray for two people who will never speak to each other again.
* the other blind date team were nicknamed ‘the Bickersons’ by the rest since it was just a constant stream of nattering from Hayley the entire time while Blair just tried to tune her out and kept making the same mistakes that caused the nattering in the first place.

Despite these issues, it’s worth noting that the blind date teams cleaned house in the actual competition.  The top three teams were all blind daters, and all told, only three of 12 legs were won by the previously-dating couples.  I couldn’t help but think that this essentially flies in the face about everything TAR has tried to promote about their competition, which is that it takes a particular bond of teamwork and cooperation to win the show.  Instead, apparently any two randoms can join up and win.

Friday, May 15, 2015

My "Survivor: Second Chance" Ballot

As you might expect, I’m very excited about getting to actually vote on a new Survivor all-stars cast.  Sure, CBS has openly said that fan votes aren’t the only factor in picking the cast for season 31, yet still, I’m a sucker.

The rules: CBS provides a pool of 16 men and 16 women, and you must pick 10 of each.  Each ex-player has never won the show, and none have played since their original appearance.  In my opinion, these are strong rules; firstly, it keeps my dream of an ‘all-winners season’ alive, and secondly, it prevents obvious choices like Rupert, Boston Rob, Parvati, etc. from returning for their umpteenth time.  The only downside is, of the 32 choices, CBS made some odd calls.  To my picks…

NO-BRAINERS
Women: Peih-Gee Law (1), Kelly Wiglesworth (2)
Men: Terry Deitz (1), Stephen Fishbach (2), Shane Powers (3)

If CBS gave me free reign to pick any Survivor cast members from the entire series under the “no winners/no past returnees” rules, I would’ve had Shane, Kelly, Terry, Stephen and Peih-Gee on my list.  I highly suspect Kelly and all of the guys will make the cut so we’ll get to see them in action again, and hopefully Peih-Gee gets in as well since she was an underrated player who was continually caught in bad situations in Survivor: China.  Stephen is a very good strategist who, given JT’s craptacular performance in S20, may have been the uncrowned winner of S18.  Shane is just nonstop comedy; not that I’d wish poor health on the guy or anything, but part of hopes he’s kept smoking for all these years just so he’ll have to go into nicotine withdrawal again while in the game and subsequently lose his mind.  Terry was arguably the biggest challenge beast in Survivor history, and even at age 55 now, he’ll probably still kick some ass out there.  And as for Kelly, how can any true Survivor fan not want to see one of the S1 icons back out there again?


VIRTUAL NO-BRAINERS
Women: T-Bird Cooper (3), Ciera Eastin (4), Sabrina Thompson (5)
Men: Andrew Savage (4), Jeff Varner (5)

More pretty easy votes here.  Varner and T-Bird get in as vintage old-timey Survivors who I’m interested to see play a modern game.  Sabrina was a good player who might’ve won had she not been up against the best winner ever.  Ciera showed a lot of game in the Blood vs. Water season and now that she’s on her own without a loved one tied to her, who knows what’s next.  Savage is not a great player in my view, yet he still earned a firm yes from me simply because he was screwed in his original appearance due to the highly-unfair “outcasts” twist that has never been repeated since S7 since even the producers realized it sucked.  I’m honestly shocked that he never got a return invite since he was one of Probst’s original bromances.


SURE, WHY NOT
Women: Tasha Fox (6), Kelley Wentworth (7)
Men: Vytas Baskauskas (7), Jeremy Collins (7)

Tasha is another good player who was behind the eight-ball from day one thanks to her crappy original tribe, so with better luck this time, she could go far.  The others, like Ciera, were also from Blood vs. Water seasons and all could fare better apart without their loved ones either acting as a threat (in Vytas’ case) or as a hindrance (in Jeremy and Kelley’s case).  Kelley in particular is an interesting wild card; she was given great respect as a clever game player in S29 despite not showing much on camera, so perhaps she’ll emerge as a power player with a second showing. 

So that makes a solid seven on each gender ballot.  And, to steal a quote from Principal Skinner, now we’re into the dregs.


OKAY, THEY’RE NOT ACTUALLY DREGS
Women: Carolyn Rivera (x)
Men: Mike Holloway (x)

Minor sidebar here to explain why I’m not voting for either of these two, though they’re clearly among the better players on the list and would make my top ten in a pure “who would I like to see in the game again” circumstance.  Firstly, since they’re both in the current season, they’re obviously going to get in the final ten anyway, so they don’t need my support.  Secondly, there’s a good chance that one of them won’t be in the S31 cast anyway since as CBS has stated that if Mike or Carolyn wins the current season, they’re ineligible for the vote and the 11th-place person will crack the cast instead.  As we head into next week’s final episode, I would say there’s about a 90% chance that one of these two will be the winners — Mike will beat anyone in a final vote, Carolyn beats any non-Mike player in a final vote, and I’m hard-pressed to see any circumstance where the sad-sack trio of Will, Sierra and Rodney can keep both of them from winning the last two immunity challenges.

So basically, I just don’t feel the need to throw my vote away on either of these two when I could be using it to support a player that might need more help to get up the table.


HOLDING MY NOSE AND VOTING
Women: Kimmi Kappenberg (8), Shirin Oskooi (9), Mikayla Wingle (10)
Men: Joe Anglim (8), Max Dawson (9), Woo Hwang (10)

These are more votes against the remaining candidates than they are votes FOR this sextet, since this is an underwhelming bunch.  Kimmi gets in just because she’s from one of the classic seasons, yet if I’m picking one of the old-timers to come back, I doubt she cracks my top 40.  Joe and Woo bring nothing but dim-witted athleticism to the table, and my votes honestly won’t matter since both going to be surefire top-tenners anyway; Joe may get the most votes of anyone given how he was edited as such a saint during the current season.  That said, they’re harmless enough, why not.  Shirin and Max are in the same boat as superfans who may simply be have too big of a know-it-all vibe to actually be able to succeed in the game, and their behaviour could actually get worse in this fantasy camp Survivor scenario.  If they’re the experts they claim to be, however, they’d be able to adapt their games and potentially thrive, which would be interesting….or they’ll be hilariously blindsided as Max was this year, which would be a hoot.  Mikayla gets a token vote since she deserves better than to have people remember her Survivor persona only as “the girl who was creepily lusted after by Brandon Hantz.”


There’s the 20 on my ballot, and since I’ve already explained my anti-Carolyn and anti-Mike reasoning, here’s my take on the other ten.

* Brad Culpepper and Troy Robertson: Blowhards who bring nothing to the table other than to have Probst bro-crush on them for the entire game.  Who, aside from Probst, would actually be interested in seeing these two play again?
* Jim Rice and Spencer Bledsoe: Also some severe douchebag vibes, with Jim in particular being so relatively obscure that I’m surprised he got on the ballot.  Spencer is a fan favourite for many but I never cared for the guy and felt his game was severely overrated.
* Monica Padilla, Natalie Tenerelli, Stephanie Valencia: Clearly someone in the casting department has a thing for cute brunettes, as I can’t see any reason why any of them would be candidates to be brought back other than CBS felt the ballot needed some eye candy.  (And while these ladies are good-looking and all, if I’m adding past Survivors based purely on looks, I get a fair distance down the list before I get to these three.) 
* Abi-Maria Gomes, Keith Nale, Kass McQuillen: Does anyone see their games doing ANY differently than their first appearances?  Keith will be a bumbling tag-along in an alliance, get eliminated post-merge and be on the jury again despite not really knowing how to play the game.  Abi-Maria and Kass will irritate everyone out there and either be one of the first few players out or make it to the final three as a goat.  Either way, they’re not bringing anything new to the table.

Sadly, of my bottom ten, probably at least a half-dozen of them will make the cast just as a personal affront to me.  You still have a week to vote, so for my sanity’s sake, please just everyone vote for my choices.  If everyone just does as I say, the world would be a better place.  (Note to self: come up with a better slogan when I run for Parliament.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sheared

Harry Shearer is reportedly leaving the Simpsons cast, and while it's possible this is just a negotiating bluff and an agreement could still be worked out, it seems pretty final.  Shearer has always been the member of the 'big six' voice actors who has been most ardent about the actors getting a fair share of the show's huge profits, so it's perhaps not a shock he's the one walking away first.

If this indeed a done deal and Shearer is no longer part of the Simpsons, then this might be the excuse I need to stop watching the show.  I'm one of the few and proud* diehards who has actually kept watching all these years, long after the end of the golden age.**  Things got really hairy from around seasons 12-17, but the show has rebounded since then to deliver a pretty acceptable ratio of 6-7 episodes per season that are as good as ever, 6-7 stinkers and the rest decent ways to spend 21 minutes.  And man, it's still THE SIMPSONS.  It's the show that has been a cornerstone of my sense of humour, my vocabulary and basically my life for 25 years.  After sticking it out this long, I figured I'd be in it until the very end.

* = well, maybe not THAT proud considering I've been looking for a reason to quit

** = seasons nine and 10 are both mostly great, though each year has a handful of mediocre shows that break up the "every episode is a masterpiece" vibe of the previous six years.  I guess you could technically say this counts as the end of the era, though I'd personally say it's halfway through S11 that the show really just plummets off a cliff.  I can even point to a specific endpoint --- basically everything after "The Mansion Family" is lousy, beginning with the legendarily terrible "Saddlesore Galactica" episode.  (Two big exceptions: "Behind The Laughter" and "Last Tap Dance In Springfield" are terrific.)

Now, however, there's a loophole.  Shearer wasn't the sole reason for the show's success, yet he was inarguably a huge piece of the puzzle.  I have no interest in listening to some half-assed replacement voice actor try to imitate all of Shearer's roles.  The show also can't just write Shearer's characters out, since how the hell would Springfield function without Mr. Burns, Smithers, Skinner, Lenny, Kent Brockman, Flanders, Dr. Hibbert, McBain, Eddie the cop, Otto or Reverend Lovejoy?

Without all of the big six voice actors on board, I feel like this is truly the end of an era for the show.  It just won't be the same without Shearer, and with him gone, I wonder if any of the others will consider stepping away when their new two-year contracts are up.  Beyond that, maybe Matt Groening and the producers might consider this as an omen that it's time to finally start wrapping The Simpsons up.

After years of watching the show with 51% interest and 49% out of obligation, I'll take my cue from Shearer and walk away.  If nothing else, hopefully Shearer can be convinced to return for the series finale, however the hell that episode could possibly play out.  What in the world would be the appropriate way to end The Simpsons?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Other People's Writing

* Grantland’s Jason “The Maester” Concepcion isn’t just a Game Of Thrones expert, he’s also a wonderful comedian.  His take on Rajon Rondo’s Connect Four advice to children is an instant classic, made even funnier by the fact that Rondo is actually a Connect Four obsessive (of all things) in real life.

* Kyle Ryan continues the Onion AV Club’s series on past Billboard #1 albums by looking at…“The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart” comedy record?  Yeah, that’s right, a comedy album once not only topped the charts, it did so for 14 weeks in 1960.  You can find most of the album’s routines on YouTube and man, they still hold up.  Newhart was a genius.

* Blur is back!  (Not in pog form)  Grantland's Amos Barshad has the latest on Blur's new album, their first in ages.  I can't say I'm a huge Blur fan, yet if you distill their best stuff onto a single greatest hits disc, that is a hell of a record.  I would know, since I own a Blur greatest hits collection.  Hopefully none of their new stuff is any good so my album is still up to date...is that selfish?

* It’s probably not a surprise who tops Shea Serrano’s list of ‘The Sandlot’ character power rankings, yet Serrano also makes a persuasive case that Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez is the greatest movie athlete of all time.  I figure it’s between Benny The Jet, Michael Jordan in ‘Space Jam,’ Teen Wolf, post-car theft Forest Whitaker in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” Rocky Balboa or Roy Hobbs.

* Imagine a world where one NFL draft pick punched Roger Goodell in the face every year?  SB Nation’s Jon Bois takes us into this reality, which no doubt many Patriots fans are currently wishing was our universe.

* We recently passed the 100th anniversary of Orson Welles’ birth, and man, there are few more fascinating people in film history than Welles.  You can make a strong case he was the biggest overall talent in Hollywood history except for his bottom-of-the-barrel ranking in playing well with others.  Grantland’s Brian Phillips gives a brief overview of Welles’ life and his making of “The Lady From Shanghai.”  I could honestly read Orson Welles stuff all day long.

* Dolph Lundgren is several rungs behind Welles on the talent ladder, yet it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t lived as interesting a life.  Grantland’s Alex Pappademas interviews Ivan Drago himself about his career and any number of subjects.

* Keeping the “general career overview” theme going, here’s Rafe Bartholomew’s writeup on the career of Manny Pacquiao, which is really one of the more unlikely journeys in recent sports history.  If only Pacquiao/Mayweather had taken place back in 2009….c’est la vie.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

U2 On Fallon

Wow, how do people stand watching Jimmy Fallon night after night?  He just so pathetically fawns over his guests during interviews that it's hard to watch*, which is why I only only deign to watch the Tonight Show if, for instance, my favourite band of all time was performing several songs.

* = in fairness, if I ever met any of the U2 guys in person, I would absolutely be doing the same thing and scoring a 9.9 on the Chris Farley Show scale.



Monday, May 11, 2015

Age Of Anti-Climax

My only issue with the — very good, don’t get me wrong — new Avengers movie is that it already felt anti-climatic.  The first Avengers film worked in part because it was a clear climax of Marvel’s “Phase One,” bringing together all of the characters from the initial wave of films.  In theory, Age Of Ultron would’ve been the climax of “Phase Two,” were it not for the fact that Ant-Man is still to be released in a couple of months and to hear Marvel tell it, THAT is the real endpoint of “Phase Two.”

(This is assuming, of course, that Marvel gives half a damn about Ant-Man isn’t just going through the motions without Edgar Wright since they spent years on the project and already had a big cast signed up.  It’s probably not a good sign that Marvel already has their schedule set through 2019 and there isn’t even a hint of an Ant-Man sequel; this movie has ‘contractual obligation’ written all over it.  And yes, before you even ask, I’m still going to see it on opening day.)

Speaking of that schedule through 2019, I can understand why Marvel would want to announce such long-range plans.  Firstly, it keeps the hype fires burning for the fans, and secondly, it makes Warner Brothers/DC’s plans for their own Justice League-connected movie universe look laughable in comparison.  Frankly, Marvel might have the firstly and secondly reversed in this case.

The problem is, however, that Marvel essentially said “Hey everyone, check out this awesome thing!  And then THIS OTHER awesome thing with most of the same characters! (a.k.a. the ‘Civil War’ Captain America sequel)  And then YET ANOTHER awesome thing with our signature character back in the fold!  (the Spider-Man reboot)  And then GOOD LORD, even more NEW CHARACTERS all getting their own movies!  (Captain Marvel, Black Panther, the Inhumans, Dr. Strange)  And then HELLS BELLS TRUDY, a two-part awesome thing with every character we’ve ever had!  (the Infinity War)  It’s BEYOND INCREDIBLE!  And now, let’s go back to that very first thing, remember that?!”

It was hard to get too fired up for Age Of Ultron since, if you look at the Marvel cinematic universe as a TV series, it came off as more of a midseason sweeps month event than it did a season finale.  I worry that the same could potentially be true of Civil War, since while it’s a unique concept unto itself on paper, the massive cast essentially makes it an Avengers movie, so it could still be a bit hampered by the impending Infinity War.  The promises of bigger-and-better tend to overshadow the here and now.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Robble Robble

If we can get modern updates of every superhero under the sun, it only stands to reason that this can be extended to advertising characters from the 1970's.  That's right, the Hamburglar has returned.  He's not just an Ottawa Senators goalie anymore, but rather the actual McDonald's-stealin' criminal, mask and all.



As a fan of "The Americans," I particularly get a kick out of the Hamburglar's secret garage lair.  (And his kid knows his secret, too!)  After all these years, the HB has retired to be a simple suburban dad, and while it seems to be implied that his wife knows about his criminal past, her fairly blank expression lands somewhere between bemused and "welp, this was bound to happen."  Or, it was just a poor acting choice by the performer. 

As we know, I'm all for the idea of an archnemesis mascot, as evidenced by my Clio-winning "Forest City Road Racist" idea.  The problem with a modern Hamburglar, however, is that I fear it will inspire this wretched generation of hipsters to actually dress up like the Hamburglar while robbing McDonald's restaurants.  Then again, if that scenario results in the restaurants being secretly guarded by Grimace statues that come to life Robocop-style to protect the peace, I'm all for it.

For the record, I was not asked to play the Hamburglar in the new commercials.  While my love for burgers knows no bounds, I would never steal a hamburger.  An ill-gotten hamburger makes the taste infinitely less delicious.  My honesty knows no bounds.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Troilus & Cressida (Shakespeare Re-Read #15)

The Trojan War is perhaps the most widely-told of all mythological tales, as the battle between Greece and Troy over Helen’s “face that launched a thousand ships” has been chronicled in one form or another by literally every artistic medium of the last 2000 years.  What makes Shakespeare’s take on the Trojan War in "Troilus & Cressida" rather unique is that he makes this most epic of tales so completely mundane.  He includes none of the pageantry commonly associated with the Trojan War (the gods, goddesses, superhuman feats, etc.) and instead makes it just a war.  And not just any war — a war fought over, essentially, a domestic dispute that ends up costing thousands of lives.

Seen as a satire of war in general, and an argument that for all the glory that men associate with battle (something Shakespeare himself is guilty of on more than a few occasions) it’s ultimately innocent lives being lost over a political disagreement, T&C is a pretty interesting play.  Interesting to discuss, that is; reading it is a different story, as the actual text is rather dry and meandering.  I’m sure you could have quite a keen English class discussion about the concept here, yet scene after scene of petty in-fighting amongst the Greek side, subplots that go nowhere, the actual title plot ultimately going nowhere, and just an overall feeling of ennui within the story doesn’t make for a great read.

Let’s start with that title plot, which has to be one of the most underdeveloped* of any in Shakespeare’s canon.  Troilus and Cressida have to be right up there with Cymbeline as the title characters who have the least to do in their named plays.  I guess it was simply the convention of the time for Shakespeare to call it “The Tragedy of Troilus & Cressida” or whatever rather than some ironic title like, oh, I dunno, “The Trojan War Was Very Silly Indeed.”

* = underdeveloped, but not uninteresting.  There’s an alternate reality where Shakespeare focuses more on Troilus and Cressida’s story and puts the feuding Trojans and Greeks on the backburner, and it makes for a much stronger play.

In theory, the title might tie into the overall theme — rather than some heroic title, or even “Achilles” or “Ajax vs. Hector,” Shakespeare ignores the war and the major mythic personages to focus on two fairly minor personalities.  If you’re asking what’s the point of naming the play about the Trojan War over this minor romantic melodrama, consider that big-picture, the entire war was over a minor romantic melodrama.

And make no mistake, Shakespeare considers the Helen/Paris/Menelaus love triangle to be a trifle.  Menelaus (the King Of Sparta himself!) is barely even in the play, and Helen herself only appears in one scene, that little bit of bawdiness with Paris and Pandarus.  That’s right, the legendary Helen Of Troy is essentially a bit part.  It’s essentially Shakespeare reducing her to an Ann Veal-esque “her?”  Apparently some productions over the years have played with this scene by casting Helen as a man in drag, or really uglying up the actress in the role to drive home the point that the Trojan War was fought over thoroughly minor reasons.  (Though this type of casting undercuts Shakespeare’s point; it’s implying that if Helen really was a true knockout, then the war would’ve been “worth it” or something.)

It’s worth nothing that Helen’s only scene comes directly after the debate in Act II, Scene ii when Priam and his sons are debating whether or not the war should continue.  Paris and Troilus “win” the argument under the always-stupid “well, we’ve fought this long already, so it would truly be pointless if we gave up now” reasoning.  Their point is immediately undercut by the goofiness of the Helen scene, making Shakespeare’s opinion pretty clear.  Everything here is just “still wars and lechery, nothing else holds fashion,” as Thersites* puts it in Act V, Scene ii.

* = between Broadchurch, Game Of Thrones and the Harry Potter movies, I absolutely pictured David “Walder Frey” Bradley in my head during all of Thersites’ lines.

So you have Helen brought low, making her par for the course with the rest of the legendary figures within the play.  Achilles isn’t a legendary warrior, but instead just a petulant egomaniac.  Ajax is indeed portrayed as a quality warrior, though an easily-manipulated meathead (who also has a healthy ego on him).  Again, Shakespeare isn’t interested in ascribing any traditional valor to these famous names — in the heat of the moment, they’re just a flock of petty squabblers.  It’s the characters themselves who are obsessed with preserving their honour and nobility, as in the case of the Ajax/Hector duel, which is presented less as a major moment in a blood feud of a war than an exhibition at a county fair.  What’s built up as the major plot point in the narrative just fizzles into an unsatisfying draw and then a bunch of courteous banquets and back-slapping like something was actually accomplished by either warrior.

It’s a weird coincidence that I read T&C just after Cymbeline in this series, as the plays share a lot of similarities.  First time I’d read either, I knew nothing about either play going in, both have title characters with pretty minor roles, and both are sprawling “historical” epics (though in Cymbeline’s case, it’s Shakespeare wholly inventing a fanciful tale with no regard for the actual history of the people he uses as characters, whereas in T&C he takes completely fictional characters and portrays them in a more realistic light).  I loved Cymbeline, however, since it was so unapologetic in being over-the-top.  By remaining so insular and bitter, conversely, T&C is a hard play to like.  You can maybe admire it, yet Shakespeare goes a long way to make a pretty basic point.

OVERALL RATING: C

RANKING THE PLAYS THUS FAR

15. Pericles
14. The Taming Of The Shrew
13. Antony & Cleopatra
12. Troilus & Cressida
11. Much Ado About Nothing
10. Coriolanus
9. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
8. The Comedy Of Errors
7. The Winter's Tale
6. A Midsummer Night's Dream
5. Julius Caesar
4. Macbeth
3. Cymbeline
2. Twelfth Night
1. Othello

My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  2012 has long since ended, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William goddamn Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"