Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ping Kings

My brother and I often used to play ping-pong on the old table in my parents' basement, though our rallies weren't quite as extensive as this one since the room was smaller and we had less room to move around.  What I'm saying is, had my folks worked a little harder and been able to afford a larger house, my brother and I would've been just cranking out videos like this years ago.  THANKS FOR NOTHING, MOM AND DAD.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Other People's Writing

Shea Serrano is all over this month's OPW, beginning with his Grantland examination of which R&B singer's music will most likely lead to sex.  See, I've been going about this all wrong, when I'm trying to woo my lady, I put on a CD of speeches by R.B. Bennett.  It is spectacularly ineffective at putting her in the mood.

* Serrano is back again, teaming with fellow Grantlander Bill Barnwell to determine the greatest sports movie villain of all time.  I like Serrano's writing style but admittedly, he's a bit of an acquired taste.  (My pal Kyle literally sent me a text once pondering/complaining why Serrano keeps getting things published on Grantland.)  It definitely complements Serrano's off-the-wall style when he's paired with a very straight-laced writer like Barnwell, whose NFL stuff I enjoy reading but man, he seems like one of the dullest people around.  His appearances on Simmons' podcasts are cures for insomnia, with the only entertaining coming when Simmons makes some asinine opinion about the NFL and Barnwell has to figure out a way to tell his boss that he's dead wrong in the politest way possible.  This said, I'm a fan of the Barnwell/Serrano comedy duo and would love to see them team up in the future.  (Not crazy about their methodology, however.  The Beast from 'The Sandlot' has no chance of becoming likeable?  He does so literally before the movie even ends!)

* This time writing for Deadspin, Serrano describes playing old Nintendo games and, as a sideline, describes having sex while wearing a Nintendo Power Glove.  Admittedly, I related more to the part about playing the games.  I just can't believe he didn't work a 'no glove, no love' joke in there somehow.  This piece absolutely hits home for me as a child of the 80's and early 90's, and Serrano is absolutely right about the glory related to finally beating Mike Tyson in Punch-Out.  When I was a kid, I was at a birthday party and saw a friend beat Tyson, whereupon all of us celebrated like crazy.  It's possible we lifted that kid up on our shoulders and carried him around, no joke.

* Speaking of late 80's/early 90's nostalgia, here's Grantland's Steven Hyden discussing how he still loves to listen to music on compact discs.  I sympathize heavily, given the tons of CDs I have back at my parents' house.  I'll probably never stop buying CDs as long as my favourite artists (U2, Pearl Jam, Springsteen, etc.) are still releasing records, since I'll always want to add to my collection with a proper CD.  I can't just download something and burn it onto a disc, that'd be cheating!

* In another Grantland piece, Mimi Hanaoka looks at how pro wrestling legend turned Japanese politician Antonio Inoki has been using wrestling as a diplomatic tool for decades, with a surprising amount of success.  Canada and the USA could've used him in 1997 when tensions between the two countries were high thanks to the Hart Foundation/Stone Cold Steve Austin feud.

* Claire L. Evans, writing for Grantland, has an interesting thought piece that asks this question: what would happen if you would magically take Ben Franklin and bring him to the present, then show him the new Transformers movie?  It's a good reminder of just how far technology has evolved, somewhat akin to the Arthur C. Clarke law about how "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  I'd also like to think that Franklin, even with no context whatsoever, would be disgusted by Mark Wahlberg's acting.
* This is almost a year old, but the New Yorker's Simon Rich takes the "man walks into a bar" joke to its logical extreme.  I'm going to a fancy dinner party next week, so thank goodness I have a witty New Yorker piece to discuss and brag about reading.

* And finally, here's a must-read for all you 'Orange Is The New Black' fans, as Larry Smith (the 'real-life Larry') tells the story of he and the 'real Piper' (Piper Kernan), covering everything from how they met to how they dealt with her incarceration to their rise to fame thanks to the TV show.  Interestingly, Smith doesn't really touch on the events of the second season, when (SPOILER ALERT) not only are Piper and Larry not a couple, but Larry is now engaged to Piper's best friend.  I'm going to go ahead and presume that didn't actually happen in real life, though the issue of whether Larry actually went ahead and watched 'Mad Men' without Piper remains unsettled.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014


It never hurts to talk about one's problem.  It truly could've been an act of karma that, just a few months after I break down and write about my quixotic search for a pair of fly-esque sunglasses to match a pair I lost years ago, that my search finally came to an end.

The place: Canadian Tire.  Just mentioning the name fills me with a weird sense of nostalgic national pride, plus my nose is suddenly filled with the smell of rubber.  I went into my local CT in order to check out their watch inventory (my old watch met its end when I accidentally dropped it down a flight of stairs).  I'll take a small sidebar here to note that I'm in that weird middle ground between "not wanting to spend any significant money on a watch since they're strictly a utilitarian piece of equipment" and "having a watch whatsoever, since you can always check the time on your phone."  Ergo, my interest in Canadian Tire's wide array of watches for $20 or less. 

Nothing caught my eye on this day, however, not to mention the fact that I was a bit cramped for time during my visit and (had I bought a watch) didn't have time for an obligatory trip to the jewelry store to get the battery installed.  What I did have time for, however, was the obligatory browse of the sunglass rack on the fleeting, off-chance that….

…OH MY GOOD LORD.  THEY EXIST.  The glasses had frames that weren't 'quite' as outlandishly large as I'd hoped, and the inside of the lens were actually a shade of metallic pink.  Still…large lenses, black tinted, and black plastic ear wraps that were just plain black without any goofy design on them.  This was the 95% solution, and frankly, who isn't satisfied with 95 percent?  The makers of Ivory soap?  Get over yourselves, people.  I'll take a ninety-five any day of the week.

So now I'm strutting around town with my fly sunglasses on, looking like the single coolest human being walking the face of the earth.  You've probably seen me around town --- my presence will be alerted by a slight breeze, and you'll turn your head and literally be struck backwards by the tornado of style that's coming your way.  "Holy smoke, does he even HAVE eyes?  I can't see them!  Whoaaa!", you'll excitedly yelp, high-fiving either your buddies or maybe some passersby if you happen to be a friendless degenerate.  Then you'll go home and write a post about seeing me on your blog, give it a tag called 'Brushes With Greatness,' hesitate for a moment since that tag sounds vaguely douchey, then shrug and do it anyways since my sunglasses were just that outstanding. 

The moral of the story is to never ever give up hope, kids.  You never know when you'll find something wonderful to fill a seemingly un-fillable hole in your life.  I'd like to think that my old glasses, wherever they may be, are happy that I've moved on with a new eyemate.  My future is literally so bright, I have to wear these shades.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weird Al's Week

The beloved Weird Al Yankovic reminded us all of the power of the music video this week, releasing one video on each of the last eight days promoting a new song from his newest album.  It's going to be...well, weird describing to our kids a) just why Weird Al is the best and b) how music videos used to be so important that it was once a big deal when Insert Major Artist Here released a new video back in the day, to the point that MuchMusic used to promote when big new videos were debuting.

Five videos are here, while I'll just link to the other three since the embedding isn't working for some reason: Mission Statement, Sports Song and First World Problems.

While all eight are good, I think 'Word Crimes' takes the cake as the best of the bunch.  As others have put it, this parody is so good is actually justifies the existence of the creepy-ass 'Blurred Lines' in the first place.  Oh, for the innocence of last summer, when Robin Thicke's creepiest move was merely that song and not the entire album dedicated to winning his estranged wife back.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Conan On Tinder

Here's Conan with another terrific remote bit, this time going on the prowl with Dave Franco to scope out dating options on Tinder.  Look at Dave Franco, already just about eclipsing his brother in the Franco power rankings!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Antony & Cleopatra (Shakespeare Re-Read #10)

When last we left our pal Mark Antony in "Julius Caesar," he had overcome the cabal that had arranged Julius' assassination and was now part of the triumvirate (along with Octavius Caesar and the walking schmuck known as Lepidus) in charge of Rome.  Things weren't all roses and puppy dogs, however, as there were already signs that the power was going to Antony's head, and the issues all come to a boil in "Antony & Cleopatra," one of Shakespeare's more unusual plays from a structural standpoint and yet not one of his most successful.

I originally read this play in university about 12 years ago and remembered literally nothing about it, which probably wasn't a good sign for the second read.  Sure enough, there isn't much that stands out about the text, which is kind of stunning since it's a) Shakespeare and b) the plot centres around one of the most fascinating events in Western history.  "Antony & Cleopatra" comes off as, if you can believe it, Shakespeare's answer to movies like Titanic or Pearl Harbor --- i.e. those kinds of overblown love stories set against the backdrop of a major historical moment.  The problem with the play is that it isn't really able to manage either the love story or the history, leaving it thin on both fronts.

I don't even have a problem with the actual history being shuttled into the background, given that obviously Shakespeare couldn't properly represent a massive land and naval battle on a 17th-century stage.  There's no reason, however, why Antony & Cleopatra's relationship feels so underdeveloped.  They share remarkably little actual stage time together, and when they are joined, it's spent in Act I with Cleopatra in a jealous rage over Antony's Roman rage.  (Even if it's a mock rage, as I suspect it could be portrayed as on stage, I kind of expect more from a tragic romance than 'playfully petty' as the default setting.)  Later, we get them again dealing with the fallout of Antony deserting his fleet to go over Cleopatra's departing retreating boat, which is basically our last look at the couple until we get Antony's on death's door crawling to Cleopatra's tomb.  Interestingly, this is the only time we seem to see genuine love and affection between the couple; it is only when they've both been overthrown by Octavian can be they regard each other as actual people and not as "Queen Of Egypt" and "Leader Of Rome."  At their lowest, they finally take solace in each other.

(Cleopatra reportedly actually did kill herself via asp poison, though the way that Shakespeare presents things creates a bit of a dramatic problem.  If she really did end up with a Poison Ivy-esque killer kiss from the asp venom, instead of just basically shrugging after she kills Iras, you'd think Cleo would go for broke and try to kiss Octavian as a final bit of revenge.  Shame on Billy Shakes for introducing a comic book-y plot element when it doesn't correspond with history!)

With so little interaction for our title characters, that leaves Shakespeare whipping us around from scene to scene in the 17th-century version of quick-cutting.  There are a combined 28 scenes in Acts III and IV, several of which are just a few lines long with Octavian or Antony or someone barking out a few orders and exploring a quick plot point.  The effect actually helps the whole "can't actually show anything" problem since the quick scenes make it seem like there's a lot more action than is actually happening on the stage.  So basically, if you want to credit someone with the split-screen effects on 24, look no further than William Shakespeare.

The scenes changes also help obscure a general lack of character for anyone in the play, as there are a dizzying array of secondary characters who in many cases seem interchangeable.  Some of them literally have only a few lines, and you've got to believe that some of these roles are just combined in modern productions.  Cleopatra's crew of Iras, Charmian and Alexas all get some exploration in Act I, Scene ii, as does Enobarbus (whose lines I couldn't help but read in the voice of Liam "Davos Seaworth" Cunningham), and that poor messenger who Cleopatra almost tortures ends up as some decent comic relief, but for the most part, it's a staggering array of major and minor figures in the supporting cast, some of whom were actual people that you think Shakespeare was tossing in there just for semi-accuracy's sake.

The larger figures don't get much more depth, sadly.  You have poor ol' Lepidus, who seems like the most (only?) reasonable one of the triumvirate in some cases, yet is treated by all as a living joke.  Even Shakespeare can't avoid poking fun at him during his 'drunken stupor' scene in the third act.  (Man, Rob Ford has ruined that phrase).  As for Octavian, it's never fully established why he so suddenly turns from general displeasure at Lepidus and Antony in the first half of the play into outright warfare against them in the second half.  I guess you could argue that it's Antony still going back to Egypt despite his fresh marriage to Octavian's sister that serves as the last straw, though other than secondary character scuttlebutt, Octavian's motives aren't made too clear.  Again, it seems like a plot movement based solely on history rather than something Shakespeare dramatically sets the stage for within the narrative itself.

A&C was written many years after "Julius Caesar," and while it isn't really a sequel as much as it is just a continuance of Shakespeare's take on history, there are a few interesting parallels.  The characterization, for one, seems stable from play to play --- we had hints of the triumvirate's eventual collapse in JC, for one, though in that case it was Antony seemingly plotting with Octavian against Lepidus.  Also, like how Brutus' regrets about his disloyalty dominate the theme of the earlier play, we see a similar thread here with Enobarbus almost instantly regretting his decision to ditch Antony in favour of Octavian.

And finally, we get Cleopatra herself.  Depending on what edited version of either this play or "As You Like It" (and Rosalind) that you're reading, Cleopatra has the most lines of any female Shakespeare character.  I wish this title had gone to a character a bit more deserving of the honour, given how all over the board Shakespeare is with Cleo's personality.  As presented on the page, Cleopatra carries little of the grandeur or mystique that you'd normally associate with her historical image.  Even if Shakespeare was purposefully writing against that image in order to show how Antony's tragic downfall was his love of this woman, the author fails to illustrate 'why' Antony would risk everything for her and thus undercuts the tragedy.  Cleopatra ranges from being batshit jealous to rather cowardly (sailing away from the battle) to at least managing to summon some final dignity after Octavian's forces invade, but by then it's far too late.  Cleopatra the historical figure was a major force to be reckoned with in Roman history; Cleopatra the character from this play is essentially a pushover who was "allowed" to rule Egypt until the Roman Empire decided her time was up.  Again, I'm only going from the text here --- given the great actresses who have played the role of Cleopatra over the years, I'm guessing their performances imbued her with more more gravitas, yet on the page she just doesn't come alive whatsoever.


10. Pericles
9. The Taming Of The Shrew
8. Antony & Cleopatra
7. Much Ado About Nothing
6. Coriolanus
5. The Comedy Of Errors
4. The Winter's Tale
3. A Midsummer Night's Dream
2. Julius Caesar
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!"

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Christopher Dancin

Christopher Walken, as the scriptures tell us, began his show business training as a dancer.  He showed off this talent in virtually all of his 'Saturday Night Live' monologues and the beyond legendary "Weapon Of Choice" video....and, as this helpful video illustrates, basically throughout his entire acting career.  If Walken ever danced, shimmied, shook, be-bopped, jigged or did anything vaguely rhythmic in any of his films, it's right here.  I want to marry this video.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Alterna-Emmys

Another year, another case of the Emmys wasting time with this elaborate poll instead of just asking me.  Seriously, just getting me to list the nominees and winners would spare everyone a lot of extra work.  This year I'm going to stick to the actual Academy ballot for the eligible shows and performances, with a couple of exceptions.

Actual nominees: Christine Baranski/The Good Wife, Joanne Froggatt/Downton Abbey, Anna Gunn/Breaking Bad, Christina Hendricks/Mad Men, Lena Headey/Game Of Thrones, Maggie Smith/Downton Abbey
My ballot: Gunn, Headey, Hendricks, Smith, Emilia Clarke/Game Of Thrones, Kiernan Shipka/Mad Men
My winner: Headey

I feel like there's been a slight sea change in how we perceive Headey's performance on GoT.  While everyone hailed it as very good since the very beginning, it wasn't until this particular season when I think everyone really realized just how much she's killing it in this role week after week.  She stands out as the best of the field, though I suspect Gunn may win as part of the Breaking Bad semi-sweep.

Actual nominees: Lizzy Caplan/Masters Of Sex, Claire Danes/Homeland, Michelle Dockery/Downton Abbey, Julianne Margulies/The Good Wife, Kerry Washington/Scandal, Robin Wright/House Of Cards
My ballot: Caplan, Danes, Margulies, Washington, Tatiana Maslany/Orphan Black, Elisabeth Moss/Mad Men
My winner: Moss

Full disclosure, I don't watch many of the nominated performances in this category yet sight unseen, Maslany got robbed.  She plays almost every damn role on the show --- heck, she should've nominated herself in the supporting category just for kicks.  Elisabeth Moss' annual disrespect at the Emmys hit a new low this year when she somehow wasn't even nominated for her annual great work on 'Mad Men,' and really, she should have at least a couple of trophies by now.  I'm not looking forward to Claire Danes getting into 'alright already' territory with a third Emmy or (even worse) Robin Wright winning for a legitimately bad performance.

Actual nominees: Jim Carter/Downton Abbey, Josh Charles/The Good Wife, Peter Dinklage/Game Of Thrones, Mandy Patinkin/Homeland, Aaron Paul/Breaking Bad, Jon Voight/Ray Donovan
My ballot: Dinklage, Charles Dance/Games Of Thrones, Vincent Kartheiser/Mad Men, Matthew Lillard/The Bridge, Dean Norris/Breaking Bad, John Slattery/Mad Men
My winner: Slattery

Traditionally one of the deepest categories at the Emmys, I don't even have much of an issue with the actual nominee list yet I'm almost entirely turning it over.  My hope is that Dinklage wins the actual trophy (damn, he is such a great actor) and yet on my ballot, I'd narrowly go with Slattery if for no other reason than the Roger character  had a lot of ups and downs this season.

Actual nominees: Bryan Cranston/Breaking Bad, Jeff Daniels/The Newsroom, Jon Hamm/Mad Men, Woody Harrelson/True Detective, Matthew McConaughey/True Detective, Kevin Spacey/House Of Cards
My ballot: Cranston, Hamm, Harrelson, McConaughey, Spacey, no sixth
My winner: Cranston
Like last year's inexplicable Daniels win, there's some real opportunity for failure in this category.  A Daniels repeat or Spacey winning for his scenery-chewing would be a real facepalm moment.  Harrelson winning would be a surprise just because of how much McC dominated the conversation about their show, and while Woody was also great, it'd also be a head-scratching decision.  So we're down to the stalwarts of Cranston and Hamm, plus the spectre of McConaughey swooping in to add an Emmy to his incredible awards year.  I have no issue with any of the three winning, and even though this is our last chance to reward Cranston and McC, I'd still like to see Hamm earn that long-deserved first Emmy.  Like to see it, however, doesn't top choking bad a sob while angrily chewing out your wife in an attempt to get her off the hook with the police, so Cranston should find some room on his shelf.

Actual nominees: Fred Armisen/Portlandia, Andre Braugher/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Ty Burrell/Modern Family, Adam Driver/Girls, Jesse Tyler Ferguson/Modern Family, Tony Hale/Veep
My ballot: Steve Little/Eastbound & Down, Joe Lo Truglio/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, TJ Miller/Silicon Valley, Kumail Nanjiani/Silicon Valley, Nick Offerman/Parks & Recreation, Reid Scott/Veep, Timothy C. Simons/Veep
My winner: Lo Truglio

Yeah, that's seven guys on the alterna-ballot, deal with it.  And honestly, I'd probably have at least one (Braugher) of the actual nominees if I was properly filling out a ballot, but I wanted to take the chance to cite some under-the-radar candidates for their hilarious work.  This is another incredibly deep category with loads of great performances.  Of the nominees, I'd favour Braugher or Ferguson over Burrell/Hale (past winners), Armisen (not a supporting performance) or Driver (out-er….space!)

Actual nominees: Louis CK/Louie, Don Cheadle/House Of Lies, Ricky Gervais/Derek, Matt LeBlanc/Episodes, William H. Macy/Shameless, Jim Parsons/Big Bang Theory
My ballot: Louis CK, Fred Armisen/Portlandia,* Jake Johnson/New Girl, Danny McBride/Eastbound & Down, Chris O'Dowd/Family Tree, Andy Samberg/Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Winner: McBride

Fun fact, this has secretly been one of the Emmys' weaker categories for quite some time.  The fact that Gervais got nominated for his thoroughly half-assed 'Derek' series is just about rock-bottom, or maybe it's the fact that Jim Parsons is assuredly going to win yet again is the real nadir.  You'll note that I'm putting Armisen here as a protest against he and Brownstein inexplicably submitting themselves as supporting performances.  There's a lack of ego and then there's outright category confusion.

Actual nominees: Mayim Bialik/Big Bang Theory, Julie Bowen/Modern Family, Anna Chlumsky/Veep, Allison Janney/Mom, Kate McKinnon/Saturday Night Live, Kate Mulgrew/Orange Is The New Black
My ballot: McKinnon, Mulgrew, Danielle Brooks/Orange Is The New Black, Nina Conti/Family Tree, Cristin Miloti/How I Met Your Mother, Michaela Watkins/Trophy Wife, Samira Wiley/Orange Is The New Black
My winner: McKinnon

Realistically, this Emmy will go to either Janney or Bowen (both longtime Emmy favourites) but man, this category is all about McKinnon or Mulgrew.  Either would be an amazing choice.  McKinnon was the unquestioned MVP of a very uneven SNL season, while Mulgrew put Captain Janeway thoroughly in the rearview mirror.  If I may rant here, I thoroughly don't understand the Emmys' "guest actor/actress" rules, since half of the OITNB cast seemed split between this category and the 'guest actress' category with no consideration given to screentime.  Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Taryn Manning….these were all way more than just 'guests' on OITNB, and had they listed themselves in this category, that show might well have almost swept my fake ballot.

Actual nominees: Lena Dunham/Girls, Edie Falco/Nurse Jackie, Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Veep, Melissa McCarthy/Mike & Molly, Amy Poehler/Parks & Recreation, Taylor Schilling/Orange Is The New Black
My ballot: Louis-Dreyfus, Poehler, Schilling, Carrie Brownstein/Portlandia*, Zooey Deschanel/New Girl
My winner: Poehler

I'll keep picking Poehler until she finally wins, dammit, though objectively it was a down season for P&R and this award probably should go to JLD yet again.  And again, hey Carrie Brownstein, YOU PLAY 40% OF THE ROLES ON THE SHOW.  You're the lead!

So we're into the shows themselves.  Here's my ranking of every show I watched more than two episodes of this past season, from worst to first.

696. Dexter
695-39. Every other show on television
38. Amazing Race 23
37. Amazing Race 24
36. The Bridge
35. Hello Ladies
34. Trophy Wife
32. House Of Cards
31. The Spoils Of Babylon
30. Homeland
29. Family Guy
28. Childrens Hospital
27. American Dad
26. The Simpsons
25. Saturday Night Live
24. How I Met Your Mother
23. Survivor Cagayan
22. Survivor Blood vs. Water
21. Family Tree
20. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
19. Sherlock
18. Archer Vice
17. Portlandia
16. Parks & Recreation
15. Modern Family
14. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia
13. 24: Die Another Day
12. Veep
11. New Girl
10. Silicon Valley
9. Community
8. Louie
7. True Detective
6. Eastbound & Down
5. Brooklyn Nine Nine
4. Orange Is The New Black
3. Game Of Thrones
2. Mad Men
1. Breaking Bad

I've written before about how awesome OITNB is, and it thoroughly wins my 'Best Comedy' award….though c'mon, it's not really a comedy.  Hell, it's not even PRIMARILY a comedy by this point.  The second season was even better than the first thanks to our added depth on the characters, though I do kind of wonder if the series already feels unwilling to leave its comfort zone given how everything wrapped up in a relatively neat little package by the end of S2.  This all being said, it's still a fantastic show unlike anything else on television.

As if there was really any doubt over the top series of the year.  I've already written about the seemingly impossible challenge that Breaking Bad faced in living to everyone's expectations, and they delivered with arguably the best final season of any show in history.  BB finally got a well-earned Best Drama award last year, and it certainly deserves one more before going off into the Albuquerque sunset. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


As an avid Game Of Thrones viewer who didn't read the "A Song Of Fire And Ice" books, it's an interesting TV experience to now have the shoe on the other foot for me as I watch The Leftovers.  It's a different feeling, however.  The "SoFaI" fans watch Game Of Thrones with a) eagerness to see how their favourite scenes and characters are recreated on screen, b) curiosity and/or worry to see what will be changed and omitted from the books or c) wondering about either the story's ultimate conclusion or future spoilers for novels, since George R.R. Martin hasn't finished putting pen to paper.  (And it's virtually impossible he'll finish his story before the series provides its own ending.  Or Martin may feel he's too old to finish his book series and will rely on Game Of Thrones to provide the ending for him.)

Uh, sorry for the GoT sideline.  I guess you could say it was a (Sudden) Departure from what I wanted to talk about, which is the thoroughly weird first two episodes of the Leftovers series.  I read the novel last summer and enjoyed it, though since the series had already been announced, my first thought upon finishing wasn't about the book itself, but rather wondering how the hell Damon Lindelof and company were going to make a series out of this.  A movie, sure.  A miniseries, yeah.  But 10-12 episodes of content over several years?  Lindelof put an end-date on LOST so I'm presuming he isn't planning to keep cranking out Leftovers seasons for as long as the series remains profitable, yet even a modest run or three or four seasons seems like a bit of a stretch, barring some narrative gymnastics (more on that in a minute).

After watching the first two episodes, it appears as if the novel's story may be elongated by elongating the grief period.  Tom Perrotta's novel worked in large part because it treated its impossible premise seriously, albeit with about 20% of a satirical flourish.  (The joke about Shaq, J-Lo and the other celebrities lost in the Sudden Departure is straight from the novel, and given the 'Perfect Strangers' bit in the second episode, I wonder if name-dropping disappeared celebs is going be a running gag.)  Leftovers the series, however, is serious bordering on mordant thus far.  It's so dark that the little moments of levity like the celebrity list almost feels inappropriate given how depressed everything else is.

Depressed doesn't necessarily mean 'bad,' however, as I'm still quite intrigued to see how this series is going to develop, and I've enjoyed (is that the right word for something this dark?) both episodes.  This could be, however, since I've read the book and somewhat know what I'm getting into.  The majority of viewers haven't read the book, and thus you have the explanation for some of the negative online reaction to the series.  This is going to be a hard watch, and a large portion of the TV audience isn't on board for another mysterious series by the LOST guy that lacks that show's ability to deliver some lighter moments.  (Clearly, Jorge Garcia should've been cast as Holy Wayne!)

n.b. One ultra-annoying aspect of most negative Leftovers reviews, and even some of the positive ones, is that the reviewer is only viewing this series through the lens of their own dissatisfaction with the end of LOST.  It's pretty lazy criticism, if you ask me.  Do I personally wish LOST's final season had gone in a different direction?  Sure, but that doesn't mean I'm condemning Lindelof to never working on another TV series again, or assuming that this show will be exactly the same as his previous one.  If I did, that would be pretty stupid logic.  "Pfft, this series was created by the Lone Gunmen guy?  That series wasn't good so this series about the meth-dealing teacher can't be good either!"

(Some book spoilers are coming, so be warned.  And spoilers for LOST, since why not.)

The big fear with Lindelof is that the negative viewers are already presuming that the mystery of the Sudden Departure will never be solved.  Well, newsflash, it isn't solved in the novel* either since Perrotta's entire point was to show the aftershocks of a cataclysmic event, not the whys and hows of the event itself.  He made his event a pseudo-Rapture rather than, say, an earthquake or a pandemic since that kind of grief is recognizable in real life.  140 million people vanishing into thin air is something impossible to conceive or relate to, which is how Perrotta gets both we readers and his characters similarly unable to wrap their heads around the enormity of what happened with the Sudden Departure.

* = though Perrotta may present one theory.  Near the end of the book, Nora mentions that just before her family disappeared, she was frustrated at them and wished they'd all just vanish.  Instants later, they're gone.  Now, it's possible I'm overanalyzing what might've just been another expression of Nora's grief, yet this to me seemed like a 'reason' for the Departure.  Some cosmic being or higher power decided to remove everyone on Earth who was having death or absence wished upon them at one particular instant, and the 140 million gone were the ultimate "be careful what you wish for" lesson.  I admit this is an imperfect idea, since it's established in the book that the Departure seems completely random, whereas my theory would seem to mean that a large percentage of the 140 million would be dictators, terrorists, murderers, virtually every major politician and most major celebrities.  Also, my theory may explain the 'why' of the Sudden Departure but it explains nothing else, and probably adds several more questions to the pile.

This leads to the one big elephant in the room about the series, which is what I hinting earlier when talking about the narrative gymnastics that might be needed to make this show last for multiple seasons.  Obviously things will have to go beyond the events of the novel, and it's even possible the show could approach the thing that is definitively NOT part of the novel, which is explaining what the hell the Sudden Departure was all about.  Lindelof had been pretty adamant in saying that this wasn't going to be part of the show but he left the door open just a crack in this interview with Alan Sepinwall when he noted they couldn't guarantee they WOULDN'T explore the Departure since he didn't want to seal himself off creatively.

On the one hand, good for Lindelof for not putting himself into another "nope, they're not in purgatory" narrative box.*  On the other hand, nothing would ruin The Leftovers as quickly as somehow getting into an exploration of the origins of the Sudden Departure.  Perrotta had no intention of explaining it, my Nora theory aside.  I feel like even hinting at answers or vaguely ascribing it to one thing or another would put this show down a garden path to inanity.

* = Also, grrr to most LOST finale haters, they weren't in friggin' purgatory!  The alternate universe of the sixth season was some kind of limbo the characters found themselves in *after* they had died in the manners depicted on the Island.  No, they didn't all "die in the plane crash" and the whole show didn't happen --- the events on the Island indeed took place and there wasn't a narrative cheat.  This isn't so hard to understand.  I swear, half the online hatred of that finale is based on sheer ignorance.

While Lindelof and Perrotta are undoubtedly clever writers, I flat-out don't believe they could ever possibly come up with a capital-a Answer for the vanishings that half the audience wouldn't automatically roll their eyes at.  Aliens?  An actual divine intervention for some reason?  The devil?  Hadron collider experiment gone awry?  We don't need to know how the sausage is being made, we just want the leftovers.  I realize that many viewers are watching this show only because of the narrative hook of the Departure, so Lindelof is somewhat damned if he does or damned if doesn't, but nope, he's only truly damned if he does.  The idea of a show based around searching for meaning in the face of an unknowable situation is interesting enough that you don't' actually need the meaning.

So in short, I'm digging it so far.  It is a flat-out creepy show that, even though I've read the book, I'm never really sure what the hell is going to happen.  I'm very much looking forward to some of the iconic book moments recreated on screen (basically everything involving the Guilty Remnants is going to get increasingly frightening by the moment) and I have a lot of respect for these acting performances that are either already right on the edge of madness (Justin Theroux, Chris Zylka, Liv Tyler) or either drastically underplayed (Amy Brenneman and all the GR crew, Michael Gaston).  Then there's Paterson Joseph, who only has to make minor adjustments to his hilarious Alan Johnson character from "Peep Show" to make it creepy as hell.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

How Animals Eat

This video is about a year old but I'm just seeing it now.  The other guy 'nearly' loses it at the kangaroo impression.