Friday, October 17, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: South Park, "Handicar," and American Dad, "Blonde Ambition" (tie)

You gotta love how each Handicar ride comes with 'Fancy Madeleines.'
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

This week's best first-run animated series episodes are both cases where the climactic sequence is stronger than the actual episode itself. While I like how Trey Parker and Matt Stone intertwine the ride-sharing wars (handicapped kid Timmy launches a ride-sharing startup with wheelchairs as the transportation, in order to raise money for the disabled kids' summer camp from "Crippled Summer") with both Elon Musk's unveiling of the Tesla D and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn's bizarre, frequently parodied Lincoln ads starring Matthew McConaughey, "Handicar" is a step down from last week's solid South Park episode.

The newest Handicar driver explains why time is a flat circle.
"The Cissy" has become a viral sensation due to both positive feedback from transgender viewers and supporters of their community regarding the sharply written way it handled "transginger" issues and a certain catchy pop song that's performed by the show's version of Lorde, who's been revealed to be Randy Marsh disguised as a teenage girl musician from New Zealand ("I am Lorde/Ya ya ya"). "Handicar" is no "Cissy," and you have to sit through a lot of repetitive comedic misunderstandings between Nathan--the evil kid with Down syndrome who's always seen plotting to ruin the lives of either Timmy or Jimmy, the aspiring stand-up with cerebral palsy--and his incompetent lackey Mimsy in order to get to a brilliant sequence that stages the Silicon Valley rivalry between online ride-sharing companies as the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races.

Nathan and Mimsy are South Park's throwback to '40s and '50s pairings of mismatched Warner Bros. cartoon villains like Rocky and Mugsy (who make a cameo appearance on a poster in Nathan's bedroom), the castaways in "Wackiki Wabbit" and Spike and Chester. While Nathan and Mimsy work better in smaller doses, it's fitting that the duo shows up in an episode that, thanks to South Park's fast turnaround, also manages to work in the September 27 demise of Saturday morning animated TV on the broadcast networks. When Randy and the parents of his son Stan's friends rejoice over the return of Wacky Races--in which the likes of Timmy, Nathan and Mimsy, Lyft, Tesla, Zipcar and McConaughey compete against Dastardly and Muttley and a Penelope Pitstop-ized and farty-due-to-her-Canuckness Neve Campbell to resolve the ride-sharing wars once and for all--the sight of the adults racing to the supermarket for cereal and then gathering around the TV in their pajamas and with cereal bowls in hand clearly reflects Parker and Stone's affection for Saturday morning cartoons.

Little-known fact: right after Neve Campbell filmed her nude masturbating shower scene for When Will I Be Loved, James Toback's crew members raced to the bathroom set and proceeded to spray her massive queefs away with Glade.
While I outgrew Saturday morning cartoons ages ago--the last first-run animated kids' show made for broadcast TV that I watched on the regular was The New Batman/Superman Adventures--a part of me is sad that Saturday morning cartoon lineups no longer exist on broadcast TV, and so are Parker and Stone. Their adoration of that extinct breed of Saturday morning programming shines through in every detail of the terrific Wacky Races sequence.

The animators nailed every bit of Hanna-Barbera limited animation that the studio recycled on Wacky Races and countless other '60s and '70s TV cartoons I caught as a kid in the '80s. I laughed out loud when the screen suddenly got covered in those ubiquitous Hanna-Barbera clouds of gray dirt. But the funniest joke in "Handicar" has nothing to do with either cookie-cutter '60s and '70s TV animation or the decline of the taxi industry in the wake of Uber and Lyft. It's a jab at the decline of CNN as a serious news org: an announcer is overheard saying that complete Wacky Races coverage will air on CNN.


Roger's disguise here is as Paul Shaffer circa 1982.
"Blonde Ambition," the first episode of American Dad's exclusive run on its new home network TBS, premiered on TBS' YouTube channel about a week before its cable premiere on October 20 and was made streamable on the YouTube channel for only 48 hours, and while it's lovely to hear profanity go unbleeped on the new, cable-only American Dad (broadcast standards on TBS are looser than Fox's), "Blonde Ambition" is an unremarkable--but not terrible--season premiere. Other than the unbleeped profanity, not much about American Dad has changed since it jumped ship from Fox to TBS.

It's basically the same show it was on Fox: Stan Smith, a competent CIA agent, remains clueless about almost anything that has nothing to do with CIA work or killing people, and when Stan's not trying to teach his dorky teen son Steve how to be manlier, he--or any of the rest of his family, like his not-as-dim wife Francine or their oldest child Hayley--is still getting into mischief with Roger, the show's breakout character and a Paul Lynde-voiced alien con artist who runs a neighborhood bar out of the Smiths' attic. Roger's like a crazy--and sociopathic--uncle or aunt who happens to be from another planet.

American Dad also remains a more satisfying and watchable Seth MacFarlane animated show than Family Guy (although MacFarlane has no involvement in American Dad's writing and his contribution to the show is mainly just voice work as both Stan and Roger). Comedically, American Dad is a tighter ship--it doesn't pause for any of those annoying and pointless cutaway gags that were such a memorable object of ridicule in South Park's "Cartoon Wars" two-parter about Family Guy's inexplicable popularity--and both the espionage side of Stan's job and Roger's scheming and grifting give American Dad an unusual sense of purpose and make it a more plot-driven show than Family Guy (in other words, there's no time for the random five-minute chicken fights that Family Guy is famous for).

Also, while Family Guy plays to the lowest common denominator (i.e., a shitload of hacky race jokes and the poorly received rape joke during Bart and Stewie's phone pranks on Moe in "The Simpsons Guy"), American Dad has been a little more experimental in its humor. For instance, it once took a story about Stan's daddy issues and presented it as a serious stage play in the style of August: Osage County, so that meant the Smiths' living room and basement were sets on a stage, off-screen audience members could be heard coughing or gasping like during any other typical play you see in a theater and semi-regular cast member Patrick Stewart appeared as himself in live-action wraparound hosting segments to class up the joint (but a twisted version of the classy and polite Stewart we know and love--just like Avery Bullock, Stewart's perverted CIA boss character on the show--presided over the evening and barely concealed his boredom with the one-episode experiment).

The apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes actually rejected this helmet as battle gear because the shit made it too heavy to swing from vine to vine.
None of American Dad's episodes during its final season on Fox have equaled the hilarity and weirdness of 2009's post-apocalyptic "Rapture's Delight," my favorite American Dad episode (although any episode where Scott Grimes, who voices Steve, gets to show off his unexpectedly top-notch R&B singing skills has come close), and it's unlikely that any of the TBS episodes will equal "Rapture's Delight" either (many American Dad fans attribute the slight dip in quality to the departure of longtime co-showrunner Mike Barker last season). But what "Blonde Ambition" has going for it, aside from eye candy in the form of a blond and club miniskirt-clad Hayley, are some observant jabs at celebrity environmentalists (Ike Barinholtz from The Mindy Project and The Awesomes provides the voice of DJ Iron Monkey, a hypocritical EDM artist/philanthropist who wears an oversized, Deadmau5-style helmet shaped like a cartoon monkey's head); an amusing dance-off between Francine and Hayley to distract a bouncer (Cedric Yarbrough); and silly nods to the invisible stage prop gimmick from Our Town (another bunch of weird stage play references from American Dad) during Stan and Steve's action-packed but mostly drab subplot about Stan's obsession with buying a dream house he mistakenly thinks is empty. Hayley's ploy to dye her hair blond in order to attract more male philanthropists to help her fund her environmental causes was more enjoyable when Just Shoot Me tried the same thing with Maya and a blond wig for one episode, but hey, at least we got out of it a nicely animated dance sequence from the temporarily blond Hayley and a Hayley-ified Francine at the end. Fran service!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Very long wait" is the "I want to see other people" of being a Netflix DVD rental customer

Time to cue that classic tune called 'Bang Bang (Netflix Shot Me Down).'
Netflix envelope doodle by Tim Hodge (Photo source: Doodle Flix)

I've been an on-and-off-and-on-again customer of Netflix ever since it was just a small Los Gatos company on the verge of becoming a household name (here's how old the very first DVD I rented from them was: Netflix's transformation into both a producer of prestige TV for the Internet and a formidable HBO rival--which has now caused HBO to strike back with its own standalone streaming service--was 13 years away). One thing has never changed in my time as a Netflix customer, and it's still my least favorite thing about using its DVD/Blu-ray rental service: the amount of titles on your rental queue that slip into "Very long wait" status. "Very long wait" are words you always dread encountering, like "I want to see other people" or "Thanks for coming to our booth but we're not hiring."

The Man Who Would Be King, an older film on my queue that I've never seen and have wanted to see for a while, is always in the "Very long wait" category, as are a lot of other older films on my queue that I've never seen and aren't currently available on Netflix Instant, like the '70s made-for-TV western spoof Evil Roy Slade and the 2004 Johnnie To flick Throwdown. "The 'very long wait' movies are either pre-1985 American or foreign titles, the films @Netflix barely curates on streaming," noted film writer Matt Patches on Twitter.

Being told to wait for these older films is ridiculous, and I'm not alone in my frustration with "Very long wait." A piece last month criticized Netflix at length for appearing to neglect its DVD/Blu-ray service (I wouldn't be surprised if Netflix phases it out within the next five years) and being unreliable as a carrier of older titles, which frequently slip into "Very long wait" or become listed as unavailable for rent. In my case, I was especially sad to see The Man with Two Brains become unavailable on my queue. It's like Netflix is conspiring to prevent me from watching either movies with titles that start with The Man... or Step Brothers in its most proper form; it cropped the ultra-widescreen aspect ratio of Step Brothers when I saw it on Netflix Instant back in 2009, and now the Step Brothers Blu-ray--which contains a musical audio commentary scored by Step Brothers composer Jon Brion, an extra I've always wanted to listen to--is under "Very long wait."

The writer of the KQED piece was particularly sore about being unable to rent from Netflix Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song as research for a film essay and having to play detective to track down a copy of the Melvin Van Peebles joint (he ended up getting a copy at a local public library). A post compiled similar complaints from Netflix customers about being forced to wait for films that, in the age of the mom-and-pop video store before Netflix helped kill it off, were far easier to access than they are today as titles in Netflix's DVD/Blu-ray library.

'If Harrison Ford's earring was a movie, it'd be Grudge Match.'--Jenny Johnson
A screen grab of a piece of my own Netflix queue

One complainer who was quoted in the Consumerist post has found a clever way to trick Netflix into shipping him a "Very long wait" title. The same thing happened to me recently when I was trying to rent Bong Joon-ho films as research for a piece I wrote about Snowpiercer, and a delay in a Netflix distribution center's access to Memories of Murder resulted in me receiving both Bong's later film Mother, which was the second title at the top of my queue, and Memories of Murder in my mailbox at the same time, a nice break from the one-disc-at-a-time shipping plan I currently subscribe to.

"I place the 'very long wait' DVDs are [sic] at top, the 'short wait' items below that, and then all available items," wrote the shrewd Consumerist reader. "Netflix will often apologize for the delay and send a second disc from the available list to assuage what they assume is my broken heart."

There you go. That's your most effective option for triumphing over "Very long wait," aside from going to the public library to find an older film Netflix is keeping away from you--or if you're a San Franciscan, going to one of the city's few surviving video stores. Or maybe just break into a Netflix employee's house and steal one of his DVDs. They don't care about DVDs anymore anyway.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song may be hard to find, but its Van Peebles/Earth, Wind & Fire soundtrack isn't. "Sweetback's Theme" by EWF isn't currently in rotation on AFOS, but it ought to be.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Penny Dreadful season 1, whose score cues can now be heard on AFOS, makes Universal's plan to Avengers-ize its classic monsters seem plenty dreadful

Dorian Gray looks like Chris Gaines if he had less shitty tastes in music.
Universal's recently announced strategy to launch a Marvel Cinematic Universe-style reboot of its classic monster movie franchises--with the new Dracula Untold as the first blockbuster in the studio's potential monster movie universe--seems pointless, especially when you look back on the sophisticated and mostly inventive approach Skyfall screenwriter John Logan took to intertwining the paths of famous literary horror characters during the first season of his Showtime supernatural drama Penny Dreadful. There's no way Universal's proposed mad monster party will compare to what Logan, directors like The Orphanage's J.A. Bayona and an exemplary, nearly all-British cast (with Timothy Dalton, Harry Treadaway and in smaller comic-relief parts, Simon Russell Beale and Alun Armstrong, as acting standouts from the British side) accomplished on cable, in eight episodes that were all written by Logan and are all making their debut on Blu-ray tomorrow.

Penny Dreadful, which Showtime has renewed for a second season, revolves around Victorian London psychic Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), her estranged father figure (and perhaps biological father), African explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Dalton), and the ragtag, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-esque team they form to track down Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn), Sir Malcolm's missing daughter and a familiar figure from the various permutations of Dracula. Joining Vanessa and Sir Malcolm on their dangerous quest are introverted forensic specialist Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Treadaway) and American expatriate and gunfighter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). Each of the principals--except for Sir Malcolm's laconic valet and bodyguard Sembene (Danny Sapani), whose claim that "I have no story" better receive some sort of payoff next season or I'll be one frustrated viewer of color--is wrestling with demons, both figurative and literal.

Traumatized by his mother's death when he was a boy, Dr. Frankenstein has figured out how to resurrect the dead, but the price he has to pay for playing God is living in constant fear from the vengeful creature he created and rejected (Rory Kinnear, whose take on the Frankenstein creature is closer to the Mary Shelley novel's original conception of him as articulate than Boris Karloff's version of the creature as a childlike giant of few words). Ethan is hiding from both his powerful and unseen father (ooh, ooh, is Powers Boothe or Sam Elliott not busy?), who's sent Pinkerton detectives on his trail, and a mysterious dark side he's trying to suppress. Sir Malcolm is plagued by guilt over his past misdeeds as an explorer, a husband and a parent and feels responsible for the terrible fates of his two grown-up children. Finally, there's Vanessa, whose psychic abilities are both a gift and a curse. They're a symptom of satanic possession, which is responsible for many of the show's most crazy and GIF-worthy visuals, whether it's swarms of spiders crawling out from under Vanessa's tarot cards or a naked Eva Green doing her best impression of the graveyard ghost sex scene from MacGruber.

'At Supercuts, we make it easy to get the rocking cuts you deserve!'
The show interestingly shapes Vanessa's ordeals with possession as both a metaphor for the struggles of living with mental illness and an addiction narrative. Remove all the supernatural moments from "Possession," the standout episode where Satan's hold over Vanessa is at its worst (Green gives a tour de force performance) and her exhausted colleagues take turns watching over her, and it could easily be a non-horror drama episode about family members or work friends struggling to help a junkie relative or friend through withdrawal. But there's little of the heavy-handedness that marred Buffy's "Willow gets strung out on magic" storyline. Logan complicates the wicked stew of Vanessa's ordeals with both moral ambiguity and the possibility that a normal existence is more repressive to Vanessa than the pain she endures while possessed ("It's such a repressed time, the Victorian times. And so she's very hungry for life," said Green about her character). "Possession" and an even better earlier episode, the Bayona-directed "Séance," best exemplify why Penny Dreadful's first season is so compelling despite occasional storytelling missteps (I wish there was a better way for Reeve Carney's Dorian Gray to be integrated into the first season's central mystery, other than "obligatory cable drama character who bangs everybody"): the first season is a story about, as series composer Abel Korzeniowski puts it, "identity, trying to find oneself in the world," intriguingly dressed up as a Gothic horror drama.

Korzeniowski plays a huge role in making Penny Dreadful's Gothic setting such an attractive place to be--the show's Game of Thrones-caliber production values would have made the Hammer horror studio, a huge influence on the show, gangrene green with envy. The effectiveness and richness of the Polish composer's string-heavy score cues are why several of those cues are now in rotation on "AFOS Prime" on AFOS and will be added to "Buckets of Score," the AFOS horror/thriller score block that takes place only on Halloween night. Korzeniowski's main title theme, "Demimonde," is reminiscent of the Gothic sweep of Danny Elfman's score from the 1999 Sleepy Hollow. "Street. Horse. Smell. Candle.," another Penny Dreadful score cue that's in rotation on "AFOS Prime," is integral to why a sequence where Dr. Frankenstein introduces his creature Proteus (Alex Price) to the sights and sounds of a busy London street is oddly affecting: Korzeniowski effectively relied on simple piano chords to compare Proteus' rediscovery of objects and animals from his previous life as a whaler to the experience of a child's reactions of wonder from first encountering objects and animals from words he's just learned.

Good thing Dorian Gray doesn't collect creepy-ass Margaret Keane paintings.

Another element that makes Penny Dreadful's first season worth marathoning on Blu-ray is its literary references. Vanessa's first few scenes with Ethan in the Bayona-directed first episode are, like so many other supernatural dramas on TV, loaded with cinematic references, particularly to Strangers on a Train from Hitchcock, one of Bayona's favorite filmmakers, and to one of Green's greatest acting moments before her standout work on Penny Dreadful, her train scene with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (between her, Dalton, Kinnear and Helen McCrory, who had a bit part in Skyfall, as Madame Kali, this show is a post-Roger Moore 007 movie fan's casting dream). But then the show interestingly takes more of a turn for literary references rather than cinematic ones. You won't find another new show this year where the characters are so frequently seen reading books and are so fond of discussing literature or quoting poetry, in much the same way that the characters in the Scream movies frequently talked about slasher flicks or the Sopranos characters were so worshipful of mob movies. Instead of coming off as distracting and pretentious, the literary references are deployed by Logan to capture how books and even penny-dreadful fiction were as dominant a media in the Victorian era as TV or the Internet is today, whether it's Vanessa and Shakespeare aficionado Dr. Frankenstein bonding over Wordsworth or the Frankenstein creature's Bard-inspired name of Caliban and his fondness for John Milton's Paradise Lost, which is a direct lift from Shelley's novel.

The literacy of the Penny Dreadful characters sheds light on my biggest complaint about the J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci Star Trek movies: nobody reads like they used to on Star Trek anymore. They can't even make time for the "Famous Jewish Sports Legends" leaflet from Airplane! In Star Trek's previous incarnations, characters used to often demonstrate their literacy by either quoting both fictional authors (the mutated helmsman's dialogue about wooing women with poetry in the 1965 "Where No Man Has Gone Before" pilot) and real ones (Dickens and Melville in Star Trek II, Shakespeare and J.M. Barrie in Star Trek VI and, of course, the Bard again on The Next Generation) or becoming actual authors themselves (Jake Sisko on Deep Space Nine). Pre-2009 Star Trek's depiction of centuries-old literature surviving and enduring despite the transition from print to PADD tablets used to make me feel hopeful for the future. Apparently the changes in the timeline that were triggered by Nero's attack on the Kelvin wiped out Kirk and the other characters' book smarts as well. The elimination of the characters' literary sides from Star Trek makes the possession of Vanessa look pleasant.

And then Madame Kali recited the ancient incantation of 'Put all your hands where my eyes can see/Straight buckwildin' in the place to be.'

Speaking of curses, if Penny Dreadful manages to break the curse of Showtime originals that collapse creatively after the first couple of seasons and is able to continue its hot streak past its enjoyable first season, the show could send Universal fumbling for the Tom Stoppards and Scott Franks of the world to punch up its monster movie reboot screenplays and "Penny Dreadful them up" or better yet, make Universal reconsider its bound-to-underwhelm shared universe plan and pay closer attention to why failed modern-day monster movie franchise starters like I, Frankenstein and Universal's own Van Helsing were unable to captivate audiences and critics. In this era of Hollywood tiresomely trying to Avengers-ize tentpole franchises that don't exactly deserve to be Avengers-ized, what can stop the determined heart and resolved will of Universal? Maybe a little show from Showtime can.

Selections from Penny Dreadful's first-season score album can currently be heard during "AFOS Prime" on AFOS and will be featured during "Buckets of Score" at 5pm Pacific on October 31.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Bob's Burgers, "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl"

Good thing it ain't A Good Day to Die Hard: The Musical.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

When the standout Bob's Burgers episode "Topsy" first aired in 2013, I wrote, "I don't care for show tunes, but I always enjoy John Dylan Keith and Loren Bouchard's original music on Bob's Burgers, and the brilliance of 'Electric Love' is that it doesn't sound like a polished show tune and sounds totally like something an aspiring 11-year-old musician would cobble together." I still feel that way about "Electric Love." Despite featuring the well-trained pipes of Kevin Kline and Megan Mullally (who both had pasts in musical theater), the most memorable musical number from "Topsy" convincingly sounds clunky--instrumentally speaking--and is such a nice contrast to so many live-action sitcoms where kid or teen characters who compose songs or start rock bands always sound like professional studio musicians.

For instance, during Happy Days, I could never buy that Richie, Ralph, Potsie and that black guy who briefly drummed with them before he died of spontaneous combustion (okay, that death didn't happen, but I like to make up horrible off-screen fates for unpopular Happy Days characters who vanished without explanation) all had the chops to perform competent--but still kind of shitty-sounding--covers of '50s rock hits at Arnold's. If David Chase, who once wrote a Wonder Years script that got rejected for being too edgy and later made the semi-autobiographical '60s garage band flick Not Fade Away, had been put in charge of Happy Days instead of Garry Marshall, who never let things like realism, period accuracy or authenticity in accents get in his way (why does a Milwaukee auto mechanic have a Brooklyn accent despite spending his whole life in the Midwest?), Richie's band would have sounded more like an unpolished garage band than a bunch of slick L.A. studio musicians.

In Bob's Burgers' fifth-season premiere, "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl," Bouchard, Keith and episode writer Nora Smith have somehow made the music sound worse than "Electric Love," and that's not a criticism. That's a compliment. The more off-key the singers are and the more sloppily written and expositiony the lyrics are, the funnier Bob's Burgers' musical numbers are. From the moment I first heard that "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" was going to be about 11-year-old Gene--whose enthusiasm exceeds his talent--composing and directing a school musical based on the 1988 blockbuster Die Hard, I knew this episode was going to be special because terrible musicals based on movies that don't exactly lend themselves well to the stage musical treatment never fail to amuse me. "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" doesn't disappoint, with cheap stage FX work that's reminiscent of the sweded movie FX from Be Kind Rewind (my favorite stage FX bit: Gene's simulation of Hans Gruber's death) and lyrics like "Oh, the life of the wife of a cop/Makes my head spin around like a top" or this gem:

I wonder if Wagstaff's spring play will be Color of Night: The Musical.

In addition to Gene's Die Hard show tunes, the season premiere also treats us to snippets of songs from a musical version of another 1988 20th Century Fox smash hit, Working Girl, a rival project that beats out Gene's passion project for the school's fall musical spot. Working Girl: The Musical stars both Gene's annoying ex-girlfriend Courtney (David Wain) as Tess McGill and Tina as the Sigourney Weaver character (she auditioned to be in Working Girl just so that she can get quality time ogling the butt of Jimmy Jr., Courtney's co-star). The musical version of "the sassy sister film to Die Hard" was composed by Courtney's smug musician dad Doug (John Michael Higgins), whose songwriting skills aren't exactly the greatest either:

Working Girl spawned a short-lived sitcom version in the '90s.
The Working Girl sitcom starred a pre-Speed Sandra Bullock.
Heh, 'pre-Speed' makes it look like Sandra Bullock was a speed addict.

Despite the school's rejection of Gene's Die Hard musical idea, Louise, ever the money-hungry con artist, persuades Gene to put on his musical anyway--in the boiler room right below the stage, on the same night as Courtney and Doug's musical, as a form of guerilla protest. Gene and Louise's counterprogramming scheme forces Bob and Linda, who's more of a musical theater fan than her husband, to choose between watching Tina's musical or Gene and Louise's underground musical. Bob opts to see Tina perform because the original Working Girl inspired him to follow his dreams, while Linda picks Die Hard, and in the episode's best running gag, Bob doesn't even bother to hide his lack of enthusiasm for Gene's musical. I love how that lack of enthusiasm continues even when the two rival camps rejoice after agreeing to put aside their differences and merge their musicals together:

Like so many parents who get dragged to their kids' school musicals, Bob would rather get hit by a bus.

If this were an average '80s live-action sitcom, Bob would tell Gene he supports him no matter what he does. But Bob's Burgers isn't an average sitcom, and Bob's unwillingness to lie about his doubts over Gene's attempts at extracurricular activities--whether it's baseball or an unlikely musical adaptation of an action classic--is a thing of sad-bodied comedic beauty, man.

While "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" isn't quite on the level of "Mother Daughter Laser Razor," which Nora Smith also wrote, or the Molyneux sisters' "Boyz 4 Now"--I wish the premiere's Rashomon-ish first act had a better comedic payoff--the episode is still an entertaining way to kick off the fifth season of a show that was made the butt of a couple of lame jokes ("We gotta carry him 'cause he can't fly on his own") in the abysmal Family Guy/Simpsons crossover (the Bob's Burgers porn parody was better than those jokes, for Christ's sake). What the writers of that crossover don't realize is that for three straight seasons, Bob's Burgers has quietly surged past Family Guy and The Simpsons to become the crown jewel of Fox's animation lineup, devoting as much care and inventiveness to revitalizing the animated network sitcom genre as Bob does to the creation of his burgers, and the solid laughs of "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" are an early indication that Bob's Burgers won't exactly be relinquishing that spot as the crown jewel any time soon.

Memorable quotes:

I never figured Bob... be a Working Girl fan.
I thought Hamburger: The Motion Picture...
...would be more Bob's jam.

Peep the Italian flag necktie.
Jimmy Jr.'s inattention to breaking character is so fucking funny.

Monday, October 6, 2014

That gum you like is going to come back in style, thanks to Showtime's Twin Peaks revival

Audrey is famous for delivering one of the weirdest pick-up lines in TV history: 'Do your palms ever itch?' All the time, Audrey.
(Photo source: In the boho closet)
I'm glad David Lynch and Mark Frost's recently confirmed Showtime revival of Twin Peaks--an extremely influential show with many classic Angelo Badalamenti score cues that you can vibe out to during "AFOS Prime" on AFOS--won't be another goddamn prequel or origin story. I was never really a Twin Peaks fan, but as a kid who saw all of the first season and was only interested in the second one when it revealed Laura Palmer's killer, I had crushes on Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne and Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson, and I loved both Badalamenti's score music and the character of Agent Cooper, who, as the A.V. Club's Zack Handlen once tweeted, "is a great example of how to create an idiosyncratic genius without making him a misanthropic ass," in what I assume to be a jab at how tiresome the abrasive and self-destructive lead characters on House and Sherlock became after a few seasons.

Audrey goes undercover and poses as an extra on the set of a low-budget Hammer vampire movie.
(Photo source: Idle Fascination)
Kyle MacLachlan's eccentric and perpetually enthusiastic Cooper ("Damn good coffee") was, like Jeff Goldblum's Zack Nichols on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a great detective character on a show that I wish had been as terrifically written as its lead was (let's face it: Twin Peaks was kind of boring outside of Cooper, the weirdos at the police station, the Palmers and Audrey--I never gave a shit about the Dallas-esque sawmill and hotel stuff, and I don't think Lynch ever did either, kind of like how True Detective season 1's Carcosa cult conspiracy seemed superfluous to Nic Pizzolatto, who, judging from interviews, appeared to be more invested in working on the philosophical and character study sides of his show than its procedural side). Cooper, who, outside of the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me prequel, was last seen being possessed by the evil spirit known as Bob, was such a defining role for MacLachlan that almost every character he's played since Twin Peaks has wound up channeling Cooper's weirdness, whether it's "the Captain" on How I Met Your Mother or the mayor on Portlandia.

You see Cooper everywhere on procedurals these days--on one of my current favorite shows, Sleepy Hollow, Tom Mison's Ichabod Crane is basically Cooper as an 18th-century polymath--but back in 1990, MacLachlan's character was a breath of fresh air. He was a heroic detective imbued with several quirks that made him more interesting than the average pre-1990 FBI agent protagonist (I don't think Diane, the supposed secretary he addresses in his tape recordings, even exists), but he wasn't '70s and '80s network TV detective quirky, like Kojak (he loves his lollipops!), Baretta (he has a cockatoo!), Crockett (he has an alligator!) and Jessica Fletcher (she's old!).

Instead of being quirky in the cutesy and gimmicky ways pre-1990 network TV preferred the likes of Kojak, Baretta, Crockett and the serial killer who went by the name of Jessica Fletcher to be, Cooper was David Lynch quirky, which meant he, like Audrey, the Log Lady and a few other characters on Twin Peaks, was from some other fucking planet that speaks in a language only Lynch understands. That's why the world, which had grown bored with the cutesiness and blandness of American network TV at the time, became so taken with Cooper and Twin Peaks, although for only a brief time.

Nadine doesn't care for the drapes at Laura Palmer's funeral.

If ABC hadn't interfered so much in Twin Peaks' much-maligned second season and Lynch and Frost were allowed to handle the show's central mystery their way (Lynch wanted Laura's killer to remain unidentified), like how HBO and FX were more willing to roll the dice with the limited series format and let Pizzolatto and Noah Hawley, respectively, do whatever they wanted to do with the storylines on True Detective and Fargo, maybe Twin Peaks would have been a masterpiece instead of a near-masterpiece with one classic season and one season that was all over the map. It's partly why Lynch's 2001 cult favorite Mulholland Dr.--which was originally supposed to be a Twin Peaks spinoff about Audrey in Hollywood and contains the weirdest and cleverest recycling of footage from an unsold TV pilot outside of the original Star Trek's transformation of a failed pilot into a courtroom story--stands the test of time for me better than Twin Peaks does: because it ended the way Lynch wanted it to end.

Showtime isn't the timid and prudish network that ABC was when Lynch and Frost made Twin Peaks, but its network execs also ruined Dexter (they wouldn't let the show kill off Dexter) and Homeland (they were responsible for Brody outliving his usefulness), so their history of tinkering with their scripted programming is the one thing that makes me skeptical about the nine final Twin Peaks episodes that are being planned for Showtime. They'll probably turn Cooper into a lumberjack or something.

Stephen King's Sometimes My Arms Bend Back

Selections from Twin Peaks' first-season and second-season score albums can currently be heard during "AFOS Prime" on AFOS.