Thursday, December 26, 2013

The last five things I've written over at Word Is Bond

Rocky Rivera and DJ Roza's Friday Mixtape gave us a tantalizing picture of an alternate universe where Smokey is really the girl you always thought he sounded like if you watched the original Friday with your eyes closed, voluntarily or, due to the weed, not-so-voluntarily.
Rocky Rivera (pictured with her "GRLZ" and "Ain't No Way" collaborators DJ Roza and Irie Eyez) is one of the artists whose albums I most recently reviewed for Word Is Bond. I'm glad to have been made a part of WIB's review team in 2013.
Shad, Flying Colours (November 7, 2013)
"Top it off with a well-chosen Jay Z sample hook and you have another tuneful banger along the lines of 2010's 'Rose Garden,' which was produced by returning beatmaker DJ T Lo, as well as one of many highlights of Flying Colours. Good thing Shad and Skratch Bastid sampled one of Hov's verses from the enjoyable 'Otis' instead of Hov's really imaginative 'Cake cake cake cake cake cake' verse from Drake's 'Pound Cake.'"

Rocky Rivera, Gangster of Love (November 12, 2013)
"As usual, executive producer and Beatrock label founder Fatgums works his production magic on another solid-sounding Beatrock album, which is also an album we need right now: a fierce antidote to what author Jeff Chang referred to as a painful summer for racial justice, the summer of such delightful moments as the Zimmerman acquittal and Levy Tran's 'Asian Girlz' debacle. Rocky is one Asian girl--or rather, woman--who doesn't play that 'I love your sticky rice' shit."

"10 Hilarious Rapper Impressions" (November 25, 2013)
"Whether it's Pharoah's impression of Kendrick's flow, which seems to have been inspired by K.Dot's killer guest verse on DJ Khaled's 'They Ready,' or former MADtv regular Aries Spears turning DMX into Sally whenever she orders food in When Harry Met Sally, these impressions are so entertaining that for a few minutes, they've made me briefly forget about the dual heartbreak of the creative stagnancy of a late-night show I grew up watching and the unjust demise of a late-night show that could have become a game-changer for progressively minded comedians of color."

'Wanna know how I got these bars?'
Rapsody introduces a little anarchy in her video for "Dark Knights."
"12 Great Albums That We Didn't Review This Year" (December 19, 2013; co-written with Hardeep, Matticus Finch and Paddy)
"'Footnote: Kendrick ain't mention no females! Rapsody, we gotta change that!,' says DJ Drama during the Raleigh spitter's 2013 mixtape. With bangers like 'Lonely Thoughts,' which features a laugh-out-loud funny guest verse by Chance the Rapper, and the Dark Knight Rises-inspired 'Dark Knights,' which has Rapsody and Wale dropping the nerdiest Batman references outside of nerdcore, Rapsody proves she belongs on Kendrick's infamous 'Control' list of the game's most skilled MCs."

"Music Videos That Stood Out In 2013" (December 25, 2013)
"Director Patricio Ginelsa picks up on the tune's fake '90s vibe and surrounds Bambu and Geo with animated graphics straight out of Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock's 'It Takes Two' video and backup dancers with moves from old Queen Latifah videos. You keep thinking, 'Yo, is Blossom gonna Cabbage Patch her way onto the set at some point?' The 'Books' video could have just consisted of the '90s R&B throwback material, and it would have been a decent video. But no, Ginelsa had to throw in footage of Bambu and Geo starring in a fake sitcom about an undocumented Filipino immigrant called Tago ng Tago (it's Tagalog for 'always hiding'), and that turned a decent video into a great one."

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Shows of the Year 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color: The Animated Series! Next summer on Toonami!
Samurai Flamenco, "Capture Samumenco!"
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," which was formerly called "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's time to look back at the biggest standouts of the episodes I discussed in 2013 (in chronological order). "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS. "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" returns on January 10.

Bob's Burgers, "Mother Daughter Laser Razor" (from January 9, 2013)

It took me about a few episodes of Bob's Burgers to get used to the weirdness of female characters being voiced by male comedians (kind of like how a viewer who's never seen The Venture Bros. before catches TVB for the first time and keeps wondering, "Why does that brunette chick sound like a dude?"), but now that I'm no longer distracted by that casting quirk, I consider Bob's Burgers to be the current crown jewel of the Fox "Animation Domination" block. Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard has taken the best elements of his Squigglevision cartoons Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies--overlapping dialogue, great comedic voice acting by performers who weren't previously associated with animation, nicely written kid characters--and put them into a show with top-shelf animation (no off-putting squiggling during this one).

Add to those elements a recurring and interesting art-vs.-commerce conflict between Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and his business rivals that Bouchard has said was inspired by the 1996 Italian restaurant movie Big Night--plus timeless storylines that deal with the unspoken affection the family members have for each other without getting too goopy--and you have a cartoon that's outlasted the Allen Gregorys and Napoleon Dynamites of the world and, due to its timeless writing, has the potential to age better in reruns than Family Guy's random pop-culture reference gags and the equally reference-heavy and spotty later seasons of The Simpsons. "Mother Daughter Laser Razor" is a great example of the Bouchard show's exploration of the bonds between the Belchers without resorting to those sitcom hugging scenes that made '80s studio audiences go "Awww" and made me want to go shoot myself.

Written by Nora Smith, "Mother Daughter Laser Razor" pairs off two characters who don't share a lot of scenes together--nine-year-old sociopath Louise (Kristen Schaal) and the parent she doesn't favor, the overly perky Linda (John Roberts, one of two male cast members on this show who voices females)--while continuing to explore how Louise's older sister Tina (Dan Mintz, the other actor playing female) seems to have inherited everything from Bob. Those attributes include a lonely and largely friendless childhood similar to the one we saw young Bob experience in "Bob Fires the Kids," Bob's calm demeanor and now, his hairiness.

Here's a deleted scene between Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy from Suburgatory.
At Dad's restaurant, Tina overhears a couple of popular classmates gossiping about another girl's hairy legs and realizes her own legs are equally hairy and susceptible to ridicule, so she asks Bob to take her to get her legs waxed after a couple of failed attempts to have them sheared. Lin was supposed to shave Tina's legs, but Lin, who's been fuming over Louise's frequent hostility towards her, is too distracted and angry to be entrusted with a razor, and as resident weirdo sibling Gene (Eugene Mirman) notes in one of the few observations of his that make any sense, "I don't think you should shave angry."

Lin's misguided solution to getting Louise to like her better is to trick her into taking part in a mother-daughter bonding seminar run by Lin's current favorite mommy blogger, "the Phenomimom," who turns out to be a creepy man named Dakota (Tim Heidecker from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) who holds his seminars next door to a laser-tag fun zone that's more to Louise's liking. Dakota's "Modo Time" methods of getting disgruntled kids to bond with their moms are, of course, pointless and ineffective. They range from lame role-reversal improv games to forcing the kids to re-experience their days as fetuses while trapped inside "vagi-sacks," a.k.a. sleeping bags.

Linda and Louise re-create Face/Off, although I don't remember Nicolas Cage running around with bunny ears.
Because Bob's Burgers is a very good cartoon as opposed to a sloppy one like The Simpsons' fake Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show that sets up the presence of a fireworks factory and then fails to utilize it as a gag, "Mother Daughter Laser Razor" makes it to the fireworks factory when Louise frees herself and the other kids from their hellish seminar experience and leads them to escape to the laser-tag fun zone, where Louise and Lin finally end up bonding over laser guns aimed at an enraged Dakota. If this were The Young Ones, the anarchic Louise's love of destruction and criminal activity would make her Vyvyan. Between the attraction to laser-tag and her enjoyment of Bob's favorite spaghetti westerns in "Spaghetti Western and Meatballs," I wouldn't be surprised if this mini-Vyv grows up to become an action movie director, just like how Gene is bound to become either a hacky morning zoo DJ or a hacky stand-up and Tina is headed towards becoming either a chef like her dad or an essayist penning Paul Feig-esque best-sellers about her awkward adolescent experiences.

The kid characters are the best part of Bob's Burgers. That's mainly because they--particularly the nutty and over-enthusiastic Gene--talk and behave more like real kids who don't really know much about the world outside the restaurant and the playground and less like precocious Huey Freeman-style stand-ins or Mary Sues for their adult creators (although Aaron McGruder's use of Huey as the voice for his politics on the Boondocks cartoon works quite well for that show).

My favorite example in this episode of the Belcher kids being such kids--other than Gene's desire to get a scrotal wax despite not fully grasping how painful it likely is--is a quick gag that's easy to miss, and a lot of them can be easily missed due to the overlapping dialogue that's distinguished Bob's Burgers from The Simpsons and the Seth MacFarlane cartoons. When Louise tries to back out of mother-daughter time, she communicates to Lin her reluctance to spend time with her by using break-up lines she's overheard from either dozens of break-up conversations between couples at the restaurant or break-up scenes in rom-coms: "Look, I think we should spend some time apart. I'm just not really looking for something serious right now. You understand--I mean, yeah, it's gonna be a little awkward, you've got some of your stuff at my place, we live together..." "I think we should spend some time apart" are words I hope I'll never have to say to Bob's Burgers.

***

Archer's complaint to the waiter about the drink in his hand is fucking glorious: 'Sour mix in a margarita? What is this? Auschwitz?'
Archer, "Fugue and Riffs" (from January 23, 2013)

Episodes like "Fugue and Riffs," Archer's wildly funny and violent fourth-season premiere, are exactly why I wanted to expand "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner" to include adult cartoons at the end of last year. "When the new year approaches," I asked myself, "do you want another year of sitting through Ben 10 reboots that cause your attention to wander or awfully written Ultimate Spider-Man episodes, or do you want to put that part of your time to better use, like covering adult cartoons that are more up your alley and are worthier of discussion and analysis?"

"Fugue and Riffs" is the kind of adult cartoon episode I should have been focusing on in the first place. It's another sharply written story involving ISIS agent Sterling Archer's ongoing conflict with his mother/boss Malory (Jessica Walter), and it contains a brilliant crossover with lead voice actor H. Jon Benjamin's other current cartoon, more semi-nudity from Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) and esoteric references that are funny simply because they're so damn esoteric (British spy hero Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon! Manning Coles, the duo that created Hambledon! The star of Shazam! Émile Zola!). You won't see Spidey cracking a joke that's a nod to Zola's "J'accuse" letter during Ultimate Spider-Man, that's for damn sure.

'Sorry, kids. Shootouts wasn't exactly what I meant when I said I was gonna make this place more like McDonald's. Gene, you got a barrel of acid I could borrow?'
(Photo source: Brain Explosion)
The season premiere opens with Archer tending the grill at the exact same titular restaurant from Bob's Burgers, Benjamin's other show, while surrounded by the Belcher kids and Linda (John Roberts, the only Bob's Burgers voice actor reprising his role), who gets to berate Archer with one of the various insulting nicknames that have become one of the Adam Reed cartoon's trademarks ("Well, excuse me, Ike Turner!"). Instead of appearing in their more familiar character designs from Bob's Burgers, Tina, Gene, Louise and Linda are awesomely redesigned to blend in with Archer's '60s comic book aesthetic.

I like how the cold open strings us along into thinking Archer is undercover as a burger joint owner as part of some ISIS op, until it becomes clear that it's no op and he has no memory of his life as an ISIS agent, although a few pieces of that life remain. They include fighting skills, which Archer puts to use during a badass and extremely gory restaurant confrontation with KGB assassins straight out of A History of Violence, his literary tastes (he dubs the restaurant's newest burger "a Thomas Elphinstone Hambledurger with Manning Coleslaw") and his metrosexual side ("What I am gonna do is find out who this Archer jerk is... I'm also probably gonna do a spa weekend").

It turns out that two months ago, Archer developed amnesia due to a moment of extreme stress and ran away to a new life as a seaside fry cook named Bob. He married Linda and apparently became her second husband, which makes me wonder what happened to the original Bob in this universe (Alex, I'm gonna go with "What is dead?," and because much of this show's humor thrives on kinky or freaky behavior, I wouldn't be surprised if Linda has been remolding Archer Vertigo-style to look more like Bob). Both ISIS and the KGB are after Archer for different reasons: Malory assigns Lana, Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Ray (Reed) to stage a fake run-in with the KGB in front of Archer to try to jog his memory and get him back to the agency, while bionic villain Barry Dylan (Dave Willis) sends more KGB assassins to eliminate Archer.

Part of the fun of "Fugue and Riffs" is trying to figure out the stressful moment that triggered Archer's amnesia. We're given a clue early on when Malory complains that her son hates seeing her be happy, and when the catalyst is revealed at the end to be neither a bomb explosion nor a Bourne Identity-style, ISIS-sanctioned attempt on his life, but something far less action-y--Malory's wedding to Ron Cadillac, the most successful Cadillac dealer in the Tri-State Area--it makes perfect sense within the neurotic, wracked-by-mommy-issues world of Archer. In a great bit of stunt-casting, the show has recruited Ron Leibman from The Hot Rock and Friends, as well as Walter's real-life husband, to voice Malory's new hubby, who's won over everyone at ISIS during Archer's two-month absence and whose presence this season is bound to reignite an old thread from a couple of seasons ago: Archer's search for his biological father. (Archer reportedly begins to form a bond with Ron in the new season's fourth episode. I can't wait to see if Reed, who's obsessed with the movies of one-time Archer guest star Burt Reynolds, will toss into that episode a reference to The Hot Rock or Leibman's other '70s crime-genre cult favorite, The Super Cops.)

She is the goddess of hellfire, and she brings yeeeewww...
The rest of the fun of "Fugue and Riffs" involves being reacquainted with the elements that make Archer such an entertaining adult cartoon, from the batshit crazy behavior of Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates) and office subordinates Pam (Amber Nash) and Cheryl/Carol (Judy Greer) to the self-satisfaction Archer gets from anything he does or says, particularly his esoteric jokes, as if he's a boy who just discovered cursing. Archer may be a competent, book-smart, sharply dressed and jet-setting spy with a sex life many of us Archer viewers would kill for, but deep down, he's really just a kid who never grew up and knows only how to be a narcissistic asshole, thanks to screwed-up parenting from an asshole of a parent. "Fugue and Riffs" reinforces Archer's childishness when he woo-hoos like a kid over the Molotov cocktails he and Lana lob at the assassins, or when one of Lana's attempts to get him to remember ISIS tanks and causes him to go off on a tangent about his love for Shazam!, which sometimes crossed over with the superheroine show The Secrets of Isis in the '70s--a nod to how this episode crosses over with Bob's Burgers.

No wonder Archer identifies so much with Shazam, née Captain Marvel, even in his fugue state. Shazam is a boy in a grown man's body, just like Archer.

***

The wussiest Dalek in the universe
Regular Show, "That's My Television" (from March 6, 2013)

Regular Show writers/storyboarders Madeline Queripel and Andres Salaff were responsible for one of the show's most unengaging shorts, this season's Fourth of July-related "Firework Run," a borderline racist episode that felt like a right-winger's worst nightmare about the Mexican gangster villains from Robert Rodriguez's Mariachi trilogy, even though Salaff himself is Latino (at the end of "Firework Run," the main heavy was revealed to have been a robot, perhaps a "Kim Jong Il is really an alien cockroach, so that's why we made his Engrish accent so cartoonishly thick"-style attempt to make the episode come off as less racist.) Queripel and Salaff also happen to be behind one of the show's best shorts, "That's My Television," an imaginative and wildly funny installment where Mordecai and Rigby come to the rescue of one of their favorite childhood TV stars, a talking TV set named RGB2 (Sam Marin), who's grown tired of showbiz and wants to flee to a much quieter life in a destination known as "Pine Mountain."

Perri-Air: canned in Druidia. '80s Air: bottled in Boy George's coke den.
RGB2 starred as himself on the crappy '80s sitcom That's My Television, and a nameless TV network has brought back into production the still-popular show, which brings to mind every corny '80s housekeeper sitcom you've seen, whether it's Gimme a Break, Mr. Belvedere or TBS' ultra-cheesy Down to Earth (RGB2's signature catchphrase is "I hope you saved room for dessert!"). But RGB2--who needs to ingest cans of "'80s Air" a la Perri-Air from Spaceballs in order to survive--isn't enjoying a single minute of the revival, especially because the network is run by an intimidating exec who looks like Cartoon Network founder/owner Ted Turner (but doesn't sound like him at all and is voiced here by Jeff Bennett) and sends armed thugs in suits to threaten his stars if they don't do what he says.

'And my live-action alter-ego's absurdist new anti-talk show, Ted Turner: Coast to Coast, starts at 8:05! Why do we start our shows five minutes late here on Live-Action Network? How the fuck should I know?'
At RGB2's Comic-Con-style meet-and-greet with his fans, Mordecai and Rigby win a drawing to receive That's My Television DVDs signed on the spot by RGB2 himself, and the star secretly pleads with the duo to help him escape to Pine Mountain. Mordecai and Rigby agree to help out their sitcom idol--it's not surprising that these slacker park workers identify with a domestic worker who frequently gets into comedic misunderstandings with the head of the household ("RGB2, room for dessert doesn't actually mean a whole room full of dessert!")--and their kind gesture sends Faux-Ted and his network thugs chasing after them in the most entertaining animated car chase I've seen in a while. Either Queripel or Salaff is enamored with both Casino Royale's badass airport tarmac stunt in which the jet wash of an incoming plane sends a police car flying through the air and the Guinness World Record-breaking Aston Martin cannon roll stunt from the same film because during the chase sequence, a couple of the network minions' Humvees are seen tumbling through the air in similar fashion.

Mordecai and Rigby escape in the child molester van they were forced to drive around in that day.
RGB2 is clearly a riff on ALF, R2D2 and the dwarf actors who played them: Michu Meszaros sweated his balls off inside ALF's costume whenever a scene on ALF didn't call for the ALF puppet to be used, while R2 was operated by Kenny Baker, whose autograph adorns the liner notes of my CD copy of the expanded 1977 Star Wars soundtrack. The parallels to Meszaros and Baker are made plainly clear in the episode's nutty, disturbing and oddly affecting twist ending, when Mordecai and Rigby discover that RGB2 isn't a sentient TV set and has actually been a naked old actor inside the TV the whole time, which explains the need for '80s Air to help the poor guy breathe inside that damn TV. The dying man's destination turns out not to be a mountain but a billboard in the middle of nowhere for Pine Mountain Gas (presumably the gas station he either left behind to pursue stardom or was discovered at when the network was on the lookout for someone to operate RGB2).

2013 air does not impress the shit out of RGB2.
Just like how this naked guy stayed hidden inside what was basically a mobile prison for over three decades, hidden within the '80s gags, the hilariously over-the-top car chase, the gunplay and the jabs at both focus group-driven TV and network exec jargon are serious questions about fandom, the pressures the public puts on TV stars and viewers' relationships with those stars and the TV industry--hence the double meaning of the title "That's My Television," which refers to both RGB2's show and people's attachment to the idiot box. The episode asks us to decide which kind of TV fan do we want to be by presenting two types of fans. Do we want to become so attached to TV that we degenerate into the mean and deranged middle-aged fangirl from RGB2's meet-and-greet who doesn't care for the well-being of a star like RGB2 and demands that he continue to entertain her even if the entertainer isn't happy or right in his mind or is endangering his own life by playing this character? Or do we want to be more like Mordecai and Rigby, who aren't as out-of-control in their fandom, are more understanding about RGB2's misery and are treating him more like a human being--even though for almost the entire episode, they think he's just a talking TV set?

"That's My Television" also questions whether it's worth it for performers like RGB2's portrayer to sacrifice a normal life--and their health--for fame and syndication money. Fortunately, the episode raises these questions without a single bit of speechifying and without trotting out Mordecai and Rigby after the episode to address the audience and deliver a moral like Filmation used to do with its characters. That's how terribly written most cartoons used to be back in the day. To borrow the words of one of the network thugs who get attacked by Mordecai, Rigby and RGB2 with weaponized cans of '80s Air, "Aw, sick! It smells like the '80s!"

'The city's toughest cop has been reincarnated as his son's television set. He used to push criminals' buttons. Now his son is pushing his. Jason Statham. Isaac Hempstead Wright. A Neveldine/Taylor Film. Knob.'
Other memorable quotes:
* RGB2 defends himself with a rocket launcher: "It was a gift from the Russian Prime Minister! He loves the show!"

* "Bravo, gentlemen, bravo! Overall, that was a pretty nice PG getaway. Way to reach out to the 18-to-35 demographic. Oh, and nice third-act climax, by the way. The helicopter explosion really tied it all in with a cherry on top."

* "We just have a couple of notes for you. You see, our research groups have shown that nobody wants to see the good guys win anymore."

Wow, the new Captain Planet doesn't look like a pussy.
* The network exec threatens Mordecai, Rigby and RGB2 with his new, heavily armed and Poochie-like action star, who emerges on a skateboard: "Our focus group studied everything that boys ages nine to 14 find the most brutal and destructive!"

'Rigby, here. Wipe the shit off his butt with this. Because I'm not gonna do it.'
* "I'm not dead! I was just resting."

***

After a shitload of translation work, the previously indecipherable name of the Evil Entity turned out to be 'Limbaugh.'
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, "Come Undone" (from April 10, 2013)

"Come Undone," the Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated series finale, takes one of the most wack and least imaginative story resolutions in sci-fi, the reset button, and somehow makes it work, much like how Mystery Incorporated took a franchise that was entertaining only when you were a kid--and had become so unwatchable--and made it appealing again and genuinely dark and funny. The Mystery Incorporated team manages to defeat the Evil Entity, the previously imprisoned Anunnaki deity that's responsible for all the costumed criminals and evilness in Crystal Cove and has ended up consuming all of the town's inhabitants except for the detectives (in a series of scenes that are the darkest and bleakest this franchise has ever gotten and are therefore, awesome). Their triumph over the entity erases every trace of it from existence and creates a new timeline where Crystal Cove, "the Most Hauntedest Place on Earth," is now "the Sunniest Place on Earth" because the entity wasn't there to corrupt any of it.

Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby discover that their lives in this new timeline are perfect, and everyone who was previously killed off, including Velma's lesbian lover Marcy (let's face it, Linda Cardellini's reading of Marcy's last line in "Come Undone," "That's my girl," confirms it), is alive again. (Patrick Warburton's Sheriff Stone says the funniest line in "Come Undone," when he introduces his and Mayor Nettles' kids: "Now Eastwood, Norris and Little Billy Jack need to be asleep by eight. Lynda Carter here can stay up as long as she likes, on account of her being more adorable than her brothers.") But in a great turn of expectations, everyone in the team is dissatisfied with this timeline because there are no mysteries for them to solve.

A.L. Baroza has got to sketch an illustration of these two.
Then here's where "Come Undone" cleverly handles the reset button: previous Mystery Incorporated guest star Harlan Ellison--the new Mr. E in this timeline and the only other person who knows of the changes the team made to the previous timeline because of his ability to see the events of alternate dimensions--contacts the detectives to let them know that he's enrolled them as students at his campus of Miskatonic University, the same setting from H.P. Lovecraft stories. At Miskatonic, there'll be plenty of mysteries for the team to solve, so in a brand new Mystery Machine they repaint after they destroyed the previous one earlier in the season, the detectives drive off to Miskatonic, perhaps encountering a few mysteries along the way, much like the ones they stumbled into while on the road back in the late '60s and early '70s. That means the entire run of Mystery Incorporated was basically a prequel to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

It's a brilliant way to end a cartoon that modernized Scooby and made it more like a Joss Whedon show by stocking it with snappy dialogue or in-jokes for older viewers (my favorite recent gag that no Cartoon Network viewer under 30 would understand was former MTV VJ Martha Quinn as herself, attempting to sell the detectives a bootleg of a Scritti Politti Christmas album that was recorded in Esperanto) and raising the stakes by building elaborate, apocalypse-related mythologies, which is interesting because Buffy affectionately borrowed from Scooby and nicknamed its central heroes the Scooby Gang. (Whedon regular Amy Acker even turned up on Mystery Incorporated and voiced the benevolent Anunnaki being who possessed Scooby's puppy girlfriend Nova.) The showrunner of the next animated Scooby incarnation should just give up. Whatever he has in mind for his iteration of those meddling kids is hardly going to be as good as Mystery Incorporated was.

***

I bet Stan finds fully clothed dry-humping like in Bad Teacher to be appalling as well.
American Dad, "The Missing Kink" (from April 17, 2013)

If there's any American Dad episode that I wish a group of radicals (much like the counter-protesters who came up with a bunch of brilliant ways to mock hateful protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con) would show in a screening room if they kidnapped the members of the Parents Television Council, strapped them down and forced them to watch some great comedic TV made for adults while subjecting them to some sort of Ludovico treatment-like experiment so that their heads would explode, and then they'd wind up catatonic so that they'd shut the fuck up and stop trying to ruin adult animation or adult sitcoms for everybody else, that episode would be "The Missing Kink."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Doctor and the Devil: These are among the tracks I've added to AFOS rotation this month

John Nathan-Turner didn't like how these opening titles looked like a trip through a vacuum cleaner tube. I think he was confusing 'vacuum cleaner tube' with 'colonoscopy video.'
(Photo source: Art of the Title)

Delia Derbyshire, "Doctor Who (Original Theme)" (now playing during "Hall H")

In England, hiding behind the couch became a tradition for kids who grew up watching monsters chase after the Doctor and his companions on telly on Saturday night. But in America, those of us who grew up watching The Electric Company and 3-2-1 Contact back-to-back at 5pm on the local PBS station weren't exposed to Doctor Who on only one night of the week. Thanks to PBS, we were exposed to it every weeknight, right after the Bloodhound Gang would try to bust a cocaine ring or something. The Doctor Who opening titles meant that 3-2-1 Contact was over and it was time to change the channel as soon as possible because for a four-year-old like me, the Doctor Who title sequence--with its intense-looking, psychedelic slit-scan vortex FX, its photo of a somber-looking Tom Baker and that otherworldly piece of early electronica written by Ron Grainer and performed by BBC Radiophonic Workshop musician Delia Derbyshire--was scary as shit.



But unlike you Brits who yelped and cowered from the sight of giant pepper shakers with toilet plunger arms hollering "Exterminate!" at'cha boy, I didn't hide behind the couch whenever the Doctor Who titles came on. My brain merely shivered a little and then I switched to a different channel. That's how I rolled, and to me, the Doctor Who titles were scarier than any of the rubber monsters I would see a few years later, which was when I finally had the guts to get past those spooky and unsettling titles and watch the rest of the show.

"I remember as a child I was terrified by [the theme]. It just strikes fear into your very soul," noted British comedian Bill Bailey at the start of his "Docteur Qui" number during Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra, in which he amusingly broke it down on the piano and pointed out how Grainer's melody is basically Belgian jazz.



The two Derbyshires
Delia Derbyshire (top); Sarah Winter as Derbyshire in An Adventure in Space and Time (bottom)

In An Adventure in Space and Time, the BBC's recent made-for-TV biopic about William Hartnell's resurgence as a TV star during Doctor Who's first few years, we get to briefly see Derbyshire (played by Sarah Winter) fiddle around with analog tape reels and perform the theme on keyboard (she's also seen explaining the origin of the TARDIS dematerialization sound FX: house keys scraped against a piano wire). Today, her arrangement of the theme--which, except for a few tweaks in the sound FX and the musical transition from episode credits to opening scene, remained unchanged in the opening titles from 1963 to 1979--isn't scary-sounding at all because since childhood, we've been subjected to much scarier things, like Dana Perino trying to rap or Alison Gold singing about Chinese food. But it hasn't lost its power as a trippy and effective musical encapsulation of exploring the unknown, which is why when I received Silva Screen's Doctor Who: The 50th Anniversary Collection and the Derbyshire version turned up as Track 1, I immediately added it to the "Hall H" playlist.

How filthy! Inspector Spacetime was never this filthy!
(Photo source: SMOSH)

Murray Gold, "All the Strange, Strange Creatures" (from series 3 of Doctor Who; now playing during "AFOS Prime," "New Cue Revue" and "Hall H")

One thing I've noticed about modern Doctor Who is that Murray Gold, who's been the show's composer since 2005, hasn't really referenced the Grainer theme, outside of the opening and closing titles and the "Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords" drumbeat motif that represents a certain old nemesis of the Doctor's. It's understandable because the Grainer theme doesn't really represent the Doctor as a heroic character--the theme's alien nature signifies that it's more of a theme about traveling through space and time and, like I said before, encountering the unknown--so Gold has written all-new themes to represent the heroism of the Doctor and his homies and emphasize the adventure side of this modernized and much less lethargically paced Doctor Who. These themes are more heroic-sounding than the Grainer piece, and because the BBC has given modern Doctor Who a bigger budget to work with, they're more cinematic and epic in tone and orchestration. (They also make for slightly more appealing listening than the mostly synthy and atonal score cues that were written for the show from the early '70s to the late '80s. Hardcore Doctor Who fans might enjoy that '70s-to-'80s section of the 50th Anniversary Collection album more than most listeners for nostalgic reasons, while others who are only familiar with Doctor Who in its present form might find that part of the compilation to be kind of grueling as music.)

The rousing "I Am the Doctor" motif Gold introduced in Matt Smith's first year as the Doctor is a good example of modern Doctor Who's cinematic sound, as is Gold's "All the Strange, Strange Creatures" motif from a couple of years before. "All the Strange, Strange Creatures," which reappears on the 50th Anniversary Collection album, is referred to as "The Trailer Music" because it was used in series 3 trailers, while I remember it best in an alternate form as the cue during the pivotal moment when an amnesiac professor played by special guest star Derek Jacobi regains his memory, and it turns out he's the long-unseen Master, the Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock.

Fuck those songs of the Ood. After 50 years of running through corridors, 'Runnin'' by the Pharcyde is really the Doctor's song.

Outside the context of the show, "All the Strange, Strange Creatures" brings back all those memories of the 10th Doctor and Martha Jones running around and continuing the show's tradition of chase scenes inside corridors. White sneakers--or as the 11th Doctor and the War Doctor prefer to call them in "The Day of the Doctor," sand shoes--just look wrong when paired with a suit and tie, but now that I think about it, the 10th Doctor's preference for sneaks makes some sense because of all that running he did.


She's probably thinking, 'Damn, I miss those Flashdance leg warmers.'

Elmer Bernstein, "Theme from Devil in a Blue Dress" (now playing during "The Whitest Block Ever")

Before his breakout role in One False Move director Carl Franklin's 1995 Walter Mosley adaptation Devil in a Blue Dress as Mouse the trigger-happy thug ("If you ain't want him killed, why'd you leave him with me?"), Don Cheadle was known only as the uptight, by-the-book D.A. on Picket Fences--or for that one time he showed up as Will's best friend from the Philly streets really early on in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's run. Devil in a Blue Dress was meant to be a Denzel Washington vehicle, but the unassuming-looking, average-sized Cheadle straight-up stole the flick, like how the equally unassuming-looking, modest-of-height Kendrick Lamar steals damn near every posse cut or collabo he guests on these days: with attitude, energy, calm and wit.

Here we see Mouse being his usual pacifistic self.
(Photo source: The Blue Vial)

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: South Park, "The Hobbit"

Jerome's in the hills. Shut your gills. Bound!
(Photo source: South Park Archives)
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.

Of all the memeable and hashtaggable things Kanye West has said or done since the release of his latest album Yeezus--from "You don't got the answers, Sway!" to "Do I look like a motherfucking comedian? Don't fucking heckle me. I'm Kanye motherfucking West!"--the South Park 17th-season finale has chosen to zero in on Yeezy's bizarre remolding of Kim Kardashian into Beyoncé, something I never really noticed until South Park pointed it out. Kim's currently dyed blond hair makes a whole lot of sense now. (By the way, I like how Trey Parker and Matt Stone didn't give a shit about updating Yeezy's look, so 'Ye still looks the same as he did when he transformed into a gay fish at the end of South Park's 2009 "Fishsticks" episode: barefoot and rocking that 808s & Heartbreak-era mullet that made him look like Theo Huxtable, circa 1985.)

Parker brilliantly ties Yeezy's Vertigo-ing of Kim into recent headlines about women relying on Photoshop to remove imperfections in their selfies for an episode that's South Park at its most vicious in the celebrity parody department. Other than correctly predicting Time magazine's pick of Pope Francis as its Person of the Year and the gut-punch of an ending I'll get into in a moment, the most remarkable thing about "The Hobbit" is that outside of a few pinups of Kim on Butters' locker when Wendy Testaburger points out to Butters the cold, hard facts about his favorite pinup girl, Kim is never seen at all, not even during the show's descriptions of her as a short, fat and hairy Hobbit. Yeezy's bungled attempts to discredit his future wife's Hobbitness were amusing the first couple of times but got tiresome about halfway through the episode, even during the "Bound 2" video parody, which I actually like a little more than James Franco and Seth Rogen's overlong "Bound 3" parody. Then like a lot of Sideshow Bob rake scene-ish running gags, they somehow regained their funniness when the episode cycled through them for the final time.

So judging from the locker photos, I take it Butters is no longer infatuated with that waitress from the Hooters-ish restaurant.
(Photo source: South Park Archives)
'I'm talking with Wendy Testaburger, who's speaking to me live from the Strait of Ma-Jellin'.'
(Photo source: South Park Archives)
But what elevates "The Hobbit" from "B" territory to "A" territory aren't the jabs at Kanye and Kim (or Britney Spears' "Work Bitch" video or news anchors' strained attempts to look hip) but Wendy's arc--she attempts to take her anti-Photoshop crusade to the local news and the state Senate--and its downbeat conclusion. South Park rarely strives for genuine pathos. Some of those attempts at pathos have fallen flat, but then there are other times where the seriousness works, and the wordless final scene of "The Hobbit" is one of those times. Parker usually throws in one last comedic punchline before the end credits, but he opts instead for a dramatic punchline, and it's mad devastating.

Wendy, who inadvertently created a monster when her Photoshop skills led the other girls at school to Photoshop themselves, succumbs to pressure. With tears in her eyes, she doctors her own photo and e-mails it to everyone (compare this self-inflicted Photoshop makeover to the makeover Ally Sheedy's misfit character receives from Molly Ringwald's character at the end of The Breakfast Club, and the "Hobbit" conclusion drives home how much I hate that Breakfast Club scene where the Sheedy character loses everything that made her unique and likable--it's one of Reaganite filmmaker John Hughes' most Reagan-ish, pro-conformity moments). A typical South Park episode--particularly during the show's earlier years--would climax with an out-of-control situation being brought to an end by a speech from Stan or Kyle about the idiocy of the situation and what they've learned. That doesn't happen here. Instead, Stan and Kyle fall for the out-of-control bullshit in "The Hobbit," and--like what has often happened in real life with girls who struggle with their self-image--so does an anguished Wendy.

(Photo source: South Park Archives)
(Photo source: South Park Archives)
Memorable quotes:
* Wendy: "Are you just an asshole? Is that it?" Butters: "Am I just an asshole?" Wendy: "Yeah!" Butters: "Well, no. I've got arms and legs. I have everything."

* "Kim is not even in that movie. That movie is just loosely based on her television show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which is a show about short, loud little people living in a fantasy world--hold up!"

* "And even though she still couldn't sing like Beyoncé or dance like Beyoncé or act like Beyoncé or be a decent human being like Beyoncé, the little Hobbit was looked up to and loved, just like Beyoncé. [sniffles]"

The uncensored cut of "The Hobbit" can be streamed in its entirety at South Park Studios.

Friday, December 6, 2013

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Bravest Warriors, "Hamster Priest"

'Look over there, it's your mom, and she's giving head to Rob Ford!'
(Photo source: Bravest Warriors Wiki)
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.

"Hamster Priest," the latest webisode of Cartoon Hangover's sci-fi comedy Bravest Warriors, finds Beth Tezuka (Liliana Mumy) experiencing both headaches and strange visions of her friends that turn out to be different alternate realities she's being shifted through. Yep, she's going through the same predicament Worf experienced in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Parallels," which "Hamster Priest" pays tribute to.



Except instead of the dimension bouncing being caused by one of The Next Generation's countless "temporal anomalies," it's the cause of a sinister-looking experiment conducted by her recently resurfaced dad (former Lost in Space star Bill Mumy, Liliana's dad), and the reality shifts are at an accelerated pace like the changes in the time continuum caused by Alec Baldwin's Timecrowave on SNL. Mr. Tezuka's up to no good after Beth rescued him from being trapped for two years in the See-Through Zone, where he started worshiping a powerful entity known as the Worm and was renamed Reverend Ralph Waldo Pickle Chips. The results of Ralph's experiment--which take place when he activates a mysterious purple energy device and feeds one of his hamsters a droplet of the same purple virus that the Warriors encountered in last season's "Catbug"--amount to one of Bravest Warriors' funniest and most inventive installments.

One moment, the Invisible Hideout, the Warriors homebase that's also a flying robot, suddenly looks like the bridge of the Enterprise-D, Chris Kirkman (Alex Walsh) is bald like Captain Picard and everyone's dressed in those 24th century Starfleet uniforms that look more like figure skating costumes than genuine military uniforms. And then the next, the Hideout interior has increased in size, Beth's alien best friend Plum (Tara Strong) has switched genders from female to male and Catbug (six-year-old Sam Lavagnino), the Warriors' little animal sidekick, is now captain, but he's a dictatorial asshole who barks that "this bridge is no place for a woman!," an amusing nod to the misogyny of '60s Trek episodes like "Turnabout Intruder."

He's about to perform the Catbug Maneuver.
(Photo source: Bravest Warriors Wiki)
I'm torn between Beth's changing subservient roles in the realities where Catbug is dictator (from "Kitchen Wench Tezuka" to "Pleasure Clone Tezuka") and the '80s TV character-like appearances of the alternate counterparts of Danny Vasquez (John Omohundro) and Wallow (Ian Jones-Quartey) as my favorite gag during "Hamster Priest." Danny's counterparts resemble Magnum, P.I. and Worf, while Wallow's counterpart resembles B.A. Baracus. The kiss one of Danny's counterparts plants on Beth is a scene that was foreshadowed for a split second as one of Chris' visions of future events in "Ultra Wankershim," and the fact that Chris was able to see a future kiss that took place in an alternate reality where he died hints at the omnipotence he'll attain later on as an Emotion Lord.

Chris might need to find a way to access his currently latent Emotion Lord powers in order to defeat the Worm because this episode seems to be setting up the Worm as the second season's big bad. "Never doubt the Worm" doesn't have quite the same ominous ring as, for example, "God is now here nowhere" did during the short-lived 2003 paranormal show Miracles, but it's the first step in a mythology that will hopefully be as juicy as the mythology over on Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors creator Pendleton Ward's signature show. Ward isn't involved with the writing on Bravest Warriors--Breehn Burns is the showrunner here--but inventive installments like this week's "Hamster Priest" prove that Bravest Warriors is in equally good hands.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Get to know "The Big Score" by Richard Sala

'The Big Score' by Richard Sala
At their house, my parents want me to get rid of stuff I've left behind there and don't use anymore, like stacks of manila folders I stored inside their house's overhead cabinets. The folders contain press kits for albums like DJ Kool's Let Me Clear My Throat CD and movies like The Big Lebowski; old scripts of segment intros I typed up for the terrestrial radio version of AFOS; and newspaper/magazine article cutouts I enjoyed reading and had saved so that I could read them again someday (whatup, early 2000s Mercury News interview with De La Soul about the Art Official Intelligence "trilogy") or use one of them as the basis for some script for either TV, a film or a comic. For example, there was a folder from the early 2000s that I labeled "Jigsaw." It consisted of articles about crime in San Francisco I collected and saved as research for a San Francisco crime show idea I wanted to call Jigsaw (for a while, I wanted to create the Sucka Free equivalent of Homicide: Life on the Street and populate the cast with a few Asian American detectives).

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was only able to empty one cabinet by throwing away a whole bunch of cutouts I don't need to save anymore--like the Jigsaw clippings (yeah, I don't think that show's ever going to get made). But there are some items from the folders in that cabinet that I don't want to dunk into the basura, so I've taken them along with me. They include a few issues of Scud: The Disposable Assassin I've held onto since college--one of those issues was written by a pre-Channel 101/Community Dan Harmon!--and a comic strip I snipped from a 1994 issue of Pulse! magazine.

Pulse! was a music review magazine the now-defunct Tower Records published and handed out for free in its stores. The final page of each Pulse! issue always featured a music-related comic strip. My favorite of those Pulse! strips is "The Big Score" by cartoonist Richard Sala, whose serialized 1991 "Invisible Hands" mystery shorts during Liquid Television were a favorite of many fans of the MTV animation anthology show. (Sala's horror comics are full of old-fashioned movie monsters and hot heroines. Cartoon Network is too dunderheaded to allow it, but I'd rather see the network's Adult Swim/Williams Street department produce a new Scooby-Doo animated series with character designs by either Sala or someone equally offbeat and not-so-kid-friendly instead of CN and Warner Bros. Animation rehashing the same old Scoob for kids.) "The Big Score" takes place in a noirish nightclub and cleverly replaces all the dialogue with names of classic crime movie scores that Sala thinks would be appropriate for each moment.

"At the time I was listening to a lot of movie soundtracks, particularly the cool, atmospheric soundtracks of thrillers and spy movies, which I found to be inspiring background music to play while I wrote," said Sala in a 2010 blog post about "The Big Score." I don't have a Mac-compatible scanner with me to digitally preserve "The Big Score," so good thing Sala--whose latest work is the digital-only Fantagraphics graphic novel Violenzia--scanned his own 1994 strip and posted it on his blog.

'The Big Score' by Richard Sala
(Photo source: Richard Sala)
Thanks to YouTube and Spotify, I can now take that 1994 strip and post it alongside the exact same audio Sala envisioned when he drew it. Vertigo and Our Man Flint are the only film titles from "The Big Score" that contain themes that are currently in rotation on AFOS. I've streamed cues from Touch of Evil, The Ipcress File, Experiment in Terror, Arabesque and Psycho on AFOS before, and after first catching Kiss Me Deadly on TCM, it's hard to forget that batshit crazy Robert Aldrich flick, but I'm not familiar with the other movies Sala references in "The Big Score." I actually still haven't seen The Third Man. There are a couple of Ida Lupino flicks mentioned in there that I need to check out after hearing Greg Proops devote an entire segment to her work during The Smartest Man in the World. And after watching the How to Murder Your Wife clip of Virna Lisi's sexy dance to Neal Hefti source music I've posted below, I don't understand why Jack Lemmon would rather get rid of that than continue to tap that.

'The Big Score' by Richard Sala
Panel 1: Touch of Evil


Panel 2: The Ipcress File; The Third Man; Experiment in Terror; On Dangerous Ground