|(Photo source: Reddit)|
Rick and Morty, "Meeseeks and Destroy" (from January 24, 2014)
"Meeseeks and Destroy" is a great turning point for Rick and Morty. It's where several of the regular characters evolve from being cartoon characters--and mere chess pawns in the writers' crazy and increasingly imaginative plots--to human beings with wants, desires, genuine sadness and occasional compassion, much like the characters on Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon's Community.
We learn that Beth (Sarah Chalke) is having regrets about her marriage to Jerry (Chris Parnell)--being pregnant with Summer (Spencer Grammer) at a young age, while putting herself through veterinarian school, was the main reason why she wedded Jerry--and she's beginning to feel stifled by her suburban existence. As for Morty (co-creator Justin Roiland), he's getting tired of being led around by Rick (also Roiland) through such dangerous adventures on other worlds. After some persuasion from Morty and agreeing to a bet with him, the cynical grandpa, who continually warns Morty that the universe is crazy and chaotic, lets his grandson be in charge of an adventure that's closer to his perception of adventure as simple and fun (somewhere on a Jack and the Beanstalk-like planet where medieval villagers are being subjugated by giants from a much more modernized section of the planet). That is until Morty realizes the hard way that Rick is right about the darkness and dangerousness of the universe, and his notion of adventure as simple and fun is destroyed in that unsettling scene every Rick and Morty viewer has been talking about on the Internet this week.
Yes, about that scene: Since episode one, Rick and Morty has been upfront about being dark-humored and adult, but never have I expected the show to go to such a dark place like it does when Morty is nearly raped by Mr. Jellybean, an anthropomorphic and seemingly benign jellybean, in the bathroom of a tavern inside a stairway on the giants' land. Nothing alters the mood of a comedy like sexual assault, and fortunately, unlike too many other adult animated shows, "Meeseeks and Destroy" doesn't play Morty's moments of terror and subsequent trauma for laughs.
"Edith's 50th Birthday," the infamous All in the Family episode where Edith escapes an attempted rape in her own home, was lauded for its treatment of sexual assault (and the late Jean Stapleton totally owned the episode), but it has also dated badly. That All in the Family episode was made at a time when all comedy on TV contained studio audience laughter or canned laughter, so you get these annoying and strange studio audience giggles during the serial rapist's attempted attack and the scenes where Edith is wracked with PTSD (I don't care for the TV version of M*A*S*H, partly because of the canned laughter, but I always liked how the M*A*S*H producers, who opposed the CBS execs' insistence on a laugh track, refused to add laughter during the surgery scenes). You wonder if maybe All in the Family would have been better off taping "Edith's 50th Birthday" without the studio audience due to the seriousness of its subject matter, but then without that live audience, you wouldn't have gotten that classic moment where the audience cheers and goes crazy when Edith smashes a burning cake into the rapist's face and escapes. The stupid laugh track is a common thing you have to put up with when rewatching all those terrible and awkward '70s and '80s Very Special Episodes (VSEs) All in the Family is responsible for unleashing. It served as a cushion of comfort for '70s and '80s viewers, reassuring them that this is a light comedy first and a drama second. There's no such audio of laughter to be found in "Meeseeks and Destroy," which is why I find it to be more effective about the horror of almost being sexually assaulted than "Edith's 50th Birthday."
The bathroom incident introduces a compassionate side of Rick, whose treatment of Morty has bordered on abusive, ever since he insisted to Morty in the premiere episode that he smuggle extraterrestrial plant seeds inside his butt as if he were a drug mule. Despite moments like that, we know Rick cares a bit for his grandson because he'd willingly blow up civilization if doing so would get Morty to score with the girl he's crushing on. That great moment where Rick sees Mr. Jellybean stumble out of the bathroom in bruises created by Morty, silently puts two and two together and gives Mr. Jellybean a steely-eyed stare is further proof that Rick cares for Morty, as is his hilarious final act in the medieval village immediately after he and Morty find out the identity of the villagers' king. Fuck with Rick's family, and you're eradicated from the universe, no matter what social standing you are.
I'm making it sound like the near-rape scene brings "Meeseeks and Destroy" to a screeching VSE halt. Fortunately, "Meeseeks and Destroy" doesn't awkwardly turn into a VSE after the incident or end with Rick and Morty breaking the fourth wall to give the number of a counseling hotline like so many VSEs would do (although it does end with Rick breaking the fourth wall, not for PSA reasons but to put a button on an intentionally lame one-liner with what he mistakenly thinks is an old Arsenio catchphrase). It just treats the near-rape like the unsettling and horrible thing it is, doesn't try to preach about the horribleness of it and moves on. It's a grown-up and sophisticated way of handling such a subject, compared to how the VSEs would poorly stitch together their serious subjects with bits of comic relief or reassuring messages.
And I haven't even talked yet about the brilliance of the B-story. The B-stories on Rick and Morty have gotten increasingly ingenious, ever since the superintelligent dogs' conquest of Earth in "Lawnmower Dog." To keep Beth, Jerry and Summer from constantly turning to him for solving their problems, Rick presents them with a Meeseeks box, which, when its button is pressed, summons a Meeseeks ("I'm Mr. Meeseeks! Look at me!"), a jolly, genie-like blue creature whose purpose in life is to solve someone else's problem, and it's their only purpose because the Meeseekses wink out of existence immediately after accomplishing their tasks. Summer's Meeseeks helps her to become the most popular girl in school, while Beth's Meeseeks helps her to become a more perfect and pretty woman, as we see in an amusing restaurant scene where, over lunch, he drops some motivational advice to Beth as if he were every single magical gay BFF in every crappy rom-com. But when relentlessly mediocre Jerry asks his Meeseeks to help him take two strokes off his golf swing, Jerry fails to fix his swing, which keeps the Meeseeks in existence longer than he expected and causes him to push the button to summon another Meeseeks to help him help Jerry. When neither of them can help Jerry, they call on more and more Meeseekses to appear until all the Meeseekses go insane and agree that the only way they can disappear is to kill Jerry.
"Existence is pain to a Meeseeks, Jerry, and we will do anything to alleviate that pain!," shouts one of the Meeseekses while holding hostage at gunpoint the customers and waiters at a restaurant where Jerry and Beth are dining. Jerry has had a rough last few episodes, from seeing his mom make out with her new and much younger lover at Christmas dinner--while his dad's bizarrely okay with it--to having what he thinks is the best sex he's ever had with Beth when he unknowingly bangs an inanimate digital clone of her. So seeing Jerry rise to the occasion for once during the hostage situation--instead of the advice of a Meeseeks, a boost of confidence from Beth is what helps him to finally perfect his swing and send all the Meeseekses away--is a nice break from his spiral of patheticness.
Jerry's triumph is also a nice break from the dark examples throughout "Meeseeks and Destroy" of why the universe is, in Rick's words, a crazy and chaotic place. Yet another dark example pops up in the post-credits tag when the village chooses to sweep Mr. Jellybean's pedophilia under the rug, which is both comedically pathetic and, as we've seen from headlines like Joe Paterno's decision to keep quiet about Jerry Sandusky, sadly all too common in this crazy and chaotic universe. The tag is one of several dark touches that have elevated Rick and Morty from a solid Adult Swim show to one of the 2013-14 season's best new comedies, live-action or animated.
* "Hey Rick, you got some kind of hand-shaped device that can open this mayonnaise jar?"
* Attorney: "Your Honor, I'm from a tiny person's advocacy group, and I have here in my hand a motion to dismiss! These little men were never read their giant rights and are therefore, free fi to fo home." Rick: "What the hell is he talking about?" Attorney: "They're free to go is what I meant. I-I'm deconstructing o-our thing we say. For giants. Nobody got that? Whatever."
* "I can't take it anymore! I just want to die!" "We all want to die! We're Meeseeks!" "Why did you even rope me into this?" "'Cause he roped me into this!" "Well, him over there, he roped me into this!" "Well, he roped me into this!"
* "Jerry, maybe it's time I take that trip I always talk about." "Where would you go?" "I don't know, man. Italy, Greece, Argentina..." Jerry, doing a half-assed Carnac impression: "Countries known for their sexually aggressive men."
* "Wait. Destroy it. Our people will get more from the idea he represented than from the jellybean he actually was."
January 31, 2014)
The recently renewed Rick and Morty started out as Justin Roiland's profane riff on the friendship between Doc Brown and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies (and now stage musical?!--why?!). With the addition of Dan Harmon to Roiland's vision, it's morphed into a dark--and unmistakably Adult Swim--take on the well-traveled heroes of both The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which Harmon grew up reading, and Doctor Who, which Harmon references on Community in the form of the fictional show Inspector Spacetime (even composer Ryan Elder's Rick and Morty theme tune is sort of a takeoff on Murray Gold's updated arrangement of the old Doctor Who theme during modern Doctor Who's first three seasons).
Modern Doctor Who has sometimes attempted to explore what happens when the Doctor winds up making things worse rather than making them better (like what Russell T. Davies did with the 10th Doctor during the classic bottle episode "Midnight"), but on Rick and Morty, Harmon wants to go a step further and see what it's like when you strip away the whimsy, the heroism, the ultra-competence, the pacifism and all the other comforting things that make the Doctor such a beloved part of the family-friendly half of British TV. For instance, what if Ford Prefect--who was basically a Douglas Adams clone of the Doctor--was responsible for the destruction of Earth instead of the aliens who blew it up to make way for a "hyperspace bypass" that's under construction? Or what if the Doctor was a total sociopath and instead of saving lives and trying to avoid violence as much as possible, he didn't mind resorting to murder, which is how Rick handled an alien who attempted to molest his grandson last week in "Meeseeks and Destroy"?
This week, in "Rick Potion #9," which is credited solely to Roiland, Rick and Morty does an inspired--and thanks to all the David Cronenbergian body horror imagery, delightfully grotesque--spin on "What if the Doctor's scientific expertise kept ruining everything and plunged Earth into an apocalypse?" I love how the apocalypse is the result of an experimental love potion that was lying around Rick's lab like some unread indie comic I bought at APE in Sucka Free about a half a decade ago but have never gotten around to flipping through and is gathering more dust than a "Which racial terms are not allowed to be said on the air?" manual at the offices of Fox News.
Morty uses the potion to get Jessica, the classmate whose breasteses he dreamt about caressing in the pilot, to fall for him at their school's Flu Season Dance. But of course, the potion, which Rick warns Morty not to use on her if she has the flu, goes wrong when it's combined with Jessica's flu microbes and it ends up infecting everyone else at the dance. So in addition to both female and male classmates wanting Morty's body, all the faculty members become infatuated with Morty as well. Soon the rest of the world follows suit, except for Morty's loved ones, who are immune to the effects of Rick's potion because Rick's not much of a fan of incest, whether it takes place inside Morty's math teacher's pervy dream world or at 9pm on Sundays on HBO.
"Rick Potion #9" was actually the first episode (after the pilot) that Harmon, Roiland and the other voice actors worked on, but Harmon and Roiland pushed it back to halfway through the first season because they felt it made more sense to air it at this later point. So while the change in air order results in a character who was previously established as an eternal fuck-up turning into a winner two episodes in a row, the decision to delay "Rick Potion #9" also makes the episode's downbeat final scene--soundtracked to the funereal strains of Mazzy Star's "Look on Down from the Bridge," a song that was also used on The Sopranos--much more powerful.
Rick's ultimate solution to all his previous mistakes is the kind of deus ex machina I don't think I've ever seen before in sci-fi, and it's another example of how brilliantly plotted Rick and Morty has been each week. With his portal gun, Rick simply abandons the monster-infested Earth he's inadvertently created and takes Morty with him to an alternate--and completely identical--Earth where they can start anew and replace that Earth's Rick and Morty, who died in a lab experiment without either Beth, Jerry or Summer to see them perish. Rick uses his portal technology to pinpoint the exact moment when their alternate counterparts died so that he and Morty can immediately bury their counterparts' corpses and take over their identities without Beth, Jerry and Summer noticing.
The act of burying his own horribly mangled corpse in the soil does such a number on Morty's psyche that all Morty can do afterward is sit silently in a shocked daze, not to mention the fact that he's surrounded by a family that looks and behaves exactly like the one he's spent all his life with (alt-Beth and alt-Jerry argue just like Beth and Jerry do; alt-Summer is glued to her phone just like Summer), but it isn't the same one he's spent all his life with. Meanwhile, Rick, with booze in hand, of course, nonchalantly eases his way into this alt-Earth as if he's done it a million times before. In one of the most memorable lines in GoldenEye, the Sean Bean character attempts to cut 007 down to size by telling him that he knocks back martinis to silence the screams of the men he's killed. I wouldn't be surprised if the booze similarly helps Rick to dull the remorse that Morty is now feeling and that I imagine a younger Rick must have felt too when he first encountered crazy situations like this.
This eerie and dramatic conclusion to a comedically chaotic episode would have felt heavy-handed had Adult Swim aired "Rick Potion #9" right after the pilot. But reshuffling the episode order--so that "Rick Potion #9" takes place after the Inception-esque mind-fuckery in both "Lawnmower Dog" and "M. Night Shyam-Aliens!," Morty's disgust over killing his loved ones' demonically possessed alternate reality clones and his near-brush with sexual assault inside that men's room--makes Morty's concluding expression of both despair and exhaustion resonate more. Because Rick and Morty isn't a serialized comedy, I wouldn't be surprised if the show never addresses the change in universes again and presses on as if nothing drastic happened. But that look of despair raises a bunch of questions about the rest of the season. Is Morty starting to wish for a life away from Rick? Does Rick even care about the destruction he leaves behind wherever he goes? Could he be an even bigger monster than the Cronenbergs he created back in the old universe?
By its second season, The Venture Bros. grew from being a Jonny Quest parody to something much richer. With the one-two punch of "Meeseeks and Destroy" and now "Rick Potion #9," Rick and Morty is already showing signs of doing the same thing: outgrowing its Doctor Who parody trappings to become its own animal, a lot more ferocious--and frequently funnier--than the classic that inspired it.
* "The Flu Season Dance is about awareness, not celebration. You don't bring dead babies to Passover."
* When Morty accuses Rick of being way more irresponsible than him, Rick's dismissal of love potions as being nothing more than roofies is so damn terrific: "All I wanted you to do was hand me a screwdriver, Morty. You're the one who wanted to me... wanted me to... buckle down and make you up a... roofie juice serum so you could roofie that poor girl at your school. I mean, w-w-w-w-w-a-are you kidding me, Morty? You're gonna try to take the high road on this one? Y-y-you're a little creep, Morty. Y-y-you're-you're just a little creepy creep person."
* And now, some pre-makeout banter that would never be uttered on Doctor Who: "I wish that shotgun was my penis." "If it were, you could call me Ernest Hemingway." "I don't get it, and I don't need to."
March 7, 2014)
In the preview for this week's Space Dandy episode that followed last week's episode, Dr. Gel (Unshou Ishizuka), the gorilla scientist from the Gogol Empire who's obsessed with capturing the titular alien hunter, complained off-screen about having to die at the end of every story and wasn't too thrilled to learn from his assistant Bea (Kosuke Hatakeyama) that he wouldn't appear at all in the next one. During "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby," I didn't miss Dr. Gel at all.
Easily the most visually stunning Space Dandy episode so far, "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" proves once again that where Space Dandy excels is not in its slapstick or its running gags like Dr. Gel's incompetence as a villain (Dandy never notices his presence, and if the parallel universes theory regarding Space Dandy's self-contained continuity each week is true, neither do Dandy's parallel counterparts). The blundering villain who's continually unable to catch or kill the person he hates the most is a gag that's been done before, and with much funnier and cleverer results in shows like The Venture Bros. Where Space Dandy excels the most is in its willingness to experiment each week, either story-wise or visually, like general director Shinichiro Watanabe's previous shows Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo often did. As I've said before, Space Dandy has the feel of an anthology, with the only constant being Dandy, QT the robot, Meow and their ship, and with a different animator taking a stab at directing each week (not to mention a different artist being assigned to design each alien world that's visited by the Aloha Oe crew).
Those of the show's haters who wrote off Space Dandy right after its premiere (because of either the fan service during the Boobies breastaurant scene or the mostly forced attempts at humor in that first episode) are missing out on some intriguing excursions into different sci-fi subgenres, whether it's the space race genre a la Redline or zombie comedy. They're also missing out on some just plain good short story writing, like in last week's uneven but enjoyable "The Lonely Pooch Planet, Baby"--which came up with a nifty explanation for the whereabouts of Laika, the ill-fated dog inside Sputnik 2 during its 1957 orbit around Earth--and in this week's episode, the first one Watanabe has written since the premiere.
|(Photo source: Space Dandy News)|
Dandy and Meow each discover that Planta is inhabited by giant sentient plants (QT reminds Dandy that he can't register any of them because the Alien Registration Center doesn't reward anyone for registering plants). The plant citizens of Planta are divided into two groups that co-exist peacefully in an 18-state republic: the cerebral Vegims of the north and the Movies of the south, who are more tribal in nature and like to ply their guests with tons of food.
Nothing much really happens adventure-wise or comedy-wise during "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby," aside from Dandy and 033H getting briefly chased around by saucer-shaped "federal microbes," Dr. H getting arrested Jor-El-style (along with Dandy and 033H) for defying scientific authorities by attemping to cross the forbidden zone of the North Pole and Meow being fattened up because he himself is to become dinner for the Movies (but he's become too fat and tired to escape). The surreal "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" is largely a visual tone poem about the beauty of this weird plant world that puzzles and astounds Dandy and reduces him to open-mouthed silence, but fortunately, this episode that's mostly told through visuals and score (and what a delightfully offbeat and Pee-wee's Playhouse-ish score the Space Dandy Band came up with this week) is never boring. Like most great sci-fi, "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" is about "How and why did we get here?" as opposed to "Shoot dat piece o' chit!," so it reminds me of what Star Trek: The Motion Picture was striving to be, except it's got much more satisfying action and better-looking clothes.
The psychedelic imagery and clever plant/microbe species designs are the work of guest director Eunyoung Choi, who, according to Random Curiosity's review of "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby," is "two things very rare among anime directors--a woman and of Korean descent." Choi is apparently becoming a big deal in Japanese animation, but I'm not familiar with any of her previous work.
April 11, 2014)
The only hackneyed thing about "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind," Rick and Morty's latest brilliantly plotted round of interdimensional mayhem, has to be that episode title. The episode titling system over on Community, Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon's other current show, is far more clever than Rick and Morty's titling system of late, with titles in the style of esoteric-sounding community college course names ("Cooperative Calligraphy," "Geothermal Escapism"). (Perhaps the Rick puns in each episode title--which have varied from corny to decent, like "Something Ricked This Way Comes," my favorite of the punny titles--are intentionally awful. If it's true that these titles are Harmon and Justin Roiland's joke on the lameness of most of the puns in animated show episode titles, then "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind" tops them all in terms of intentional awfulness.)
Everything else about "Close Rick-Counters," a whodunit story in which Rick is framed by an unknown foe for murdering Ricks in other dimensions, is far from hackneyed, as well as an example of how much Rick and Morty has grown over the course of its first season from a fun Doctor Who parody to something richer and darker. If you take away the sci-fi trappings, the parallel universes gimmick and the gags about greasy grandma worlds or planets inhabited by chairs, Rick and Morty is fundamentally an often downbeat family comedy about the difficulties of living with a genius who does many amazing things (and has been responsible for showing his family the wonders they've seen, to borrow the opening narration of Farscape, a favorite show of Roiland's that must have influenced the dysfunctional relationships within the Smith household) but is also such a cold and unfeeling asshole. In "Close Rick-Counters," which was penned by Ryan Ridley (who also wrote the series turning point "Meeseeks and Destroy"), we see how the lack of compassion of the Ricks of the universe--or rather, various universes--pushes both Morty and Jerry close to the breaking point and has sent one of Morty's parallel counterparts way past that point. Enter the eyepatch-clad Evil Morty, the show's first formidable villain.
What exactly did the Rick in Evil Morty's universe do that caused Evil Morty, who had grown tired of being unappreciated, to go insane, murder him, take control of his brain (resulting in the minion/red herring that is Evil Rick) and then murder 26 other Ricks? What were the jerky things that Rick said to Evil Morty that made him believe that the Ricks in all the universes don't care about the Mortys? Other than the cold open, Evil Morty gets only two scenes in "Close Rick-Counters." One scene is mostly wordless, way before we know who Evil Morty really is, while the other is the final wordless scene before the end credits, and it's such an awesome reveal of both his treachery and his knack for keeping that treachery well-hidden, nicely soundtracked by Blonde Redhead's 2000 tune "For the Damaged Coda." I'm dying to see what else Evil Morty has up his sleeve, and I can't wait to see how our learning disability-afflicted Morty--or rather, Earth Morty C-137--will react when he finds out that there's a Morty who broke the mold and is as much of a genius as the Ricks.
We, of course, know that Evil Morty, for all his genius, is wrong about Rick not caring about Morty, as we see in the great little moment where C-137 Rick tears up while watching his memories of himself with Morty being projected by Evil Rick before the minion attempts to murder him. Why does Rick hide his compassion for his grandson from him?
"Maybe he wants to keep people at arms [sic] length, because it IS so normal for people to die around him," theorizes the Rick and Morty fan who runs a Tumblr called Morty and Rick. "It makes it easier, and easier to deal with the dizzying concept of there being yous in other dimensions that may be better than you, happier than you, etc."
|(Photo source: Morty and Rick)|
On the other side of the compassion spectrum stands Earth Rick J19-Zeta-7, a.k.a. "Doofus Rick." He pales in comparison to the other Ricks who comprise the Council of Ricks, the transdimensional government that presides over all matters pertaining to the Ricks (it's also a club the bureaucracy-hating C-137 Rick refuses to join), and he's continually teased by them for hailing from the universe where people eat their own shit. But like Evil Morty, Doofus Rick is an outlier. Unlike the other Ricks, Doofus Rick's unafraid to show compassion. When he tags along with the various Ricks, who stop by the Smiths' house to investigate C-137 Rick's whereabouts, his kindness to Jerry wins over the friendless and currently unemployed advertising man, who's constantly insecure about being surrounded by a heart surgeon wife and scientist father-in-law who are smarter than him and keep giving him a hard time about his ordinariness.
Doofus Rick doesn't ridicule Jerry for his love of collecting Star Wars coins like Beth and presumably C-137 Rick do. He says to Jerry, "You bought them because you like them. They have value to you. That's what matters," although I like how a little bit of the other Ricks' bluntness remains when he precedes that sentence with "You know, Jerry, I'm not gonna tell you that these will increase in value or even hold their current value." This B-story in which Jerry gets the nice father-in-law he always wanted--but in the form of a Rick from another dimension that has customs I kind of don't want to know more about, because of the whole shit-eating thing, which sounds like something Shailene Woodley would be into--is both poignant and amusing. The funniest part of the B-story is a gag that can easily be overlooked during first viewing: Doofus Rick's little lesson to Jerry on how to make ovenless brownies out of titanium nitrate and chlorified tartrate. Compared to regular people, Doofus Rick isn't really much of a doofus because of his scientific know-how. So because scientific things that, on paper, look simple to a Rick, whether he's C-137 Rick or Doofus Rick, are gibberish to a regular person like Jerry, he's unable to notice that Doofus Rick's tasty brownies are actually feces.
Now that we've gotten a tiny glimpse of Evil Morty, I wonder if Evil Jerry will be as pathetic as the other Jerrys we've seen so far or if he'll be as much of an evil mastermind as Evil Morty. Or is it both?
* "Will you at least unfreeze my daughter's idiot?"
* "W-w-wherever you find people with heads up their asses, someone wants a piece of your grandpa, and a lot of versions of me on different timelines had the same problem, so a few thousand versions of me had the INGENIOUS IDEA OF BANDING TOGETHER! Like a herd of cattle or a school of fish or those people who answer questions on Yahoo! Answers."
* "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got pancakes back home with syrup on top of them. They're about to hit that critical point of syrup absorption that turns the cakes into a gross paste, and I hate to get all Andy Rooney about it, but I think we all like fluffy discs of cake with syrup on top, and I think we also like to be accused of crimes when there's evidence! So as they say in Canada, peace oot!"
* "Earth Rick C-137, the Council of Ricks sentences you to the Machine of Unspeakable Doom, which swaps your conscious and unconscious minds, rendering your fantasies pointless while everything you've known becomes impossible to grasp. Also, every 10 seconds, it stabs your balls."
* C-137 Rick: "The slow clap? Really? Kind of played out, dude." Evil Rick: "Not in this dimension, it isn't. In fact, I invented it. Nobody else has ever even done it here before." C-137 Rick: "Well, la-di-da." Evil Rick: "Hey, that's mine!"
* Evil Rick, gesturing at the array of monitors showing disturbing images of naked Mortys being tortured: "Ah, isn't it beautiful?" C-137 Rick: "Yeah, yeah. Looks like payday at Neverland Ranch in here. Zing!"
* Evil Rick: "Unh-unh-unh, Rick, quiet. You're missing my symphony." C-137 Rick: "Hey, I'll take it over Mumford & Sons. Zip!"
* C-137 Rick, referring to a minion of Evil Rick's who comes from a planet of crab creatures and appears to be the only one chuckling from his quips: "This guy is on it!" Evil Rick: "He's not laughing at your dumb jokes, Rick. That's just a random noise it makes every 10 seconds."
* One of the imprisoned Mortys: "I'm sick of being a human shield. I-I-I w... I want to be a gardener!" Another Morty, who comes from a dimension where Rick and Morty have antennae on their heads: "I want to write really crazy intense action novels!"
* Evil Rick: "You're crying? Over a Morty?" C-137 Rick: "No, I'm just allergic to dipshits."
August 29, 2014)
Vox posted an intriguing and controversial profile this week about Sopranos creator David Chase that's key to understanding "A World with No Sadness, Baby," the occasionally confusing but visually sumptuous Space Dandy episode that takes place on a mysterious planet of the dead and is one of the few Space Dandy episodes written by general director Shinichiro Watanabe. The part of the lengthy Chase profile that everyone on the Internet is most interested in--other than for click-baity, traffic-generating reasons--is Chase's latest reply to "Is Tony dead?," the question that's nagged Sopranos fans since "Made in America," The Sopranos' divisive, open-ended final episode, wrapped up the mob drama's run seven years ago, to the tune of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
Chase's laconic answer was "No, he isn't." But after the publication of the article, he immediately retracted his answer. "To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer," wrote Chase's publicist in a statement to the press. Whether or not Tony got whacked in the diner always mattered to Chase the least (I never gave a shit about whether or not Tony got whacked either, just like how I don't give a shit about the overly giddy, "look, Tony died in that restaurant because look at all the clues in the restaurant and look at that line about how you don't see it coming when you're whacked!" camp). Chase blurted out "No" to the Vox interviewer, not to reassure the Sopranos fans who cared only about the most lurid moments of The Sopranos, like who got killed this week or who Tony is banging this season, but simply because he's tired of being asked that question (they're the kind of fans who want everything to be spoon-fed to them--I wouldn't be surprised if they moved on from The Sopranos to more subtle fare like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up with the Kardashians--and they've failed to grasp the ambiguity that Chase emulated from European cinema, which is why Chase has contempt for them).
What clearly matters more to Chase than "Which characters will live and which ones will die?" are the fallacy of the American dream that Chase's hardware store owner father bought into, the emptiness of post-WWII prosperity and the search for enlightenment (Chase is an agnostic who became alienated by the Catholicism of so many Italian families like his own; he believes that enlightenment is found not in God but in art, whether it's an Antonioni movie or Parisian ruins). They're themes that permeated not just The Sopranos but also Chase's lukewarmly received debut as a film director, 2012's Not Fade Away, and even--and this isn't mentioned in the Vox profile--the episodes Chase wrote earlier in his career for The Rockford Files, particularly "Quickie Nirvana," the 1977 Rockford episode where Chase expressed skeptical opinions about both cults and organized religion that make you say, "Wow, how the fuck did NBC allow much of this to air?" As The Sopranos' run wore on, Chase became more interested in those profound themes of artifice and enlightenment and much less interested in the mob soap opera stuff (this is why all the Sopranos clones that emerged on network TV due to The Sopranos' popularity sucked so much: they only cared about who lived and who died, and those shows' creators and their network bosses didn't understand that the scenes of Tony or Carmela in therapy and the conflict between Tony and his cantankerous mother Livia were what made The Sopranos unique and popular, not the violence).
Where this Vox piece on Chase ties in to Space Dandy--and this is the moment that fascinates me way more than "Is Tony dead?"--is Chase's statement that "I'm not a religious person at all, but I'm very convinced that this is not it. That there's something else. What it is, I don't know. Other universes. Other alternate realities." Chase's fascination with alternate realities explains not just the unusual 2006 Sopranos episode "Join the Club" (where a comatose Tony dreams of an alternate life as a salesman with no ties to the Mafia and no Jersey accent, so "Join the Club" offers glimpses of how the late James Gandolfini sounded in real life, without that accent), but Watanabe's similar fascination with alternate realities in Space Dandy episodes like "A World with No Sadness, Baby" as well.
Like Chase, who's a fan of the ambiguity of Antonioni movies like Blow-Up, Watanabe traffics in ambiguity, and it's part of why Watanabe's work fascinates me more than the work of other Japanese animators. Cowboy Bebop opened and closed with a badly wounded Spike Spiegel at the brink of death, and Watanabe said he left it up to the viewer to decide if Spike really did die when he collapsed to the ground at the end of the Bebop finale. "A World with No Sadness, Baby" is more conclusive about Dandy than either Spike's collapse or Tony's last scene in the Sopranos finale: Dandy's clearly dead from the first moment we see him marooned on Planet Limbo after a dangerous encounter with a "dark nebula" (by the way, the visuals of the planet of the dead that were crafted by BONES Inc. and guest director Yasuhiro Nakura are extraordinary; we're talking feature film-quality visuals here, and they're given pitch-perfect musical accompaniment by guest composers Ogre You Asshole, a Japanese rock band that counts Johnny Marr as one of its fans).
We also learn from Poe (Kaori Nazuka), the entity who's fallen in love with Dandy and is the physical manifestation of both Limbo the planet and Limbo the plane of existence, that Dandy is a much more powerful being than he realizes, and that power of his has something to do with his parallel selves. The absent-from-this-episode Dr. Gel and the Gogol Empire's relentless pursuit of this unlikely "chosen one"--a vain idiot who's a dick to his shipmates on the Aloha Oe and cares only about "food and boobs" (he's basically an overgrown teen)--makes more sense now.
"A Race in Space Is Dangerous, Baby." Dandy's returned to Limbo, but at a point in time before the planet used up all its energy and ended up destroying itself to send Dandy back (but as a comatose Dandy) to the Aloha Oe to save Meow and QT from the dark nebula. He's there to reunite with Poe and the rest of the friends he made on Limbo and then take them along with him to heaven. So it's basically the second-to-last scene of the Lost series finale, but without the hugginess and hokey, New Agey sentimentality.
I might be wrong about the final scene--and we have a few more episodes to go before I'm probably proven wrong--but it implies that Space Dandy will be headed towards a more profound direction for the remainder of its run. It's a good thing I read the Vox piece on Chase after watching "A World with No Sadness, Baby" because Chase's alternate realities discussion helped clear up the confusion I initially had about both the final scene and Dandy's reappearance on a planet that ceased to exist. The scene seems to be hinting that the show's closing arc will be the redemption of Dandy the asshole, as Space Dandy starts to delve more into Dandy's parallel counterparts and perhaps will show how Dandy's inevitable reunion with his other selves mirrors his growth as a person, like how the Sopranos characters' discussions about "What's the purpose?" echoed Chase's preoccupation with "this is not it."
The "redemption of an asshole" arc is kind of a tired one. But I like how Watanabe handles the arc in "A World with No Sadness, Baby" in his typically open-ended way, by fracturing the time frame and leaving all the moments of Dandy's maturation from vain idiot to selfless person (who, if I'm not mistaken, will end up saving the universe from the Gogol Empire) off-screen. Watanabe's basically done a series finale before the final episode has even aired. It's a ballsy move. (The odd placement of that final scene on Limbo has also made me realize that Tony's subconscious yearning for an uncomplicated alternate life in "Join the Club" is more of a conclusion to The Sopranos than the actual final episode itself. Tony's scenes as Kevin Finnerty of Kingman, Arizona could be interpreted as a visit to the future heaven of his choosing, that is if he ever stops being an evil bastard after the events of "Made in America.")
the Gray Lady wrong (care to take back those words about the show being nothing but cringe-making fan service, Gray Lady?) and suddenly turned into something more meaningful. It's like when The Sopranos quickly proved to be more than just the "Look, it's Analyze This on a weekly basis!" gimmick that was emphasized in HBO's misleadingly lighthearted, Get Shorty-inspired first-season promos and emerged as something richer and more complicated: a darkly comic and often brutal exploration of seeking enlightenment and realizing the fallacy of the American dream.
I was prepared to hate "A World with No Sadness, Baby"--the episode preview's images of an unkempt Dandy in longer hair that's more fitting for Emo Dandy from "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby" had me worried that the episode was going to be an overly dour one--but for an installment centered on the heavy subject matter of mortality, "A World with No Sadness, Baby" is surprisingly not-so-dour. The show's sense of humor remains intact, like when a pack of what I assume to be grief counselors confers with a depressed bar patron ("Keeping death at a distance and not thinking about it--that is like averting your eyes from death")--but they do so completely in song--or when Dandy responds to Poe's admission of love for him with "Well, I'm so handsome you probably couldn't help it." "A World with No Sadness, Baby" is more entertaining and satisfying than any episode about a sentient planet/plane of existence that falls in love with a lead character who's just died (and wants to be alive again) has any right to be. Space Dandy never fails to surprise. "Don't stop believing," indeed.
* I'm fond of the '50s War of the Worlds ship-style creature design for the Limbo inhabitants who ended up destroying most of their homeworld through warfare.
* I'm also fond of how the magazine Dandy and Meow are ogling during the preview for next week's episode, "We're All Fools, So Let's All Dance, Baby," is a mag full of spreads featuring '70s and '80s Japanese swimsuit model Agnes Lum.
October 3, 2014)
I can't believe it's taken me until "Never-ending Dandy, Baby," the final episode of Space Dandy, to finally notice that the first Japanese lyric in the opening theme "Viva Namida"--"Doko kara kita ka nante wakaranai hodo no hibi de" ("These days, I don't know where I've come from")--ties in to Dandy's lack of knowledge about his origins. Although "Never-ending Dandy, Baby" doesn't explain where Dandy came from--his past remains a mystery, and thankfully, in this way-too-origin-story-obsessed age of entertainment, the series finale doesn't care that it remains that way--it does conclude Space Dandy's run on a spectacularly animated and entertaining note that's most fitting for an anthology-like show that, like I said last week, has captured the adventurous and exploratory spirit of both The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the original Star Trek. In "Never-ending Dandy, Baby," Space Dandy even finally shouts the original Trek out in an eyecatch where the show's title is displayed in the classic Trek typeface.
In a nice bit of role reversal, Dandy, who was about to be captured by the Gogol Empire when Space Dandy last left him, is the damsel in distress for most of the episode, and Scarlet and Honey, the characters who would usually be the damsel in distress in a story like this, are instead given the task of rescuing him together with Meow and QT by their side. The Gogol Empire has always wanted control of Dandy because the abundance of pyonium, "the God particle," in his body will give them immense power over space and time, much like how the evil corporation on Orphan Black wants to maintain control of the bodies of Sarah and her sister clones for commodity reasons (and misogynist reasons as well).
Dandy is a pawn in a battle between the Jaicro Empire, led by Johnny (Hiroshi Kamiya), the wanna-be rock star who temporarily shirked his duties as a soldier and a spy to join Dandy's short-lived rock band in "Rock 'n' Roll Dandy, Baby," and the Gogol Empire. The latter gets caught in an inner power struggle of its own, between Dr. Gel and a double-crossing Bea, whose loyalty to Dr. Gel turns out to have been an act, and Bea's actually been attempting to have Dandy all to himself so that he can gain control of the various universes on his own.
Hawaii Yankee, the Aloha Oe shuttlecraft that can transform into a Hawaiian shirt-wearing mecha, makes one last crowd-pleasing, fan service-y appearance, the battle for all existence is the least interesting part of the finale. Where "Never-ending Dandy, Baby" starts to really distinguish itself as a Shinichiro Watanabe series finale is all the material after Dandy chooses to steer Dr. Gel's Statue of Liberty ship on his own (the Aloha Oe is too badly damaged) and right into the maelstrom created by the Super Hulkider, the Gogol Empire's ultimate weapon, in order to use the pyonium in his body to overpower the Super Hulkider and save all existence. In the finale's only emotional moment, Dandy takes one last look at his four friends on the ship's monitor as he attempts to withstand the rigors of the maelstrom and pilots himself to his own likely demise (but because this is a comedy first and foremost--and because Dandy has never exactly been Alan Alda in space--he sneaks a peek at Honey's thong). He proceeds to unleash on the Super Hulkider the full power of his pyonium, but he winds up wiping out all existence.
Then a certain narrator who's been a part of almost every Space Dandy episode and has been the most Douglas Adams-esque element of the show summons Dandy and presents him with a huge offer. The narrator reveals that he was God all along, which means that when the narrator turned into a zombie at the end of "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby," an early episode that remains the show's funniest half-hour, not even God was immune to becoming a zombie, which may just be the nuttiest thing this show has ever accomplished. Try to beat that, American Horror Story.
breasteses, he rejects the offer. Dandy basically tells God to fuck off, without exactly saying so. He'd rather be a free spirit than an authority figure tied down to obligations like overseeing the universes, so the option he non-verbally chooses instead is to return to the Aloha Oe, at a point in time that resembles his normal state at the start of the series, with no Meow on the ship (heh, Meow got screwed over again), with just QT in tow and with a course heading for Boobies the restaurant.
That point in time reveals that what has taken place is the longest non-Futurama time jump in recent TV history, longer than either the five-year time jump on Young Justice: Invasion, True Detective season 1's 10-year time jump from 2002 to 2012 or the 100-year time jump during the end credits of 30 Rock's series finale. The show has skipped ahead to 14.8 billion years (!) after Dandy rejected God's offer, which means the various--as well as now God-less--universes have survived countless attempts by the likes of the Gogol Empire and its descendants to destroy them. It's not specified if Dandy has already experienced a lifetime's worth of adventures after his encounter with God or if Dandy's about to start a whole new cycle of adventures, but the ending confirms two things: Dandy never ages--another clue, along with the lack of DNA, the pyonium in his body and the ability to cross dimensions, that he's some sort of godlike being--and in a sign that Dandy has grown and softened a bit after his heroic deed, his fetish has changed from boobs to a less juvenile fetish for ladies' calves.
Dandy's refusal of godhood is another example of how he's a Captain Kirk type through and through, and that's why the Trek-style eyecatch (which is followed after the commercial break in the finale's Japanese airing by a Star Wars-inspired eyecatch) is a perfect eyecatch for this finale. He's too much of an adventure-seeking spirit, and an authoritative desk job like God's would be too stifling for him. His rebooted life also leaves open the possibility of either an animated feature film version like Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop: The Movie or a series of OVA (original video animation) projects like the direct-to-video Futurama movies and Warner Bros. Animation's direct-to-video DC Universe Animated Original Movies (that's the format I'd prefer to see Space Dandy come back in rather than as a theatrical feature). The "May be continued?" title card after the end credits is basically an invitation for the show's non-Japanese fans (it's more popular outside of Japan than within it) to make enough noise to cause BONES to bring back Space Dandy in some form.
But would a two-hour animated theatrical feature--which, like the Trek movies, would have to be designed to satisfy two different audiences at the same time (the show's fans, the mass audience that's not so familiar with Space Dandy)--be an effective representation of what made Space Dandy enjoyable on the small screen? I don't think it would. What made Space Dandy stand out was its anthology nature and the week-to-week unpredictability of not knowing what to expect from whatever idiosyncratic special guest animator was recruited to direct, and the only way a theatrical feature could capture that essence of Space Dandy would be to do it as an anthology in the style of Batman: Gotham Knight and Robot Carnival, rather than as a straightforward sci-fi actioner that's more in the vein of this action-heavy finale and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Otherwise, just like the literal throne that Dandy declined to accept from God, the two-hour format would be too constraining for what Space Dandy is capable of when it's at its best.
Plus I'm satisfied with the 26 episodes we've got, even though some of them didn't always work, particularly the earlier ones that preceded "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby." Twenty-six episodes are the perfect length for marathoning an entire run of an animated show, especially Watanabe shows, and Space Dandy is no exception, although the more self-contained nature of its episodes would have made it better suited for an additional 13 episodes or more after the initial 26 than either Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo were. Bebop and Champloo finished off their 26-episode runs at logical endpoints for Spike Spiegel and the Fuu crew, respectively, while Space Dandy wraps up its run with Dandy and QT off on another adventure, even though it's just another visit to Boobies.
Although the end credits sequence for "Never-ending Dandy, Baby" is neither as moving as the Bebop finale's end credits nor as uplifting as the Champloo finale's end credits, it's my favorite end credits sequence out of all the different ones Space Dandy has done this season. The sequence is nicely soundtracked by the '80s freestyle throwback jam "Space Fun Club" by Japanese rapper Zen-La-Rock (with an artist named Robochuu as the guest feature), a tune that falls under Watanabe's unusual mandate that no piece of music on Space Dandy can contain any instruments that were built after 1984. The "Never-ending Dandy, Baby" end credits are a terrific way for the animators to convey that life goes on in space while Dandy and QT continue living their free-spirited lives off-screen, as the sequence scrolls past nifty glimpses of an outer-space drive-in, a few other similar examples of Futurama-esque architecture and a school of giant space swordfish.
About halfway through Space Dandy's first season, I wondered if the show would emerge as another Watanabe classic. Now that its run is over, I can safely say that after following up first-season high points like "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby" and "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" with a bunch of equally distinctive installments like "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby" and "A World with No Sadness, Baby," yes, Space Dandy can now take its place beside Bebop and Champloo as a Watanabe classic.
October 24, 2014)
Black Dynamite is, along with MacGruber and David Wain's recent rom-com spoof They Came Together, one of the few genuinely funny spoof movies of the last five years (this current period was preceded by what The Dissolve has referred to as "the sad decline of the cinematic spoof," a genre that's been partly ruined by "the debased, reference-dependent school of comedy practiced by [Jason] Friedberg and [Aaron] Seltzer"). After I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, I thought it would be impossible for someone else to craft another blaxploitation spoof as hilarious as Keenen Ivory Wayans' Sucka--and Louis C.K. and Jonathan Kesselman came close with Pootie Tang and The Hebrew Hammer, respectively--but director Scott Sanders managed to surpass Sucka, by going in a completely different direction from Wayans.
A clever "Michael Jai White and the other actors are portraying amateur '70s actors portraying pimps, black radicals and thugs" gimmick distinguished Black Dynamite from Sucka ("We tried to make sort of a meta movie. It wasn't like Michael Jai White was playing Black Dynamite. Michael Jai White was playing Ferrante Jones playing Black Dynamite," said Sanders). Also, Sanders directed White to be completely straight-faced a la Leslie Nielsen on Police Squad instead of having him be a broadly played, Inspector Clouseau-esque buffoon like Nielsen in Police Squad's much more conventional Naked Gun spinoff movies or the dorky soldier Wayans portrayed in Sucka (Sanders and White, who co-wrote the film with Byron Minns, a.k.a. Bullhorn, clearly prefer Police Squad over The Naked Gun). The juxtaposition of a serious and stone-faced action hero with absurd goings-on like visible boom mikes, inconsistent accents and continually flubbed line readings ("Sarcastically, I'm in charge")--a juxtaposition that was an unintentional fixture of the low-budget blaxploitation flicks Sanders spoofed--made for a weird and often funny film. White-as-Jones-as-Dynamite expressed only two emotions, rage and inexpressive calm ("What about the smile?" "I am smiling."), and the one time we did see him laugh was when he killed a bad guy after lifting him and his car off the road with a giant magnet attached to his helicopter and then dropping him off a cliff.
On the animated version of Black Dynamite, which returned to Adult Swim last Saturday after two years of no new episodes, showrunner and voice director Carl Jones makes Dynamite even more of an unsmiling and surly character, which causes White's earnest delivery of silly lines like "I used to be a children" or his reason for not observing Black History Month in the season premiere ("Black Dynamite ain't celebrating his blackness on any month that the white man tells him to, so for all of February, I refuse to acknowledge one damn great thing my people have done") to be especially amusing. But other than White, Minns, Kym Whitley, Tommy Davidson, Cedric Yarbrough and Arsenio Hall returning from the 2009 film's cast and the use of Sir Charles Hughes' 1975 tune "Your Kiss Sho-Nuf Dy-No-Mite," the film's end title theme, as a musical sting, the Adult Swim show actually has little in common with the film, which is a good thing. Too many animated shows based on live-action movies have been pointless and ineffective retreads of the original source material (the smartly written J. Michael Straczynski era of The Real Ghostbusters is a rare exception).
Jones made the right choice in not rehashing the film's "Michael Jai White was playing Ferrante Jones playing Black Dynamite" shtick. That kind of shtick would have been difficult to pull off, both comedically on a weekly basis and in animated form; it would have lost its novelty quickly. Also, the show is well-animated as opposed to intentionally done on the cheap like its live-action counterpart. The second season's impressive new opening title sequence, directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi of Kill la Kill fame, is the best example of the Adult Swim Black Dynamite's high production values. When I first heard that Sanders' film was going to be turned into an animated series, I was expecting the animated version to closely resemble the cookie-cutter Hanna-Barbera and Filmation cartoons that dominated Saturday mornings during the decade when Black Dynamite takes place. Instead, Black Dynamite character designer LeSean Thomas and his design team interestingly based their show's look on animator Takeshi Koike's big-budget 2009 feature film Redline (South Korea's MOI Animation studio, which did excellent work on Young Justice, is handling Black Dynamite's Redline-esque visuals this season). I'd rather see more Adult Swim animated shows try to work harder and look as lavish as The Boondocks and The Venture Bros.--which is what Black Dynamite is doing--than have to sit through another show that lazily regurgitates the cheap look of Sealab 2021 and Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
The animated Black Dynamite expands upon one of the major gags in the original Black Dynamite's third act--President Nixon is the villain behind everything--and creates an alternate history where Dynamite and his crew encounter a bloated Elvis Presley who works for Nixon's DEA, a young Michael Jackson who turns out to be an alien, a completely insane Richard Pryor (in the show's funniest episode to date) and now both Rev. Al Sharpton (special guest star Godfrey) and "pedophile-looking motherfucker" Woody Allen (Jonathan Kite) in "Roots: The White Album." Jones, who worked on The Boondocks back when Sharpton lashed out against that show because he was offended by its depiction of Martin Luther King, clearly relishes establishing Black Dynamite's young version of Sharpton as a spotlight-seeking buffoon during "Roots: The White Album": the reverend's appetite for publicity is as voracious as his appetite for the chicken titties at Roscoe's, and at one point, Sharpton is overheard mentioning that he doesn't want to be late for his appointment to a Brazilian scrotum wax. The episode is purposely designed to rile up Sharpton--early on, his fictionalized self is seen unveiling a giant statue that depicts Dr. King with his pants down, doo-dooing for peace, justice and equality on a "white cheeks only" toilet--but I doubt Sharpton is even aware of the animated Black Dynamite's existence. It's been six days since the season premiere's airing, and the rev hasn't raised a single stink about Black Dynamite.
the Roots blooper reel sketch on Chappelle's Show.
The season premiere contains more social commentary than previous episodes, but it delivers it in the show's typically profane and irreverent fashion: after Dynamite karate-kicks the Dr. King statue off the toilet to stop black folks and their former white slaves from killing each other, he says to the black half of the crowd, "Look at yourselves, black community. If Dr. King was here to see this, he would shit a brick," which is followed by a small chunk of marble falling from the downed Dr. King statue's buttocks. Yeah, the humor of the animated Black Dynamite isn't quite as subtle as the humor of the original film, but in a time of cultural appropriation at its worst and the racial divide in Ferguson, we need a few more laughs--whether satirical or toilet-related--from sharp satirists of color like the Black Dynamite writing staff, and the return of this less subtle Black Dynamite is better than no Black Dynamite at all.
November 7, 2014)
The funniest line in "Tina and the Real Ghost," this year's Bob's Burgers Halloween episode, takes place when Louise unveils her Halloween costume, which simply consists of her regular clothes combined with a toothpick, a pair of leather driving gloves and a certain white satin scorpion jacket. She says, "I'm Ryan Gosling from the major motion picture trailer Drive."
The moment is also emblematic of the beautiful efficiency of the writing on Bob's Burgers. On Family Guy, this would have been an excuse for the show to do another cutaway gag and pointlessly probe into why the girl said "major motion picture trailer." Bob's Burgers doesn't feel the need to do that. It rarely opts for cutaway gags (there have been flashbacks though, to either Bob as a kid or Tina as a baby, and we get occasional glimpses into Tina's elaborate fantasies about male classmates, either human or zombie). Louise's line is already funny enough as it is that it doesn't need to be embellished with a cutaway gag. We're left to imagine Linda and Bob trying their damnedest to prevent their most mischievous and conniving kid from watching the ultraviolent Drive in its entirety, and letting us picture that in our heads is funnier than actually depicting it. That's smart writing.
The same could be said about the rest of the episode, which was written by Steven Davis and Kelvin Yu and centers on Tina's crush on what she's led to believe is a ghost in a shoebox named Jeff ("I'm pretty sure that's his handwriting. It's girlie, but it's just because he's sensitive," says Tina about a message on a girls' room mirror that she thinks was written by her spectral boyfriend). Once again, Bob's Burgers does terrific and funny work exploring the imaginative and romantic sides of Tina, who's somehow a more fully realized character than most girl characters on live-action sitcoms who are about the same age as her. As Katie Schenkel once said over at The Mary Sue, "the show took what could have been a cheap running gag of 'let's laugh at the weird girl' and turned her into the best character on the whole damn show."
erotic fanfic-writing self like the Griffins cruelly do with Meg for being awkward and unpopular on Family Guy; Bob's Burgers always takes Bob's or Louise's position that "Sure, Tina's weird, but let's not be a dick to her about it." In the case of Louise in "Tina and the Real Ghost," she quickly realizes the cruelty of her Ouija board prank of tricking Tina into thinking Jeff is real and attempts to undo it. Louise's remorse exemplifies another thing I appreciate about Bob's Burgers: the support the Belchers have for each other, without having to get goopy and '80s sitcom huggy about it, expressive and affectionate Linda aside (if Louise wound up on Full House or Family Ties and she had to experience one of those shows' hugging scenes, she'd punch Bob Saget in the face or light Michael Gross' beard on fire). On Bob's Burgers, there's no time to be goopy and huggy. They've got burgers and side orders of puns that need to be cranked out.
* There wasn't even enough time for the opening titles. "Tina and the Real Ghost" is the fourth consecutive Bob's Burgers episode to go without opening titles. The absence of the titles is making me wonder if the Bob's Burgers writing staff is running out of puns for the names on the exterminator vans and the failed businesses next door to Bob's. I remember watching an interview where the late Stephen J. Cannell talked about how the Rockford Files writing staff used to have problems coming up with new humorous messages for the answering machine gag at the start of Rockford's opening titles.
* Those alien noises that come out of special guest star Jenny Slate--whether they're Tammy's horror movie screams during this Bob's Burgers Halloween episode or whatever this is during Kroll Show--never lose their funniness.
* Gene's costume as half-Turner, half-Hooch makes me realize there aren't enough Tom Hanks project-inspired costumes out there on Halloween or at cons. Bosom Buddies, The 'Burbs, A League of Their Own and Apollo 13 are long overdue for the cosplay treatment (but definitely not Cloud Atlas; keep that yellowface/brownface/redface/blackface shit away from Halloween next year or any other year, white people, or prepare to get stabbed).
* It's funny that this episode where Louise cosplays Drive premiered immediately after BBC Three aired a rescored version of Drive, which was music-supervised by Zane Lowe. The Radio 1 DJ recruited artists like The 1975, Baauer of "Harlem Shake" infamy and L.A. R&B singer Banks to record new original tracks for the movie, and the results were lukewarmly received (Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the few who likes the rescore). I really like "Get Away" by Chvrches, which was chosen to replace Kavinsky's 2010 song "Nightcall" in Drive's opening titles, but thematically and tonally, it doesn't really fit with the establishing of Ryan Gosling's nighttime activities as a getaway driver during the opening titles, despite the song being called "Get Away" (the romantically minded "Get Away" would have been better suited for any of the later scenes where Gosling bonds with Carey Mulligan). The Drive rescore is an interesting experiment for about a track or two, but it's otherwise unnecessary because the music that was used in the final cut is so irreplaceable. Okay, maybe I'd rescore that hammer-to-the-hand moment at the strip club with Black Sheep's "U Mean I'm Not" because that tune is life.
* Once again, co-composer and series creator Loren Bouchard and the duo known as the Elegant Too excel in the music department. The episode's silly song about Jeff is like a cross between the ballads of Serge Gainsbourg and Nelson Riddle's "Lolita Ya Ya" from the Stanley Kubrick version of Lolita.
November 21, 2014)
As a kid, I loved Bill Cosby: Himself so much that other grade school classmates and I would frequently repeat to each other on the bus or on the playground several lines from that concert film, which was a fixture of so many cable channels in the '80s and '90s (including the Disney Channel, whose censors deleted Cosby's entire routine about booze and cocaine addicts from the film). The "I thought my name was Jesus Christ!" bit was particularly popular on the playground. I still do like that film. As Hannibal Buress said in a 2013 GQ piece where he and a bunch of other comedians discussed their love for Cosby's material in Himself, "It's stuff that holds up." But ever since Cosby's infamous 2004 "Pound Cake" speech, my admiration for Cosby--outside of his unquestionable skills as both "a stand-up who sat down" and a storyteller--dissipated.
It dissipated even further after reading this (scroll down to the comments section for stories of Cosby being a power-mad asshole backstage or off-camera) and this and then hearing about one Cosby rape allegation after another (with Cosby now receiving support from Rush Limbaugh--why is Bill Hicks dead while this prick Hicks used to take down so beautifully in his act is still alive?). So I enjoyed Buress' recent rant about Cosby, a routine from his current stand-up tour that went viral last month and has attracted so much media attention even Buress himself has become tired of hearing about it. In the routine, Buress, a lapsed Cosby fan, scathingly slammed both the star of Leonard Part 6 and "the fuckin' smuggest old black man public persona," a side of Cosby that has frustrated Buress and so many other people of color from the hip-hop generation. "He gets on TV, 'Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the '80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!' Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby," ranted Buress.
"Sweet Bill's Badass Singalong Song," the Black Dynamite episode that pokes fun at Cosby's "Pound Cake"-era persona by imagining his '70s self as a shrill killjoy who schemes to replace blaxploitation movies with much more family-friendly entertainment, was written about a year before the Buress rant helped to turn the public against the once-beloved entertainer and now inevitable Law & Order: SVU episode subject. That's why "Sweet Bill's Badass Singalong Song" barely acknowledges the current rape scandals, although at the very last minute, episode co-writer Carl Jones was able to squeeze a couple of rape scandal references into the final cut (unlike the low-budget South Park, the much-more-expensive-to-animate Black Dynamite doesn't have the luxury of a fast turnaround). But the episode amusingly sheds light on how irritating and hypocritical Cosby's Bill O'Reilly-ish "Pull your pants up" persona has been, and it gives Cosby a lovely comeuppance--in the form of both a scolding and another kind of punishment (which I'll get into in a few seconds) from a frequently bleeped-out Moms Mabley, who's perfectly imitated by stand-up comic Luenell (you might remember her as the prostitute Borat marries at the end of Borat).
This episode is also quite a showcase for guest voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson (outside the recording booth, he frequently stole ABC's short-lived caper comedy The Knights of Prosperity from Donal Logue, but his greatest moment as a performer remains his guest shot as both an elderly Martin Luther King and a lisping bouncer who criticizes Huey's shoes on The Boondocks). He does impressive quintuple duty as Cosby, a bunch of nameless side characters and Melvin Van Peebles, who turns to Black Dynamite, his old friend from "the days of fucking," for help when Cosby's anti-blaxploitation scheme sabotages the filming of Van Peebles' new Jim Kelly/Pam Grier/Antonio Fargas/Rudy Ray Moore movie Blackity Black Black Black and then threatens to inflict on the public both the concept of reverse strip clubs (a marquee for a new reverse strip club reads, "Throw some clothes on deez hoes!") and a poorly cast primitive version of The Cosby Show called The Huxtables (Jim Kelly as Cockroach!). If you have to see one work of television this year that ends with Richardson hilariously voicing Cosby making gargling noises while being forced to orally pleasure Moms Mabley, make sure it's "Sweet Bill's Badass Singalong Song."
* "As you know, there have been many great black films: Black Caesar, Blacula, Black on This Sucka!, You Blacked My Mama, Who You Callin' Black?, Get Black Jack, All That Black and the very popular Some of My Best Friends Are Black."
* Rudy Ray Moore, voiced by episode co-writer Byron Minns, a.k.a. Bullhorn: "I made Godzilla suck my dick while King Kong held the balls! I whupped a skyscraper's ass and made all the London Bridges fall!"
* Moms Mabley to Black Dynamite: "Why the long face, honey? You look like you lost your dick."
* Series composer Fatin "10" Horton briefly brings back the 2009 Black Dynamite film's old gag of song lyrics that describe everything that happens, during the Bill Withers parody "It's All Fucked Up Now": "It's all fucked up now they gone/'Cause the Cos took them away..."
December 5, 2014)
Of all the fictional restaurants I wish would exist, I would probably most want to sample a burger made by the titular restaurant on Bob's Burgers--nominated this week, by the way, for two Annie Animation Awards, including Best Series--because of the creativity Bob brings to the Burgers of the Day that he lists on his restaurant chalkboard. I'd be most interested in the Roquefort Files Burger--awesome pun--or the Bruschetta-bout It Burger, a rare burger that actually wasn't on Bob's chalkboard.
I'm not the only one who wishes Bob's Burgers were a real restaurant: several viewers have become inspired by the show and have posted their attempts to make the show's gourmet burgers, with the most notable example being Cole Bowden of The Bob's Burger Experiment. In "Best Burger," Bob introduces the Bet It All on Black Garlic Burger while competing in a local food festival's burger-tasting contest--by the way, Bowden posted that he's now working on the recipe for that one--and even though I'm not exactly a fan of garlic (and no, I'm not a vampire), I'm dying to try the black garlic burger, based on how much enjoyment the animators clearly had in animating and at one point, slo-moing the scenes where Bob and Linda prepare the meal on-stage.
This Bob's Burgers episode is a good example of how we long for not just the Belchers' restaurant to be real--we also want the food community within the show's unnamed East Coast seaside town to exist as well. In the funniest sequence during "Best Burger," Gene--whose ADHD can be detrimental to others like his dad, especially when he has to win a burger contest he drunkenly signed up for--attempts to make up for all his preceding screw-ups in "Best Burger" by delivering to Bob the missing bulb of black garlic he needs for his contest entry, and he's forced to ignore one food festival temptation after another in order to make it to Bob on time. An agonized Gene must race past free cupcake-flavored ice cream served on a waffle, as well as 10-for-$1 pizza tacos, "robot cake" and the ultimate culinary temptation, a hot fudge car wash, which sounds like an Urban Dictionary sex act. Fuck Brigadoon. Any food community that's got a hot fudge car wash is a more enticing spot than Brigadoon.
Mike Benner, "Best Burger" is a solid Bob/Gene story and acts as sort of a companion piece to both "Beefsquatch," in which Bob seethed over an ape-masked Gene taking attention away from his cooking segments on TV, and "O.T. the Outside Toilet," which entertainingly intertwined sweetness with absurdity when Bob related to Gene the difficulty of looking after either a kid or a pet ("When you were a baby and I was watching you, you ate a fern, and you could have died, but you didn't"). Gene's most endearing quality is his attachment to his Casio keyboard and its wacky sound FX, something series creator Loren Bouchard lifted from his own childhood. That's probably about it in terms of endearing qualities for Gene. He's often the show's most obnoxious character--his shoutiness and attention-seeking childishness both sort of make me understand why some Bob's Burgers haters can't get past his (or Louise's) shoutiness to fully embrace the show--but "Best Burger" gives the character a chance to redeem himself via the aforementioned race against both time and hot fudge car washes.
However, this Gene episode is stolen by Kumail Nanjiani as affable Pakistani celebrity chef Skip Marooch and Thomas Lennon at his Ryan Seacrest-iest as smooth-talking local TV personality Chuck Charles, who emcees the contest and is still bitter over losing his morning talk show due to the Belchers' on-air antics in "Beefsquatch." He keeps blaming Bob for getting him fired and forgets that Linda's boob flash on live TV (in order to stop Bob and Gene from fighting) was what actually got him fired. I suspect Chuck doesn't blame Linda because he got to see her tits.
Chuck's appeared twice before on Bob's Burgers, but in the scenes where Chuck doesn't even bother to hide his disdain for Bob and barely listens to anything he says, Lennon--even more so than in his other guest shots as Chuck--really nails the smugness of these local news personalities who think they're hot shit in their mid-sized TV markets and who care more about how they look on camera than about doing any actual research or being a competent journalist. We've most recently seen that type of not-very-bright local news personality in the viral clip of an awkward Denver morning show interview with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (who, interestingly, reprises his role as Wonder Wharf worker--and now pedicab driver--Mickey in "Best Burger"). While promoting the release of their Sundance hit The Skeleton Twins from a press junket room in another city, the two SNL alums collapsed into laughter because their interviewer referred to what he mistakenly thought was a nude scene Wiig did in The Skeleton Twins, which led to the interviewer admitting that he never saw the film. Way to do your research, Denver.
Bound-to-be-viral local TV fails that bring to mind Wiig and Hader's incompetent interviewer are a form of shtick Bob's Burgers does well, in addition to the usual puns and accidental double entendres. "Best Burger" is full of moments about how sexual a lot of descriptions of either the act of eating food or the act of cooking often sound. One of my favorite of these double entendres is Chuck ending the contest with "Time's up! Hands off your meat, chefs." But what I like most about "Best Burger" is the little win Bob gets despite losing the contest. Think of it as the antithesis of "Family Fracas," which many Bob's Burgers fans hated because of how badly Bob got screwed over by his enemies in that episode. An even more affecting moment than Bob trying to tell Gene that "I love you and I love who you are" (which, of course, gets interrupted by Gene's ADHD) is Skip standing in line with a bunch of other curious foodies outside Bob's Burgers and wanting to try out Bob's black garlic burger, even though his Pomegranate and Green Chili Chutney Burger defeated Bob's burger in the contest.
It's affecting because Bob doesn't get to win so often on the show, not even during a competition that's totally in his wheelhouse, like the burger contest, and the sight of this competitor--who's also a chef he respects--suddenly wanting to sample one of his creations is somehow a greater victory than any trophy he could receive, whether it's the contest's burger-shaped trophy or outside the universe of the show, the two Annie Awards that Bob's Burgers is now up for. Sometimes, a trophy is just a trophy.
Other memorable quotes:
* Skip, referring to his grandmother: "She always told me, 'Put spice on everything!' She also said, 'I hate Mondays.' But she never got credit for that."
Chuck: "[Laughs with Skip.] I would love to meet her."
Skip: "Aw... too late."
* Bob: "It's made with black garlic. Uh, it's a fermented garlic. It comes from Korea."
Chuck: "Don't blame Korea for your stupid burger, Bob. Not fair to them or burgers."
Bob: "Uh, I'm not blaming them--"
Chuck: "The Stupid Black Garlic Burger! Put it up on screen."
* "A no is just a yes upside down."
* "Never trust a boy with a skateboard. They're too fast."
* "It's just that you always... I don't want to say screw everything up, but maybe Louise does?"
* "This has exquisite mouth feel." The animation for the burger judge's tongue as he wraps that tongue around the words "mouth feel" is hilariously creepy. Mike Benner tweeted that the creepy judge was voiced by Andy Daly. The star of the very funny Comedy Central show Review with Forrest MacNeil also voiced the Belcher kid-hating specialty food store owner, whose bulb of black garlic gets stolen by Louise to replace the one Gene accidentally smushed. (By the way, if you haven't watched the first season of Review yet, stream it immediately. Review is as addictive as the coke Daly's title character gets himself hooked on in the first episode.)
* Bob: "You want to try my burger?"
Skip: "Yeah, I smelt it, and now I want you to dealt it, into my mouth."