Friday, March 28, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Something Ricked This Way Comes"

Rick and the Devil challenge each other to see who can fake-laugh the loudest at shitty Clear Channel morning zoo show jokes. 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.

"There's pretty much literally nothing that you can't do in an episode of Rick and Morty," said Dan Harmon in a lengthy but fascinating discussion with Alan Sepinwall this week about the pleasures of co-creating Rick and Morty with Justin Roiland while he was separated from Community during its "gas leak year." "It was a beautiful, beautiful net to fall into off of the high wire that was Community."

The plot of Rick's A-story in "Something Ricked This Way Comes" epitomizes this limitlessness that Harmon loves being able to get away with doing on Rick and Morty and is unable to accomplish on Community for many reasons, whether it's because of the limitations of live action or because the Community universe is far more grounded than the Rick and Morty universe(s). In the A-story of "Something Ricked," Rick gets to take on the Devil himself (special guest star Alfred Molina), and in the A-story's best joke, this jaded man of science is never intimidated by Satan and his magic and is always whupping Satan's devious ass. That's how badass Rick is in this episode. The Devil can't outwit Rick's genius. "I may be the Devil, but your grandfather is the Devil," groans an exasperated Satan after attempting to hang himself because he can't take anymore of Rick.

At the start of "Something Ricked" (written by Mike McMahan), Satan's scheme is to run a little store called Needful Things (a reference to the Stephen King novel of the same name), where, under the name of Mr. Needful, he gives away for free to customers mysterious knickknacks that provide them with whatever they desire but also curses them. The items range from a typewriter that generates best-selling murder mysteries but makes the murders happen in real life to aftershave that makes men like Mr. Goldenfold (Brandon Johnson), Morty's math teacher, irresistible to women but causes them to be impotent.

If these items sound like plots from old sci-fi/horror anthology shows (the typewriter is reminiscent of the word processor that can rewrite reality in the Tales from the Darkside adaptation of King's "Word Processor of the Gods" short story), that's exactly what "Something Ricked" is parodying. As someone who grew up watching the original Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories and both versions of The Outer Limits (the "Alyssa Milano gets possessed by an alien entity and turns nympho" episode was, to my teenage self, the greatest Outer Limits of all time), I found Rick's nonchalant attitude towards the Devil, a frequent presence on sci-fi/horror anthology shows, to be tons of fun. Thanks to what I presume is his familiarity with black magic and otherworldly science from his interdimensional adventures, Rick is way ahead of the rest of the town and correctly guesses that Summer's boss at her new job in the store is the Devil only two and a half minutes into the episode. Rick goes back to his garage lab and builds a tricorder-like device that, as he tells Mr. Needful, "detects and catalogs all your Twilight Zone/Ray Bradbury/Friday the 13th: The Series voodoo crap magic."

If Rick built a portal gun that allowed him to enter fictional realities and then intervene in anthology show episodes (or Bradbury stories) about haunted objects like he does with the customers' curses throughout "Something Ricked," those episodes would end up being 25 minutes shorter (and those Bradbury stories would be like two pages long). As entertaining as Rick's needling of the Devil and his mocking attitude towards sci-fi anthology show tropes are (especially when Rick expands upon his detection device and opens Curse Purge Plus, a rival business across the street that helps rid Mr. Needful's victims of their curses), the sight of Rick always being victorious would have made for a disposable and one-note A-story if Summer hadn't been part of the story. Her frustrations with Grandpa Rick add some much-needed tension. She starts to favor Mr. Needful over Rick as a grandfather figure because she finds the Devil to be kinder to her than her own grandpa. Summer doesn't even care that this new parental figure she's chosen is Beelzebub. With horrible parents like hers and a standoffish asshole like Rick, she'll take whatever she can get.

'Showin' how funky and strong is your fight / It doesn't matter who's wrong or right!'
(Photo source: Morty and Rick)
Unlike Morty, Summer won't stand for Rick's jerkiness (or misogyny, like in "Raising Gazorpazorp") and is able to call him out on his shit. "Raising Gazorpazorp" pulled off the impossible: it made me actually end up liking Summer as both a character and the other voice of reason on the show besides Morty. Someone in the A.V. Club comments section astutely noted that if Rick is the Doctor and Morty is any of the companions (particularly from pre-Ace-era Doctor Who) who were just there to get the Doctor to spit tons of exposition, then Summer is any of the modern-day companions who are gutsy enough to challenge him (in other words, Summer is basically Donna Noble, but less shrill-sounding).

Rick refuses to admit that he's bothered by Summer's complaint to him that he doesn't care about anything or anyone, but of course, he's bothered by it, as we see in a great understated scene where Rick comes home to an empty house and ends up dining alone (Beth, who's underused on the show despite Harmon's love for that character and the elaborate and mostly off-screen backstory he's written for her, is absent for almost the entire episode; Summer is busy with the store; and Morty and Jerry are busy with their own B-story). At the dinner table, Rick attempts to make conversation with the little dining room robot from the cold open, which he programmed to always pass him the butter, and not even the robot will talk to him ("I am not programmed for friendship"). It's a funny "his genius is his gift and his curse" moment, and it's especially fitting in an episode about cursed people.

But when Mr. Needful Zuckerbergs Summer from the staff of his store, which he ambitiously relaunches as an online business that he renames n33dful.com, Rick proves that unlike Mr. Needful, he does care about others. Sure, Rick may be cold and heartless most of the time, but whenever someone in his family is wronged by an outsider, like when Morty was nearly sexually assaulted by Mr. Jellybean in "Meeseeks and Destroy," he always has their back. He proposes to Summer a plan to physically strike back against Mr. Needful, and she jumps right on board. But because Rick and Morty is such a twisted show, Rick and Summer's big bonding moment involves them injecting lots of steroids into each other's asses.

This is also what Kevin Biegel wants to do to the Fox exec who yanked Enlisted from the network schedule.
(Photo source: Morty and Rick)
I'm glad the show opted for DMX's "X Gon' Give It to Ya" instead of Bonnie Tyler's overplayed "Holding Out for a Hero" for both the bodybuilding/revenge montage and the amusing post-credits tag where the roided-out duo dishes out justice on the streets and beats up a neo-Nazi skinhead, a playground bully, an anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church member (and what a great time to air an episode featuring this sight gag too, due to Westboro hate-monger Fred Phelps' death) and a man abusing his dog. Between Mazzy Star, Belly and now DMX, Rick and Morty has been killing it in the existing songs department.


The B-story in "Something Ricked" pales comedically in comparison to the A-story, but I like the pro-science and anti-corporate (but thankfully non-preachy) bent that runs through both storylines, which results in "Something Ricked" being Rick and Morty's most politically charged episode to date. Jerry volunteers to help Morty with his model of the solar system for the school's upcoming science fair, but when he learns from Morty that Pluto is no longer considered a planet, the stubborn Jerry refuses to accept the exclusion of Pluto. During routine surveillance of Earth, the ruling citizens of Pluto overhear Jerry's argument that Pluto should remain being considered a planet, and they abduct Jerry and Morty and bring them to their world to boost the Plutonians' morale.

Of course, Jerry's newfound fame on Pluto as the darling of both the so-called cognoscenti and high society goes to his head, while Morty learns from an underground radical from the scientific community that the Plutonian king is using Jerry to distract the public from the ecological damage that Plutonian corporations are wreaking on their own world, hence Pluto's diminishing size and loss of its planet status. Morty's refusal to go along with the Plutonians' denial of the truth--their cluelessness mirrors the ignorance of anti-science religious nuts and climate change deniers--and his attempt to get his dad to listen to him are good examples of how much this character has grown over the course of the first season due to his travels with Rick. The passive kid with learning disabilities that we were introduced to in the pilot has evolved into a voice of reason who has learned to work around those disabilities and become the closest thing to a hero on this show.

There's a nutso theory I've seen on Reddit: due to their similar stuttering patterns, Rick is actually Morty as an old man and has gone back in time to help his younger self overcome his disabilities. In other words, he's his own grandpa. I don't buy it--it's a twist that's already been done on many of these animated sci-fi shows, from the animated Star Trek to Futurama, and it'd be too hackneyed for Rick and Morty--but then again, like Harmon said in the Sepinwall interview, which is worth the lengthy read, anything's possible on Rick and Morty.

Other memorable quotes/stray observations:
* Jerry: "Well, I mean, traditionally, science fairs are a father-son thing." Rick: "Well, scientifically, traditions are an idiot thing."

To teach his son the intricacies of the solar system, Jerry gives him a jam-packed lesson about 'Pull my finger.'

* Robot: "What is my purpose?" Rick: "You pass butter." Robot: "Oh my God." Rick: "Yeah, welcome to the club, pal."

* Mr. Needful: "Do I need to call the police?" Rick: "Here, you can use my phone. Don't worry. It won't make you deaf because I'm not a hack."

* "Summer, you know, your grandfather's right. This store curses people. That's my business." "Well, yeah, fast food gives people diabetes, and clothing stores have sweatshops. Is there a company hiring teenagers that isn't evil?"

* Rick: "This eerily intelligent doll was threatening to murder its family. Now it does their taxes." Talking doll: "Everything's deductible!"

* "Mines like these suck plutonium up to the cities, where corporations use it to power everything, from diamond cars to golden showers."

* Summer: "We're going to file Chapter 11 and do some restructuring." Rick: "Sounds like code for 'You win, Rick!'" Summer: "That was important to you, wasn't it?" Rick: "Nope. It was important to your dumb devil friend. To me, this was all just a bit, like when Bugs Bunny fucks with the opera singer for 20 minutes."

* Here's another Stephen King shout-out: "I'm here to pick up my undead cat and child."

* This has nothing to do with Rick and Morty, but Carnegie Hall's Ensemble ACJW posted this week a live medley of 43 animated series main title themes, all from kids' shows, except for Neon Genesis Evangelion, South Park, Family Guy and Futurama (my personal favorite moment: when the ensemble started performing the Dexter's Laboratory opening theme). Because of the growing popularity of Rick and Morty (it's been a ratings success on Adult Swim), composer Ryan Elder's Rick and Morty theme is bound to show up in someone else's similar animated series theme medley video some time in the future. I always thought the Rick and Morty theme had a Doctor Who-esque feel to it, and I was partly right: it turns out that Roiland told Elder he wanted the Rick and Morty theme to be a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme and the Farscape theme (Roiland's a huge Farscape fan). "It's this amazing original piece that takes the best aspects of those two themes and mashes them together," said Roiland to TVOvermind.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Rixty Minutes"

Rick changes the channel to a Back to the Future marathon and is shocked to realize he's just a ripoff of Doc Brown.
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.

With "Rixty Minutes," Rick and Morty made both TV history and social media history last weekend as the first cable or broadcast network show to ever premiere an entire episode on Instagram (Adult Swim posted the episode in clips that totaled more than 100 and were each 15 seconds long, due to the clip size limits of Instagram's video-sharing feature). Like the troubled launch of the Veronica Mars movie on Flixster/Ultraviolet, which infuriated the movie's Kickstarter donors that same weekend, Rick and Morty's nutty Instagram experiment/stunt wasn't without glitches, although they weren't as big of a pain in the ass as the Veronica Mars clusterfuck: some clips wouldn't play after I clicked on the "next clip" arrow icon on the video window, so I had to close the window and go back to the Rick and Morty account's thumbnail menu to reactivate the clip that wouldn't play.

At the Smiths' house, technology is hardly as glitchy as Instagram's video clip feature or Flixster, thanks to the genius of Rick Sanchez, who despises the insipid Bachelor episode that his daughter Beth and her family are watching together and has discovered a way to make ordinary TV much more entertaining. Rick rejiggers the Smiths' cable box so that it can pick up cable TV from any parallel universe ("How about Showtime Extreme in a world where man evolved from corn?"). Then he tosses to Beth, Jerry and Summer a pair of VR goggles that allows them to see what the parallel versions of themselves are like, through the eyes of their parallel counterparts (it's the same kind of goggles Rick used in "Rick Potion #9" to locate the parallel universe he and Morty fled to and currently call home), just so that he and Morty can have the newly upgraded TV all to themselves. The way that Rick's half of the episode is structured--after the cold open, he spends nearly all of his screen time parked in front of the TV, flipping through weird program after weird program--is why "Rixty Minutes" is the perfect Rick and Morty episode for Instagram's 15-seconds-per-clip format instead of a more narratively busy episode like "M. Night Shyam-Aliens!" or last week's "Raising Gazorpazorp."

To make the programs and commercials in "Rixty Minutes" as weird and nonsensical as possible, co-creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon ad-libbed the dialogue for almost all of them (and then the animators worked from there). It's like a drunken Axe Cop, fueled not by the imagination of some cartoonist's baby brother but by the imagination of a couple of grown-up comedy writers improvising in a recording studio (one of whom isn't shy about his love of booze while performing or working, and you can even hear him slurring his words while voicing the police captain in a cop show spoof about a detective with baby legs). At the end of his voiceover during the trailer for an action movie starring a Dwayne Johnson lookalike, Harmon can be heard laughing over the title he came up with for the movie (Two Brothers), and at the end of the clip of a Garfield parody called Gazorpazorpfield, Roiland cracks up too while pretending to be Lorenzo Music doing the voice of Gazorpazorpfield (by the way, Rick and Morty's discussion of the weirdness of both the late Music voicing Bill Murray's Ghostbusters character on The Real Ghostbusters and Murray later voicing Music's old Garfield role in the Garfield movies made the day of this Murray fan and former Real Ghostbusters viewer).

Roiland and Harmon corpsing is funnier than the actual bits themselves. In fact, most of these fake shows and ads aren't really all that funny, although the fake cereal commercial--think a Lucky Charms ad reimagined by Tom Savini--is a delightfully sick and twisted riff on how sociopathic the kids often used to be in animated General Mills cereal ads. And I especially like the jabs at Chris Parnell's old SNL stomping grounds and the way that the SNL cast can get so oversized and unwieldy in certain seasons during the scene where Rick stumbles into SNL from another reality ("It's Saturday Night Live! Starring a piece of toast! Two guys with handlebar mustaches! A man painted silver who makes robot noises!"). Sadly, just like SNL in our reality, their reality's SNL would rather add a piece of toast and a silver man who makes robot noises to its cast than an Asian American comedian.

There once was an episode of Davey and Goliath that ended just like this.

I don't know why Dany's there when she's never been seen interacting with the Lannisters, but who gives a fuck?

As amusing as some of the parallel-universe TV clips are (dig the split-second shot of alt-Game of Thrones), the "drunken Axe Cop" half of "Rixty Minutes" is overshadowed by Beth, Jerry and Summer's B-story, which, unlike last week's episode, addresses some of the ramifications of Rick and Morty's actions at the end of "Rick Potion #9." The B-story also proves that Roiland and Harmon can shift from humor to seriousness in an animated show as masterfully as the latter showrunner does in live-action form whenever he handles the darkest or most serious moments of Community.

The discoveries Beth and Jerry make about their lives in other realities (Beth learns she's the wealthy and respected hospital surgeon she always wanted to be instead of merely being an animal surgeon, while Jerry learns he's a movie star who's banging Kristen Stewart) cause them to become further disappointed in their present lives and their strained marriage. Harsh words are once again exchanged between Beth and Jerry, and out spills the truth they've tried to keep hidden from Summer, who's been wondering why she can't find any parallel versions of herself in Rick's interdimensional goggles: Beth wanted to have an abortion when she learned she was pregnant with Summer, whereas in the other realities that Beth and Jerry are starting to wish they lived in, they never had kids. Summer takes it well and decides to run away from home.

What follows is the best non-comedic scene Rick and Morty has done since the eerie, Mazzy Star-soundtracked conclusion of "Rick Potion #9." Morty, who's never really been seen bonding with his big sister, yet he doesn't want her to leave (possibly because he's been through enough craziness and upheaval in his life already), attempts to stop her from running away by revealing to her something as equally screwed-up as her situation. That, of course, is fleeing his badly Cronenberged reality to assume the identity of the deceased Morty in this reality and then burying his counterpart's corpse in the backyard.

They chose a really weird moment to do a Dell product placement.
(Photo source: Morty and Rick)
"And every morning, Summer, I eat breakfast 20 yards away from my own rotting corpse," confesses Morty.

"So you're not my brother?," says Summer.

"I'm better than your brother. I'm a version of your brother you can trust when he says, 'Don't run.' Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV," says Morty.

It's Morty's way of saying "I don't want you to leave because you're my big sister and I've been through enough" without using those cheesy words. It also marks a fascinating shift in Morty's once-weak-willed character. He's starting to adopt Rick's nihilist worldview (as exemplified in the pilot by Rick's breakfast table line that "There is no God, Summer. You gotta rip that Band-Aid off now."), except he's way more compassionate about it than Rick. We got hints of this compassion while he was trying to raise Morty Jr. to be less homicidal and more civilized in "Raising Gazorpazorp," and I can't wait to see what happens when this conscience of his re-emerges when he stands up to Rick at his worst, at some point later in the season, according to Roiland.

And Morty gets Summer to stay without giving her a godawful Miller-Boyett sitcom hug (while Beth and Jerry's teary reconciliation--right after they're both moved by seeing their parallel counterparts find their way back to each other--borders on Miller-Boyett-y, but fortunately, it's soundtracked by Belly's 1995 song "Seal My Fate," which is hardly as excruciating as typical Miller-Boyett hugging scene music). I'm so proud of Morty, and I'm so proud of this goddamn show.



Stray observations/other memorable quotes:
* Sarah Chalke, who was cast as Beth because of her ability to burp on cue, finally gets to make use of this talent when Beth belches just like her drunken dad while she knocks back wine by herself in the kitchen with the interdimensional goggles on.

* Check out the Afro puffs on the B.A. Baracus counterpart in the A-Team-inspired Ball Fondlers.

I take it he's a Lady of Rage fan.

* "You know, me and Morty are having a blast. We just discovered a show called Ball Fondlers. I mean, I don't wanna rub it in or anything, but you guys clearly backed the wrong conceptual horse."

* "I'm gonna... move to the Southwest, and... I don't know, do something with turquoise!"

* "And returning for his 25th consecutive year, Bobby Moynihaaaaaaaaaaan!"

* This has to be a Harmon line, because it references both his own Community feud with Chevy Chase and Chase's behind-the-scenes SNL confrontations with Bill Murray and everyone else who worked on the show: "Interesting fun fact: uh, Moynihan and Piece of Toast hate each other. Apparently, they've got some real creative differences."

* Here's yet another sign that we're far from sappy, clean-cut Miller-Boyett territory: The post-credits tag of "Rixty Minutes" is a photo montage of the Smiths on vacation in a universe where hamsters live in people's butts.

Because she's a doctor, Beth isn't thinking, 'This is fun.' She's thinking, 'Is this shit even sanitary?'
(Photo source: Reddit)

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Raising Gazorpazorp"

'They can jerk themselves off with six hands? Wow.'--what Morty must have thought when he first noticed that Gazorpians have six arms
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.

Rick and Morty takes an interesting tack for its first new episode since its way-too-long, Winter Olympics-related hiatus. Rather than continuing the "Rick's a horrible influence on Morty" thread that the incredibly dark "Rick Potion #9" ended on (which again proves that all of Rick and Morty's episodes are self-contained like '60s Star Trek episodes, as in Morty's emotionally scarred over both seeing his own dead body and having to leave behind the Earth he knew one week and then he forgets all about it the following week), "Raising Gazorpazorp" keeps Rick and his grandson separated for almost the entire story and pairs Rick up with his granddaughter Summer.

Spencer Grammer is great at voicing a vapid and sulky teen, and I especially like hearing the former Greek star's distinctive pronunciation of "Grandpa"--she pronounces it "grand-puh" instead of "grand-paw," like how some people still say "roh-butt" instead of "roh-bawt"--but otherwise, the Summer character has been on the underdeveloped side. She's just been a typical middle-aged sitcom writer's riff on boy-crazy, sulky girl teens who are always glued to their smartphones. That finally changes in "Raising Gazorpazorp," which further develops Summer and centers on her relationship with her standoffish grandpa. We learn that she wants to take part in his interdimensional adventures, but woman-hating Grandpa Rick refuses to bring along anybody who's female (it's implied that his daughter Beth was a precursor to Morty, and I'd like to see a flashback of young Beth tagging along with her dad on one of his earlier interdimensional trips). The episode also interestingly reverses the dynamic of Rick as the genius who's able to adapt to any crazy situation and his younger companion as the fish out of water who's in over his or her head.

Good fucking thing Grandpa Rick didn't walk out in Sean Connery's Zardoz diaper outfit like Starburns did on Community last week. That shit was disturbing.
(Photo source: Reddit)
"Raising Gazorpazorp" finds Rick and Summer trapped on planet Gazorpazorp, where women are dominant and more socially refined, while men are Taliban-ish warriors who have been banished to the rocky desert for their violent ways and are ordered to procreate through sex robots airdropped by the women, via the disembodied floating head from Zardoz. (This marks the second week in a row where a Dan Harmon show references Zardoz. I've never seen that movie, and judging from the snapshots I've seen of the weirdness of Zardoz, I get the feeling it's a movie that's unbearable without booze or weed.) It's fun to see Rick, whose portal gun winds up destroyed by the warriors, being out of his element for a change: he can't rely on his scientific expertise, the very thing that usually saves him and Morty, to save him and Summer when they're captured by Gazorpian ruler Mar-Sha (special guest star Claudia Black--reunited in this episode with Virginia Hey, who voices Mar-Sha's second-in-command and used to co-star with Black on Farscape, one of Rick and Morty star/co-creator Justin Roiland's favorite shows).

Summer really digs this world where men are subservient and women greet each other with "I am here if you need to talk" (an amusingly touchy-feely spin on typical alien empire greetings like "Qapla'!" and "By your command" and easily the best of the "women are sensitive" gags that some viewers this week have dismissed as being as hacky as '80s and '90s "men do this, women do that" stand-up), and she relishes pretending to be Rick's enslaver in order to blend in with Mar-Sha's Amazonian society. But Rick's misogynist attitude and his farty response to Mar-Sha's authority get him and Summer into trouble on Gazorpazorp. Fart noises are an unspeakable crime in Mar-Sha's land.

Instead of Rick's scientific expertise, what saves them both from being executed by Mar-Sha for perpetuating Earth patriarchy on a world where any form of patriarchy is punishable by death are Summer's ability to smooth-talk her way out of trouble (an ability I assume was honed off-screen from sneaking into clubs or concerts) and her ability to reason with Mar-Sha and the other women, due to her social skills being better than her misanthropic grandpa's. "If you impose Gazorpazorp's laws on Earth, you're no better than the men whose farts shall remain unspoken," says Summer to Mar-Sha.

Back on Earth, the reason why Morty's sidelined from this week's interdimensional adventure is because he's busy raising a rapidly growing child, the product of a bedroom session between Morty and a Gazorpian sex robot that Morty found in an alien pawn shop during the episode's cold open. An American Dad episode from back in the fall dealt with Steve becoming a teenage parent--and learning to love the role--after his attempt to clone a girl he wanted to take to the prom went slightly awry and instead resulted in a baby. But unlike that American Dad episode, Morty's Teen Mom experience doesn't contain a single ounce of sentimentality. It's darker and therefore funnier.

Morty Jr. is born with murderous impulses like all other Gazorpian males--all his crayon drawings depict death and destruction--and he has difficulty comprehending a more civilized way of life, which his human dad attempts to teach him about. The best part of Morty's B-story has Beth and Jerry frequently snarking at Morty's struggles with parenting and dickishly refusing to help him while they're buried in their newspapers. The grandparents played by Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt on the recently cancelled Raising Hope, which the episode's title is partly a reference to, always find ways to be helpful to their son, even though those ways are full of the strangest parenting advice, while Beth and Jerry are the complete opposite. When Morty asks his dad to help him stop an increasingly angsty Morty Jr. from going on a rampage and taking over Earth, Jerry responds with a heartless "I suppose, Morty. I suppose. But first, a deep sip from a very tall glass of 'I told you so.'" Chris Parnell's delivery as he fakes slow gulps from an invisible glass kills me.

I'm not as fond of the B-story's resolution, in which Marmaduke creator Brad Anderson (Maurice LaMarche) randomly shows up to encourage Morty Jr. to channel his murderous impulses into becoming a creative. It's something you'd see on late-period Simpsons as opposed to the less lazily written Rick and Morty. Despite the late-period-Simpsons-y feel of Anderson's sudden appearance, the cartoonist's dialogue, which echoes both Dan Harmon's frequent acknowledgement that creatives are tortured souls and Harmon's current Community arc about Professor Hickey's secret aspirations to become a cartoonist ("Publishers are interested!"), is hilarious, as is Jerry's reaction to seeing Anderson walk by.

"I'm haunted by uncontrollable thoughts of mutilation and sexual assaults on a near-daily basis. But you know, I channel it all into my work," says the Marmaduke creator to Morty Jr.

"Huh. I never got that impression from reading Marmaduke," says Morty.

"Well, did you get the impression I was trying to make you laugh?," says Anderson.

"Tell me that wasn't Brad Anderson!," says Jerry.

That exchange is one of several reasons why I'm glad for Rick and Morty's return after the annoying hiatus. "Raising Gazorpazorp" also makes me want to see Summer get more involved in her grandpa and her brother's interdimensional misadventures, and judging from the clip in the opening titles of Summer holding a baby Cthulhu inside Rick's flying car while Summer, Rick and Morty are being chased by what I assume is Mama Cthulhu, we might get to do that soon.

Other memorable quotes:
* The Futurama-esque alien pawn shop owner in the cold open has very little patience with human customers: "Like you would even know dick about fraculation! Your planet just got cell phones, and the coverage still sucks!"

* Beth, interrupting Jerry's declaration that Morty's baby is entitled to American freedoms: "Jerry, majoring in civics was your mistake. Don't punish us for it."

* Jerry, mocking the advice Beth gives to Morty about making his baby cry himself to sleep while he plays with his new grandson: "We tried that technique on Summer, and she's gonna end up stripping. Isn't she? Yes, she is! She's gonna strip for attention because she was denied it!" Beth: "Stop filling it with your own insecurity. You're gonna turn it into Mort... um, ahem, more... more... more of you."

* "Well, obviously, Summer, it appears the lower tier of this society is being manipulated through sex and advanced technology by a hidden ruling class. Sound familiar?" "Aw, Ticketmaster."

* "The spider in sector C is still alive. Plan your route accordingly and expect delays. We're not telling you what to do. We're just sharing how we feel. And now, weather. Is anyone else cold or is it just me?"

* Gazorpian judge: "Veronica Ann Bennett, I find you guilty of having bad bangs." Felon whispering to Summer: "You ever notice the ones with bad bangs always have three names?" Judge to Veronica Ann Bennett: "You are hereby sentenced to... the silent treatment!"

* Mar-Sha, learning from Summer about Marc Jacobs: "Marc? Jacob? These are names of the penis."

* Summer, referring to the Marc Jacobs top Mar-Sha complimented her on earlier in the episode: "An Earth man made this top. Maybe on your planet, separation of the genders is the right thing to do, but on Earth, a certain percentage of our males are born gay, which is why my clothes are better than all of yours." Claudia Black's regal delivery of Mar-Sha's response is hilarious: "It's true, and sometimes the truth hurts, but it must be accepted, like if I told you that you're using the wrong color foundation for your skin and it ends at your neck, making you look like a party clown."

* "My life has been a lie! God is dead! The government's lame! Thanksgiving is about killing Indians! Jesus wasn't born on Christmas! They moved the date! It was a pagan holiday!"

* Morty Jr.'s farewell to his dad is "I think it's time I get a place of my own. I promise I'll call you every day I need money or a place to do laundry."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Spores, molds and fungus": Seven tidbits about Ghostbusters that aren't found either in the late Harold Ramis' 1999 DVD commentary or on the film's IMDb trivia page

'If a Twinkie represents amount of grief I feel when someone dies, Harold Ramis' death would be a Twinkie 35 feet long weighing 600 pounds.'--Patton Oswalt
The February 24 death of Ghostbusters star and co-writer Harold Ramis has led to tons of Ramis tributes and Ghostbusters-related items being posted and reblogged on Twitter and Tumblr, including my own Tumblr. The Ramis-directed Groundhog Day is a better-made film (for example, unlike Ghostbusters, it doesn't contain any FX shots that are crude-looking by today's standards, like the matte shots of the haunted apartment building's exterior that made Ramis and Ivan Reitman cringe during their 1999 Ghostbusters DVD commentary), but the endlessly quotable Ghostbusters is the Ramis work I'll always associate with Ramis first, more so than all his other works, because it left such an impact on me as a kid and a comedy nerd. It also kicked off a longtime fascination of mine with New York.

I'll never forget the tiny old-timey theater where my mom took me, my older brother and my older sister to see an afternoon matinee of Ghostbusters, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary this June, back in 1984: the Granada Theater, Morgan Hill, California. That shot of the library ghost leaping out at Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler gave me such a good scare at the Granada that whenever I would subsequently rewatch Ghostbusters on VHS as a kid, I always looked away when the movie reached that moment (I don't do that so much anymore).

Here we see a shirtless Keith Richards relaxing aboard his yacht.
(Photo source: DVD Beaver)

I was lucky to have met Ramis once, when I was a UC Santa Cruz student writing for one of the campus papers. It was through the paper that I found out Ramis, whose daughter was a UCSC student at the time, was on campus to do a Q&A at a screening of Groundhog Day and then speak the following morning at a film class I wasn't enrolled in. I went to the class not to get an interview with him but just to see a few words about comedy from this comedy legend I admired since Ghostbusters, a filmmaker who, as Matt Singer wrote in The Dissolve, championed in his funniest writing or directing projects outsiders and misfits who proved the value of their unorthodox ideas and behaviors.

I don't remember the classroom lecture at all. It's what happened after the lecture that I haven't completely forgotten. Ramis' talk went past the end of class and continued over lunch in the pizzeria right next door to the lecture hall. The group of us who joined Ramis wasn't that big. We all ended up hanging out with him for an hour (maybe even an hour and a half) in that small campus restaurant, talking mostly about films and SCTV.

I wish I could remember what Ramis said about working on SCTV for only one season, and I wish camera phones had been invented by then so that my memories of the afternoon in the pizzeria weren't so fuzzy. The only things I remember about that afternoon were when Ramis signed an article of mine where I interviewed UCSC students and alumni about their hatred of Glory Daze, an early Ben Affleck movie that was filmed on location in Santa Cruz (I might still have the autograph, which Ramis placed next to artwork done by one of the paper's illustrators of John Belushi expressing his boredom with Glory Daze), and when I told Ramis about the time Stuart Saves His Family, a directorial effort of his that was released the previous year, turned up on cable one morning. I enjoyed what I saw of the film, which starred Al Franken as his SNL character Stuart Smalley, because it was better than the average '90s SNL movie spinoff, but I wasn't able to finish watching it because I had to run over to the movie theater across the street from my apartment to watch Danny DeVito's Matilda (he was kind of disappointed that I didn't finish Stuart Saves His Family, but he said he liked DeVito's directorial work).

As for the third and last thing I remember about meeting Ramis, it's one of the following seven tidbits about Ghostbusters that currently can't be found on the IMDb trivia page or in either countless listicles about the film, the entertaining commentary track Ramis recorded with Reitman and associate producer Joe Medjuck or the Premiere magazine oral history about the making of Ghostbusters that Esquire posted immediately after news of Ramis' death broke. Selections from Varèse Sarabande's out-of-print 2006 Ghostbusters score album, the first official release of Elmer Bernstein's excellent Ghostbusters score, can be heard during "AFOS Prime" and "Hall H" on AFOS.

1. "You know, you don't act like a scientist... You're more like a game show host": Peter is basically Bill Murray's flippant SNL Weekend Update entertainment correspondent persona, but plopped down into the world of parapsychology. My favorite Murray SNL sketches were often when they just let him riff as himself and put his Second City training to use in his Weekend Update entertainment news segments. If you found Ghostbusters II to be underwhelming as the final official screen appearance for Peter, outside of The Real Ghostbusters (uh, Ghostbusters nerds, Murray's never going to do another Ghostbusters movie--deal with it and get used to Zombieland as being the last time he'll ever put on that uniform), just pretend Murray's entertainment news segments are glimpses into Peter's side job as an entertainment reporter. Peter's handling of entertainment reporting is the same as how he handles parapsychology (and how a lot of us have handled certain jobs we've had in the past): he clearly finds it to be boring work, but he actually isn't clueless about what he does, unlike a certain entertainment anchor who can't tell famous black actors apart--and yet, that dumbass is still employed by KTLA.

I just watched the pilot for Bosch, Amazon's recently greenlit adaptation of Michael Connelly's beloved Harry Bosch crime novels. Titus Welliver, Amy Aquino and Wire alumni Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick are all terrific in the Bosch pilot (no surprise there), but it's yet another procedural about a detective who's intensely driven when it comes to his work. When are we going to get the procedural where the lead is bored with his work, like Dr. Venkman?

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby"

It's hard out here for a plant.
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.

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.

And now, some examples of why this episode is a great one to get blunted to.
(Photo source: Space Dandy News)
"Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" finds Dandy and Meow on a search for the latest alien they want to register, a rare creature known as "Code D" who's located on Planta, a planet where the surface's upper half looks as if it's covered in continent-sized Jelly Bellys. Dandy and Meow are forced to rely on the Aloha Oe's transporter to get to Planta because the planet's magnetic field blocks ships from entering the atmosphere. But the transporter, which is as broken-down as QT, accidentally separates Dandy and Meow and sends Dandy into Planta's northern hemisphere and Meow into the southern hemisphere.

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.

'Shinichiro Watanabe presents Fantasia!'
A kindly Vegim scientist named Dr. H (Mugihito) and his preschooler-ish daughter 033H (Tomoko Kaneda) both become taken with Dandy, the first human they've ever encountered. Like Dandy, Dr. H wants to track down Code D, but for research reasons. He believes Code D is the key to understanding--and perhaps being able to stabilize--the evolution of plant life on Planta, so Dr. H, 033H and Dandy venture off together to the planet's North Pole to find Code D, but with Dandy to stand in for Dr. H and come into direct contact with Code D because prolonged exposure to the energy that it emits doesn't affect humans, while it's dangerous for sentient plants.



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.

Poor QT, turning into Jiminy Glick while sitting on his stool.
After Choi's outstanding visuals and great little bits of character business (my favorite of these is QT trying not to fall off his ill-fitting stool while enthusiastically discussing the transporter) during "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby," I'm now interested in whatever her next project will be. "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" is the latest example of how Space Dandy's quasi-auteurist approach to each episode--and the range of its material, so that not every story has to involve the formulaic, Inspector Gadget-style villainy of Dr. Gel--are really paying off.