Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Bob's Burgers, "Dawn of the Peck"

Left on the cutting room floor was Bob singing to all 16 minutes of 'Love to Love You Baby.'
Donna Summer once guest-starred as Steve Urkel's aunt. We never saw Urkel's parents though. I think Urkel made them up and he's actually an exiled Time Lord. It explains why the motherfucker is able to build time machines and robots.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. This week, due to the holiday weekend, this is being posted on Wednesday. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

Bob's Burgers' Thanksgiving episodes have been my favorite Thanksgiving episodes of any current sitcom--what other show comes up with images of a giant headless turkey reenacting My Neighbor Totoro or live poultry attacking people to the tune of Donna Summer?--and each one of those episodes, including this year's "Dawn of the Peck," has been penned by Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux, writers of such standout Bob's Burgers episodes as "Art Crawl," "Boyz 4 Now" and "World Wharf II." Last year's "Turkey in a Can" took the form of a whodunit, with the mystery of "Who's been repeatedly dumping the family's turkeys into the toilet?" cleverly serving as the framework for an oddly affecting story about Bob's anxiety over Tina growing up too fast.

That Belcher turkey mystery is one of many examples of both how much Bob's Burgers resembles The Cosby Show in its improvised moments and its characters' love of playing pretend and why it's actually a better sitcom than The Cosby Show. Bob's Burgers and the underrated Bernie Mac Show will stand the test of time for me better than The Cosby Show--and this was way before recent headlines forever ruined our enjoyment of The Cosby Show--because The Cosby Show's requirement that "Dad's always right" caused that show to lose some steam after a couple of seasons (and "Dad's always right" makes so much sense now, due to Cosby's history of power trips and his need for control), much like how Gene Roddenberry's edict that there should be no conflict between the crew members really hamstrung the storytelling for the first couple of seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Neither Bob's Burgers nor Bernie are afraid to let Dad be imperfect--or get crazy drunk.

"Turkey in a Can" offered us Bob in an altered state via allergy medicine, a follow-up to absinthe's effects on Bob in "An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal," and hopped-up-on-some-shit Bob--or drunk Bob--always results in an above-average Bob's Burgers episode. Perhaps taking note of that, the Molyneux sisters get him in a less-than-sober state again for the third consecutive Thanksgiving episode in a row. This time, whiskey causes Bob--who's chosen to skip the 1st Annual Fischoeder Turk-tacular Turkey Town Festival and Turkey Trot and stay at home to prepare dinner--to both have angsty conversations with a turkey baster (I bet that part of the Molyneuxs' script just says, "[Let Jon ad-lib here.]") and get his Disco Stu on to Donna Summer's "Dim All the Lights." The presence of "Dim All the Lights" automatically makes "Dawn of the Peck" the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. I'm glad "Dawn of the Peck" went with that track and not the overplayed "Hot Stuff."


But it's not just "Dim All the Lights" that makes this another enjoyable Bob's Burgers Thanksgiving episode. Both the annual tradition of Bob ending up drunk or high on his favorite holiday and Linda, Teddy and the kids' situation in "Dawn of the Peck" really drive home how irreverent and fun Bob's Burgers' annual take on this often way-too-sentimentally-marketed holiday can be. While Bob's getting crunk and rediscovering Donna Summer, the festival at the Wonder Wharf goes awry when the 500 turkeys, chicken, ducks and geese Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) and his brother Felix (Zach Galifianakis) brought in for the running of the turkeys go on a rampage and chase after Linda, Teddy and the other participants. So "Dawn of the Peck" takes the form of a horror movie that's basically The Birds, but with turkeys that can't fly and no gore at all. Bob's finger injury in "The Kids Run the Restaurant" was way more graphic.

Despite containing as much blood as a Hallmark Channel production of From Dusk Till Dawn, this Thanksgiving episode that's more like a Halloween episode is a brilliant idea and perhaps the first of its kind. Add lots of H. Jon Benjamin trying to sing falsetto (speaking of which, Bob's bizarre "love is in control" kitchen song during the end credits is less Donna Summer and more "Girlfriend Is Better" by Talking Heads), as well as a nice moment where Regular Sized Rudy (Brian Huskey, a highlight of the cast of the recently cancelled Selfie), the frailest of the Wagstaff school kids, gets the chance to be heroic for once, during a Wonder Wharf spinning ride sequence that has to be one of the most complicated action sequences Bento Box ever animated for this show, and you have another winner from the Molyneuxs, who really ought to be writing the follow-up to Jurassic World if this comedy thing doesn't work out.

Wow, James Marsden is in really bad shape these days.

Memorable quotes:
* "I just wanted to see the turkeys. I worked on a turkey ranch one summer, when I was 14. I learned a lot about life. And a lot about turkey feces."

* "We're gonna die like we were born. Spinning around in an egg!"

* Mickey (Bill Hader): "Oh, shoot. I threw the key into the ocean... I didn't want the birds to get it. We can't let this technology fall into their hands."

Someone ought to calm Tina down and tell her to go to her happy place, which is probably an erotic court full of zombie basketball players.

* Linda: "Are you okay, my babies?" Tina: "Yep, I'm probably always going to move in little circles like this though."

* "Oh, hello, uh, turkey baster. How-how-how are you? Good, good. Uh, yeah, good. I'm-I'm doing really good. Yeah... That's funny, I was just, uh... I was... I was... just talking about you. Uh, well, uh, it was good to see you. I should get back to... Yeah, it was... [Laughs.] It was nice to see you. You look great. [Tries to close the drawer.] What? I-I-I-I-I see you, okay? You-you've made your point. [Tries to close the drawer again.] Fine. [Takes the turkey baster out of the drawer and places it on the counter.] Is this what you want? A-Are you happy now? Yeah, yeah? That good? Do you want it to come out? You want to do this right now? You want to do this right now? That's a cl... that's classic! That's classic you, turkey baster! Classic you! Not fitting in the drawer. Deliberately not! [Laughs.] That's great! Oh, come on, don't look at me like that, turkey baster! Don't look at me like that! I... I didn't want this! You think I wanted this? But I didn't! I didn't. This isn't what I wanted. I-I never wanted to be apart from you. It was all an act. It was... it was a lie. [Sniffles.] Oh God. That's so much snot. You know what? I'm gonna do it. You're right, turkey baster. I'm Bob. I make dinner. It's not too late. The grocery store's open for another hour. We can still do this. Let's go! Let's go! Get up! Get... I can't get... Oh my God! I... Uhhhh! Let's get up, drunk! I am dizzy. I'm really dizzy. Oh my God. I gotta sit down. Give us... give us a minute."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shows I Miss (Already): Selfie (with guest blogger Adam from Slant Eye for the Round Eye)

Now if Karen Gillan danced to Wiz Khalifa in that policewoman outfit Amy Pond wore in 'The Eleventh Hour,' it'd be the greatest Doctor Who episode of all time.

There are several things I'm going to miss about the short-lived Selfie, a hashtag-era reimagining of Pygmalion that has been rescued from post-cancellation limbo by Hulu and will finish out on Hulu the rest of its 13-episode run, starting today. They include the genuine chemistry between Karen Gillan as narcissistic pharmaceutical sales chick Eliza Dooley and John Cho as her marketing guru co-worker Henry Higgs and the rare and groundbreaking sight of an Asian American male as a romantic lead on a single-camera comedy that's not a YouTube show. Cho's Harold & Kumar franchise has been putting Asian American guys in romantic lead roles for three consecutive movies and an upcoming Adult Swim animated version now. It took 10 goddamn years for prime-time network TV to catch up to Harold & Kumar.

I'll also miss any scene where Gillan dances (especially to Wiz Khalifa) and that wig Gillan has to wear as Eliza (after Gillan had all her hair shaved off to play a bald alien warrior in Guardians of the Galaxy) somehow stays on; that little kid whose sobs sound like Eddie Murphy laughing; and the solid character writing and visual panache shepherded by Suburgatory and Selfie creator/showrunner Emily Kapnek, the Frank Tashlin of single-camera comedies. Like Tashlin, Kapnek started out in animation, which explains the strong visual sense she brought to both Suburgatory's first two seasons (before a huge budget slash really affected that show) and Selfie.

Kapnek's Nickelodeon background--I often forget that Nick nurtured Hey Arnold! and Dora the Explorer, kids' shows with lead characters of color--also explains the incredible diversity of the worlds of Suburgatory and Selfie, both casting-wise and music-wise. The huge amount of interracial couples on Suburgatory and Selfie nicely reflects the world outside the TV screen, and I'll always adore Kapnek for soundtracking a Suburgatory scene at a house party with Full Force's "Ain't My Type of Hype" from House Party.

Next season on Doctor Who, the Doctor regenerates into a handsome Korean bloke who prefers equestrian outfits and takes a pre-'The Eleventh Hour' 20-something version of Amy along with him on a vacation trip in the Hamptons.

But there's one thing none of the few TV critics who have been in Selfie's corner have noticed about the show, and I think I might miss this element most of all: the pause-button-worthy attention to detail in the show's cutaways to screen shots of social media. Those screen shots were dead-on about the dumb or vacuous things that are often said in comments sections and on social media feeds.

John Cho fights hard...

...to resist the temptations of K-pop...

...and loses big time to the temptations of K-pop.

Glad this was the actual Facebook and not whatever the fuck they call Facebook on The Good Wife. That show calls it Lookspace or some corny shit.

'It's not Obamacare. It's Healthcare. It's not the care and feeding of Obama.'--Lewis Black

Henry Higgs' off-screen mom is every single Asian immigrant parent who stupidly parrots Republican bullshit, and I love how Selfie captured that in its Facebook screen shots. So of course, like any other non-stereotypical and genuinely funny show that nails a little aspect or two of Asian American life like that and doesn't feel like it was written by aliens from outer space who studied only clips of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles or Fisher Stevens in brownface from Short Circuit on their spaceship viewscreen and think this is how all us Asian guys behave, Selfie gets cancelled.

What will you miss about Selfie, Adam? Take it away.--JJA

***

It Was Just a Good Show
By Adam Chau

Here we see Karen Gillan auditioning for a much-downsized new version of Beach Blanket Babylon.

Above everything else, I just liked "Selfie." It was warm, cute, funny--I knew what to expect (from a general POV) and each week it was something I started looking forward to. It was one of those shows where I could feel myself getting more invested because at it's core, I related to it. I laughed with it. I talked to the TV when I watched it. Say what you might about how they got some things wrong--I think they got a lot more right.

Say goodbye to that red hair again when she shaves it all off for Guardians of the Galaxy II: The Guardianing.
It's like the title. People have talked about the title of the show as being a part of it's downfall but how was that any worse than "The League" or "7th Heaven" or "Ally McBeal"? I'll argue that maybe it was a better title than people credited because it was too close to their faces. It's like the underground rapper that gets signed by a major label, or who's song you start hearing more of on the radio and start seeing on television. Are they any less artistic just because more people started to like them? It's easy to write "Selfie" off as a pop-culture-in-the-now-epm style title but when you think about why we do it, the overall arc of picture taking in general, and then what we do with them in the connected world from a larger social networking perspective with more connections and more spheres of influence--it stood on it's own.

I think that's the thing that gets me the most about the cancelling of "Selfie" is that it just wasn't appreciated and it could have been a great hit--for someone. Maybe not for ABC. But for someone. Because we loved Eliza. We loved Henry. They weren't perfect. They had their quirks. But so do we. And that's why we watch. Because we can relate. Because we've all jumped in the lake, or wanted to, at least once in our lives, or did the occasional "Hmm...I wonder what they're up to now..." searches and from that POV "Selfie" really did offer storylines that multiple different groups could relate to. I'll miss that piece of the show where I'm not just watching something that interests me or keeps my attention, but that also references some of my everyday life (versus something like "Storage Wars" which I occasionally like to watch but that has nothing to do with my daily life).

But "Selfie" did.

David Harewood looks like he's ready to go on tour with a Steel Pulse cover band.

And absolutely, I will lament not being able to watch a show with John Cho as the lead because he's just a good actor who I like to watch on the screen, big or small. Almost every year he's in a new movie while at the same time also working in television. It's not just me. Other people like him too, and he was a recognizable face that anchored the show for millions of people that tuned in.

Yeah.

I'll miss that.

Minnesotan blogger Adam Chau runs Slant Eye for the Round Eye and contributes posts to YOMYOMF (pronounced "yawm-yawm-eff").



Monday, November 24, 2014

Why I don't miss opening themes on broadcast network TV

I hate reboots, but I would love to reboot The Addams Family with Christina Ricci starring as Morticia, Pedro Pascal as Gomez and Peter Capaldi's crawling hand from the 'Flatline' episode of Doctor Who as the Thing.
Eh, I don't miss them.

'Hey, we have to drink from that water!'--Crow T. Robot, the 'City Limits' episodeSure, the themes from The Addams Family, the Beverly Hillbillies/Petticoat Junction/Green Acres shared universe--or as I like to call it, the Hooterverse--and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air are lovable classics. In fact, you can hear the Fresh Prince theme in its entirety, complete with Will Smith's forgotten bars about flying first class (which were in the opening titles for only the first few episodes and then were removed), either during "Beat Box" and "The Whitest Block Ever" on AFOS or right below. But I like how stripped-down broadcast network TV is these days compared to how TV was when I was a kid.

As Andy Greenwald once wrote over at Grantland, the very '80s L.A. Law opening credits are a slow 90 seconds of random clips of people leaving meetings, carrying briefcases and shrugging. Broadcast network TV used to be so slow-paced that shows like Misfits of Science in the '80s and The Wayans Bros. in the '90s got to open with two themes in the same sequence.


The gradual elimination of opening themes from broadcast TV--to accommodate more ad space, as well as to keep fidgety viewers from channel-switching and to somewhat emulate modern-day cinematic blockbusters that have done away with opening credits altogether--took some adjustment for a couple of years, but I'm used to it by now. It won't be long before I spot yet another link to an article from the olds about how TV was better in my day because we had opening themes that were 22 minutes long and so on. No, it wasn't, Grumpy Old Man from Weekend Update. A huge chunk of pre-Sopranos/Wire, pre-niche-programming TV hasn't aged well. (As much as I love the timeless Taxi, there are still some things about it that haven't stood the test of time, like the cheesy product placement for Jeff Conaway's pop album debut during Taxi's "Fantasy Borough" two-parter. Remember that album? Because I don't.)

That's partly what Adult Swim's immensely popular "Too Many Cooks" short is making fun of: all those poor-quality clips of absurdly-lengthy-by-today's-standards opening title sequences from ancient shows that we often watch on YouTube with cringes or "Oh God, for real? This was a thing?"-ish looks on our faces. For example, I don't think my ears will be able to withstand hearing the mega-sappy and mega-anachronistic Joanie Loves Chachi theme on YouTube again. So there's one benefit to phasing out opening themes: never again will someone compose for a network show's opening titles something as abominable and interminable as the Joanie Loves Chachi theme. Never again will someone recycle the theme from Patch Adams (place Sideshow Bob shudder here).

On broadcast TV, almost all the good theme tunes that used to be allowed to breathe at the start of the show are being saved for the end credits. But you have to be a cord-cutter or a subscriber to either Hulu Plus or Netflix in order to hear those end title themes because on Hulu or Netflix, they're not squeezed out by a trailer for next week's episode or a network promo for another show, a network practice I find to be way more annoying than the elimination of opening themes.

Winterfell is currently embroiled in a feud with the neighboring kingdom of Normanfell, ruled by King Stanley Roper, who keeps mugging in front of an unseen camera for some reason.
All the current live-action shows based on DC Comics properties like Arrow, The Flash and the Game of Thrones-esque Gotham--examples of shows that are attempting to emulate modern-day cinematic blockbusters, and that includes reducing the opening theme to just a few notes over the show's brooding or flashy logo, no pun intended--carry distinctive end title themes that would have also been good as table-setters in a different era of broadcast TV. I like the triumphant little piece Arrow and The Flash composer Blake Neely wrote for the Flash end credits, while Gotham's march at the end by Graeme Revell and David E. Russo--first used outside of the end credits to great effect when Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock put aside their differences to take down Carmine Falcone in "Penguin's Umbrella," the strongest hour so far of this rather mixed bag of a show--brings to mind both the Dragnet march and Ennio Morricone's work on The Untouchables, with a little bit of Bear McCreary's opening theme from DC Entertainment's one-season wonder Human Target (yeah, there was a second season, but I like to pretend it never happened) in there.

TV theme purists, there's a place where you can enjoy as many lengthy opening themes as you want. It's called premium cable. That's where the art of setting the mood with a distinctive melody has been lovingly preserved. The showrunners of ad-free shows like Game of Thrones and True Detective are free to do whatever they want, and that includes taking as much time as they please in setting the mood, whether it's Ramin Djawadi--with the help of a lavish 3-D map--grandly re-acclimating viewers each week to the power struggle in Westeros or The Handsome Family's 2003 Southern Gothic song "Far from Any Road" (which is amusingly parodied in Key & Peele's current opening titles) establishing the haunted landscapes of Hart and Cohle's home state of Louisiana.


There's another place where lengthy opening themes haven't died out. It's called Japan. Every animated show over there opens with a J-pop song that the anime crowd simply calls an "OP" and ends with a completely different tune for the end credits that's known as an "ED." The same goes for any animated show in America except The Venture Bros. and Regular Show. Bob's Burgers currently kicks off with one of the best mood-setting themes in animation, a ukulele piece accented with xylophone and Casio keyboard FX, in much the same fashion as a burger getting accented with often outré ingredients or toppings by Bob, although I wish it were allowed to run longer at the start of the show. On the Song Exploder podcast, Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard went into detail about how he composed the show's opening theme, which he also revealed is actually a much longer composition than what we currently hear on the show. He said, "I wanted a little bit of hope and optimism in the music. This had to be a story of hardship as it pertains to running a restaurant, but it's supposed to be an optimistic show and a nice slice of life with a lot of happiness in it. The ukulele was perfect, so I knew that I wanted to start with that."

Advertisers (along with network researchers who took note of viewers who changed the channel right when an opening theme began) aren't all to blame for the elimination of opening themes or the shortening of themes like Bouchard's optimistic table-setter. Blame Wings too. Now I always liked Wings--don't get it twisted (and if you don't laugh during the William Hickey or Phil Leeds episodes of Wings that are on Hulu and Netflix, you probably thought Dads was funny)--but in the early '90s, that show introduced the idea of skipping the opening theme, and it led to everyone else in sitcomland following suit. It screwed you blue!

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Black Dynamite, "Sweet Bill's Badass Singalong Song or Bill Cosby Ain't Himself"

At a reverse strip club, the dancers put their clothes back on, which is also how the Hallmark Channel broadcasts reruns of True Blood and Masters of Sex, by showing each episode backwards.
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.

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.

This whole Brown Hornets fight sequence makes the 'Burly Brawl' from The Matrix Reloaded look like a thumb wrestling match.

"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."

Today on Fat Albert, Rudy discovers strip clubs.

Memorable quotes:
* "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..."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Wolf of Pop Street: Paul Scheer's new pop culture-themed podcast network introduces a pair of movie talk shows that are worth your time

On Wolfpop's new show Movies on Maltin, movie characters get to pick apart the most baffling capsule reviews by Leonard Maltin.

Midroll Media's Wolfpop is a new sister network to the Earwolf podcast network, and its aim is to bring both plenty of production polish and big names (from the worlds of comedy, publishing and entertainment reporting) to a type of podcast format that's been around since podcasting's not-so-polished-sounding beginnings: pop culture talk. On November 4, Wolfpop--which is being curated by Paul Scheer, star of The League and co-host of his own movie talk podcast, Earwolf's How Did This Get Made?--launched 563,000 different pop culture podcasts. Even though I'm unemployed, I don't have time to listen to all 563,000 of them, but there are two Wolfpop shows that immediately caught my attention because of both the talent involved and the intriguing film-related subjects of their shows.

Maltin on Movies pairs up Leonard Maltin with comedian Baron Vaughn and gives the duo a different film-related topic to discuss each week (for example, episode 2 was about the unexpected rise of the McConaissance). Meanwhile, former Totally Biased host W. Kamau Bell and his fellow Totally Biased staff writer (and old Bay Area roommate) Kevin Avery make a case for why Denzel Washington is the illest on the succinctly titled Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period.

Adolph Caesar's ghost attempts to beat up Denzel for making him sit through Virtuosity.

Vaughn, Bell and Avery are terrific choices for Wolfpop show hosts. Besides the conversational skills they've honed as hosts of previous podcasts (Vaughn hosted the All Things Comedy network's Deep Shit, while Bell did a podcast with Living Colour's Vernon Reid and had another movie talk podcast with Avery, Siskel & Negro, before they reteamed for the new Wolfpop show), it's also always wonderful to hear comedians of color hosting weekly podcasts. Sure, there's also Aisha Tyler (Girl on Guy), Margaret Cho (Monsters of Talk) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Indoor Kids, The X-Files Files), but, um, that's about it. The L.A. comedy podcast community is so lily-white it pours mayo into its tacos. It's so white it thinks Dilla was that lady who used to always tell jokes about her husband Fang on Carson. It's so white it has sex to Mumford & Sons. It's so white...

As an animation historian and an expert on older periods of film, Maltin is phenomenal. When I was a kid, I loved leafing through Of Mice and Magic, Maltin's thick tome about the history of American animation, so much that I would repeatedly renew it at the public library. But as a reviewer of live-action American films, the former Entertainment Tonight film critic isn't exactly one of my favorites. He gave only two (or two and a half) stars to Taxi Driver, The Long Goodbye, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Miller's Crossing, all movies I love. As long as Maltin doesn't talk about either Taxi Driver, The Long Goodbye, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid or Miller's Crossing on this new podcast, Maltin on Movies is worth a listen each week.

Despite some of his tastes in live-action films, Maltin is--like he's always been during his appearances on other podcasts--likable and level-headed in many of the same ways that the late Roger Ebert was. He may not agree with you about an unconventional indie flick you might adore, but at least he's not going to be a dick about it. He's never going to say something racist about your Korean friend like Rex Reed would do, and he's never going to boo you off the stage like Armond White rudely does to actors and directors he incomprehensibly dislikes.

Now if only the monster from Bong Joon-ho's The Host would do this to Rex Reed.

Maltin's friendliness and approachability ("The friendliest film critic I know," says DVD Savant author Glenn Erickson) must have been why Joe Dante let bygones be bygones after he was disappointed with Maltin's negative review of his first Gremlins movie, and he got Maltin to appear during Gremlins 2: The New Batch in a cameo as himself--delivering that same negative review of Gremlins. It's also why the L.A. comedy community likes to hang out with Maltin. Sarah Silverman memorably got him to pretend to be her date in the audience during her parody of award show acceptance speeches on Comedy Central's Night of Too Many Stars autism telethon ("Richard Roeper cannot hold a candle to you as a film critic or as an oral lover"), and Doug Benson frequently has Maltin on as a guest on Doug Loves Movies, which uses the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide app on Benson's phone to run the show's Leonard Maltin Game.

But does that same congeniality make for lively and entertaining discussions about film like the frequently contentious pairing of Siskel and Ebert did? Not very often. So this is where Baron Vaughn--who's actually as knowledgeable about modern-day cinema as Maltin but isn't quite as familiar with older periods of film like him--comes in. Vaughn's light banter with Maltin and his ability to keep their conversations engaging are why he's an ideal partner for Maltin. They're not contentious like the Sneak Previews and At the Movies hosts used to be, but fortunately, Vaughn and Maltin's congruent opinions about the three films they select for discussion each week (the first film is one they highly recommend, the second film is one they agree is an artistic failure and the third is a lesser-known title that they both wish had received more shine) haven't resulted in boring talk.

For the first time in his long career as a reviewer (and host of various film talk shows where, unlike in podcasts, the conversations have to be much shorter and snappier and completely edited down), Maltin is as interesting a conversationalist as either Siskel or Ebert, thanks to Vaughn. He's brought out some great stories from Maltin, like his recollection of the first time he taped a press-junket interview with the late Robin Williams, a famously energetic and laugh-inducing interviewee, for Entertainment Tonight.

Denzel Washington Is the Greatest is a less serious movie talk show than Maltin on Movies, but it's equally worthwhile. I was a fan of W. Kamau Bell's late, lamented Totally Biased and its progressive brand of humor about race (Totally Biased was as close as we got to a weekly TV version of one of my all-time favorite humor books, ego trip's Big Book of Racism!), so it's comforting to have a piece of that show back, even if it's just in the form of a podcast about Denzel movies starring two of its writers.

"Denzealots" Bell and Kevin Avery intend to analyze a different Denzel movie each week--I can't wait until they reach either Crimson Tide or Malcolm X, which are neck and neck as my favorite Denzel movie--and rate it in terms of "Denzelishness," like how often "Denzel does that thing with his lip." Because Washington has starred in so many movies since his big-screen debut in Carbon Copy, a 1981 comedy where George Segal co-starred as his newly discovered biological father, the size of his filmography is making me wonder if the run of Bell and Avery's new podcast will be as long as the decade-long run that's been estimated for Mission Log, the Roddenberry Entertainment podcast that's been reviewing every single episode of each screen incarnation of Star Trek in chronological order.

Even though it was closed by the time Siskel and Negro was on the air, this lobby looks so fucking much like Gould Cinemas, the most ratchet discount movie theater in San Jose during the '80s.

Whatever the case, I'm excited about where this Denzel podcast is going to go, especially because Bell says he wants to have guests on the show. I can't think of a more ideal guest than either Slate's Aisha Harris, who wrote a good piece about Washington's recent Liam Neeson-style career turns as a "geriaction" hero; stand-up comic Reggie Reg, who does the best Denzel impression anywhere; or Bronson Pinchot, who once said he hated working with Washington during the filming of Courage Under Fire--and due to Avery's current stint as a writer for the incredible Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, that has me crossing my fingers for Oliver himself to show up one day on Washington Is the Greatest. (That's mainly because Washington played a British military vet in 1988's For Queen & Country, and I want to hear Oliver evaluate Washington's accent in that film.)

Bell and Avery's entertaining podcast has also made me look back on the huge amount of terrific soundtracks or original scores in Washington's filmography, from Terence Blanchard's rousing Malcolm X score to Elmer Bernstein's work on Devil in a Blue Dress. Speaking of which, Bernstein's "Theme from Devil in a Blue Dress" and the Branford Marsalis Quartet's "Mo' Better Blues" can currently be enjoyed during "The Whitest Block Ever" on AFOS, while Hans Zimmer's "Roll Tide" from Crimson Tide and selections from Blanchard's Malcolm X score can be heard during "AFOS Prime." "Chaiyya Chaiyya," A.R. Rahman's classic tune from the 1998 Hindi film Dil Se, which is also part of "AFOS Prime" rotation, wasn't written for Inside Man, but that Spike Lee/Denzel collabo is the first place where most American moviegoers like myself vibed out to it (although in a slightly modified form with added trumpet riffs by Blanchard and newly recorded guest verses by Panjabi MC).




Best of all, Bell and Avery's discussions of why black people often leave movie screenings so early (Bell points out that it's most likely because they have to pick up their kids from school) or why Bell considers historical dramas like A Soldier's Story (Avery refers to the 1984 movie as "the thing that red-alerted a lot of black women to Denzel Washington") and Glory to be "black people homework" are imbued with the same insight and hilarious observations about life as a person of color that made Totally Biased such a keeper during its short life span. Here's hoping Wolfpop doesn't front on Washington Is the Greatest and abruptly put an end to it like FXX did to Totally Biased.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Black Dynamite, "How Honey Bee Got Her Groove Back or Night of the Living Dickheads," and The Simpsons, "Simpsorama" (tie)

Big spliffs a gwan
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.

Ian Edwards, a staff writer for Black Dynamite this season, is a solid stand-up whose most hilarious moment took place not during one of his sets or his TV writing credits but on a podcast. In episode 69 of WTF with Marc Maron, Edwards was one of several guest comedians Maron interviewed on stage at Portland's Bridgetown Comedy Festival. I've brought up this 2010 WTF episode before because it's my favorite of the live WTF episodes, but to keep it succinct, Maron's conversations on WTF with black guys who aren't Wyatt Cenac (who worked alongside Maron on one of his old Air America radio programs), Chris Rock or W. Kamau Bell tend to be on the awkward side, and Maron's exchanges with Edwards at the festival were no exception. He referred to Edwards' older stand-up routines about his Jamaican background as a phase where Edwards "leaned on the Jamaican thing," which led to Edwards retorting, "You don't lean on it. You're from there. How the fuck you lean on some shit you're from, man? I don't really understand that one, Marc, but hey... You're really leaning on this white thing. I hope one day it goes away, Marc."

Maron also confused Jamaica with Haiti while bringing up the then-recent subject of Haiti earthquake relief. Edwards corrected him and then joked, "You sure you didn't send [money] to Panama or some other island? How sure are you that you sent it to Haiti? 'Addressed from Marc Maron to Black Island...'" I always laugh my ass off whenever I play back Edwards' reactions to Maron transforming into Michael Scott at the Dunder-Mifflin racial sensitivity training session right in front of a live audience.

The Edwards-penned "How Honey Bee Got Her Groove Back" doesn't quite compare to the off-the-cuff hilarity of Edwards roasting Maron alive, but I love how thick and incomprehensible almost all the Jamaican accents in this Black Dynamite episode are--I wouldn't be surprised if Edwards himself had a hand in the voice direction--and the special guest stars in this Jamaican vacation episode are quite impressive as first-time animated show voice actors. You have Chance the Rapper portraying a so-polygamous-he-could-be-half-Mormon Bob Marley, who becomes enchanted with Honey Bee (Kym Whitley) while she and her judo-trained hoes take a long-overdue, How Stella Got Her Groove Back-esque vacation away from the Whorephanage. Chance nails Marley's voice, plus you have Erykah Badu stealing the episode and bringing to life an obese and laid-back Whorephanage employee who's straight out of Chris Rock's "Fat black women don't give a fuck what you think: she goin' out on Friday night!" bit from Bigger & Blacker.

But what's even more enjoyable than the guest voice work--or the episode's admirable ballsiness in regards to not adding subtitles so that the whitest of viewers can better understand the Jamaican male hoes' dialogue--is Black Dynamite once again fearlessly taking aim at a black figure who's revered by the show's viewers, but doing so without rehashing the same old jokes about that figure. "How Honey Bee Got Her Groove Back" could have trotted out the usual jokes about Marley's love of spliffs or his accent, which Honey Bee says she barely understands (by the way, one of my favorite "what an old white shithead this British or New Zealand newscaster is" videos on YouTube is a 1979 Marley interview where the patronizing Zealand interviewer opens with a disclaimer that warns viewers of a "patois which at times is difficult to understand"). But instead, "How Honey Bee Got Her Groove Back" takes aim at the married reggae legend's history of womanizing, a part of his life I wasn't really aware of until this episode made me Google Marley's polygamy. Who'd expect Black Dynamite to be educational in addition to being funny as hell?

Memorable quotes:
* From Honey Bee's first encounter with Marley: "Well, I never heard of you. Must not be that good, but keep workin'. Who knows? One day you might be as famous as Marlon Jackson."

* Honey Bee, while she and Marley flee from assassins: "With all this damn weed, I thought this island would be way more peaceful!"
Marley: "Well, some parts are peaceful."
Honey Bee: "What parts, Bob?"
Marley: "Um, mostly the parts I'm... not in?"

* "Your cheeks togedder/Right in de palm of my hand/Don't need de rubber/Let's go raw, I know you understand/We gon' fuck/We gon' fuck/We gon' fuck/We gon' fuck/Can you feel it..."



***

Where the fuck is that country lawyer who's a chicken? I liked that character whenever he showed up on Futurama.
"Meanwhile," Futurama's this-time-for-real-it's-the-end series finale, was one of the classiest exits a long-running show has made. "Simpsorama," the Simpsons/Futurama crossover that brings back the Planet Express crew for one more on-screen adventure (while they've experienced an afterlife in print as stars of their own Bongo Comics titles), feels kind of unnecessary as an extra farewell to the Matt Groening/David X. Cohen creation on-screen. (This crossover might not even be the last farewell, if the rumors that Fox is now considering reviving Futurama for a fourth incarnation are true.) Let's put it this way: "Meanwhile" was Star Trek VI. "Simpsorama" is all the scenes with either Kirk, Scotty or Chekov during Star Trek: Generations.

But the scenes with Kirk, Scotty or Chekov were good, even though the material for Scotty and Chekov was a slightly clunky rewrite of material originally written for Spock and McCoy (the rest of Star Trek: Generations--except for the opening titles with the floating Dom Pérignon bottle and the surprisingly effective dramatic scene between Picard and Data on the Stellar Cartography deck--was atrocious). Though "Simpsorama," which was penned by J. Stewart Burns (the writer of my favorite 2010s Simpsons episode so far, "Holidays of Future Passed"), pales in comparison to "Meanwhile" or Futurama at its peak, I actually enjoyed it.

It's a far more satisfying crossover than the terrible Family Guy/Simpsons crossover (and it's non-canonical too, Simpsons fans who despise Futurama and Futurama fans who despise "Simpsorama," in case both of you camps forgot that the appearance of Kang and Kodos, the human-devouring aliens from the non-canonical "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, automatically makes "Simpsorama" a non-canonical Simpsons story). Homer (Dan Castellaneta) and Bender (John DiMaggio)--who's been sent by Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) to 21st-century Springfield to kill Homer but gets distracted from his mission because he and Homer have a lot in common--are a funnier pair than Homer and Peter Griffin, mainly because the two kindred spirits don't get into a tedious chicken fight. An even better comedic combo is Lisa (Yeardley Smith), Professor Frink (Hank Azaria) and Professor Farnsworth in the same room. The sight of an old genius like Farnsworth reverting to a jealous child over "the annoying girl" and her precociousness is a highlight of the crossover. His disdain for Lisa is so thick you could build a Parthenon with it.

Only one joke in the crossover made my eyes roll, and its wretchedness is typical of so many similar bits of fan service in post-season 8 Simpsons episodes. That would be the umpteenth reappearance of Seymour, the dead dog Fry (also West) was briefly reunited with in one of Futurama's most popular episodes, the heart-wrenching "Jurassic Bark" (and again in 2013's "Game of Tones," in which a dream-state version of Seymour, who was voiced by Seth MacFarlane, got to say one line to Fry: "Philip, have you lost weight?"). Seymour's first reappearance in the 2007 made-for-video feature film Bender's Big Score bugged me--as does his cameo in "Simpsorama"--because the film's retconning of "Jurassic Bark" felt like the Futurama writers were saying that they were ashamed of the episode's sad ending. They received hate mail from some viewers at the time of the airing of "Jurassic Bark" for ending that episode on a downbeat note, and I wish I could tell the writers, "Who gives a fuck what those viewers think? That ending was perfect." To borrow a catchphrase from a certain cantankerous Simpsons character, worst concession to irate viewers ever.

Memorable quotes:
* Mayor Quimby (Castellaneta), referring to Lisa's jazz concert in the park getting disrupted by stormy weather: "Even God hates jazz."

* Homer: "Oh... my... God... He's telling the truth. I have to take you to our civic leaders." Cut to Homer and Bender at Moe's.

Bart notices similarities between Homer and Bender, like the fact that they both started out as ripoffs of Walter Matthau.

* Homer: "Hey, uh, what's the robot version of bromance?"
Bender: "Ro-mance."
Homer: "You future guys have a word for everything... pal."

* Marge (Julie Kavner), thinking to herself: "Oh, don't mention her eye. Don't mention her eye."
Leela (Katey Sagal), thinking to herself: "Don't mention her hair. Don't mention her hair."

* Marge: "Can you please just get us out of this lousy future?"
Farnsworth: "Actually, of all probable futures, this is the worst."
Marge: "It is, 'cause my baby's not in it."
Farnsworth: "Motherly love--why did we outlaw that?"

* Farnsworth: "The only way to handle the creatures is to do what we do to each year's Super Bowl losers: shoot them into space."

* Omicronian emperor Lrrr (Maurice LaMarche) to Kang (Harry Shearer) and Kodos (Castellaneta), regarding his upset wife Ndnd (Tress MacNeille): "Uh, perhaps the one of you that is female should go console her." Both Kang and Kodos go console Ndnd, which has to be the funniest button on a concluding Simpsons scene in years.

Monday, November 10, 2014

TV Guide helps them decide: Boston stand-up Ken Reid and his fellow comedians rummage through old TV Guides on TV Guidance Counselor

An upcoming intense episode of Gotham will be all about little Bruce Wayne devoting his precocious energies to sewing together this same exact raglan jersey with a bat on the chest because Gotham is such a subtle TV show, with subtle lines like 'Hey, Nygma, stop being a RIDDLER full of riddles, alright?!'
Ken Reid (Photo source: Time Out)

Long before Brad Pitt became a respected movie star and incomprehensible perfume pitchman, he started out as a guest performer on '80s shows like Growing Pains and the original 21 Jump Street. Twenty-seven years ago today, the first of Pitt's two guest shots on Growing Pains aired on ABC (the season in which another future movie star, Leonardo DiCaprio, joined the Growing Pains cast as the Seavers' adopted son would take place much later). In the November 10, 1987 Growing Pains episode "Who's Zoomin' Who?," the future star of Moneyball and Fury played a hunky transfer student who made the heart of teenage Carol Seaver go pitter-patter, no pun intended.

If you listen to just the middle portion of an episode of Boston comedian Ken Reid's TV Guidance Counselor podcast, you could sometimes mistake TV Guidance Counselor for being a podcast about Growing Pains, due to how often Reid brings up the Seavers and the Seaver kids' quirky classmates (remember Stinky Sullivan, Ben's frequently mentioned and initially unseen buddy?). But it's more than just a Growing Pains lovefest.



What makes TV Guidance Counselor an interesting listen--especially for TV nerds--is the focus of the conversations between Reid and guests like Hari Kondabolu, Kumail Nanjiani, impressionist James Adomian, Parker Lewis Can't Lose star Melanie Chartoff and O.G. SNL cast member Laraine Newman. It isn't yet another umpteenth podcast about how these performers got started in comedy. Instead, the focus of TV Guidance Counselor is on their pop culture obsessions and TV-watching habits (as Jackie Kashian has frequently said on her podcast The Dork Forest, people whose only job is as a road comic often find themselves watching a lot of TV during the day to bide their time). Reid's framing device for getting his guests to open up about their tastes in TV is especially clever: he has each of them pick out programs they'd like to watch from the listings in an issue from his collection of old TV Guides, and then Reid and his guests share with each other their memories of those programs.

So in addition to mentions of the Seaververse, listeners are treated to discussions of short-lived gems like the underrated sitcoms of Bonnie Hunt (she's another favorite Reid topic) or the cheesiest elements of forgotten '80s and '90s afternoon cartoons like the Fantastic Four clone Bionic Six, as well as intriguing tangents like Kondabolu's encyclopedic knowledge of obscure characters from '90s ABC "TGIF" sitcoms. That's bizarre to see coming from Kondabolu because you wouldn't expect Kondabolu--currently the sharpest and most provocative stand-up in terms of material about racial issues--to have devoured the most whitebread '90s sitcoms when he was younger (it's like finding out that Malcolm X liked watching The Donna Reed Show). It's just one of many odd revelations from guests throughout Reid's podcast, and over e-mail, I got the TV Guidance Counselor host to discuss his fascination with TV Guide as both a conversation starter and a magazine and why he's built a podcast around a magazine nobody really uses anymore as a listings guide due to the ease of getting much more up-to-date and comprehensive program listings off the Internet or the cable/satellite box.

For an evil high school principal, Ms. Musso was oddly hot, in a present-day Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep kind of way.
(Photo source: Reid)

Jimmy J. Aquino: Did you inherit your TV Guide collection from a relative or did that collection grow because you simply loved the magazine from the start?

Ken Reid: It's kind of a mixture. We always got the magazine in my house, ever since I can remember (and we always had a two-slice toaster, but I digress...). I would pay for my own subscription after a while when times were tight. I kept a few from growing up, but the bulk of my current collection comes from two libraries. One in Maine and one in Nebraska. They were both purging their periodicals and I picked up decades of issues for nothing.

JJA: Did you have a favorite TV Guide staff writer? For instance, I liked anything Frank Lovece wrote for TV Guide because he was a Taxi fan who authored a whole book on Taxi.

KR: I liked Howard Polskin because he would tend to write about trends and "new" innovations. His pieces tended to incorporate a bit of the social analysis stuff that I really enjoy. It wasn't too in-depth, it was still 1980s TV Guide, but it was a good taste of that for a mainstream magazine. Jeff Jarvis, the Couch Critic was the other one whose name always stuck in my head. He was really the only person with a specific weekly column, that I can remember. I enjoyed how opinionated his reviews were, without always being negative. He backed up his opinions and they were well-thought-out and he wasn't afraid to trash a show, despite potentially angering a network. So much of the TV Guide writing wasn't attributed to anyone, which is kind of fascinating to me. The movie reviews, Jeers and Cheers and the show descriptions were always my favorite things in the issue, and they were written by this monolithic, mysterious "TV Guide Staff."

The people who kept tinkering with Mork and Mindy and adding pointless characters every season were enormous shazbotheads.
(Photo source: Michael Schneider)

JJA: What reasons would you give to someone to not throw away any old TV Guide issues that are still lying around in their basement or attic?

KR: They are great time capsules. It's always the same way people use the Internet Wayback Machine now. These things that were designed to be extremely "of the moment" and disposable always reflect an exact place and time best. The articles are always interesting as well. There's a fair amount of predictive writing in TV Guide, which shows will be hits, what new TV technology will be and it's fun to see where they were right and where they were wrong. It also makes you put our current media culture into perspective. Changes happen so gradually people don't tend to notice them as much. When you look at a TV Guide from 1987, and look at say, their gossip section, The Grapevine, you see how much our culture has changed in relation to its relationship with celebrities and the media.

They really do jar memories you never knew you still had. Just flipping through a week and reading some show names or descriptions tends to flood people with memories. That's one of the things I love doing about the show. I've had a ton of guests say things to me like "I didn't watch a lot of TV" or "I don't remember anything really from when I was a kid" and after the five-minute flipping through the TV Guide, they prove both of those statements to be incredibly inaccurate.

If Fresno were a 2014 show instead of a 1986 show, the raisins would be heavily Botoxed.
Remember the miniseries spoof Fresno?
It's one of many forgotten--and actually
not-so-shitty--'80s and '90s shows that
made the cover of TV Guide.
Also, if you need an alibi, it'll provide you with some pretty detailed, date- and time-specific information.

Outside of that, one word, decoupage.

JJA: How did the podcast come about? Was it because you were itching for a way to put your IMDb-ish encyclopedic knowledge of TV actors and '80s and '90s sitcoms to use?

KR: Ten years into stand-up, I was falling out of love with performing here in Boston a bit. All of my friends and peers had more or less moved to N.Y. or L.A. and the scene here was in a real lull. For years, people had told me I should do a podcast, but I never really had an idea that I thought was different enough from everything else out there. The idea itself actually came from my friend and a very funny comedian himself, Sean Sullivan. I had all these TV Guides displayed in racks in my house, I flip through them and I watch a lot of old TV. He had been prodding me to do a podcast for years and at one point just laid the concept out. Get someone over, have them go through your old TV Guides and then you talk about it.

That was enough to motivate me to give it a go. I figured if I recorded a few and wasn't happy with them, I didn't have to put them out. I listen to a fair amount of podcasts, but some of them, even ones I recognize as being good quality ones, I find very alienating. It becomes a bit too "inside" and although the people on the mics are having fun and are funny, I feel like I'm eavesdropping on strangers at the booth behind me in a restaurant. So I wanted to make sure I wasn't doing the same thing with something I might record.

I never really show off my IMDb brain stuff. I never talk about pop culture stuff on stage. All my stand-up is real stories/experiences. So getting to use that part of my brain on the show has been really fun.

JJA: You're a fan of both Growing Pains and its spinoff Just the Ten of Us. Growing Pains was dismissed as a bland Family Ties ripoff when it aired, but Growing Pains was actually kookier than Family Ties because it boasted writers from WKRP, and they came up with a few meta or high-concept episodes that were genuinely funny. Personally, I think Just the Ten of Us holds up better than Growing Pains, because it wasn't concerned with doing preachy Very Special Episodes like Growing Pains frequently was. Plus [Just the Ten of Us lead character] Coach Lubbock's older daughters were hot, and [middle daughter] Connie, who was sort of a precursor to Lisa Simpson and Daria, was way more interesting than either of the Seaver kids. If you had to persuade viewers to give Growing Pains a chance on DVD or Amazon Instant or to give Just the Ten of Us a chance on YouTube, what would you say to make your case for both of them?

KR: I agree with all your statements. Just the Ten of Us is a better show for a lot of reasons. Most of the writers on Growing Pains jumped ship to Just the Ten of Us, they got four seasons of GP under their belts and were really in the prime of their writing on Just the Ten of Us and were not afraid to try some dark, clever and weird stuff. It was also a strange set-up, a poor Catholic family. The dynamic between the parents was fun and seemed "real" to me. They fought, sometimes they hated their kids, but ultimately always were a family and not a cartoonish collection of clichés and plot devices.



You had the pedigree of WKRP, but you also had people who had sharpened their skills on a solid family sitcom. It managed to make a lot of great meta commentary about sitcoms themselves without losing its heart and the reality and humor of the characters. I think it also benefited from not having [a Kirk Cameron-type heartthrob star] on the show. It was a true ensemble. The daughters being hot helped as well, no doubt. But the characters were pretty complicated. It managed to have the blue-collar gallows humor that I'm a sucker for on shows like Roseanne and tackle a lot of issues like questioning faith, mental illness and some other potentially really heavy topics in a light way without making light of them or using them for dismissive fodder for shock humor. It's a pretty delicate and difficult balance to achieve and they pulled it off pretty well. It also benefits from having less than three seasons, so it never really had time to lose steam like Growing Pains did. Short answer: it's a sweet, fun, funny show with smart humor and a great cast. Plus hot daughters, if that's your thing.

Growing Pains at its best did capture what it felt like to be a teenager. There are some great "epic quest" episodes, specifically the two-part "Dance Fever" episode from season 3 and Ben's search for glue to finish a school project in "Ben and Mike's Excellent Adventure" from season 5, [that] really capture that all-nighter, high-stakes, night-of-your-life, coming-of-age quality that so many teenage movies and television series strive for but miss. Its best episodes stick with you and have a real sense of a universe of the show. It builds on itself and has a history that's nice. It doesn't feel like a totally artificial, no-stakes sitcom world.


TV Guidance Counselor, which just recorded a live on-stage episode with Emmanuel Lewis as Reid's guest, can be heard at tvguidancecounselor.tumblr.com or Reid's SoundCloud. Below is my favorite TV Guidance Counselor episode, which features Kumail Nanjiani, star of HBO's Silicon Valley and host of his own TV-related podcast, The X-Files Files.

Friday, November 7, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Bob's Burgers, "Tina and the Real Ghost"

Gene's next Tom Hanks-inspired costume ought to have him dress up as both Joe and the Volcano.
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.

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."

Tina's date with a shoebox makes me wish Basket Case were rebooted as a rom-com where the female lead dates a guy who's deformed and lives in a basket. Now that's more watchable than a Katherine Heigl movie.
It helps that the show doesn't punish Tina for being her libidinous, 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.

Stray observations:
* 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.