Monday, December 31, 2012

The year 2012, as told through tweets I favorited

More like Back Widow, yanodumsayin'?
AFOS, which I finally upgraded from mono to stereo earlier this month, was occasionally mentioned on Twitter by other people in 2012, either to express their disappointment in iTunes dumping AFOS from its station list (another reason to dislike iTunes, but I can't really do anything about their decision to dump AFOS) or to praise my station for streaming movie themes they enjoyed hearing. Author Scott Pearson, a contributor to Simon & Schuster's Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Star Trek: Myriad Universes anthologies, did both:

Scott Pearson

Scott Pearson

The AFOS blog's new "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner" column received a few shout-outs and retweets on Twitter, mostly from staffers at Titmouse because I said a few nice things about the animation studio's collabos with Disney: Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja and the even more impressive--and anti-authoritarian--Motorcity. The latter action cartoon is a one-season wonder that looks remarkably like a big-budget animated feature film each week and is another unfortunate casualty in a TV landscape that hasn't been kind lately to true sci-fi like Motorcity. Alyssa Rosenberg posted a piece on ThinkProgress where she lamented the lack of true sci-fi shows on the currently-more-fantasy-oriented--and crap-oriented--Syfy. Motorcity, which was slept on by even the few TV critics out there who regularly cover animated shows, was exactly the kind of sci-fi show Rosenberg was clamoring for.

I favorited Motorcity writer George Krstic's tweet about my review of his "Power Trip" episode mainly because of the joke he cracked about himself and his colleagues:

George Krstic

Enough about me. What about the rest of 2012?

(Most year-end lists can make for boring and grueling reading. Reflecting on the past year by skimming through tweets I favorited is turning into an entertaining alternative from scrolling through endless year-end articles and think pieces.)

Quite a bit of fun resulted on Twitter from the much-hyped second season of Downton Abbey (I once tweeted, "Note to self: Don't forget to add #DowntonAbbey to the list of 'Shit White People Like That I Don't Understand the Appeal Of.'"):

Morgan Murphy

Frank Diekman

Artists whom I've been giving heavy airplay to on AFOS got the chance to kick it with their idols:

Lalo Schifrin and Michael Giacchino

There was 2 Broke Girls showrunner Michael Patrick King's stupid defense of the racist material that's being written for the Korean Long Duk Dong on the show, or as GQ writer Lauren Bans amusingly calls the openly gay King's brand of humor, "gaycism":

Tim Goodman

Ignorance came not just from sitcom joke writers but also from TV stars and, as usual, the far right:

Das Racist

Hari Kondabolu

Guy Branum

Gail Simone

Kevin Seccia

John Rogers

Chris Regan

Devin Faraci

The Daily Show staff

Hari Kondabolu

Frank Conniff

Hari Kondabolu

Gerry Duggan

Mike Birbiglia

There was Linsanity (and the inevitable and stupid racial slurs in response to the rise of the NBA's first Asian American star player):

Hari Kondabolu

Wendell Pierce

Spike Lee

Fake Mike D'Antoni

Fake AP Stylebook

There was also the fall of aging (and disappointingly homophobic) champ Manny Pacquiao:

Prometheus Brown

Prometheus Brown

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (12/26/2012): The best episodes of 2012 (part 1)

'Hey, the Robot from Fox NFL Broadcasts, what's your fucking deal?'
The helmeted villain with no name attempts to trim Mike's bangs.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. There will be no new columns this week and next week due to the holidays and the lack of first-run programming (only Tron: Uprising and Motorcity are first-run because Disney XD chose to burn off the rest of their episodes over the holidays). In a special year-end edition of "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," here are previous reviews of five of my favorite non-Adult Swim cable cartoon episodes from May to December 2012.

Motorcity, "Power Trip" (from May 11, 2012)

Motorcity, the only one out of the five cartoons this week that's not based on a superhero comic for a change, is only two episodes in, and this unlikely collabo between Disney and the not-so-family-friendly Titmouse animation studio (of Metalocalypse and Freaknik: The Musical fame) is already the most inventive and thrilling of the five. It's not a superhero show, yet it's dealing with questions about heroism (and even activism) more interestingly than most cartoons that are actual superhero shows.

In Motorcity's future setting, the socio-economical punching bag that is Detroit has been divided by greedy developer Abraham Kane (Batman: The Animated Series and Metalocalypse vocal MVP Mark Hamill) into two sections, the sparkling-clean, EPCOT-like Detroit Deluxe for the city's most affluent inhabitants and Motorcity, a subterranean ghetto that Kane is plotting to completely bulldoze. Teenage gearhead Mike Chilton (Reid Scott, currently appearing on HBO's Veep as the conceited douche on VP Selina Meyer's staff) has banded together with cowardly hacker and best friend Chuck (Nate Torrence), industrial spy Julie (Kate Micucci) and mechanics Dutch (Kel Mitchell), Texas (Jess Harnell) and Goat Jacob (Brian Doyle-Murray) to prevent Kane and his Shockbots from wiping out Motorcity. These tech-savvy rebels call themselves the Burners. If an older Phineas and Ferb joined Dominic Toretto's crew from the Fast and the Furious movies and then were all forced to live in a dystopic ghetto of the future, it would look something like the Burners.

Futuristic window-wiping looks really strange and sexy.
To borrow a line from the infamous Super Bowl XLVI Chrysler ad where Clint Eastwood big-upped the Detroit auto industry, now Motorcity is fighting again. But will Kane succeed in turning the Burners and the people of Motorcity against Mike, who, like Jacob, used to work for KaneCo? Will the fog, division, discord and blame make it hard for the Burners to see what lies ahead?

Even though Motorcity must have been created by Titmouse honcho Chris Prynoski long before the Occupy movement began (and judging from how much work Titmouse put into making the show's visuals look amazing, it had have to been created that long ago) and Prynoski is more concerned with high-octane action than political allegory, it's hard to ignore how similar the Burners' opposition to Kane is to the struggles of us 99 Percenters. It's about time Occupy protesters got an animated show they can root for and embrace--and of course, watch while being camped out between protests, most likely through Burners-style illegal means that would make Disney's blood boil.

Speaking of Disney, how the hell did a show with a clear disdain for EPCOT-like things manage to get Disney's approval and make it on to a Disney-owned channel?

"When I asked Prynoski about this [satirical] aspect of Motorcity," wrote Jim Hill in his article about Motorcity, "all Chris could do in response was laugh and then say 'I don't think I'm allowed to comment on that. But I will say that you're a very perceptive fellow.'"

For a long time, I found it difficult to get over Cartoon Network's cancellation of the Titmouse-produced Megas XLR, which, like Motorcity, had a bunch of teenage gearheads as the heroes (instead of souped-up hot rods, their ride was a giant robot from the future). I think I'm finally over it. Motorcity is a great substitute, and in some ways, it's an even better show. Sure, there aren't as many amusing pop culture reference gags on Motorcity as there were on Megas XLR, which, for instance, regularly ridiculed MTV for cancelling the Titmouse cult favorite Downtown by destroying a "PopTV" sign in every episode (Roth, a robot named after car customizer Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, and a shout-out to Admiral Ackbar's "It's a trap!" line from Hamill's Star Wars past are as reference-y as Motorcity gets). But the Burners are more interesting characters (I especially enjoyed the matter-of-fact way the "Battle for Motorcity" premiere episode revealed that Julie is Kane's daughter) and more fallible heroes than Megas XLR's Coop, who always triumphed over the Glorft at the end of each episode despite leveling most of New Jersey in the process. On Megas XLR, the destruction of Jersey was a running gag, but on Motorcity, the impact the Burners' battles against Kane have on the fragile ghetto they call home is treated a little more seriously.

This week's "Power Trip" episode, scripted by Megas XLR co-creator George Krstic, features a great scene where the Burners brainstorm how to break into the KaneCo Tower and realize why each of their ideas would suck donkey balls. In that comedic scene and in later moments where characters debate over weaponizing an unstable KaneCo energy source, "Power Trip" deals with how heroism sometimes requires compromise, but without getting preachy about it. Mike gets a KaneCo R&D scientist (Jim Cummings) to steal from Kane an energy core, which would result in Kane's evil empire being shut down once and for all. But even though the energy core is too unstable and dangerous for the Burners to keep around in Motorcity, Mike insists on using it as a weapon, and his stance is met with opposition by Chuck and the scientist. The series isn't afraid to show that while Mike is a great leader, he's also an adrenaline junkie, and his recklessness can be a liability for the people he wants to protect.

The design for Mike's newest ride is rather mechanorexic.
In "Battle for Motorcity," the constantly whiny Chuck, who's so squeamish he makes Shaggy from Scooby-Doo look macho, quickly became the show's most grating character. He's still a whiny crybaby in "Power Trip," but luckily, this second episode gives Chuck more to do than just whine, squeal and activate his ejector seat, and in the scenes where the characters express their hesitancy over handling the energy core, we see why Mike values Chuck as the conscience of the group and why Mike needs him to keep him in check (over on Tumblr, several Motorcity fans are already shipping Mike and Chuck as a gay couple, and I wouldn't be surprised if some female viewer somewhere is currently hard at work on her Mike/Chuck slashfic).

Coming soon: Schmidt/Nick slash art posted by a New Girl fan on Tumblr.
(Photo source: People of MotorCity)
I'm making Motorcity sound like a serious show, but it's far from it. It's as wild a ride as that rollercoaster Phineas and Ferb built in their backyard. Disney and Titmouse may turn out to be the most worthwhile partnership between The Mouse and another animation studio since Disney and some little computer graphics company from the Bay Area.


Motorcity, "Vendetta" (from June 19, 2012)

Motorcity introduces yet another adversary for the Burners during another solid episode of this finely crafted cartoon, "Vendetta." This time, it's a nameless, red muscle car-driving warrior (Eric Ladin, just recently killed off on The Killing) in a spiked helmet who looks like a rejected Tron: Uprising baddie and is referred to in the end credits only as "Red"--although this mystery man's beef is mainly with Burners leader Mike Chilton. On the one-year anniversary of the day Mike severed ties with Abraham Kane, Red emerges from out of nowhere to take revenge on Mike and eliminate him.

Like another gazillionaire, Mark Cuban, Abraham Kane apparently doesn't give a fuck about walking around in tight-fitting shirts that he's about 15 years too old to be wearing.
In juicy flashbacks that finally explain what Mike did when he was a KaneCo employee, we learn that he was a cadet in Kane's army of soldiers known as the Ultra Elites. The fact that a businessman assembled an army to guard him and do his dirty work shows how psychotic this particular businessman is.

At the height of Donald Trump's still-continuing racist nonsense about President Obama, Lewis Black did a hilarious Daily Show "Back in Black" segment where he joked that he wants Trump to be the next president because America needs to be run by someone as insane as Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong Il. Kane is like a mash-up of Trump's Third World dictator-style craziness and Steve Jobs' technological genius, his dickish treatment of his Apple colleagues and his love of the color white--in the wardrobe and burly body of a douchey gym manager.

Friday, December 21, 2012

This is the end

Why do they cryyyyy? Why do they cry? Why do they cry?
Because today is the last day ever, I ain't going out like no sucka. Go ahead and cry in the shower. Meanwhile, I'm posting 30 of my favorite original score cues or songs on Spotify that accompany the end credits of feature films. None of them are re-recordings (I love me some Spotify, but it's befouled by the stench of terrible re-recordings of film and TV music). All of them are the originals.

The last playlist ever kicks off with the summer of 2012's best end title theme (Alan Silvestri's "The Avengers," from an art-house film called Anna Karenina), followed by perhaps my all-time favorite original end title theme (Willie Hutch's "Brother's Gonna Work It Out," from a Dean Jones family film called The Mack). Tron: Legacy and Superman: The Movie both had end credits that ran so long they had two or three end title themes instead of one. Most of the end title themes below can be heard on AFOS, but some of them aren't in rotation because I simply don't have them in my library (Silvestri's Who Framed Roger Rabbit score is an album I always wanted to have, but I was never able to nab the score because it went out of print again before I could do so). The playlist concludes with Earl Rose's end title theme from a fascinating doc that aired on PBS in 2012: Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.

Too bad Adele's theme for Skyfall isn't featured in the film's end credits (it's also not on Spotify). I wanted to include "Skyfall" in the playlist because its Jim Morrison-esque opening lyric happens to be "This is the end," which is also the name of this playlist. In another interesting tidbit, "Skyfall" is simultaneously one of the most emotional songs to open a Bond film (the song is written from the point of view of M and is one big spoiler, and no wonder Daniel Craig cried when he first heard it--without giving too much away, it must have brought him back emotionally to the scene the song is basically about) and one of the most wry (an apocalyptic song about mortality is ironically the theme for a film that's all about revitalizing the 50-year-old Bond film franchise and keeping it going, and Adele and her producing partner Paul Epworth seemed to have written "Skyfall" so that it could also be interpreted as a tune about the 2012 apocalypse).

Goodbye, cruel world!

I'm sure Hawkeye goes into battle with Harry Nilsson's 'Me and My Arrow' blasting in his earbuds.
"This Is the End" tracklist
1. Alan Silvestri, "The Avengers," Marvel's The Avengers
2. Willie Hutch, "Brother's Gonna Work It Out," The Mack
3. Curtis Mayfield, "Superfly," Superfly
4. k.d. lang, "Surrender," Tomorrow Never Dies
5. Daft Punk, "TRON Legacy (End Titles)," Tron: Legacy
6. Daft Punk, "Solar Sailer," Tron: Legacy
7. Radiohead, "Exit Music (For a Film)," Romeo + Juliet
8. Dominic Cooper, "Jail-bait Jody," Tamara Drewe
9. Alan Silvestri, "End Title," Who Framed Roger Rabbit
10. John Williams, "The Rebel Fleet/End Title," The Empire Strikes Back
11. Alan Silvestri, "Captain America March," Captain America: The First Avenger
12. Prince, "Scandalous," Batman
13. Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Face to Face," Batman Returns
14. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, "A Watchful Guardian," The Dark Knight
15. John Williams, "Finale and End Title March," Superman: The Movie
16. John Williams, "Love Theme from Superman," Superman: The Movie
17. Michael Giacchino, "The Incredits," The Incredibles
18. Michael Giacchino, "Up with End Credits," Up
19. Jerry Goldsmith, "End Credits," Star Trek: First Contact
20. Danny Elfman, "End Credits," Sleepy Hollow
21. Bruce Broughton, "End Credits," The Rescuers Down Under
22. Gladys Knight & the Pips, "Make Yours a Happy Home," Claudine
23. Mader, "Rhumba (End Credits)," The Wedding Banquet
24. Michael Giacchino, "End Creditouilles," Ratatouille
25. John Carpenter, "The Fog End Credits," The Fog
26. David Shire, "Finale and End Credits," The Conversation
27. John Williams, "Finale & End Credits," Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
28. Earl Rose, "End Credits," Johnny Carson: King of Late Night
2014 additions
29. Alexandre Desplat, "The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, Part 7: After the Storm," Moonrise Kingdom
30. Alexandre Desplat, "Traditional Arrangement: 'Moonshine,'" The Grand Budapest Hotel
31. Michael Giacchino, "To Boldly Go," Star Trek
32. Michael Giacchino, "End Credits," Star Trek
33. M83 featuring Susanne Sundfør, "Oblivion," Oblivion
34. Ramin Djawadi featuring Tom Morello, "Pacific Rim," Pacific Rim
35. Blake Perlman featuring RZA, "Drift," Pacific Rim
36. Brian Tyler, "Can You Dig It (Iron Man 3 Main Titles)," Iron Man Three
37. Brian Tyler, "Legacy," Thor: The Dark World

BONUS TRACK: "Summer in America," DJ Blue & Chubb Rock's rousing original song from the end credits of the hilarious cult classic Wet Hot American Summer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (12/19/2012): Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kaijudo, Dan Vs., Tron: Uprising and Motorcity

'Aw, are you feeling oogie?'
And then Elise tore off her clothes and reenacted Sandra Bernhard's crazy monologue from The King of Comedy.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired. There will be no new column next week due to Christmas. Instead, five previous reviews of the best non-Adult Swim cable cartoon episodes I saw between May and December 2012 will be reposted on December 26.

Back in September, I caught most of the series premiere of Nickelodeon's CG-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This reboot of the '80s indie comic-turned-cartoon is noteworthy for bringing back to the franchise '80s and '90s TMNT voice actor Rob Paulsen, who, when TMNT exploded as a merchandising phenomenon, was four years away from getting the chance to work with better and funnier animated material as the voices of Yakko, Pinky and Dr. Scratchansniff on Animaniacs (but on this new TMNT, Paulsen voices Donatello instead of his old role of Raphael). I might have liked this TMNT reboot if I were 12, but because I'm not 12, eh, it's not so appealing to me. The only other TMNT episode I've caught is "It Came from the Depths," the latest installment.

'My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.'
(Photo source: TMNTPedia)
Sure, the animation is much more fluid during this CG version and the theme song is 2000s-style lite-rap instead of very '80s lite-rock (little-known fact: the '80s theme, which the new theme lifts its chorus from, was co-written by a then-unknown, pre-Dharma & Greg/Two and a Half Men Chuck Lorre), but otherwise, the Ninja Turtles aren't much different from the Ninja Turtles I first saw (and tolerated) as a kid. They still fight like Japanese swordsmen and talk like white dudes. They're still obsessed with pizza, a joke that wasn't funny in 1988 and still isn't funny in 2012.

However, there's one genuinely funny gag during "It Came from the Depths," and it has nothing to do with the episode's boring plot, which reintroduces mutant alligator Leatherhead, a Killer Croc-ish character from the old show. Ninja Turtles leader Leonardo (Jason Biggs) is a fan of Space Heroes, a popular sci-fi cartoon that's a mash-up of Filmation's barely animated version of Star Trek from the '70s--a show I first caught on Nickelodeon!--and Hanna-Barbera's Sealab 2020. The cel-animated clip of Space Heroes is a great animation industry in-joke from episode director Juan Meza-Leon about how stiff and crappy the animation looked on the Trek cartoon. The Space Heroes clip even resembles an actual episode of the Trek cartoon, "More Tribbles, More Troubles" (but here, the Tribbles make honking noises instead of purring sounds and are called "Trumpets"). They even nailed the Trek cartoon's strange, Ingmar Bergman-esque two-shots of Kirk and Spock! That was one of Filmation's famously lazy-ass ways of restricting the animation to just mouth and eyebrow movements.

How can you tell the captain on Space Heroes is lying? His lips barely move.
(Photo source: TMNTPedia)
Aside from that terrific little spoof of the Trek cartoon, Nick's TMNT isn't a show I'll be revisiting. The controversy surrounding Biggs' involvement in the show is more interesting than the show itself. The American Pie star has an off-color and not-exactly-Nick-audience-friendly Twitter account where he tweets racist jokes about Indian American spelling bee contestants and raunchy ones about Ann Romney and Paul Ryan's wife (what else would you expect from a guy who became famous for sticking his dick in a pie?). During the week of the Republican National Convention, Fox News anchor and pepper spray expert Megyn Kelly reacted to Biggs' tweets about the Romney and Ryan wives by yelling, "Off with his head!" Nick ended up apologizing for Biggs' RNC tweets and "our mistake to link from our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles twitter feed to Jason's personal twitter account" and yadda yadda. So Nick apologizes when the GOP whines about Biggs' anti-Republican jokes, but the channel's silent about the racist jokes he cracked a couple of months before about Indian kids? Ninja please.


As someone who got involved in writing a few pieces of Asian American fiction (one published, the others either unpublished, unfinished or read by barely anybody) to help take away the power of the Jason Biggses of the world, I think it's kind of sad that the only current action show with an Asian American lead as the main hero is a kids' cartoon where he's voiced by Scott Wolf and the heroes cheesily shout aloud reverbed I-have-the-power incantations like "Tatsurion the Unchained!" and "Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow!," a kids' show-ism that usually makes me fumble for my remote. I initially didn't think I'd be able to withstand the TV-Y7-rated Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, but in spite of its kids' show-isms and occasionally clunky dialogue, the Hasbro Studios cartoon has grown on me. The fact that it's rather nicely animated by the Korean studio MOI instead of poorly animated like the '80s versions of G.I. Joe and Transformers sort of helps, along with little touches like the attention to Ray's biracial background, the lead duo's names of Bob and Ray (c'mon, man, that's gotta be a shout-out to Chris Elliott's dad and his late comedy partner!) and Bob's words to Ray when he wishes him luck in part 2 of "The Rising," the first-season finale.

"Don't forget: bob and weave," says Bob, a.k.a. Tatsurion, to Ray in a rousing callback to the battle instruction from Ray that was misunderstood so badly by Tatsurion in the series premiere that it wound up becoming his nickname.

Ray doesn't kill his cruel nemesis the Choten like I wanted him to, but with the help of the other Duel Masters, their kaiju sidekicks, a resurrected Sasha (Kari Wahlgren) and even his newly-outed-as-a-Duelist mom, Ray's able to foil the Choten's season-long plan to open the Veil that the Order of the Duel Masters keeps sealed in order to protect Earth from the creature realm. Alakshmi (Grey DeLisle), the Shane Vendrell of Kaijudo, continues to get screwed over, even after finally wising up about her evil boss and deciding to help Gabe thwart him. She's rewarded for her moment of clarity by winding up a prisoner in the Fire Civilization, where the Fire God excites a coliseum full of bloodthirsty Fire Civilization creatures by declaring war on Earth.

'Stop looking like an overdressed pimp or I won't put down this sword!'
In another set-up for season 2, the Choten, now trapped in the creature realm with his henchmen and his new ally Nigel Brightmore, hatches another plan: to conquer the realm from the other side of the Veil. Meanwhile, the Order chooses the no-longer-inept Gabe as the new Light Civilization Master to replace the traitorous Nigel, and Ray must deal with losing his dad Ken again, but he's unaware that Ken is alive and was rescued by Water Civilization creatures. Also, Masters Chavez (Freddy Rodriguez) and Nadia (also DeLisle) stop playing timid and finally express their feelings for each other (as do Ray and Allie, but less overtly) to cap off a season-long romantic subplot that consisted of nothing but very minimal dialogue and strange electricity between Chavez and Nadia whenever the Choten's attacks forced them to be huddled together in tight corners.

Of course, nobody watches Kaijudo to see these humans make out. We tune in mainly to see kaiju wreak havoc on each other, and "The Rising, Part 2" delivers plenty of kaiju rampaging on each other (and emerging from the opened Veil to attack Earth during some of my favorite epic shots of the series), although Guillermo del Toro's robots-vs.-kaiju epic Pacific Rim, which hasn't been released yet but has just dropped an amazing-looking trailer, is already making Kaijudo look like a bunch of rough notebook doodles.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (12/12/2012): Dragons: Riders of Berk, Kaijudo, Dan Vs., Tron: Uprising and Motorcity

Dan vs. dehydration
"Forget it, dude. I'm not going back to Romney to shake his hand backstage. You saw what happened to Pacquiao."
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

How to Train Your Dragon fans who have been bored lately with Dragons: Riders of Berk have complained on Toonzone about the character of dragon-hating Mildew (Stephen Root) and have found him to be an underwhelming antagonist compared to Mark Hamill's Alvin ("[Mildew] makes for a terrible villain," "very flat and uninteresting"). As for me, I like how the other major antagonist on Dragons isn't a mustache-twirling thug like Alvin and is more like most of the Republican Party: old, hateful and afraid of change.

Mildew is basically the Viking version of Mrs. Carmody from Stephen King's novella The Mist, the terribly written radio drama-style Mist audiobook from the '80s that starred Bill Sadler (that's the version of The Mist I'm most familiar with) and Frank Darabont's 2007 film version (which also featured Sadler, but in a different role). Both Mildew and Carmody are crazy old zealots who use religion to brainwash neighbors and bully those who don't share their beliefs. In "When Lightning Strikes," Berk is being ravaged by a wave of lightning storms, which Mildew believes to be the thunder god Thor's angry response to Toothless' "unholy" presence after the lightning seems to follow Toothless wherever the dragon goes, and this provides Mildew with another excuse to call for Toothless' banishment. Meanwhile, Hiccup discovers that the reason for the storms has something to do with a concept that's completely foreign to the Vikings and their polytheistic Norse culture: science.

'I am the God of Hellfire, and I bring yeeeeeeew...'
(Photo source: Berk's Grapevine)
Those viewers who despise Mildew's appearances (however, they might be right about these "villagers having difficulty trusting the dragons" episodes becoming tiresome) have said they wish he were thrown off the island, which "When Lightning Strikes" chickens out of doing. The fate I wish for Mildew is far worse than him getting evicted from Berk or getting electrocuted inside his house like at the end of "When Lightning Strikes": the villagers chain him to a chair and force him to listen to the radio drama version of The Mist.


"I think Saguru is Ray's presumed-dead father," I wrote back in July, when Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters first introduced the mysterious bounty hunter (Andrew Kishino). "Mr. Okamoto must have used the memory-wiping Cyber Virus creatures on his family to protect them from his life as a Duel Master (what good that did because his son is now part of the Order of the Duel Masters) and then had a Cyber Virus erase his own memories of Earth."

The show's recent confirmation that the one-eyed amnesiac is indeed Ray's long-missing dad was far from shocking. But the additional revelation that Ray's mom Janet (Grey DeLisle) knew all along about the Duel Masters and learned how to use a gauntlet from her husband--whose real name is Ken--came out of nowhere and was the first genuine surprise to emerge from a cartoon that's rolled out one predictable twist after another (Ken and the Choten, the Order's nemesis, used to be friends… a long time ago! Ken is a former Duel Master! Master Brightmore, who was never comfortable with Ray's unorthodox approach to dueling and the changes the kid has brought to the old ways of the Order, switched sides and now works for the Choten!).

Ex-Party of Five star Scott Wolf voices the half-Asian hero of Kaijudo and doesn't have to put on fucking offensive Cloud Atlas makeup to play an Asian guy!
However, the reasons why Ken lost both his memory and his right eye and became Saguru remain a mystery, and the fast-paced first half of "The Rising," Kaijudo's two-part season finale (the best part of this first half, by the way, is Bob the half-dragon's discovery that he can fly), doesn't delve into them. I won't be surprised if the Choten was responsible for mind-wiping Ken and gouging out his eye. I also won't be surprised if the Choten bites the heads off baby pandas for dinner and is a Chris Brown fan.

I've made fun of Kaijudo's occasionally clunky dialogue (particularly when the show has dealt with the hot-button issue of bullying) or its unsurprising twists like I did just now, but to its credit, the show hasn't shied away from depicting how cruel and destructive the Choten has been to Ray's family. This isn't some half-assed villain who makes very little of an impact like any of the heavily watered-down rogues gallery on the frequently underwhelming Ultimate Spider-Man, and Oded Fehr helps make the Choten such an intimidating figure by underplaying him and delivering his lines with nary a shout or Snidely Whiplash-style laugh. Screw the TV-Y7 rating. I want Ray and his dad to dismember and kill this cold and unfeeling bastard by the end of part 2.


If you've ever been ripped off by a mechanic before, Dan Vs. has come up with a clever explanation for why many mechanics are unreliable: it's because they steal components of your car to build giant robots for underground robot fights. As a viewer who loved Megas XLR, the entertaining giant-robot-sci-fi spoof that Titmouse has lately been attempting to bring back to TV, I got a kick out of the underground robot fight club scenes in "Dan vs. the Mechanic," even though the robots are much tinier than Megas and equipped with far less weaponry. The casting of RoboCop heavy Kurtwood Smith--who currently voices Gene the ruthless vending machine on Regular Show--as Dan's sloppy mechanic Mike is an inspired choice, as is the ED-209-from-RoboCop-style design for The Widowmaker, the robot that Elise pilots to take down Dan in the ring after she's had enough of his bossiness.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (12/05/2012): Dragons: Riders of Berk, Tron: Uprising, Motorcity, Adventure Time and Regular Show

I speak for everybody when I say it's a good thing this didn't veer into Women in Love nude wrestling territory.
"Coca-Cola tastes like donkey piss, bitch!," says Pops. (Photo source: Regular Show Wiki)
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

After voicing a droid for a couple of episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, former Doctor Who star David Tennant turns up on another Cartoon Network show, Dragons: Riders of Berk, as the voice of Spitelout Jorgenson in "Thawfest." Spitelout's longtime rivalry with Stoick has been carried on by his overly confident son Snotlout and his competitive attitude towards Stoick's son Hiccup during Berk's annual Thawfest Games, the Viking equivalent of the Highland Games in Scottish culture (in writers' meetings, the Dragons showrunners must have said, "The movie turned the Vikings into Scotsmen, so which Scottish sporting events should we have them do? Neither soccer nor rugby have been invented yet, so let's give them the Highland Games, only we can't call it that because they're Vikings.").

'Ha-ha,' says Nelson Mu--er, I mean, Snotlout.
(Photo source: Riders of Berk)
Tennant, who had a blink-and-you'll-miss-hearing-it cameo as Spitelout in How to Train Your Dragon, gets to speak in his normal Scottish accent here. His Doctor was the cockiest Doctor since Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor (but he was more likable than Baker's Herb Tarlek-y coat-wearing asshole of a Doctor, who always looked like a box of Crayola crayons exploded), so as a Doctor Who viewer, I enjoyed seeing Tennant take that cocksure attitude he brought to a larger-than-life, heroic alien time-traveler and infuse it into a much smaller kind of character, a lowlife stage dad.

After so many kids' cartoons where the main characters are great athletes or superheroes, Hiccup's lack of athletic prowess is refreshing and so welcome, as we see early on in "Thawfest" when the more athletic Snotlout repeatedly trounces Hiccup during competition. But when the athletes are allowed to compete with dragons for the first time in Thawfest history, Hiccup, who's a far more skilled dragon trainer than Snotlout, finally has a series of events where he can triumph over Snotlout. However, the dragon portion of the games brings out the worst in Hiccup, who's never experienced this much success in sports before, so he never learned how to control the ego one can develop from so many wins.

"Thawfest" is a good winning-isn't-everything story and even more impressive as a series of comedic sports set pieces. I'm no fan of 3D, but I wish Cartoon Network found some way to broadcast Dragons in 3D like how DreamWorks released How to Train Your Dragon in that format because the episode's climactic race between Hiccup/Toothless and Snotlout/Hookfang would have looked even more amazing and immersive in 3D. But if Cartoon Network issued 3D glasses, the channel's people will probably neglect to tell you where to obtain a pair because they're so terrific with their communication skills.


For a news organization full of tenacious journalists, the Daily Planet staff--from younger reporters like Lois Lane and Cat Grant to world-weary veterans like Perry White--has such shitty eyesight. This is one reason why I don't care for Superman (the All-Star Superman comic excepted, of course, partly because it came up with an inventive explanation for how Superman is able to keep his secret identity from being revealed). I have to buy that these perceptive journos are unable to notice that their co-worker Clark Kent is the not-exactly-well-disguised Man of Steel? Hee-ro please.

So during Tron: Uprising's "Grounded" episode, when Beck's garage boss Able (Reginald VelJohnson) becomes frustrated with his mechanic's frequent absences from work and puts two and two together and finally realizes it's because Beck is busy being The Renegade, I loved seeing a superhero show where one of the good guys is perceptive for a change and correctly guesses the main hero's secret identity early on in the show's run (or halfway through the run if Disney XD doesn't renew Tron: Uprising). Fortunately, "Grounded" doesn't cop out and immediately kill off Able because he knows about Beck's double life.

In his den, Mr. Winslow reads that little prick Urkel the riot act.
Able also reveals himself to Beck as the black-suited lightcycle rider who saved his life when a rebooted, powered-up General Tesler nearly derezzed The Renegade in front of millions of Argonian programs. The surprise turn in Able's working relationship with Beck raises the stakes of the show and creates the feeling that the uprising is finally getting somewhere and spreading, even though in the end, as Tron: Legacy foreshadowed, the uprising won't last--unless Disney somehow intervenes and forces the series to end on a positive note. It's called a downbeat ending, Disney. Don't tinker with it. Downbeat endings aren't just dogs dying, you know.


I've never been a fan of the irritating sounds of Chuck whimpering (courtesy of Nate Torrence, who played a slightly similar but not-as-shrieky genius in the 2008 Get Smart and its spinoff movie Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control), but for the first time in Motorcity's haphazardly scheduled run on Disney XD, I'm actually glad to hear the cowardly Burner's mewls and girlie screams again after yet another long hiatus. Okay, by the climax of "Reunion," Chuck's screams start to get old, but I've kind of missed the panicky guy.

Not even the fanciest hotel room I stayed in has as nice a view of the city as Dar Gordy's bedroom does. I'd get rid of all those Abraham Kane posters though. He looks like a pedo.
While Chuck continues to be the Jamie Lee Curtis of Motorcity (as in Jamie Lee Curtis the scream queen, not Jamie Lee Curtis the spokeswoman for yogurt that helps you fart, although the latter would be amusing too), "Reunion" reveals more of the backstory of Dutch, Chuck's much less fearful fellow Burner, which "Going Dutch" remarkably hinted at earlier this season without any dialogue. We learned Dutch left behind his parents (Gary Anthony Williams, Kimberly Brooks) and younger brother Dar (Shake It Up's Roshon Fegan) in Detroit Deluxe because of his frustrations with Abraham Kane's fascist hold over Deluxe and his desire to pursue a life of painting street art in Motorcity, and now in "Reunion," we find out that his biggest reason for leaving was to keep his political activism from endangering the lives of his family.

We also get a last name for Dutch and his family (they're the Gordys, which appears to be a shout-out to Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, like how Chilton, Burners leader Mike's last name, is a reference to Chilton auto repair manuals). Dar, who used to worship Dutch, resents him for leaving, so he's moved on to a different idol now--Kane--and joined KaneCo as a junior cadet. He doesn't know that his brother is a Burner, so when he does finally learn what Dutch has really been up to in Motorcity, will he seize the opportunity to turn in his own brother?

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a new AFOS block, begins this week

'Hey, someone better be Instagramming this carousel totally blowing up!'
(Photo source: Precious Bodily Fluids)
After upgrading AFOS to stereo over the weekend, I didn't notice until this morning that so many "AFOS Prime" tracks come from animated shows and movies, whether for adults (The Venture Bros.) or adults who have to give their hyperactive kids something to sit through to keep them from destroying shit (Ratatouille). There are enough tracks from animated works to fill a new AFOS block I'm calling "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round."

In addition to all the score cues from Venture, Pixar, Bruce Timm shows and Cowboy Bebop, the new block will contain some tracks that are exclusive to "Brokedown Merry Go-Round" and aren't in rotation during "AFOS Prime," like music from You & the Explosion Band's disco score to Lupin the 3rd. The smooth Lupin R&B instrumental "Magnum Dance ~ Lonely for the Road" is like the perfect break for DOOM to spit rhymes to. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" airs weekdays at 2-4pm.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

AFOS converts to stereo this Saturday, December 1--if there are no technical difficulties

I don't know why this guy's been staring at his portable air conditioner for 10 minutes. Yo, mister, it's not a TV!
After 10 years of AFOS being in mono (22050 Hz, 32 kbps, "Good audio quality for talk radio. Not great for music," according to Live365, which powers AFOS), I'm upgrading AFOS to stereo (22050 Hz, 56 kbps, "Audio quality is the illest," according to me). Since October 1, I've been going through the AFOS music library and re-converting five or 10 "AFOS Prime" playlist tracks per day, this time into stereo mp3s instead of saving them down as mono mp3s like I used to do for 10 straight years.

The conversion to stereo was originally going to take place on January 1, but because I now have enough mp3s that won't result in too much repetition, I'm moving the upgrade up to Saturday. That means I have to temporarily shut down the station tomorrow to upload all those redone files to the station locker. Hopefully, there won't be any technical snafus in the next two days because I don't have the patience for that shit right now.

The slightly bigger file sizes will result in less music in the locker, but far superior sound quality. In other words, AFOS won't sound like an AM station anymore. I streamed content in mono only because mono file sizes are smaller, and that allowed me to stream a lot more music (according to Live365, four times more music than I'll be capable of streaming in stereo, to be exact).

I was playing back the new stereo mp3 I just made out of "Malcolm and Martin" from the Do the Right Thing score album, and the difference is huge. I like being able to hear Terence Blanchard's trumpet during "Malcolm and Martin" with the same clarity and resonance it has on the album.

The downsized amount of music in the locker also means huge schedule changes. The "AFOS Prime" block will remain on the schedule, but the other blocks--"Beat Box," "Rock Box," "Rome, Italian Style," "Chai Noon," "New Cue Revue" and "Soda and Pie"--will not be back. However, some tracks from the "Chai Noon" playlist will be transferred to "AFOS Prime," and I might bring back "Beat Box" and "Rock Box" to the schedule at some point next year as I gradually rebuild those two playlists. I took another look at the revamped "AFOS Prime" playlist, and it turns out I do have enough not-so-John-Williams-y tracks to rebuild "Beat Box," so "Beat Box" is back on the schedule with a new time slot: Mondays through Fridays at 7-9am.

Frankly, I always hated mono, from the way it makes music sound so tinny to its very name. Audio formats shouldn't have the same exact names as diseases you get from kissing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (11/28/2012): Dragons: Riders of Berk, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Dan Vs., Adventure Time and Regular Show

'Splat.'--A dead squirrel's body, two minutes after realizing he can't fly.
Marc Maron chewed on orange-flavored Nicorette acorns for a few weeks in preparation for his role as a squirrel. (Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)

Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

In the solid conclusion of Dragons: Riders of Berk's espionage-filled "Heather Report" two-parter, Outcast spy Heather's motive for working for the evil Vikings turns out not to be because she's evil too, but because the Outcasts have held her parents prisoner and forced her to do their bidding in order to free them. Like Hiccup, Outcasts leader Alvin believes the dragon way is the way of the future, but he wants to use the dragons for selfish, WMD-minded purposes, which is much different from Hiccup's view of cooperating with the dragons to help improve Viking society and make Viking life easier. Alvin failed to capture Hiccup in "Alvin and the Outcasts," so he's moved on to trying to steal Hiccup's Book of Dragons to figure out how to control the dragons he's held captive on Outcast Island, and he sent Heather to Berk to snatch the book for him.

Heather admits to Astrid, who was jealous of the attention Heather received from Hiccup and the others before they found out she's been spying on them for the Outcasts, that she lied about being attacked by pirates in order to save her parents. To retrieve the book, Astrid volunteers to go off on her own to Outcast Island--disguised in dyed-black hair as Heather--and is surprised to find out over there that Heather isn't lying about Alvin holding her parents prisoner.

Look, it's Faux-Heather, or--if this show were more like Fringe--Feather.
(Photo source: Berk's Grapevine)

"Heather Report, Part II" features some great intentionally-bad voice acting by America Ferrera when Astrid first fools the Outcasts into thinking she's Heather, despite having a completely different eye color and sounding nothing like her. When she's posing as Heather, Astrid sounds more like the mocking and inaccurate imitation of Heather as a high-pitched and vapid seductress that she did in front of her dragon Stormfly in part 1. Astrid is a great warrior but a crappy impressionist.

Is it me or does Heather appear to be lesbian? I doubt Dragons: Riders of Berk will go there like Ugly Betty, Ferrera's LGBT-friendly old show, used to do, but I got an inkling that Heather plays for the other team--and I don't mean the Outcasts--after Astrid rescues her parents and recovers the book. When Heather says goodbye to the gang, she hugs Astrid but doesn't hug Hiccup, and when a still-smitten Snotlout whispers "Write me" to Heather as she sails off, she amusingly shuts Snotlout down with a Pussy Galore-style "I'm immune to your charms, James" headshake.

Snotlout's longing look at Heather at the end isn't the only longing glance during this episode at a female character while she sails away. In a nicely directed moment early on in "Heather Report, Part II," Hiccup stops himself from saying "I love you" to Astrid on Berk's beach when she heads off on her dangerous mission. It's the first time we've seen Hiccup view Astrid as more than a friend since his vision of her walking seductively in slo-mo with an explosion behind her at the start of How to Train Your Dragon. I've said before that both that movie and Dragons are about the challenges of limited communication, whether it's between humans and non-verbal dragons or teens and their inflexible parents. Now we can add to those challenges Hiccup's shyness about expressing his feelings for the girl he loves.


I was pleased with "A Necessary Bond," the conclusion of Star Wars: The Clone Wars' four-part Jedi younglings arc with special guest star David Tennant as a lightsaber-building droid named Huyang--up until when the Battle Droids showed up and started speaking in those grating Eddie Deezen-ish voices of theirs. Then I remembered why I was underwhelmed by the overtly kid-friendly Phantom Menace and why I've stayed away from The Clone Wars, which, like Genndy Tartakovsky's surprisingly good earlier spinoff of the same name, takes place between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The Battle Droids and their "Roger, roger" catchphrase rank right below Jar Jar, the Asian-accented villains and child actor Jake Lloyd's inability to act as lowlights of The Phantom Menace. Those Deezen-ish droids are emblematic of how flat and not-so-menacing all the villains in The Phantom Menace were.

Fortunately, General Grievous (Matthew Wood, who also voices all the Battle Droids) is the main baddie in the younglings arc instead of the Battle Droids. His conquest of duplicitous intergalactic pirate Hondo Ohnaka (Jim Cummings) and his crew forces Hondo to team up with Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) and her younger charges, whose lightsaber crystals Hondo's crew attempted to steal in "A Test of Strength." During "A Necessary Bond," the spider-like armor design of this asthmatic proto-Darth Vader (who made his first appearance in the franchise during Tartakovsky's Clone Wars), the Jedi knights' difficulties with stopping him and his Predator-like trait of collecting the knights' lightsabers as trophies are all reminders of how much of an improvement Grievous was over the Battle Droids as a prequel adversary. When Grievous wiped the floor with all those Jedi during his genuinely riveting introduction in Tartakovsky's Clone Wars, you got the sense that George Lucas realized how insipid the Battle Droids were and how boring Darth Maul was, so he came up with a threat who was more intimidating than either of them.

'Need a lozenge, General? Well I've got something better than that. My foot. Up your ass.'
(Photo source: Toonzone)

Yet Grievous doesn't hold a candle to Vader in the first two Star Wars films or Star Trek's Khan Noonien Singh, whose voice and charismatic personality Cummings channels in his portrayal of Hondo. Though I enjoyed a few elements of this "Young Jedi" arc (Wookiee youngling Gungi, whose growls are amusingly left unsubtitled like Chewbacca's, is an especially intriguing addition to the cast, and the Tenth Doctor does a nice job subbing for Anthony Daniels' C3P0 as a foil to R2D2), I'm still not ready to make The Clone Wars a regular viewing thing. The lack of personality in Grievous and the other prequel characters--except for Huyang, Gungi, Hondo and Ahsoka, who were all created for this show and are as close as the prequel projects have gotten to coming up with new characters on a par with the way more entertaining likes of Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando and yes, even whiny Luke--continues to draw me away.


Stalk like an Egyptian

"I remember pitching the cartoon version to [writing partner] Dan [Mandel], saying something like 'If it's a cartoon, we can do 'Dan vs. the Mailman' one week, and 'Dan vs. the Lost City of Atlantis' the next,'" said Dan Vs. co-creator Chris Pearson in a Toonzone Q&A. Mandel and Pearson's Hub cartoon (which was originally conceived by Mandel as a live-action sitcom where the ability to create worlds like Atlantis would have been held back by budget restrictions and the limits of live-action) has gone on to do exactly that at the start of its third and current season. The show pitted the titular misanthrope against something very relatable last week (anger management classes) and then pitted him against something much more fantastical and I Dream of Jeannie-ish this week (an undead, 4,000-year-old Egyptian king who wanders off from a local museum exhibit).