Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"It might be malig-nant": When good actors pretend to be crappy ones

Bradley Whitford's mustache was robbed at the Emmys that year.

Most TV heads love Bradley Whitford because of his heroic Josh Lyman character from The West Wing, but to me, Whitford gets a lifetime pass for a much lesser-known bit of post-West Wing TV work: Burn Notice creator Matt Nix's The Good Guys, where Whitford killed it each week in his comedic role of a gung-ho Dallas police detective who still thinks he's living in the '80s. The Good Guys came and went so quickly that when I revised the following blog post about fake bad acting in May 2012, I totally forgot about The Good Guys, which had gone off the air only a couple of years before. Whitford's return to TV this fall in ABC's surprisingly funny single-camera comedy Trophy Wife has brought back memories of The Good Guys, a show I miss a lot (The Good Guys can be revisited on Amazon streaming, but it will never hit DVD or Blu-ray because it would be impossible to clear all the '70s and '80s rock songs that were featured on the show).

The funniest episode during The Good Guys' single-season run involved the Whitford cop character transforming himself into a fake Mafioso. I'm adding it to a list of my favorite instances in which a decent or excellent actor portrays a less talented version of himself or herself (the other day, I Hulu'd a Good Wife episode where Alicia and Cary hire a hilariously overwrought Chicago actress to play a mock trial witness, and if the actress who played the crappy thespian weren't so unknown, I'd add her to the post too). The Good Guys episode precedes many other moments of great fake bad acting (some of them I previously discussed in January 2008).

Bradley Whitford, The Good Guys ("Silvio's Way")
I can't believe I nearly forgot this episode, where Whitford's Dan Stark brings out of mothballs an old undercover persona of his when he attempts to bust a group of mobsters he failed to catch seven years ago because he fell asleep during his own sting operation. The best part of Detective Stark's fake Italian character Silvio is his inconsistent accent, which Whitford kept changing during "Silvio's Way" to show how terrible Stark is at acting (one moment, he's channeling Walken, and then the next, his mobster voice turns into a completely different-sounding Brando type of thing). Whitford once told an interviewer that "Silvio's Way" was his favorite Good Guys episode to shoot, even though it called for him to strip down to a green Speedo when Stark gets strip-searched and stays undressed for a ridiculously prolonged amount of time that was longer than Whitford (or any male viewer like myself who never man-crushed on Josh Lyman and paid more attention to Mary-Louise Parker) was comfortable with. But like those creepy MADtv "Parents Walking Around in Their Underwear" sketches with Michael McDonald in just a pair of Walter White tightie-whities and dress shoes ("Boy, it's hot!") and Mo Collins in a pair of granny panties, the Speedo scenes make for great comedy. "I was instructed to gain weight and this is a tip for any actor--when you're doing a television show, when the head of the network says, 'It would be great if you gained some weight, because this is kind of a dilapidated character,' the next thing coming is a script where you're in a Speedo," said Whitford to Assignment X in 2010. "So don’t do it."

Sigourney Weaver, Galaxy Quest
Weaver's Gwen DeMarco character is a biting spoof of the uselessness of the secondary actors on certain shows that carry titles that rhyme with "car wreck." DeMarco had two functions on her old show: to serve as eye candy and to repeat whatever the spaceship's computer said. In Galaxy Quest, DeMarco amusingly undoes everything that Weaver worked to accomplish in the Alien films as the iconic Ellen Ripley, one of the fiercest female characters to ever spearhead a sci-fi franchise. Well, almost everything. The little-seen Galaxy Quest 20th Anniversary Special mockumentary--an uproarious Sci-Fi Channel tie-in that was stupidly left off the Galaxy Quest DVD and Blu-ray--suggests that DeMarco's limited Lieutenant Tawny Madison role had some merits. The mockumentary discloses that Tawny's trademark karate kick (a nod to the fighting moves of both Emma Peel from The Avengers and Erin Gray's Colonel Wilma Deering from the disco-era Buck Rogers) inspired a whole generation of blond-wigged female "Questarians" to imitate Tawny's fighting moves, and that maybe Tawny was a better role for DeMarco than the one she turned down, "a small part in a Woody Allen movie" (a sly reference to Weaver's appearance in Annie Hall). Speaking of secondary actors on fake sci-fi shows...

Derek Jacobi, Frasier ("The Show Must Go Off")
The esteemed British thespian deservedly won an Emmy in 2001 for his hilarious guest shot as Jackson Hedley, a mash-up of William Shatner and future Frasier guest star Patrick Stewart. The episode involves the Crane brothers' reunion with Hedley, a stage acting mentor who introduced them to Shakespeare when they were kids. Because Frasier and Niles are elitist snobs, they're more familiar with Hedley's Shakespeare work than with his signature role, as the android sidekick on Space Patrol. The brothers are appalled to discover their acting idol has been reduced to a Galaxy Quest-like, post-show career of "hawking T-shirts and sci-fi gewgaws," so in another one of their misguided business ventures, they attempt to rescue Hedley from the sci-fi con circuit by bankrolling his stage comeback. But Frasier and Niles become even more horrified when they watch Hedley rehearse and realize maybe he isn't as great a thesp as they thought he was. To give you a good idea of Hedley's atrocious delivery, think Dr. Orpheus from The Venture Bros. suffering from diarrhea--and if he had taken elocution lessons from Jon Lovitz's Master Thespian from SNL.

Alec Baldwin, SNL "Soap Opera Digest" sketch
In a 1993 sketch that's funnier than his most popular SNL bit, the balls-deep-in-double-entendres "Schwetty Balls," Baldwin delves into his soap opera acting past (The Doctors, Knots Landing) to play Trent Derricks, the star of Doctors, Nurses and Patients. Actually, Derricks isn't that bad of an actor. That is if you overlook his tendency to give interesting pronunciations to medical terms ("We believe it might be a pole-yip. It might be the Big C: canker! It might be benig. It might be malig-nant.") and names of Ivy League universities ("There's no class at Yeah-leh Medical School that can prepare you for this!"). (The sketch can be found on the SNL: The Best of Alec Baldwin DVD but is nowhere to be found in Yahoo's "complete" SNL archive.)

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock ("Jack-Tor")
I know it's Baldwin again, but the guy just excels at pretending to be a subpar performer, whether it's inebriated '60s variety show host Joey Montero, the Dean Martin analog in the recent live episode "Live from Studio 6H," 30 Rock's delightful homage to live TV, or Jack Donaghy, a network exec with no clue about how to say a simple line or two in front of a camera. Lorne Michaels, whose company produces 30 Rock, must really be good-humored about himself because the "Jack's outtakes" montage in this episode is clearly star/showrunner Tina Fey's jab at Michaels' stilted cameos on SNL.

Any of the actors who played Jack Horner's porn stars in Boogie Nights
Almost everyone has a favorite moment from Boogie Nights. Heather Graham stripping to nothing but her roller skates. The shout-out to I Am Cuba. Mark Wahlberg mangling that cheesy theme song from The Transformers: The Movie. The drug deal-gone-bad sequence. The end credits--for those of you with a weak bladder. For me, it's Graham stripping to nothing but her roller skates. Coming in a close second is any of the footage from Jack Horner's movies-within-the-movie, in which we glimpse the genesis of John C. Reilly's dimwitted comedic personas ("Let's get some of that Saturday night beaver..."). Amber Waves' stilted delivery right before her first sex scene with Dirk Diggler always amuses me. Julianne Moore is a whiz at portraying vacant-eyed starlets like Amber. The character has never quite left Moore: a little bit of Amber seeped into a surprisingly funny SNL Ladies Man sketch where Moore stole the show because of her performance as a ditzy spokesmodel, as well as into her Cookie's Fortune character, an amateur actress who participates in a cheesy production of Salome at the local church.

On "Buckets of Score" on AFOS, things take a turn for the Grimm

The Grimmsters of Triskelion
I'm not a regular viewer of the NBC cult favorite Grimm, but it's a pretty decent supernatural procedural whenever I get the chance to watch it (Sleepy Hollow and Lost Girl are more my jam). La-La Land Records has released an album full of highlights of Richard Marvin's score music from Grimm's first two seasons, so to add much more recent material to AFOS' "Buckets of Score" block at 5pm Pacific on Halloween tomorrow, I'm throwing in selections from the Grimm score album. Two of those selections are from the gladiatorial Grimm episode "Last Grimm Standing," an episode I've never seen (it looks an awful lot like that gladiatorial episode of Angel, Grimm producer David Greenwalt's old show).

CBS's current niches are lowest-common-denominator sitcoms and interchangeable-as-fuck police procedurals that only Republican dads seem to love, while ABC continues to score with female viewers. I feel like the beleaguered and increasingly irrelevant NBC, which doesn't give a shit about genuinely funny comedy anymore (way to front on John Mulaney and his sitcom, NBC, although maybe Mulaney's better off hooking up with Fox now), should try becoming the Horror Network because of the successes of both Grimm and the Dracula premiere and the critical acclaim of its Hannibal reboot. Fear Itself, NBC's last attempt at a new horror anthology show, failed to attract eyeballs a few years ago. I'd like to see NBC try again with a horror anthology because maybe it will catch on this time, now that American Horror Story revived the anthology format over on FX. And maybe a terrific score album that I could add to "Buckets of Score" rotation will come out of that NBC anthology show.

Speaking of enjoyable score albums that have come out of TV shows, the 42-track Arrested Development album, which composer David Schwartz has been talking about compiling since Netflix debuted the show's fourth season, will finally be available from Varèse Sarabande on November 19, and AFOS already has the soundtrack in rotation. I've added Lucy Schwartz's "Boomerang," the catchy song that sounds as if it could blend in with her dad's Arrested Development score music and is featured in the end credits of the fourth season's final episode, as well as the show's "Eye of the Tiger" parody "Balls in the Air." It's such a dead-on "Eye of the Tiger" parody that you could easily picture it turning up in some crappy '80s Cannon Films production that wanted so desperately to create another "Eye of the Tiger" but failed to understand whatever it was that made "Eye of the Tiger" a huge hit.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Samurai Flamenco, "Flamenco vs. Fake Flamenco"

So is this a Top Gun ripoff or an Iron Eagle ripoff or a ripoff of an Iron Eagle ripoff?
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.

I hate breaking down TV shows or movies as "it's this plus this (minus that)." But sometimes it's the only way to explain shit. In the first couple of episodes that allowed non-subscribers to stream in their entirety, the animated Japanese showbiz satire Samurai Flamenco, the charming and enjoyably understated creation of writer Hideyuki Kurata and director Takahiro Omori, is basically the Captain Freedom wanna-be superhero arc from Hill Street Blues plus Kick-Ass (minus the fascism, racism and shock value of the Kick-Ass comics).

But I have a feeling that in the next few weeks, Samurai Flamenco will develop into something more nuanced and complicated than that equation. That feeling is due to how surprisingly grounded and subdued Samurai Flamenco's sense of humor has been--and how observant and dead-on the show has been about Japanese showbiz--as it revolves around Masayoshi Hazama (Toshiki Masuda), an idealistic 19-year-old male fashion model who suits up as the titular costumed avenger. He wants to become a superhero just like Harakiri Sunshine or the Money Rangers, the colorful heroes of the live-action Japanese superhero shows he's adored since he was a kid. But how's that possible in a complicated world where superpowers are impossible to acquire and injustice is everywhere, except it's not on such a melodramatic level--it's more on the level of quieter and more mundane mishaps like misplacing an umbrella or unfairly losing a job--and costumed supervillains who cackle loudly about their misdeeds exist only in manga or on TV?

If Samurai Flamenco turns into the Japanese version of Blankman, I really don't need to see Hazama start jizzing his pants in the presence of a fine-ass woman.
Our surrogate into Hazama's slightly warped but well-meaning fantasy world is Hidenori Goto (Tomokazu Sugita), a 24-year-old--and already burnt-out--uniformed police officer whose law enforcement experiences have been closer to Barney Miller than the Lethal Weapon/Bad Boys/Hot Fuzz vision of law enforcement: in other words, lots of sitting around in between responding to reports of minor offenses like jaywalking. One night while off-duty, Goto first encounters Hazama in an alleyway, hiding behind trash cans without any clothes on after his Samurai Flamenco costume was torn during a skirmish with some schlub Hazama tried to apprehend for smoking in a non-smoking area. Hazama thinks that if he first focuses his crusade on pursuing smokers who ignore non-smoking signs and jaywalkers, he'll be able to move onto bigger fish. The problem is that Hazama isn't exactly good at this costumed vigilante thing. He gets beat up by a bunch of middle-schoolers in the premiere episode "Debut of Samurai Flamenco!" That's how terrible Hazama is at crimefighting.

Although Goto is aware that his bumbling new friend--and drinking buddy who, of course, refuses to drink--isn't right in the head and he isn't quite on board with Hazama's worldview that you shouldn't settle for curry udon when what you really want is curry rice, the cynical cop decides to help Hazama out on his crusade. Hazama is going to need more of Goto's help now that Samurai Flamenco has become a social media phenomenon. Video footage of him trying to retrieve Goto's inadvertently stolen umbrella goes viral in the same way that the world first learned about Kick-Ass, except in an amusing touch that separates this grounded show from the smug power fantasies of Kick-Ass, Samurai Flamenco barely does anything superheroic or physical in the video.

She's about to Bourne Supremacy his ass with that magazine in her hand.
Everyone, including Mari Maya (Haruka Tomatsu), a member of a J-pop girl group, and Sumi Ishihara (Chie Nakamura), Hazama's easily exasperated manager from his modeling agency, is attempting to figure out Samurai Flamenco's secret identity--unlike Lois Lane, Sumi isn't blind and has a feeling that he could really be Hazama, but she's hoping it's not true--and now in "Flamenco vs. Fake Flamenco," Joji Kaname (Jurota Kosugi), the muscle-bound star of one of Hazama's favorite superhero shows, Red Axe the Armored God, sees the Samurai Flamenco craze as an opportunity to resuscitate his buzzless-of-late showbiz career. The producers of a Japanese panel show round up Hazama, who's afraid of being unmasked, and a bunch of other celebrities who have also been suspected of being Samurai Flamenco for a special broadcast in which they intend to both reveal which of their panel guests is secretly Samurai Flamenco and give him a reward of one million yen, but then in swoops Kaname, who takes down a bunch of masked stuntmen in front of the studio audience. He unmasks himself to the audience while clad in a better-looking version of the Samurai Flamenco costume that was created for Hazama by a fashion designer he knows. Hazama is stunned and unsure how to handle the fact that he's become a victim of identity theft by one of his action show idols, while Goto, who's no stranger to dealing with liars due to his job as a cop, doesn't care for this self-serving imposter who comes up with lies about creating Samurai Flamenco just to further his career.

If this were 30 Rock or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, both live-action comedies that are actually more cartoonish than Samurai Flamenco, Kaname would be a total asshole and a one-note antagonist (adversarial guest characters were never the strong point of those two shows, McPoyle siblings aside). But we get a tip-off that Kaname is actually an all-around good guy--and isn't going to antagonize Hazama for too long--when we see him leafing through his dwindling fan mail in front of his manager, who, instead of being a sleazy showbiz piranha, is an unassuming lady who's much older than either Sumi or Kaname and whom Kaname has clearly been loyal to for a couple of decades. A much jerkier TV star would have dumped her ass a long time ago. Before I watched "Flamenco vs. Fake Flamenco," I didn't pay much attention to the Samurai Flamenco key art and opening credits, which both feature Kaname, so I was surprised by how well the episode integrates Kaname into the cast and establishes that he's going to wind up instead as a mentor of sorts for Hazama, who could use much more of the fighting skills Kaname displayed each week on Red Axe. "Flamenco vs. Fake Flamenco" also comes up with a clever way to shut down Sumi's attempt to find out if Samurai Flamenco is really her own client without making me throw up my hands in frustration.

How the fuck do they blow their noses with that shit over their faces?
The artwork and animation on Samurai Flamenco are well-done--I especially like the attention to detail in the footage of superheroes and rubber-suited villains from Harakiri Sunshine, Money Rangers and Red Axe--but an even more impressive aspect of Samurai Flamenco is the lack of fan service, that fixture of anime where a panty shot (Kill la Kill was all about that this week), a little sideboob, some jiggle action or a shower scene is thrown in to appease fanboys even though it has shit to do with the story. Hazama's attractive manager is actually fully dressed on this show. Samurai Flamenco is clearly written for grown-ups who have matured past watching anime mostly for fan service and are hungry for something even more substantial than curry rice.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Coppelion, "Hope"

'To Popeyes Nuclear-Fried Chicken, y'all!'
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.

Based on an ongoing manga by Tomonori Inoue that's been in print since 2008, the new anime show Coppelion is a promising-looking sci-fi actioner set in a not-so-promising-looking future, where a horrible nuclear meltdown in Tokyo--reflective of Japan's pre-Fukushima anxieties about nuclear power--caused most of the city's populace to evacuate. However, post-apocalyptic Tokyo looks far from hellish: 20 years have passed since the meltdown, so vegetation regrew over the cityscape, and feral animals wander the abandoned, forest-like metropolis. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force sends three highly trained agents into Tokyo to look for remaining survivors. But because this is a seinen manga we're talking about here (a seinen is a manga targeted to a young male audience), the three agents are teenage schoolgirls, something that's never been seen in an anime before.

Ibara (Haruka Tomatsu), the leader of the force's special Coppelion unit, and her two fellow "dolls," bespectacled Taeko (Satomi Akesaka) and easily excitable, constantly-refers-to-herself-in-the-third-person Aoi (Kana Hanazawa), are all genetically engineered and resistant to radiation, so they're able to walk around contaminated Tokyo without hazmat suits covering their school uniforms. "Puppet," Coppelion's October 2 premiere episode, took a nifty approach to establishing the show's haunting--and thanks to its skilled background artists, oddly picturesque--setting. Instead of diving into a pile of clunky-sounding exposition right from minute one like most animated sci-fi shows do, the premiere took its sweet time introducing the Coppelions and doling out expository details.

We didn't find out why the girls are called Coppelions until the second episode, the overly melodramatic "Future," when Aoi explains to a survivor that they were named after the French ballet Coppélia, a tale of a mechanical doll who thinks she's human. We still don't even know what exactly Aoi's superpowers are yet, other than the power to annoy when she either cries during a tense situation or gets all Chris Hardwick-y about things that are great (dessert after a hot shower, for example). Aoi is reminiscent of Molly Hayes, the youngest, most immature and most pugnacious heroine in Marvel's Runaways, and I suspect her powers will be similar to Molly's.

I like how Coppelion is slowly world-building post-apocalyptic Tokyo, and "Hope," the best of the episodes that have aired so far, continues that gradual approach. It introduces the show's first genuine villains, a mysterious group of B-2 bomber pilots who are flying into Tokyo to make life difficult for the hazmat-suited survivors and are most likely responsible for spreading even more radiation to the already irradiated city (my money's that they're Americans).

The raised levels of contamination that they've perpetrated have disrupted the charity work of an anonymous figure known only as the Delivery Man, who's been bringing food and supplies to the survivors. The JGSDF discovers that the Delivery Man is actually Denjiro Shiba, the same scientist who built the power plant that caused the meltdown in Tokyo. He harbors enormous guilt for his connection to the meltdown, so to atone for creating the disaster, he's been doing all sorts of good deeds, whether it's delivering goods to the people or attempting to rescue an elderly woman who's been kidnapped by the bomber pilots. Shiba turns to Ibara for help in rescuing the kidnapped nursing home resident, and Ibara gets to demonstrate that she has "10 times the athletic ability of normal humans" in a sweet rescue scene that finally delivers--no pun intended--on the agile and combative action that's been briefly glimpsed in the show's opening credits.

This must be how Gina from Brooklyn Nine-Nine thinks the cops at her precinct defend themselves when they're shot at by perps on the street.
Both Coppelion and the batshit crazy Kill la Kill are the first anime shows I've been watching while they air first-run in Japan, instead of several years after they first aired (Coppelion episodes are being posted on Hulu and Viz Anime the same day they drop in Japan). Like during the first few minutes of the cautiously paced "Puppet"--we knew these three callow schoolgirls on some sort of strange field trip were going to be the show's heroines, but we didn't understand what their skills were until about halfway through the premiere--I have no idea where exactly Coppelion is headed, but I'm looking forward to where it'll go, as long as it's not a boring-ass farm that the show inexplicably stays trapped in for almost its entire 13-episode run.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A compendium of cool cosplay

Boldly wearing what no weather chick has worn before.
Star Trek: The Next Generation cosplay!

Drake the type who'd hold all these Degrassi girls' purses while they take selfies.
Degrassi "Purple Dragon/naked Emma" episode cosplay!

So Flay we all!
Galactica cosplay!

One of Zosia Mamet's co-stars on Girls is Jemima Kirke. That was an incredible impression of Amy Poehler's impression of Kelly Ripa that Jemima Kirke did at that Jay Z 'Picasso Baby' video shoot she got her ass thrown out of.
Sydney Bristow whenever she woke up in a hospital on Alias cosplay!

All you need to do to summon him is to twerk the letters of his name in Morse code three times.
Beetlejuice cosplay!

Had no idea Jordan Catalano was a fan of second-tier Mel Brooks movies. Life Stinks must be his Citizen Kane.
Spaceballs henchman cosplay from the waist down!

Many white people feel that Downton Abbey's most recent season was far from purrrrrfect. I wouldn't know about the current quality of Downton Abbey because I'm neither white nor do I give a fuck about Downton Abbey.
Eartha Kitt cosplay!

Morriconeality, what a concept, ooh.
Ennio Morricone cosplay!

Who cares that Gravity isn't accurate about science? What people should instead be tripping over is why Sandra Bullock doesn't puke once during the movie after there was so much dialogue early on about how space-sick she always gets.
Justin Bieber cosplay!

"Hall H," a 10-hour block of original music from shows and movies that are popular at comic or anime cons and are frequently cosplayed at those cons, airs Saturdays and Sundays at 7am Pacific on AFOS.

Peep security officer Tasha Yar in a miniskirt. It's the only time she wore one. Unless you're Maggie Q in Nikita or Magnus: Robot Fighter, I don't think fighting enemies in a miniskirt is such a good idea.

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: South Park, "World War Zimmerman"

Fry, piggy, fry.
(Photo source: South Park Archives)
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

South Park's handling of the George Zimmerman trial and the Stand Your Ground law was an episode I was dreading for the last few weeks because libertarians like Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren't exactly known for having the most progressive views on race (as exemplified by how Asians have been portrayed on South Park). Also, what is there to find funny about Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin and the emotional debate about racial profiling that the Zimmerman verdict intensified? Plus it's later-era South Park, which, much like later-era Simpsons, hasn't made me laugh out loud in years (the last time South Park was laugh-out-loud funny was when it ripped apart the writing on Family Guy) and has been stuck in a formula (storylines that parody the latest popular reality show or cable sensation, like Investigation Discovery programming in last week's "Informative Murder Porn").

This is how Mumia Abu-Jamal should break out of prison: a pile of inmates would crowdsurf him up to the prison roof.
But instead of making light of Martin's death, "World War Zimmerman" pokes fun at Zimmerman's paranoia about anyone with a dark complexion--this is clearly not a pro-Zimmerman episode--and racists' dumb reactions to, well, anything that's outside their extremely limited purview, particularly the Zimmerman verdict and African Americans' feelings about it. Cartman's always terrible treatment of Token (Adrien Beard), the show's sole black character after Chef was written out of the show in typically grisly South Park fashion, is a reliable laugh-getter. Both the poem and "I Was Not the Bullet" school assembly rap song that Token has to endure from Cartman, the king of racism in the town--as well as Cartman's silly World War Z-inspired nightmare about an outbreak of black rioters--automatically make this an above-average later-era South Park episode. The delightful visual of the detestable Zimmerman being fried on the electric chair--after he shoots a white kid, of course--also bumps this episode up.

I haven't seen World War Z, but the gags that reference the famously troubled Brad Pitt blockbuster still manage to be funny. I like the little detail of Cartman wearing that stupid-looking scarf that's wrapped around Pitt's neck in World War Z trailers and publicity shots. (By the way, it's called a shemagh--frequently pronounced "schmog"--and it's used by desert soldiers to shield their faces from dust and sand, but in scarf form, it's goofy-looking. Pitt looks like he's about to join Steven Tyler for a rendition of "Cryin'.") The running gag of Cartman repeatedly causing planes to crash (in order to stop what he thinks will be an outbreak of black rioters) killed me.

The pilot killed himself because he couldn't stand looking at that fucking scarf any longer.
Is the surprising number of genuine laughs in "World War Zimmerman" due to the involvement of former SNL cast member Bill Hader, whose Weekend Update nightlife reports as Stefon and dead-on impressions of the likes of Alan Alda and Judd Hirsch were recent (and sometimes deleted) highlights of SNL? For South Park's 17th and current season, Hader, who served as a creative consultant on South Park in the past, rejoined the animated series as a full-time writer. That's what I thought Conan O'Brien should have done after bouncing from NBC: return to The Simpsons as a staff writer to steer that leaky ship back to glory.

Memorable quotes:
* "We need to go somewhere the spread won't take hold, like Iceland."

* General: "We need you to shoot a young African American for us." Zimmerman: "I gave that up." Government agent: "You're the best, Zimmerman!"

* The general's reaction to a daytime attempt on Zimmerman's life by Cartman, who put himself in blackface: "My God, I didn't even see him!"

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

"Welcome to hell, motherfuckers!": Tune in to "Buckets of Score" on Halloween on AFOS and sample either one of the following 11 thrillers if horror's not your thing

Cleanup on Aisle 666.
On Thursday, October 31, from 5pm to 11pm, AFOS will once again be streaming original music that's suited for Halloween. The "Buckets of Score" block will be full of score cues from movies like the original Halloween, 2007's Trick 'r Treat and Attack the Block. I don't like horror movies, but I'm crazy about '70s and '80s John Carpenter and the following works, which are great horror movies for peeps who don't like horror movies. Some of them contain music that will be streamed during "Buckets of Score."

Attack the Block
Set in a rough South London neighborhood attacked by "gorilla wolf muthafuckas" from outer space, the 2011 Edgar Wright-produced cult favorite Attack the Block is inventive sci-fi with a youth of color as the lead for a change. Hoodie leader Moses (John Boyega) and his crew find themselves dealing with alien invaders, as well as two much more typical South End threats: the Five-0 and a trigger-happy drug lord named Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). The film doubles as an inspired, non-preachy critique of the demonization of the working class in the U.K. A one-time mugging victim who wanted to better understand his muggers and their lives instead of being resentful and fearful of them, writer/director Joe Cornish takes working-class kids like Moses and the brainy Jerome (Leeon Jones) (their mugging of Jodie Whittaker's nurse character Sam at the start of the film was based on the incident Cornish experienced) and fleshes out those characters to prove the irrationality of demonizing the underclass. (Had Attack the Block been a much bigger hit in America, it would have caused that racist dickcheese Lou Dobbs to get his panties in a bunch over the kinds of characters it chooses to sympathize with.) What also makes Attack the Block stand out is the absence of CGI. All the creature FX in Cornish's film are practical. The alien attacks are fast and brutal, and this is a case where the fast-cutting that so many critics complain about when they see present-day action movies is absolutely necessary because here, it prevents us from noticing how cheap-looking the monsters are--they're essentially just stuntmen leaping around in eyeless and coal-black bear suits outfitted with ginormous blue neon teeth. But because the Attack the Block aliens aren't CG, there's a realness and formidability to them that's missing from most CG creatures. Attack the Block is more of a sci-fi actioner than a genuinely scary horror film, although it contains one horrific moment: the split-second shot of a mutilated Hi-Hatz doing his best impression of Voldemort.

Just let your Skull Glo!

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later was my gateway to the zombie genre when the Boyle film first hit DVD, and it led me to check out for the first time George Romero's 1978 follow-up to his breakthrough zombie film Night of the Living Dead. The 1968 film was straightforward apocalyptic horror, while Dawn of the Dead, which centers on a pack of zombie attack survivors who hole up in a Pennsylvania shopping mall, throws satire into the mix. The mall backdrop and the survivors' gradual immersion into mall culture while biding their time both serve as a clever commentary on the downside of consumerism. The sequence where zombies turn an unlucky biker gang into a SAMCROnut buffet still holds up as grisly horror makeup FX wizardry. What doesn't hold up so well are a few non-FX-related elements that are a result of the film's low budget, like a really terrible, Mr. Peabody & Sherman-esque library music cue that drops when lead hero Ken Foree reconsiders killing himself and shoots and punches his way out of the mall.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder's first feature film still remains his best directorial effort. Duplicating the satire of the original Romero film would have been a pointless effort, so Snyder focused more on the action side of the material, and that's the one aspect where this remake outdoes the original. The Romero version is stronger as a satirical horror film, while the Snyder film is much better at action and suspense (the film's first few minutes, in which Sarah Polley watches the zombie apocalypse erupt, are still a corker). The Snyder version isn't without a humorous side though: the rooftop sequence where the survivors assign celebrity nicknames to zombies they use as target practice is genuinely funny, as is a pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell as the douchiest of the survivors.

Evil Dead II

The Fury
The original Carrie is a far better Brian De Palma horror flick. But the lesser-known 1978 De Palma bloodbath The Fury, which was three years ahead of David Cronenberg's Scanners as a hybrid of espionage thriller and psychokinetic horror flick, has its charms, like crazy gore FX by Rick Baker and William Tuttle, an intense John Williams score, a villainous turn by John Cassavetes and the sight of one of the greatest pioneers of indie cinema exploding into several pieces, still my favorite movie ending ever.

Cleanup on Aisle Who-Gives-a-Fuck.

Friday, October 4, 2013

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: American Dad, "Steve and Snot's Test-Tubular Adventure"

If Steve and Snot were smarter, they could have taken these babies to the local park where all the MILFs bring their kids and used the babies to find new prom dates there. They clearly haven't seen that Fresh Prince episode where Will starts to attract the honeys after pretending cousin Nicky is his baby.

The return of "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner" here at AFOS: The Blog marks a change in format (the discussion of five of the week's first-run animated shows is being pared down to just the week's most satisfying animated show), a move from Wednesdays to Fridays and a new name: "Brokedown Congress Merry-Go-Round," which is also the name of AFOS' animation score music block. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

The week's funniest animated show--funnier than either Bob's Burgers' underwhelming season premiere or South Park's mildly amusing takedown of both Investigation Discovery "murder porn" and Time Warner Cable--would have been a surprise to me a few weeks ago, when my hatred of almost everything produced by Seth MacFarlane was at its most intense. That hatred was fueled by the tired racist jokes featured in the pilot of the new live-action sitcom Dads (MacFarlane co-executive produces the show, but he's not one of its creators or writers). The only Fuzzy Door production I have any tolerance for is the CIA agent cartoon American Dad (which MacFarlane also doesn't showrun; his sole regular contribution to American Dad is his voice work as both Stan and Roger).

Sure, American Dad isn't immune to some of the Fuzzy Door factory's racist jokes and strictly-for-shock-value, lowest-common-denominator gags I've grown to not love, but it's also the least lazily written and least hacky MacFarlane production. The Smith family's hijinks often aren't limp excuses to string together random pop-culture reference gags that bring to mind Friedberg & Seltzer movies at their hackiest. Actual effort is put into crafting clever and genuinely bizarre stories, like when writer Chris McKenna (who scripted one of Community's funniest half-hours, "Remedial Chaos Theory," and is now back together with that show's staff, along with once-ousted creator Dan Harmon) screwed around with the heartwarming Christmas episode template, and together with his writer brother Matt, they turned that template upside down in the post-apocalyptic "Rapture's Delight." Plus most of the funniest lines on American Dad each week have nothing to do with pop-culture references.

My hatred of Dads started to taint my past enjoyment of American Dad, and so much so to the point where when I needed to clear some space from my MacBook's hard drive recently by deleting iTunes downloads of TV series episodes (and transferring them to Flash drives), I chose to delete everything MacFarlane-related, including all the American Dad episodes I downloaded last season and haven't really rewatched since they first aired. I even erased an episode I genuinely liked from start to finish, "Lost in Space." But then "Steve and Snot's Test-Tubular Adventure," American Dad's ninth-season premiere (as well as its final season premiere on Fox before TBS begins exclusively airing new American Dad episodes in late 2014), came along, and it has gotten me to remember not all of Fuzzy Door's output is crap, as well as the reasons why American Dad remains the one bright spot of Fuzzy Door, in spite of the show's occasional racist gags or worst MacFarlane-isms (like the season premiere's random Coors Light "Twins!" jingle reference).

"Steve and Snot's Test-Tubular Adventure" centers on Steve (Scott Grimes) and his best friend Snot (Curtis Armstrong) attempting to find dates for prom night, after enduring yet another round of swirlies and taunts about their virginity from bully Vince Chung (returning guest star John Cho, who's currently menacing Sleepy Hollow while rocking a grotesquely broken neck straight out of Beetlejuice). When not even the hideous lunch lady twin sisters in charge of Pearl Bailey High's cafeteria are interested in going out with them (the twins chose to go on a double date with Steve and Snot's friends Barry and Toshi), Steve and Snot resort to creating their own prom dates, with the help of the cloning machine at Stan's CIA office and DNA samples taken from unsuspecting girls at the mall. But instead of a pair of hot teenage clones slinkily emerging from the cloning chamber, Steve and Snot wind up with infant clones who can't walk or talk yet.

I expected "Test-Tubular Adventure" to take a Weird Science-y, sexed-up turn when the clones, who are given the names Glitter and Honey and are aging at an accelerated rate, mature into full-grown women. But the episode goes in a whole different--and slightly affecting--direction. Instead of looking forward to scoring with Glitter (Mae Whitman), the clone he picked to be his date, the week Steve has spent educating Glitter (with tons of help from Roger and both the day care facility and girls' school he runs in his attic) causes him to develop parental feelings for her and call the whole sex thing off. He becomes especially parental and protective of Glitter when Snot, perhaps inspired off-screen by the "let's bang each other's sons" plot of the Naomi Watts/Robin Wright softcore flick Adore, takes Glitter away with him to the prom and intends to lose his virginity to her instead of to Honey.

Add some equally unexpected and cleverly integrated Blade Runner in-jokes in the climax (the funniest of these is the "Dystopian Nights" prom theme, complete with a Blade Runner Jumbotron of a geisha who's advertising an energy drink) and a couple of great payoffs to a running joke involving a cloned dodo bird that keeps cheating death, and you have an enjoyably twisty season premiere that leaves you wondering, "What was Fox thinking when it agreed to dump this surprisingly un-hacky MacFarlane cartoon from its lineup?"

Memorable quotes:
* A genuinely moved Snot to Steve: "Naming your sex clone after your great-grandmother: that's a nice way to honor her."

* "No parent should have to bury their child, which is why your mother and I have arranged for you to be cremated."