Friday, January 31, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Rick Potion #9"

Rick's ride is a little boring-looking. A flying saucer? C'mon, you can do a lot more fucking baller than that, Rick.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

The recently renewed Rick and Morty started out as Justin Roiland's profane riff on the friendship between Doc Brown and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies (and now stage musical?!--why?!). With the addition of Dan Harmon to Roiland's vision, it's morphed into a dark--and unmistakably Adult Swim--take on the well-traveled heroes of both The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which Harmon grew up reading, and Doctor Who, which Harmon references on Community in the form of the fictional show Inspector Spacetime (even composer Ryan Elder's Rick and Morty theme tune is sort of a takeoff on Murray Gold's updated arrangement of the old Doctor Who theme during modern Doctor Who's first three seasons).

Modern Doctor Who has sometimes attempted to explore what happens when the Doctor winds up making things worse rather than making them better (like what Russell T. Davies did with the 10th Doctor during the classic bottle episode "Midnight"), but on Rick and Morty, Harmon wants to go a step further and see what it's like when you strip away the whimsy, the heroism, the ultra-competence, the pacifism and all the other comforting things that make the Doctor such a beloved part of the family-friendly half of British TV. For instance, what if Ford Prefect--who was basically a Douglas Adams clone of the Doctor--was responsible for the destruction of Earth instead of the aliens who blew it up to make way for a "hyperspace bypass" that's under construction? Or what if the Doctor was a total sociopath and instead of saving lives and trying to avoid violence as much as possible, he didn't mind resorting to murder, which is how Rick handled an alien who attempted to molest his grandson last week in "Meeseeks and Destroy"?

This week, in "Rick Potion #9," which is credited solely to Roiland, Rick and Morty does an inspired--and thanks to all the David Cronenbergian body horror imagery, delightfully grotesque--spin on "What if the Doctor's scientific expertise kept ruining everything and plunged Earth into an apocalypse?" I love how the apocalypse is the result of an experimental love potion that was lying around Rick's lab like some unread indie comic I bought at APE in Sucka Free about a half a decade ago but have never gotten around to flipping through and is gathering more dust than a "Which racial terms are not allowed to be said on the air?" manual at the offices of Fox News.

Morty uses the potion to get Jessica, the classmate whose breasteses he dreamt about caressing in the pilot, to fall for him at their school's Flu Season Dance. But of course, the potion, which Rick warns Morty not to use on her if she has the flu, goes wrong when it's combined with Jessica's flu microbes and it ends up infecting everyone else at the dance. So in addition to both female and male classmates wanting Morty's body, all the faculty members become infatuated with Morty as well. Soon the rest of the world follows suit, except for Morty's loved ones, who are immune to the effects of Rick's potion because Rick's not much of a fan of incest, whether it takes place inside Morty's math teacher's pervy dream world or at 9pm on Sundays on HBO.

Wow, the supermodels in this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue look terrible.
Each of Rick's attempts to undo the potion's effects results in the rest of Earth's population experiencing different stages of mutations, one more horrible than the next. Rick's Cronenberging of the world gets so bad that he starts referring to all the mutated humans as "Cronenbergs." Only when the world's in complete shambles does a loser like Morty's dad Jerry get his chance to step up and take charge, and while he and his wife Beth's transformations into trigger-happy, post-apocalyptic action heroes are full of badass lines delivered with Ash from Evil Dead II-style aplomb by Chris Parnell and Sarah Chalke, it feels a little repetitive coming right after Jerry's victory with his revamped golf swing in "Meeseeks and Destroy."

"Rick Potion #9" was actually the first episode (after the pilot) that Harmon, Roiland and the other voice actors worked on, but Harmon and Roiland pushed it back to halfway through the first season because they felt it made more sense to air it at this later point. So while the change in air order results in a character who was previously established as an eternal fuck-up turning into a winner two episodes in a row, the decision to delay "Rick Potion #9" also makes the episode's downbeat final scene--soundtracked to the funereal strains of Mazzy Star's "Look on Down from the Bridge," a song that was also used on The Sopranos--much more powerful.

Rick's ultimate solution to all his previous mistakes is the kind of deus ex machina I don't think I've ever seen before in sci-fi, and it's another example of how brilliantly plotted Rick and Morty has been each week. With his portal gun, Rick simply abandons the monster-infested Earth he's inadvertently created and takes Morty with him to an alternate--and completely identical--Earth where they can start anew and replace that Earth's Rick and Morty, who died in a lab experiment without either Beth, Jerry or Summer to see them perish. Rick uses his portal technology to pinpoint the exact moment when their alternate counterparts died so that he and Morty can immediately bury their counterparts' corpses and take over their identities without Beth, Jerry and Summer noticing.

The act of burying his own horribly mangled corpse in the soil does such a number on Morty's psyche that all Morty can do afterward is sit silently in a shocked daze, not to mention the fact that he's surrounded by a family that looks and behaves exactly like the one he's spent all his life with (alt-Beth and alt-Jerry argue just like Beth and Jerry do; alt-Summer is glued to her phone just like Summer), but it isn't the same one he's spent all his life with. Meanwhile, Rick, with booze in hand, of course, nonchalantly eases his way into this alt-Earth as if he's done it a million times before. In one of the most memorable lines in GoldenEye, the Sean Bean character attempts to cut 007 down to size by telling him that he knocks back martinis to silence the screams of the men he's killed. I wouldn't be surprised if the booze similarly helps Rick to dull the remorse that Morty is now feeling and that I imagine a younger Rick must have felt too when he first encountered crazy situations like this.

This eerie and dramatic conclusion to a comedically chaotic episode would have felt heavy-handed had Adult Swim aired "Rick Potion #9" right after the pilot. But reshuffling the episode order--so that "Rick Potion #9" takes place after the Inception-esque mind-fuckery in both "Lawnmower Dog" and "M. Night Shyam-Aliens!," Morty's disgust over killing his loved ones' demonically possessed alternate reality clones and his near-brush with sexual assault inside that men's room--makes Morty's concluding expression of both despair and exhaustion resonate more. Because Rick and Morty isn't a serialized comedy, I wouldn't be surprised if the show never addresses the change in universes again and presses on as if nothing drastic happened. But that look of despair raises a bunch of questions about the rest of the season. Is Morty starting to wish for a life away from Rick? Does Rick even care about the destruction he leaves behind wherever he goes? Could he be an even bigger monster than the Cronenbergs he created back in the old universe?

By its second season, The Venture Bros. grew from being a Jonny Quest parody to something much richer. With the one-two punch of "Meeseeks and Destroy" and now "Rick Potion #9," Rick and Morty is already showing signs of doing the same thing: outgrowing its Doctor Who parody trappings to become its own animal, a lot more ferocious--and frequently funnier--than the classic that inspired it.

Memorable quotes:
* "The Flu Season Dance is about awareness, not celebration. You don't bring dead babies to Passover."

'Stay tuned for tonight's marathon of the greatest show ever made: M.A.N.T.I.S.!'
* "We interrupt Pregnant Baby with breaking news!"

* When Morty accuses Rick of being way more irresponsible than him, Rick's dismissal of love potions as being nothing more than roofies is so damn terrific: "All I wanted you to do was hand me a screwdriver, Morty. You're the one who wanted to me... wanted me to... buckle down and make you up a... roofie juice serum so you could roofie that poor girl at your school. I mean, w-w-w-w-w-a-are you kidding me, Morty? You're gonna try to take the high road on this one? Y-y-you're a little creep, Morty. Y-y-you're-you're just a little creepy creep person."

* And now, some pre-makeout banter that would never be uttered on Doctor Who: "I wish that shotgun was my penis." "If it were, you could call me Ernest Hemingway." "I don't get it, and I don't need to."

Friday, January 24, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Meeseeks and Destroy"

The moment I saw that box, I thought the show was going to riff on 'Button, Button,' a.k.a. that Twilight Zone episode that became a Cameron Diaz movie, of all things.
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.

"Meeseeks and Destroy" is a great turning point for Rick and Morty. It's where several of the regular characters evolve from being cartoon characters--and mere chess pawns in the writers' crazy and increasingly imaginative plots--to human beings with wants, desires, genuine sadness and occasional compassion, much like the characters on Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon's Community.

We learn that Beth (Sarah Chalke) is having regrets about her marriage to Jerry (Chris Parnell)--being pregnant with Summer (Spencer Grammer) at a young age, while putting herself through veterinarian school, was the main reason why she wedded Jerry--and she's beginning to feel stifled by her suburban existence. As for Morty (co-creator Justin Roiland), he's getting tired of being led around by Rick (also Roiland) through such dangerous adventures on other worlds. After some persuasion from Morty and agreeing to a bet with him, the cynical grandpa, who continually warns Morty that the universe is crazy and chaotic, lets his grandson be in charge of an adventure that's closer to his perception of adventure as simple and fun (somewhere on a Jack and the Beanstalk-like planet where medieval villagers are being subjugated by giants from a much more modernized section of the planet). That is until Morty realizes the hard way that Rick is right about the darkness and dangerousness of the universe, and his notion of adventure as simple and fun is destroyed in that unsettling scene every Rick and Morty viewer has been talking about on the Internet this week.

Yes, about that scene: Since episode one, Rick and Morty has been upfront about being dark-humored and adult, but never have I expected the show to go to such a dark place like it does when Morty is nearly raped by Mr. Jellybean, an anthropomorphic and seemingly benign jellybean, in the bathroom of a tavern inside a stairway on the giants' land. Nothing alters the mood of a comedy like sexual assault, and fortunately, unlike too many other adult animated shows, "Meeseeks and Destroy" doesn't play Morty's moments of terror and subsequent trauma for laughs.

"Edith's 50th Birthday," the infamous All in the Family episode where Edith escapes an attempted rape in her own home, was lauded for its treatment of sexual assault (and the late Jean Stapleton totally owned the episode), but it has also dated badly. That All in the Family episode was made at a time when all comedy on TV contained studio audience laughter or canned laughter, so you get these annoying and strange studio audience giggles during the serial rapist's attempted attack and the scenes where Edith is wracked with PTSD (I don't care for the TV version of M*A*S*H, partly because of the canned laughter, but I always liked how the M*A*S*H producers, who opposed the CBS execs' insistence on a laugh track, refused to add laughter during the surgery scenes). You wonder if maybe All in the Family would have been better off taping "Edith's 50th Birthday" without the studio audience due to the seriousness of its subject matter, but then without that live audience, you wouldn't have gotten that classic moment where the audience cheers and goes crazy when Edith smashes a burning cake into the rapist's face and escapes. The stupid laugh track is a common thing you have to put up with when rewatching all those terrible and awkward '70s and '80s Very Special Episodes (VSEs) All in the Family is responsible for unleashing. It served as a cushion of comfort for '70s and '80s viewers, reassuring them that this is a light comedy first and a drama second. There's no such audio of laughter to be found in "Meeseeks and Destroy," which is why I find it to be more effective about the horror of almost being sexually assaulted than "Edith's 50th Birthday."

The bathroom incident introduces a compassionate side of Rick, whose treatment of Morty has bordered on abusive, ever since he insisted to Morty in the premiere episode that he smuggle extraterrestrial plant seeds inside his butt as if he were a drug mule. Despite moments like that, we know Rick cares a bit for his grandson because he'd willingly blow up civilization if doing so would get Morty to score with the girl he's crushing on. That great moment where Rick sees Mr. Jellybean stumble out of the bathroom in bruises created by Morty, silently puts two and two together and gives Mr. Jellybean a steely-eyed stare is further proof that Rick cares for Morty, as is his hilarious final act in the medieval village immediately after he and Morty find out the identity of the villagers' king. Fuck with Rick's family, and you're eradicated from the universe, no matter what social standing you are.

I'm making it sound like the near-rape scene brings "Meeseeks and Destroy" to a screeching VSE halt. Fortunately, "Meeseeks and Destroy" doesn't awkwardly turn into a VSE after the incident or end with Rick and Morty breaking the fourth wall to give the number of a counseling hotline like so many VSEs would do (although it does end with Rick breaking the fourth wall, not for PSA reasons but to put a button on an intentionally lame one-liner with what he mistakenly thinks is an old Arsenio catchphrase). It just treats the near-rape like the unsettling and horrible thing it is, doesn't try to preach about the horribleness of it and moves on. It's a grown-up and sophisticated way of handling such a subject, compared to how the VSEs would poorly stitch together their serious subjects with bits of comic relief or reassuring messages.

And I haven't even talked yet about the brilliance of the B-story. The B-stories on Rick and Morty have gotten increasingly ingenious, ever since the superintelligent dogs' conquest of Earth in "Lawnmower Dog." To keep Beth, Jerry and Summer from constantly turning to him for solving their problems, Rick presents them with a Meeseeks box, which, when its button is pressed, summons a Meeseeks ("I'm Mr. Meeseeks! Look at me!"), a jolly, genie-like blue creature whose purpose in life is to solve someone else's problem, and it's their only purpose because the Meeseekses wink out of existence immediately after accomplishing their tasks. Summer's Meeseeks helps her to become the most popular girl in school, while Beth's Meeseeks helps her to become a more perfect and pretty woman, as we see in an amusing restaurant scene where, over lunch, he drops some motivational advice to Beth as if he were every single magical gay BFF in every crappy rom-com. But when relentlessly mediocre Jerry asks his Meeseeks to help him take two strokes off his golf swing, Jerry fails to fix his swing, which keeps the Meeseeks in existence longer than he expected and causes him to push the button to summon another Meeseeks to help him help Jerry. When neither of them can help Jerry, they call on more and more Meeseekses to appear until all the Meeseekses go insane and agree that the only way they can disappear is to kill Jerry.

The last Dirty Harry movie had a scene at a restaurant like this, where Dirty Harry gunned down a bunch of robbers with blue skin and tufts of orange hair.
"Existence is pain to a Meeseeks, Jerry, and we will do anything to alleviate that pain!," shouts one of the Meeseekses while holding hostage at gunpoint the customers and waiters at a restaurant where Jerry and Beth are dining. Jerry has had a rough last few episodes, from seeing his mom make out with her new and much younger lover at Christmas dinner--while his dad's bizarrely okay with it--to having what he thinks is the best sex he's ever had with Beth when he unknowingly bangs an inanimate digital clone of her. So seeing Jerry rise to the occasion for once during the hostage situation--instead of the advice of a Meeseeks, a boost of confidence from Beth is what helps him to finally perfect his swing and send all the Meeseekses away--is a nice break from his spiral of patheticness.

Jerry's triumph is also a nice break from the dark examples throughout "Meeseeks and Destroy" of why the universe is, in Rick's words, a crazy and chaotic place. Yet another dark example pops up in the post-credits tag when the village chooses to sweep Mr. Jellybean's pedophilia under the rug, which is both comedically pathetic and, as we've seen from headlines like Joe Paterno's decision to keep quiet about Jerry Sandusky, sadly all too common in this crazy and chaotic universe. The tag is one of several dark touches that have elevated Rick and Morty from a solid Adult Swim show to one of the 2013-14 season's best new comedies, live-action or animated.

Memorable quotes:
* "Hey Rick, you got some kind of hand-shaped device that can open this mayonnaise jar?"

* Attorney: "Your Honor, I'm from a tiny person's advocacy group, and I have here in my hand a motion to dismiss! These little men were never read their giant rights and are therefore, free fi to fo home." Rick: "What the hell is he talking about?" Attorney: "They're free to go is what I meant. I-I'm deconstructing o-our thing we say. For giants. Nobody got that? Whatever."

* "I can't take it anymore! I just want to die!" "We all want to die! We're Meeseeks!" "Why did you even rope me into this?" "'Cause he roped me into this!" "Well, him over there, he roped me into this!" "Well, he roped me into this!"

* "Jerry, maybe it's time I take that trip I always talk about." "Where would you go?" "I don't know, man. Italy, Greece, Argentina..." Jerry, doing a half-assed Carnac impression: "Countries known for their sexually aggressive men."

* "Wait. Destroy it. Our people will get more from the idea he represented than from the jellybean he actually was."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The ruthless and the Toothless: These are among the tracks I've added to AFOS rotation this month

'Lee! Rico! Youngblood! Find out where those drums are coming from!'
Ennio Morricone, "The Strength of the Righteous" (film version) (from The Untouchables; now playing during "AFOS Prime")

"I had an art director that I was working with and we kept looking at shadows. I got the idea that the shadows should be actually cast by the word. And the art director kept saying, 'It's boring,'" recalled Superman: The Movie title designer Richard Greenberg to Art of the Title about his noirish concept for the Untouchables opening titles. "Finally I just looked at him and said, 'It's supposed to be boring.' I wanted it to take its time."

"Boring"? Really? Because I've seen a few alternate Untouchables opening titles on the Internet that were made by Untouchables fans and are much more busy-looking than Greenberg's titles, and they just don't fit Brian De Palma's operatic crime flick like Greenberg's titles do. It's one of my favorite Greenberg intros, partly because of Greenberg's simple and elegant title design and the way it evokes the shadows of prison bars at the start of the sequence.

Here we see Frank Nitti threatening innocent lives late at night, or as George Zimmerman calls it, neighborhood watch.
(Photo source: Radiator Heaven)
But the main reason why those titles leave such an impact--without it, Greenberg's colleague might have been onto something about the titles being boring--is Ennio Morricone's propulsive "Strength of the Righteous." The main title theme, one of my favorite Morricone main title themes, establishes the steadfastness of Eliot Ness and the Untouchables while introducing another motif. The harmonica was the instrument of choice for Charles Bronson's vengeance-seeking protagonist Harmonica in the Morricone-scored Once Upon a Time in the West, but in The Untouchables, Il Maestro used the harmonica to represent one of the villains, Frank Nitti (Billy Drago, who's more menacing than Robert De Niro in the film and with much less dialogue too), the psychotic chief enforcer for ruthless Al Capone (De Niro).

"The fact that Morricone's main title music showcases Nitti's theme rather than Capone's hints at the fact that Ness can never truly confront Capone (in fact the two never met in real life)," wrote Geek magazine's Jeff Bond in the liner notes for La-La Land Records' 2012 expanded reissue of the Untouchables soundtrack, "and that his only physical satisfaction in taking down the crime lord is in executing Nitti."

La-La Land's 2012 reissue opens with the version of "The Strength of the Righteous" that's heard in the film--the major difference between the film version of "Strength" and the 1987 A&M Records version is that Nitti's harmonica motif begins at a much earlier point in the former--and that film version has finally been added to "AFOS Prime" rotation. The Untouchables may be as historically accurate as a Drunk History sketch (Nitti didn't die right after being thrown off a rooftop by Ness in 1930; he committed suicide in 1943), but elements like "Strength," Sean Connery's Oscar-winning performance and that classic "Odessa Steps"/baby carriage sequence Untouchables screenwriter David Mamet reportedly still despises are why, as ScreenCrush writer Damon Houx nicely puts it, the 1987 film forms with the 1976 Carrie and the 1996 Mission: Impossible "an interesting De Palma trilogy of 'fuck you, I can do mainstream better than anyone.'"

That LiveLinks commercial she appeared in left out the part where she says she's also into archery.
Howard Shore, "Barrels Out of Bond" and "The Forest River (Extended Version)" (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; now playing during "AFOS Prime" and "New Cue Revue")

The Hobbit remains the only J.R.R. Tolkien novel I've read. Back when I was a kid who watched the 1977 Rankin-Bass Hobbit repeatedly on VHS and wanted to see what Tolkien's original vision of the story was like in print, I dove into the Ballantine Books softcover edition of The Hobbit (the one with the cover artwork of Gandalf and his cohorts taking shelter in the nest of one of the giant eagles that rescued them), and I have to say: Did this light adventure novel about a treasure hunt really have to be stretched out into three 180-minute movies?

Sure, two movies would have been alright to tell Bilbo's journey on the big screen, but three? Padded out to nearly 180 minutes each? With no intermission (because this is a really annoying era of moviegoing where the studios no longer include intermissions--which were, long before I was born, actually a good idea that helped make some of the studios' most interminable epics less of a grueling experience for moviegoers--and now the fuckwads who creep into theaters these days with their smartphones left on think every single minute of the feature presentation is an intermission)?

Though The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a more enjoyable installment than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (the Phantom Menace of this franchise), Peter Jackson's Hobbit prequel trilogy has so far paled in comparison to his beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy, which itself wasn't perfect (one of my favorite lines in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is "Don't worry. I saw the last Lord of the Rings. I won't have the movie end 17 times"), but it was a well-made trilogy, even though I'm not much of a sword-and-sorcery genre stan. One of the few additions Jackson has made to The Hobbit that actually works is the newly created character of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), an elf warrior who defies her dickish king's isolationism to help protect the dwarves and the inhabitants of Laketown from hordes of orcs. I like Lilly and the action heroine she plays in The Desolation of Smaug, even though Jackson and his credited co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have placed Tauriel at the center of a love triangle that wasn't in Tolkien's novel either, a blatant attempt to take the novel and Twilight it up for tweens who would most likely become bored with Bilbo's journey and would rather journey through the texts on the phones they've left on inside the theater.

If you're one of those moviegoers who kept checking your phones during The Desolation of Smaug's barrel escape sequence, just kill yourself. Right now. The barrel escape sequence, a moment where Tauriel gets to shine as an action heroine as she and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) take on the dwarves' orc enemies along the riverbanks, is one of the most entertaining action sequences of 2013. The sequence is also easily the biggest highlight of Howard Shore's Desolation of Smaug score. Shore gives the heroic theme he wrote for Tauriel its fullest statement in "The Forest River." ("Its elegance and avidity is balanced by a razor-sharp fierceness," said Lord of the Rings/Hobbit score music expert Doug Adams about Tauriel's theme.)

This is the moment where he stops being a Bombur-clat.
The elf guards aren't the only characters who get to shine during the sequence. The mute dwarf Bombur (Stephen Hunter), who, up until this sequence, has been a gluttonous buffoon, smashes his arms through the wine barrel he's escaping in and fights off the orcs with his weapons. The image of Bombur rolling around in his barrel has led, of course, to a bunch of artists' recreations on deviantART and Tumblr. 2013 was the year of rotund nobodies pulling a Sammo Hung and revealing themselves to be agile action heroes: Nick Frost's reserved ex-rugby player wiled out on hordes of alien robots in The World's End, and then Bombur finally made himself useful in The Desolation of Smaug.

'So if you are the big orc/We are the small axe/Ready to cut you down/To cut you down.'
(Photo source: TheRisingSoul)
Betta axe somebody
(Photo source: Strangely Charismatic)
Bombur's new workout plan
(Photo source: Just Jingles)

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Archer, "White Elephant"

Looking forward to the ballet version of The Ipcress File.
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.

Adam Reed was just plain bored.

I love how that's the simple reason why Reed peaces out Archer's ISIS spy agency backdrop with FBI explosives and gunfire in "White Elephant," the ballsy and unsurprisingly hilarious fifth-season premiere of the animated show that's currently topping all other animated shows in terms of funny dialogue and cold opens (that balletic "White Elephant" cold open with no dialogue may be the show's best one yet). Reed is writing ISIS out of the show--tired of letting Malory Archer get away with murder as the corrupt head of ISIS, the government shuts down ISIS and sends special guest star Gary Cole and his Feds to arrest Malory and her agents--so beginning with "White Elephant," Sterling Archer, expectant mother Lana and Malory are no longer spies.

"I think probably all writers have the fear of repeating themselves over and over," explained Reed to the A.V. Club about why he's getting rid of ISIS this season. "It's sort of a way to hopefully make sure I'm not doing that. And also to keep people watching, so it didn't slowly turn into mission-of-the-week."

Last season was as consistently funny as previous seasons, but the spy storylines were beginning to feel a little rote to me, especially the feud between ISIS and Bionic Barry. I'm not surprised that Reed recently revealed he was starting to feel the same way too. We don't tune in to Archer because of the missions of the week. We tune in mainly for Reed's deranged characters and to see what sort of hilarity arises from hearing them ping-pong back and forth. Archer always worked better as a workplace comedy than a comedic spy show, so I'm not at all sorry to see the ISIS premise go because having Sterling, Lana and the rest stop pretending to be good guys and pursue criminal activity full-time to sell off Malory's secret stash of cocaine may end up being the best thing that's ever happened to this show.

Or it may not. Look what happened to Weeds when Jenji Kohan similarly took a flamethrower to her show's original premise after Nancy Botwin burnt Agrestic to the ground and took her family on the run across the continent or when the Conners won the lottery on Roseanne. Neither show was able to handle quite so well the changes in setting and concept. But I have faith in Archer's new season because all those clips of mayhem in the season 5 trailer that's badly disguised as Sterling's fantasy sequence about his new life in the drug game look very promising. Cheryl/Carol pursuing a country music career that's presumably funded by Sterling's new cartel? The sight of Lana in action as her baby bump expands? Pam getting high on her own supply and having to be taken down with dozens of tranquilizer darts like a grizzly bear? Plus Smokey and the Bandit car jumps too? Sign me up.

Memorable quotes:
* "Well, he died doing what he loved. Getting shot."

* Krieger, who's finally been added to the opening credits: "I'll be your doctor." Lana: "Well, if I want Hitler's DNA spliced into him, I'll give you a call." "Yeah, I'm around."

* Sterling, coming up with a Scrubs Med-esque name for the new cartel: "Archer Vice." Lana: "What?" Sterling: "Nothing. Shut up."

Friday, January 10, 2014

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

Jou wanna play rough? H'ok!
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've said (exactly a year ago yesterday, in fact) that the kid characters are usually the best part of Bob's Burgers because they talk and act less like typically precocious sitcom kids and more like real kids, even though they're voiced by adults. But "Slumber Party" is a rare occasion where I actually find the subplot without the kids to be the more interesting half of the episode, although there are lots of funny lines (see the memorable quotes) during the titular kids' slumber party, which Linda throws at the Belchers' home to introduce a reluctant Louise to her idea of childhood fun (and which Louise proceeds to sabotage like a boss, hence the Scarface-inspired cover art for the "Slumber Party" table read script).

This is how I react too when my remote lands on The View.
In the B-story, which is intertwined quite well with the A-story, Linda, who's captivated by the ongoing drama between the raccoons that root around the trash outside the apartment, ropes Bob and Teddy into helping her trap a raccoon she calls "El Diablo" so that Diablo will stop hassling the raccoon she's become fondest of, "Little King Trashmouth." Sure, the B-story sounds very weird and filler-rific, but it's worth it for Teddy's presence, H. Jon Benjamin's dry delivery of Bob's reactions to Linda and Teddy's ideas ("Ugh, guys, I don't wanna make a burger for a raccoon") and the great sight gag of Bob walking around with braided hair. His braids are the result of a styling experiment by a slumber party attendee Louise can't stand to be in the same room with because of her unhealthy obsession with braiding everything at school, including the bristles on the janitor's mops.

Maybe my preference for the B-story is because it's a relief from the shoutiness of Louise, Gene and the slumber party girls, a common complaint about the Bob's Burgers characters from viewers who find it difficult to warm up to the show. It's also a gripe that has lately been starting to make some sense to me. Because if the slightly more reserved characters like Bob, Tina and Teddy weren't around to offset the shoutiness of Louise, Gene and Linda, Bob's Burgers would be a meal I'd send back.

Stray observations/memorable quotes:
* Tina chooses a rain poncho for the slumber party fashion show. She looks like a third member of The Doppelgangaz.

Linda does her tribute to Maria Bello from that failed reboot of Prime Suspect.
* Louise, who can't go anywhere without her pink bunny-ear hat, has never been seen on the show without her head covered. My favorite freeze-frame gag in "Slumber Party" is the compilation of baby pics of Tina, Gene and Louise on one of the apartment walls, and of course, baby Louise is wearing an earless precursor to her bunny-ear hat.

She must be bald under that hat. She's going for a Michael Bolton, 'I got a lot of hair for a bald person and if I wear it like this, you won't notice'-type thing.
* Tina, telling Gene how many slumber parties she's been to: "One and a half. I fell asleep at a regular birthday party. I'm counting that."

* Gene, excited about Linda's tie-dyeing portion of the slumber party: "Gimme a shirt! I'm gonna make the psychedelic crop top of my dreams!"

* "How about me, Mom? What's my angle?" "Well, Tina, you're the older sister. You're over all this stuff. You wanna go to the mall with your friends and beep each other on your beepers."

* "Gene, is this your first time as a human shield?" "Yeah." "It's my third time. You're doing great." "Thank you."

* "I'm not gonna tell anybody. I'm no narc. Make fun of you for wetting the bed? What is this, the '90s?"