Friday, October 31, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Mike Tyson Mysteries, "The End"

On In Living Color, Keenan Ivory Wayans once joked that Mike Tyson sounds like Tweety Bird, an eerie foretelling of Mike Tyson's transformation into a Warner Bros. cartoon character.

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

There are two new fall TV shows with "mysteries" in the title: NBC's The Mysteries of Laura, the much-maligned and unwatchable Debra Messing cop show based on the Spanish procedural/telenovela Los Misterios de Laura (hence its soapy-sounding title), and Adult Swim's 11-minute Mike Tyson Mysteries, in which the former heavyweight champ (who voices himself), his adopted Korean daughter Yung Hee (Rachel Ramras), a talking pigeon named Pigeon (Norm MacDonald) and the ghost of the Marquess of Queensberry (Jim Rash) travel the world together to solve mysteries. From the moment when Iron Mike first mangles Cormac McCarthy's name--one of several examples of how, as Mike Tyson Mysteries creator Hugh Davidson once said, Tyson is the last person on Earth who should be solving crimes--it's clear that Mike Tyson Mysteries is the one with "mysteries" in the title that doesn't suck. I like how irrelevant the titular mysteries are, especially the one in the premiere episode, "The End," which, for most of its running time, barely pays attention to some sort of nonsense involving the reclusive McCarthy's whereabouts, a McCarthy imposter and chupacabras.

Mike Tyson Mysteries is far from a plot-driven CBS procedural that only the olds love because Gibbs is always right about everything and the young detectives who work for him are always wrong and clumsy because they're young, dagnabbit, and it's all Obama's fault and I can't find my dang pills because Obama! The titular mysteries are just an excuse for Davidson, who worked on Robot Chicken, to rattle off absurdist bits of humor, like the series premiere's unexpected-to-hear-on-Adult-Swim jokes about highbrow authors like McCarthy and John Updike, which sound like Dick Cavett invaded the writers' room. The 11-minute length is the perfect length for a show this plotless and weird but amusing nonetheless.

It helps that the cast includes Rash, who frequently steals scenes on Community (immediately Google "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing rap"), and MacDonald, who's great at stand-up or anchoring Weekend Update but isn't as great at anchoring a sitcom or a movie like Screwed, the 2000 buddy comedy where he co-starred with Dave Chappelle and Sarah Silverman. On this new show, MacDonald is perfect as both a supporting player and the snarky part of the ensemble. Pigeon's basically the Oscar Madison to Rash's stuffy Felix Unger, a laid-back boozehound who was once human and was transformed into a pigeon by his bitter ex-wife (the backstory of who she is and how she trapped him in this pigeon form isn't mentioned in the premiere; I predict she's a Wiccan). And I don't know who decided that Tyson should be voice-directed to just be himself--and then decided that if Tyson ever flubs his lines like he does in the premiere's first scene (even right before the running gag where he keeps mangling McCarthy's name as if it were Frank Bruno), it shouldn't be fixed in post--but that person who made those voice direction decisions deserves a free beer. The non-actory delivery of Tyson (who's credited as a co-producer) turns any of his TV acting roles, like his guest shot for Law & Order: SVU's recent "You Won't Believe What Happens When This Convicted Rapist Plays A Rape Victim" ratings-bait stunt, into a surreal few minutes of TV, and that same delivery is key to the silliness and weirdness of the whole 11-minute show.

Marquess is astonished over why this tough boxer sounds like Tweety Bird whenever he talks.

"It's extra funny seeing these characters that remind you of Scooby-Doo and they're saying profanity," said Ramras to The Hollywood Reporter. Sure, Tyson's Mysterymobile is based on the Mystery Machine, and the ghostly presence of Marquess is inspired by one of Hanna-Barbera's gazillion clones of its own cash cow Scooby-Doo, The Funky Phantom, which was about a mystery-solving ghost, but the type of cartoon Mike Tyson Mysteries is mainly parodying is one most TV critics clearly don't remember and haven't cited in their Mike Tyson Mysteries reviews. Ruby-Spears was the studio founded by Hanna-Barbera escapees Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who created the first incarnation of Scooby-Doo, and in the '80s, it produced a couple of terrible cartoon vehicles for macho celebrities, in which they appeared in live-action wraparound segments that were ripoffs of Bill Cosby's live-action segments on Fat Albert. The studio's unwatchable Mister T starred the A-Team bruiser as the coach of a multiracial team of mystery-solving gymnast kids, and then later, Ruby-Spears took a Chuck Norris action figure line and turned it into a 30-minute toy commercial called Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos. The character design on Mike Tyson Mysteries is faithful to the character designs on Mister T and Karate Kommandos, but I like how the animation isn't as shoddy as it often was on those Ruby-Spears shows. Instead of being cheaply done, the animation is executed with the usual flair Warner Bros. Animation has brought to shows like Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and Batman: The Brave and the Bold prior to Mike Tyson Mysteries; for instance, the premiere's striking final shot of the team riding off into the sunset would have been impossible to accomplish with '80s animation technology.

"The End" is a promising start to an offbeat little show that succeeds at being entertaining, whether you're stoned or not. The premiere makes me want to see more absurdity from this strange teaming of Tyson, his Penny from Inspector Gadget-ish daughter, a Funky Phantom ripoff (which means Marquess is a ripoff of a ripoff) and a wiseass pigeon with a taste for "Internet whores." I'm looking forward to the episode where the team must investigate the mystery of why Debra Messing keeps picking such shitty TV projects.

This awkward talk between Yung Hee and her dad about those rape charges just went from Tyson-singing-on-Jimmy-Kimmel-Live-level awkward to Tyson-cursing-on-live-Canadian-morning-TV-level awkward.

Memorable quotes:
* Yung Hee: "It says he can't find an ending to the book he's writing." Pigeon: "And he thought he'd turn to a retired boxer for help. So the actual mystery is 'When did Cormac McCarthy lose his mind?'"

* Pigeon, after accidentally destroying McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize: "So would you say, 'The Pew-litzer melted in the fire,' or would you say, 'The Poo-litzer melted in the fire'?"

* "I'm looking for one good sex scene to jack off to before I go to sleep, but it's nothing but cowboys talking to other cowboys. McCarthy's a prude. He's no Updike. I like those John Updike women, those middle-aged tan gals..."

* Marquess offers his assessment of McCarthy's latest novel: "It's fine. It's just, um, there are no quote marks, so I just had to keep re-reading sections 'cause I don't know who's talking."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tip-Top Quotables: Special Halloween Edition

As the new host of Project Runway, Sally finds all the contestants' ideas for holiday fashion lines to be so fucking hideous she'd rather tear her arm off and donate it to a shitty kids' puppet theater production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark than have to see any more ideas.
(Photo source: DVD Beaver)
My favorite monthly section in old Source magazine issues was "Hip-Hop Quotables," in which the Source editors printed out their favorite new rap verse of the month, from the first bar to the last. "Tip-Top Quotables," which I've named after that Source section, is a collection of my favorite quotes of the week from anywhere, whether it's a recent TV show or a new rap verse. "TTQ" won't appear on this blog every week. It'll appear whenever the fuck I feel like it.

* "I worked harder on that probably than anything I'd done in my life, so I was really, really sad that it didn't find an audience when it came out. But then, over the course of 10 or 15 years, to see that it really did—it just was a slow-cooking thing—it was one of those really rare things that just took on a life of its own. It was incredibly gratifying. I've worked on many things that failed, and that, more than anything else at that point, was something that I really wanted people to find. But when it came out, nobody knew how to market it. Nobody knew what it was. It wasn't a marketable entity. But to Disney's credit, they saw that it was developing a following, and they sensed they could nurture that and make it have a second and third life. So really, kudos to them. To say, 'You know what? This thing has potential now, 10 years later. Let's feed it, let's nurture it, let's develop it more. Let's re-release it, let's do an 'inspired by' record.' They really did catch on after the fact. But at the time, it really was heartbreaking."--Danny Elfman on 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas, the sixth of 842 feature films he scored for Tim Burton, A.V. Club

(AFOS programming note: "This Is Halloween" from The Nightmare Before Christmas can be heard during the annual AFOS Halloween night block "Buckets of Score," from 5pm to 11pm Pacific.)

* "Halloween is when every hack comedian's premises turn into costumes."--Hari Kondabolu

* "Do you know why we carve jack-o'-lanterns on Halloween? The origins of this curious tradition actually date back hundreds of years, to the early Puritan settlers in the American colonies. The Puritans believed that every Halloween, the Devil would enchant the pumpkins' faces so that they would come to life and say complimentary things about the legs of all the Puritan men, such as, 'Nice legs. Very muscular,' and 'Your legs are tremendous!' The man who got the most leg-based compliments from the jack-o'-lanterns would then be forced to spend Halloween in jail."--ClickHole, "Exploring The Origins Of 4 Halloween Traditions"

Looking forward to 'Black Piranha' for the sequel to 'Black Jaws.'
* "To increase blood pressure in the black community, we are adding sodium to sports clothing."--the Nixon Administration's '70s robot R.A.C.I.S.T. (Robotic Asynchronous Computerized Information System Two-Thousand), Black Dynamite, "Black Jaws! Or Finger Lickin' Chicken of the Sea"

* "Later, an interracial couple was attacked, but the shark did not eat the white girl. In fact, the shark even gave her a ride home."--R.A.C.I.S.T., updating President Nixon on the activities of a shark that attacks only black swimmers, Black Dynamite, "Black Jaws"

* "It's only a beach, Cream Corn. Just a big-ass bathtub with fish in it. And if you seen one big-ass bathtub with fish in it, you seen 'em all."--Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White), Black Dynamite, "Black Jaws" (true that, Dynamite; the beach is overrated as fuck)

* "I'm in love with chicken waings/Fuck them string beans/Gotta feel that hypertension/Tuggin' my heartstrings/And when I'm feelin' hungry/Start it off with ribs and fries/Ham hocks and bacon grease/Diabetic paradiiiiiiiiise!"--"Thick James" (Phonte), singing the "Mary Jane"-style "Chicken Waings" (composed by music supervisor Fatin "10" Horton) during Black Dynamite's "Black Jaws" end credits

Zombie Fred and Ethel were conspicuously missing from the evening's festivities, probably because a drunk Rule 63 Daryl Dixon took them down with her crossbow on the way to the party.
Marry Me's Halloween episode
* Julie (Jessica St. Clair) to her son Mason (Jet Jurgensmeyer): "Well, you are in a lot of trouble, Mister, so you get inside and you start practicing that Mandarin."
Mason: "I wish Annie and Jake were my mom! [Proceeds to say to Julie a bit of Mandarin dialogue that's so shocking to her that she gasps]"
Jake (Ken Marino): "What does that mean?"
Julie: "'Die, white devil.' He's going through a phase."
--Marry Me, "Scary Me"

* "Wow, babe, you are just like Oprah. You don't have any kids of your own, but you tell everybody else what to do with theirs."--Jake (Marino), complimenting his fiancée Annie (Casey Wilson) on the advice she gave at the end of Halloween night to her arch-enemy Julie about kids, Marry Me, "Scary Me"

* "We have no idea how prevalent sugar is in almost everything that we eat. Look at Clamato juice, the original tomato cocktail with clam. One serving has 11 grams of sugar in it, so they clearly thought, 'Well, look, let's improve the taste by adding sugar,' instead of thinking, 'Let's improve the taste by removing the clam.'"--Last Week Tonight's John Oliver

Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm still here

I hear there are people on Reddit forums who actually cosigned the hacking of nude pics of Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses. Looking forward to the day when some female hacker responds to that by leaking nude pics of those dumb pro-'Fappening' motherfuckers.

I caught a couple of people mentioning AFOS on a Reddit forum. The one-year-old forum's subject was Ennio Morricone's frequently covered and sampled Good, the Bad and the Ugly score cue "The Ecstasy of Gold," which can be heard during "AFOS Prime" every day and was faithfully re-created by Simpsons composer Alf Clausen during his score for the show's "Super Franchise Me" episode from a few weeks ago.

"I wonder if it still broadcasts," said a commenter about AFOS on the forum a year ago.

"His blog is still going strong; he has some real treasures in there every once in a while (there was one on the Batman animated series from the 90s that was awesome)," replied another commenter.

Yes, AFOS is still here. And this AFOS blog that barely anybody reads is still around, even though I've found it difficult in the last couple of years to find AFOS-related topics to write about (and I've found my attentions drifting elsewhere), which is why I added "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," so that this blog has something new every week and doesn't look like it's been abandoned like so many other blogs I used to regularly read. I wanted to write about new TV in the weekly feature that evolved into "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," but I didn't want to do recaps because they're boring (to both write and read) and pointless as fuck, and I didn't want to write about any of the same five or six shows everybody writes about, so I opted to focus on adult animation. Then I chose to adhere to a two-posts-a-week schedule for the AFOS blog. One post would be the weekly one about grown-up animation on TV, while the other post would be about something related to music, soundtracks, film, live-action TV or AFOS station content, so that people don't think this blog is only about animation.

I also made a rule for myself that I've adhered to since 2012: never post on this blog anything that's less than 140 characters and can easily be posted on Twitter. I hate it when people on their Blogspot sites--or on any other blog, even ones I've contributed posts to--write a post that's either less than 140 characters or consists solely of one photo or one YouTube video. Put that shit on Twitter, goddammit, not on Blogspot. That's what Twitter is for! Blogspot works best as a platform for long-form material (while Tumblr does not because trying to code your own post on Tumblr is like opening an umbrella up your ass; shout to the late Robin Williams). Blogspot isn't Twitter, Mr. Middle-Aged Geezer who can't get his platforms straight and thinks an Instagram is who you send to sing to somebody on their birthday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Black Dynamite, "Roots: The White Album or The Blacker the Community, the Deeper the Roots! Or Those Cotton Pickin' Crackers"

Black Dynamite vs. the IRS
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.

Black Dynamite is, along with MacGruber and David Wain's recent rom-com spoof They Came Together, one of the few genuinely funny spoof movies of the last five years (this current period was preceded by what The Dissolve has referred to as "the sad decline of the cinematic spoof," a genre that's been partly ruined by "the debased, reference-dependent school of comedy practiced by [Jason] Friedberg and [Aaron] Seltzer"). After I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, I thought it would be impossible for someone else to craft another blaxploitation spoof as hilarious as Keenen Ivory Wayans' Sucka--and Louis C.K. and Jonathan Kesselman came close with Pootie Tang and The Hebrew Hammer, respectively--but director Scott Sanders managed to surpass Sucka, by going in a completely different direction from Wayans.

A clever "Michael Jai White and the other actors are portraying amateur '70s actors portraying pimps, black radicals and thugs" gimmick distinguished Black Dynamite from Sucka ("We tried to make sort of a meta movie. It wasn't like Michael Jai White was playing Black Dynamite. Michael Jai White was playing Ferrante Jones playing Black Dynamite," said Sanders). Also, Sanders directed White to be completely straight-faced a la Leslie Nielsen on Police Squad instead of having him be a broadly played, Inspector Clouseau-esque buffoon like Nielsen in Police Squad's much more conventional Naked Gun spinoff movies or the dorky soldier Wayans portrayed in Sucka (Sanders and White, who co-wrote the film with Byron Minns, a.k.a. Bullhorn, clearly prefer Police Squad over The Naked Gun). The juxtaposition of a serious and stone-faced action hero with absurd goings-on like visible boom mikes, inconsistent accents and continually flubbed line readings ("Sarcastically, I'm in charge")--a juxtaposition that was an unintentional fixture of the low-budget blaxploitation flicks Sanders spoofed--made for a weird and often funny film. White-as-Jones-as-Dynamite expressed only two emotions, rage and inexpressive calm ("What about the smile?" "I am smiling."), and the one time we did see him laugh was when he killed a bad guy after lifting him and his car off the road with a giant magnet attached to his helicopter and then dropping him off a cliff.

On the animated version of Black Dynamite, which returned to Adult Swim last Saturday after two years of no new episodes, showrunner and voice director Carl Jones makes Dynamite even more of an unsmiling and surly character, which causes White's earnest delivery of silly lines like "I used to be a children" or his reason for not observing Black History Month in the season premiere ("Black Dynamite ain't celebrating his blackness on any month that the white man tells him to, so for all of February, I refuse to acknowledge one damn great thing my people have done") to be especially amusing. But other than White, Minns, Kym Whitley, Tommy Davidson, Cedric Yarbrough and Arsenio Hall returning from the 2009 film's cast and the use of Sir Charles Hughes' 1975 tune "Your Kiss Sho-Nuf Dy-No-Mite," the film's end title theme, as a musical sting, the Adult Swim show actually has little in common with the film, which is a good thing. Too many animated shows based on live-action movies have been pointless and ineffective retreads of the original source material (the smartly written J. Michael Straczynski era of The Real Ghostbusters is a rare exception).

Jones made the right choice in not rehashing the film's "Michael Jai White was playing Ferrante Jones playing Black Dynamite" shtick. That kind of shtick would have been difficult to pull off, both comedically on a weekly basis and in animated form; it would have lost its novelty quickly. Also, the show is well-animated as opposed to intentionally done on the cheap like its live-action counterpart. The second season's impressive new opening title sequence, directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi of Kill la Kill fame, is the best example of the Adult Swim Black Dynamite's high production values. When I first heard that Sanders' film was going to be turned into an animated series, I was expecting the animated version to closely resemble the cookie-cutter Hanna-Barbera and Filmation cartoons that dominated Saturday mornings during the decade when Black Dynamite takes place. Instead, Black Dynamite character designer LeSean Thomas and his design team interestingly based their show's look on animator Takeshi Koike's big-budget 2009 feature film Redline (South Korea's MOI Animation studio, which did excellent work on Young Justice, is handling Black Dynamite's Redline-esque visuals this season). I'd rather see more Adult Swim animated shows try to work harder and look as lavish as The Boondocks and The Venture Bros.--which is what Black Dynamite is doing--than have to sit through another show that lazily regurgitates the cheap look of Sealab 2021 and Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

The animated Black Dynamite expands upon one of the major gags in the original Black Dynamite's third act--President Nixon is the villain behind everything--and creates an alternate history where Dynamite and his crew encounter a bloated Elvis Presley who works for Nixon's DEA, a young Michael Jackson who turns out to be an alien, a completely insane Richard Pryor (in the show's funniest episode to date) and now both Rev. Al Sharpton (special guest star Godfrey) and "pedophile-looking motherfucker" Woody Allen (Jonathan Kite) in "Roots: The White Album." Jones, who worked on The Boondocks back when Sharpton lashed out against that show because he was offended by its depiction of Martin Luther King, clearly relishes establishing Black Dynamite's young version of Sharpton as a spotlight-seeking buffoon during "Roots: The White Album": the reverend's appetite for publicity is as voracious as his appetite for the chicken titties at Roscoe's, and at one point, Sharpton is overheard mentioning that he doesn't want to be late for his appointment to a Brazilian scrotum wax. The episode is purposely designed to rile up Sharpton--early on, his fictionalized self is seen unveiling a giant statue that depicts Dr. King with his pants down, doo-dooing for peace, justice and equality on a "white cheeks only" toilet--but I doubt Sharpton is even aware of the animated Black Dynamite's existence. It's been six days since the season premiere's airing, and the rev hasn't raised a single stink about Black Dynamite.

They also filled their bellies with chicken titties and fiddle faddle while watching 12 Years a Slave.
"Roots: The White Album" may not have exactly succeeded in generating the same type of publicity and outrage that erupted from Sharpton over The Boondocks eight years ago, but it does succeed in generating a few laughs, whether they involve cultural appropriation or African American viewers' reactions to the Roots miniseries when it first aired on ABC in 1977. "Wait a minute, black people were slaves? I thought we were from Cleveland!," says Dynamite's pimp friend Cream Corn while watching the miniseries' Kunta Kinte whipping scene at Roscoe's. The episode's concept of the ABC slavery drama being the catalyst for Sharpton and the black population of L.A. capturing and enslaving all the white people in the city is brilliant, as is the episode's reenactment of the Kunta whipping scene, the funniest bit of Roots-related humor since the Roots blooper reel sketch on Chappelle's Show.

The season premiere contains more social commentary than previous episodes, but it delivers it in the show's typically profane and irreverent fashion: after Dynamite karate-kicks the Dr. King statue off the toilet to stop black folks and their former white slaves from killing each other, he says to the black half of the crowd, "Look at yourselves, black community. If Dr. King was here to see this, he would shit a brick," which is followed by a small chunk of marble falling from the downed Dr. King statue's buttocks. Yeah, the humor of the animated Black Dynamite isn't quite as subtle as the humor of the original film, but in a time of cultural appropriation at its worst and the racial divide in Ferguson, we need a few more laughs--whether satirical or toilet-related--from sharp satirists of color like the Black Dynamite writing staff, and the return of this less subtle Black Dynamite is better than no Black Dynamite at all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Grimm's recent glimpse into Sgt. Wu's Filipino heritage is a big deal, especially during both Filipino Heritage Month and Halloween

I don't drink coffee anymore, so what the fuck is Pumpkin Spice? Wasn't she the one who replaced Ginger Spice when she left the group?
(Photo source: Prometheus Brown)

There's a great line early on in last weekend's Black Dynamite season premiere, where the titular '70s kung fu fighter tells his sidekicks he refuses to join them in observing the first official Black History Month ever because he "ain't celebrating his blackness on any month that the white man tells him to." Black Dynamite has a point there about history months for people of color.

Yakoo is also the home of new episodes of Community, starting in January!Even though it's cool to have a Filipino American Heritage Month, it's also kind of silly in concept because I don't celebrate my Filipino heritage only in October--I celebrate it on the regular. I wish I could be like Black Dynamite and tell the white man that he'll never be the boss of me or my heritage. But Yakoo chose to place Filipino Heritage Month on the same month as Halloween, which is actually kind of badass. On second thought, sorry, Black Dynamite. When the haoles give us October, I can't get mad at that.

Every Halloween, or as I like to call it these days, Racists' Coming Out Day--or as Hari Kondabolu calls it, "Racist Christmas"--AFOS celebrates the holiday with "Buckets of Score," a six-hour block of original score cues from horror flicks, thrillers and supernatural procedurals, starting at 5pm Pacific. "Buckets of Score" will include highlights of Six Feet Under composer Richard Marvin's score music from the first two seasons of the Portland-based supernatural procedural Grimm, which will continue to keep Portland weird with the arrival of its fourth season this Friday on NBC.

I went from mildly liking Grimm, a show where the cast members' behind-the-scenes tweets are sometimes as entertaining as the show itself, to straight-up loving it, ever since the March airing of "Mommy Dearest." That's the episode from last season where Sgt. Wu--a reliable source of Detective Munch-style gallows humor and a colleague of the show's titular hunter of monstrous menaces, Portland cop Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli)--was revealed to be Pinoy, just like the actor who portrays him, Reggie Lee (I had no idea Lee was Filipino until the press coverage for "Mommy Dearest" because the surname Lee doesn't exactly scream out Filipino).

This is the same face he made when he heard what Britney Spears sounds like without Auto-Tune.

Grimm's third season is the first season where I started to watch Grimm regularly on Hulu, after a lady at an after-party for v3con in L.A. recommended to me that I check out more of Grimm. I only caught a few Grimm episodes before season 3: the pilot; an episode featuring serial guest star Jaime Ray Newman as the Blutbad (a.k.a. wolf-y) ex-girlfriend of Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), Nick's Blutbad guide into the complicated and multifaceted world of Wesen (pronounced "veh-sen") creatures; and the arc that introduced Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Nick's elusive and badass mom Kelly, who's a Grimm just like Nick. In most of those episodes, Sgt. Wu would show up with a quip or two about some violent crime in Portland--which he's unaware is Wesen-related--and prove to be the most likable cop character on Grimm. But Wu never had a backstory, until "Mommy Dearest," that is (Wu, who was named after Grace Wu, the head of casting at NBC, never even had a first name before the episode, which revealed it to be Drew, so that means he's Drew Wu--I take it the Grimm writers are fans of Sheng Wang).

Now this backstory for Wu is where "Mommy Dearest" takes on significance, especially during Filipino Heritage Month: as a piece of hour-long American TV that's full of Filipino American characters, it's non-stereotypical and, as someone who wishes Filipinos were better represented on American network TV and were given roles other than mail-order brides or some other subservient horseshit, I view the episode as quite a well-written breakthrough for a Filipino American regular on a TV show. Wu's backstory cleverly involves a certain part of Filipino culture that makes the synergy between Filipino Heritage Month and Halloween especially terrific: monster folklore.

I bet the shitty Upworthy headline for this would be 'You Won't Believe What These Foodies Enjoy As Theater Snacks.'

When Wu was a boy, his grandma used to tell him stories about the aswang (pronounced "ass-wong"), a monster from the Philippines with a name that sounds like an Asian American male porn star but is known for an appetite that's not sexy at all: it likes to snack on the unborn babies of pregnant women. As I've said before, Wu is the only regular character on the show who's unaware that Wesen like Aswangs are real, and when his ex-girlfriend Dana (Tess Paras)--who's now married to another friend of his (Alain Uy) and is expecting a baby--is attacked at night by a creature who sounds an awful lot like an Aswang, the assault ignites Wu's suspicions that this childhood monster with the appetite of Fat Bastard from Austin Powers and the tongue of Miley Cyrus is more than just a myth.

"Mommy Dearest" episode writer Brenna Kouf, the daughter of Grimm co-creator Jim Kouf, was assigned to work a Filipino monster into an arc that would sow the seeds for Wu's discovery of Nick's secret life as a Grimm at the end of the third season, and she turned to Lee for Filipino monster myths. He suggested to her and the Grimm writing staff four monsters: the kapre, a tree demon that's fond of punking humans; the duwende, a gnome that's also a prankster; the tikbalang, a shape-shifting horse creature; and the aswang, the most lurid of the four and, of course, the monster the writing staff ultimately went with. Grimm is rarely a disturbing supernatural show--compared to something like The Walking Dead, it's actually one of the least graphic horror shows currently on the air--but when that Aswang tries to go to town on Dana's fetus in the cold open of "Mommy Dearest," man, that has to rank as one of Grimm's most disturbing monster attacks.

'Aw shit, I've just run out of minutes,' groaned the Aswang.

Grimm's aswang episode isn't just great as made-for-TV horror--it's also unexpectedly educational. What's made me enthusiastic about "Mommy Dearest," other than the juicy dramatic material for Lee and his character, is that it introduces Filipino monster folklore to American viewers, as well as Filipino American viewers who are unaware of their own culture's monster myths. In fact, I myself was never exposed to Filipino monster stories until I started reading about them on blogs like my friend Grace-Sonia Melanio's (my parents aren't exactly fans of the horror genre--and I'm not much of a fan of the genre either--so they never tried to give me nightmares with stories about tree demons or foodies with a thing for artisanal amniotic fluid).

Cleanup on Aisle 666.
Think of that Filipino American kid somewhere who didn't know about Filipino monsters until he or she watched "Mommy Dearest." Thanks to Grimm, that kid gets to learn about his or her culture's rich folklore--and then will probably need therapy later. But that kid is at least learning something about his or her culture. It's interesting that "Mommy Dearest"--which is worth checking out during both Filipino Heritage Month and Halloween season (Grimm isn't streamable on Netflix, but the third-season Blu-rays are available to rent there)--has aired during a year when the broadcast networks have made significant strides in fixing their previously lousy track record with diversity (please be dope, Fresh Off the Boat), and even though it's just a Pinoy battling a Filipino monster, it's progress, man.

Selections from Grimm's first-and-second-season score album will be featured during "Buckets of Score" at 5pm Pacific on October 31 on AFOS.

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: South Park, "Handicar," and American Dad, "Blonde Ambition" (tie)

You gotta love how each Handicar ride comes with 'Fancy Madeleines.'
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.

This week's best first-run animated series episodes are both cases where the climactic sequence is stronger than the actual episode itself. While I like how Trey Parker and Matt Stone intertwine the ride-sharing wars (handicapped kid Timmy launches a ride-sharing startup with wheelchairs as the transportation, in order to raise money for the disabled kids' summer camp from "Crippled Summer") with both Elon Musk's unveiling of the Tesla D and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn's bizarre, frequently parodied Lincoln ads starring Matthew McConaughey, "Handicar" is a step down from last week's solid South Park episode.

The newest Handicar driver explains why time is a flat circle.
"The Cissy" has become a viral sensation due to both positive feedback from transgender viewers and supporters of their community regarding the sharply written way it handled "transginger" issues and a certain catchy pop song that's performed by the show's version of Lorde, who's been revealed to be Randy Marsh disguised as a teenage girl musician from New Zealand ("I am Lorde/Ya ya ya"). "Handicar" is no "Cissy," and you have to sit through a lot of repetitive comedic misunderstandings between Nathan--the evil kid with Down syndrome who's always seen plotting to ruin the lives of either Timmy or Jimmy, the aspiring stand-up with cerebral palsy--and his incompetent lackey Mimsy in order to get to a brilliant sequence that stages the Silicon Valley rivalry between online ride-sharing companies as the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races.

Nathan and Mimsy are South Park's throwback to '40s and '50s pairings of mismatched Warner Bros. cartoon villains like Rocky and Mugsy (who make a cameo appearance on a poster in Nathan's bedroom), the castaways in "Wackiki Wabbit" and Spike and Chester. While Nathan and Mimsy work better in smaller doses, it's fitting that the duo shows up in an episode that, thanks to South Park's fast turnaround, also manages to work in the September 27 demise of Saturday morning animated TV on the broadcast networks. When Randy and the parents of his son Stan's friends rejoice over the return of Wacky Races--in which the likes of Timmy, Nathan and Mimsy, Lyft, Tesla, Zipcar and McConaughey compete against Dastardly and Muttley and a Penelope Pitstop-ized and farty-due-to-her-Canuckness Neve Campbell to resolve the ride-sharing wars once and for all--the sight of the adults racing to the supermarket for cereal and then gathering around the TV in their pajamas and with cereal bowls in hand clearly reflects Parker and Stone's affection for Saturday morning cartoons.

Little-known fact: right after Neve Campbell filmed her nude masturbating shower scene for When Will I Be Loved, James Toback's crew members raced to the bathroom set and proceeded to spray her massive queefs away with Glade.
While I outgrew Saturday morning cartoons ages ago--the last first-run animated kids' show made for broadcast TV that I watched on the regular was The New Batman/Superman Adventures--a part of me is sad that Saturday morning cartoon lineups no longer exist on broadcast TV, and so are Parker and Stone. Their adoration of that extinct breed of Saturday morning programming shines through in every detail of the terrific Wacky Races sequence.

The animators nailed every bit of Hanna-Barbera limited animation that the studio recycled on Wacky Races and countless other '60s and '70s TV cartoons I caught as a kid in the '80s. I laughed out loud when the screen suddenly got covered in those ubiquitous Hanna-Barbera clouds of gray dirt. But the funniest joke in "Handicar" has nothing to do with either cookie-cutter '60s and '70s TV animation or the decline of the taxi industry in the wake of Uber and Lyft. It's a jab at the decline of CNN as a serious news org: an announcer is overheard saying that complete Wacky Races coverage will air on CNN.


Roger's disguise here is as Paul Shaffer circa 1982.
"Blonde Ambition," the first episode of American Dad's exclusive run on its new home network TBS, premiered on TBS' YouTube channel about a week before its cable premiere on October 20 and was made streamable on the YouTube channel for only 48 hours, and while it's lovely to hear profanity go unbleeped on the new, cable-only American Dad (broadcast standards on TBS are looser than Fox's), "Blonde Ambition" is an unremarkable--but not terrible--season premiere. Other than the unbleeped profanity, not much about American Dad has changed since it jumped ship from Fox to TBS.

It's basically the same show it was on Fox: Stan Smith, a competent CIA agent, remains clueless about almost anything that has nothing to do with CIA work or killing people, and when Stan's not trying to teach his dorky teen son Steve how to be manlier, he--or any of the rest of his family, like his not-as-dim wife Francine or their oldest child Hayley--is still getting into mischief with Roger, the show's breakout character and a Paul Lynde-voiced alien con artist who runs a neighborhood bar out of the Smiths' attic. Roger's like a crazy--and sociopathic--uncle or aunt who happens to be from another planet.

American Dad also remains a more satisfying and watchable Seth MacFarlane animated show than Family Guy (although MacFarlane has no involvement in American Dad's writing and his contribution to the show is mainly just voice work as both Stan and Roger). Comedically, American Dad is a tighter ship--it doesn't pause for any of those annoying and pointless cutaway gags that were such a memorable object of ridicule in South Park's "Cartoon Wars" two-parter about Family Guy's inexplicable popularity--and both the espionage side of Stan's job and Roger's scheming and grifting give American Dad an unusual sense of purpose and make it a more plot-driven show than Family Guy (in other words, there's no time for the random five-minute chicken fights that Family Guy is famous for).

Also, while Family Guy plays to the lowest common denominator (i.e., a shitload of hacky race jokes and the poorly received rape joke during Bart and Stewie's phone pranks on Moe in "The Simpsons Guy"), American Dad has been a little more experimental in its humor. For instance, it once took a story about Stan's daddy issues and presented it as a serious stage play in the style of August: Osage County, so that meant the Smiths' living room and basement were sets on a stage, off-screen audience members could be heard coughing or gasping like during any other typical play you see in a theater and semi-regular cast member Patrick Stewart appeared as himself in live-action wraparound hosting segments to class up the joint (but a twisted version of the classy and polite Stewart we know and love--just like Avery Bullock, Stewart's perverted CIA boss character on the show--presided over the evening and barely concealed his boredom with the one-episode experiment).

The apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes actually rejected this helmet as battle gear because the shit made it too heavy to swing from vine to vine.
None of American Dad's episodes during its final season on Fox have equaled the hilarity and weirdness of 2009's post-apocalyptic "Rapture's Delight," my favorite American Dad episode (although any episode where Scott Grimes, who voices Steve, gets to show off his unexpectedly top-notch R&B singing skills has come close), and it's unlikely that any of the TBS episodes will equal "Rapture's Delight" either (many American Dad fans attribute the slight dip in quality to the departure of longtime co-showrunner Mike Barker last season). But what "Blonde Ambition" has going for it, aside from eye candy in the form of a blond and club miniskirt-clad Hayley, are some observant jabs at celebrity environmentalists (Ike Barinholtz from The Mindy Project and The Awesomes provides the voice of DJ Iron Monkey, a hypocritical EDM artist/philanthropist who wears an oversized, Deadmau5-style helmet shaped like a cartoon monkey's head); an amusing dance-off between Francine and Hayley to distract a bouncer (Cedric Yarbrough); and silly nods to the invisible stage prop gimmick from Our Town (another bunch of weird stage play references from American Dad) during Stan and Steve's action-packed but mostly drab subplot about Stan's obsession with buying a dream house he mistakenly thinks is empty. Hayley's ploy to dye her hair blond in order to attract more male philanthropists to help her fund her environmental causes was more enjoyable when Just Shoot Me tried the same thing with Maya and a blond wig for one episode, but hey, at least we got out of it a nicely animated dance sequence from the temporarily blond Hayley and a Hayley-ified Francine at the end. Fran service!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Very long wait" is the "I want to see other people" of being a Netflix DVD rental customer

Time to cue that classic tune called 'Bang Bang (Netflix Shot Me Down).'
Netflix envelope doodle by Tim Hodge (Photo source: Doodle Flix)

I've been an on-and-off-and-on-again customer of Netflix ever since it was just a small Los Gatos company on the verge of becoming a household name (here's how old the very first DVD I rented from them was: Netflix's transformation into both a producer of prestige TV for the Internet and a formidable HBO rival--which has now caused HBO to strike back with its own standalone streaming service--was 13 years away). One thing has never changed in my time as a Netflix customer, and it's still my least favorite thing about using its DVD/Blu-ray rental service: the amount of titles on your rental queue that slip into "Very long wait" status. "Very long wait" are words you always dread encountering, like "I want to see other people" or "Thanks for coming to our booth but we're not hiring."

The Man Who Would Be King, an older film on my queue that I've never seen and have wanted to see for a while, is always in the "Very long wait" category, as are a lot of other older films on my queue that I've never seen and aren't currently available on Netflix Instant, like the '70s made-for-TV western spoof Evil Roy Slade and the 2004 Johnnie To flick Throwdown. "The 'very long wait' movies are either pre-1985 American or foreign titles, the films @Netflix barely curates on streaming," noted film writer Matt Patches on Twitter.

Being told to wait for these older films is ridiculous, and I'm not alone in my frustration with "Very long wait." A piece last month criticized Netflix at length for appearing to neglect its DVD/Blu-ray service (I wouldn't be surprised if Netflix phases it out within the next five years) and being unreliable as a carrier of older titles, which frequently slip into "Very long wait" or become listed as unavailable for rent. In my case, I was especially sad to see The Man with Two Brains become unavailable on my queue. It's like Netflix is conspiring to prevent me from watching either movies with titles that start with The Man... or Step Brothers in its most proper form; it cropped the ultra-widescreen aspect ratio of Step Brothers when I saw it on Netflix Instant back in 2009, and now the Step Brothers Blu-ray--which contains a musical audio commentary scored by Step Brothers composer Jon Brion, an extra I've always wanted to listen to--is under "Very long wait."

The writer of the KQED piece was particularly sore about being unable to rent from Netflix Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song as research for a film essay and having to play detective to track down a copy of the Melvin Van Peebles joint (he ended up getting a copy at a local public library). A post compiled similar complaints from Netflix customers about being forced to wait for films that, in the age of the mom-and-pop video store before Netflix helped kill it off, were far easier to access than they are today as titles in Netflix's DVD/Blu-ray library.

'If Harrison Ford's earring was a movie, it'd be Grudge Match.'--Jenny Johnson
A screen grab of a piece of my own Netflix queue

One complainer who was quoted in the Consumerist post has found a clever way to trick Netflix into shipping him a "Very long wait" title. The same thing happened to me recently when I was trying to rent Bong Joon-ho films as research for a piece I wrote about Snowpiercer, and a delay in a Netflix distribution center's access to Memories of Murder resulted in me receiving both Bong's later film Mother, which was the second title at the top of my queue, and Memories of Murder in my mailbox at the same time, a nice break from the one-disc-at-a-time shipping plan I currently subscribe to.

"I place the 'very long wait' DVDs are [sic] at top, the 'short wait' items below that, and then all available items," wrote the shrewd Consumerist reader. "Netflix will often apologize for the delay and send a second disc from the available list to assuage what they assume is my broken heart."

There you go. That's your most effective option for triumphing over "Very long wait," aside from going to the public library to find an older film Netflix is keeping away from you--or if you're a San Franciscan, going to one of the city's few surviving video stores. Or maybe just break into a Netflix employee's house and steal one of his DVDs. They don't care about DVDs anymore anyway.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song may be hard to find, but its Van Peebles/Earth, Wind & Fire soundtrack isn't. "Sweetback's Theme" by EWF isn't currently in rotation on AFOS, but it ought to be.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Penny Dreadful season 1, whose score cues can now be heard on AFOS, makes Universal's plan to Avengers-ize its classic monsters seem plenty dreadful

Dorian Gray looks like Chris Gaines if he had less shitty tastes in music.
Universal's recently announced strategy to launch a Marvel Cinematic Universe-style reboot of its classic monster movie franchises--with the new Dracula Untold as the first blockbuster in the studio's potential monster movie universe--seems pointless, especially when you look back on the sophisticated and mostly inventive approach Skyfall screenwriter John Logan took to intertwining the paths of famous literary horror characters during the first season of his Showtime supernatural drama Penny Dreadful. There's no way Universal's proposed mad monster party will compare to what Logan, directors like The Orphanage's J.A. Bayona and an exemplary, nearly all-British cast (with Timothy Dalton, Harry Treadaway and in smaller comic-relief parts, Simon Russell Beale and Alun Armstrong, as acting standouts from the British side) accomplished on cable, in eight episodes that were all written by Logan and are all making their debut on Blu-ray tomorrow.

Penny Dreadful, which Showtime has renewed for a second season, revolves around Victorian London psychic Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), her estranged father figure (and perhaps biological father), African explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Dalton), and the ragtag, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-esque team they form to track down Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn), Sir Malcolm's missing daughter and a familiar figure from the various permutations of Dracula. Joining Vanessa and Sir Malcolm on their dangerous quest are introverted forensic specialist Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Treadaway) and American expatriate and gunfighter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). Each of the principals--except for Sir Malcolm's laconic valet and bodyguard Sembene (Danny Sapani), whose claim that "I have no story" better receive some sort of payoff next season or I'll be one frustrated viewer of color--is wrestling with demons, both figurative and literal.

Traumatized by his mother's death when he was a boy, Dr. Frankenstein has figured out how to resurrect the dead, but the price he has to pay for playing God is living in constant fear from the vengeful creature he created and rejected (Rory Kinnear, whose take on the Frankenstein creature is closer to the Mary Shelley novel's original conception of him as articulate than Boris Karloff's version of the creature as a childlike giant of few words). Ethan is hiding from both his powerful and unseen father (ooh, ooh, is Powers Boothe or Sam Elliott not busy?), who's sent Pinkerton detectives on his trail, and a mysterious dark side he's trying to suppress. Sir Malcolm is plagued by guilt over his past misdeeds as an explorer, a husband and a parent and feels responsible for the terrible fates of his two grown-up children. Finally, there's Vanessa, whose psychic abilities are both a gift and a curse. They're a symptom of satanic possession, which is responsible for many of the show's most crazy and GIF-worthy visuals, whether it's swarms of spiders crawling out from under Vanessa's tarot cards or a naked Eva Green doing her best impression of the graveyard ghost sex scene from MacGruber.

'At Supercuts, we make it easy to get the rocking cuts you deserve!'
The show interestingly shapes Vanessa's ordeals with possession as both a metaphor for the struggles of living with mental illness and an addiction narrative. Remove all the supernatural moments from "Possession," the standout episode where Satan's hold over Vanessa is at its worst (Green gives a tour de force performance) and her exhausted colleagues take turns watching over her, and it could easily be a non-horror drama episode about family members or work friends struggling to help a junkie relative or friend through withdrawal. But there's little of the heavy-handedness that marred Buffy's "Willow gets strung out on magic" storyline. Logan complicates the wicked stew of Vanessa's ordeals with both moral ambiguity and the possibility that a normal existence is more repressive to Vanessa than the pain she endures while possessed ("It's such a repressed time, the Victorian times. And so she's very hungry for life," said Green about her character). "Possession" and an even better earlier episode, the Bayona-directed "Séance," best exemplify why Penny Dreadful's first season is so compelling despite occasional storytelling missteps (I wish there was a better way for Reeve Carney's Dorian Gray to be integrated into the first season's central mystery, other than "obligatory cable drama character who bangs everybody"): the first season is a story about, as series composer Abel Korzeniowski puts it, "identity, trying to find oneself in the world," intriguingly dressed up as a Gothic horror drama.

Korzeniowski plays a huge role in making Penny Dreadful's Gothic setting such an attractive place to be--the show's Game of Thrones-caliber production values would have made the Hammer horror studio, a huge influence on the show, gangrene green with envy. The effectiveness and richness of the Polish composer's string-heavy score cues are why several of those cues are now in rotation on "AFOS Prime" on AFOS and will be added to "Buckets of Score," the AFOS horror/thriller score block that takes place only on Halloween night. Korzeniowski's main title theme, "Demimonde," is reminiscent of the Gothic sweep of Danny Elfman's score from the 1999 Sleepy Hollow. "Street. Horse. Smell. Candle.," another Penny Dreadful score cue that's in rotation on "AFOS Prime," is integral to why a sequence where Dr. Frankenstein introduces his creature Proteus (Alex Price) to the sights and sounds of a busy London street is oddly affecting: Korzeniowski effectively relied on simple piano chords to compare Proteus' rediscovery of objects and animals from his previous life as a whaler to the experience of a child's reactions of wonder from first encountering objects and animals from words he's just learned.

Good thing Dorian Gray doesn't collect creepy-ass Margaret Keane paintings.

Another element that makes Penny Dreadful's first season worth marathoning on Blu-ray is its literary references. Vanessa's first few scenes with Ethan in the Bayona-directed first episode are, like so many other supernatural dramas on TV, loaded with cinematic references, particularly to Strangers on a Train from Hitchcock, one of Bayona's favorite filmmakers, and to one of Green's greatest acting moments before her standout work on Penny Dreadful, her train scene with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (between her, Dalton, Kinnear and Helen McCrory, who had a bit part in Skyfall, as Madame Kali, this show is a post-Roger Moore 007 movie fan's casting dream). But then the show interestingly takes more of a turn for literary references rather than cinematic ones. You won't find another new show this year where the characters are so frequently seen reading books and are so fond of discussing literature or quoting poetry, in much the same way that the characters in the Scream movies frequently talked about slasher flicks or the Sopranos characters were so worshipful of mob movies. Instead of coming off as distracting and pretentious, the literary references are deployed by Logan to capture how books and even penny-dreadful fiction were as dominant a media in the Victorian era as TV or the Internet is today, whether it's Vanessa and Shakespeare aficionado Dr. Frankenstein bonding over Wordsworth or the Frankenstein creature's Bard-inspired name of Caliban and his fondness for John Milton's Paradise Lost, which is a direct lift from Shelley's novel.

The literacy of the Penny Dreadful characters sheds light on my biggest complaint about the J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci Star Trek movies: nobody reads like they used to on Star Trek anymore. They can't even make time for the "Famous Jewish Sports Legends" leaflet from Airplane! In Star Trek's previous incarnations, characters used to often demonstrate their literacy by either quoting both fictional authors (the mutated helmsman's dialogue about wooing women with poetry in the 1965 "Where No Man Has Gone Before" pilot) and real ones (Dickens and Melville in Star Trek II, Shakespeare and J.M. Barrie in Star Trek VI and, of course, the Bard again on The Next Generation) or becoming actual authors themselves (Jake Sisko on Deep Space Nine). Pre-2009 Star Trek's depiction of centuries-old literature surviving and enduring despite the transition from print to PADD tablets used to make me feel hopeful for the future. Apparently the changes in the timeline that were triggered by Nero's attack on the Kelvin wiped out Kirk and the other characters' book smarts as well. The elimination of the characters' literary sides from Star Trek makes the possession of Vanessa look pleasant.

And then Madame Kali recited the ancient incantation of 'Put all your hands where my eyes can see/Straight buckwildin' in the place to be.'

Speaking of curses, if Penny Dreadful manages to break the curse of Showtime originals that collapse creatively after the first couple of seasons and is able to continue its hot streak past its enjoyable first season, the show could send Universal fumbling for the Tom Stoppards and Scott Franks of the world to punch up its monster movie reboot screenplays and "Penny Dreadful them up" or better yet, make Universal reconsider its bound-to-underwhelm shared universe plan and pay closer attention to why failed modern-day monster movie franchise starters like I, Frankenstein and Universal's own Van Helsing were unable to captivate audiences and critics. In this era of Hollywood tiresomely trying to Avengers-ize tentpole franchises that don't exactly deserve to be Avengers-ized, what can stop the determined heart and resolved will of Universal? Maybe a little show from Showtime can.

Selections from Penny Dreadful's first-season score album can currently be heard during "AFOS Prime" on AFOS and will be featured during "Buckets of Score" at 5pm Pacific on October 31.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Bob's Burgers, "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl"

Good thing it ain't A Good Day to Die Hard: The Musical.
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.

When the standout Bob's Burgers episode "Topsy" first aired in 2013, I wrote, "I don't care for show tunes, but I always enjoy John Dylan Keith and Loren Bouchard's original music on Bob's Burgers, and the brilliance of 'Electric Love' is that it doesn't sound like a polished show tune and sounds totally like something an aspiring 11-year-old musician would cobble together." I still feel that way about "Electric Love." Despite featuring the well-trained pipes of Kevin Kline and Megan Mullally (who both had pasts in musical theater), the most memorable musical number from "Topsy" convincingly sounds clunky--instrumentally speaking--and is such a nice contrast to so many live-action sitcoms where kid or teen characters who compose songs or start rock bands always sound like professional studio musicians.

For instance, during Happy Days, I could never buy that Richie, Ralph, Potsie and that black guy who briefly drummed with them before he died of spontaneous combustion (okay, that death didn't happen, but I like to make up horrible off-screen fates for unpopular Happy Days characters who vanished without explanation) all had the chops to perform competent--but still kind of shitty-sounding--covers of '50s rock hits at Arnold's. If David Chase, who once wrote a Wonder Years script that got rejected for being too edgy and later made the semi-autobiographical '60s garage band flick Not Fade Away, had been put in charge of Happy Days instead of Garry Marshall, who never let things like realism, period accuracy or authenticity in accents get in his way (why does a Milwaukee auto mechanic have a Brooklyn accent despite spending his whole life in the Midwest?), Richie's band would have sounded more like an unpolished garage band than a bunch of slick L.A. studio musicians.

In Bob's Burgers' fifth-season premiere, "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl," Bouchard, Keith and episode writer Nora Smith have somehow made the music sound worse than "Electric Love," and that's not a criticism. That's a compliment. The more off-key the singers are and the more sloppily written and expositiony the lyrics are, the funnier Bob's Burgers' musical numbers are. From the moment I first heard that "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" was going to be about 11-year-old Gene--whose enthusiasm exceeds his talent--composing and directing a school musical based on the 1988 blockbuster Die Hard, I knew this episode was going to be special because terrible musicals based on movies that don't exactly lend themselves well to the stage musical treatment never fail to amuse me. "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" doesn't disappoint, with cheap stage FX work that's reminiscent of the sweded movie FX from Be Kind Rewind (my favorite stage FX bit: Gene's simulation of Hans Gruber's death) and lyrics like "Oh, the life of the wife of a cop/Makes my head spin around like a top" or this gem:

I wonder if Wagstaff's spring play will be Color of Night: The Musical.

In addition to Gene's Die Hard show tunes, the season premiere also treats us to snippets of songs from a musical version of another 1988 20th Century Fox smash hit, Working Girl, a rival project that beats out Gene's passion project for the school's fall musical spot. Working Girl: The Musical stars both Gene's annoying ex-girlfriend Courtney (David Wain) as Tess McGill and Tina as the Sigourney Weaver character (she auditioned to be in Working Girl just so that she can get quality time ogling the butt of Jimmy Jr., Courtney's co-star). The musical version of "the sassy sister film to Die Hard" was composed by Courtney's smug musician dad Doug (John Michael Higgins), whose songwriting skills aren't exactly the greatest either:

Working Girl spawned a short-lived sitcom version in the '90s.
The Working Girl sitcom starred a pre-Speed Sandra Bullock.
Heh, 'pre-Speed' makes it look like Sandra Bullock was a speed addict.

Despite the school's rejection of Gene's Die Hard musical idea, Louise, ever the money-hungry con artist, persuades Gene to put on his musical anyway--in the boiler room right below the stage, on the same night as Courtney and Doug's musical, as a form of guerilla protest. Gene and Louise's counterprogramming scheme forces Bob and Linda, who's more of a musical theater fan than her husband, to choose between watching Tina's musical or Gene and Louise's underground musical. Bob opts to see Tina perform because the original Working Girl inspired him to follow his dreams, while Linda picks Die Hard, and in the episode's best running gag, Bob doesn't even bother to hide his lack of enthusiasm for Gene's musical. I love how that lack of enthusiasm continues even when the two rival camps rejoice after agreeing to put aside their differences and merge their musicals together:

Like so many parents who get dragged to their kids' school musicals, Bob would rather get hit by a bus.

If this were an average '80s live-action sitcom, Bob would tell Gene he supports him no matter what he does. But Bob's Burgers isn't an average sitcom, and Bob's unwillingness to lie about his doubts over Gene's attempts at extracurricular activities--whether it's baseball or an unlikely musical adaptation of an action classic--is a thing of sad-bodied comedic beauty, man.

While "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" isn't quite on the level of "Mother Daughter Laser Razor," which Nora Smith also wrote, or the Molyneux sisters' "Boyz 4 Now"--I wish the premiere's Rashomon-ish first act had a better comedic payoff--the episode is still an entertaining way to kick off the fifth season of a show that was made the butt of a couple of lame jokes ("We gotta carry him 'cause he can't fly on his own") in the abysmal Family Guy/Simpsons crossover (the Bob's Burgers porn parody was better than those jokes, for Christ's sake). What the writers of that crossover don't realize is that for three straight seasons, Bob's Burgers has quietly surged past Family Guy and The Simpsons to become the crown jewel of Fox's animation lineup, devoting as much care and inventiveness to revitalizing the animated network sitcom genre as Bob does to the creation of his burgers, and the solid laughs of "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl" are an early indication that Bob's Burgers won't exactly be relinquishing that spot as the crown jewel any time soon.

Memorable quotes:

I never figured Bob... be a Working Girl fan.
I thought Hamburger: The Motion Picture...
...would be more Bob's jam.

Peep the Italian flag necktie.
Jimmy Jr.'s inattention to breaking character is so fucking funny.

Monday, October 6, 2014

That gum you like is going to come back in style, thanks to Showtime's Twin Peaks revival

I'm glad David Lynch and Mark Frost's recently confirmed Showtime revival of Twin Peaks--an extremely influential show with many classic Angelo Badalamenti score cues that you can vibe out to during "AFOS Prime" on AFOS--won't be another goddamn prequel or origin story. I was never really a Twin Peaks fan, but as a kid who saw all of the first season and was only interested in the second one when it revealed Laura Palmer's killer, I had crushes on Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne and Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson, and I loved both Badalamenti's score music and the character of Agent Cooper, who, as the A.V. Club's Zack Handlen once tweeted, "is a great example of how to create an idiosyncratic genius without making him a misanthropic ass," in what I assume to be a jab at how tiresome the abrasive and self-destructive lead characters on House and Sherlock became after a few seasons.

Audrey goes undercover and poses as an extra on the set of a low-budget Hammer vampire movie.
(Photo source: Idle Fascination)
Kyle MacLachlan's eccentric and perpetually enthusiastic Cooper ("Damn good coffee") was, like Jeff Goldblum's Zack Nichols on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a great detective character on a show that I wish had been as terrifically written as its lead was (let's face it: Twin Peaks was kind of boring outside of Cooper, the weirdos at the police station, the Palmers and Audrey--I never gave a shit about the Dallas-esque sawmill and hotel stuff, and I don't think Lynch ever did either, kind of like how True Detective season 1's Carcosa cult conspiracy seemed superfluous to Nic Pizzolatto, who, judging from interviews, appeared to be more invested in working on the philosophical and character study sides of his show than its procedural side). Cooper, who, outside of the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me prequel, was last seen being possessed by the evil spirit known as Bob, was such a defining role for MacLachlan that almost every character he's played since Twin Peaks has wound up channeling Cooper's weirdness, whether it's "the Captain" on How I Met Your Mother or the mayor on Portlandia.

You see Cooper everywhere on procedurals these days--on one of my current favorite shows, Sleepy Hollow, Tom Mison's Ichabod Crane is basically Cooper as an easily irritable 18th-century polymath--but back in 1990, MacLachlan's character was a breath of fresh air. He was a heroic detective imbued with several quirks that made him more interesting than the average pre-1990 FBI agent protagonist (I don't think Diane, the supposed secretary he addresses in his tape recordings, even exists), but he wasn't '70s and '80s network TV detective quirky, like Kojak (he loves his lollipops!), Baretta (he has a cockatoo!), Crockett (he has an alligator!) and Jessica Fletcher (she's old!).

Instead of being quirky in the cutesy and gimmicky ways pre-1990 network TV preferred the likes of Kojak, Baretta, Crockett and the serial killer who went by the name of Jessica Fletcher to be, Cooper was David Lynch quirky, which meant he, like Audrey, the Log Lady and a few other characters on Twin Peaks, was from some other fucking planet that speaks in a language only Lynch understands. That's why the world, which had grown bored with the cutesiness and blandness of American network TV at the time, became so taken with Cooper and Twin Peaks, although for only a brief time.

Nadine doesn't care for the drapes at Laura Palmer's funeral.

If ABC hadn't interfered so much in Twin Peaks' much-maligned second season and Lynch and Frost were allowed to handle the show's central mystery their way (Lynch wanted Laura's killer to remain unidentified), like how HBO and FX were more willing to roll the dice with the limited series format and let Pizzolatto and Noah Hawley, respectively, do whatever they wanted to do with the storylines on True Detective and Fargo, maybe Twin Peaks would have been a masterpiece instead of a near-masterpiece with one classic season and one season that was all over the map. It's partly why Lynch's 2001 cult favorite Mulholland Dr.--which was originally supposed to be a Twin Peaks spinoff about Audrey in Hollywood and contains the weirdest and cleverest recycling of footage from an unsold TV pilot outside of the original Star Trek's transformation of a failed pilot into a courtroom story--stands the test of time for me better than Twin Peaks does: because it ended the way Lynch wanted it to end.

Showtime isn't the timid and prudish network that ABC was when Lynch and Frost made Twin Peaks, but its network execs also ruined Dexter (they wouldn't let the show kill off Dexter) and Homeland (they were responsible for Brody outliving his usefulness), so their history of tinkering with their scripted programming is the one thing that makes me skeptical about the nine final Twin Peaks episodes that are being planned for Showtime. They'll probably turn Cooper into a lumberjack or something.

Stephen King's Sometimes My Arms Bend Back

Selections from Twin Peaks' first-season and second-season score albums can currently be heard during "AFOS Prime" on AFOS.