Friday, March 25, 2016

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Venture Bros., "Red Means Stop"

Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. The 130th edition of the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week happens to focus on the final episode of a show that will be back with new episodes someday, but when? Oh yeah, and stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now, or don't. Barely anybody has.

Somewhere, there's a crazy parallel universe where Clancy Brown is an international movie star, in addition to being a great character actor, and he--not Liam Neeson--starred as the retired CIA agent who tears apart Paris to rescue his kidnapped daughter in Taken. "Red Means Stop," the Venture Bros. sixth-season finale, presents a glimpse of that parallel universe during the moment when Brown gets to parody Neeson's famous "I don't have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills" speech from Taken. The episode makes me wish some creepy Akira kid with extra-sensory powers or someone like the Rufus Sewell character from Dark City could will that universe into existence.

The imposing Brown is best known for his villainous roles in Highlander (his guest shot in "Red Means Stop" makes it an interesting episode to be airing right after the Christopher Lambert subplot of "A Party for Tarzan") and on both the short-lived HBO cult favorite Carnivàle and Superman: The Animated Series. He was so perfect as the voice of Lex Luthor that whenever I flip open Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman, it's Brown's voice I hear in my brain when I'm reading Luthor's dialogue, not Gene Hackman's, not Kevin Spacey's, not Michael Rosenbaum's and certainly not Jesse Eisenberg's.

Brown would have been terrific as Bryan Mills in Taken. He can convincingly shift between being intimidating to someone his character's about to kill and being kind to whoever's playing his wife or daughter (like on, for example, Fox's Sleepy Hollow, where he had a rare good guy role as Abbie and Jenny's deceased surrogate dad). So that makes Brown the perfect guest star to voice the cloaked Red Death, a terrifying-looking, Red Skull-style arch who strikes fear into the hearts of his victims atop a flying satanic horse one moment and is sweet to his wife (Cristin Milioti, voicing a character who's much closer to her Fargo housewife role this time, instead of a gangster's bratty teen daughter) or his preschooler daughter the next. In fact, that's where we first meet the Red Death: he's at the park, looking after his daughter Lila, who doesn't have any skin like her dad, while his sweater's hilariously tied around his neck.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The best thing about Pee-wee's Big Holiday is that it will introduce a new generation of viewers to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

"You ever been in a fight?," wonders Joe Manganiello--who stars as himself in the new Netflix original movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday--to Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens), the Magic Mike star's new best friend, as Joe realizes Pee-wee has never left his hometown of Fairville and has basically lived an uneventful life.

"No," replies Pee-wee.

"You ever broken a rule?"


"You ever had two women fight over you?"

But this time Pee-wee has to pause for a couple of beats to try to remember. If you've been down with Pee-wee since the classic 1985 Tim Burton movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure (or maybe even as far back as The Pee-wee Herman Show, Reubens' early '80s L.A. stage show at the Roxy, which the Groundlings alum revived on Broadway to much success in 2010), you might recall that the bow-tied man-child had to choose between the affections of a really hot Italian trapeze artist played by Valeria Golino--her hotness is the most rewatchable part of 1988's poorly received Big Top Pee-wee, the last Pee-wee flick--and a schoolteacher played by Penelope Ann Miller during Big Top. In this age of meta-humor permeating everything from Rick and Morty to Deadpool, you'd expect Pee-wee to break the fourth wall, wink at the audience and make a reference to that love triangle from 28 years ago.

But Pee-wee doesn't do so. He instead replies with "Have I? No." Or maybe Reubens is indeed referencing the last movie, and the brief pause is his way of saying, "Yeah, the public was right: Big Top Pee-wee was kind of a mistake. But enough about that movie!"

Whatever the case, Pee-wee movies aren't known for being constantly self-aware and meta like the Muppet movies. Pee-wee's Big Holiday, which centers on Pee-wee's cross-country odyssey to attend Joe's star-studded birthday party at his Manhattan penthouse, doesn't really acknowledge any of the events from the prior Pee-wee movies because it actually takes place in its own separate continuity, just like how the Randal Kleiser-directed Big Top doesn't take place in the same continuity as Pee-wee's Big Adventure's. Certain traits of Pee-wee's will always remain constant--the red bow tie, the too-small gray suit, the white shoes, the mischievous giggling, the Rube Goldberg gadgets, the weird animal sidekicks (whether they're puppets or actual animals)--but Reubens has interestingly always rebooted his own character in each Pee-wee project, including the beloved and timeless Pee-wee's Playhouse. Even after 38 years of man-child antics, Pee-wee's basically still a work-in-progress.

You know the amiable Pee-wee who hosted a Saturday morning kids' show that was meant for all ages--aside from an occasional double entendre related to Miss Yvonne, the most beautiful woman in Puppetland, or an L.A. Law-era Jimmy Smits cameoing as a repairman who catches Miss Yvonne's eye and suggestively talks about his "tools" and knowing how to use them? That Pee-wee was quite different from the more devilish Pee-wee who attached mirrors to his shoes to peek at girls' panties in the not-for-kids Pee-wee Herman Show, which was a parody of the type of old-fashioned, Howdy Doody-ish kids' show Pee-wee's Playhouse would later channel in a much less parodic fashion that was also still somehow subversive, due mostly to the presence of then-unprecedented-on-American-TV characters like a black cowboy and an animated Latino superhero who speaks only in unsubtitled Spanish.

One of the funniest running jokes in Pee-wee's Big Adventure centers on Pee-wee's obliviousness to how much Dottie (future legendary voice actor E.G. Daily), the pretty bike shop employee who tries to cajole him into taking her out to the drive-in, is in love with him. He's more in love with his bike. It's a riff on the weird behavior of little boys who think the opposite sex is yucky and haven't quite figured out yet that the opposite sex--or whatever sex they'll later become attracted to--isn't really so yucky. In another bit of soft rebooting way before the term existed, Big Top rebooted the "Ew, girls are gross" Pee-wee as a slightly more mature Pee-wee who juggles two women and gets laid off-screen.

Big Top turned Pee-wee into yet another conventional rom-com lead, and it wasn't what the public wanted from Reubens at the time. They weren't interested in a more sensitive and lovey-dovey Pee-wee (they also clearly wanted to see the playhouse itself make the jump to the big screen, not Pee-wee in some '50s circus movie). The public was right: Big Top's elimination of one of Big Adventure's best running jokes ended up sapping Pee-wee of a lot of the comic anarchy that made Big Adventure so enjoyable and endlessly rewatchable.

But Reubens' refusal to repeat himself in Big Top, even when it results in artistic failure, is also one of the most admirable things about the Pee-wee movies as a comedy franchise in a world of comedy franchises that misguidedly believe that constantly rehashing jokes is a wise creative move. When the audience wanted Pee-wee to remain asexual, Reubens pushed against that. Or when the audience was itching for the immensely popular likes of Chairy, Pterri and Conky 2000 to share the big screen with Pee-wee, Reubens gave them a talking pig instead.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Beats, rhymes and Phife: A look back at the late Phife Dawg's travels with A Tribe Called Quest

Phife Dawg, who passed away at the age of 45, was a huge part of the soundtrack of my teen years, and he continues to be a huge part of the soundtrack of my current years. The following is a reposting of my discussion of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest from August 27, 2015.

I grew up listening repeatedly to A Tribe Called Quest's first three albums on cassette: 1990's playful People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1991's more introspective but somehow even more enjoyable The Low End Theory and 1993's celebratory and communal Midnight Marauders, a rare threequel that actually doesn't suck. So while some ATCQ heads might find the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, the first (and so far, only) directorial effort from actor/filmmaker/copy shop employee Michael Rapaport, to be repetitive because "it was all stuff that any Tribe fan either already knew or could pick up from a thousand different bio's on the internet," I marveled at a lot of the footage Rapaport, a Tribe fan himself, was able to gather about the origins of three of my favorite hip-hop albums, as well as the origins of the Native Tongues collective, which consisted of Tribe and several other acts who appeared on classic Tribe joints like "Award Tour" and "Oh My God."

"We don't have to do 'Fuck tha Police.' There's a time and a place for 'Fuck tha Police.' And a group for that. We don't have to do 'Fight the Power.' There's a time and a place and a group for that. We're allowed to be different," says former Native Tongues member Monie Love about the much more whimsical but no less meaningful sounds of Native Tongues artists during the documentary. Besides Tribe and Monie, the revered collective also included the remarkably still-together De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, the Jungle Brothers and Leaders of the New School, whose member Busta Rhymes had a breakout moment that took place not on an LONS track but as a guest MC on Tribe's "Scenario," a classic posse cut Rapaport wasn't able to include in his documentary due to clearance issues. Since "Scenario," Busta has gone on to have an unusual (and tabloid-riddled) solo career, whether he's reuniting with former Tribe frontman/beatmaker Q-Tip on the 2013 track "Thank You" or rapping in the form of either Prince Akeem or liquid metal.

Viewers who don't know what it's like to go crate digging in a record store might not care for the footage Rapaport and cinematographer Robert Benavides lovingly shot of Q-Tip and former Tribe DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad browsing for potential beats like kids getting lost in a candy store, but as someone who did an awful lot of crate digging as a college radio DJ, that portion of The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest resonates with me. There's an equally lovely moment where Questlove--whose choice of the letter Q for his moniker was his way of shouting out ATCQ--equates Phife Dawg's "Yo!" at the start of his classic opening verse in "Buggin' Out" with N.W.A. bursting through the Martin Luther King "I have a dream" sign at the start of the "Express Yourself" video.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Venture Bros., "A Party for Tarzan"

Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. Stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now!

When The Venture Bros. pulled the in medias res trick--an overused storytelling device Rick and Morty, another equally great animated comedy from Team Venture's home network of Adult Swim, made fun of a few months ago--only 25 seconds into "A Party for Tarzan," I was worried. "No! Not you too, Astrobase Go," I thought to myself.

Fortunately, the episode's deployment of in medias res turned out to be a parody of Martin Scorsese's in medias res moments from the opening title sequences of GoodFellas and Casino (as well as Raging Bull). I almost forgot that Scorsese actually did this, decades before Morty Smith would lose his mind on the Purge planet, when an aspiring screenwriter on that planet pissed Morty off by starting his story at the point where it got interesting instead of where its timeframe actually began.

Set during a night when Gary, who doesn't enjoy the homicidal part of henching, reluctantly executes an arch in the Pine Barrens as dirty work and Dr. Mrs. the Monarch experiences some similar hesitation while Wide Wale gives her the chance to pull the trigger on the man she thinks is the supervillain-killing Blue Morpho, "A Party for Tarzan" ranks up there with Community's "Contemporary American Poultry" episode and Mr. Show's hilarious "Pallies" sketch as an entertaining Scorsese parody. "Pallies" was actually more of a parody of the Bill the Butcher-esque treatment commercial TV has subjected all of Scorsese's R-rated movies to than a parody of the director's signature filmmaking techniques, but it's still a great little sketch about the violence of GoodFellas.

"A Party for Tarzan," the penultimate episode of The Venture Bros.' sixth season, even has in common with "Pallies" the brief presence of Paul F. Tompkins. The Mr. Show alum reprises his role from earlier this season as the original Morpho, whose 1973 master plan of disguising himself as the then-closeted Billie Jean King and nakedly seducing Dr. Z (Jackson Publick) into relinquishing a priceless statuette known as the Jade Dragon (while somehow tucking in his dick like Buffalo Bill)--which is detailed in a flashback-within-a-flashback--is definitely something you would never have seen on The Green Hornet.

If you're going to give Patrick Warburton and Mike Sinterniklaas an entire episode off from voicing Brock and Dean, respectively, you better damn well make the episode worthwhile. The Scorsesean flashback gimmick Doc Hammer went with for the episode he scripted--perhaps to compensate for the lack of Warburton and Sinterniklaas--could have turned out to be annoying, like it would have probably been in the hands of some lesser writer whose go-to Scorsese references are limited to Raging Bull and GoodFellas. But luckily, the gimmick works. When Hammer's making fun of Scorsese's overreliance on "Gimme Shelter" instead of recreating Joe Pesci's most profane lines from GoodFellas and Casino, that's how you know "A Party for Tarzan" is a solid Scorsese spoof. The Stones and blues music soundalikes Venture Bros. composer J.G. Thirlwell came up with in place of too-pricey-to-clear Scorsese movie soundtrack cuts like "Gimme Shelter" or "Mannish Boy" are funnier than using the actual songs themselves.

Between the references to Scorsese's 1987 video for Michael Jackson's "Bad" during "It Happening One Night" and the homages to Scorsese's documentary narration-inspired style throughout "A Party for Tarzan," Publick and Hammer must have revisited much of Scorsese's work while looking for inspiration for the New York-based sixth season and planning the whole season out. Doing that must have given Publick and Hammer a renewed appreciation for the legendary New York director whose name is interestingly one of the most frequently misspelled, even by filmmakers who claim to be fans of his work.

I present the Guac Samson, a Swedish meatball sandwich with guacamole, in honor of The Venture Bros. as it anticlimactically concludes its sixth season

There are three phases of Bruce Willis. There's the Willis who occasionally gives a shit, like the farcical Willis during the early part of Moonlighting's run (before he and Cybill Shepherd got so salty with each other that their off-screen arguments resulted in a lot less scenes between David and Maddie) or the Willis who helped bring some changes to the '80s onslaught of invincible and musclebound action heroes and added both a Moonlighting-esque comic energy and a vulnerable edge to '80s action heroes in the original Die Hard.

You might be a bigger fan of the era when Willis was frequently paired with a little kid who would function as his dramatic or comic sidekick. The biggest hit from that era was The Sixth Sense. Finally, there's the grumpy old man phase of Willis, where he's not as chatty as he used to be on Moonlighting or in the earlier Die Hard movies and he looks like he'd rather be counting his Planet Hollywood money or noodling on his harmonica than engaging with the material ("I'd never work with Bruce Willis again. I did that Blake Edwards film with him, Sunset. Willis is high school. He's not that serious about his work," said the late James Garner to Movieline back in 1994, while grumbling about having to co-star with an early version of this disinterested Willis).

Brock Samson, the tough OSI agent and longtime fan of Led Zeppelin (as well as The Rockford Files, according to a 2004 IGN "interview" with him), is like a weird cross between the Willis who comes to the aid of some troubled kid and a typically laconic Willis character from the grumpy old man era. But this unlikely nanny to Dean and Hank Venture on The Venture Bros.--a nanny with the body of wrestler Psycho Sid Vicious, whom creator Jackson Publick reportedly modeled him after--is slightly younger and, thanks to the sublime voice work of Patrick Warburton, a little more enthusiastic about the art of slaying bad guys, whether it's when he deprives a Guild of Calamitous Intent goon of his internal organs for threatening Dean and Hank or when he creatively kills a bunch of henchmen with his favorite instrument of death, his '69 Charger (Brock has an unexplained disdain for guns).

After spending a couple of seasons away from guarding the Venture family, the Swedish murder machine returned to the household refreshed and reinvigorated, and he's the same old Brock, although the show's new backdrop of New York has been kind of kicking his ass lately, and he's discovered a newfound taste for being dominated during sex. It's been a largely satisfying season of the Adult Swim cult favorite that's made us never look at boy adventurers, the space age or old TV shows from the '70s or '80s the same way again, but now the eight-episode season's coming to a close this weekend with an episode that reportedly "will be very disappointing as a finale," according to Publick in interviews, and it will leave things to be resolved in either the following season or a super-sized special in the style of 2015's "All This and Gargantua-2."

To get ready for the arrival of this disappointing season finale, I put together a new sandwich based on the character of Brock. Because he's Swedish, it's a meatball sandwich, but frankly, Swedish meatballs paired with lingonberry sauce and gravy just like at IKEA's Swedish cafe would be a little boring for a sandwich based on Brock, so I've added some spice to it and topped the meatballs with guacamole instead (Trader Joe's Chunky Guac would be dope). The result is what I'm calling the Guac Samson.

The sandwich consists of:
* six meatballs from a bag of IKEA's Köttbullar, a.k.a. frozen Swedish meatballs (available at the frozen foods section of any IKEA); cook them at 450°F for about 15 minutes first
* as much fucking guacamole as you like
* any kind of hoagie bread (but lightly toasted--after about seven minutes at 450°F, alongside the meatballs--because the guac causes untoasted bread to become as mushy as Hank after Molotov Cocktease broke his heart in "Assassinanny 911")

My favorite thing to snack on while marathoning a TV show for an hour or two is either Raisinets or any kind of peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's. But for either a marathon of The Venture Bros. or a viewing of its sixth-season finale, the Guac Samson would be more appropriate as a viewing snack.

Like its mulleted namesake, it will probably kill you before the end of the show.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Venture Bros., "It Happening One Night"

Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. Stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now!

Brock might not think so, but The Venture Bros.' move to big, bad New York is the best thing to happen to the OSI's toughest agent, probably since the life-changing day he bought his first Zeppelin LP. "It Happening One Night" is the latest Venture Bros. episode to make abundantly clear that the Venture family bodyguard has been off his game ever since he rejoined Team Venture in New York.

Samson's clearly no match for the New York supervillains he's had to tussle with ever since the newly wealthy Dr. Venture went from being small potatoes to an antagonist everyone in the Guild of Calamitous Intent wants to arch (Brock's new fuckbuddy Warriana has had to save Brock twice), and now in "It Happening One Night," he thinks the ninja-themed family restaurant where Hank has his dinner date with Sirena Ong is an actual ninja hideout (the ninja restaurant is a real-life thing in Tribeca, by the way). So Brock roughs up the waiters, including Jared (Nathan Fillion), a.k.a. the Brown Widow, who's so badly in debt he makes flat-broke Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2 look like a Kardashian kid.

Ninja New York in Tribeca

The Venture Bros. version of Ninja New York

Earlier this season, Brock told Hank to Google one of his heroes, Steve McQueen. Maybe if Brock bothered to do the same kind of research online while trying to keep an eye on Hank during his night out with Wide Wale's daughter, he wouldn't have wound up looking kind of stupid after being told that the ninja stronghold he infiltrated--he and his temporary sidekick Rocco (Mark Gagliardi), the Ong family bodyguard Sirena so detests, even go through the trouble of knocking a couple of waiters out and donning their fake ninja garb--is merely a trendy sushi joint.

A lapse in judgment like that may make Brock look bad as a spy who was trained to always be aware of his surroundings, but it's a good creative move for the show, which clearly struggled over what to do with Brock a few seasons ago. I have a theory for why Venture Bros. creator Jackson Publick separated Brock from the Ventures for a while and replaced him with reformed pedophile Sgt. Hatred: he simply got bored with having Brock always save the day. That kind of thing makes for terrific action sequences, but it can also become boring in the middle of a comedy show that's primarily about mediocrity. Brock was becoming too perfect a human being, even though this Swedish murder machine will always somehow be a funny character, thanks to whatever the fuck Patrick Warburton brings to the page, as well as because of the brilliant thing Publick and Doc Hammer wanted to do with Brock from the start.

They wanted to take Race Bannon and make him both psychotic on the battlefield (go revisit "Victor. Echo. November." on Hulu if you've forgotten how psychotic Brock can really be) and a frequently bored-sounding blue-collar type who viewed the guarding of a narcissistic super-scientist like Dr. Venture as work that's beneath him, even though he likes Dean and Hank (and H.E.L.P.e.R. too). It's like how Benson hated being the butler to the Tates but was kind to Jessica, Corinne and Billy because they were the only Tates who weren't snooty or racist. A.V. Club contributor Kevin Johnson's weird assessment that Brock hates Dean and Hank (in a typo-ridden guest review the A.V. Club recently posted when its regular Venture Bros. reviewer was gone for a week) is a total misreading of Brock's relationship with them. The OSI agent's Benson-style attachment to these boys who so badly need someone like him to guide them through--and away from--the craziness Dr. Venture brought into their lives is an essential part of The Venture Bros. It brings some genuine warmth to the show but never crosses into sentimentality (someone in a Reddit forum about Johnson's review interestingly counteracted his misreading by astutely pointing out that whenever Brock gets frustrated with Dean or Hank, it brings to mind Louis C.K. whenever he talks about getting annoyed by his daughters).

Speaking of Benson, competence can become comedy kryptonite, so when Benson became too competent and sensible--and popular--to continue being around the craziness of the other characters on Soap, he was spun off into his own show. Publick and Hammer's way of keeping Brock's similar type of competence from becoming stale was not to give Brock his own show but to sideline Brock and give him a Craig-era-Bond-like identity crisis as a professional killer (like when he went off the grid and lived with the duo of Steve Summers and his boyfriend Sasquatch, the show's parody of The Six Million Dollar Man's Bigfoot storyline) or to bring him down to Earth and depower him a bit, like how Publick and Hammer are depowering him now in New York. I bet that's why Publick and Hammer reinstated him as the family's bodyguard: they finally figured out how to make Brock interesting again, and the soft reboot the show is experiencing in New York has a lot to do with that.

Brock's arc this season is basically "if 007 had to fight someone like MODOK, he would definitely lose, and if you put 007 in the bedroom with a woman like Warriana, he would definitely not be in charge in the bedroom like he's always written to be in the Bond movies." It's an enjoyable way to play around with the spy genre assassin character who's always good at everything and to mock the wish-fulfillment fantasy side of the Bond movies. The Swedish murder machine is at his most interesting when he gets knocked around a bit, whether in battle or in the bedroom, like in "Tanks for Nuthin'."

Dr. Mrs. the Monarch, the voice of reason in the Monarch household, is also being similarly depowered a bit, even though as a Guild member, she now has more power and authority than her husband. If she weren't so distracted by both the stress of being Councilwoman 1 and the marital discord that's developed due to her rise in power, she'd be her old smarter self again and she'd be better able to track down the supervillain-killing mystery man who's been creating a bloodbath within the Guild (but is doing so accidentally, of course). The Monarch uses that state of distractedness--and his wife's love of role-playing during sex--to trick her into getting tranqed and to lure her away from finding out he's been arching other Guild members as the Blue Morpho in order to have Dr. Venture all to himself again.

There have been some complaints in the past from Venture Bros. viewers about how often pedophilia has been used as humor on the show (speaking of which, I rewatched "Everybody Comes to Hank's" the other day because of this week's focus on Hank's love life and was surprised by how the revelation that Dermott Fictel was the product of a relationship between a Woody Allen-esque Dr. Venture and the underage president of his fan club was a rare reference to wrong-on-so-many-levels sex that wasn't totally played for laughs, and, man, Publick and Hammer were really sticking it to Allen in that scene too). But lately, ever since the tranq-addicted Pirate Captain's relapse, I feel like the constant tranqing of characters on the show has become a similarly tiresome gag. Dr. Mrs. the Monarch becomes the latest character to get tranqed--perhaps the repetition of the dart gags is intended to be a joke about how the Morpho and his son (and even the new villains this week) are the hackiest and least creative people when it comes to taking down their enemies--and this umpteenth tranqing sort of ruins the lovely sight of Dr. Mrs. the Monarch cosplaying as Daisy Mae from Li'l Abner and not even bothering to Deep South-ify her incongruous Harvey Fierstein accent.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

I Can't Believe I've Never Heard It Till Now!: Arturo Márquez's "Danzón No. 2"

The "Danzón No. 2" sequence from Mozart in the Jungle

"I Can't Believe I've Never Seen It Till Now!" is a series of posts that appear sporadically here on the AFOS blog rather than weekly. In each post, I reveal that I never watched a certain popular movie--or that I never encountered a certain popular piece of music--until very recently, and that's largely because I'm Filipino, we're always late to the party and that's how we do.

When Mozart in the Jungle, the Amazon original series about the New York classical music world, took home Best Comedy Series and Best Actor in a Comedy for Gael García Bernal--as unorthodox conductor Rodrigo de Souza--at the Golden Globes earlier this year on January 10, Amazon celebrated its show's Golden Globe wins by allowing viewers who don't subscribe to Amazon Prime to stream for free every Mozart in the Jungle episode for only one day on January 17. I really wanted to see if Mozart in the Jungle got any better after its so-so pilot, which I watched for free on Amazon during Amazon pilot season a year before (I don't subscribe to Amazon Prime because it's too expensive for my blood), so I had to kiss the whole Sunday goodbye and try to stream Mozart in the Jungle's entire run before it turned back into a pumpkin at midnight.

Streaming two whole seasons in one Sunday is difficult to accomplish, especially when you're like me and you don't believe in binge-watching. I think it's a terrible way to savor scripted TV--I believe in taking my time when it comes to watching shows--and I also don't like to call it binge-watching because that word makes the act of TV-watching sound disgusting and Mr. Creosote-ish. Streaming two seasons in one Sunday is also difficult when you're the kind of viewer who can get fidgety after only two hours of marathoning a show and Sunday isn't the best day to be marathoning the entire lifespan of a show because after much procrastination, Sunday usually ends up being the day when you have to go replenish your fridge with groceries or else you're screwed for the next few days. Despite those obstacles, I was able to get as far as the third-to-last episode of the second season before Mozart in the Jungle turned back into a pumpkin.

As Rodrigo, the mercurial artistic soul whom aspiring oboist Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) falls in love with and whom Mozart in the Jungle creators Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (Coppola's cousin) and Alex Timbers loosely based on Venezuelan rock-star conductor Gustavo Dudamel, Bernal definitely deserved that Golden Globe. At times, Mozart in the Jungle threatens to turn into Entourage-y lifestyle porn, but it's neither as douchey as Entourage nor as unconvincing in its attempts to establish why its fictional central figure is an A-list star. I never could buy that the rather boring-ass Vincent Chase is a movie star--a CW star maybe, but not the 1997-ish DiCaprio type Entourage frequently hyped up Vinnie to be--whereas thanks to the amount of time Mozart in the Jungle spends on Rodrigo's creative process, as well as the vitality and warmth Bernal brings to Rodrigo, you understand why Rodrigo is such a highly regarded conductor and why every musician in the fictional New York Symphony would take a bullet for him.

Friday, March 4, 2016

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Venture Bros., "Tanks for Nuthin'"

Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. Stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now!

Venture Bros. creator Jackson Publick's statement that "this season, like Season Five, lacks a satisfactory finale, because we didn't write one" is an interesting lament because Publick does an outstanding job intertwining this season's storylines and building those storylines towards that unsatisfactory finale in his consistently funny script for "Tanks for Nuthin'." Sometimes I think maybe Publick is trolling his fans and he likes to dupe them into thinking the finale will be a letdown like "The Devil's Grip" was to a segment of the fans (newsflash: "The Devil's Grip" is actually better than those fans think).

Or maybe Publick's just being honest. I don't know. It's all a mystery--like whether or not Dr. Venture and the Monarch are actually a second pair of titular brothers.

The sexual mishaps that have led to Dr. Venture having a brother he doesn't know about (and possibly an additional child out there who was mentioned once in the second season and has never been mentioned again), the narcissism of the wealthy and the failure of a space age that promised us jetpacks and hasn't yet delivered aren't the only recurring themes on The Venture Bros. There's also the recurring idea that many of the second-in-commands or underlings in the Ventureverse are far more deserving to be running things than the idiots who somehow ended up with the keys to the car, whether that idiot is the Monarch or Dr. Venture.

This season, Dr. Mrs. the Monarch--the wifey who's always been too smart to be playing second fiddle to supervillains but is also too principled and levelheaded to be in the business of arching--gets to run things. The Sovereign's death has resulted in her trying to keep both the Guild of Calamitous Intent and the Council of 13 from falling apart, in addition to her new tasks as Councilwoman 1. But "Tanks for Nuthin'" implies that Dr. Mrs. the Monarch is turning into yet another idiot in power. She's apparently developed Lois Lane-itis in the eyes and ears and is unable to look more closely at the evidence of the Blue Morpho's return to recognize that the man in the Morpho's old mask is actually her husband, not Dr. Venture. But unlike the Monarch and Dr. Venture, that's not because she's a lifelong imbecile. It's because she's becoming distracted by both the marital problems that are being caused by her new job and the stress of that very job.

"Tanks for Nuthin'" follows Dr. Mrs. the Monarch (I know it'd be easier to simply call her Sheila, but Dr. Mrs. the Monarch is just a funny name to repeatedly say in its entirety) on a part of that job nobody would enjoy doing: informing the spouse of a Guild member that her husband's dead. Accidentally killed by Gary when he tossed him into a pit in Ventech Tower's under-construction lobby at the end of "Rapacity in Blue" last week, Haranguetan left behind a wife who also happens to be a supervillain: Battleaxe (Barbara Rosenblat from Orange Is the New Black), a Celtic warrior woman who, by day, runs an Irish pub full of costumed villains who drown their misery over the drudgery of arching in booze (one of those villains is Brick Frog, the loser in the frog costume whose whole deal is the throwing of bricks, and a great little touch during one of the pub scenes is the off-screen jukebox blasting some depressing Irish song). While investigating the whereabouts of Haranguetan's unseen killer, whom everyone assumes is the Morpho, Dr. Mrs. the Monarch has to go break the news of his demise to Battleaxe, who turns out to be inconsolable, even though she clearly bickered a lot with Haranguetan and "his breath was crap and he beat me."