31 December 2011

Dr. Cupcakersworth, "Best Of" Professor Emeritus, Voices His Unwavering Judgment

It's the end of another year, perhaps the last year that we'll see the actual end of.* So many things have happened: many bests bested previous bests, and several worsts also worsted previous worsts. But that's 2011 for you! Year of the Toothpicks, we salute thee as we burn thee down to the ground.

*and I, for one, welcome our new Aztec overlords!

The Best "Best of 2011" List of 2011!

Best Car of 2011
Gabe Kotter, welcome back!
Your dreams were your ticket out.
Welcome back!
to that same old place that you parked about.
Well your battery needs trickle chargin',
and your front tire needs pressure gaugin'
Who'd have thought you'd win it?
(Who'd have thought you'd win it?)
Cupcaker knew, didn't it?
(Cupcaker wins it)
Wellll we tease you a lot 'cause we got you on the spot welcome back!
(Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back)

Actual Best Job of 2011
My new job! That's right, screw you old job. You freaking sucked so much. Remember how I lied and said you were the best job of 2009? That was only because I was desperate for a job. Now I have one I actually like! And now I don't silently cry on the subway platform every morning. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Best Pastry Experience of 2011
I finally got myself over to the Doughnut Plant, first after my 101 graduation show and then months later after a rehearsal with my new improv group. Square doughnuts + improvised comedy = Best Pastry Experience (repeatable) of 2011.

Best New Improv Group of 2011
King Regis!

Best Old Improv Group of 2011
The Venkmans! One is silver and the other's gold!

Best ANTM Winners of All Time
Tyra Banks puts two cycles of ANTM out every year, and 2011 may be the only year in history that I've been fully on-board with both cycle winners. Brittani Kline & Lisa D'Amato? Werq.

Best Chanukkah Gift of 2011
My brother's giving me his keyboard! That's right, in 2012 I plan on emulating every famous rock 'n' roll pianist of the past 6 decades, starting with Jerry Lee Lewis. Documentation to follow.

Best Wedding of 2011
My brother's wedding! We welcomed Rena as a wonderful new member of our family, and I'm pretty sure Matt got membership at her family. Very exclusive. Highly sought-after. Officially, inimitably: Rones. (maybe next time, royal family) Which brings me to: 

Best New Sister of 2011
Rena Kaufmann, no question. Hooray!!!

Most-Watched Movie of 2011

Thanks to Brian Fithian, I have now watched Dazed & Confused as many times as I've watched Home Alone this year. Possibly even more times? Let's see, I kept track of the times I've watched Home Alone since Thanksgiving and the grand total is 4. However, that doesn't include viewings earlier in the year (I believe my birthday blowout with Krista and Colin ended in an early-morning viewing). But BriFi really outdid himself this year. I make it a point to watch Dazed & Confused on New Year's Day (it helps with the Too-Much-New-Years Blues), and Brian watched with me on January 1, 2011. Then again on January 2, 2011, then on January 4, 2011, then a few million more times after that. The kid loooves them redheads, man. Yes he does.

Best Australian Comedian of 2011
Chris Lilley! Please watch Angry Boys because you will like it (but probably more the second time around).

Best Actual Definition of "Nonplussed" of 2011
adj. Surprised and confused so much that a person is unsure how to react. I play-dohed a mnemonic image for it. Please for my sake just use it.  

Best Readership of 2011

Happy New Year!

25 December 2011

You Should Be Watching "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz"

As a belated ending to You Should Be Watching month, may I humbly suggest my favorite holiday-themed sitcom episode:

"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" (from Frasier)

12 December 2011

You Should Be Watching Parks & Recreation

...and for that matter, Community. Granted, now that indefinite hiatus has been declared for the latter series, you might only be able to Be Watching Parks & Rec. But to me these sitcoms are like fraternal twin babies that I'm obliged to hold forever, except for some reason I'll be sending one of them to camp for a few months.  BUT I WILL TRAVEL FAR AND WIDE TO BRING IT BACK FOR FALL 2012.

Both Parks & Rec and Community began in 2009, and both pilots were huge stinkers. P&R started as a late-season replacement, and it relied so heavily on the Michael Scott Mold for Annoying Office Workers that it turned into an abyss of Awkward Copycattery. They didn't know what they were doing with Leslie Knope, Andy Dwyer, or Tom Haverford. They barely knew what they were doing with Ron Swanson, and that dude comes pre-packaged. Luckily, and with much prodding by Josh, I gave the show another try in early 2010 with the episode "Park Safety." In the episode, beloved office loser Jerry Gurgich bends over, rips his pants, and farts during a presentation. HUGE SUCCESS!!!!

My experience with Community is much the same: the pilot EFFING SUCKED and I refused to watch for a little while, but eventually Josh convinced me to try it again. And lo and behold, it had gotten much better. I don't remember exactly which episode changed my mind, but it was before the first paintball one, and after that the hits never stopped coming. Suddenly the disjointed, assy characters made sense, and I grew to love their group dynamic. I found that they know all about themselves, and that Abed is their self-knowing king. Because the show spends so much effort noticing how it follows and breaks traditional tv rules, it serves as its own viewers' guide. From week to week, the only predictable thing about Community is knowing that each episode's gimmick will in turn suit its plot very well.

Which brings me to my guess as to why these shows are so great: very talented writing staffs. Not only do these shows consistently pack their episodes with new, genuinely funny jokes; they're also familiar with their own parameters. Sprouting from roughly the same premise (a sardonic, ragtag crew makes up a generic office/government branch/community college study group/what have you), P&R and Community have cultivated specific styles and tones that differ from their Office forefather.

Parks & Rec follows Amy Poehler through all her zany antics, but it no longer suggests that her character is in any way incompetent. In fact, the main thing the show wants you to know about Leslie Knope is that she's successful due to sheer willpower. Possibly the only employee in her office who actually wants to work for the Parks Department, Leslie loves Pawnee, Indiana, very dearly. When an awesome protagonist loves a place that much, it's easy to fall in love with it too.

Besides honing Leslie's character, P&R's writing staff has amplified the best parts of other characters: Ron Swanson is not only a staunch Libertarian - he's also a sax player with a soft spot for women named Tammy. Andy Dwyer is not only a loser with no prospects - he's also the office clown, fake FBI officer Burt Macklin (when the situation calls for it), and the best man to walk into April Ludgate's life. Tom Haverford is not only the dude played by Aziz Ansari - he's also best friends with Jean-Ralphio, the best douchebag on television (until Schmidt from New Girl came along). Bounce, bounce bounce bounce-bounce. And I haven't even mentioned the so-extended-that-now-they're-permanent guest stars Rob Lowe and Adam Scott. Just look at this cast:

Similarly, over in the Community writers room they've created an entire universe. At Greendale Community College, air conditioning deans are evil. Monkeys are named "Annie's Boobs" and live in heating ducts. Crazy men played by Ken Jeong can become Spanish teachers with little to no knowledge of Spanish. Starburns walks around in a top hat like he owns the place. And Chevy Chase exists almost exactly how he must exist in reality - lonely, much older than we're used to, and pissed about it. Any show that gives Chevy a shot at redemption is a show I will watch.

I started out writing about why You Should Be Watching Parks & Rec, but now it seems I'm writing more about why you should give writers at least a few months to work on a show before decrying it completely. Maybe this is why I still watch the first 2 minutes of Whitney at the end of every Office recording - it could be getting better and I'd never know until Josh finally gave it a chance and mentioned it. But then again, Whitney? Probably not.

photos courtesy NBC.com

09 December 2011

You Should Be Watching Arrested Development

If you're not watching Arrested when it comes back in early 2013,

you will have made a huge mistake.

07 December 2011

No New Walking Dead = New Fake Walking Dead

I can't go on this long without new Walking Dead. Here is a story I think they threw in the trashcan that somehow ended up in my brain in a crazy series of events, I bet:

As Shane and the rest of his gang took out the barn folks one by one, Hershel turned into a frozen, disbelieving stone of a man. BAM! There went his neighbor's daughter. KAPLOW! There went his son's Boy Scout packmaster. And then out came Annette, or what used to be Annette, or at least a very, very sick version of Annette. Even with her yellowed, furious eyes and her missing cheek skin, Hershel's wife was still beautiful. Her auburn hair blew in the light breeze. Suddenly, her brain blew into the light breeze too. BANG!

The gunshot rang in Hershel's ears for what felt like years. He fell to his knees (one of them stiff from the war) from his crouched position, covering his eyes with his hands in an effort to stop seeing what he couldn't help seeing over and over again.

The last time he'd seen Annette healthy was just three days into this nightmare. She was watching a lot of tv news at the time, her interest piqued by the high incidence of cannibalistic accounts coming from rural areas. Newnan, GA was plenty spread-out, but it wasn't as rural as the places the news talked about. Annette couldn't stop postulating to Hershel: maybe the economy truly had gotten that bad, or maybe there was a new, advanced bacteria that scientists hadn't discovered yet that caused people to do this. Hershel discouraged his wife from these thoughts. Without her focusing on the family, who would keep everyone in line? She was the head of the house.

An egg timer went off and Annette left the living room to check on her pie. Hershel had been smelling sour cherry filling all afternoon, and he couldn't wait to dig in. It took all his strength not to sneak a bite of pie before it had properly cooled.

After a few minutes had passed and Annette hadn't returned yet, Hershel called out. "Honey, your gloom and doom news show is back," he ventured cheekily, knowing it would annoy her. When she still didn't return to the living room, he noticed a gurgling noise coming from the kitchen. "Honey?" Hershel called again. There was a clang, but still no reply.

Knowing that Annette would never make him get up from the couch on his bad knee, Hershel reached for his cane. He struggled up and hobbled to the kitchen as fast as he could. On his way, the gurgling got louder and Hershel could now hear weak grunts coming from the kitchen as well. He glanced down at his cane and tightened his grip.

As Hershel came upon the doorway to the kitchen, he saw two things: first, the pie was now face-up on the floor. Second, Annette was trying her hardest to remove her face from a horribly disfigured man's snarling mouth. The man, if that's what it was, was reaching in through the open window where the pie had been cooling. His arms seemed glued to Annette's skin and hair - he wouldn't let go, even as she flailed wildly. The man's mouth was on top of Annette's, almost as though they'd been in flagrante delicto when Hershel stepped in. He was gnawing on her cheek.

Hershel raised his cane and prepared to strike the intruder, but since the man was only reaching inside, the rest of his body was still out in the backyard. If Hershel struck anything, it would be Annette, who was weeping silently. The man had taken out most of her throat and mouth, which Hershel realized had kept her from screaming. Suddenly Annette stopped struggling. She slumped where she stood, bent over the counter towards the window. The man, one of those cannibals Annette had been hearing about, paused his attack and looked right at Hershel. Panicked and terrified, Hershel scooped up the pie from the floor. He threw the pie in the man's face.

Temporarily, at least, it worked.

The end??????

Thanks guys!

05 December 2011

You Should Be Watching Angry Boys

Chris Lilley is the funniest man in Australia. And I think I know Australian comedy! (angry & boyish, right?)

I saw my first Chris Lilley show at the behest of my friend's girlfriend at the time. She'd slip into a bitchy teenage Australian accent and start calling everything "so random," and I'd wonder if she was doing some Pride & Prejudice bit that I wasn't getting (but Pride & Prejudice is set in England! but I can't tell the difference!). But it turned out she was quoting Summer Heights High, and we finally rented the dvds on netflix and watched every episode within two days.

In it, Chris Lilley plays the three main characters in a high school mockumentary: Ja'mie, the bitchy private school exchange student; Mr. G, the spoiled and delusional drama teacher; and Jonah, the Tongan problem child who can't stay out of trouble. In the span of just 7 episodes, Lilley's characters reach far deeper than you'd expect - they're hilarious, but they're also human, and it matters how things turn out for them. They reach so high (usually setting themselves up for utter failure) that it's impossible not to see how things turn out, waiting with crossed fingers.

Since this theme month is about shows you could ostensibly Be Watching (right now), it's only right to recommend Angry Boys, which will air on HBO in very early 2012. Chris Lilley expands his normal miniseries length to 12 episodes (We Can Be Heroes only had 6), and the result is a wider breadth for more main characters. Several characters aren't introduced until after the first and second episodes, as earlier ones fall into the background to make way. We are reintroduced to Nathan and Daniel Sims, the white trash twins from Dunt who originally ran for Australian of the Year; and we're introduced for the first time to their tough-as-nails Gran (my favorite), who guards the local juvenile detention center; Tiger Mom Jen, who forces her skateboarding son to perpetuate his gay merchandizing; S.Mouse, a rapper with pitiful rhymes; and Blake Oakfield, a retired surf bum.

With more episodes than its predecessors, Angry Boys doesn't have to follow its characters for just a short amount of time (say an Australian of the Year pre-final or one school term) - instead it just sits with these people, watching as they go through serious changes. With this series more than the others, it feels like the characters will keep on going after the credits stop rolling. We just have to wait a few more years for another Chris Lilley series so we can catch up with them again.

All photos courtesy HBO.com

01 December 2011

You Should Be Watching New Girl

Wow, people really hate this show. I mention New Girl (usually to relate a Schmidt anecdote), and immediately the eyes get to rolling and the sighs flood out like our air is running low on correct opinions. "I know, I know," I say. "Zooey Deschanel can be a bit..." and then I don't know what to say, because although I (sort of) share the opinion, I'm not sure what's exactly wrong with her. Is she too cutesy? Is she too successful? Is everyone just crushing that hard on Ben Gibbard? Well great news ladies, he's free again. And I'm free. To love Zooey Deschanel and her new show!

Here is a timeline of my feelings on Zooey Deschanel:
2000: Almost Famous comes out. Zooey enters my radar.
2003: I must be the only person ever who doesn't love Elf. I like the part on the escalator when he's having a hard time - that cracks me up. But syrup on spaghetti? Who would waste delicious syrup like that? I also have a hard time relating to the entire cast, which is heartbreaking because I love Mary Steenbergen and James Caan. AND NEWHART FOR GOD'S SAKE! What is happening to me?
2004: I rent All the Real Girls on dvd from Blockbuster. I like Zooey now (but hate her character for the second half of the movie).
2005: Bones premieres on Fox. I like talent families.
2007: Katherine burns me my first She & Him cd. M Ward is cool. I like this music.
2008: H&M has posters of AIDS-awareness bodysuits and I keep thinking the Katy Perry one is Zooey.
2009: I see 500 Days of Summer in the theater and it's simply 5% too much for me. The next girl is named Autumn? Toooo much. I start wondering if Zooey herself might be 5% too much. I hope she isn't; she has my coloring.
Spring 2011: I follow Zooey on twitter and my suspicions start to firm up. She's always tweeting about being at home with mom and they're baking! She's cooking Thanksgiving and she loves to cook! She adores everyone and everyone adores her! Weeeeeeee!
Fall 2011: New Girl premieres on fox. I have a habit of trying out any new comedy (within reason), no matter what prejudice I'm pretty sure I'm right about. I endure a punishing stream of zesty Whitney Cummings shows without reward. But then! New Girl pays off!

This morning I was looking around in the NY Times Television section and found an article written by self-declared "cranky geezer" Neil Genzlinger, who hates all new comedy. Why? Because it's not new - it's all been done before.

Well figured, dummy. Of course it's all been done before! Of course we've seen the same bits over and over and over again! It's tv, and tv has limitations. Limitations that demand each sitcom in history to have an "Oops I just saw you naked!" episode. Genzlinger takes particular offense to that very episode of New Girl ("Naked"). He outlines Seinfeld's "The Contest" episode, wherein the gang has a no-masturbating contest without ever mentioning the word itself, and compares the two:
Contrast that ["The Contest" episode from Seinfeld] with the naked-roommate episode of “New Girl.” It is all about the character Nick’s penis, which Ms. Deschanel’s character, Jess, has accidentally seen. The word “penis” is spoken (or, in one case, sung) nine times, and that’s not including a batch of near-penises as Jess struggles to say the word. (Eventually, of course, she does.) It’s all done with an episode-long smirk, the very smirk I affected back in junior high when using what I thought would be an attention-getting word. And I might have found “New Girl” funny when I was in junior high. The thing is, I’ve graduated. Sorry, New Girl; no laugh for you.
No Genzlinger laugh for New Girl, folks, you heard it here first. I didn't realize we were declaring shows "good" or "bad" based on how they stand up to SEINFELD. That's like going to a perfectly interesting art show and then tossing off something like "Eh, it's no da Vinci." No, no it is not a Leonardo da Vinci. But it still has a few things going for it, and we owe it to the future of culture to at least try to see something good (or at least new) in it.

Here we finally turn to New Girl, one of my new favorites directly because of the novelty of its character Schmidt. Schmidt (played by Max Greenfield a/k/a Young Sandy Cohen a/k/a the Cop that Veronica Mars Dates for like One Episode) is a character I've never encountered on tv before. He's a douchebag living among nice guys, a puffed-up peacock in eternal show-off mode, a full-throttle version of the brattiest feelings we have all felt before. Schmidt's roommates, Nick and Winston, do what they can to keep him in line, and Schmidt seems honestly to be interested in self-improvement. He's just got a long way to go.

In the pilot, when Schmidt meets Jess's best friend (a model named Cece), he can't help himself - he rips off his shirt, casually remarking how hot it is, thereby revealing his not-extremely-toned physique. He then smiles the most shit-eating grin and just starts repeating Cece's name to impress her. "Cece. Cheche. Chechelia," he continues, settling on a brief show of all the Italian he truly doesn't have a grasp on. I laughed for hours. The day Cece finally acknowledges Schmidt as a person, he leaves the room so that he can jump off the wall like an amateur stuntman and do 16 diving rolls on the floor.

Later on, in the very "Naked" episode in question, Schmidt begs Jess to describe Nick's penis (as he hasn't ever seen it, even after years of best friendship). When she refuses, he puts out his hands to illustrate a length. "I'll keep going and you tell me when to stop," he says, but his hands are spreading out so fast and to such an unrealistic length that he can't freaking believe she hasn't stopped him yet. "Seriously? No. Wait, oh my- REALLY? No, can't be- THAT'S INSANE! No, let me start over." This, ladies and gentlemen, made me laugh so, so hard. And I was alone in my room, a situation that typically discourages verbalized laughter. What a fully-formed asshole, and what a silly person, and what a foolish dreamer. Schmidt is more than just a douchebag - he's a human douchebag.

Like Schmidt, Zooey's character Jess is a human version of the incredible dork she portrays. At first glance, Jess seems like Zooey Deschanel Cutesy x1000 - she's putting a turkey in the dryer, pulling Feelings Sticks out of her purse, and wearing insane costumes for her kindergarten class. But what's annoying about that kind of cutesiness isn't the individual actions - it's the proud display of all the actions put together. A girl who knits a scarf has a hobby; a girl who knits tons of scarves and puts them in your face and essentially begs you to recognize how idiosyncratic she is has a problem.

Although Jess's little weird traits add up, they're never championed as something to be proud of. Her roommates are constantly trying to get her to just chill out and be cool. She's trying pretty hard, and they note it as openly as they note Schmidt's douchebagginess. She tries to start a game of catch and immediately breaks the tv. She has crushes on truly lame guys, like her hippie boyfriend and Famous Computerman Justin Long (whose character people seem to like, but just because they haven't seen through his sheepishness to the low self-esteem lurking far below). She's a loser, just like everyone else in the apartment. We have here a jobless basketball player, a schlub who just got dumped, a douchebag, and a total dork. IT'S THE PERFECT TEAM!

I'm really enjoying New Girl, and I think that you should be watching it - that is, if you want to see something new, despite Genzlinger's opinion. Besides, I get a feeling that Genzy only really watched the penis episode. In his article he mentions that his crankiness, though palpable, never kept him from laughing at MASH in his younger days. Well, there's your problem right there.

All photos courtesy fox.com

28 November 2011

Pretty Much Dead Already: A Primer On Glenn & Maggie's Future Relationship

Last night was the mid-season finale of Walking Dead and OHHHHHH HOLY CRAP it finally turned around again! I don't think I've ever sat watching anything with my mouth so rigidly agape, my eyes so dry and wide with terror. It was like the first time I saw the day of reckoning at the end of The Godfather. Congratulations, Walking Dead. You did it!!!

First thing at breakfast, Glenn tells the gang that the barn is full of walkers. Now, "full" isn't really the right word for it, but there's danger just the same, and everyone rushes down to the barn to freak out. Excellent idea, starting a yelling match five feet away from the walker pen. The door starts shaking menacingly, but nothing really happens. Those zombies are actually pretty well-imprisoned. But still, Shane is like "GET US OUTTA HERE!!!!!!!!"

For some reason we are being treated to every moment of Glenn and Maggie's ENTIRE RELATIONSHIP. Is she mad at him? Oh man, she's mad at him again! I wonder what for!! Literally 50% of the show these days has been The Glenn & Maggie Report: Is Maggie Mad at Glenn? She puts an egg in his head and squashes it. Maybe this is a callback to Ramona Quimby. In which case, bravo! Meanwhile we're also watching a train wreck in slow motion in the form of Daryl & Carol's Unlikely Courtship. Ohhhh nooooo, why is she spending so much 1-on-1 time with him? Daryl calls Carol a "stupid bitch" under his breath after a tense conversation. Nice!

Lori's pregnancy secret is all the way out now, and Rick is using it as ammo to get what he wants around camp. He tells Hershel about the baby to get a permanent invitation. He tells Shane about the baby to try to un-crazy him a little bit. But that never works. Never promise Crazy a Baby. Shane's sanity roller coaster starts clicking up the first hill, the one big enough to power his entire topsy-turvy descent into psychomania.

Carl marches up to Shane, looks him right in the eye, and tells him he's bullshit. It's bullshit that he wants to leave when Sophia's still missing. It's bullshit that he wants to leave at all when the farm is so safe. Carl is still a ridiculously uninformed kid, but at least he's sassy now. Sassy and behatted!

Lori chops carrots like she's trying to do a bad job. Girl, even pregnant ladies know how to chop things evenly into bite-size pieces. Even ones with a lot on their minds, like zombies or paternity issues. Sassy like her son, Lori tells Shane that no matter who the baby's biological father is, that baby belongs to Rick. Click click click click Oh God here we go over the first hill WHOAAAA!

Shane wants all the camp's guns in his hot little hands. Now that there's a baby in the picture, he can't afford to let zombies march around minding their own business in a totally locked-up barn. It's time to shoot some stuff.

With his last shred of ESP, Dale makes off with the guns just minutes before Shane comes looking for them. Dale plans to bury them in a swamp (?), but Shane tracks him down and stands watching him like an arched, feral cat. Dale points a rifle at Shane and asks him if it really has to come to this. DO ROLLER COASTERS HAVE BRAKES? I don't think so! Sidebar: in any other movie, Shane acting this way would portend a hideous, inevitable death. Wha' happun?

When Hershel gets news that two zombies have gotten stuck in a nearby swamp, he enlists Rick to go get them. With pool skimmers or whatever. Nope, that's not stupid at all. God bless that Hershel, he sure knows how to keep himself alive. It's totally understandable how he's still standing. It probably has to do with how he walks his zombie prisoner RIGHT NEXT TO RICK through half of the forest.

As they approach camp and Shane returns with the guns, whatever's left of Shane's brain snaps into a million pieces. He starts tossing guns to everyone who'll catch one, even Carl. He starts breaking down the barn door with the over-powered gusto of a man marked for death. By all rights he should slip on a blade of grass, knock himself out on the padlock, and get swarmed by zombies. But everything goes just how Shane wants it, and that scenario is by no means easier to watch.

The zombies march out one by one and get shot one by one. It's a massacre. When it finally ends, everyone stays frozen and aghast. But oh god: there's one last walker about to come out of the barn. Are you ready for this? They've been getting you ready all season, so you really have no excuse not to be ready. It's Zombified Sophia. OF COURSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the only justification that I buy for keeping Sophia lost for so long. She was right under their noses the whole time, and all this barn-pussyfooting was directly responsible for prolonging their search. Not to mention the implied backstory - either Hershel wrangled Sophia into the barn himself and was keeping her fate a secret (thus keeping the gang at his barn even longer?), or Sophia came upon the barn herself one night at dusk, so relieved to find the shelter of the loft that she didn't even notice the gaps in the cross-beams, which subsequently tripped her and made her fall headlong into the zombie pit as she screamed, "No, not this way, not like this! I never even kissed a boy! Tragedy!!!! Misery!!! Oh, most rued day!"

We don't really see Shane hesitate to shoot Sophia, but then again, he doesn't raise the gun either. Once again it's up to Rick, the real leader, to step up and do what's ugly. Just like when Jack Shephard had to finish off the U.S. Marshal that Sawyer only managed to futz with. AND HE DID IT BY HAND.

The first half of Season 2 closes on a field of assassinated zombies, our gang's hands as bloody as they come, and our search for Sophia rendered totally in vain. Dang, Zombiepocalypse. Bumzers!!


all photos courtesy amcTV.com

22 November 2011

You Should [Have] Be[en] Watching Wonderfalls

Wonderfalls was only on the air for 4 episodes, and I was there for all of them. A spring semester high school senior, I felt like a pretty cool cat. Bookish, sarcastic, and full of potential - without ever taking a single step forward. Jaye Tyler, the main character of Wonderfalls, was my hero. A 24-year-old philosophy major graduates from Brown only to work at a gift shop back home in Niagara. The universe observes this slackery, objects to it, and bids inanimate objects like wax lions and teddy bears to speak to Jaye until she starts to listen. A world where it's not completely up to me to make things happen? That sounds wonderful.

Created by Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland, Wonderfalls has a lot in common with Fuller's other shows, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies (this just in: he's about to work on The Munsters for NBC!): it features an unorthodox, almost proto-Whitney Cumming (in terms of refusing to play 'girly') main character as well as incredibly wacky side characters. But where Whitney Cumming female leads are pointlessly caustic, Jaye Tyler is snarky for a reason. She hates everything, including herself, at least a little. The 2 Broke Girls just hate living in Brooklyn.

By the way, the actors who make up Jaye's nuclear family are amazing:
Diana Scarwid (Daughter Dearest) plays her perfect mother Karen
Katie Finneran (tons of Broadway) plays her newly-out sister Sharon
Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies!) plays her aetheist theologian brother Aaron
and William Sadler (Shawshank Redemption!) plays her ever-bemused father Darrin.

Jaye's name doesn't rhyme with theirs. But just like Jaye, her family members are trying to deal with their own lots in life - particularly her sister Sharon. The first few episodes hinge on Sharon's homosexuality becoming public, and it's really fun to watch that drama affect Jaye. As Jaye goes on a Rube Goldberg-style adventure each episode, we get to see how her blind actions work in unison. It's also worth mentioning that her love interest is a newly jilted ex-groom bartender. Now that's entertainment! You should be watching Wonderfalls!

all photos courtesy Fox Home Entertainment

21 November 2011

Secrets Secrets Are No Fun, Secrets Secrets BRAAAAIIINS

Boy oh boy, are things heating up at Hershel's Nonkosher Dairy! Thanks to Glenn's loose lips, Lori's pregnancy secret is out. The barnful of zombies secret is out, too, but nobody's doing anything about it except for the Chicken Lady, who's breaking chicken legs all over the place to keep her ex-neighbors well-fed and happy. Truly, Chicken Lady is the breakout star of "Secrets," the Midseason Finale Eve of Season 2. I mean breaklegs star.

Hershel hates having these people at his farm. They're gun-crazy zombie killers in his eyes, though he doesn't seem to notice that they're also resource hogs who are coming this close to a very successful coup of his farm. How is he planning on evicting them, with half-hearted shame? "Y'know, most guests don't stay for weeks on end. When were y'all thinkin of finally getting going?" If nothing else, the constant (bullet-wasting) gun practice would theoretically be drawing every nearby zombie to Hershel's property (even if it's farther out from the farm).

After a long moral struggle, Lori asks Glenn to go back to the pharmacy in town to get her a few more items. Conditioner, lotion, and oh yeah, Morning After pills. This is confusing: is Lori getting ready to pamper herself through a long pregnancy, or is she getting ready to end it all? In either case, what is the conditioner for? "Soft hair just makes me more me, you know?" As soon as Lori gathers the courage to take several doses of the pills, she runs to a field and throws them up. Excellent choice, wasting all the Morning After pills in one fell swoop. God knows Maggie won't ever need them, or any of the other all-woman party at Hershel's. THANKS AGAIN, LOR. SO GREAT WORKING WITH YOU!
PS: Lori's positive that the baby belongs to Rick. That's impossible to know, since he's only been back for about 3 weeks or so.

Out at the firing range, Andrea's getting good at shooting motionless targets. Shane decides to swing a tree branch out in front of her to simulate true-to-life swinging zombie targets. Granted, this is a great way to waste a few more bullets, but it doesn't seem to be working. Shane brings up Andrea's dead sister in order to bring out her dormant Angry Gunskills, but it's pointless - she still stinks.

Shane takes Andrea with him to look for Sofia in a nearby neighborhood. They discover a pile of burned corpses in a garage, and soon zombies from all over the street swarm the house and prevent further investigation. But what happened here? Did a garageload of bitten, feverish humans decide to end it before things got out of hand? Or is it a weird new thing that zombies do with corpses? Somehow they make it outside, and Shane refuses to shoot an attacking zombie to goad Andrea (yet again) into getting the hang of it. FINALLY something switches in her brain, and FINALLY she's an amazing shot. It almost makes the past few episodes of Andrea's temper tantrums worth it.

Then Andrea grabs Shane's deumer in the car and the Obnoxious Lovers Club is officially established. Back at Hershel's, Dale can immediately tell what happened between them, and he's pissed. Grandfatherly old farts can still feel jealousy, damn it. He's the one who just spent a week keeping Andrea away from her own gun, ostensibly keeping her alive during a suicidal (and thankless) period. He's the one with the hat and the RV. When will she open her eyes and see what's been right in front of her this whole time?? If I was your woman! If I was your woman! Dale takes out his anger the way he usually does, by giving unwanted advice to the women of camp:

Long live Dale and his nosy, ancient ways!

all photos courtesy amcTV.com

18 November 2011

ANTM Recaps Temporarily Back In Fashion!

As Becklectic grows up, I realize that I can basically only handle recapping one series at a time in a meaningful way. And although I started out following ANTM All Stars this fall, my attention quickly gave way to Walking Dead. Well guess what, friends. Good old Byrnsie Byrne told me she wants more hot ANTM action, and by God, she will get it.

First allow me to guide you through the Michael Jackson gallery, curated by LaToya herself at Elimination Panel 3 weeks ago. Here we have a few beauts:

This is the only amazing thing I've ever seen Bre do. Bringing out the Michael, bringing me to tears.

Laura Kirkpatrick, I'll love you til the day I die.

Yiiiiiiikes, Alexandria. PS Allison Harvard is wearing blackface.

But now for the real thrust of the recap:

The girls head off to Greece, led by Andre Leon Talley in a rice paddy hat and large black kimono. I'm finding myself surprised that Lisa "The Crazy One" wasn't born Greek. Did she convert? Are you saying she's not Greek at all? No, that can't be right, look at her. 

The girls have to memorize large Greek words and give "1-minute speeches" utilizing them when they set foot on the Greek tarmac. Then Tyra digs up the only Greek photographer she's heard of and has him shoot the girls in a kiddie pool full of Greek salad. In other logos, we're really classing things up, Greek-style.

The 100-year-old in the group, Shannon, reminds Mr. Jay not so gently that she "doesn't do underwear." Her brain is cooking up a convoluted stew of "underwear < swimwear, unless the swimwear is underwearish, in which case swimwear > underwear because I can't figure it out? Just for my husband. No sir, that is just for my husband." Granted, this season is supposed to be about image branding, and it's well within Shannon's brand parameters to avoid gratuitous nudity. Then again, how you gonna be a working model if you won't work? All the fashion songs say you better work. A random PA ends up telling Shannon, "No offense, but it's easier to change the model than the prototype." SLAM! Duh duhduh Duh duhduh LET THE BOYS BE BOYS!

At Elimination Panel it becomes abundantly clear that these girls were just made to pose in freaking Greek salad for no good reason. The judges hate the way Laura poured olive oil all over her face in her photo. She was feeling sick! She wasn't thinking straight! What were you expecting? Keep Laura alive! In the end, she is kept alive, whereas Shannon gets the boot. Right in her fully-clothed butt. 

There are just 5 girls completely middle-aged women left in the competition. What better way to celebrate than with a caustic peer-led "casting" session! Miss Jay rounds everyone up and makes them walk for each other and judge each other.

It's totally innocuous at first ("I could never, ever [pick a girl who doesn't deserve to win], even if it means I'm out of the contest!"), until it turns into shit-on-Angelea hour. Dominique sees herself in Angelea and wants her to project more confidence. Laura just wants her to be doing better period. Lisa's lips are zipped. This is significant. Angelea refuses to hear any criticism, so she just gets up and walks out while showering the girls with profanity. She's ready to win, so she ought to, and everyone else should shut up or prepare to be slapped. To Angelea's credit, she slaps no one.

Giving further credit to Angelea, she really did take initiative and get herself some counseling between the first season she auditioned and the season she actually made it onto. She just clearly needs a little more. Her mantra throughout is "You think you know me? You don't know nothing about me," which is tragically honest. In a show about models trying specifically to become household names, you probably ought to make it so people can "know you." And that "you" can't just be defensive.

Flipping back around to Lisa, it's nice to see a former train wreck slowly figure out when to turn on the act and when to keep it quiet. She keeps herself from getting into a ridiculous fight with Angelea. She goes out to a club with the rest of the models and manages not to drink any alcohol, which had originally contributed to her downfall. She thinks "the winner in [her] needs to be somebody who can handle themselves in every single situation." And it doesn't look like she's struggling. It's really nice to see a self-disciplined person who isn't completely depressed about it.

The models pose as ancient Olympians for their photoshoot, only instead of throwing javelins and shotputs, they throw belts and purses. Everyone gives a solid performance except Angelea, who neither knows nor cares what the hell a "put-shut-pot-shot" is. Well Angelea, it's simple, really. It's a ball that you hold while MODELING FOR ONCE.

Somehow by Elimination Panel I realize that I'm rooting for Lisa as well as Laura. This is confusing and makes me wonder about what goes on in my brain. It's like the time I was rooting so hard for Melrose. What was that all about? The bottom two are Angelea and Dominique, and since Angelea will undoubtedly cause more drama, she gets to stay. Despite her vast inter-season improvements, Dominique will not be our All-Star. Ole Rattlesnake Angelea gets one more shot. Here are the rest of the Olympians!

all photos courtesy cwtv.com

17 November 2011

You Should Be Watching Portlandia

Carrie Brownstein's old riot grrrrl band Sleater Kinney was amazing before they broke up, and it was 33% due to her amazing voice. Well, that's not totally accurate. Maybe the breakdown is more like:

However it breaks down, who knew Carrie Brownstein was also an incredibly talented comedian? Apparently Fred Armisen did. And also IFC. Thus Portlandia was born! Click through for all the Portlandia that Hulu is prepared to offer at the moment. Below is "Did You Read?":

Brownstein keeps up with Armisen at an astounding pace (disregarding editing and whatevs), and her straight face is naturally set at a hilarious "I don't get it" level, and she throws herself into every character she portrays. I, along with everyone else who watched the first season, really hope that Carrie & Fred are best friends in real life. Since Armisen is also a talented musician, they pepper their sketches with genuine-seeming jam outs. You know how they say that all comedians want to be rock stars and all rock stars want to be comedians? They both did both, and they called it Portlandia.

16 November 2011

Don't Look Now It's A Theme Month!

Starting mid-November, ending mid-December:


It began with Homeland, and now it's blossoming into a full-blown monthstravaganza. In the mischievous yet pensive words of Doc Brown, "I figured...what the heck?"

15 November 2011

You Should Be Watching Homeland If You Aren't Already

It's online anywhere you look, guys, and it's amazing. Claire Danes plays a CIA agent - who may be going crazy - who finds out that an American POW has been turned. Cut to Damian Lewis, newly freed American POW, who acts suspicious and has red hair. Throw in a little wacky-jazz, some low-tech surveillance reminiscent of The Conversation, and a whole lotta Mandy Patinkin. WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS? Go! Go now!

photo courtesy of Showtime (www.sho.com)

14 November 2011

Abra Chupacadabra!

Is anyone else's DVR totally screwing them over for Walking Dead lately? My roommates and I checked it at 8:45 last night to make sure it was still set to record at 9 (we suffered too much heartache last week when this happened), and it STILL didn't record. It didn't even pretend to have an unresolved conflict. Like so many pre-zombies, it just died. Is this an allegory for the show? Is the show an allegory for modern cable-based technology? We're all going to die unfairly someday. Isn't that enough?

Last night's episode, "Chupacabra," dealt with women doing unexplainable things. Glenn asks Dale if all the women have synched up -- Maggie won't have sex with him a second time; Lori cries and cries, just because she's pregnant in an obstetricianless world; Sophia keeps dropping dolls and pillows as clues but never seems to be findable near them; and don't even get me started on Andrea.  WOMEN.

The episode starts in a stopped-up lane of traffic several weeks ago, where Lori and Shane watch Atlanta get nuked. It's the moment they realize things will never be fine again. If they're bombing Atlanta, the people in charge must be really pessimistic (probably a bunch of women). It's hard to say what this flashback has to do with the rest of the episode, but I have faith that I'll be bringing it all around by the end.

At present, it's a day for disobeying Hershel. First Daryl borrows one of his horses without asking, and then one of Hershel's sons volunteers for gun-heavy work without his father's go ahead. The womenfolk have the gall to cook a thank-you dinner in Hershel's very own kitchen. All of this frustration will most likely lead to Hershel kicking our gang out of his farm, as well it should. They're starting to act like they own the place (and the horses, and the daughters), and they'll probably be the downfall of Safe Haven Farms. But what makes Hershel so sure that they won't turn on him and stage a coup? He's old and he hates guns. If he's indoctrinated his children against guns too, it could be very easy for Rick's group to turn into pirates - the very kind of people any nice group of survivors would avoid at all costs - and to take his land. Will Hershel turn Rick into the King of the Savages?*

The real star of "Chupacabra" is old Daryl 'One Man Show' Dixon. After stealing a horse from Hershel, Daryl sets off looking for Sophia yet again. Only this time, his nervous horse sees a rattlesnake and makes a break for it, leaving Daryl to roll down a very steep, woodsy hill and to completely impale himself with a crossbow arrow. Questions: Why does he only have that one arrow with him? Did the others fly off and break during  the fall? Why is Georgia like this, with the steep, woodsy hills? God, at least he didn't fall into a kudzu gulch. He'd be buried alive in there, and he might not be the only one!!

True to form, Daryl immediately tries climbing back up with the arrow lodged in his side. Again he falls, even worse this time, and he passes out to the tune of Merle Dixon's cocky ramblings. This vision of Merle wants Daryl to succeed, so he taunts our hero all the way to safety. First he shakes Daryl's foot, waking him to the very real zombie gnawing on his shoe. (DID HE GET BITTEN? I ASSUME NOT, BUT DID HE?!) He then teases Daryl about leaving the arrow in the wound, prompting him to take it out and use it on a second looming zombie's head. Finally, he noogies him all the way up the original steep, woodsy hill. Thanks, Merle. All your ceaseless bullying has finally paid off.

And now we get to Andrea, the Queen of Cloudy-headed Women, who would rather shoot guns 'n' wrassle snakes than cook in the kitchen with the other ladies. She's the first one at the farm to sight Daryl, and since he looks like shit, she assumes he's a zombie. Naturally the glaring late-afternoon Georgia sun blocks Daryl's face in her binoculars. Rick, Shane, and Dale suggest she not shoot him, since it's loud and a waste of bullets and not a great weapon if you want to identify the thing you're about to kill. They even lower their own weapons as they get nearer to Daryl, giving Andrea copious visual cues that this is not a zombie. But no. She shoots him anyway and grazes his face. Thank you so much, Andrea. We couldn't have not done it without you!

Lucky for Glenn, Maggie wants to have sex again after all. Unlucky for Glenn, she lets him choose the spot (because he has such a majestic grasp of the farm's available spots). He chooses the mysterious barn, which Hershel banned Rick from a few episodes ago. Why? BECAUSE IT'S FULL OF ZOMBIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Or about 6 or 7 from the looks of it). We live in a zombieful worlllllllld!

Circling back - what does that opening scene have to do with the rest of the episode? In the former situation, Lori and Shane watch their hope for refuge get bombed beyond recognition (although we had no trouble recognizing Atlanta in Season 1); in the latter, Lori and Shane (and everyone else) watch as their new hope for non-nomadic living disappears. And just like those women in the control tower who set off the nukes, it is the women of Rick's group - and their craziness - that destroy the chance to stay in their new home. That's quite a stretch, though.

*Graphic novel says no.

all photos courtesy amctv.com

09 November 2011

Cherokee Rose: The Trail Of Zombie Tears

This Sunday, The Walking Dead inched closer to a climax that we've all been waiting for since first meeting Farmer Hershel, but it never got there. Further than that, I ain't sayin' nuttin'. Except this: Hershel Greene is the Jewiest name ever for a Southern Baptist farmer. Old MacGoyisheKop over here! OHHHHH!!!

I was reading the graphic novel last week in preparation for this episode, hoping that I'd be able to lessen the amount of physical trembling I'd inevitably go through. In the end I was as petrified as ever (waiting in vain for it all to go down), but I learned something in the meantime: we've completely skipped a section. Granted, lots of plot points diverge between the comic and the show, but typically the broad strokes remain the same. Perhaps you've heard the (semi)famous anecdote about Kirkman simply not realizing at the time that the CDC is in Atlanta. Instead of visiting our national biomedical emergency center, the comic book characters try living in a gated community for a few days. Man, I would've liked to see that. In the immortal words of that kid taxi driver who propositions Dottie in A League of Their Own, "Can't we do both?"

But let's get back to the things that actually do happen in "Cherokee Rose," the fourth installment of the second season. Surprise surprise, Sophia (HER NAME ACTUALLY MEANS "WISE"; HOW FOOLISH!) is still lost. Carl's doing a little better, now that he's had life-saving surgery and Lori has stopped trying to mercy-kill him (at least for now). She finally has time to focus on the little zygote growing in her belly, whose existence demands confirmation. Lori scribbles "pregnancy test" in a made-up Secret Friend Language and gives her order to Glenn, both verbally and in writing, so that he'll grab one from the pharmacy up the road. Skipping ahead, Lori ends up peeing on the test outside in the dark - she REALLY wants to keep this a secret. The thing is, Rick wouldn't have followed her in if she had gone to the bathroom to do it. He doesn't seem like a co-pee husband. Thus, we have proof that Lori is going crazy and will need to be dispatched with soon.

Glenn goes to the abandoned pharmacy up the road with Maggie, Hershel's youngest daughter. They "fall in love" right there in the aisle, and so do their horses as they wait outside. Then they do a huge double-wedding out in town square, with tons of zombies on Glenn's side and tons of farmers or something on Maggie's, and it's so cute because when she tosses the bouquet, all the zombies swarm on it like it's human flesh, and when they find out it's not, they get really riled up. Big mistake, newlyweds!!!!!! They escape but foolishly keep the "Just Married" cans on the back of their car. It attracts zombies from miles around.

At Hershel's, the gang finds a nasty bloated zombie at the bottom of a well. It looks like Behemoth from The Nightmare Before Christmas but with less wondrous eyes.

In an effort to keep the water supply uninfected, everybody decides to pull the zombie up while it's still alive. Obviously the brace buckles, and Glenn falls within foot-biting distance of Zombehemoth. No no no no!!!!!!! In the end, Glenn dodges all potential foot-bites and, in fact, gets the rope securely around the zombie's fat, disgusting head. In the end it's all for nothing, because Fatass breaks in half and ruins the well water anyway. I must say, this is a surprise - I thought for sure that this zombie would need to be kept "alive" for a specific reason. But I ain't sayin' nuttin'. Except this: I'm bewildered and pleased that Zombehemoth hasn't yet begun to haunt my dreams.

Daryl finds a flower?

That's just about the long and short of the episode. And oh yeah, Hershel hates guns. Hershel Green, the Christian farmer, hates guns. Still sounds prettttttttttty Jewish to me.

Production stills courtesy amctv.com

PS The high school from last week is Newnan High School. Basically diametrically opposite my hometown in relation to Atlanta. OK, I GET IT WALKING DEAD. I'M NOT A CHARACTER IN YOU.