Mystery Science Theater 3000 at San Diego Comic-Con

Well, I won't be in San Diego this weekend, but I will be Earth-bound and dreaming of what's to come from the reboot of MST3K.

This Saturday! Join @JoelGHodgson & the new cast of @MST3K in San Diego for panels, signings & more @Comic_Con! http://mst3k.com/sdcc2016

The wait is driving me a little crazy, but I'm super psyched to have the show back.

The Walking Dead Season Six Episode 6

There are two more episodes to go until we reach the next manipulative cliffhanger for the front half of this season, and things aren't looking too bad. You can look at this week's episode and reach several different conclusions, but here's the one that matters--Rick and the group will confront whatever is out there and kick it up it's own ass.

That's the pronouncement from Abraham, now back in dress blues thanks to a wardrobe malfunction and that's pretty much how things are going to be. No one knows how long they have but it's time to quit worrying about that bullshit and get busy living. This is the most life affirming episode so far and it reveals to us a little more of the situation in Northern Virginia. Yes, there are other groups out there. No, they can't shoot worth a damn. And, yes, there's this asshole named Wade who will prominently feature in a future episode. Wade can't be too happy now that Alexandria just sent a massive herd into his territory.

This episode was divided into two parts--Abraham and Sasha hole up and regroup so they can discuss how crazy or horny they are and Daryl's abduction by a half-assed trio of survivors runs the gamut between trust and betrayal. Everything they were riding in has been shot up or taken but they still come out of it all looking pretty good. Each character is moving in more or less the same direction. The only surprise is when Abraham states his desire for Sasha, who is non-plussed and doesn't give him much to go on. If this leads to strife or jealousy, I would be surprised because there's nothing unnatural about it. Both characters have admirable traits and if this is the new relationship, it signals their impending doom.

My guess is that Abraham or Sasha are next as far as the conclusion of their storylines. This was an episode where any one of them could have died, even Daryl. When he had Wade in his sights, it was shot in such a way as to suggest that Daryl really should have pulled the trigger. When the guy and girl he helped took Aaron's motorcycle and his crossbow, you could tell that Daryl knew that he was only temporarily saying goodbye to these things.

I had to admire the way the show integrated Abraham's back story into his discovery of a pristine set of dress blues in an abandoned office. He even notes the picture of the family man on the wall of his darkened office, reverting back to what he lost when he finds even more treasure while out scavenging. The way it was filmed suggested Abraham was about to meet his end--the same slow motion, intensely focused camera angles used when Glenn "died" a few episodes ago. And I also have to admire the good job they did with Abraham and this new uniform. He respectfully removed the owner's rank, skill badges, unit awards and medals and left the jacket with the insignia that would be appropriate. A real soldier would never wear another man's medals.

The weapon he found strung up on an impaled soldier was likely an RPG-7, which is a copy of the Russian RPG by an American company called Airtronic. It could very well be the Russian RPG version, which is a very deadly weapon and can stop tanks. I don't know what they're foreshadowing, but this is a game-changing weapon that will make Alexandria more powerful than ever. They sure could have used it when the Governor attacked the prison.

All in all, this was a good episode but not a great one. It showed Daryl's ethics at work--he even gets to play three questions (how many walkers have you killed, how many people have you killed and why did you kill them?) with the group of survivors that he ends up helping. Their inexperience and incompetence is fairly surprising--they have a backstory about being brutalized by Wade and they come off as sympathetic at first. The next time we see them, they'll either be dead or begging for help. Please note that the actress who plays on of them was Christine Evangelista, who has a great resume for a show like this. She could be a pivotal character in the weeks ahead, maybe even in the back half of this season.

This might also signal the end of going out and looking for other people to join Alexandria. You couldn't blame Daryl for not wanting to trust anyone else out there. Look what he's gotten for his troubles! He's lost his bike and his crossbow, and all he gained in return was a truck full of fuel named Patty.

Of course that was Glenn on the radio, calling for help (I don't buy into misdirection, and neither should you at this point). Of course we're being punished for caring about his character. And, of course they're going to be instrumental in rescuing not only Glenn but Alexandria itself. That's what the RPGs are for. I didn't see what will happen next week, beyond the bleeding of the walls in Alexandria and the impending threat outside. For a while there, I thought we'd see Enid again.

My lame-assed prediction is that Enid will save Glenn. If not her, then Daryl, Sasha and Abraham are going to have to drive angry to get back there in time.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is Back From the Dead

Another sad prop comic returns from the 1980s and hurls chum into the fan:
We’ve got movie sign, MSTies: Joel Hodgson, a.k.a. “Joel,” has officially launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000 after 16 years. (It was canceled in 1999.) The campaign quietly appeared on the MST3K official website earlier this morning, confirming suspicions raised by vague promises of “big news coming soon” on the Rifftrax and MST3K social-media channels. The campaign has the rather lofty goal of $2 million, which Hodgson says will enable him to make three full-length episodes of MST3K to shop around to TV networks and streaming platforms. With three additional episodes per $1.1 million raised over the original goal, that’s $5.5 million for a full 12-episode season. But if Zach Braff can do it, so can Joel and the bots.
Speaking about the campaign to EW, Hodgson says he hopes the campaign will not only raise the needed funds to produce new episodes of the show, but to serve as a sort of MST3K Signal to lure the old gang back onto the Satellite Of Love. But they won’t be on screen: Hodgson also wants to cast a new host and new mad-scientist adversary for the new season, as well new voices for Crow and Tom Servo. “Mystery Science Theater has already refreshed itself once with a completely new cast, so I think it deserves to do that again,” Hodgson says. “The original cast is going to be invited back to write, produce, and do cameos as their mad science characters, and then there’s a new cast with new talent.”
It depends a great deal on where they'll shoot the show and host it; the original show was created and staged in warehouse space southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Kickstarter indicated that it will be done in Los Angeles. Someone is going to have to move a lot of props from one place to another to make this happen because there's no way they're going to be able to do this without borrowing heavily from the visual feel of the original show.

A let-it-rip version, suitable for pay cable or FX, would be preferable to a return to Comedy Central, which destroyed the show when it was very, very popular because the network didn't want to program itself in two hour blocks (IIRC).

Anyway, yeah--who wouldn't watch this?

First Season Ratings for Fear the Walking Dead

I didn't think it was going to be this huge:
Fear the Walking Dead just had the best first season of any show in cable history.

With live-plus-three day ratings in for all six episodes, each of which also did gangbusters among live viewers, the AMC spinoff averaged 11.2 million viewers. 7.3 million of those were adults 18-49. That means that the cable network heads into the last months of 2015 with the No. 1 (Walking Dead), No. 2 (Fear the Walking Dead) and No. 3 (Better Call Saul) shows on basic cable.

AMC, which had renewed the series before its debut, is also going to give it a weekly post-show treatment upon its 2016 return. Chris Hardwick's The Talking Dead, a popular companion to the parent series, will air after every episode of Fear's second season.
I did recaps for every episode, which is something I haven't done before. I went through a lot of other recaps, looking for signs that I had gotten something wrong or had made a factual error and, no matter where I went, the reaction was always the same: boring!
Comment after comment rained down--this is a boring show, nothing is happening, blah blah blah. And that tells you one of two things--people are starved for action and they're starved for attention. 
FTWD isn't an action show. It doesn't feature mindless car chases and fight scenes (although it probably will end up having them soon). It's a drama disguised as a horror genre television show. And it's one steeped in the Humanities and elevated by the life or death aspect of the choices put in front of the characters. I guess I'm not surprised by the fact that the show has been marketed as a horror and action show rather than a drama. There's nothing procedural about it other than scratching out some way to survive. To me it's a story of humanity that operates within a framework of asking "how would you survive?"
Well, we already know that you won't survive without people and people are the reason why you probably won't survive for very long. That's the thing that keeps people coming back. They want to see who makes it and who doesn't and that wouldn't happen with flat, phony characters in a horror or action show. It wouldn't happen if there wasn't a struggle with conscience and morality over the simplest of choices.
If you look at this first season as a slow-moving drama, it works on a number of levels. You get the blended family dynamic. You get a slice of Central American history. You get inter-generational conflict. And you get a pretty good idea of where we're at as a society when it comes to treating people addicted to drugs.
Yeah, boring stuff.
These ratings reflect the need for people to connect to an alternate history of the United States. We're talking about events that happened in 2010. We're looking at the context of a global pandemic that mysteriously affects every human brain on the planet. If you succumb to a serious fever, somewhat akin to meningitis or influenza (which look very similar when identified in victims), you die and reanimate and consume human or living flesh. If you survive this, you will reanimate when you die or when you are bitten or scratched by a person who has succumbed to the reanimation process. This basic set of rules affects all of civilization in that it then causes everything to break down. Now, how do you survive?
That's not horror--that's drama. That's life. It's very powerful and the interest in this show reflects that.
Sunday night, I'll start issuing recaps for Season Six of The Walking Dead.

Moonbeam City Season One Episode 2

Historical mistakes are easy to spot, but you're usually being a dick when you point them out. Episode 2 of Moonbeam City's first season opens with a rave, and this was ruined for me when I started to think about the origins of rave parties and things like that.
Moonbeam City was definitely not the home of rave music, and the DJ decks are more 2000s than Eighties. This was something I would have expected in Manchester, England but I'm no fun and I suck. The juvenile delinquency of Moonbeam City is a subplot here but it shouldn't have been the home of a rave. We need to keep the Nineties out of the Eighties if we're going to satirize things, but that didn't stop the episode from being weird, violent, crude and very, very funny. I'm going to turn a negative into a positive and stop complaining at some point, I swear.
As in the pilot episode, the jokes are rapid-fire and moderately crude (if you can handle South Park or Archer, you can handle Moonbeam City). The plot is nonsensical, and so it dredges up the best and the worst of the Eighties all at once. 
The strength of the show is when it plays up the delusional self-importance of the characters and that's not a bad place to start as far as creating multiple story lines. That's why it's disappointing when they deviate from what was cheesy about the Eighties. 
For example, do you remember the film Buckaroo Banzai? There was so much about that film to like when it was released, but I'll bet you haven't thought about it ages (I know I haven't). What I remember was the superficiality and the insane plot that ended up being secondary to the style and the "inside joke" mentality that ran through the film. Oh, and the fact that Buckaroo Banzai was a rock musician and a neurosurgeon--exactly what the Eighties needed.
I'd like to see more of that and less of the Nineties in Moonbeam City, but I probably won't get my way. In fact, put me down as saying that Clancy Brown should do some voice work on MC--that would bring it all full circle.
Episode 2 went further in explaining Dazzle's self-evident delusions of grandeur and Rad's resentment of everything successful that comes Dazzle's way. He is hell-bent on destroying anything good in Dazzle's life, so he's just like a good Eighties villain. He has little motivation beyond envy and no hope of achieving his goals. I would like to see more of Chrysalis--being the only competent person in a show can get tiresome. 
Am I going to give up on this show? Hell, I can't figure out when it's on and finding time to put out a review is hard enough. I like everyone in it and the visual design is extremely well done. I am pulling for more Eighties satire, but, because I'm old and don't spend as much as someone fifteen years younger, I doubt the show will move in that direction. That's okay--I like what I'm seeing and I think it will get better.

Fear the Walking Dead Season One Episode 4

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. And, don't worry--your loved ones are safe.
Yeah, right.
This weeks episode of Fear the Walking Dead features the monotony of everyday life, closely held secrets, and young Nick's superior abilities as a cat burglar. Madison Clark is the reason why people are going to love this show, hands down. The elevation of Melissa McBride's Carol in the original series should have been all the warning needed. What gender bias? Kim Dickens is the reason why this show will resonate with viewers. Yeah, we're laughing at dumb Travis right now, but he shows signs of getting it, albeit too late. His son Chris and his ex-wife Liza are in on something as far as a realization of what's going on, while Alicia and Nick Clark are just treading water and dealing with their pain.
It's too soon to expect the level of competence that we've seen after watching five full seasons of the original series. It's way too soon for Madison to be as clued in as she is, but this is more of a testament to her years of dealing with Nick's drug addiction than anything else. A lot of the reviews of this episode are going to draw attention to the fact that people aren't smarter about what's going on. Well, who would be? The world turned upside down two weeks ago, and everyone is acting like this is a really bad earthquake scenario. I find their "incompetence" to be realistic, just like I see Daniel's skepticism to be a tremendous asset.
The military comes off as being the bad guy this week, and so you have to keep referring back to the scenes that appeared throughout The Walking Dead. How many times did they find a "FEMA" camp or a military encampment and find everyone dead and overrun, despite their weapons and their fences? The Governor knew the truth, and the Governor killed anyone in the military any chance he got. Well, you can see why.
In this episode, you see the unit begin to break down at the edges. One lunk is all too eager to pretend to go on patrol in order to get a little sophisticated time with Ofelia, who is probably in it just to get some medicine and not because she's repressed or anything. These troops are probably all waiting for a chance to frag Lt. Moyers but we just don't see that yet. Everyone's boredom and humanity is dumped into the mix--the residents try to stretch their supplies and the soldiers tee off and play golf, patrol endlessly like they are looking for someone to shoot, and then ration everything. They don their protective masks and go on armed patrols, looking to put rounds in anything out there, but you can tell there is a stressed logistics chain because, after less than ten days, nobody has much of anything anymore. It's all coming apart, just not at once.
I don't think this is how real soldiers would operate. First, among American citizens, the National Guard is more citizen oriented and willing to to do more help than harm. Active duty troops live in a bubble, only coming into contact with the communities where they are stationed. The Guard and reserve have more experience with public affairs and disaster relief. These troops look like California National Guard to me. They're not going to be in on some conspiracy because what would happen in that scenario is that someone would start blabbing about it. Second, they have their own families--a lot of them would desert, en masse, to go home to their own if they were in danger, just like cops and firemen would. Third, someone has to realize that as the supplies run out, so does the legitimacy of any military unit. I suppose they could keep things together through fear, but what would likely happen is that, as soon as there is a chance to slip away in tightly organized groups, a lot of them would do so in order to save themselves. This doesn't mean anything bad about the military--this means they're human, after all, and they would be unlikely to follow a jackass like Lt. Moyers.
Resources are collapsing quickly. Fuel and food are going to run out unless someone start's harvesting all of the gardens that still exist. And I think this is where Nick's benefit to the group will be his ability to scrounge. He's seen doing that in this episode with shocking results. I don't know what Alicia can do, other than tattoo herself and scatter among the wind chimes. At least Chris is recording videos of the aftermath that will be of critical help to historians (which is useless, of course, but how will anyone know anything in the future if someone isn't doing what Chris is doing?)
This is why I think it was absolutely the thing for Chris to be doing on the roof. He is able to find evidence of something in the hills around their neighborhood, outside the fences and the razor wire. He tries to show his dad Travis what's going on and Travis is too worried being the mayor of the block. He blows him off. He shows Madison and, like the badass she is, she's outside of the wire, trying to see what's going on. There's a good reason why no one is allowed outside--the military is trying to get control of the "infected" population through patrols, controlling the uninfected, and through intelligence gathering.
What you're seeing here is more of the temporary Army story line with the Human Terrain System in action--everyone is controlled, kept in a single place, and monitored for signs of being infected. They're also looking at undesirables, like Nick, and at people who are taking up more medicine than is necessary. Medical supplies aren't for people who are going to die and turn into zombies. They're running out of everything, of course, or the military is just stockpiling things for their own use.
The writers have blown one aspect of the storyline, and it's a nitpicky thing for me to bring up, but, where are the NCOs? In the Army, a Lt. Moyers is going to have at least one Sergeant First Class out there, supervising and leading the troops. In a unit like this, we're seeing a lot of lower enlisted soldiers. In reality, you'd see more NCOs holding everyone to a higher standard.
We're introduced to a few new characters. The two that stand out to me are the aforementioned Lt. Moyers, a First Lieutenant in the Army who acts like he's a light Colonel, and Dr. Bethany Exner, who is triaging everyone and "removing" the people who can't be saved or helped. She gets rid of anyone who isn't going to make it without more health care than they can afford to provide. Lt. Moyers is just an asshole, so there you go. Dr. Exner represents bureaucratic necessity to me, and she is more than willing to scoop up someone like Liza because she probably things Liza is going to be a realist. Both Moyers and Exner are menacing enough without me spilling all of the beans, but the focus of this episode is control. Imperfect people with questionable motives are now making calls that will affect the group dynamic.
So, we're at a dividing point here. Three characters are removed from the group (and it makes sense to think of them as a group now because we're ten days into the outbreak and they've begun to cohere together as a working unit, even though Travis is still clueless and Daniel is ready to tell stories of El Salvador's death squads.
Madison has a piece of information and so does Chris. This unlikely combination creates the drama of Madison's sojourn out into what's left of East Los Angeles. She sees evidence that people are getting blown away and that there has been grisly activity all around. Everything outside the wire is abandoned, or is it?
And what's with those flashing lights? Well, you have to tune in. Suffice it to say, this was probably the most tense and scary episode so far, ranking up there with the original series in terms of set decoration and design. We've seen a lot of Madison's house, the neighborhood, and now the world as it will look nine days after the world ends. We know that the soldiers are leery of blood and breathing the air and they're no letting anyone, no matter how ill, reside amongst healthy people.
We also know Madison is too savvy to believe anyone's bullshit. The next two episodes are going to be where Travis will eventually catch up to her. Aligned with Daniel, these three will form the nucleus of their group and they will know that you're a fool if you think men do evil just because of fear.

The Sweethearts of Late Night Television

In particular, in an interview with TV Insider, Leno took time to praise Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (“a truly nice guy and decent human being”) before taking aim at Jimmy Kimmel, who has been a vicious and relentless critic of Leno over the years.
“The most [important] element you can have in doing a late night show is kindness,” Leno said. “Because the show makes you arrogant. I think that’s Jimmy Kimmel’s problem. I think he’s a talented guy, I think he’s funny. But he has a mean streak, and it comes across. He does this thing where he takes Halloween candy from kids and the kids cry. What am I missing here? It is funny I guess, but it’s mean-based. I think that’s why he’s not higher in the ratings.”
So, the most successful person in the history of late night television--Johnny Carson--was "nice?" 
Bushkin, who didn't return calls, says age didn't mellow Carson, who retired from "Tonight" in 1992. On a honeymoon cruise, his fourth wife, Alexis, made an innocent remark, prompting Carson to snap, "If you say something like that again, this marriage won't last another three weeks."
Though Carson's 20-year friendship with Bushkin ended around 1987, when Bushkin began to see Johnny's "cruel side" more often, Alex stayed married to the talk deity till his death in 2005.

Fear the Walking Dead Season One Episode 3

Good morning, Susan!

There were a lot of things packed into this week's episode of Fear the Walking Dead. The first season is officially half over! Oh no! But so much happened that it would not be possible for me to give you a complete breakdown of the episode. I don't do recaps per se, but it was possible this week to see a lot of what is ahead.

Travis and Madison are completely different people, and they are the focal point of a good part of this episode. Travis is the humanities-driven humanitarian and Madison is the enabler of her drug addicted son and the one of two known badasses so far. The other is Ruben Blades.

In the dynamic of their relationship, Madison is the one who has to make the compromises in order to keep everything running. You saw her do that when she guided Tobias past the principal in the pilot--she kept him out of trouble and skirted school rules by doing so. She is a greater good kind of person, and Travis is unable to see what she sees already--the "infected" have to be put down.

Her son Nick, who is coming off of a heroin addiction, is actually going to be of use--he's good with burglary tools, but lousy when it comes to actually being a burglar. As a forager, he'll come in hand eventually. Her daughter Alicia has a tendency to freak out, and that's not a quality that will do her any good in the weeks and months ahead.

We saw more of the dynamic with Travis' son Chris and his ex-wife Lisa, and there is genuine tension because how could you blend your previous family with your new family now that everyone is an adult living in a world about to go to hell? Well, add in El Salvador's own Salazar family and you have nine people in a house.

Then you have the Salazars, and father Daniel's talk about El Salvador. He and his wife survived the brutality of the contra war in Central America--another cultural and historical reference that is going to be explored in the future, I would imagine, otherwise, why bring it up? The familiarity that Daniel has with guns and with how to kill indicates that he is going to be a major asset in the future, a man who is more prepared for how the world is going to be than almost anyone else. He is no stranger to brutality and you can see it in his contempt for the weak. He is the teacher that Travis needs right now; anyone else notice the dog-eared copy of Jack London's book on the dash of his pick-up truck?

If you want to learn more about the civil war in El Salvador, you can look at this and it will help with the context of Daniel's concerns about seeing the military arrive. His statement that it is too late will ring true once the next three episodes play out.

There were two great references, among many, many others, that popped up this week. First, no one is saving water! They just expect it to be there when they turn on the tap! Second, the military have made their presence known and they are inventorying the people and the homes. This is the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System in action. This was a controversial program that married the academic discipline of sociology with military intelligence gathering. It left populations vulnerable to exploitation and had serious ethical lapses when applied against an insurgency in action. And, it was a complete and utter failure, eating up untold millions of dollars.

What you see when it goes into action is subtle. You will see the troops marking the dwellings with Hurricane Katrina-like codes--dead body inside, an x for do not enter, and things like that. A small woman in body armor with a clipboard writes down basic information about the people living in Madison's house--this will be databased and maintained by the Army as they "secure" this neighborhood. What's being done is an outgrowth of America's military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I'm shocked that they're actually doing this on television because it's going to be an amazing piece of storytelling if they go where I think they're going with it. The military is going to run things now, and that means danger for anyone trying to survive. If you remember yourWalking Dead, the Governor was none too keen on having anyone from the military know anything about Woodbury. This is a direct callback to that.

Everything is turning to crap before their eyes and so there is a fascination with the "infected," as the walkers are called. They look surprising lifelike right after they turn but then the rot of death begins to overtake them quickly. That not only means that they are deceptively human but also that they are going to be hard to kill.

The airplane piece of this is going to be explored--there was a shot of the plane itself! Or something close to that. It waggled its wings as it was inbound to LAX--what could that mean? And there's bound to be some resentment brewing against Travis because he wanted everyone to wait until morning to leave the neighborhood. They could have been in the desert but now they're trapped in Madison's house with armed patrols in the neighborhood. They are under the control of the military and we'll see how that could be a really, really bad thing when the first herd of "infected" arrives.

This was a great game-changer of an episode. We have an inkling of who's going to die and what's going to be the group dynamic ahead. Someone has applied a lot of sociology to these episodes and it is really paying off. Basic services are collapsing and hundreds of bullets are being poured into a handful of walkers--what happens when the supply and logistics chain for the military breaks down and there are no more mounted .50 cals on vehicles? Every single military unit is only as good as the supplies it has on hand. When that collapses, so will the legitimacy and utility of the units themselves. Seeing as how there are only a handful of regular army units in California, these are probably California National Guard units--public affairs and the like. The military angle is probably the part of the story that will surprise people the most because it doesn't take much for a unit to end up on its ass.

I thought that the winking out of the lights in Los Angeles was the scariest thing of all. We know that there are "infected" people out there, we know that the military is taking away bodybags, but it is the real collapse of civilization that is just around the corner. Store some water! Start scavenging for weapons and food! Oh, isn't it fun to yell at the television?

A Revolution in Late Night Television

What you are witnessing is the beginning of a new era in Late Night television--an era where bullshit and sarcasm and snark are no longer the currency of the medium:
Vice President Joe Biden gave a moving interview to comedian Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show" on Thursday, expressing his uncertainty about whether he's emotionally prepared to run for president after the death of his son this past year. "I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there," he told Colbert. "I'm being completely honest." Biden, still reeling from the death of his eldest son, told Colbert any man or woman running for president should be able "to give 110 percent of who they are," but that he wasn't sure he could make the commitment just yet.
That's the news of what happened--the part that will get reported on by the diligent stenographers of the working press in Washington D.C. What you won't hear is enough about the context of how Stephen Colbert got Vice President Joe Biden to make news today.
Colbert brought out his guest after making fun of the Republicans running for president, and he threw in a Hillary Clinton joke to make it fair. But, really, he mocked the hell out of Donald Trump once again. And once that was over, Colbert went into another segment and separated himself from the entirety of late night television as a medium. He demonstrated that not only is he there because of what he can do but how he is going to do things differently. This is nothing short of a transitional moment if not a cultural shift away from smartassery and insincerity.
Colbert made small talk for a few moments and then went right to the Beau Biden question. He stopped the comedy and he stopped the laughter in order to get Joe Biden to talk about his late son. There's no getting around it--Biden knew that they were going to get serious and there's no question of an agreement to talk at length about suffering and loss. But this is the first guest segment on a late night talk show. A show that is on its third episode. This is where you get a big laugh or throw it to a pre-recorded snippet designed to promote a movie or a show. You go for momentum and rollicking fun, right?
Nope. This is not where you talk about how the Vice President of the United States of America is dealing with the loss of his son and the continuing heartache over losing his wife and daughter in the early 1970s. The downshift may have thrown people off, but there's no getting around the fact that Biden made news and Colbert conducted a near flawless interview with someone over a serious subject. It's impossible to know how many people will be reached by this interview, and I suspect it will play a huge role in Biden's evolving story. It will signify for many the direction in which Colbert has planned to take his show.
And, what's more, there was a concerted effort to reach out to people in the audience and at home. It was an attempt to recognize loss and deal with that in a cathartic way. When's the last time you saw someone on television do something cathartic that didn't involve shooting bullets into a corpse? 
Who does this? Can you see Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon doing this? I can't. Sorry, they are both very talented men. I think Kimmel has a great take on Johnny Carson's skepticism and I think Fallon is ten times better than Jay Leno. But Colbert is fifty times better than all of them put together and at least eight times better than David Letterman. Do the math! I can't.
I can't stress this enough--no one does this anymore. This is where Colbert bonded with the Vice President over the loss of his own father and brothers. This is where you saw that the game is about to change and where people are going to bond with Colbert and follow his show for a long time to come. He brought his audience with him, and he's going to add people right and left. It's not enough to entertain anymore--you have to reach people and show them that you're in tune with how the world works. It was a powerful interview and if you have a chance to see the whole thing, you'll see laughter and tears in one place, a rarity nowadays.
And to see such an open and frank discussion about faith--religion--on television without it being used as a weapon against gay people or against minorities is the revolution at work. I mean, you gotta watch this for yourself [no direct link yet, but this is the Colbert site] to see what I mean and you can probably explain the cultural importance of this better than I could, but, wow.
Just, wow.

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

I will spoil a few things here for you--the Late Show With Stephen Colbert premiered tonight and it starts off strong. It's worth watching if you're thinking about looking at what's on your DVR or online. This is the debut of one of the most important cultural programs this year and I'm just as excited as anyone else. The long wait for this show was difficult, to say the least, but there was no point in putting it out there until now. The audience for this show is going to skew a lot younger than people realize, and I feel like it's going to be difficult to keep up.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Having said that, I will note that the cold open was nicely done. The ideas that flow out of this show are going to challenge people to keep up, and there are visual cues that will keep you from missing The Colbert Report. The first bit Colbert did hearkened back to the visual format of the old show and played to a strength he has with the language. This is important because Colbert has not abandoned the skills or abilities that got him the job in the first place.
The Ed Sullivan Theater looks amazing. The set was flipped around specifically to avoid comparisons to the Letterman version. There is an awkwardness, though, when guests appear center stage and cross in front of Colbert to get to their seat--you'll see this and it will throw you off because you have long been accustomed to an entrance from left to right.
Visually, though, this is a show that celebrates the past of the host and the power of New York City. Colbert doesn't make the "Leno mistake" of failing to acknowledge the previous host of the show he inherits. Jay Leno debuted his own show with a screaming harpy (look it up) as a producer who refused to allow him to pay tribute to Johnny Carson. This is one of the greatest gaffes in late night television history, and Colbert is too smart to do it. Think also of how Jimmy Fallon had Joan Rivers on his show--all the curses are going away with style.
Colbert gets weird, and for that you will have to ride it out. If weird humor isn't your thing, you're going to make comparisons in your sleep to Conan O'Brien. And then you're going to wake up with the fossil of an extinct species of bird hanging out of your mouth--don't say I didn't warn you.
Clooney was good, and Jeb Bush was able to speak once Colbert realized that he was really giving the guy a hard time--you could really see the fear Bush had when it was apparent that no one is ever going to forget the family name. What you'll see in the Clooney part was inspired fun; what you'll see when Colbert gives Bush the full force of his intellect will give every politician in this country pause. If you're not fast, Colbert will bury you. Consultants everywhere who have some measure of control over their candidates will not let them do Colbert, no matter what. And it was no wonder that Hillary Clinton wasn't there tonight--far too risky. She'll have to do this show and she'll have to be absolutely perfect.
Musically, John Batiste is the anti-Paul Shaffer. Here's an actual jazz musician on an American stage for what seems to be the first time in ages. He doesn't have a pop or rock sensibility--he is an entertainer with a strong musical vocabulary and a great band behind him, bringing the sound of New Orleans with them. They have him untethered and wandering the stage--a great visual to begin with as he settles in and starts to really find the music this show needs to present. 
Will it last? Will CBS support this show if there is a struggle for ratings? I can't imagine a scenario where they wouldn't, but this is the unforgiving world of late night television. Nobody phones it in anymore, and this is the beginning of a new era. Who will fall? Will they finally pull the plug on Conan? Will ABC realize that Jimmy Kimmel can't compete? Will Jimmy Fallon hold on and find a place once Colbert starts to eat into everyone's ratings?
Why am I hungry for Sabra hummus?

Put This on Television

Christopher Orr is on to something:

Fifteen years ago, when I finished reading Patrick O’Brian’s magisterial 20-novel Aubrey-Maturin series for the first time, I remember thinking, damn you, Horatio Hornblower. C.S. Forester’s renowned nautical protagonist was at the time enjoying the starring role in the British TV series Hornblower, and given the close similarities to O’Brian’s oeuvre—both concern the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era—it seemed unlikely bordering on inconceivable that anyone would try to adapt the latter for television.
That was, of course, at a time when it almost went without saying that a project of such scope and pedigree would have to be British. But the televisual times have since changed immeasurably for the better on this side of the Atlantic, and now it’s easy to envision O’Brian’s books—which The Times Book Review has hailed as “the best historical novels ever written”—being adapted by any number of networks: HBO, obviously, but also AMC, FX, Netflix, USA … the list grows longer by the month.

Which is a very good thing, because if someone would merely get around to undertaking them, the Aubrey-Maturin novels could easily provide material for exquisite television, offering the action and world-building scale of Game of Thrones, the social anthropology (and Anglo-historical appeal) of Downton Abbey, and two central characters reminiscent of (though far more deeply etched than) Rust Cohle and Marty Hart in the first season of True Detective. Someone really needs to make this happen.

I think the parallel here would be the work done on the series Rome, which was enormously expensive, and would consume a great deal of time and effort. If I were going to undertake this as a television project, I would probably have to constrain the project to a limited number of sets.

Look at the set depicted above--look at the detail. Anything less and you're not going to convince anyone of anything. And yet, that scene was probably filmed on a soundstage.

The first logistical problem is filming at sea. No, you don't have to venture far out into the water with a functioning three-masted sailing ship, but you have to have something convincing. In the case of the Master and Commander, movie, they had a terrific replica of Jack Aubrey's Surprise. They used a water tank with gimbals and the HMS Rose, which is moored in San Diego, California (perfect for a California-based production). Everything else you could CGI as needed. There are set piece battles that would be prohibitively expensive and would have to be done sparingly.

The second would be filming on sets on land; much of the Aubrey-Maturin series takes place in England and on other land-based locations like the island of Mallorca. You could film those anywhere. It's the sea action that begins to present the next set of challenges since your source material has the duo sailing all over the world. Given the proximity of the Caribbean and Hawaii, no problem shooting on those locations if costs are kept at a minimum. Too many location shots and you're going to run out of money fast. An ocean is an ocean, of course, but can you convincingly shoot the English Channel, Gibraltar, and the South Pacific in one place?

The third would be scope--how many episodes per year? Do you do a 16 episode season and break it into two pieces or do you do it with 10-12 one hour episodes? Then, you have to find an Aubrey and a Maturin. You're not getting Russell Crowe to do this--it would be ideal, of course, and you could film half of it in California and half in Australia. Would Crowe give up his time and is he now too old for the role? Probably not, but could you get Paul Bettany? Probably not. You could find two younger actors and run with that. That's what I would do--I'd keep the costs down that way and then I wouldn't have to worry about someone bailing in Seasons 4 and 5 if I was lucky enough to get there. Ha! Listen to me go on.

The limitations are there, but this is eminently doable if you approach it like they did Poldark for Masterpiece Theater. For Poldark, they used limited sets and creatively applied small touches to enhance the look and feel of the series. You could do all of this in Europe and you could probably do it all in California, but there would be endless applications of CGI. Would that add up to a television experience that would draw in enough people?

Well, give it a season and find out.

Are You Excited?

I don't know if I'll do recaps of the Late Show With Stephen Colbert, but I suspect I'll be watching a good deal of it on a regular basis. I just can't explain why, but, of everyone in the entertainment business, I find Colbert's sense of humor closest to my own in that what he does is endlessly interesting to me and I am thoroughly in awe of what he can do when he goes after a subject. I'm amazed at how fast he is and how well he responds to people. I wish I was that good. I think we all wish we were as smart as this man. He has none of Letterman's self-loathing and virtually nothing of Jay Leno's inability to get out of the way of a laugh. I suspect that if people don't watch his show it'll be because we are doomed as a culture and unable to appreciate genius.
Nobody else on television is as good. Nobody.

This is a Stretch For George Lopez

It looks like George Lopez will once again get paid for playing a fictionalized version of himself as The Hollywood Reporter reports that he’ll star in and produce a comedy series based in part on his life for TV Land. The series has already been picked up for 12 episodes and will debut in 2016.
The show is called Lopez and will feature Lopez as “America’s most successful Hispanic-American comedian” who will find some way to mine his rags-to-riches life story for comedy. Lopez will reportedly show Lopez straddling two very different worlds: the rich-people-in-Hollywood one and that of his working-class background. These class differences will mostly be played for laughs, so expect to see Lopez muttering in Spanglish over the indignity of being asked to valet someone’s car at his own movie premiere or something.
Lopez, who played a Mexican-American character named George on The George Lopez Show and Saint George, was reportedly selected for his own series by TV Land execs because he is “constantly reinventing himself.” At least the network has put together a veritable comedy brain trust to helm the show: It will be written bySilicon Valley co-creators John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, who will also executive produce along with Lopez, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Tony Rotenberg, and Arrested Development’s Troy Miller.
Here's a great role for George Lopez--anybody but himself. He could play a florist, a dentist, or a drag queen who dresses up in body armor and fights gun nuts. He could do a show about running a winery in the middle of nowhere and it would still be more interesting than trying to do another show about a blue collar guy trying to negotiate the world.
If ever there was a time on television to try something innovative and interesting, it's now.

Fiction on Television

[...] Clarity is an overrated component of storytelling. James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy-Seven are three of my favorite crime novels, and I don’t think I could explain their plots with a gun to my head.
What matters in crime fiction is feeling. It’s attitude, atmosphere, dialogue, mood. It’s the idea of one or more individuals going up against institutions of great power. It’s the idea that the underworld exists, right in front of you, all the time, and you just have to look.
For all the smoky bars, midcentury modern houses, poker rooms, and trips up north, True Detective’s second season had no sense of place. Somehow they set a crime show in Los Angeles and made Los Angeles seem boring. This was a failure of writing, which relied too often on telling and not showing, and it was a failure of the revolving door of directors behind the camera.
You know what show does have a sense of place? The Walking Dead. That's a show that puts you in a place where you have to know the characters and know where they are living before you can fully comprehend the horror of what they face on a day to day basis. This is as much about good storytelling as it is about something more basic--the budget for a season of scripted television.
On TWD, we've seen the following seasons and the following places: the gravel quarry and the horrors of urban Atlanta. Herschel's farm. The prison and Woodbury. Terminus and the road. Alexandria. Think about those settings--they're all firmly embedded into the psyche of the viewer because they are heavy with meaning.
You will never forget that quarry and the hasty camp where everyone gathers around their tents and Dale's Winnebago. The forays into Atlanta and the final attack on the camp, which forces them to abandon the people buried there and take to the road demonstrate a command of place that you just can't expect out of a six episode first season. This use of rural settings would really come to fruition when they discovered Herschel's farm in Season Two.
What I remember about the farm is that it was a set that featured an amazing house and sweeping fields and vistas. The survivors had normalcy there, even though they camped a ways away from the house and went on a series of dangerous forays into the communities around it. There were so many indelible scenes, especially with the well and the barn that took the familiar and made them horrifying. This is what would have been of great benefit to True Detective Season 2--an established sense of place that would combine familiarity and depravity.
Seasons three and four of The Walking Dead used the prison setting as an anchor and that made budgetary sense. They could film outdoors and indoors and use sets that were spare and full of recurring themes. The tombs within the prison were full of caged walkers and could be opened up when needed. When Rick Grimes spends an episode or two at the end of his wits, the black rotary phone becomes a finale callback for Merle, who grabs the unhooked, dead phone and takes it with him, tormented by the same demons. These simple elements could have been used in other forms when telling a crime drama about Southern California.
Now we've seen Terminus, the church, the road, the barn, and Alexandria. These are all elements which inform the storytelling and have become vastly more complex due to the fact that the show is more successful. The simple outdoor setting has morphed into an actual walled development of high-end energy sustainable homes. Virtually every show on television could benefit from understanding the importance of place, setting, and physical location as it relates to how the stories are being told on The Walking Dead.
Everything I've discussed would be a boring, no-frills set anywhere else. These sets provided a place where clarity could happen in the story while leaving a great deal of ambiguity about what lay ahead. These sets were all of the basic elements found in suburban Atlanta and rural Georgia--hardly the kind of thing you'd see on network television, if at all. And yet there have only been a few "boring" detours during the long history of The Walking Dead. Sometimes, the boring places work better than expected in terms of telling the story and keeping the viewers interested.

Everyone Got it Wrong

A lot of people were wrong about Jon Stewart. At the top of the list would be the man himself:
My own contribution to the history of Jon Stewart’s tenure at The Daily Show is small and ignominious: I trashed his first show.
A web publication that no longer exists had assigned me to write about the new guy taking over from the plasticine, frat-boy finger-puller Craig Kilborn. I had enjoyed Kilborn’s version of the show: solid if not deep, primarily an extended satire of shiny local news kabuki. It poked at the conventions of news shows via Kilborn’s own mundane good looks and laconic sarcasm. He was a younger Kent Brockman, not too far removed from the kind of broad in-joking of theSportsCenter anchor he had once been. His lazy self-confidence was part of the setup, underscoring the tuneless Dadaism of television segues—how viewers are led from tragedy to sports to weather by the same content Sherpa, who never breaks character and always knows what to say next.
Stewart didn’t just seem hapless and overwhelmed by contrast, he declared almost crippling self-awareness from the start: “I feel like this is my bar mitzvah,” he told guest Michael J. Fox. Wearing a suit, said Stewart, gave him “a rash like you would not believe.” Fox responded: “The words ‘ill-fitting’ come to mind.”
At the time, I didn’t object to Stewart’s cringe-worthy meta-commentary so much as feel like it ruined the joke: You can’t satirize the forced smoothness of Eye on Omaha (or the CBS Evening News, for that matter) if you keep drawing attention your own rough edges. Kilborn was a news anchor as Ken doll. Stewart was merely human.
It would be condescending not to mention that the writing on the show exceeded all expectations and created much of the moral authority of the show by assembling facts that would run counter to the "conventional wisdom" of a lazy pundit class.
And here's the thing--to this day, nobody really watches Comedy Central--they watch the videos that proliferate and get shared on the Internet. Comedy Central creates snippets of content and tries to survive with ads. All Stewart has done since day one is deliver and embody the material written for him, and that's largely evident in the book that changed his career trajectory. People had to take him seriously because the country was in terrible shape in the mid-2000s.
Until he ended up on the Daily Show, Stewart was bounced from job to job, trying to land something substantive in a television climate that didn't care about substance. This was the post-grunge nihilist America of the late 1990s. We had so much peace and prosperity back then, the very real threat of a presidential blowjob made people sad and cry a lot.
When these same people saw the horrorshow of Iraq, they reached their moment of zen--a moment of clarity, if you will--and they realized, oh, you really can fuck up the country and turn things into a shit sandwich. The relative ease of living in the 1990s meant that our wars of choice were exactly what we thought they were--terrible, terrible choices made by equally unsavory and incompetent fools. They were all among us, the shitheels were in charge, and their control of the media narrative required some counterweight.
Stewart was the brief counterweight, and his impact on the people who write for the media and comment on blogs was much greater than on the population as a whole, due to the low ratings enjoyed by Comedy Central. The Internet minimized the handicap of being on basic cable, of course, and that's why everyone will have warm and fuzzy memories of a show they really didn't watch.
How would you like to be Craig Kilborn? Someone should go stand in his driveway and ask him how it feels to know that the guy who took his most prominent gig in show business ended up a national treasure. That's the real takeaway here--how is it that Kilborn blew his chance to be the Jon Stewart who will be ushered off stage like a saint and a genius?

Dr. Stacey Patton is a Fraud

Dr. Patton said a few things that surprised me.  For starters, she said she’s not a specialist on comedy or humor.  While she does enjoy comedy (she likes George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Martin Lawrence, the Queens of Comedy, and Bill Maher among others), she told me that watching comedy isn’t something she gets to do often.  In fact, before the ‘Schumer issue’ came up, she had never seen Amy Schumer perform stand up, and she had never seen Schumer’s Comedy Central television show. Even more surprising, she said she didn’t watch any of Amy’s performances or shows while writing the article, not even as background for the piece.  Her judgement was based on what she read,  presumably in The Guardian, which had just published an article accusing Schumer of “having a blind spot for race.”
The Interrobang; Have you ever watched Amy’s television show… in preparation for the article?
Stacey Patton: Nope. Not at all. 
The Interrobang: Her stand up set[s]? have you ever watched any of them?
Stacey Patton: Nope. None of them.
Despite seeing the quotes out of context, and without the benefit of knowing anything about Amy’s comedy, she was comfortable making judgements about whether Schumer’s comedy was or wasn’t racist.  She also was comfortable deciding whether Schumer’s audience was or wasn’t racially diverse (she characterizes Amy’s following as predominately white), and she was comfortable to conclude that Schumer’s comedy breeds racism in others.
Nope. Not at all.
Patton savaged the work of an artist without ever hearing or seeing that work.
At a bare minimum, the holder of an advanced degree who comments on something in the culture should, you know, have actually seen the thing on which they are commenting. I think it is safe to say that this constitutes a form of academic fraud that would make any administrator cringe and run away. 
To be this willfully dishonest about something speaks volumes on the veracity of Dr. Patton's work. And while this works great when you only have the low, low standards of Fred Hiatt's editorial page as your barometer, it doesn't work so well when you're trying to pass yourself off as a legitimate thinker.
Now you know what the bottom of the barrel looks like. This is really more of an indictment of the standards of the Washington Post than it is a curious glance inside of the swirling rage of Dr. Stacey Patton. At least she's up front about being a hack.

Dustin Hoffman is Correct

The only film I'm interested in seeing right now is the one with the Minions from Despicable Me. And the only reason why I want to see it is because my kids want to go. So, when Dustin Hoffman says this, there's a grain of truth in it that cannot be ignored:
“I think right now, television is the best that it's ever been, and I think it’s the worst that film has ever been  in the 50 years that I’ve been doing it, it’s the worst,” he said in an interview with U.K. newspaper The Independent.
Nobody in American could make a film for adults with adults speaking in complete sentences right now unless it had fucking Batman in it. Even then, it would have to be a Batman-related movie with excessive special effects and the right amount of misogyny in order to appeal to the Chinese teenager market.
Nobody is saying that American filmmakers have to go out and make Woody Allen films--not even Woody Allen goes to see Woody Allen films. Those are made for academic purposes only and are not even widely released to the public. No, the last adult film that got made in this country was probably Silver Linings Playbook, and nobody is lining up to make another one, even though it was a massive artistic success.
Key emphasis on "artistic" of course.

The Upper East Side

Jill Kargman has spent her life on the Upper East Side, and currently raises her kids there. Now, she’s mocking the community mercilessly in Bravo’s new comedy, Odd Mom Out.
“Farm to table, I love it,” Jill Kargman, creator, writer, and star of Bravo’s new—and first—original comedy Odd Mom Out says as she takes a seat at Chelsea’s The Green Table. “Or as I like to call it: seed to anus.”
“Ramps are so trending,” she quips as she peruses the menus, stroking the bow draped from the front of her black dress. “They’re like the hot onion.” Ultimately, she lands on a double order of deviled eggs. “I’m 40 and my hair is falling out so I need protein.”
Consider the prototypical Upper East Side mommy: bleach blonde, whippet thin, perfectly manicured, stay-at-home, chemically preserved. Polite but not warm. Type A. Beautiful, sexless. Multiple houses, expensive preschools. Well educated. Volunteer. Designer handbag. To that list, Wednesday Martin wants to add: Subservient. Retrograde. Self-selecting. Self-segregating. Aggressive.
Those more derisive terms come courtesy of Martin’s new book, Primates of Park Avenue, a memoir-slash-ethnography of a very small group of very thin, very rich people. In it, Martin observes the strange rituals of this particular UES tribe, documenting their behaviors and social hierarchy as if they were a family of bonobos. But she is not just an observer: She becomes one of them, and her induction into their clique forms the narrative of the book. 
Now that there are competing Upper East Side humor writers, you can be rest assured that someone on the fringes will emerge as the dark, indie alternative to everything that sucks.
This is the great trick being played on people in modern America--the arts are reflecting mainly the wants, needs and aspirations of the mega-rich and no one else. The arts have humanized them and made them more important than any other aspect of the American experience. It's as if The Great Gatsby were being rewritten to make horrible people lovable and sympathetic by celebrating their hijinks rather than their car crashes. 
We live in the second Gilded Age and the art that shows us who we are contains nothing of the poor or the struggling people in this country. These are the people being thrown to the ground by cops while others shuffle away, nervously. The poor are roadkill and nothing celebrates commonality or the challenge of living in a country that criminalizes poverty. They are reduced to being bit players in the "hard lives" of the suffering and miserable people who make up the wealthy elite.
This is what we consume now, so get used to it.

The BBC Has a Jeremy Clarkson Problem

Somebody did somebody wrong at the BBC:

With Clarkson being an already heavily contentious media personality in the U.K. following remarks over the past few years that have been deemed racist and xenophobic, the news has made headlines nationwide, sparking widespread debate over his future and that of the show, which airs in more than 100 countries and brings in some $220 million for BBC Worldwide.
Within minutes, an online petition calling for the BBC to “Bring Back Clarkson,” was posted online. It has been signed by more than 250,000 people as of Wednesday morning London time.
On announcing the suspension, the BBC also confirmed that the episode of Top Gear due to air this Sunday would not be broadcast. A spokesperson has now confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the following episode, the penultimate one of the current season, has also been canceled, while they haven't yet decided on the final installment. "It's a moving situation," they said.
If you were of the opinion that Clarkson is an out of control asshole who brings in hundreds of millions of dollars for his employer, you'd probably have a lot of soul mates at the BBC. They are caught between the liability this man brings to their venerable business and the profits generated by a show that, quite frankly, could be successful if the right person were to appear.

Why not do it with Jason Statham or Clive Owen? Why not give Liam Gallagher a call? Hell, you could do it with Bez and no one would notice.

On second though, yeah. They would notice. Clarkson is almost irreplaceable, giving him a lot of power. He'll come out the other side of this with offers if they fire him.