If there's one thing that Joel Hodgson and his friends at Mystery Science Theater 3000 absolutely, positively did that was smart when they brought back the show, it was this: their timing could not have been better.

In these dark times (spoiler! stay away from parts of this blog if politics causes you to break out in hives or panic attacks), nothing could be more welcome than a show about some wiseguys making cracks about movies. No one could have predicted that everything would turn to crap at precisely the moment when people needed to laugh, but, then again--when is there a time when people don't need a good show?

Don't believe the haters--it's a great show. When they make another season, it'll get even better.

I'll tell you something for nothing, though--the MST3K swag gets better and better. That's my mug up there--no handle, rough surfaces, raised letters--it's as if they knew what I like (ew!). What a mug! Couldn't be happier, couldn't be more pleased to know that at least one thing is right in the world.

You Can't Make Fun of Reagan Anymore?

Sounds like bullshit to me, man:

Actor Will Ferrell has backed out of a movie that would have made light of President Ronald Reagan‘s battle with Alzheimer’s after the premise received condemnation.

“The REAGAN script is one of a number of scripts that had been submitted to Will Ferrell which he had considered,” Ferrell’s agenttold The New York Post. “While it is by no means a ‘Alzheimer’s comedy’ as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project.”

According to a report from Variety, Ferrell would have played Reaganat the beginning of his second term, when the fictional version of Reagan would develop dementia. A White House intern would then be charged with convincing the former actor that he was playing the role of the president for a film.

 If Hillary had Alzheimer's, all we'd see on Fox are Family Guy jokes where she sets the house on fire and tries to gay marry herself to the piano. The new rule is that you can't make fun of Reagan anymore? That's just bullshit.

I realize people want to be sensitive to the terrible disease of Alzheimer's, but that should not begin to dictate what you can and can't satirize for a larger purpose. If there's one discussion this country should have had in the 1980s, it should have centered around whether or not Reagan was too old and whether or not his public displays of confusion should have led someone to make the difficult choice of having him resign from office.

There are far too many people who are still walking around today who should have had the moral courage to do what was best for the country and have Reagan resign or not run for re-election in 1984. Those would have been the same people who had a helluva time laughing about people who were dying of AIDS. They had no moral compass. They advanced their own agendas because they were able to take advantage of a man suffering from dementia. Any piece of art that highlights this complete and utter failure of decency and compassion should wake people up to the fact that we should never, ever go back down that road again.

Go watch Robin Williams make fun of him and then tell me he's off limits.

Yeah, by all means. Let's not revisit a scenario where a president's enablers allowed him to hold onto the nuclear codes when they knew damned full and well he was suffering from dementia. That would cut a little too close to the bone for the people responsible for failing to do their duty to their country, wouldn't it?

Satire should never apologize for being right.

Moonbeam City

Oh, darn it:

Comedy Central viewers may want to sit down for this news: When it returns with new episodes circa September 2016, South Park will no longer be followed by Moonbeam City, the hyper-stylized, hyper-violent, ’80s-themed cop show parody created and executive produced by Scott Gairdner. Comedy Central hasgiven the animated series the boot after just one season and 10 deliberately tacky and over-the-top episodes. The network unveiled its list of renewals yesterday, and Moonbeam City was conspicuously absent; barring some kind of miraculous revival in some other venue, the show’s wild, coked-up ride appears to have been short-lived.

The culprit? Those darned ratings. Turns out, there just weren’t enough viewers who wanted to see what Archer might look like as filtered through the Reagan-era aesthetic of Patrick Nagel. At least not enough to sustain a weekly series: Though it garnered what Deadline is calling “a cult following,” Moonbeam City was only able to hold onto about 20 percent of South Park’s lead-in, not enough to save its own porcelain-colored, scarf-draped neck. The cast and crew of the series should not despair, however, as the post-South Park time slot has been something of a basic cable Bermuda Triangle, devouring show after quirky show.

I had hoped for another season of Moonbeam City. I think I've only seen four of the ten episodes, and they were uneven but promising. I was hoping that the creators could settle things down and really get into the characters, which is what drives these shows (and what makes Archer such a gem).

Someone should really pick this up (FX?). It's a fantastic concept and the design discipline that went into the show is very worthwhile. They could dial back the violence and make it a little more satirical and I think it would work just fine. But, what do I know? I'm the jackass who couldn't get past the dolphin episode.

Sacha Baron Cohen is the New Adam Sandler

Not Our Kid with Mark Strong

Man, you can't pay this guy enough to go away:
Sacha Baron Cohen's latest comedy fails to cause major offense and has his lowest-ever box-office bow in the U.K.
Despite a final scene, in which Donald Trump accidentally contracts AIDS (and from an already-infected character purported to be Daniel Radcliffe), Sacha Baron Cohen's latest film has failed to copy its predecessors in igniting major offense or, indeed, major box- office glory.
The Brothers Grimsby, which was released in the U.K. last week as Grimsby, landed in the comic's homeland in second place behind Deadpool with $2.7 million, the star's lowest-ever British debut (his last, The Dictator, earned $6.9 million, while Borat amassed some $11.9 million).
Liam Gallagher impersonators, take heart. You can be rest assured that Cohen won't be putting you out of business any time soon. The only career arc left for this guy is to have his own show on NBC.

Put an End to the Daily Show Already

Really, really remarkable:

This is an election year in which a racist billionaire and a democratic socialist, both prone to rants, are somehow viable candidates for their respective parties’ nominations. This is exactly the kind of news cycle that makes for great political satire. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Trevor Noah should be having a season for the ages. So why isn’t it? How did this program go from being one of the most vital things on television to being a pleasant also-ran? Slate’s TV criticWilla Paskin has been pondering this state of events, and she delivers her verdict in an editorial called “Why Are Americans Ignoring Trevor Noah?” As that title indicates, Paskin lays the blame for The Daily Show’s slide into irrelevance at the feet of the show’s current host, Trevor Noah, who has perhaps overcompensated in his efforts to distinguish himself from his cranky, deeply committed predecessor, Jon Stewart. According to Paskin, Stewart “turned himself gray trying to rain sanity, silliness, and outrage on the hypocrisy, mendacity, and idiocy that is our political discourse.”
But Noah is a different kind of comedian and a different kind of host, and under his leadership, The Daily Show has been aiming for young male viewers who are not particularly well informed or even that concerned about current politics. Paskin argues that the affable, breezy Noah is not capable of the kind of sharp political satire currently being produced by more experienced TV hosts like Larry Wilmore. Here, she unfavorably compares The Daily Show’s funny but disposable take on the Flint, Michigan water crisis to The Nightly Show’s more cutting commentary on the same events. To be fair, Paskin admits that Noah is still learning the ropes: “The four months Noah has been in charge of The Daily Showis nothing.” But the article does express some real concern that the show has become neutered at the worst possible time. “You still may laugh,” Paskin writes, “but an inessential Daily Show is a real loss.”

At some point, we're going to find ourselves in Springtime and the Daily Show will continue to be completely irrelevant to the political discussion in the United States of America. An executive at Comedy Central will snap his or her fingers and come to the realization that they picked a good guy to follow Jon Stewart. They just didn't pick the right guy.

This summer, someone will hand Stewart a big bag of money. Come back for the election, they'll say. Will he take the bag of money and slide back into the chair while they look for a real replacement? I have no idea. But if they want to make The Daily Show relevant again, they'll have to bring back Stewart so that he can restore the show to some semblance of watchable again, and they'll have to find the right host to take over permanently. If they don't find that person, and, really, it should have been Samantha Bee, then just end the thing already. Comedy Central screwed up, big time.

Trevor Noah was the right pick in every sense of the word, except one. He had no idea what makes the Daily Show essential to American political discourse.

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?

Woody Allen

The point of every Woody Allen film now seems to be a masturbatory fantasy of "old man screws young woman" nonsense:
The film critic David Thomson has described Allen as “a major-league fantasist, in which he is the central figure,” adding that “his mingling with attractive actors and actresses has been an immense fantasy inspiration to him.” Irrational Manfantasizes about murder, but also, less intriguingly, about its protagonist being an object of extraordinary desire to everyone he meets. The news of his arrival on campus is buzzed about by students and teachers alike. “I hear he has affairs with his students,” says one young woman excitedly, while an older professor remarks that the appointment will “put some Viagra in the philosophy department.” Upon arrival, Lucas has the charisma and heavy-lidded, wackadoodle charm of Phoenix, but he’s also a mess—overweight, sweaty, and inebriated. Still, neither his washed-up appearance nor the uninspired nature of his classes (“Philosophy is verbal masturbation,” he tells his students) seems to lessen his appeal.
Perhaps I am oversimplifying things, but how does that succeed as art when the vast majority of Woody Allen films are never seen by the public? Who goes to see these films? How do they end up being revered such as they are?
I apologize for asking dumb questions, but I am a man of simple ideas and thoughts and I have no fucking clue why anyone would bother engaging with a Woody Allen film? Does the world have an endless supply of attractive young women who only want to sleep with aging, insufferable men?
If it does, shame on the morality police for not doing more to stop Woody Allen characters from soiling the future hotties of this country.

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.

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.

John Cleese Has Tweeted

The lamentable foof, Piers Morgan

John Cleese was handed one of those rare opportunities to slay an opponent on Twitter. His victim, a Mr. Piers Morgan. In the not too distant past, Morgan was a newspaper editor who went after scads of prominent members of the public and private citizens by using the technique of phone hacking.

Anyway, this doesn't happen very often:

Perpetually confused former CNN host Piers Morgan wrote a blistering open letter to John Cleese in The Daily Mail earlier this week because the actor allegedly “ignored” him while he was two feet away in the same restaurant.

He did not start it:

Morgan wrote in The Daily Mail post:

“If he’s not trashing his ex-wives, he’s moaning incessantly about tabloid journalists – most of whom long since stopped caring what he does.

I’ve made my feelings about his unfortunate personality transplant known on Twitter.

So you can imagine how I felt when I sat down in my favourite New York restaurant, Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bar, ordered a fine bottle of vintage claret, sighed with almost indecent pleasure at the gastronomic delights heading my way… then turned to my left and spied Cleese at the very next table. Literally two feet away.

For one tiny nanosecond, our eyes locked in mutual shock, then equally mutual withering contempt.”

Cleese responded thusly:

After this, nothing more needed to be said.

All of the Charlie Brown Animated Specials Suck

No surprises here:
The most ominous aspect of the forthcoming Peanuts 3-D Blue Sky Studio movie is not the artwork. Though, don't get me wrong, the artwork looks dreadful. Charles Schulz's cartoons varied over the years from deceptively sleek pen lines in his early days to pleasingly shaky dumpiness after his stroke, but flatness and minimalism was always central to his aesthetic—even in the animated features.
Blue Sky dispenses with that, choosing instead to turn Charlie Brown and the gang into bloated, uncanny-valley inflatables. The teaser trailer released earlier this year, in which the grandiose earth turns into Charlie Brown's head to John Williams-esque fanfare, seems nauseatingly apropos. A world so small that the grass had to be drawn in side-view and adults couldn't fit in the frame has been blown up to Hollywood proportions. It reminds me of that terrifying (NSFW) Charles Ray sculpture, where the nude toddlers are scaled up to adult size—hulking and oh-so-wrong.
So, yes, the art is irredeemably ugly and callow. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that, in these just-released stills, everyone is smiling.
What you see above is about what you expect. The animated specials, rendered decades ago and lamented by Schultz with one hand while scooping up wads of cash with the other, have plenty of smiling and laughing in them:

Noah Berlatsky can't quite grasp the fact that the new Charlie Brown animated special wasn't intended for him--it is intended for an audience that no longer reads comic strips. Aside from collectors and a few strays, who even reads comic strips anymore? Let alone the original Charles Schultz strips?

The animated specials have always been dreadfully done. The illustration work was cheap, poorly planned and rushed. Schultz himself hated the way his work was butchered. That's how you end up with this abomination of color and slapdash arrangement:

Here, at random, is an actual comic strip. I know, I know. What the hell is this thing? Why is so good but so wrong?

The strip you see above is a casual masterpiece of planning and layout, inking and lettering, and it works because it follows basic storytelling techniques. Two pointed questions, a moment of contemplation, and a result that renders the rhetorical questions as exclamations of doubt and misery. It is the strip as it was meant to be--sullen, pissed off, and darkly philosophical. It was a fuck you to everything sunny and warm. It was as if a misanthrope with too much time on his hands decided to shit on someone's porch and set it on fire, along with the Cathy and Garfield strips that accompanied the gift.

Whatever they're doing to destroy the legacy of Peanuts is fine by me. There are no sacred cows and Schultz was about making money, hand over fist. His heirs are going to cash in on whatever they can cash in on, no matter what. We may someday see a Southpark crossover movie with the Peanuts characters done out in construction paper and felt.

If you want the joy of reading the actual work, get those damned expensive coffee table books and shut the hell up. Complaining about the greed of cheap animation is like getting mad because that Transformers movie looks fakey.

A Lifetime Achievement Award? For What?

Steve Martin is a very talented man. He's a very funny man. But he does not make good films.

Giving him a lifetime achievement award is like losing your way into the playoffs--how does that even happen?

What's more, we're fresh from the unthinkable loss of Robin Williams, and when you compare his film history with Martin's you can't help but ask yourself why there are so many really, really great films on Williams' side of the list and virtually none on Martin's. Don't even start by throwing in a comparison to Bill Murray, either.

In fact, line up the films of Robin Williams, Bill Murray, and Billy Crystal and then add in Steve Martin's. Then, ask yourself, why would you give a lifetime achievement award to someone who has made so many bad films and forgettable films and films that went nowhere at the box office.

Williams, Murray and Crystal had their clunkers, but their contribution to cinema outstrips that of Martin's by a country mile. Martin doesn't have anything as good as Mrs. Doubtfire, as memorable as Groundhog Day, or as funny as When Harry Met Sally. He doesn't have anything in his filmography that can compare to any of those three films, and those aren't even the best films that Williams, Murray or Crystal ever made.

Steve Martin doesn't have a Fletch, either, so he's your likable version of Chevy Chase on a good day, if that.