Archive for ‘TV and Movies’

August 27, 2012

Breaking Bad S5E7 “Say My Name” Review

SPOILERS:  Well, Mike’s dead.  As I’m sure all of you did too, my cousin and I sat in silence for minutes after the episode ended, our mouths agape.  We knew the half-season would be ending on a bang, but that was supposed to be next Sunday.  Here we are, not even enduring the year long wait for closure, and still we can’t

read more »

August 17, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 5 so far (Spoilers)

I feel like we are spiraling a drain.  We know the end is near.  A feeling of dread comes upon me as we march, episode by episode, towards the end.  I choose my words carefully, for this will be no finale.  In a series finale, all is wrapped up.  Lost came to a (somewhat) coherent conclusion.  Seinfeld returned to the status quo

read more »

April 2, 2012

Chevy Chase is kind of a dick.

Something has really been bothering me, and there is really no other way to say it.  Chevy Chase is, well, kind of a dick.  See, growing up my family and I would watch Christmas Vacation every year.  It is truly a classic and is our family’s “Christmas movie” in a way, much like lesser families flock to Jingle All The Way or something.  Anyway, I’ve always been a big SNL fan as well, and so I’ve always

read more »

February 27, 2012

My Addiction: Breaking Bad

For those of you not keeping up with Breaking Bad (and honestly, shame on you) don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers here.  Truthfully, I doubt there is anything I hate more than spoilers.  And even more truthfully, I doubt there is anything I love more than Breaking Bad.  And while I’ve spent time on this site espousing the joys of Community, Arrested Development, and even the infallible Seinfeld, we mustn’t forget that the epitome of good television lies within the realm of drama.  Just like two

read more »

January 29, 2012

Popcorn and Pennies

By Jimmy Paperboy

So I went to theaters the other day and I ended up getting a good deal when I had to finance the experience. Ba da bing!!  Amazing jokes aside, going to see a movie these days is expensive.  A person can spend almost 30 dollars just for themselves for the night when you add up ticket prices and the “diabetic special” of popcorn, candy, and a drink.  With gimmicky things such as faux IMAX and 3D, the tickets themselves cost about 13 to 16 dollars.  It is also hard to justify spending that kind of money on uninspired sequels such as Final “I Swear This Is the Last”

read more »

December 14, 2011

Zombies: Done to Death?

At the Spike Video Game Awards, a new upcoming video game was revealed. Created by the legendary developers Naughty Dog, it promised incredible graphics, a genre-blending formula of survival and action, and most of all, the renaissance of video game story telling. Coming from anyone else I would be skeptical, but if anyone knows how to do a good story in a video game, it’s Naughty Dog. The game is called The Last of Us, and the trailer is below:

read more »

December 12, 2011

The Laugh Track, and Other Tiresome Television Trends

When I was a kid in the early 90’s, I never knew what time a show came on.  So every time I caught a show that I liked, it was a rare surprise and I got excited.  One of those shows was a weird surrealist Beatnik-inspired cartoon called the Pink Panther Show.  To this day I still don’t know what any of it was about, but I remembered it fondly and its iconic theme song was in fact my ring tone on my first cell phone (and the ladies loved it).  So last year I figured I’d down a few shots of Mad Monk Vodka, find a few episodes on the internet, and relish in the booze-induced nostalgia.

Yeah, it was a weird show

I knew the show would probably be pretty stupid now that I was an adult, but I was surprised at what turned me off the most.  It wasn’t the weird FDR cigarette-extenders or the LSD inspired animation that killed it; it was the damn laugh track.  It was strange, but I had always though cartoons were exempt from laugh tracks by some sort of FCC regulation or something.  But no, the characters were doing incredibly not-funny things and people were howling about it, like it was magically drawn in front of a studio audience dangerously high on nitrous oxide.  I realized the laugh track was poisonous, and not just to crappy cartoons no one cares to remember.  It really is an archaic relic of a bygone era, and today a genuine sigh of bad television.

I googled canned laughter, and I guess it's not completely inaccurate.

It’s a little known secret that I am a fan of Seinfeld, and word has it that this show may have had a laugh track.  But I like to believe that it was forced to because it was the standard at the time.  In fact, hugely popular shows like M*A*S*H were forced by their studios, against the creator’s wishes, to contain laughter.  It was widely believed by extremely condescending executives that audiences wouldn’t respond to comedies unless they were prompted to laugh.  It was a truism at the time that without canned laughter, a show was doomed to fail, and that audiences otherwise wouldn’t be able to tell if the show was a comedy.  I’m not sure why they thought viewers would think Seinfeld was a dark and gritty drama about urban nihilism and despair unless they included laughter, but it is what it is.

My friends, it is as Nietzsche promised. God is dead...

But all that is in the past.  My question is why we allow this beast of background laughter to continue to live.  It’s like poison ivy, and a small but effective group of misguided environmentalists are striving successfully to stave off the creep of extinction.  Laugh tracks had no place in shows in the 00’s, let alone this decade.  The fact that they still show up is an obscenity that should result in steep fines.  The fact that shows that use it are replacing those that don’t, e.g. Whitney is still on TV, Community is not; is akin to throwing your iPad in the trash because you just got a new Comadore 64.  Even shows that are still palpable, like How I Met Your Mother, are ruined by this outdated feature of television, like an attractive woman with a smallpox vaccine scar.  She’s hot, but damn, what year was she born? 

Hoe's be spending that cheddar on war bonds...

Here’s what I don’t understand.  The most popular sitcom on television right now is Two and a Half Men.  The second?  The Big Bang Theory.  And what do they have in common, other than not being funny?  They both have a laugh tracks.  They’re the boisterous fat kids in middle school that laugh at their own jokes to make sure everyone knows they’re funny.  But even though shows with laugh tracks are still widely watched, the ones without it are widely praised for not having it.  In fact, of all the critically acclaimed comedies of the last ten years, the best are overwhelmingly laugh track free.  It boils down to two different types of filming for sitcoms; Single-Camera Setup and Multi-Camera Setup.  The standard, cliche sitcom will use the multi-camera setup, filmed before a studio audience and such.  The newer format for sitcoms is the single-camera setup, made especially popular by The Office.

What's not to love?

Think about it for a second.  Why the hell are comedies still being performed before a live studio audience anyway?  Isn’t it just a throw back to stage theater?  The days of vaudeville?  Why would any sort of quality media need to be shot where you can hear the audience at all?  It’s like Seinfeld was being performed on stage, like a play, before an audience.  But that’s not the case at all and we know it.  Shows shot before and audience don’t do one live take for the benefit of the audience.  They do take after take, and the audience is mainly there just to see how a show is made and provide the laughter.  In scenes were the audience isn’t present, for continuity’s sake, fake laughter is later added.  But it makes no sense why television should be based on this model anymore.  Quality non-comedy shows haven’t been performed before an audience in decades, and 99% of the viewers won’t be in the studio.  So for the actual viewers’ sake, why break the fourth wall and include the laughter in this day and age when a show can increase in quality tenfold without this archaic inclusion?  The old notion was that only dramas could be high quality productions, but shows like Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Modern Family, and tons of others have shown that comedies can be high quality and still hilarious, and the absence of the laugh track allows these shows to go places sitcoms weren’t allowed to before.  They were tethered to this idea that the studio audience was a necessity, but without it comedies are now being elevated to a form of art.  That’s why shows like Whitney should have never been greenlit, allowed to assault our senses and spit in our collective faces.  It really is just an insult from the studios as they bend down and pat our heads and say “Watch this shit we made, we need to sell more ad space.”

Seriously, fuck this show.

I don’t hate the laugh track.  It was a product of its time.  Old shows had them because that was the way things were back then.  But its time and place is in the past, and it has no business being on television anymore.  Shows that still contain it show they are offensively out of touch with audiences of today.  Just like those old Looney Tunes episodes that were crazy racist, you don’t have to hate all of Looney Tunes because of it, but at the same time, shows today don’t need to keep doing the same things they were doing 60 years ago.

So 30 Rock just...does the opposite?

I realize a few shows still need audience laughter.  Talk shows especially are based around being performed before an audience, and that is totally acceptable.  But for scripted comedies on television these days, the laugh track needs to go.  There is not a single sitcom on television that is made better with a laugh track.  I think it bothers me especially when I go back to watch old Seinfeld episodes.  Because all of the shows I watch these days don’t have added laughter in them, Seinfeld’s is starting to stand out more and more.  Don’t get me wrong, Seinfeld is still an amazing show.  But its laugh track is not what makes it great, and is sufferable only because it was the standard of the time.  New shows can’t excuse themselves based on that theory anymore, and the laugh track needs to die out, quickly.

And if you are one of the few who absolutely adores having people laugh with you during a show, watch this episode of The Office with added laughter and see for yourself how shitty it is:

November 20, 2011

Community’s Impending Cancellation: An Objective Analysis

It had already been a bad evening for me.  I was stressed about a mountain of work I had to do and my lingering caffeine overdose had put me on edge.  I had to wade knee-deep through countless Facebook “repost if you know someone who is in heaven” statuses in a futile attempt to find something worth reading, and so I had no other choice than to find respite in the form of last Thursday’s episode of Community.  It was an epic parody of Heart of Darkness, the documentary about the director’s descent into insanity while making the infamous Vietnam-era movie Apocalypse Now.  As always, I was left satisfied after watching this smart and engaging comedy.  So after it was over, as I’m known to do, I waded into the reviews to see if others thought it was as brilliant as I did.  And that’s when I found it.  Like a hoarder finding his dead cat Mittens beneath a stack of old newspapers, I was horrified to see a story about NBC shelving Community midseason.  I was stunned.  How could this be?  How could a show this great be moved to the Huntsville Unit like a death row inmate in Texas?  It wasn’t an outright cancellation, but it was clear the judge had handed down the sentence.  And this is my appeal.

And the jury was made up of blithering idiots.

I was enraged.  I’m not just an overzealous fan here, though I fall into that category unabashedly.  No, I saw this as systematic and endemic in our society at large.  There is an overarching problem that America faces.  While some people may fear our future is akin to that in 1984, the rat cages already on the assembly line, the truth couldn’t be more starkly different.  Instead, we’ve devolved into Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World and we didn’t even know it.     The majority of Americans are so content with the trash they’re fed on television, so comfortable with what they’re told they’ll enjoy, that they fear change and innovation and have a near toxic aversion to any hint of creativity.  It’s because of this that not only Community will be cancelled, but tons of other great shows die in their childhoods while abominations like According to Jim grow into adulthood long after they should have died under the weight of their own flaws.

Nietzsche was a religious man until he saw this...

Lets start with a quaint story from way back in 2006.  An underrated show you may have heard of, Arrested Development, was cancelled due to low ratings.  Now, I can’t blame Fox for this, and I don’t.  See, Fox and all the other stations are businesses, and their goal is to make money.  That makes sense to me.  Their shows have to draw in as many viewers as possible so they can charge advertisers more money.  So a show like Arrested Development, as close to perfection as it was, simply didn’t make sense from a business perspective.  So I don’t blame Fox.  But I do blame our society.  Because Fox knew that if they cancelled Arrested Development, they would have to replace it with something that would make them more money.  And being a big business, they have people who conduct studies and polls to find out what people want.  And just as they were told people didn’t want Arrested Development, they were told something else would do far better.  And so they replaced it with, and I kid you not, Skating with Celebrities.  

And our collective souls died a little that day

Americans don’t want something smart, something challenging, something that is funny in its subtlety.  They want, and I shudder to say it, Skating with Celebrities.  And though that show didn’t end up being successful either, it doesn’t take much to see that to this day shows like Arrested Development continue to be cancelled while shows like Dancing with the Stars continue to be made.  For every good show out there, there are tenfold shows about celebrities doing something stupid, and Americans eat that shit up.  When I go to Google news to read about developments in the world, you know, actually important stuff, I still see news about Kim Kardashian’s divorce.  This involuntarily induced bulimia aside, I realize just how comfortably stupid our society has become.  Because who cares about the overthrow of Gadaffi and what his government’s replacement could mean to the region and to the overall stability of the world as a whole when you have a fake wedding ending in a fake divorce between two fake people.  Who cares about a show like Louie, where heaven forbid you might have to think about what you’re seeing, when the abortion that is Mike and Molly so conveniently tells you when you need to be laughing with the helpful aid of a laugh track?

Oh, on second thought that IS hilarious!

I could write an entire article on laugh tracks and how they work solely on peer pressure.  The condescending use of this device tells us we should laugh because others think its funny.  But I have to stay on point, for I’ve strayed far enough as it is.  Even shows like King of the Hill, who some might like and some may not, was still a smart show in its execution and well made.  But it too suffered cancellation so that Seth McFarland could have his third show on Fox, The Cleveland Show.  I’m no master of economics, but this stunning lack of diversification can’t be a good investment on Fox’s part.  But people eat it up because “Omg Family Guy lolol!!!!1!!!1”.  But the cancellation of a scripted comedy show in exchange for another is something I can stomach far more than the cancellation of a show in exchange for a reality show.  Just this year alone these shows debuted:  The X Factor, The Voice, America’s Best Dance Crew, and Live to Dance.  I once dated a girl who cried during each episode of Biggest Loser, and she wasn’t even fat!  People will watch Nancy Grace convict innocent people on air, screaming about every white girl that goes missing until she bursts an artery in her head, and when her show goes off, they jump over to watch her pop a nipple out while she’s dancing.

Watch me dance, you pricks!

The problem is that ratings are measured by Nielsen boxes, and they only measure those shows that are watched live (though some do measure DVRs, if the show is watched within 3 days).  To an extent this makes sense considering that watching a show live is the only way to guarantee that the audience suffers through the commercials.  But relying on this method leaves out countless viewers.  Hulu viewership is shockingly not counted, nor is watching the show on the network’s own website, with its own commercials you cannot skip through.  Relying on an outdated method of viewership to calculate ratings is grossly misleading, leaving only those non-adopters of new technology to be counted as the viewers.  And because the internet is quickly overtaking physical television as the main source of scripted home entertainment, relying on this skewed understanding of who actually watches these shows leaves a specific demographic deciding what we, as a whole, watch.  And that demographic is old people, and stupid people.  The people who watch shows live exclusively, and shun television through the internet, are the ones who are deciding what is cancelled and what stays on the air.  And while that is not the sole group of people who watch television live, their absence from all other types of viewership serves to skew and unbalance all measurements of ratings to the extent that people who are out of touch are the ones who decide what is renewed and what is cancelled.

Everyone really does love that Raymond. He's such a nice boy.

And so here we are, a world where another great show like Community, one of the most innovative and creative shows on television, has been shelved half way through its third season.  It’s difficult not to assume it is up against the same fate Arrested Development and countless other shows have faced (Better Off Ted, Futurama, Freaks and Geeks, to name a few).  And it is because of a combination of factors, mostly that the majority of Americans prefer predictable, rehashed garbage that is comfortable and not at all challenging.  And those people are the ones that are disproportionately counted when it comes to ratings.  So when Community is cancelled while that travesty of a “show” Whitney gets renewed, you can be sad and dejected all you want, but don’t be surprised.  We have suffered a fate that Huxley predicted, and that was so well discussed in Amusing Ourselves to Death.  Though Arrested Development may be coming back now with a long overdue movie, true justice wouldn’t allow for this to happen at all.  In a perfect world, Arrested Development and Community would still be going strong, and the unwashed masses would be out there clamoring for their Mike & Molly movie, in 3D.  If this tide is to turn, we need to take another look at how we gauge the actual numbers of people watching shows out there, especially in the face of new technology.  And if that doesn’t fix it, I don’t know what to do.  America may be just too stupid to cure.  And even if I don’t have any answers, by God I love to complain.

I’ll leave you with this:

October 3, 2011

Top 4 Simpsons Couch Gag Intros

In the 23 years The Simpsons has been on the air, there have been numerous accolades given to the show, as well as many complaints of declining quality.  But in this writer’s opinion, one thing has certainly improved over the years, and that is the famous couch gags that introduce each episode.  There are obviously plenty of great couch gags, but four stand out above the rest.  They may have been lengthened to compensate for lack of content in the actual episode, but regardless of whether season 9 is better than season 22, these intros are not only funny but smart as well.

#4 – Evolution

Introduced in the 16th episode of the 18th season, this extended intro details the evolution of Homer Simpson.  Just like Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim and Do the Evolution by Pearl Jam, I love cartoon depictions of evolution, and this couch gag is no exception.

#3 – Infinity

Opening up the 14th episode of the 15th season, this couch gag parodies the 1966 short film Powers of Ten.  Zooming outwards by continuing multiples of 10, this scales back to reveal the universe is but a building block of the atoms that build the universe, ad infinitum.  This is why I love The Simpsons (and by extension Futurama), its smart comedy.

#2 – Banksy

Banksy is a British street artist who lives in pure anonymity and who has spoken out against animation studios, including The Simpsons, for outsourcing their production to Korean animation studios.  It is alleged by Banksy (among others) that these studios operate in unfavorable conditions, despite arguments to the contrary by the producers of said shows.  That’s why it was incredible when The Simpsons reached out to Banksy (contacting him in a round about way by the producers of his film) to storyboard a couch gag himself.  It is dark, the music is ominous, and in my cynical and jaded eyes, its hilarious.

#1 – Ren and Stimpy

And thus we come to my all time favorite couch gag, and the inspiration for this compilation in the first place.  It was aired only yesterday, and was done by John Kricfalusi.  If you don’t recognize that name, I’m sure you’ll at least recognize his work, namely his creation by the name of Ren and Stimpy.  He has been a known vocal critic of current animation, including The Simpsons and Family Guy, but somehow was allowed to do a bizarre and surreal cough gag himself.  Well at least he’s getting work, considering he was fired from Ren and Stimpy for unprofessional behavior.  Take a look: