Category Archives: Television

Mister Bulger and the Children’s Nature TV Star

For my first article for Fatherly.com, I interviewed Chris Kratt, half of PBS Kids’ Wild Kratts, about getting kids interested in science and nature.

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The Flash Might be the Best Superhero Show Ever

full-flash-suit-grant-gustin-the-cwThe new Flash TV show has a its flaws. But after the pilot episode I think it might be the best superhero show ever televised.

It’s achingly sincere and unapologetic about being its source material. It makes Smallville, Agents of Shield and Gotham seem ashamed of what they are.

There’s no winking in the show. It’s not ironic. There’s no arch comment on superheroes or comic books. There aren’t any overtly comedic characters to deflate its sense of purpose. The Flash’s heroism occurs without reluctance. He is simply a good and brave person who wants to do the right thing.

It’s strange how refreshing that is. After the gloom of the Dark Knight trilogy and the oppressive volume of Man of Steel, seeing a D.C. character be an uncomplicated do-gooder just kind of feels good. It harkens back to the simple joy of reading comic books as a kid. The good guys are good guys. Sometimes being a good guy is complicated because people think you’re a bad guy, like with Spider-Man or the X-Men, but the stories had simple moral codes overall. Everybody ended up doing the right thing for the most part.

I watched the pilot episode of The Flash with my computer open. I was only half paying attention to the show at first. Then I started googling character names. Pretty much every character on the show is comic based. Iris, the love interest has the same name as the Flash’s eventual wife in the comics. The Star Labs assistant played by the girl from Sky High has the same name as a comics villain. And judging by this tweet by the actress, that’s no coincidence. I could continue but honest to Zoom, it could be a spoiler.

I’ve watched super hero-based shows all my life and hey almost invariably only import the bare bones of the source material. Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor will be ported over without Brainiac, Mr. Myxlplyx or Bizzaro. They’ll rename Bruce Banner David Banner and never mention Rick Jones, Betty Ross or the Abomination.

Smallville was the worst of them. The show never featured Clark Kent as Superman. But the show runners realized they could hype up an episode by distantly alluding to the comics. So viewers would get two minutes of an interpretation of a classic character talking to a guy in a blue and red shirt who had yet to learn to fly. The first season of Agents of Shield was littered with similar teases but with they’ve improved greatly in the second season, unapologetically featuring a comics-accurate Absorbing Man.

Speaking of Smallville’s aversion to show Superman being Superman: The Flash is having none of that. Barry Allen was in his stupid red suit running around like a lightning bolt moron by mid point of the first episode. It was glorious.

So I’m hooked, despite the blandly handsome lead actor, the cheesy thwarted love story, the flat dialogue and strangely rushed plotting. Don’t let me down, nerds!

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The Grim Brilliance of “The Leftovers”

wasting.breath“The Leftovers” is a terrible show and that it deserved to be canceled after one season.

But I can’t stop watching it. It’s too satisfying.

On a metaphorical level, the show is about crumbling, entrenched institutions. It’s probably what the apocalypse will really look like; everybody pretending everything is normal.

But on a more immediate, emotional level, it’s misery porn custom made for smug atheists. Every character on the show is so depressed happiness doesn’t seem possible. The show’s God is either dead or incredibly cruel.

Its darkness ends when the credits roll. The gloom is consequence free; it’s not the news and it’s not your life. You watch it, say “too bad for you, buddy,” and forget it when it’s done. Once it’s over, the long scenes of mournful faces scored by piano music take on a twisted humor.

The show takes place some after a Rapture-like event that magically zapped away two percent of the population. No one knows why it happened. No one knows why the people who were zapped away were chosen.

When it was first advertised, I assumed The Leftover’s Rapture would be like the one in the hideous, Left Behind book series. I thought it would follow some sociopathic reading of the hostile gibberish in the Book of Revelations, pitting good against evil at the end of civilization.

Nope! The Leftovers rapture is an evangelist’s worst nightmare. Good Christians were not whisked away. There’s no decades-long battle between the second coming of Christ and Satan. The disappeared weren’t pure Christians or even necessarily good people from saints. They ranged from shitty people to merely OK. Almost all of them had baggage.

In the Leftovers, Revelations went off book.  The church didn’t stop the disappearances and still can’t explain them. Religion was powerless when presented with one of its main tasks: dealing with Armageddon. At the start of the series,Christopher Eccleston’s small town minister’s church is crumbling from lack of followers. He investigates and publicizes the sins of the disappeared. He wants to prove God didn’t save them.  If they had, why would he still be around? And if God didn’t, who did?

“Who did” is a question I expect the show will tease throughout its run without answering. The show implies that God, or some kind of pro-Christian supernatural force, exists in its universe. Supernatural forces seem to aid Eccleston in his quest to keep his church. But they don’t help a thief accosts him in a parking lot. Eccleston, supposedly a man of God, has to beat the man, possibly to death, to keep the money. If God’s directly intervening on his behalf, He’s got a dark sense of humor.

There’s more evidence the show’s God is scoffing and cruel. After the fight, Eccleston is knocked unconscious while defending a cult member from a drive-by hate criminal. He wakes to find that the cult he defended has bought the church from under him.

When the credits rolled, my wife and I asked how the show would top that bummer. Then the next week they had an episode about his sister, who lost her husband and two elementary school children in the rapture event. I wanted to applaud. They did it. They found the sadder idea.

Just as religion did nothing to predict it or prevent the Rapture, law enforcement and government are powerless against it. Cops patrol the streets but are just empty uniforms. Politicians and bureaucrats pretend they’re in charge but secretly turn to fringe elements for guidance.

Regular folks without any illusions that they ever had any power join and start cults. The show’s world is lousy with them. Federal agents raid a rural cult with a Koresh-like leader and armed guards on the first episode. Another background group paint targets on their foreheads and forgo shoes. But the show focuses most on the Guilty Remnant, which have their headquarters in the show’s fictional upstate Hudson River Valley Town of Mapleton.

For fictional cults, the Guilty Remnant is unique in its silence. The senior members never speak. Their belief system drips out in the handwritten notes the members use to communicate with each other and the outside world. Otherwise, they chain smoke and stalk people to gain more members.

They wear white, presumably, to show they have drained the color out of their lives. I think they just smoke because it’s cool.

Justin Theroux’s sheriff character is an alcoholic and a bully. He may be a spiraling lunatic. But it’s possible his biggest mistake may be treating the Guilty Remnant humanely. As they demonstrate, most obviously, in the last episode, they are hardcore dickheads who do not deserve humane treatment.

The last episode was probably the worst one the show has presented thus far. The GR put their big plan in motion and it was kind of a letdown. I’m not going to give anything away, but I feel like the low-key awfulness they previously maintained victim to the needs for TV plot movement. The status quo was too dramatically inert for TV producers’ comfort. I wish they hadn’t made that decision because the cult was more compelling when their plans weren’t clear.

I suspect the second season will be terrible. They’re going to introduce mysteries and set up conflicts and I’m going to regret ever liking it. The appeal of the show is the grim rut the show runners are trying to dig out of. Hopefully writers have some real heavy bummers planned. Fingers crossed.

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Yes, He Can’t, America

ColbertreportToday’s announcement that Colbert will be replacing Letterman on the Late Show makes zero sense to me, economically or personally.

The move destroys Comedy Central’s 11 to midnight block, the consistently best hour of television anywhere. Whoever they find to replace Colbert will either be an uninspired retread, like having Samantha Bee or Wyatt Cenac riffing on their pretend anchor personas, or some glib internet exploiting lightweight like Daniel Tosh or Chris Hardwick. Continue reading

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I Don’t Understand the Question and I Won’t Respond to it

Play Misty for Me is streaming on Netflix. I’ve been curious about watching it again for a while, as it stars a young Jessica Walter—Lucille Bluth of Arrested Development. Walter, quirky cute in her early 2os, plays a manic pixie nightmare girl stalking Clint Eastwood, a super smooth radio DJ with awesome hair who just wants to loosen his load but he’s got seven women on his mind. Walters stands the most in the way of his ability to take it easy; even though he told her that she was just a one night stand she gets clingy and weird. The irresistibly mellow Eastwood is caught in her nightmare web until I decided to pause the movie and see what other movies Jessica Walter has been in.

And boy has she ever been in another movie. She’s the villain in the ’70s made for tv Doctor Strange movieSkip to the two-minute mark and watch her own that shit.

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Game. Blouses.

Classic.

UPDATED: Upon consideration, I’m calling bullshit on this. Charlie Murphy is over six feet tall and Prince is 5’2″ at best (there are rumors he’s under five feet tall). If you were telling a story about  getting schooled in basketball by an unlikely opponent, don’t you think you’d lead with that detail?

I still think it’s funny, though.

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“Good” TV shows I Will Never Watch


bars3Special note: I am not including the vampire show with the girl from the X-men movies or the TV version of Skyrim because I’ve seen a couple of scenes from those shows thanks to my wife. Those shows suck, but I feel like I’m making informed decisions. The ones that follow are pretty much guesswork except where otherwise noted.

Friday Night Lights

You know what? All things considered, high school was probably the least important part of my life. I played some guitar and started smoking, read Kurt Vonnegut and got laid a couple of times. Now, as an adult, I’m amazed that every third TV show is set in high school and acts like it’s some perfect elastic metaphor for every part of the human condition.

Glee

The same thing I said above, only including the added disincentive of high school choirs covering overplayed pop songs. I like that lady from Best in Show and I think the visual of her in an Adidas tracksuit is inspired, but an a capella version of a Foreigner ballad is enough to make me punch a TV. Continue reading

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