Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

I think we can all agree here on two sobering truths:

  1. Jen Kirkman’s “Drunk History” retelling of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s friendship is one of the YouTube’s finest moments, as well as one of YouTube’s most solid defenses for existence;
  2. regardless, it’s tough to make a workable show from a premise that involves keeping the main star from puking on a cat, as happens in this first full episode of “Drunk History”.

No matter who the celebrity star or what the poison of the drunk storyteller, every audience will weigh every “Drunk History” skit to Jen Kirkman’s Douglass-Lincoln bit. That moment was just a rare gem amongst literal drunken stupors.

Regardless (again), I watched the first episode of the new “Drunk History” show on Comedy Central and I can only apologize to myself for watching it sober. The joke wore thin even before the opening credits ended. Still (kinda like a third regardless), I got a good laugh out of the first drunk storyteller angrily telling the camera crew they have no ambition because they refuse to eat cookies with him. The final bit – starting at 15:15 – about Elvis Presley (Jack Black) meeting Richard Nixon (Bob Odenkirk) was pretty great – mainly because that final guy was such a smooth drunk. He didn’t seem to be over playing it. The absinthe strapped him a fake baritone voice and he failed miserably at his jive turkey approach to deliver all the wrong details. Job could’ve used a guy like that to sit in the ashes and drink with for week or more.

The second episode of Drunk History airs tonight on Comedy Central. More than likely, just as I do with loads of shows I claim to not like (“Inside Amy Schumer” comes immediately to mind), I’ll still end up watching half a dozen episodes and then hating myself for it immediately. Why didn’t I just watch Metalocalypse instead?! More “Drunk History” to come!

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On Finishing ALIAS

Posted: July 15, 2013 by mwerntz in Myles, Television

As many commentators have noticed, Netflix has changed the game when it comes to how we watch television. No longer do we have to pine for a week between episodes, discussing the intricacies of the previous week’s episode, or picking apart the little moments. With the glory of Instant Watch, we can now “binge watch”, consuming multiple episodes at a single sitting.

The watching habits of my wife and myself have by-and-large shifted over to the television selections of Netflix, given that neither of us had cable for a number of years, and have some catching up to do on some of the better shows from the last decade or so: West Wing, Alias, Fringe….the last one will probably be more me than her. Even now that we do have cable, we still treat cable like Netflix, rarely watching live television; instead, we set it to record, and watch at our leisure.

There’s any number of reasons for shifting over to television, I suppose: films require a lot of sustained attention, and by the end of the day–after having looked at a screen for at least 3-4 hours that day for emails and writing, my attention span really dives off. So, when I do want to watch something for fun, television format usually fits the bill. But truthfully, when I’m not making excuses, there’s some great serial story-telling happening. Television allows you to tell bigger stories than film, over a more sustained period of time, bringing in more storylines, and even letting some stories lie dormant and undisturbed for weeks at a time.

All of this brings us finally to ALIAS, which was our latest Netflix watch.

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I knew that Jennifer Garner came from somewhere, and for me, her films have always been hit or miss. Great in Juno, but you can put Daredevil in a dark hole somewhere. But, as everyone apart from me in the Northern hemisphere knew, both she and Bradley Cooper really became household names through Alias. The quick and dirty review: the first two seasons are really fun, sharp, inventive, and tight; the last three seasons get a little self-indulgent and bloated, bringing in too many new characters and getting a little too introspective and relationship-dissecting. But, we pressed on, finishing up last night with a fairly satisfying ending that ties things together well.

J.J. Abrams is really working out some things that you see much more fully fleshed out in the series he did after this, LOST. Many of the actors who float through Alias either find another bit role in the next show, or expanded ones; his use of music and montages is more refined in LOST. At times, I can tell that he plagiarized himself, using little bits of music or sound effects in later episodes of LOST. As Kiki noted in the previous post, it’s interesting to see certain directors develop, because they have certain signature moves that regardless of genre, they’ll go to, like fingerprints or tell-tale limps. And no–time travel does not make an appearance in ALIAS, thankfully. That appears to have been a latter-day sin more recently developed.

The biggest impression for me of the show, having finished it, is how melancholythe show is from beginning to end. The viewer knows exactly what they’re going to get from the pilot episode–both with regards to the long-arc plot of the show and with regards to its major themes–and it’s not popcorn and rainbows. Yes–there is comic relief; Marshall the tech-guy was one of my favorite characters, more so than Michael Vartaan’s leading man ‘Vaughn’. Yes–there is lots and lots of flash-bang spy tricks and close calls; I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, and why I’ll go see the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movies. But underlying the series is a pervasive sadness, that people leave, that danger is real, that lies are not innocent, and that power is not neutral. The show went on for five seasons this way, never getting away from this primal mood, which is fairly remarkable. Most shows either hit one side of this spectrum (funny/dramatic), but the way that ALIAS consistently kept this tension made it a pretty good, though not spectacular, show to watch.

There’s much more to say on the nature of the binge-watch, which I’ll do in the future, and on the virtues of the spy flick (given that we say that lying is wrong), but go check out the first few episodes of ALIAS. It’s worth your time, but be warned: once you get beyond the first season finale, you really need to watch the whole thing.

BREAKING BAD REWATCH, Pt. 1: Justifications

Posted: July 2, 2013 by mwerntz in Myles, Television

While I work on other things that don’t demand that much attention, I’ve taken to keeping the Ipad open and doing an impromptu BREAKING BAD rewatch. I had thought about waiting until the season wraps up this Fall before starting in on the series again, but I just couldn’t help myself. The cookie jar was just right there….

One of the great debates among viewers of the show is exactly when Walt “breaks bad”. The phrase itself is used by Jesse Pinkman to describe Walt in the pilot episode, not as a statement of fact, but in a completely incredulous way. Walt, in his mid-50s, is a high school chemistry teacher who has discovered that he has Stage 3 cancer, and can’t pay for the treatment. At least, this is the initial justification (more on this in a moment). So, he approaches his former student, Jesse Pinkman, who he happens upon in circumstances that lead Walt to believe (correctly) that Jesse knows how to make methamphetamine. The two begin to cook, and hilarity ensues.

And by hilarity, I mean people start dying almost immediately.

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Walt enters into this scenario for plausible reasons: seeking to pay for cancer treatments, and (later) to set his family up financially after he has died from cancer. But even this justification is an addition to the first: caring for his family as a justification only appears in a later episode. The initial justification–paying for cancer treatments and for his wife’s pregnancy–grows into the second: setting his family up. Without spoiling anything for those among us who haven’t seen this yet (Gator/Hamster/Kevin), this justification changes…or rather, it blossoms. Without leaving the initial justification behind, the justification for Walt’s meth production changes to include more grandiose reasoning, more high-flying justification. And this, I think, is what makes his justification so interesting. In other films where people “break bad”, betraying their sense of judgment or morals, the justification changes, as in, they begin with one justification for their act, which becomes abandoned eventually for an entirely different justification.

Any other favorite films/shows where a central character undertakes a morally reprehensible act for seemingly good reasons? I’m trying to figure something out here.