Wednesday, March 18, 2015

American Horror Story: Freak Show

Fellow TV sluts, I know what you're going to say. "Maggie Cats," you wonder. "Why didn't you guys recap or even discuss the most recent season of AHS?" 

My failure is of a personal nature, I didn't actually get a chance to watch the Freak Show season until just recently. "But wait a minute. Didn't Clovis handle all the AHS-related stuff?" Well, yes, he did. But the reason why he didn't write any recaps for this past season is very simple. And it comes down to one very simple fact.

Clovis is terrified of clowns. 

I KNOW! Who would have thought? The blog's obligatory shot of testosterone, the only male writer on staff, afraid of clowns. Not that it's an uncommon fear. Lots of people don't like clowns. And who can blame them. 

Coulrophobia: Fear of Clowns.

But this means that AHS: Freak Show passed by our blog mostly without comment. And that's a damn shame because this was the strongest season of the show. 

While seasons past clearly relied on the "let's throw every plot device we can think of at the wall and see what sticks" method of writing, Freak Show felt like an actual story that was cohesive with a clear idea of where it was headed. While (for me) it lacked the simple scariness of the first season and the what-the-fuckery of season two, there's no denying Freak Show held together better than it's predecessors and still had its fair share of terrifying and cracktastic moments.

One of the strengths of the show has always been its cast, and with Freak Show, it seems Ryan Murphy finally hit upon the perfect combination. The ladies have always been the real stars of AHS and in Freak Show, Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Angela Basset, and even Emma Roberts, chew the scenery and act the shit out everything they are given. But they also never let you lose sight of the humanity behind the curtain. One of the subplots I loved was how the women won and lost power both on stage and off. 

And if you can have Kathy Bates running around with a beard and Angela Basset with three breasts while making a point about feminism then YOU GO, GIRLS. 


And of course, because it's AHS, this season was chock full of blood, gore, horror, and the blackest of humor. The motivations of each character were as typically changeable as the wind and there were no real good guys. But that's part of the point really--and while the "the real freaks are the people outside the tent" theme is a little obvious, when the show is this most fun (and terrifying) to watch, who really cares. Murphy delivered on the promise of an American horror story. As Clovis would say, "it does exactly what it says on the tin."

Oh, and of course, there were truly scary clowns. 

I genuinely cannot decide which is scarier: Twisty the Clown or Pennywise from IT. Anybody want to weight in?

Finally, what do we do know about AHS Season 5? According to the AV Club, it will focus on a hotel and will feature Lady Gaga. 

SOLD. 

Nighty night, kids. Don't let the bed bugs bite.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sympathy Butters No Parsnips

I was going to put a post about Downton Abbey here but my cable box punked out on me again and I can't really access anything that is on it, including four or so episodes of Downton, several episodes of Million Dollar American Princesses, and the U.S. National Championships of Figure Skating, featuring a VERY SPARKLY Johnny Weir. Clearly the universe hates me something fierce.

So I decided to turn my attentions to Netflix instead of calling Time Warner to come fix it/replace it because the latter would require motivation and the former only requires my bathrobe and me new slippers.And upon the Netflixes there did appear to me some MUHDUH mysteries! Yay!! And the people did rejoice! There was singing and dancing and a sacrificial goat.

Okay. Maybe not a goat.

Maybe it was a llama.

Hinterland/Y Gwyll

Do you like beautiful and unforgiving landscapes that are also bleak and terrifying?

Then you should visit scenic and desolate Wales.

Visit lovely Wales! Come for the scenery. Stay for the sheep.


Do you guys remember that Friday I spent watching the entire series of Broadchurch on Netflix? I found myself completely lost after I finished Broadchurch, and I went searching the Netflixosphere for something in a similar vein. I eventually lighted upon Hinterland/Y Gwyll. Why does it have two names, you ask? Because the BAMFs who created this show filmed it TWO TIMES: Once in Welsh, and another in English. I am all over this like that Welsh chick in the Henriad was all over that one guy. 

Hinterland (as I shall henceforth refer to it here since I watched the English version, because you  know, 'Muricka and whatnot), follows the exploits of the popo department in Aberystwyth (say that five times fast), Wales. Detective Chief Inspector Tom Mathias is the main protagonist, and DCI Tom Mathias' life sucks. How much does DCI Tom Mathias' life suck? DCI Tom Mathias lives in a trailer in Wales.

I live in a trailer in Wales.

Chickens, this show is DARK. If you are not a fan of grisly murders and people wandering around in overcast landscapes looking for seriously unhinged killers, this show is not for you. But if you like all that crap, and people being moody, and having their romantic aspirations thwarted in the worst of ways, then get on the train to Cardiff. 

Mathias is estranged from his wife and children for some unknown reason, thus the trailer living. He has a female partner, DI Mared Rhys, and I wouldn't say there is a whole lot of interest between the two of them, although Detective Sargent Sâin Owens has taken a fancy to him. Mathias doesn't really notice her and more or less treats everyone like crap while he obsesses over his latest murder. So, you're looking for a romantic side to go with your MUHDUH like on Castle, you won't find it here. 

Although, if I do say so myself, I am hot in a depressed way.

Also, the Chief Super is SHADY and has it in for Mathias, and I expect that to be addressed further in the planned series that has been scheduled to air this year. There are four episodes in the first series, and each are about an hour and a half to two hours in length, so it should keep you occupied for an afternoon or so. 

Pardon me while I brood in this field.


Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries

Okay, I have to admit that I have dropped the ball here. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to watch Miss Fisher.  It kept coming up in my Netflix suggestions and I kept ignoring it because it's Australian and they talk funny. Also from my anthropological research through watching teevee through the internet, I've discovered that they appear to be stuck in the 1920s. Poor dears. We really ought to drop some freedom bombs on them so they figure out how to 2015 and talk American.  

Although I applaud their use of proper headbanding.

This show is awesome. It makes me happy in my murder place. Miss Fisher takes place in Melbourne in the late 1920s. We don't get a lot of Australian series (read: none) stateside, so this show is a bit different than the usual fare that is to be had. 

This ain't your mama's Downton Abbey.

I spent about two weeks watching all of the episodes that are available on Netflix, and I finished them the other day and now I feel a deep and existential void. I am really not sure what to do with myself now that I am out of Miss Fisher. Fortunately, the good people in Australia are planning a third series.

Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries is based on the book series by Kerry Greenwood. The Hon. Phryne Fisher (pronounced fry-nee) is the daughter of a lesser English nobleman, who inherited an estate in the UK after the intended heirs were all killed off in the Great War. Phryne is a FLAPPER who carries a PISTOL and DRIVES A CAR and KEEPS COMPANY WITH MEN AT ALL HOURS. Fortunately, Phryne's Aunt Prudence is around to disapprove of all of Phryne's scandalous activities. 

Oh, deary me. Oh, deary, deary me.

In addition to Phryne's escandelo lifestyle, she often finds herself present when there has been a MUHDUH in need of some serious solving. Phryne's day job is as a private Lady Detective, and she has insinuated herself into the Melbourne Police Department and caught the attentions of the very married DI Jack Robinson, who is hawt. Jack finds himself interested in Phryne in spite of his initial disapproval of her interference in police work, and he finds himself conflicted over the fact that Phryne flaunts the gentleman callers to her boudoir under Jack's nose. Anyway, they are adorable and make me squee. 

It's complicated. 

In other squee news, Phryne has a housekeeper/cook/sleuthing companion that she rescued during her first case: Dot, who is a Nice Catholic Girl. 

"Miss Fisher is corrupting me. And I'm afraid of telephones."

As a result of their Cagney & Laceying it up, Dot meets Lt. Hugh Collins, and they fall in the lovez. But alas! He is a Protestant! 

"Darling, let's go to hell together!"

Phryne's entourage also includes Cec and Bert, general handymen and communist sympathizers, and her butler, Mr. Butler, who is ex British intelligence and who keeps a handy collection of machine guns in the upstairs broom closet. Phryne also adopts an orphan.  Miss Fisher actually kind of reminds of Castle before Castle before they got together and it got all jumped-the-sharky. My only suggestion is this show needs moar koalas. MOAR KOALAS. MOAR. 

Koalas: Nature's original tree-hugging stoner.

If Hinterland is noir and meditative, Miss Fisher is zany and fun. If you find the untimely deaths of random people to be zany and fun. Which I obviously do. 


Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries and Hinterland/Y Gwyll are available on Netflix streaming. Both are slated for new episodes this year. 

Love me, Jack Robinson. Love all the wacky and life-threatening situations I will get you into.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It's Time For The Annual Super Bowl Post You Won't Read!

Welcome back, everyone!  Let me just say that this is the Super Bowl post that I didn’t want to write.  I was going to boycott the game this year due to the heinous, heinous I say, miscall during the final seconds of the first round playoff game between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys that effectively stole the game away from Detroit, depriving my home team of their rightful chance to compete in the Big Game.  (I managed to come back around after almost the exact same call went the opposite direction for the Cowboys the following week, eliminating them and proving that he who lives by the pass interference call dies by the pass interference call.)  But then Deflategate happened and then it was the Seahawks defending their title against the Patriots, the douche-bro-est team in the country and, frankly, there just wasn’t a lot else on TV that Sunday night so I decided to watch.  Plus, I heard that Katy Perry was going to BURN Taylor Swift in the halftime show, and even though I don’t care much about either one of those people, I’ve always liked effigies.

Having watched the game, with its first 30 minutes mind-numbingly dull and its second an exercise in athletic what-the-fuckery, I’m not sure I made the right decision.  But I get ahead of myself. 

Go...home team? 

As I’ve said many times before, Super Bowls are all about spectacle.  They are not stunning examples of amazing athleticism or daring competition.  For that, we have the Olympics and Dance Moms.  It’s for that reason that the entire first half of the game was such a letdown.  This Super Bowl pitted the Seattle Seahawks, who won last year’s Super Bowl so decisively over Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos, against the powerhouse coach/quarterback/douche-nozzle combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. 

To give a sense of the match-up, going into the game both teams had exactly the same record (14-4) and throughout the first half played with almost identical statistics such that going into halftime, the score was tied.  And not even an energetic tie.  It was a relatively anemic 14-14.  Ho hum.  It was so boring that even Bob Costas had to come on just before the second half and deliver a three-minute commentary on how everyone needed to shut up on Twitter about how bored they were and remember that Super Bowls are often decided in the second half, they’re not meant to be exciting, and for God’s sake stop posting pictures of your food all the time.

Needs more pinkeye.

Then the second half started (actually, there was a halftime show in between, but I’ll get to that in a second) and things finally started to pick up. Seattle started putting points on the board, scoring 10 during the third quarter and shutting out New England.  Moving into the fourth, New England began to rebound, scoring a touchdown and putting themselves within three points of a tie.  Then Patriots Quarterback and human equivalent of crashing your uncle’s Porsche into the pond at the country club after you drank too much Boones Farm  Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass with two minute left in the game that put New England up by four points, 28-24. 

And now, finally, we had, as they say, a football game as Seattle took possession of the ball and drove it fearlessly down the field.  Things got tense for folk from the Emerald City when Seattle managed to somehow both fumble and catch a critical pass at the right time, almost losing out on their chance to score.  Nevertheless, they eventually found themselves on New England’s 1 yard line, literally three feet from victory.  And that’s when they shit the bed.

Not photshopped.  This is an actual picture showing what it looks like to fuck everything up.

Here’s the thing.  Seattle was on the 1 yard line.  They could have tripped and fell into the end zone and won the game as long as whoever tripped was holding the ball when he fell and managed to cross the line before his knee hit the ground.  But for some reason, Seattle called what has been referred to as the worst play call in the history of the Super Bowl.  They decided to pass.  And that pass was intercepted.  For those of you not familiar with what happens in football (and for the smaller number of you for whom that’s the case and still decided to read this post), that was a very bad thing for Seattle.  To make matters worse, Seattle has arguably the best running back in the country in Marshawn Lynch.  Hand Lynch the ball, and even if every New England player is ready to pounce on him he’s still going to cross the line and make it in.   Alas, none of that happened and Tom Brady, who is in fact that guy you knew in high school who started bum fights in the basement and never got in trouble for it because his dad was on the school board, got another thing aside from his super model wife and multimillion dollar per year job to brag about.

And yes, that’s all Seattle’s fault.  New England didn’t win; Seattle just lost spectacularly.  Seattle won the Super Bowl last year and they haven’t shut up about it since.  They’ve been on constant news reports talking up their greatness, which makes them the sports equivalent of that weird guy who once drunkenly made out with a model in a bar and now believes that it means he’s way hotter than he is.  Winning the Super Bowl once actually is not that difficult.  There are plenty of teams that win once and then either not again or not routinely.  Like so many things, it’s performance over time that counts.  Seattle wanted to be thought of as the new powerhouse and instead handed those accolades over to New England, the team that’s self-importance is so inflated it could float a zeppelin despite being a team that has employed, shall we say, questionable practices to get what it needs.

Factual?  No.  Representative?  Definitely.

What happens next, however, is what may be the most interesting thing yet.  The NFL entered this game in a state of turmoil due to the news-making events with Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice’s videotaped beating of his then fiancée, Miami Dolphins’ Richie Incognito’s racially-motivated harassment of his fellow players and staff members, and Arizona Cardinals’ Jonathan Dwyer beating his wife and son.  As such, it wasn’t a surprise to see many, many commercials in this Super Bowl that sounded more like “The More You Know” style PSAs about what it means to be a “real man” and encouraging men to maybe, like, not beat up women or something.  The last thing the NFL is looking for is more evidence that the ship that Commissioner Roger Goodell is sailing may not be so shipshape after all.  And now the league will have to contend with the evidence that the Super Bowl winning team, in theory the best team of the year, only got there because they cheated in an earlier game, deflating their own footballs to make their passes easier to throw and catch.

So yes, there are a lot of things that disappointed me about this year’s Super Bowl, but perhaps one of the biggest ones is the cruel twist of fate whereby one of the two competitors this year wasn’t New York if only for the reason that now I can’t legitimately make a Sharks vs. Jets joke.  This year, the Pepsi Halftime show gave America the public figure it has craved more than anyone else; a figure of style and beauty, of hope and inspiration, of talent and verve.  I refer, of course, to Left Shark.

No discussion of this year’s Super Bowl would be complete without considering the cultural icon that is Left Shark, seen here with his backup singer, a young woman who was not identified at press time:


 Since his emergence onto the national stage, Left Shark has inspired artwork, lawsuits challenging that artwork, historical retrospectives, and thrilling investigative journalism. There is at least a little bit of Left Shark in all of us, and yet none of us can every truly be Left Shark.  Except for Left Shark himself, of course.

No matter who plays in the game, Left Shark wins.  Left Shark always wins. 

#JeSuisLeftShark

Wheel of Time: Winter Dragon

Yesterday my Facebook feed began blowing up with news of the Wheel of Time pilot tv episode that was going to air overnight on FX or one its sister channels. This was news to me--I've been a long time fan of the Wheel of Time book series (written by Robert Jordan and finished by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan's death), but I hadn't heard anything about a tv show in the works.

I did some poking around on the internet and on the FX website, but couldn't find anything confirming that a Wheel of Time pilot was going to air. I went to bed without giving it another thought. 

And then! When I woke in the morning it was to the news that the pilot episode had aired, but in the middle of the night on FXX, under the guise of paid programming. So what does it all mean?


Well, to make a long story short (too late), the company that owns the film and tv rights to Wheel of Time was going to lose them on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 unless some action was taken. In order to prevent the rights from lapsing back to the Jordan Estate, the company quickly and on a shoestring budget produced a 15 minute "pilot" episode they dubbed Winter Dragon. Buy some air time on a little viewed cable channel and BOOM. You get to keep your media rights and hopefully sell them to someone for huge amounts of money in the post-Game of Thrones fantasy market. While it's not clear if the gambit will be successful, you can catch the "pilot" on You Tube or at the blog linked to above. 

In case you don't have 15 minutes of spare time sitting around (there's about 10 minutes of commercials to pad it out to 30 minutes), never fear, dear readers, because I have watched the episode and am happy to report my thoughts!

First of all, let's not call this a pilot. It's more of a prequel or an introduction. In fact, it only covers some of the prologue of the first book, and even then leaves out a lot. The show is basically Lews Therin Telamon (the Dragon) wandering around his mansion looking for his family in a madness-induced fugue. He keeps bumping into Ishamael, the right-hand man of the story's Dark Lord, who is like, "Dude, you are so crazy. You know you killed your family, right? But me and the Dark Lord can totally bring them back if you join us." Lews Therin finally comes to his senses (when Ishamael heals him) and decides to kill himself instead.

There's some other stuff, including a somewhat nifty voiceover before and after the action takes place, but all in all...not a lot happens. Unless you could the revelation that it is BILLY FUCKING ZANE playing Ishamael.
DON'T LOOK SO SMUG, BILLY.

The script isn't terrible, the acting isn't terrible, it isn't even bad. It's just kind of there. It's just...completely unnecessary. I'm not going to worry/freak out/expend any more mental energy on it. I think this is just one of those weird things that happens when you're dealing with media rights and if something ends up coming of it, well, I'll withhold judgment until then. I always thought of the Wheel of Time as basically unfilmable, but with the success of Game of Thrones, who knows? 

"The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the First Age by some, called today by others, there was a secret 30 minute Wheel of Time based episode, put on in the middle of the night. Called Winter Dragon, the episode was a bit of a mixed bag." From io9.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quick and Dirty

I've been trying out a lot of random shows lately with varying results. Let's try something new where I just shout out my initial thoughts about this motley collection.


Backstrom:Dwight from The Office tries to be House. He's not House. I lasted all of two minutes before I was offended by this excremental show. 


Next!


Call the Midwife: BIRTH CONTROL. Seriously, you will not let any man near your lady parts after watching this show.  


Next!


Glee: It's the Final Season! They're all back at McKinley! Who cares?!


Next!


Grantchester: He's a hot vicar who solves murders. Too bad it's totally boring.


Next!


Z Nation: Still way better and more fun than The Walking Dead


Next!

Black Sails: Completely nonsensical and impossible to follow.


And finally....


Marco Polo: Everyone is more interesting than the main character, but at least he's cute. Oh, and the show is actually pretty good if you're into thirteenth century Mongol politics. AND WHO ISN'T.


Maggie Cats OUT.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Empire

I've had so many ideas for blog posts swirling around in my head the past couple weeks, it's been difficult to decide what to write about. And then I realized I was using that as an excuse to be lazy. So I'm kicking off some more regular posts with a review of my favorite mid-season premiere of the season: Empire.

Just to clarify....not this Empire.


THIS EMPIRE.

What's not to love about rich people scheming and backstabbing? Sure, this is kind of a common plot in television, but you guys. Empire is really really good. I think it's actually crazy good. It takes everything that's awesome about shows like Dallas, but isn't ridiculous or campy. I was completely hooked in just the first few minutes and every episode keeps getting better (and the ratings have gone up with each episode which is kind of unheard of these days on network television).

The plot is very King Lear set in the modern music industry. Lucious Lyon (Terrance Howard), is a former drug dealer turned hip hop mogul and the CEO of Empire Entertainment.  In the pilot episode, he's diagnosed with ALS and told he has only three years to live. Of course his thoughts turn to his legacy, and he tells his three sons that one of them will inherit Empire...and they will have to prove they deserve the honor. So basically, they are competing among each other for ULTIMATE POWER. Well, ultimate music power. Well, millions and millions of dollars. The stakes are high is what I'm saying.

Everyone instantly starts plotting against one another and the waters are further muddied with the arrival of Cookie, Lucious' awesome ex-wife and mother of the three sons. She's just out of prison where she served time for getting the seed money for Empire Entertainment by getting involved in some drug deals. Cookie is just an all-around badass with amazing fashion sense and is pulling for her second son (he's very much of the John Legend-type singer/songwriter school) to be the heir. But since the son is gay....Lucious is against the idea.

If Cookie ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy.

I mean, seriously. THE DRAMA. There is so much going on with this show it's crazy, but it all makes sense, the performances (at least as far as the older characters are concerned) are really strong, and the music throughout the show is great. It's also really nice to have a black-centric show that doesn't feel like it was just thrown together (ahem, Blackish. Looking at you). This is a tight, well-made, compelling drama.

Empire has right off the bat established itself as must see tv for me, so give it a shot and I bet you'll get hooked. You can find it Wednesdays at 9:00 EST on FOX, and catch up with the three aired episodes over at the show's website.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Plot So Nice They Used It Twice

Anybody want to go on a Viking River Cruise? 


No? Okay then.

Kids, mama is facepalming hard over here.

So, last week's episode started off with Anna and Mrs. Hughes cleaning out the hot (literally) mess that Edith made when she tried to burn down Downton (accident, my ass). Anna finds the baby photo. She gives it to Mrs. Hughes. Edith, Mrs. Hughes IS SO ON TO YOU.

In rich white people news, the war memorial committee wants to build a war memorial. They want to do this on Robert's beloved cricket ground. Robert once again proves he Doesn't Get It. What do you think, Tom? Never mind, you're Irish and poor.


"Don't mind the nice man in the sunglasses, Tom. He's only here to erase your memory."

Jimmy is still fired for sleeping with Caroline Bingley. I'm sure he'll be back, though.

Thomas is sad that Jimmy is leaving. This is one of the few times when Thomas seems human. Yes, more of that and less of the puerile scheming. 

At breffie, Charles Blake is coming back to Downton, because he has a friend who wants to look at their della Francescas. Mary is a bit bummed because she's already promised Lord GingerAle that she will spend the weekend being his booty call. 

Rose is collecting evening gowns for Russian aristocratic refugees who have fled the Bolsheviks. She also wants a wireless. 

Escandelo!

Over at the cottage, Edith is still trying to get her baby back. Unfortunately, her child's adoptive mother does not want to give her up, since Edith's life is just the worst. 

Lord Merton is FRISKING AROUND Isobel's skirts. 


"Then Lord Merton invited me to go to Cleveland with him on a steamer. I've never been to Ohio."

Mary has to be certain that there aren't any Consequences to her weekend activities, so she straight up asks Anna to go into the village and buy some Plan B. 

I am super excited about Rose's Russian refugees and wireless.

Thomas, who is horrible, decides to go ahead and tell Molesley that his lady friend Baxter is a thief. Thomas is still trying to get Baxter to snitch on Bates, so can...I don't know...

Edith tells Robert and Cora that she wants to *cough* take an interest in a little orphan girl who is living at the Drews'. They suspect nothing because, I mean, Edith ain't getting any younger. 

Anna goes into the apothecary's to get some unmentionables for Mary and the scene proceeds with all the subtlety of an after-school special. The judgey lady pharmacist asks Anna personal questions and judges her, and this immediately turns Anna into a birth control crusader. 

Daisy is coming along quite nicely with Miss Bunting tutoring her in math (Maggie and I totally called that) , although Miss Bunting is still a Commie who also mouths off at dinner. She is TOLERATED at Downton.  Anyway, Tom clearly has his hands full.


#Gangsta

Molesley is quite convinced that Baxter would not have stolen from her former mistress. but Baxter won't tell him the whole story. Because nobody tells anyone anything on this show. They just perpetually spy and eavesdrop on each other. That is easier. 

Mary tells her parents that she is hanging out with one of her aristocratic friends while she is really with Lord Gallagher (what is she? fifteen?), but she misses out on getting to spend more time with Charles Blake (!!!!) and his art collector friend, who is 1) Totally Richard E. Grant and 2) Totally hitting on Cora. I have no idea why either of these things are happening, but they are happening simultaneously.

Mary goes to meat LordGingerSnap at the hotel in London where he has booked adjoining rooms (boom chicka waka). This is a bad idea on many levels. 


LG: You may think I'm after your money. Think again. What really interests me is your sweet, sweet aspidistra. 
LM: My aspidistra?
LG: Yes, I'm an amateur botanist. The Downton aspidistra is...quite rare."

And did I mention Charles Blake? 


How YOU doin'?

I rest my case. 

Rose gets her wireless, and they all gather to listen to the king give a speech, and the Empire remains solid, and you think that all is right with the world and THEN...

A constable from London randomly shows up at Downton to say that a "witness" has come forward and wants to talk to Carson about rapey valet Green's stay at Downton. LIKE WHO CARES? I thought we all agreed that we did not care.  Green raped Anna, he ran into a bus, and he died. End of story.

Are we REALLY going to do this plot again? The plot where Bates gets arrested for a murder he may or may not have committed, but we all agree it doesn't really matter because the victim was a horrible human being. Whyyyyyy? Is the twist this time that Bates is going to get convicted and executed? And then what will happen to Anna? Will she become a family planning crusader? 

What witness comes forward two years after the fact? And why would the coppers take it seriously? Lord Gallifrey certainly has a new valet by now, so I am going to call Green's death a net gain for our fair city. The only thing that would make it even remotely interesting this time is if Anna got accused. Girl already won a Golden Globe for being a rape victim. Let's see if accused murderer works out for her as well. But seriously. Get some new material, or call it a day.


I didn't do it, but if I'd done it, how could you tell me that I was wrong? PopSixSquishUhuhCiceroLipshitz

Monday, January 12, 2015

Constantine is the American Doctor Who

I know, I know.   A bold statement.  Especially given the number of other shows that could equally make the case that they are, in fact, as close as those of us in “The Colonies” will ever get to our own mad cap Gallifreyan adventurer (The Middleman certainly had a strong case to make).  But here’s the thing: all the main Doctor Who tropes are present in the new NBC show.  Wise but possibly ambivalent hero fighting dark enemies?  Check.   Companion who is mostly a rube but potentially possessing a vital power or skill that the hero will need?  Yup.  It’s-Bigger-On-The-Inside base of operations?  But of course.

All of which is not to suggest that Constantine is just some rip off.  If anything, having watched the first six episodes, I would argue that the show is trying to establish itself as something wholly independent of the rest of the comic book properties out there.  The mad Englishman with a special larger-than-it-seems home base and a crazy encyclopedic knowledge of terrifying things coupled with a potentially troublesome disregard for the people around him may echo our favorite fantasy adventurer, but this is a TARDIS of a different shape.

A flame-ier, angrier TARDIS...


The Comic Book
Wait, what?  “Clovis,” I hear you say, “Is this yet another comic book TV show that you can’t seem to stay away from?”  Of course it is.  Constantine is based on the DC Comics book Hellblazer about John Constantine, a 35-year-old con man, supernatural detective, and “petty dabbler of the dark arts” based in London.  But in order to understand this character and where he fits in with all those flying cape-wearers who are always saving the planet from alien invasions or some such, I’m going to have to take you through a couple of very brief points of fact about the DC Universe.

As always, those wishing to avoid the nerdy comic book talk can skip ahead.  I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come back and hear just about the TV show.

The thing about DC Comics that separates it from the other big comic book company, Marvel, is that DC has for years made a big show about all its characters existing in a multiverse.  (Marvel has a multiverse of its own, but a much more consistent effort is put into place with their books to streamline the characters and give them a common space to exist in.)  This is the narrative device that allows DC Comics to keep cannon a lot of completely out of date stories.  It’s what explains, for example, how it is that Wonder Woman can exist in our modern age and yet still have fought Nazis during World War II. The Nazi-fighting version was a different reality Wonder Woman from a different dimension in the multiverse.  Comics, everybody!

I could keep explaining, but it's just going to make you want to do a lot of this. 

In 1993, DC Comics created Vertigo, a specialty imprint that would produce comics that were more adult; more like literature than the flashy superhero adventures the company was primarily known for. Vertigo was the home to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta, among lots of other riskier and, frankly, weirder stories.  Hellblazer was born into this world and while John Constantine would sometimes still find ways to interact with the occasional Superman or Batman, he mostly occupied a different reality in the multiverse.

Constantine as a character was known for being rough around the edges, unrelentingly cynical, and deadpan but also remarkably cunning and capable of getting out of the toughest scrapes, a key skill when the majority of your enemies are demons great and small, including the biggest baddie of them all, The First of the Fallen.  (Read: The Devil.  Sorta.)   Writers at various times have portrayed him as the ultimate pragmatist, willing to take anyone down if the ends justified the means, but also as someone who is essentially motivated by a desire to be a good person and make the world a better place.  Of course, the world isn’t often saved by people who are being nice guys.  You can’t make an omelet, etc. etc.

This actually qualifies as a light-hearted moment for most of Constantine's life. 


The TV Show
Okay comic-phobes, you can come back!  The good news for traditionalist is that the TV series did a phenomenal job casting John Constantine.  Seriously, you guys.  Matt Ryan looks exactly like how his character is supposed to.  I know that may seem like a small thing, but in this age of whitewashing and making changes because somehow the source material isn’t “relatable”, seeing Matt Ryan in his Constantine trench coat and loosened tie for the first time made a lot of folk feel like this show was on target.  

Seriously, you guys.  Nerd-squee. 

And then there was Liv…

The first episode serves up similar story notes from the comic books.  Constantine has voluntarily confined himself to an English psychiatric hospital after botching an exorcism that resulted in a young girl, Astra, being dragged into Hell. His rest cure fails to work, however, when a cadre of supernatural forces warn John that Liv Aberdine, an American woman who is also the daughter of one of John’s old magic partners, is in danger.  John manages to exorcise the demon that is chasing down Liv, but the experience is too much for her and she flees his company after providing him a scrying map showing John other locations throughout the country where something evil is afoot. 

And therein was the first problem for the new series.  Simply put, Liv shouldn’t have.  The part didn’t mesh with the story; there wasn’t a lot of there there and the actress was replaced with a new character, Zed who shares some of Liv’s psychic abilities but is a bit more world-weary.  Fans worried that the abrupt change in lead casting was a bad portent for the show.  Personally, I think John and Zed make a better pairing precisely because Zed has her share of secrets she’s keeping from John.  Plus it underlines a very major point in the comics: John isn’t a good person to be around.  He’s trouble and he’s not afraid to put you in between himself and it.  John acknowledges this to his only other compatriot, Chas, a man who is loyal to John but has the mysterious ability to survive being killed making him one of the only people who can probably stand to be around John for long.  Add to that the host of angels who are rapidly losing patience with John and not so squeamish about maybe handing him over to the demons who would love to have his head and Constantine's got a lot of motivation for screwing over otherwise fine people. 

Pictured (l to r): Angel, Hero Jerk Face, Woman of Mystery, Undead Cab Driver (really). 

Aside from the casting drama, there’s a lot to find in Constantine for folks looking for some light horror.  Storylines are taken from the comics, so fans will find plenty to wink at. (See below for more on that.)  At the same time, the show manages to keep exactly the right tone in relation to the demons and ghosts that make their way into Constantine’s life.  He’s not afraid of them, exactly; but he does take them seriously.  His deadpan humor is fully imported from the comics, but Matt Ryan gives his lines a gravity that shows just how unsure of himself Constantine is in the wake of that failed exorcism.  Most importantly, the show has been very careful about keeping the sanctity (pun not intended) of their main character in tact: John’s defining character trait in the comics is that he smokes.  This is a problem for network TV where characters aren’t allowed to smoke given network standards and practices.  As such, we’re given just enough subtle clues to suggest that John has just put out a cigarette that observers will understand how much this is a part of his character.  Likewise, the punk-rock sensibility from the comics is still on display.  In a scene where John must fight a demon without listening to its voice, he blasts The Clash on his iPod to drown out the sounds.

As a side note, between this and their other horror show, the incredible Hannibal, NBC seems to be interested in carving out a horror niche that I’m very much in favor of.  Both shows take significant risks for network television and it’s exciting to see these stories being played out.  Unless you’re Maggie Cats, after all, you can only watch so much Law & Order before you need something else on TV.


The Easter Eggs
As with Gotham and The Flash, DC Entertainment has again dropped a number of Easter Eggs for fans.  Many of them are more overt than other DC shows; John openly talks about Mucus Membrane, his former punk band.  In the pilot, Liv picks up a golden helmet before John warns her to put it back down, saying more than likely it will wear her before she could wear it.  The helmet is an exact copy of that worn by the character Dr. Fate.  In episode five, John and Zed work with New Orleans cop Jim Corrigan.  Near the end of the episode, Zed has a disturbing vision of Corrigan dead and bleeding but with a green light emanating from him.  Savvy viewers will know that Corrigan will eventually die and become The Spectre, a character who is the spirit of vengeance.

Other references are far more subtle.  In John’s Bigger-On-The-Inside base camp filled with magical items, you can see Pandora’s Box in one glass case.  Not far from it, there’s backwards writing on a chalkboard, a clear reference to the comic book character Zatanna who recites phrases backwards in order to cast magic spells.  One of John’s former associates now works at Ivy University, a school often referenced in DC Comics and home to several other superheroes.  A close-up shot of Constantine’s business card gives an Atlanta-area phone number.  Call that number and you’ll get a recording of Matt Ryan as Constantine referencing someone named Alec Holland


The Bottom Line
You know what I’m going to say here – watch this damn show.  Yes, that’s because it’s a comic book character and I’m firmly in the camp of believing that if comic book properties continue to be successful, they’ll stop becoming a special niche and will instead become a genre.  We’ve made great strides on this so far – Constantine stands on its own as a horror show; Gotham is doing a capable job as a police procedural; Agents of SHIELD, despite the slow start, has been doing reasonably well as a spy drama; the success of the Marvel cinematic universe all together has show that comic book characters don’t just have to be caped adventure stories with one-note plots.  Progress is being made.


As of now, Constantine is slated to run for 13 episodes in its first season.  It hasn’t been called up for more episodes or for a second season, though NBC and DC have both indicated that doesn’t mean the show will be cancelled.  For my money, the risks taken on bringing a show like this to television alone are worthy of supporting it, but I honestly think new viewers will be intrigued by the complexity of the characters and the gradual deepening of the storylines. 

Also, repeat after me: the movie never happened.  The movie. NEVER. HAPPENED.

Oh go be sad about it in a park, Keanu. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Burn It Down. BURN IT DOWN TO THE GROUND.

Maggie Cats: Well, hello there, m'lady! So any initial thoughts on Downton's Season 5 premiere?



Arsenic Pie: Just all kinds of insane.




Maggie Cats: It was certainly lightning quick in terms of characters moving around and plots being set up.

Arsenic Pie: I like how it started two years after the end of the last season, but none of the plots had changed. I felt like Thomas was still trying to get info, and Lord Gillingham was still chasing after Mary, even though two years had already passed.

Maggie Cats: Well, Downton has pretty much recycled the same plots over and over since season 1. And yet, we still love it. How many times have we heard, "Times, they are a-changing." And yet Lord Grantham is still as useless and nobody just tells him to get a job.


Arsenic Pie: I really don't get why Thomas is still plotting. Is he still plotting to get rid of Bates? Because I feel that ship has sailed.


Maggie Cats: It's very sad how one note he has become. I think EVERY scene he had involved him at some point badgering Baxter. I don't get it. It was the biggest flaw in an otherwise pretty enjoyable episode. Why does he even care anymore?

Arsenic Pie: I know, right! Isn't there something else they can do with Thomas? If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: If Thomas got laid once in a while he wouldn't be such a dick. Also, why is everyone in love with Mary all the time?


Maggie Cats: Again, see season 1. Also. Asking Mary to sleep with you. EVERYONE WHO SLEEPS WITH MARY DIES. Don't do it, Lord What's His Name.

Arsenic Pie: I KNOW!

Maggie Cats: Her vagina = death.

Arsenic Pie: I've been warning Lord Gillingham about this but he doesn't seem to be able to hear me through the TV. Also, I liked the other guy better, honestly. Well Lord Gillingham asked her to be his booty call in the season premiere so we'll see how long he lives after that.

Maggie Cats: The other guy, Charles Blake, was cuter; Lord G-Spot's teeth make me squirm.

Arsenic Pie: Charles Blake is way cuter. Also Lord G hires rapey valets. I think we're firmly anti-Lord G.

Maggie Cats:  There is that.


So...what exactly is making this a difficult choice for you, Lady Mary?

Arsenic Pie: There is that. And knowing how repetitive this show is, he's likely to do it again. And then Bates will shove him in front of bus. And so on ad nauseum.




Maggie Cats: You know, as much as I love Downton, I feel like I enjoy it more when I DON'T talk about it like this. Because I end up deconstructing it and realizing all the flaws. All the plots are the same, there is almost no real character growth (Lord Grantham is still an idiot, Edith is a sad sack, Cora is dumb as a rock...), and if I don't think about it....then I don't realize it. At this point, I was kind of hoping Edith would end up burning it to the ground. At least that would be something new.


Arsenic Pie: But Thomas got in the way.

Maggie Cats: But I will point out that was just about the only time I can remember Lord Grantham being very useful; I will admit he sprang into action and took charge when everyone else was just sitting on their asses. Thomas bumbles into heroism a lot.


Arsenic Pie: I just think the show is funny. You can't take it seriously as a drama because it makes no damn sense. But on a positive note. I like Tom's new girlfriend, the schoolmarm. She is adorbz.

Maggie Cats: OMG, she is insane. And while I do like her as a character, she is really fucking rude.

Arsenic Pie: But you know that's going to end badly.

Maggie Cats: Just because I agree with her doesn't mean it's ok to openly insult people at their dinner table. Oh, god yes. AND I LOVE IT.


Arsenic Pie: There's no way they're going to get together. THEY ARE SO DOOMED.

"Tom's going to teach me a lesson about how my attitude toward 1%ers actually makes ME the snob, and we've done this plot before, so don't mind me. Hey! Are those canapes? I LOVE canapes!"

Maggie Cats: I am sure she will get pushed in front of a bus. Driven by the proletariat.

Arsenic Pie: I bet that's what happened to Gregson.  I bet the Nazis pushed him in front of the Hitler bus. Like who goes to Germany in the 1920s? Nobody. It's just a bad idea.

Maggie Cats:  Do you think he is dead? Or will make a reappearance? I wouldn't past Julian Fellowes to have kept it open in case he has some divine inspiration reason to bring him back.

Arsenic Pie: Oh, I am sure he will reappear.

Maggie Cats: Maybe he joined SHIELD? Oh, wait that's the 1940s. My bad.

Arsenic Pie: Maybe he went TO THE FUTURE and joined SHIELD. I am totally waiting for him to reappear. Like reappear and be a Nazi. He's be like, "No, Edith. I'm totally a fascist now. And it's fucking sweet." I really don't know why we aren't writing for this show.

Maggie Cats: Ooooh, that is totally what is going to happen. "Can I have that German primer I left here? It had microfiche in it with secrets that I really need."

Arsenic Pie: Yes! Yes!

Maggie Cats: We don't write for the show because we are too good.

Arsenic Pie: Like really he joined them in secret and is passing secrets and he disappeared because he's a spy.




Maggie Cats: Let's talk some more about the Downstairs folk. Daisy wants to learn numbers, Jimmy slept with Caroline Bingley...

Arsenic Pie: Then Edith can be like, "Um. I burned it. But look! I made you a kid!" JIMMY TOTALLY SLEPT WITH CAROLINE BINGLEY WHO HAS NOT CHANGED AT ALL IN THE PAST 100 YEARS.


"Yes! Barged in on us in the midst of le grande delicto to say the house was on fire! The impudence!" 

Maggie Cats: Also: Duckface from Four Weddings and a Funeral. Watching this show I sometimes feel like a British IMDB. "Oh, it's THAT guy!"

"A little lower, Jimmy! No, lower! No, not to the right. To the left. The left!"

Arsenic Pie: Yes, Duckface was there, too. I like Daisy. I never warmed to Ivy and I'm glad she's gone.So is Alfred going to realize that Daisy is sweet and true? I really do think Thomas needs to get laid.

Maggie Cats: On one hand, it's great to have a gay character. There are amazing stories to tell about homosexuals in this era. On the other, Julian Fellowes has no interest in telling those stories, and since Thomas is gay and can't date any of the downstairs ladies, it seems there are no other plots for him. This bothers me.

Arsenic Pie: Right. It's one thing to be like "Look! We're progressive with this gay character" but he never has a relationship and he's always being an asshole. It's not a positive portrayal in any way. Aren't there any hot farm lads around for Thomas? Mary has some extra dudes. He could date one of them. I really do like the other guy for Mary. He is way hotter.

Maggie Cats: I would approve of that for sure.

Arsenic Pie: When was the last time Thomas had a date?

Maggie Cats: Um, never? And I say good for Daisy, and good for Mrs. Patmore for supporting her. She's not dumb and I think Tom's teacher will start tutoring her. Daisy clearly has a learning disability.

Arsenic Pie: I thought the same thing. :( Poor Daisy. I thought she had dyslexia or something. I thought maybe Tom's lady friend could teach her.

Maggie Cats: You and me share a brain.

Arsenic Pie: Or maybe the show is just that obvious. So, let's talk about Isobel. I like how Violet is trying to get her lord friend to be interested in someone else so Isobel can't raise her social position. We wouldn't want Isobel to be ranked higher socially than Violet.

Maggie Cats: This subplot fascinates me; beyond giving Maggie Smith more chances to be hilarious, it's one of the few times we see Violet actually scared. She is TERRIFIED of Isobel being ranked higher than her.




Arsenic Pie: AND IT IS AWESOME I really do ship Dr. Clarkson and Isobel, but this plot is good for a few laughs.

Maggie Cats: When Isobel figures this out, she will probably marry that lord just to have the win. Poor Dr. Clarkson. Also, how hilarious is that Violet's butler is named Spratt. And is a total snob. Even SHE thinks he's a snob.

Arsenic Pie: Spratt is the worst. I like how he won't serve Dr. Clarkson because he's, you know, middle class.

Maggie Cats: I love it. I would want some of that cake too. Except I would have said, "EXCUSE ME, BUT I WANT SOME CAKE, YOU ASSHOLE."

Arsenic Pie: I'd just take the cake from him. I'd be like GIVE ME THE WHOLE THING. And then I'd be like WHERE IS THE FROSTING.




Maggie Cats: I would have tripped him too, and caught the cake like Edward Cullen in Twilight.

Arsenic Pie: There was no frosting on that cake. I looked. If Edward Cullen shows up on Downton Abbey I will die happy. Like as a vampire.




Maggie Cats: And then come back as an undead. Edward should date Thomas. And they can be weird and stalk each other.


HOT. 

Arsenic Pie: That would be a match. Thomas would be totally into the sparkly boyfriend thing. I bet Thomas reads Twilight. Thomas reads Twilight and so does Ivy. Edith reads it sometimes but she realizes now that it was a lie. I bet that's what Gregson's book was.  It was a German translation of Twilight and that's why she burned it. It just sucked that much.

Maggie Cats: Thomas writes Twilight fanfic. OMG. Thomas writes Twilight fanfic that becomes 50 Shades of Grey, but with two dudes and set in the 1920s. Also: HAHAHAHA


Arsenic Pie: HOLY SHIT YES.


Look out, Evelyn Waugh!

Arsenic Pie: Aaaand we are officially off topic.

Maggie Cats: Perhaps this is a good time for final thoughts.

Arsenic Pie: Overall, better than the second and third seasons. I watched all of last season on Sunday and I liked it. So I think the show has picked up some of the steam it lost. I think Matthew was deadweight. I don't miss him at all.

Maggie Cats: I actually agree, and I remember being really sad when he died. I thought it was a good premiere and did everything a premiere should. And while I enjoyed it, I was disappointed in the plot recycling and the lack of movement in characters and relationships.

Arsenic Pie: Yeah, the season premiere was supposed to pick up two years after last season but nothing had really changed. It's kind of unrealistic for a couple of the plotlines not to have moved along any. I do like Rose and I like her plots. It's fun to watch the whole debutante thing because they never did that with the other girls.

Maggie Cats: Oh, definitely agree. We didn't touch on Rose, but I will say that it's surprising the show was able to add her to the cast and make her actually interesting.

Arsenic Pie: I like her. She's a good replacement for Sybil. I mostly just feel bad for Tom.

Maggie Cats: Yeah, me too. I hope he ends up leaving Downton and being happy somewhere else. You know, because he is a real character.

Arsenic Pie: I think overall the plots need to move. I don't care at all if Bates killed the valet. I think everyone agrees they don't care, so I hope they just let it go. Tom does seem the most real of the upstairs cast. He and Rose are actually the most sympathetic of the upstairs cast.


"These people are just insane."

Maggie Cats: Definitely agree. Well, it sounds like there are both promising and disappointing things about the season premiere. Let's hope the plots get moving in the weeks to come!

Arsenic Pie: Let's hope. I will continue to watch and laugh myself silly.

Maggie Cats: NOT watching Downton would be the hard part. As Violet said, avoiding your friends is the hardest thing. And scene.

Lady Mary's (Second? Third?) Wedding Cake, by Molesley Cakes & Bakery, Ripon, Yorkshire, UK