Category Archives: TV

All Crime, All the Time

Posted by Chris

Lately almost all the media I’m consuming spins around the axis of crime, noir, or mystery. Most of the books, movies, television, and comics I’m immersed in, are invariably about solving murders or committing unsolvable murders. I’ve always loved crime fiction. As a grade schooler, I remember being obsessed with the ongoing adventures of The Three Investigators. In contrast to more popular kid-detectives like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators were compelling because they weren’t just precocious do-gooders; the Three were defined as much by their individual shortcomings as much as by their talents. The fact that as adolescents, the Three struggled as much with the given mystery as they did with their own sense of self 1.

Conversely, Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) perfect criminal, Parker is a man without doubt and in complete calculated control of his every move. I’ve burned through six of Stark’s  Parker novels in the past two months, and am hooked. If all I had to read for the rest of my life were Westlake novels, I would be content (Westlake was also prolific enough for this to be a viable option). There’s a clarity to Westlake’s prose, plot, and characters that heightens the catastrophic plot twists, when disaster strikes and everything starts going pear-shaped. The Parker books are paradoxically about a master criminal and methodical workman who plans for every circumstance, who finds himself regularly dealing with intractable problems and impossible situations his planning and professionalism is meant to avoid. This is because Parker lives in a world that lacks his ruthless efficiency and logic, so despite himself, Parker continually finds himself running from a cascade of dominoes that propel him headlong into Clusterfuck City (pop. everyone).

On TV, I’ve been following Nathan Fillion’s new show Castle, about a caddish mystery author named Rick Castle (played by Fillion, natch), who assists the NYPD in solving homicides. He is paired with the attractive and flinty Detective Kate Beckett 2, in a Moonlighting-esque pairing that is self-aware and playful, without being too manipulative with the will-they/won’t-they hookup tension that can kill the momentum of similar shows. I’ve been enjoying this series a lot, because its aware of its own limits as a mystery procedural, and like all great stories in the crime genre, does its storytelling in an extremely efficient manner. The main cast is small, only about 6-7 regularly recurring characters with Castle/Beckett getting the lions share of onscreen banter time 3. There’s certainly a formula to it, and again, one that applies as much to the genre and type of show that is 4, as much as to its own particular character as a series– but the show itself is a lot of fun, and it seems like the cast and crew are having a good time making it, an intangible/unknowable quality that can actually add a lot to any performance-based show.

A regular topic of conversation on this blog (and many others for that matter) is the greatness of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal. Suffice it to say that along with titles like Jason Aaron’s Scalped, there’s a renaissance in comic book noir; a fact that’s especially notable for comics’ deep ties to the pulps and the crime genre as a whole. (And in terms of the noir films I’ve been watching, I’m hoping to look at them more in-depth individually in subsequent posts.)

What’s compelling to me about crime as a genre are the essential themes and conflicts built into its fabric and fundamentals. Characters marginalized by society at large. A cruel and indifferent world. Injustice is as ingrained as the government’s bureaucracy (and often the self-same thing). Cynical worlds where the hopeful have the most to lose. I love stories about flawed individuals stubbornly try to carve out their own bit of happiness, despite the brutality inflicted upon them by the world around them. Parker is a great example of how crime stories are about assigning logic and order to a chaotic world; as often as the stories are about resigning yourself to the unpredictable, unknowable and capricious nature of the world we all live in.

1 Former child star Jupiter Jones (Detective #1) is brilliant but vain and egotistical; Pete Crenshaw (Detective #2) is athletic but cowardly; Bob Andrews (Detective #3) was methodical and would rather stay at home than stakeout; all have faults which are mitigated by each others’ strengths and their teamwork. Their adventures were formulaic, but also perfectly pitched for adolescent audiences. Plus, they’re pals with Alfred Hitchcock and would debrief him on their adventures– a random but funny hook for a series aimed at kids.

2 Who has suffered from some unfortunate hair styles or stylists, playing awkwardly with the length and look of her hair. A lot of police shows seem to have a problem balancing the idea of tough female leads having shorter and butcher haircuts to show how “no nonsense” they are while keeping them marketable as attractive and feminine objects of desire. Since these two aesthetics are generally at cross-purposes (generally, I’m not trying to get into a deep 3rd wave feminism read of relative masculinity/femininity of hair-styles right now) it usually results in a style that is mostly unfortunate for the actress wearing it. I know this is a weird thing to bring up, but watch the show and try not to notice.

3 Sometimes I feel like one can estimate how much screentime the supporting cast will get, based upon how high-profile the guest star (or guest murderer, more often) is, and how those salaries and costs factor into the production budget. It’s a well produced show, but it’s clear the crew has an eye on the budget line and that they do a very good job of doing the most they can with the resources they have.

4 I also like the show Psych for similar reasons. On its face, its central storytelling conceit conceit could be limiting:  a pair of amateur detectives fake psychic abilities in order to help the Santa Barbara PD solve a variety of crimes. In execution, the show’s sharp casting, quick pace of its pop-culture references and the self-aware absurdity of its protagonists all add to its charm.

Knitting for nerds…

Sometimes, my two favorite things come together and make beautiful babies…

Hellboy (look at his teensy little six-pack!!)

Little Endless Amigurumi

The Most Beautiful Sweater in the World

And of course… the HAT.

-Jenn

My Hormones Were Just Taken to Warp Speed.

I am back from the dead to say one thing:

Star Trek was awesome.

Star Trek was so awesome it is almost gross.

Star Trek ended and I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and frustration that I couldn’t just sit back down and watch it again.

I came this close to seeing Star Trek twice yesterday, but I backed down at the last minute, which is cool because it was sold out anyway.

I am not a Star Trek expert, by any means. I know what a Tribble is, and I’m relatively up on who was sleeping with whom on TNG, but in general, I am a Star Trek novice. Luckily, this movie manages to give a huge nod to the old-timey Trekkies while accomplishing a complete reboot of the whole freaking franchise. My mother–who used to record all of the original re-runs and episodes of the Next Generation, who took us to see multiple Star Trek films in the theater and who possesses a much more encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek in general–loved it, so it must be pretty great.

The performances were extremely well-done. The actors managed to play their characters convincingly, but without resorting to cartoonish imitations of the original cast. No stilted, melodramatic Captain Kirk voice. Scotty was just a loud Scottish dude. No funny Leonard Nimoy sing-songy deadpan. And I thought Abram’s vision of Chekov as a 17 year old with a heavy “v’s are w’s” drawl was pretty brilliant.

The story was well-written and well-executed and managed to turn the entire Star Trek world on its head while staying true to 40-some years of history and tradition. Yes, I just referenced “Star Trek history and tradition”. I’m dealing.

But of course, the most important factor catapulting this film from “pretty awesome” to deserving its own seat in the HISTORIC HALLS OF CINEMATIC GREATNESS is this:

Sexy Star Trek

Almost everyone in this film is HIGHLY BEDDABLE. The people they got for this movie are so disgustingly attractive it makes me feel like puking. In all seriousness, I am not a person who watches movies just so I can drool over the bodies on screen, but DAMN. DAMN IT, INTERNET. I’M A HUMAN BEING, NOT A FILM CRITIC. You can’t expect me to sit through two hours of attractive people in skin-tight jumpsuits alternately trading witty insults and kicking the crap out of each other without having my mind (and loins) completely boggled.

You know what? I can’t even review this movie right now because my brain is filled with images of sexy sexy Captain Kirk and **SPOILER ALERT** angsty Spock with hotass Lt. Uhura all up in his grill. It is clouding my judgment! I’m not sure if I just saw the greatest Star Trek movie ever made, or if I am having my hormones shamelessly manipulated by JJ Abrams and Co.

Chris, please review this movie soon so I can make sense of my feelings. If you need me I’ll be over at Oaktree Cinemas, watching it for the second time and taking secret camera phone footage for use in the Spock/Kirk/Uhura fan videos I intend to post all over YouTube. If you go with Jane and she tells you she has no idea what I’m talking about, please know that she is a LIAR (a considerate girlfriend, but a LIAR nonetheless).

Please send help soon. Thank you.

-Jenn

RE: Diving Deep Into the Shallow End, an ADDENDUM

Should’ve also mentioned that comics-related TV show, Heroes was also watched a few times in the past month, largely out of morbid curiosity. Despite being leaden and hugely anti-climactic, season 1 was largely watchable as far as television serials went. Sure, the interconnected storylines never really connected together in a satisfying way, but whatever– they blew shit up with superpowers and right up to the anti-climax, I had some genuine interest in seeing where it was going. At least until season 2, which was in a word: stupid. Some poorly planned stunt-casting (RIP Veronica Mars!) gone awry, a lot of annoying over-exposition in the dialogue, and a buttload of syrupy schmaltz made for a truly craptacular crapfest. The teen romance between the cheerleader and the faux-rebel kid was so wooden that it lessened the show’s carbon footprint. The Mohinder/Parkman “My Two Dads” shtick with the dead-eyed kid (who had all the powers of Google Maps) led me to recall the inhuman monster that is Paul Reiser, and anything that leads to thinking about Paul Reiser’s soul-sucking awfulness is anathema in my book. And Masi Oka is cute, at least as cute as an amalgamation of emasculating Asian-stereotypes can be.

Well, this latest season has been shark-jumping its way into a category of complete unwatchability. Heroes has never been particularly original, but Mohinder’s turn into a villain isn’t so much similar to The Fly, as it is exactly what happens in that movie. EXACTLY. And trying to reform the previous two seasons big bad Sylar (the pathological bed-wetter who killed people to steal their powers,) into a good guy is a head-smackingly horrendous choice. It undercuts everything we knew or understood about the character up till now. It smells like a case of elevating an actor/character over the story, which is a bonehead move for an action serial that previously relied on tight cliffhangers and overarching mysteries. The character 180′s, hyperbolic melodrama, and lame villains (the shrew-faced party clown is a perv? Who’d a thunk?) resemble the antics of  pro wrasslers discussed in the previous post, than the sort of episodic adventure we were originally hooked (if only slightly) to. Where once there were some good character ideas, we now have mostly incomprehensible motivations, a lot of lame new superpowers, and a gaping lack of direction where the plot should be.

Given all that, it comes as no surprise to me that lead writer/executive producer Jeph Loeb has gotten fired. I don’t know if there’s any way to fix the show now, but at this point I don’t think I’d care if they did.

Diving Deep Into The Shallows

So it’s like I never came back, as this here nerd-blog has lacked in regularity and discipline as far as updates go. I have good excuses though! Or maybe just excuses… Well, between my recently purchased Xbox 360 and the advent of a Digital Cable connection– I’ve basically been drowning in my television. Between hacking my way through Fable 2 and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (both are awesome BTW), I think I’ve spent the majority of my free time in the past few weeks either slaying zombies or impersonating them while glued to re-runs of No Reservations and various VH1/MTV reality TV shows. I’m quite convinced that thanks to the combined efforts of the cast of Flavor of Love (and all its antecedents) we will see the incubation and derivation of weaponised STD’s in our lifetime. Truly, this is a great country.

USA! USA!

And speaking of patriotism, genital shrinkage and narcotics abuse, we have the beautiful and bathetic displays of ego and more ego on like Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling where you can see “celebrities” like Todd Bridges (Diff’rent Strokes! Felonies!), Dustin Diamond (Screech! and…. Screech!),  Nikki Ziering (she married that asshole from 90210 and has large boobs! Large!) in a competition to see which ex-star slash parole-violater makes the most convicing wrestler. And being a realistic pro wrestler is basically being about mastering a multitude of skills. One must be a shitty stunt-man, soap opera actor, carnival barker and meth addict. With his absurd egocentricism, propensity towards violent outbursts, and long history of substance abuse– I’ll call it early and say that Danny Bonnaduce is your winner.  Sorry Frank Stallone, I don’t see a championship belt in your future. You’ll just have to fall back on that being-the-brother-of-a-famous-but-not-particularly-well-respected-actor thing you got going.

As far as I can tell, the only “project” that Chef Jeff is working towards (on the appropriately named, Chef Jeff Project) is getting his group of troubled teens used to being berated for following guidelines that were never laid out. And I think that by any standard, that is probably the most important and well-learned lesson that anyone who aspires to a career in the restaurant industry can get. The premise of the show is that ex-con Chef Jeff (try saying “Chef Jeff” over and over) teaches some young ex-cons the basic skills they need to succeed in the restaurant industry and become a big-shot TV chef like him. But he never teaches them anything. He lays out what they have to do, leaves and then yells at them for fucking up. It’s clear most of the kids have all the knife-handling skills of maladjusted puppies (who don’t have thumbs and are bad pets) but he’s still somehow shocked that after showing them exactly nothing, the juvenile delinquents didn’t perfectly execute 100 8oz. servings of chicken picatta for the cast of Survivor: New Jersey. Chef Jeff calls it teaching, but you know what yelling at someone for failing to do what they couldn’t have known you expected of them is called? Tough love guys, TUFF L-U-V (at least according to my parents).

Also, I’d like to know who produces all those Sci-Fi original movies– I’ve got an idea that I don’t want to say too much about that I think would be perfect. It’s a monster movie, but with a twist! All I’ll say is that the creatures involved kill their (sexy) teenage victims in a grisly fashion, and that these killer monsters may or may not have thumbs and may or may not be adorable when piled together inside a cardboard box.

Despite TV consuming much of my brain/soul in the past few weeks, I just want it to be said that I have been reading lots of comics. And thinking about comics. Just not blogging about them. Which is kind of like telling you that I meant to do my homework, but didn’t because a thumbless puppy ate it. Which he did right before yelling at me for not writing my homework on salami. More comics and salumi coming up, I promise.