Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Sure, there’ve been other funny TV shows, even some funny shows without puppets. But they were all 22 to 42 minutes long. Big deal. The writers of MST3K were funny for an hour-and-a-half every episode, mocking everything and everyone from Jackie Collins to “Harold and Maude” to Russian literature and Dada-ism. In a world filled with comedic sprinters, these writers were marathoners. (See, right there? They would have thrown in a clever “Is it safe?” joke. I have no such skill.)
“Mystery Science Theater” was a primer on exceptional writing. It proved in a profound manner that you don’t ever have to pander or dumb a joke down to make people laugh. Smart humor is good humor and even if half the room is scratching their heads at a Frida Kahlo joke, the other half of the room is thinking it’s the greatest thing ever because, seriously, it’s a Frida Kahlo joke! Who the hell makes Frida Kahlo jokes? Everyone who’s ever gotten an MST joke that rendered the rest of the room silent knows what a great feeling it is, like you just earned your PhD in cultural awesomeness.
Plus the show was just plain hilarious. I firmly contend that unless dolphins start performing cabaret or cats learn to give the finger, I will never see anything more miraculous than “A Patrick Swayze Christmas.” And lines like, “If you’re like me – and I know I am” and “How much Keefe is in this movie? Miles O’Keefe” will never not be funny. TV Frank’s plaintive love song to “Nummy Muffin Cookle Butter,” Torgo the Pizza Delivery Man, the Joey the Lemur Song – I love them all with irrational glee.
MST also worked because it had heart. It had that Midwestern humor that hits hard but never hurts. For as many films as they skewered, you always felt they still had affection for them – and when you think about some of the movies they had to sit through, that’s pretty damn impressive. (Joe Don Baker in “Mitchell” alone would have driven me to criminal acts.)
The characters gave the show heart, too. I never thought I’d anthropomorphize puppets made of gumball machines and bowling pins, but Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot had, well, depth, as did villains, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank, whose deeply disturbing yet weirdly endearing relationship cracked me up to no end. And then there was Joel and Mike (I really want to say “Maude” here, too, but I’ll refrain). Whether you were a Hodgson fan or a Nelson fan or, like me, a fan of both, there’s no denying the charm and good-natured lovability each brought to their role.
So please join me today in celebrating the greatness that was “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It was the best cow town puppet show ever.
And don't forget to check out the MST crew's latest projects: Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax. And if you want to indulge your nostalgia like I plan to, pick up a copy of the 20th anniversary MST box set. And if you want to read a far better tribute to MST than mine, check out Wil Wheaton's paean here.
+ Helfer's former co-star Michael Trucco is slated to appear in a December episode of "The Big Bang Theory."
+ James Marsters, aka "Spike," is going to be heading up the cast of "Alien Western," a movie which is pretty much a, uh, alien western. There's aliens and cowboys and horses and spaceships and, pretty please, James Marsters in chaps and a big shady hat.
+ Albert Einstein's made-up math equation, e=mc2, has finally been proven. Yes, I kinda thought it had already been proven, too, what with the building of so much scary stuff based on that math, but no, apparently, the scientists have just been faking it this whole time.
+ And in celebration of the 45th anniversary of "Doctor Who," io9 compiled this list of the 45 coolest moments in "Doctor Who" history.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Sometimes I cultivate very large blind spots in my pop culture vision just to be difficult. My most recent blind spot is called "Twilight" and after months of willfully neglecting the phenomenon, I find myself wondering, "What's it all about, Vampy?*"
I know the basic premise of the books, and it sounds pretty good and angsty. As for the author, I heartily applaud anyone who can make their mark writing about adolescent vampires (yes, you Whedon). And I will admit that all the hullabaloo over the movie release today has piqued my interest -- so much so that I visited "Twilight" Central on the Entertainment Weekly website. (I scored a 40 on the interactive quiz. So apparently my understanding of "Twilight" is pretty much equivalent to my understanding of every calculus quiz I ever took.) Usually if the cultural clamor is loud enough, I'll acquiesce and investigate but I just can't bring myself to pick up one of Stephenie Meyer's books.
And mostly, I feel fine about that. Whereas the Harry Potter series seemed to easily straddle the adult and youth literary worlds much as Shel Silverstein does or C.S. Lewis or Lewis Carroll, the "Twilight" books seem nestled exclusively in the teen landscape. I'm sure that has to do with marketing or just my own skewed perceptions, but honestly, I feel like I'd be intruding if I picked up one of these novels. (That reluctance isn't there with the film so much. The only thing holding me back from seeing the movie is the fact that I can't stand paying $10 to sit in a theatre surrounded by 12-year-old girls texting "OMG" through the whole thing. Seriously, there should be a cellular dampening field installed in each and every cineplex.)
Just to be clear, I'm not saying adults shouldn't read and enjoy these novels. They're obviously intended to cross-over. I just can't get into it -- and the oversaturation in the media at the moment makes me even more obstinate.
So I'm just going to let this phenom go along without me, and tip my jaunty hat to the next generation of book-loving nerds who love vampires. They've got their Edwards. I had my Spikes. Our repressed, xenophobic Victorian grandmothers had their Draculas. To each generation, their own bloodsucking fascinations, as I always say. It's the circle of undead life...with exsanguination!
* That was a shout-out for all one of the "Alfie" fans out there. Woo, represent!!
+ Good news! "Battlestar Galactica" webisodes are set to start airing in the middle of December. Something to hold onto until the January 16 premiere finally, finally rolls around. ETA: I just found out Sci-Fi is going to air the preview for season 4.5 during their day-long Bond marathon on Thanksgiving. Thanks, Sci-Fi, that's hugely convenient for everyone, I'm sure.
+ $10 million seems like a fair price to pay to regenerate a mastodon, don't you think? I can't wait until they start selling these things at the Petco. I'm totally going to dress mine up as a Bantha.
+ Speaking of bones, the remains of Nicolaus "Sunshine" Copernicus were found orbiting the Earth! Hahaha, just kidding. They were in a box.
+ People Magazine announced their Sexiest Man Alive this week, and the winner is Hugh Jackman. And there's pictures of at least 15 of the runners-up. Pretty, pretty!
+ And, um, this is the blogging equivalent of asking someone if they can come out and play but is anyone interested in chit-chatting with me about "Doctor Who"? I set up a page here for anyone who has some time and might be willing to indulge me in conversation on my new mania. (This is what happens when BSG is off the air for 9 months.) Thank you!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Well, my own personal jet pack arrived today and it's called The New Xbox Experience. Now, keep in mind, I'm a very easy futurist to please so basically all it took for me to squeal with joy was the realization that I can use my Netflix and XBox accounts TOGETHER. Have a hankering to watch Season One "Doctor Who?" No need to wait for the mail, run down to the local Blockbuster or even move my ass off the couch one single inch -- nope, now I can just queue it up and press play and voila, there it is! Like magic, people, like goddamn MAGIC!
Now I know I can easily download stuff from the internets and watch it on my computer screen but we all know deep down that's not at all as cool as watching it on the actual TV where the little people live to entertain me.
As for the NXE's other features -- well, apparently, there's games and shit on there too and you can make little avatars (*cough*notatalllikemiis*cough*) but mostly -- NETFLIX TELEPORTED RIGHT INTO MY FREAKIN' TV!!!! OMFG!!!
If you'll excuse me, I have Season Two of "Coach" to watch followed by seven or eight hours of "Gimme a Break." I am going to become a shut-in and it's going to be AWESOME!
P.S. I promise not to capitalize this much ever again. Mostly because I'll be too busy watching TV.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
If William Carlos Williams were alive today and had a Twitter account, he would surely be envious. He'd probably also be jealous about the lemurs. Who wouldn't, frankly?
And if you want even more Fry, he's got a newly updated website that's definitely worth a visit.
Okay, ladies, I'm going to come right out and admit that I've only just begun my Neil Gaiman education. So, much as I was with David Tennant's Nerd Man recognition, I'm pretty much a neophyte singing the praises of our authorial honoree this month rather than a seasoned acolyte shouting my encyclopedic fan knowledge from the rooftops. So please bear with me as I shakily tip The Park Bench's nerdy hat in Mr. Gaiman's honor. Please bear in mind, too, that I'll be counting on you to fill in all the things I've missed.
Right now, I'm nose deep in "Fragile Things," a wonderful collection of Gaiman stories that merges Murakami-esque surrealism with a dash of Tim Burton, a wee bit of Stephen King, a smidge of Charles Addams and an ethereal, delicate sensibility purely and totally Gaiman's own. And yes, with each turn of the page, my literary crush is growing. This guy deserves recognition -- well beyond a Park Bench honor -- simply because he's a brilliant writer with a mind that brings wonderfully unimagined worlds to life.
Gaiman's collection of work extends well beyond my toe-in-the-water reference to "Fragile Things." He's probably best known as the author of "The Sandman" comic books, a number of children's books including the recent "The Graveyard Book" and "Coraline" which has been turned into a stop-motion film set to debut in January. He's also set to pen the end of Batman for DC Comics in 2009. But perhaps most impressive of all, his first book was a biography of Duran Duran. The man has documented the life of Simon LeBon! Nice.
Happily, Gaiman's nerdy goodness extends even beyond his way with curious plot lines and disturbing imagery; he's also got a fabulous journal that is instantly addictive from paragraph one. It's a compelling, funny and earnest account of a writer's life, like a less-mannered John Hodgman blog but with bigger words and fewer references to hobos.
Neil Gaiman is the best kind of nerd. He's smart, funny, literate, has a passion for his work and knack for blazing new paths. And he wrote an episode of "Babylon Five." In short, chicks like intelligent men and this guy uses the OED and the magnifying glass that comes with it, so let's all do the math here: Gaiman is the geeky ideal and that's why we're pleased to name him our November Nerd Man of the Month.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do.
ETA: Thank you to Ruth for the suggestion!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
He should be Luke Skywalker. Come on, it sounds cooler.
What is it with you and names?
I think it's important. Why do you think I changed my name to Obi Wan? Nobody's going to be frightened of a Jedi called Benjamin.
Fear leads to agression...
Yeah yeah. If I had a credit for every time you wheeled that one out.
Monday, November 17, 2008
- Ridley Scott is set to direct a movie based on...Monopoly. Yes, the game with the little dog and the hat and the exorbitant rental prices. Scott says it's going to be "Blade Runner"-esque, which I hope means we get to see Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer fighting over who gets to be the car.
- Thank you, HBO, for giving us some new fantasy goodness: an adaptation of "Game of Thrones" has been greenlit as a pilot.
- Sneak peak at the new Doctor Who Christmas special:
- And the funniest thing I saw all weekend -- Robot Chicken's Bob Goldstein, Jedi lawyer:
* Mostly because I haven't had a chance to watch the new Robot Chicken "Star Wars" special yet.
Friday, November 14, 2008
So what exactly does Trock sound like? Here's the band IO9 says is basically the Cadillac of the genre. They're called Chameleon Circuit, and they've done a nifty song about the popular series three episode, "Blink," called, shockingly, "Blink." Here it is. It's quite catchy!
You can watch a video of the band themselves performing the song at the IO9 link above. Now I'm curious as to what other nerd-tastic genres exist. I swear, if there's a Rupert Giles tribute band out there, send me the CD now!
Even better is the fact that as of last night Stephen Colbert is trying to use Obama's Spidey love to get him on the show. Says Comic Book Resources:
CBR News has confirmed that on Thursday’s episode of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” host Stephen Colbert will challenge Barack Obama to appear on a show, using the U.S. President Elect’s reported fanboy roots as bait.
In the final segment of the show, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief will appear alongside Colbert and present the faux-conservative commentator with a copy of “The Amazing Spider-Man” #573 featuring a variant cover – illustrated by Quesada and Richard Isanove – depicting Colbert in the iconic pose seen on the cover of 1962’s “Amazing Fantasy” #15, Spider-Man’s first appearance.
Quesada and Colbert will both autograph the special issue, which Colbert will then offer to President Elect and Spider-Man comic book collector Barack Obama should he accept the invitation to appear on “The Colbert Report.”
It also made me wonder, though, what IS Whedon's best work? "Aliens 3," right? Hahahaha, just kidding. Okay, what's his best TV series? That, for me, is a really difficult call. There's so much to be said for all of three shows.
"Angel" is of course the forgotten cast-off series but boy oh boy was that a great show. First, Angel was a great character -- the vampire equivalent of Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester. He was dark and brooding and guilt-ridden but he was also vain and inadvertantly hilarious. The episode where he could finally walk in sunlight and, more importantly, see himself in a mirror is brilliant, with this morbid dude frolicking in daylight and asking his friends if he always wears that much gel in his hair. And yet, the show could wring the emotions out of you too, whether it was Angel losing Buffy all over again or losing Cordelia or giving his son away to protect him. But best of all, he got turned into a puppet! "A wee little puppet man!" as Spike said. That in and of itself makes this resilient, creatively flexible show a masterpiece.
Which means it would be at the top of my list if it weren't for "Firefly." Thirteen episodes of pure perfection, a show that gave the world Nathan Fillion and a man named Jayne -- two things for which I will be forever grateful. "Firefly" always had the ideal mix of action, adventure, humor, hijinks, romance, familial love, marital love...and, as Joss always said, whores! (That was my favorite part of every pre-press interview Joss ever did for "Firefly." Every one of his descriptions ended with "and it has whores!" Wouldn't everything be funnier if it ended with "whores?" I say yes.) It's such a shame that Fox pulled the plug on "Firefly" so quickly because each episode was better than the last. This one would be at the top of my list, too, if it weren't for...
"Buffy," which, with all respect to the IO9 dude, is always going to be Whedon's greatest work. And here's why: it was his first show and it was genius from day one. Turning that horror movie cliche of the dumb blonde victim on its head...and then on its ass...and then back on its head again, "Buffy" paved the way for strong female characters who could also be funny and flawed. "Buffy" was an original. And holy cow, was it ever funny. Every episode was packed to the brim with absurd and unforgettable lines that I will continue to quote decades after everyone ceases listening to me. And just as "Angel" and "Firefly" did, "Buffy" could get manic clowns with blood made of Xanax to cry -- when Angel turned on her, when Giles betrayed her and oh my God, when Joyce died. That episode is one of the most heart-rending and crushingly disturbing portrayals of death ever shown on television and why Whedon wasn't given an eternal Emmy award right then and there will always be a mystery to me.
So no matter how great "Dollhouse" turns out to be -- and I have deep nerd faith that it will be awesome (despite my "meh" feelings about the previews) -- it will never be as good as "Buffy." And that's not a criticism. It's just that "Buffy" was the groundbreaker. She made everything else possible and for that one simple reason, it's a show that will never be topped.
Still though, nothing beats "Aliens 3."
What do you think?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
- So, rumor has it Beyonce is being considered as Wonder Woman. To which I say, "Really?" I like Beyonce but I wish it was someone who could lend a bit more weight to the role. What do you think?
- Speaking of comic book characters, a new set of Watchmen character posters is out. Below is the Dr. Manhattan version. This movie's lookin' pretty spiffy. I can't wait.
- Television Without Pity offers this list of TV Characters Obama Should Choose For His Cabinet. He's already way ahead of the curve with him hiring the real-life Josh Lyman -- aka Rahm Emanuel -- for his Chief of Staff.
- If you're a fan of awesomeness, be sure to watch my friend Joel Levinson, professional contest winner, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno tonight. Over the last year or so, Joel has won close to $200,000 and traveled the world by winning online video contests. Trust me, jump on the fan bandwagon early -- the guy's going to be huge. The King Penguins of Antarctica love him already!
- And finally, my fantasy of an America with an actual sense of humor would finally be fulfilled if the little dude below becomes America's First Dog. Flap those ears, Machu Pichu, flap 'em for the win!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Friday, November 07, 2008
I know it is absurd to debate the rules of a reality that does not exist, but this genuinely irks me. You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can't fly; zombies do not run. It's a misconception, a bastardisation that diminishes a classic movie monster. The best phantasmagoria uses reality to render the inconceivable conceivable. The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I'll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It's hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.
I whole heartedly agree with Pegg on this matter. I don't like it when my mythical monsters evolve. It takes me out of the moment when I'm watching a film. Even something as ridiculous as the vampire movie the Cinematic Titanic crew riffed on at the live show a few weeks ago was getting to me when the vampire stood looking at himself in the mirror -- hello, vampires don't have reflections!
They may just seem like child's play, but the classic monsters -- wolfmen, vampires, zombies -- all represent metaphorical fears. Changing their dynamics moves them away from that metaphorical role they're meant to fill.
Plus, monsters exist in their own fictional world. Messing with that world and its attributes just throws everything off kilter, like if the U.S.S. Enterprise was suddenly fueled not by dilithium crystals but with kittens or if the Force turned out to be just another tai chi move. Fiction is a tricky, gossamer-like entity in the best of times. Disturbing that delicate balance just makes the job of both the creator and the audience even harder.
So, zombies, let's just slow down a little, okay? Let's go back to the good old days of shambling, one unsteady shoeless foot sliding in front of another. It's easy and it's fun!
Thursday, November 06, 2008
I don't know...it doesn't really grab me. Then again, I'm not a big Eliza Dushku fan. And I have to remind myself that "Firefly" didn't look that great to me before I saw an actual full episode either, so I'm still very optimistic. What do you think?
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
I’m not much of a flag waver. I don’t have bumper stickers on my car or own a flag pin of any sort. But election day gets my patriotic juices flowing a lot more than even the Fourth of July. I think it’s because voting reminds me that our government is participatory, that we all get a chance to have our voices heard. And that’s a pretty extraordinary thing.
I also like the poll workers. I’ve done that job a few times and served as an election monitor, too, and it’s really a pretty grueling and thankless job. It’s stressful because you don’t want to make a mistake and see your polling station on the evening news that night. It’s also extremely tiring. It was hard for me when I was college age. I have no idea how these folks in their 70s and 80s hang in there for 10 to 12 hour days, getting up before sunrise and working tirelessly to help us all cast our votes. They certainly deserve our thanks – even the cranky ones.
I also like to vote because it’s about community. Today, driving back to work from my polling place, I saw couples walking hand in hand toward, moms pushing baby carriages, a guy with his dog – everyone headed out to vote. These days, we mostly just drive past each other or wave a quick hello to the neighbor as we walk into the house, but election day is the one day when everyone gathers in one place for a common purpose. It’s just nice to know that everybody’s still out there and that we’re all citizens of the same country. Even if I vehemently disagree with someone’s politics and may cast the occasional look of disdain at their choice of lawn sign, that all seems to disappear for me on election day. It’s like shaking hands at the end of the Stanely Cup finals – the players may have just beaten the hell out of each other, but they’re still going to acknowledge a game well played.
Plus, free stickers! Who doesn't love the idea that millions of grown adults get rewarded with free stickers? It's like being in kindergarten only instead of voting on what to name the new class gerbil, we're picking a guy to be the leader of the free world. Absurdly awesome.
Happy voting, everyone!
Monday, November 03, 2008
Bradley Whitford, known for his roles on "The West Wing" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," has signed on to star and produce a comedy pilot for NBC.
The Hollywood Reporter said Whitford's latest project is a single-camera pilot for a buddy comedy series called "Off Duty."
The show casts Whitford as a once-great police detective whose career is faltering and Romany Malco as the rising star who gets stuck with him as a partner, the entertainment industry trade newspaper said.I may not have forgiven Sorkin for "Studio 60" but I'm always ready to welcome the Whitford love back onto my TV screen.
+ Cracked's Seven Most Impressive (and Depressing) Geek Collections. I don't know, I wouldn't mind having that "Star Wars" collection. Think of the Busby Berkley numbers you could stage with these babies:
+ Okay, this fries my Latinate bacon: in England, the Bournemouth Council has banned the use of certain Latin words and phrases in all official documents and communications because they are elitist and disciminatory. Instead, they've asked that English equivalents be used. This blogger has written up a fine response to the insanity of this decree. I hope the head of the council is forced to tattoo the words "Cogito ergo dumbass" on his backside.
+ Did you see TIME magazine's 50 Best Inventions of the Year? You know it's a good list when Dr. Horrible clocks in at #15. I'm also partial to the bionic hand, The Dynamic Tower, the Seed Vault and Montreal's Public Bike System. Very cool list.
+ I don't get choked up too often, especially with things on "60 Minutes" but last night I happened to catch this segment on scientists who are able to connect paralyzed people's brains directly to computers allowing them to do things like move computer cursers and even actual motorized wheelchairs with their brains. This one woman is completely paralyzed by a stroke but her mind is fine. She's now able to actually communicate with people via things like e-mail. Can you imagine the relief that must be, to finally be able to share your thoughts and feelings and in essence, escape the confines of your body? Truly touching.
+ And finally, what do you think about this fellow's assertion that watching sci-fi and other TV shows these days is just too much work because of the serialized nature of most programs? He says:
...TV has turned into work. Not actual drudgery, but presumably for some people an activity on par with reading Proust, or watching Birth of a Nation (or at least reading John Irving or watching The Seventh Seal). My old roommates frantically raced through the first five seasons of The Sopranos to finish before the sixth began. And then they did it again with Lost and The Wire. I’m sure they had fun, but they also had to keep a tight schedule, to cut out social obligations, and to press on when they were tired and wanted to stop.
Personally, I like the way TV shows have become more Dickensian in style, rolling out long involved storylines. Maybe it's the English major in me, but I like having stuff to analyze. Viva la longish, convoluted TV!!