Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.01: No Sanctuary

So, kids, here’s your question of the day: what’s worse than being eaten alive by a zombie? Being eaten alive by a zombie that is on fire.

Yep, the ante has been upped, the gore is gorier, and the badassery is epic. The Walking Dead is back!

Nikki: There’s a lot to cover in this truly fantastic season opener (might be the best premiere that the show has ever had, in my opinion), but I want to start with what I thought was the best part: forget Shaft and Jules from Pulp Fiction, there’s a new bad motherf*&#er in town, and her name is CAROL. From slinging AKs over her shoulder and using fireworks to blow up a gigantic gas tank, obliterating a crowd of zombies and opening up a chasm for the zombies to walk through and take out everyone in Terminus, smearing herself with zombie guts the way Glenn did in season 1 (only without the fear) and calmly walking into the compound amidst the walkers and taking out the guards one by one, THEN managing to disarm and throw down Tasha Yar when it looked like Tasha had the upper hand... un... freakin... believable.

Suddenly Dirty Harry isn’t the baddest mofo in a poncho.

In the midst of all of the AWESOME that Carol represented in this episode, we have to pause for a moment and realize just how far she has come. In the beginning of the series she was a minor character, a battered wife who was as shy and feeble as a mouse, who wouldn’t dare speak out against anyone or anything for fear her husband would “teach her a lesson.” She was fiercely protective of her daughter, and when her daughter was turned by the walkers, it was one of the most devastating moments on the series. Rick had to step up and put a bullet through Sophia’s head, and Carol was forced to watch it happen.

She didn’t mourn long, because in the midst of all this, Carol had hardened. She learned to appreciate Daryl’s gruffness and the way he took matters into his own hands, and she began doing the same. At the time we complained that the writers were doing her a disservice, having her move on from the death of her daughter like it was nothing, but now I can see what they were doing with her: she was learning how to live in this world.

She learned how to shoot and defend herself. She took on two little girls at the prison as her surrogate children and taught them how to similarly harden their hearts against the harsh world around them. When she realized that an apparent flu going through the prison was going to turn some people into walkers, she took matters in to her own hands and killed them. Rick found out, and he drove her out to a nearby suburb and left her there as punishment. Anyone who took matters into their own hands without coming to a democratic decision was not welcome in his group.

Upon her reunion with Tyreese, Mika, Lizzie, and Judith, she not only had to confess to having killed Tyreese’s lover, but when Lizzie killed her own sister just so she’d have a new zombie friend to play with, Carol handled the situation with an eerie calm, and then had to harden her heart even further to kill Lizzie, recognizing she was a danger to all of them.

It is in the midst of all of this horror that she emerges the quiet, resilient, focused hero of this episode. The awesomeness of her entering the compound was topped only by the reunion between her and Daryl, something fans have been clamouring for for almost a year. And just when it seemed we had our perfect moment, Rick comes up and sees her with new, wizened eyes. He now knows that Carol actually was acting democratically, doing something for the good of the group, and that it’s that hardened resolve that has just saved their lives and will keep on protecting them. Everything about Carol made me unbelievably happy this week.

What were your thoughts on the episode, Josh?

Joshua: What a way to start a season.

When the last one ended the way it did – with no real confrontation at Terminus save the brief losing skirmish that landed our home team in boxcar jail and awaiting the bat and the blade – I got the impression that a lot of folks were disappointed. The episode was, I thought, terrific, anchored by Rick's vicious, worm-turning encounter with the Claimers, but the tone of his reunion with the rest of the group was understandably dampened by the dire straits in which they found themselves. Rick had his confidence, but it didn't appear that they had much else.

Of course, they couldn't see Carol from there.

Still, the true beauty of leaving before the denouement, aside from the masochistic pleasure of narratively dangling from the cliff all summer, is that we got to come back to this tremendous ass-kicking of a premiere.

The entirety of the opening section, leading right up to the unseen explosion from outside, was as close to perfect emotional torture as anything I've seen on the show. The voiced-over montage of everyone gearing up in the boxcar, splintering wood and sharpening zippers and preparing for war, was a great way to get the blood pumping, and the way it was instantly defused by the gas grenade from above did a brilliant job of yanking the rug out from under us, all in the span of only a minute or two. Then it was straight to the executioners, a sequence that felt custom designed to give me a heart attack. The sight of them all bound and bent over the trough as the bat-wielder took practice swings in his smeary butcher's apron, the idle chatter from he and his partner as the moment of truth closed in, and the sound of that saw whining in the background all the while… the tension was practically unbearable. And tempered only slightly by the fact that Adam Boyer, the actor playing the bat wielder, was – no kidding – my son's counselor at summer camp last year, the knowledge of which admittedly took a bit of the punch out of things for me.

Still, he played it perfectly, and it was a rough sit, that sequence. I watched two episodes from last season in preparation for the premiere: the fourth, and the final. The re-watch of the fourth – Carol's banishment in 'Indifference' – was probably the only reason I recognized the blonde kid down on the sucky end of the trough as the dim-bulb boyfriend from the young couple that Rick and Carol encountered in the house there, with the girlfriend who barely made it through the next few backyards. It was a nice callback to include him, and though it was practically subtext considering how long ago that episode aired and how minor the role had been, I also liked thinking about how it must have set Rick thinking about Carol in those moments. How ironic that she was crouching so near at the very same time, all streaked with walker juice like Rambo in warpaint and poised to save his life.

You're absolutely right about how far Carol has come, and it's such a joy to watch her in action now. Everything she did in this episode, from the very first moment she appeared, just oozed confidence and capability. I think watching the dynamic between she and Rick will prove to be a highlight this year, because I don't believe for a second that everything's just a-ok between them now that he's seen the error of his ways and they've hugged it out. Nonetheless, the two of them are very close to the same page these days, and if they can work together, they'll make one hell of a management team.

Which brings me to the point I'm most anxious to discuss with you, and one of the few places where I really felt the hands of the writers this week: namely, Project exTerminus. Why was everyone else was so opposed to Rick's suggestion of going back in and taking care of the rest of the Terminites? They seemed to want to portray it as unreasonable ruthlessness on Rick's part, but isn't that same brand of gee-whiz hesitance favored by the rest of the group the thing that cost them the prison? Have they all forgotten Woodbury so quickly, or did it simply not change them the same way it changed Rick? More philosophically, at what point does a certain level of humanity become a detriment to one's survival?

This seems to be a point they're setting up as one of the driving forces behind the season, considering the 'THEN' opener and closer intended to grant us insight into the events that led to the Terminus community turning toward the brutality they eventually espoused. Then again, it's one hell of a long way from kill-or-be-killed to guess-what's-for-dinner, in my mind, so I'm intrigued by the notion of seeing them try to connect those dots.

What do you think?

Nikki: OK, first, NO WAY on the batter being your son’s camp counselor, that is so hilarious (and must have been really weird to watch... and, um, unsettling?) And second, I didn’t actually remember the blond guy at the end as being one half of the creepy couple in the house; now I have to go back and watch that episode. I did, however, recognize him as Penguin from Gotham. And I couldn’t figure out why they were using him in such a small role, and now you’ve perfectly answered that question for me! Amazing.

For me, this episode is all about a line that’s uttered near the end. Eugene explains that he was on the inside and saw the government’s plan for a chemical that would wipe out all of humanity. He said all it would take is merely “flipping the script” to turn that same idea on the walkers and take out all of them, saving humanity in the process. And it was that little phrase — flipping the script — that seemed to sum up this entire episode for me. Carol flipped the script on who she used to be. The people of Terminus were actually once good people, as pointed out in the THEN portion, who were raped and killed and abused until they flipped the script, took out the baddies, and became the baddies themselves. The same guy holding Denise Crosby’s character as she was tossed into the train car (her son, perhaps?) is now the one standing in front of the blood-catching tubs, asking the guys for their quotas so he can enter it into his books.

You ask a pertinent question: how does one go from being the victim to being the perpetrator? Does it always have to be such a leap? Carol went from a victim to a hero, but many people lost their lives along the way. As you say, to go from victim to cannibal is a little wait... what?! for me, but maybe something snapped. They didn’t eat everyone — when Rick threw open that one train car to let the guy free, the freaky dude with all the hair and tattoos was the same guy who we saw in the THEN flashback tossing Crosby back into the other car after having raped her. He’s out of his mind when he comes out of the train car, so god knows what they’ve been doing to him (all deserved, but anyway...) but it’s one thing to seek revenge: it’s quite another to become the bad guys.

So maybe the reluctance to take out the rest of the Terminites stems from exactly that: they want to stop that cycle. In this moment, they’re the heroes, and they want the script to stop flipping. They saved themselves, and the best they can do is steer people away from Terminus. Maybe they’ve decided they can’t save everyone, and need to start focusing on themselves? Would the Terminites actually seek revenge on them, or just stay and take more innocent souls? If I were in that situation, I’d probably just want to get out of there as quickly as I could, too. Only later would I perhaps have some regrets and concerns about not having finished the job.

I’m hoping they actually play out the flashbacks in subsequent episodes and this isn’t the last we see of the Terminus folks, though. As my husband said, an entire season of following signs to get to one place ends in one giant shoot-em-up and then they move on; was that a build-up to a whole lotta nuthin’? I would argue it’s a build-up to a whole lotta Carol Epicness, and for that it was totally worth it, but there is something to building up a place for over a dozen episodes, only to take care of it quickly and move on. Then again, I like them better when they’re on the move and not stuck in one place. As you say, this was the ending everyone wanted last season, and it was all the sweeter having to wait for it. Next week will be the new beginning.

Any last thoughts, Josh?

Joshua: I think you might be right about the flashbacks continuing – likely as we follow Gareth in his pursuit. Any survivors of the chaos at Terminus have no reason to stay there any more, and it's only logical that they'd go after Rick & the gang as the supposed authors of their destruction (though I'd argue they brought that on themselves when they started luring fellow survivors to harvest like sheep). Regardless, I don't think we've seen the last of them, or yet felt the full ramifications of our heroes' decision to simply walk away.

Beyond that, the season is suddenly wide open, and I love that breadth of possibility. The nature of keeping them nomadic allows for lots of variety, and like you, I'm hoping things stay that way, at least for a while. We still have Beth's sort-of kidnapping to explain, and then there's the matter of that post-credits appearance by you-know-who (YES), but otherwise, anything at all could happen. And considering the source, it undoubtedly will.

Thanks for having me back this season, Nikki! When things get this dark, it sure is nice to have a hand to hold.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Chocolate Milk

I have come to realize that Brooklyn Nine-Nine might be my favourite show on television right now. Last year started off a little bumpy, but by the end of the season it was the most consistently funny and sharp show on television. Just two episodes in this year, it’s even better. This week’s episode featured an A plot of Terry trying to get a vasectomy (which Jake somehow thinks means lopping off his penis) and Jake trying to talk him out of it as they investigate a stabbing that happened at a hipster chocolate milk bar called DRK MLK (haha!!) while the B plot was about Holt and the precinct getting evaluated by a woman (played by Kyra Sedgwick) whom Holt sees as his arch-nemesis.

Boyle: I got a vasectomy. No big deal, just numbs you all the way from trunk to skunk for about a year.
Terry: It’s... not supposed to!
Jake: Trunk to skunk?!

Jake: Guys, if the Sarge wants to chop off his penis that is his choice.
Terry: That is NOT what a vasectomy is! If you guys don’t get back to work I’m gonna start firing detectives.
Santiago: And blanks! Sorry... I just never think of jokes.

Jake: So look, we’ll work this thing together and afterwards I will be your friend chariot to the penis removal of the century.

Holt: Good news, our evaluation will be done by Chief Deputy Brant. We have a good rapport, he was once my captain.
Boyle: So he’s kinda like our grand captain.
Holt [face remaining unchanged and stoic]: That... was amazingly funny.

Terry and Jake try the chocolate milk and both look like they’re going to be sick.
Jake: Oh! Aw... it’s SO bitter. What’s wrong with this chocolate milk?!
Hipster douche: Dark milk isn’t chocolate milk. This is teat to mouth raw cow’s milk. The bitterness of the dark chocolate brings out the sourness in the milk!
Jake: That’s the worst part of both of those things!!

Holt: Captain Wuntch. Good to see you. But... if you’re here, who’s guarding HADES?!

Jake [in waiting room as Terry is wheeled out]: Hey, how’d it go, is his voice all high-pitched now?
Doc: What? No, of course not.
Jake: Of course not.
Terry [high on drugs]: Jake, the doctors made me into a superhero! I’m SO STRONG! [looks at his fingers] Gasp! And they made me black!
Doctor: He’s on a lot of medication. We weren’t able to do the procedure, your friend is so large that...
Jake: That you needed a bigger saw to cut through his dingus?

Jake: The text reads, ‘Your ideas are dum-dum batter in a stupid pancake you steaming pile of human fences.’
Terry: I assume that was autocorrected from ‘feces.’

Terry: When’s the last time you had a carrot?
Jake: Well, it’s my least favourite kind of cake so, rarely.

Jake: You wanna know the other thing that drives up premiums? Unwanted genital removal!

Wuntch: Spot checks are done. Needless to say I am thoroughly underwhelmed
Holt: Huh. From your expression I would have guessed constipated. Or chilly.

Holt: Where did you get this?
Santiago: I just went down to One Police Plaza and applied some of my signature Amy charm.
Gina: And when you wouldn’t stop they just gave it to you? 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Life Worth Watching: Roger Ebert

I first became serious about filmgoing when I was in high school. Before my husband and I started dating, we went as friends with a couple of other people to see a film (War of the Roses) and then once we began dating a couple of weeks later, films became our main source of entertainment, aside from concerts. I was still in high school, and Siskel & Ebert’s At the Movies came on every Sunday, and I watched it religiously. I often disagreed with them (and often agreed with them) but whether you loved or hated them, you could tell they were passionate about what they did.

When I went to university, I was probably going to see three or four films a week. I graduated from At the Movies to reading Ebert’s film criticism books. I started taking film courses. And then I went to grad school in Toronto and started seeing even more movies, sometimes more than one a day. By the time I was working, I would take a week off to go to the Toronto International Film Festival, doing 30 films a week and writing about them. And inevitably, I’d cross paths with Ebert. He was usually focused and heading to his next film, but he’d always smile at people and give them his time if they walked up to him. I heard stories of him walking out of screenings and complaining about the way things were run, but so did all of the other critics. The Ebert that I saw on the street seemed to be a nice guy.

And then I had kids. And we all know what happens to your regular movie-going then.

Recently I went to see the film Life Itself, a posthumously-released documentary about Roger Ebert’s life, and his final months. As many know, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and eventually lost his entire lower jaw and all of the skin attached to it. In his final few years, his throat would be bandaged and his bottom lip would just hang there, with his mouth perpetually looking like it was pulled up into a massive grin.

The documentary is beautifully done by Steve James. Ebert probably had his pick of who would be the director to recount his life, and the director of Hoop Dreams — one of Ebert’s all-time favourite films — seems like an obvious choice. Steve handles his subject matter carefully but honestly. There are interviews with people who worked with Ebert in the early days at the Chicago Sun-Times, a paper he refused to leave even when he was getting lucrative offers from other outlets over the years. Drinking buddies, fellow journos, and even directors and actors whose careers he made (or broke) through his reviews all weigh in on this man.

But of course, the one we associate most closely with Roger Ebert would be his partner and frenemy, Gene Siskel. Theirs was a volatile relationship both on-screen and off. At one point I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “You should see the YouTube video with the outtakes of them” and I barely had the sentence out of my mouth before they showed it in the movie. If you want to see the height of two guys hating each other, check this out.

And yet, make it to the three-minute mark and you can see the good-natured ribbing and the deep caring they had for one another. In Life Itself, it’s revealed that Roger was deeply hurt when Gene died, because he died not having told anyone — including Roger — that he was ill. Roger refused to do the same thing. You can tell that Ebert misses Siskel terribly, and they have several other people in the documentary talking about how close they were, despite their prickly nature towards one another. However, that closeness was, of course, laced with antagonism, and it’s in the interviews with Gene Siskel’s widow that this comes out the most. Despite how many times she talks about them being close, she usually has one barb or another about Ebert, as if the pain Siskel felt from their relationship outweighed the good. She tells a story of Ebert grabbing a cab in front of her when she was eight months pregnant, then waves it off as if she’s past it, but clearly she still carries around her annoyance of him.

Ebert’s wife, Chaz, is the hero of the film. I adored her. They married when he was 50 years old, and she stuck by him right to the end, and even now you can see how protective she is of him in her interviews. You can see him getting frustrated with various medical procedures in some scenes, and she remains calm throughout. She was clearly his rock throughout their marriage, and he hers. The portrait of them as a couple was one of my favourite things about this documentary.

But the stand-out interview is with one of his granddaughters, who talks about how she grew up sitting on the couch next to Grandpa Roger, watching one film after another. In one of his final weeks, he uses his voice software on his computer to chat with her, and tells her excitedly about the new documentary he was watching, 56 Up (I am obsessed with the Up Series, so I was thrilled to see that this was one of the last movies he reviewed). She sits by him, hanging on every word, asking excited questions as he passionately nods and gestures at her, then begins furiously typing to her again. She talks to the camera of how her entire childhood is marked by watching films with him, and that he taught her everything he could about film when he could. Her voice catches with emotion as you see the waves of reality wash over her face, knowing that her days of watching films with Grandpa Roger are numbered. But I thought, could you imagine learning about the history of 20th century film with Roger Ebert at your side as your personal film-viewing companion?

His was an extraordinary life, and this is a beautiful film.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Simpsons: They've Still Got It

My first television fandom was The Simpsons. In 1996, I went away to university and got a computer that had internet FOR THE FIRST TIME, and the first thing I did was sign up to various Simpsons fan groups and listservs (I have my priorities). I engaged in the chatter, got involved in the arguments and discussions, and when I went to meet a publisher to talk about how to get into the industry, I think the fact that he and I talked about specific Simpsons episodes for half an hour might have had something to do with him ultimately deciding to hire me. One of my best pals, Jeremy, was also a massive Simpsons fan (he went in for all the merch and at one point had a wall of Simpsons figures that I seriously envied) and I would spend several evenings a month at his apartment just eating pizza and watching episodes. We could have entire discussions using just lines from the show. One time we were riding the subway and he was holding a magazine with Simpsons trivia and he said, "OK... when Bart and Homer are playing Scrabble, what fake word does Bart put down on the board?" "Kwyjibo," I responded without thinking, and Jer's eyes widened and he nodded with pride and said, "NICE." Considering he kicked my ass in the trivia games every time, that praise has clearly stuck with me.

When I wasn't online arguing the finer points of why Smithers' skin colour appears different in a few episodes (the people who inked the show got the wrong instructions), I was actually attending classes, believe it or not. And one day the professor was late, so I sat outside the class on a bench and another guy sat down next to me. He was in the class but we sat on opposite sides of the room, so we hadn't said much to each other. He saw the book I was reading and made a comment that was a quote from The Simpsons. I looked up and gave the proper response from the show, and we were instant friends. That guy is Christopher Lockett, the one who does the Game of Thrones episodes with me.

This was in the mid-90s, when The Simpsons was a seasoned show already, but new enough that people still thought it was the most hilarious thing on TV (it was). By the time it was entering its 11th and 12th seasons, it was considered old, and people were starting to move on to newer shows. The King of the Hill came and went, and the episode where Bobby was kicking everyone in the nads is still one of my favourite things on television EVER. Then South Park happened, and suddenly everything that seemed edgy about The Simpsons seemed stodgy and outdated. The Family Guy and subsequent Seth McFarlane shows used the formula from The Simpsons, and people were turning to them. As I became hooked on HBO series and Buffy and Lost, I completely lost touch with that animated show about the yellow family that I'd once loved with all my heart.

After a while, it became cool to bash The Simpsons. I heard people talking about how painfully unfunny it was, that they'd given up watching it. They boasted that they hadn't watched it in almost 10 years, because the show hadn't had a single funny episode in that whole time. I never stopped to realize that those two statements put together don't make any sense.

Then the Simpsons Movie came out, and my husband and I went to see it, and it was hysterically funny. We were doubled over in the theatre with laughter. Still didn't go back to watching the show. We constantly used lines from The Simpsons in our everyday lives. Still didn't go back. I bought the first few seasons on DVD and then realized I'd have to mortgage the house to own the whole series. When we moved in 2012, I dumped the DVDs.

And then... my daughter discovered it. She'd wanted to watch it earlier, but I thought it was a little too old for her. At age 9, I figured we were OK. At the breakfast table, she would perform entire scenes from an episode she'd seen the day before. She could do Cletus's accent perfectly, and would re-enact scenes of him calling out all of his children's names. When she got to "Rubella Scabies" and "International Harvester," I was in stitches. I started watching the show with her. And without exception, I laughed at all of them. There were the new Sunday episodes, but then Fox showed other episodes throughout the week, rarely going back before 2010, and I realized that the last four years of The Simpsons was just as funny as any of the earlier episodes I'd seen. In some cases, funnier.

South Park continues to be hilarious, but has become adult viewing. The Family Guy stopped being funny a really long time ago, and goes for stupid toilet humour above anything intelligent. Same goes for most of its spinoffs. I've watched all of them, and didn't manage to last more than a couple of episodes with most of them. Yes, I know The Family Guy has taken what The Simpsons started and pushed it further, but The Simpsons shows that they were ahead of the curve in the beginning, and recent episodes show they continue to be. We're in a (baffling) Redneck Renaissance right now, where every single reality show seems to be looking at redneck culture as if it's something to hold up with pride, whether it be Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo-Boo or that show where they submerge themselves in filthy water up to their chins and try to catch fish by hand. And Cletus was there LONG before any of them.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we discovered that the Comedy Network is playing old episodes each night, so now my daughter's watching the classics that I loved. The other night they played the Gummy Venus de Milo episode and I nearly lost it with glee, and was saying the words along with the episode... and I couldn't believe HOW MANY of the show's classic jokes were all crammed into one episode. From the satirical Rock Bottom news program to the kids telling Homer that the TV did a better job of raising them than he did, it was utterly brilliant.

And that brings us to this past weekend's premiere. As season 26 began, many people who hadn't watched the show in years tuned in because A) in one episode we were going to lose a character, and B) they were doing a crossover episode of The Family Guy. And afterwards, I saw many people on my Facebook feed complaining that they hadn't watched The Simpsons in years and it hasn't been funny in all that time (question: how do you know it hasn't been funny if you HAVEN'T BEEN WATCHING IT?!) and complaining about the godawful humour of The Family Guy. But if there was anything you could take away from that episode, it was just how vastly superior The Simpsons is with subtle humour. The Family Guy wouldn't know subtle if it drove over Brian in the street.

But I'd rather focus on the other episode. The entire family sat around the TV to watch The Simpsons as the kids speculated on whether it would be Apu (NO!) or Homer (Uh, no) or Reverend Lovejoy or his wife (I said it wouldn't be his wife because they offed Maude Flanders and they wouldn't take out a second wife) and in the end... it was Krusty's dad. The kids were annoyed it wasn't someone major, and I was simply relieved. But that had very little to do with what made that episode brilliant. While The Simpsons has always shown religion in a way other shows no longer dare to do (the family goes to church every Sunday; Reverend Lovejoy is a tit; Ned Flanders is annoying but means well), this week they focused on the Jewish religion, and did a superb job with it. When Krusty's dad tells him that what he really thinks about him as a comedian is "Eh..." and then dies, Krusty is faced with the vast black hole of not knowing if his father approved of him, and it's a sad episode, always made funny with Krusty's drunken spiral. There are a ton of jokes in there for the kids, who laughed and laughed throughout, and really good ones for the adults, like when Marge tells Krusty she made him some chicken soup, and he says he never eats soup. "So why do you have that little spoon around your neck all the time?" she asks. My husband and I were howling with laughter, while the kids kept begging us to explain that joke.

The Simpsons is still funny. REALLY funny. Every time I've watched it with my daughter, it's as funny as I remember it being years ago. Sure, they miss a note once in a while, but for god's sakes, they've done over 500 episodes. There are few comedies these days that can make it to a fifth season while still having anything funny to say, and even Buffy had what I call the throwaway episodes each season, but The Simpsons just keeps on going, and does it brilliantly. While all those other animated shows have come, gone, and will fade into obscurity, The Simpsons will keep going until one of the voice actors from the Simpsons family dies, I suspect.

And think of it this way: I loved The Simpsons as a teenager. Now my daughter is watching NEW EPISODES of the same show, and she loves it as much as I did. This isn't like Buffy, which I keep promising her we can start watching when she's 12, where she's going to be watching a show that's near and dear to my heart, but is so outdated already that no one owns a cellphone, and in one episode Willow scans a book by running the hand scanner over every page individually. This isn't even like Doctor Who, which I love with all my heart, but has different characters, different sensibilities, and different styles than the episodes that aired when I was a kid. The Simpsons now is like The Simpsons then, with the jokes updated to the present day. When I recently went back to watch The Animaniacs with the kids, all the jokes were very Clinton-related, and went right over their heads and felt old to me. The Simpsons, on the other hand, makes topical jokes, yet makes them seem timeless. Who knows how much longer this show will be on the air, but regardless of how many years it has left in it, we should be celebrating a show that has remained fresh and funny for 25 years, rather than knocking it down because it's been around for 25 years.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New TV! Sleepy Hollow and Gotham

This fall I've made a pact with myself (that will last a total of one day, because "myself" has become a super unreliable person these days, so I warn you now) that I would watch new shows the night they premiere. That isn't helped by the fact that the shows I needed to watch last night — Gotham and  Sleepy Hollow — ran from 8 to 10pm, and my daughter wouldn't go to bed until 9, and then kept coming downstairs asking for a bagel/apple/banana/water/hot chocolate/milk/wrath of her mother until 9:45. But I soldiered on and watched them! And watching these shows back to back was a little unsettling, since Gotham is set in the dark, seedy underbelly of Gotham City, where otherworldly villains plot to run the town while ruining the lives of its residents and they kill Bruce Wayne's parents, leading the future Commissioner Gordon to declare war on all of them... and Sleepy Hollow is set in the dark, seedy underbelly of Sleepy Hollow, where otherworldly villains try to break through a barrier from purgatory into our world to destroy the world and everyone in it, and Ichabod Crane and Abigail Mills declare war on all of them. The first time the "leff-tenant" said, "This is war," I thought, wait, didn't someone already say that? Oh right, that was over on Gotham.

Bottom line: I thought Gotham was great, but Sleepy Hollow was excellent.

You've probably already read what Gotham is about: it's basically the Batman version of Smallville, where we're going to see Catwoman and Penguin and the Riddler and Bruce Wayne before they become villains/dark heroes, and the final episode of the series will no doubt see Batman suit up for the first time (if Fox lets the show get that far). There's nothing subtle about the show — Penguin's mentor-turned-enemy is named Fish (played by Jada Pinkett-Smith, who I really liked in the role), so we know that will end badly; little Ivy's dad is the most poisonous father you could imagine; the Riddler is named E. Nigma (no, really) and works at the police station — but that's okay, because this stuff was never meant to be subtle. The acting is quite good, and where the cops are usually the dull side of comics, I thought the casting of Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue as the good cop/bad cop detectives is a stroke of genius, because I was as interested in them as all of the creepy characters running around. The most fun to watch is Robin Lord Taylor (also the best name of any of the actors), who plays the Penguin. When Fish Mooney figures out he betrayed her, she beats his legs, and in the next scene you see him doing the creepy penguin waddle that we assume will never go away. (The little prosthetic they put on the actor's nose to make it oh-so-subtly pointy is well done, too.) I thought he was wonderful. As is the boy who plays Bruce Wayne himself. Casting kids is a dicey business. As we saw on Lost, they grow up quickly, so you have to be careful that the storyline moves along at the same pace as the child's aging. But there's also the worry that the kid won't be effective. Henry on Once Upon a Time was cute in the beginning, and just became stilted and whiny a season or two later. But this kid seems mature, as if he's playing younger than he is (which is good) and has that glowering look of hatred in his eyes that runs so deep, you just know he'll eventually be donning black spandex and beating the crap out of bad guys in a low, growly voice.

Over on Sleepy Hollow, we open with what this series does best: show what a fish out of water Ichabod Crane still is in our 21st century. We think he's still in the pine box, calling out for the lieutenant out of fear for himself and her, but in fact he's in a dark room because she's about to surprise him with a birthday cupcake. And poof, we're one year after the incident, and I guess the escape was going to be too boring and since we KNOW they're going to make it, maybe this is a clever way to do it? (The writers want you to be confused at this point, and it works.) The scene is glorious, from the fact that Abbie went with a red white and blue motif on the cupcake (ha!) to his astonishment and bafflement at our weird traditions. "Why does your era celebrate terror with dessert?" he asks after she has left him in a dark and stormy room and then suddenly flipped on a light switch and yelled surprise at him. When she explains the tradition, he says in his stilted "I'm trying to be cool" way, "I shall consider myself punk'd." LOL!

Ichabod: So what, you just stare at it?
Abbie: You blow it out, you make a wish.
Ichabod: A wish.
Abbie: Another... modern tradition.
Ichabod: And here I thought science had won over superstition in modern America. Fine. I wish...
Abbie: Not out loud...
Ichabod: Is there no end to this birthday madness?!

Oh Ichabod. How I have MISSED you!!

For the first 15 minutes, they continue to play out this present-day/we've already been saved scenario: if we assume this show is in the present, and several months have passed in our time, those same months have passed in theirs as well.  They presumably got out of the coffin/purgatory back in January/February at some point and have been having adventures, and we're joining them in September, where they will inevitably flash back to show us what happened in the past. Throughout this first 15 minutes I enjoyed the action immensely, as they broke into an office and battled the Headless Horseman, etc., but I kept wondering how exactly they got out of their fixes. They go to see the Sin Eater Henry (Ichabod Junior) and he makes a comment about how even though he's using artificial sunlight on his plants, they don't seem to know the difference and will believe what they're told. And I thought, "Hold on... wait a..." and immediately after, we discover this was all an elaborate trick, they're still in purgatory/coffin, and they've been punk'd for reals. Amazing.

Of course, there's a key and they get out of the coffin and purgatory and manage to keep Moloch in but he's raising an army of evil dead and Jenny's still alive and Headless Horseman Abraham has Katrina and he's being skeezy with her and Henry apologizes to Moloch but Moloch has other plans and introduces Headless Horseman #2 — WAR — and Henry gets to control him like one of the guys controlling the robots in Real Steel (now I just want to see two Headless Horsemen playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em) and Abbie declares war on everything.

So, the usual awesomeness.

But there are so many other highlights throughout, usually by the brilliant Tom Mison, who plays Ichabod with such arrogant charm and yet complete bafflement that I can't imagine anyone else pulling off this role.


  • Benjamin Franklin is played by Timothy Busfield, who is always amazing in any role. The first time we see him, he's entirely in the nude, and Ichabod shows his disgust with an exaggerated eye roll, making the scene even more hilarious. We see instantly why Ichabod didn't like him, but as Abbie points out, they're pretty much equal when it comes to arrogance. 
  • How many more times he seems to have said "Leff-tenant," especially now that it's been established as the key part of a viewing drinking game (and that that would be her one way of figuring out the fake Ichabod was indeed a fake!) 
  • Ichabod's surprise that Harvard (a university that was established before the American Revolution, as were most of the Ivy League schools) still exists.
  • Aside from the cupcake moment, my favourite scene is Ichabod, about to blow up the coffin and possibly killing himself in the process, deciding to use this newfangled technology in his pocket and leave one last message for his dear friend Abbie on his camera phone: "If I die, Lieutenant, I want you to know that I never stopped fighting... [phone suddenly says MEMORY FULL] ... AND none of that recorded." HAHAHAHA! 
Sleepy Hollow had an excellent return, and Gotham a promising premiere. Here's hoping the rest of this week's premieres are as much fun! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ten Years On... How Lost Changed My Life

September 22, 2004
Ten years ago today. I was still sad that there would be no Joss Whedon show on my TV that fall for the first time since 1997. I had just become a mom, and was struggling with a month-old newborn that wasn't eating properly, never slept, and in 30 days had shown me the beautiful side of motherhood (the immense love I could feel for my own child, the pride I took in friends and family seeing her for the first time and the looks of awe on their faces) as well as the dark side of motherhood (the judgement I got from non-parents and parents for choosing to breastfeed, the physical pain following the childbirth, the lack of understanding of what I was going through from friends and family, the sleepless nights).

Light and dark. Two sides of that same extraordinary thing we call life.

While pregnant I had written two books, and one of them was about to come back from the printer that week (the book on Alias) and the Angel book would appear a couple of weeks after that.

And there was some new show premiering that night about a group of people on a mysterious island, and critics were saying the opening scenes were some of the most extraordinary moments they'd seen in a pilot. So I was excited, to say the least. Exhausted, and faced with the very real possibility of not actually staying awake through the episode, but excited.

And then it aired. And it truly was one of the most — if not the most — extraordinary pilots I'd ever seen.

The scenery was spectacular. The acting was brilliant. The writing was fast-paced and deep. And I stayed awake for it, with my baby in my arms, riveted. I couldn't wait for the following week's episode.

I thought Angel and Alias would be my swan song. There was no way I'd be able to write any more books after having children, right?

September 22, 2005
I had just started talking to my publisher about a possible Lost book. Maybe Angel and Alias wouldn't be my swan song.

September 22, 2006
Eight years ago today. The third season of Lost was still a couple of weeks away, but I was holding the first volume in what was going to become a series of books on Lost, a book I'd written. My daughter was two years old, and we'd actually developed a sleeping routine where she'd be asleep by 8 and Mommy would work during the day, and after she would go to sleep, I'd write from 8 until 11 each night, and somehow managed to get a book out of it in the end. I was also about to have my first and only book launch for it, and I was excited.

I had just started blogging in July for the first time, and had just been hired by Wizard magazine to do a weekly Lost column. Plus side: I got a ton of people who read that magazine to follow me over to the blog, many of whom stayed with me until the end of Lost and afterwards. Down side: they balked when I asked for a paltry sum of money to be paid to me each week, because, like many online magazines, they just assumed they could find professional writers and pay them the sum total of NOTHING and they would be thrilled to do the work for free. (When the writer's strike happened, they used the opportunity to replace me with an intern, who wrote a lousy column for about three weeks before they quietly cancelled it.)

September 22, 2007
Seven years ago today. I was giving birth to my son. My doula and husband were both Lost fans, and by all doctor's accounts, I was going to give birth to that boy on the anniversary of the plane crash. But the boy had other ideas, and he decided to wedge himself into a strange position and not come out. Instead, I'd be in final active labour for many hours before the nurse from 2pm finally got the 11pm nurse to wheel in an ultrasound machine, where they discovered that he was wedged in my pelvis and had the cord wrapped around his neck. Panic. As they prepped for surgery, a doctor rushed in and manually turned the baby just before midnight (they had already frozen me in anticipation for a C-section, so I didn't feel what would normally have been an extremely painful procedure). As my doula and I watched the clock tick past midnight, she turned to me and cheerfully said, "Oh well, he'll be born on the 23rd. That's still one of Hurley's numbers, right?!" Despite the worry and pain, I remember laughing and laughing. He was born shortly afterwards, with the cord wrapped twice around his neck... and his little hand under it, pulling the cord away from his neck and up onto his chin, holding tightly to prevent himself from being suffocated. Even when he was a few seconds old, I knew I had the smartest baby in that hospital.

September 22, 2008
I had just experienced my first Slayage conference in June and was suddenly opened to the vast world of pop culture academia, and began incorporating some of that broader thinking onto my blog and into my writing. My son was one day away from his first birthday, the blog had exploded into a flurry of activity, and because I didn't write the season 4 book during my maternity leave, I had to get started on it now, and write the season 5 book at the same time when the show would start up again in January. I thought there was no way I could write one book with one child, and now I had to write two books with two children.

September 22, 2009
By this point Lost's season premieres had switched to January, so Septembers no longer had that special meaning for the show. But this time, in anticipation of the final season, I was in the midst of a Lost rewatch on the blog. Two days earlier Michael Emerson had finally won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his work as Ben Linus on Lost (so deserved) and the day after this, I held my Finding Lost Season 5 book in my hand for the first time. There was a lot of sadness and excitement and anticipation surrounding a premiere that was still four months away, but what had started out five years earlier as a show about a plane crash on a mysterious island had become much, MUCH bigger than that.

September 22, 2010
It was over. It had finished almost exactly four months earlier, and I and many others thought the ending was a spectacular finish. While others thought it was the worst ending of all time. And still others were stuck in the middle, not quite sure what they thought of it. We had laughed, we had cried, we had argued, we had colluded... we had expounded theories and written haikus, and some of my favourite moments in my life were some of the discussions that had popped up on this blog.

But it was over. There was still a flurry of activity on the blog, because my final book was about to come out and I was holding a contest where people photoshopped Lost photos with characters holding my books. It wasn't the 500-comments-per-Lost-post I'd experienced in the final season of the show, but slowing down that activity was a bit of a welcome thing. Leading up to the series finale, I had been quoted in so many newspapers, done so much television, and had been interviewed on so many radio shows my head was spinning. I actually took a week of vacation time just to handle the media for the week leading up to the May 23rd ender. It was a whirlwind, and exhausting, but fun.

But in September, I'd just had the worst summer of my life, with far too many upsets and things happening to me personally all at the same time like a giant pile of suck, but I wasn't about to share them on the blog and bring down the room. I was going through a personal low point, and it was feeling harder and harder to smile every day, and I just wanted that feeling to go away. And without having Lost around and the lively discussions that followed, I almost felt lost myself.

But what I was going through was small potatoes to what the creators of the show were going through, being called every name in the book and then some. I'd seen fan vitriol, but nothing like this. And what was so sad about it is that Damon Lindelof eventually threw in the social media towel, and no longer gives any interviews involving Lost, and that's all because, like all of us sensitive artist types, he was so focused on the hatred and cruelty of fans that he couldn't actually appreciate all of the positivity sent his way.

Damon, your show changed my life. And I LOVED that ending. It was an extremely personal ending to the show, which meant it was only going to resonate with a certain population of the Lost crowd. And it resonated with me.

September 22, 2011
I had just undergone a painful and stressful heart procedure, and was just beginning to walk again (of all the arteries they can use to send the electrical wires into your body, they choose the ones in your groin. Why thank you, you sadistic heart prodecure pricks). And in less than two weeks, I was heading to New Orleans to give the keynote address at a small Lost academic conference. The show had been over for almost a year and a half, but people still wanted to talk about it. Especially that ending. And I went to New Orleans, and it was glorious and wonderful (and I want to go baaack!), and I managed to trick everyone there into thinking I was walking without pain, and I met the lovely and amazing Jo Garfein and we went to dinner and yammered about Lost the entire time (duh). And Chris "humanebean" Doran was there with his partner and it was so lovely to see them (for the second time that year, I might add!). There were a ton of Lost folks I hadn't previously met, and there we were in the city of music, talking about a show that had changed all of us. We were all ready to go on, and yet we'd all been deeply changed by this show. I no longer blogged the way I used to, and oddly, I don't think I actually blogged about the Lost conference at all. There'd been a time when I would have blogged three times a day on it, detailing every second of it. But I no longer had that drive to do that. I just wanted to enjoy the moment, and not document it.

September 22, 2012
My husband and I had made the decision earlier that year to move away from Toronto, and we still had a few boxes to unpack at this point but my kids were ensconced in a new school and enjoying it, my son was about to celebrate his birthday in our new house, and I sat on this day and looked out my office window and was happy. Really, really happy. I hadn't written a book in two years, because after writing five books in five years, I needed a break. This was the point where people started asking me what was next, and I happily said, "At this point, nothing." And I was OK with that. In an increasingly turbulent and stressful world, we'd found peace.

September 22, 2013
I opened my eyes early in the morning, threw on my bathing suit and headed out at 5 in the morning to the beach, where I sat and watched the sun come up over the water. I was in Hawaii on the ninth anniversary of a show I'd written about for five years, and my husband was already out golfing (surprise) and there was no one else on this small beach. Just me and my thoughts, watching that sun come up on what was going to be another gorgeous day. I had gone on the Lost KOS Tour just a few days earlier, and had been drilled by the guy on Lost trivia, and there was only one thing I got wrong which really niggled at me, until I found out that they'd come up with the question from reading MY book (ack!). I imagined what it must have been like to have lived in this place for six years, as many of the cast of the show did. How difficult it must have been to leave. How the luckier ones like Daniel Dae Kim found a way to stay. And how this beautiful island provided a setting for a show that changed what we expect from television. Even the dumbest programs on TV now seem to have something smart about them; no longer are executives going for the lowest common denominator when they're trying to figure out their fall schedules. Lost upped the ante of what we should come to expect from a network show. And it all started with a plane crash on a beach only a few miles from where I was sitting at that exact moment. Earlier this year, I had lost someone very close to me, and the last trip he took before he died was to this very place. I thought of him, and I thought of the show, and I knew there was going to be a huge celebration for the show's 10th anniversary the following year. Since I was in Hawaii in 2013, it was doubtful I was going to make it back for 2014. But that was OK. I watched the sun continuing its climb into the sky, and the early-morning swimmers coming out to the beach.

September 22, 2014
It's unseasonably cool here at home. I'm sitting in my office after having seen so many beautiful pictures from friends who are in Hawaii right now at the Lost 10th anniversary celebration. I'm thrilled that so many people had to go baaack to celebrate this wonderful show. And while it feels like Lost had its premiere date on September 22, 2004, and then I blinked, and now I'm sitting right here, I realize what a long journey it's been to get here. Ten years ago today I thought I'd retired from writing after my fifth book, I didn't have a clue what awaited me as a mother, and I thought no other TV creator was going to move me the way Joss Whedon did. In that 10 years, television has changed entirely for me. Aside from the shows I wrote about, I actually watched very little other television. Now I'm pumped for several premieres this week, and can't wait to see which ones stick. My daughter has reached double digits, and my son will be seven tomorrow. The two cats who curled up on either side of the chair when I watched the Lost premiere are both gone, but now we have two kittens, who are curled up in a box that's far too small for them, right near my desk. The job I'd had for seven years when the show premiered was the one I thought I'd die in, but I'm no longer at that office. I have dozens of people in my life now I didn't even know back then. A lot can happen in a decade, and Lost has been beside me the entire way. To everyone I've met because of Lost, thank you for being a part of my life. I have met people I never would have met because of Lost. I've read books I never would have read because of Lost. I've watched movies and other television shows I had no interest in before Lost. I'm a different person now, and a lot of that is due to a show about a bunch of people on a mysterious island, and the people on this mysterious ball of a planet that I met as a result.

And thus endeth my seemingly endless ruminations on Lost. It's really time to move on and let it go, and I think I'm finally able to. Besides, I've got to go and get working on my new Sherlock book. That thing ain't gonna write itself.