Are You Not Entertained?! (No, not really.)

So a few months ago I received a couple of emails from someone asking me to do a series of articles about the differences between foreign language films and their english language remakes. Sounds like a great idea, honestly! The problem is that I haven’t SEEN any and haven’t had a chance to. This sort of sums up my recent problems with entertainment in general lately. I don’t have TIME to be entertained these days. Entertainment is something you take in during your free time. I’m not sure I remember what that is.

That’s not to say I’m not watching some television. I stop whatever I’m doing when Steven Universe comes on. Until recently I was an avid viewer of Rick and Morty, but I haven’t had the chance to sit down with my friends to watch in a long while now. I actually got to see three episodes of The Flash the other night instead of sleeping. Loved it! Probably won’t get to see it again for another six months.

Honestly, unless I can take it in while working on a comic, I don’t get to do a lot of media. Night Vale is a favorite, audio books are great, and Far Land or Bust! is perfect because who wants to watch the world shake while Kurt walks? I’ve tried doing real TV shows before. Stargate: SG-1 was a great radio show for me. Babylon 5 as well. The problem is there’s not much compelling on TV for me any more.

So yeah. Maybe I can get back to doing some reviews, but for the time being I’m working and comicing.

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It’s been no secret to readers of this blog that I’m a Whovian. I’ve been watching the new series religiously since it debuted back in 2005. I was downloading it before there was an official stateside release. Hell, I STILL downloaded it for a long while so I wouldn’t have to get commercials and have scenes cut out. AND I stuck with it for the long haul. I stayed after Eccleston left. I stuck around to see Steve Moffat take over and I’ve made it to Peter Capaldi.

I think this season may be the one where I stop watching for a while.

Let me explain why, because it’s not Capaldi by any means. It’s not Clara or Moffat’s writing.

It’s me. Really.

You see, I’m a fan of the show and I’ve started to feel a bit, well, trapped by it. I end up being clumped in with the general fandom online. That means seeing the arguments about Moffat as a writer and the young girls saying that and old man could NEVER be the Doctor (despite 50 years of history explaining why that’s wrong) and the general stupidity of people as they argue about a magic alien who has a flying blue box.

There’s also the problem of feeling like I HAVE to watch the show and that’s where I am right now. I feel like I’m obligated to watch it because a new on has aired. Frankly, I want my time back. I want to be able to go where I want and do what I want and no silly Doctor is going to tell me I can’t. Ok, yeah, it sounds like I’m rebelling against a parent and in a way I am. I’m running out at night instead of sitting around with family.

So yeah. I’m going to sit the rest of this season out and maybe go back and watch it some other time.

But I might not!

Doctor Who 08-01: “Deep Breath”

POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILERS BELOW. YE BE WARNED.

Hello! Welcome to Doctor Who, where the plot’s made up and the continuity doesn’t matter.

Seriously though, last night Peter Capaldi made his debut as the renegade Time Lord and won me over. Not at first, really, but eventually. One of the things about a regeneration these days is how traits from the previous Doctor will hang on for a bit until the new Regeneration settles in. This really didn’t do Capaldi’s Doctor any favors though. Let’s face it. You can’t out Matt Smith Matt Smith. He doesn’t have the same feel and it felt odd at the beginning. Sometimes the memory troubles and craziness is charming. With Capaldi it was strained and pained. I don’t think it was until he was on his own and away from friends that we finally started to see who this new Doctor is. He’s grumpy, he’s cruel, he’s alien, and he still sees himself as the self appointed defender of humanity. There’s a definite feel that Tom Baker’s and Jon Pertwee’s Doctors have come back to the surface with this Regeneration and it’s actually quite a welcome change to the charming and loveable folk we’ve had lately.

Another change is the speed. Moffat has said on multiple occasions that the stories were speeding up and I agree. The last several seasons something would show up and before we even got a good look at it we were running away and into something else and the first monster was forgotten in witty banter. This episode slows things back down. Atmosphere has returned. The stakes felt more real and the danger far more present. An entire sequence involving Clara having to hold her breath was genuinely tense. This freed up room for actual character moments (which I’ll get to in a minute) and forged a deeper connection between them and us. Also, there was ambiguity. The Doctor’s final solution to the story is left in question. Did he or didn’t he?

Now, let’s talk about character for a minute. People have been talking about giving the Paternoster Gang a spin off and other than Strax I had no idea why. Vastra and Jenny seemed overly generic. Especially Jenny. Prim and proper until it was time to kick some ass. Whooptie doo. Deep Breath saw them finally develop. It wasn’t the high and mighty talk with Clara that did it though. Vastra showed a much more distracted side to her personality in this outing, AND a more amorous side! Jenny, for the first time in my memory, felt like Vastra’s wife. The pretense that she is her assistant and maid wore thin and there were finally REAL relationship moments between them. Not the “my love” moments, but the “I can’t believe you just did that!” moments. It was funny, sweet, and aggravating like a real couple would be. Strax, for the very first time, got on my nerves. There’s a certain amount of stupid I’m willing to accept from Strax. Most of it has to do with gender identification. Basic anatomy should not be that difficult though. The guy knows what eyes and mouths are, damn it.

The plot. Oooooh the plot. I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the lack of one, but it’s there if you look for it. The Doctor’s first outing in a new body usually isn’t that taxing and normally doesn’t make sense. Sycorax, anyone? Prisoner Zero ring any bells? This one was a bit different. It tied back into a one off episode from Tennant’s day and implies that there’s more to learn about it. It’s all a matter of perspective and patience. And then there’s Missy. She turns up at the end of the episode and it’s implied that she’s been behind a few moments in Doctor Who’s recent history.

So what did I take away from the episode? I took away that Capaldi’s Doctor is one I want to get to know. I took away that this series will slow down and tell a proper story. I took away a genuine excitement for the series that I wasn’t expecting. Trust me, I went into this expecting the worst and was pleasantly surprised. I’m all ready looking forward to next week.

A Blind Spot the size of “The Simpsons”

Hi. I’m Kevin Hayman. You might remember me from such blogs as “Why Trees are the Devil” and “No! Screw YOU!”

About ten years ago I stopped watching The Simpsons. I think it was the episode where they went to Africa and a giraffe was hiding in a prairie dog hole where I realized that they’d gone way off the rails. I stopped watching the new episodes, our local stations stopped playing it in syndication, and the show faded from my mind.

This week, FXX started the Simpsons Marathon and I’ve been watching when I’m home. Several things jumped out at me. First, the early seasons were far more cartoony in motion and expression. Second, the show was as funny as I hoped it was. Third, my writing was influence so much by The Simpsons that I’m surprised Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, and Josh Weinstein haven’t shown up at my house to beat me senseless.

It really sort of boggles my mind. I watched the show for years every time it was on. I can tell you numerous shows Troy McClure starred in. I still yell “I’ve had it with you people holding me back! I’m going to Clown College!” at random (and inappropriate) times. The show isn’t just an influence. It’s in my genes somewhere. It’s a part of my lizard comedy writing brain. And yet, I never list it as an influence on me and that bothers me. I think part of the reason is the way I felt so betrayed by the show. I felt like it let me down when it went down hill. I realize the people that make the show owe me nothing, but it’s hard to watch someone you love suffer like that. So what did I do? I left. Not only did I leave, I blocked it all out on some level because it hurt to much to look back.

So now here we are all these years later and the wounds have healed. I can open the shoe box full of photos of the good times and I can laugh again. I can appreciate what me and The Simpsons had and I can proudly say that I was heavily influenced in my comedy writing by the show. Now if you’ll leave the room, I’d like to be alone with the sandwich for a minute.
*Are you gonna eat it?

Yes.

The Sci-Fi Hipster

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Somewhere along the way I’ve become a sci-fi hipster. It’s not that I don’t enjoy new sci-fi movies, it’s just that they were better before. These days all the sci-fi that comes out seems to be popcorn films. They’re designed around giant action scenes with pretty people delivering smart assed dialogue. As I said before, I enjoy that for the most part, but I miss there being more to science fiction.

When I was young and someone mentioned science fiction to me, I thought of Dune, Blade Runner, and Brazil. All of them were visually striking, deep, mind bending, and failures at the box office. It wasn’t really because they were bad films (except for Dune), but they took risks. The stories were not easy to follow. Hell, the films in general weren’t easy to follow, but at least it was something unique and different. You can STILL get lost in those movies if you don’t watch yourself. They effected people. They confused people. ¬†You were thinking about what you saw a week later and still weren’t sure you understood.

And sci-fi used to make you feel something. Star Wars resonated with people, not because of the ships and the effects. It was a story that struck down into the core of everyone. The hardships of the heros were relatable and there fore we cared. The characters were human. We felt their struggles. We went through it with them.
Star Trek 2 isn’t the best Star Trek movie because it’s an even number. It isn’t because it’s got nail biting tension in the space battles. It’s because a character people loved sacrificed himself and we saw the agony that it caused. It also helps that William Shatner delivered what may be the greatest emotional performance of his career. Even though Spock came back in the next movie, we didn’t know it at the time. The new Star Trek Into Darkness? Not so much. We knew Kirk wasn’t gonna die. You just don’t do that these days.

Then there’s the innovations we don’t get any more.
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See all that? Stuff that someone saw in Star Trek and thought “HEY! We need that!” You don’t get that much any more. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve run out of ideas for neat stuff or it’s because we’re moving so fast as a species we just don’t know what’s coming next. Maybe we’re scared to make those predictions now. Have we lost that inner creative spark that let us see the future?

Lastly, there’s a certain level of earnest campiness that’s gone out of the genre. In the old days someone would have a crazy idea for a sci-fi movie or television series and nothing would stop them from getting made. Not a lack of money, talent, or materials. Yeah they were cheap and terrible, but you could tell that someone really wanted to show you what was in their minds. Now, if it’s cheap like the SyFy Originals there are too many winks and nudges reminding you that they knew they were making crap. Sometimes you’ll dig up a gem that is sort of enjoyable and takes itself seriously. Usually not. Usually everyone involved in the film knew it was just a smirk to the audience and a cash grab for the home video/basic cable market.

In the end, I guess what I’m saying is we need the visionaries and the risk takers to come forward. We need someone that’s more than willing to put out something that’s going to be weird and possibly crap and do it anyway. Sometimes, we need the inventiveness of a low budget and a hapless audience.

I would like to thank Barry Jackson and Mike Rutherford for the long talks about this very subject and their opinions have more than shaped this.

Animation One Night Stands

Anyone who reads this blog regularly probably knows I’m a big fan of animation. I always have been. It started with Droopy and Looney Tunes and continues to this day. When I see a well done piece of animation my heart sings and I want to dance. This has lead me to some strange bedfellows along the way though. Call them animation one night stands if you will.

The first one was in high school and it was John Kricfalusi. I first really became aware of John through Might Mouse: The New Adventures back in ’87 and I knew there was something really different going behind the scenes. Even Ralph Bakshi alone couldn’t account for this. It had that classic 40’s feel. I soon came to realize it was John K. When Ren & Stimpy hit the scene, that was it. I fell in love with the show to the annoyance of everyone around me. I thought the art was amazing and the animation could be fantastic at times. Then, of course, John went to far and got himself and his company fired from the show. I was outraged. I quite watching. The thing I didn’t notice was that the show’s designs solidified. That’s the only word I know that can describe it.
Well, as the years have passed and I’ve become a better artist and more critical I’ve realize that John’s art wasn’t really as amazing as I thought. I look at his work now and realize that I can’t really tell what’s going on in there. It is, in a word, sloppy. It’s all over the place. I never realized just how much influence the other animators had over the series.

Some artists stand the text of time and stick with you as an creator and continue to surprise and inspire you. Some just kind of fall away I guess.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – A Review

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I’ll try my best to be spoiler free here, but consider this an advanced warning that I might just fail at that.

So last night saw the pilot for Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and with it the return of Agent Coulson to the land of the living. If you were expecting a good explanation of that, well, you get one. It just isn’t the truth. I think that right there is enough of a reason to keep me watching the show since Coulson is the heart of the show. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t sure a character like Coulson had enough depth to really carry a series even with a team and I think I may have been wrong there. Sure there’s the mystery of why and how he’s alive, but it’s his personality that kept me watching.

One of the problems with taking a character like Coulson and putting him center stage is that usually, the writers alter the character. They flesh them out in all the wrong ways. I’m happy to say that this is the same Phil Coulson that I fell in love with in the Marvel films. He still has a witty and warmth to him that puts you off guard and makes you forget you’re dealing with a guy that could snap your neck like a pencil before you blink. The moments where he breaks that constant calm work. This is a guy who will gladly give you a good natured ribbing until it jeopardizes the mission. That’s when the agent comes out and it’s still the same guy and it works.

The rest of the team is a grab bag. Agent May is a bit one dimensional at the moment. She’s a pilot and she’s tough and she’s all business. Knowing Whedon I’m sure we’ll see another side to this character before long. Fitz and Simmons are part of a fairly recent trend of having a genius from the UK. This time it’s two of them. One British and the other Scottish. And they go collectively as “Fitzsimmons” which is kind of cute. It’s the usual “Oh no! There’s no way we can do this in time!” drama that works until you realize they’ll ALWAYS do it in time.

Agent Ward is possibly my favorite. Not because he’s the dashing hero, but because of his semi-antagonistic relationship with Coulson. It’s very much a comedy duo vibe between these two with Coulson always coming out on top and Ward looking like an idiot. The interrogation scenes are some of the best in the whole pilot.

Skye is probably my biggest problem. In a team with two geniuses, we have the hacker in a van who happens to be cute as a button and so witty and awkward she’s completely unbelievable. She talks a mile a minute with self deprecating humor and bravado. She’s written to be such an interesting and likable character that she immediately turns me off as a character and if that continues unchanged, then we may have a problem here.

The plot isn’t very complicated in the pilot, which is fine since the focus for this is to try and get people interested in the characters. It’s just interesting enough to keep you there but so complicated as to leave you scratching your head. It’s stuffed with references to the Marvel films that might alienate people who didn’t see any of them. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing for people who have seen them either. “Hey! Remember Iron Man and the Hulk?! Yeah. They’re not in this.” I’d rather just have it in passing than sort of slammed in my face. That’s me though.

I think the show was fun, entertaining, and a good ride. Because of that and being produced by Joss Whedon, I full expect the series to last a season. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong on that since I would probably watch Coulson on vacation ordering drinks, but I’ll go ahead and start writing my hate mail to ABC for when they give it the axe just to be on the safe side.