Saturday, October 13, 2012

Five requests for season three of The Walking Dead

By: Dylan Harper


1) Will someone please supervise Carl?

It seems like every episode features at least on person asking, "where's Carl?" Lori already isn't exactly a shining beacon of good parenting, but how hard could it possibly be to keep one eye on your son during the zombie apocalypse? And where is Rick? I get that Rick has to leave camp at least three times an episode, but maybe he could sit down with his son and explain to him that there are undead monsters trying to kill everyone and that a child has a slightly worse chance of surviving away from camp than his police officer father. Next season, maybe one of Carl's parents will do us all a favor and place some adult supervision over their young son. Or at least get him a leash or a cowbell or something. (For more fun with Carl's lack of supervision, visit this tumblr.)

2) Speaking of Carl, kill him (or Lori).

It's very difficult to tell an unpredictable zombie story. So far, The Walking Dead has done a fantastic job of keeping fans on their toes, but one aspect of the show has (at least up until this point) been set in stone: the Grimes family is invincible. Though the Walking Dead writers have boldly proclaimed that "no character is safe," I don't think any of the fans have honestly felt that Rick, Lori or Carl have come close to being killed so far. Obviously, Rick is probably going to be safe throughout the series and I concede that having someone in his family alive for him to protect gives his character more dimension, but having three whole characters that the audience can assume to be safe robs the show of some suspense. Lori and Carl aren't exactly the most popular characters (and the writers were willing to kill off Shane, a beloved character to many Walking Dead fans), so I think it's time to make the Grimes family a little smaller.

3) Vary the length of time spent in one location.

After watching the season two finale, one of my friends determined that he could predict the rest of the series: "they go to a location, stay there for a season, the location goes up in flames, they leave." Let's make sure this is not the case. I'm not asking for them to stay in the same place forever; that would certainly be less entertaining than the struggle of having to find a new home from time to time. But, make them move mid-season a few times. Or better yet, keep them in the same spot for a season and a half. Make the move to a new location a big reveal. The way the writers create the safe places (the camp, the farm, the CDC), they almost become characters themselves, so they should really "kill one off" at random like they occasionally do with characters.

4) Throw in some one-line fixes (whatever device).

A one-line fix is a term that describes a piece of dialogue that fixes some problem. For example, in an action movie, if you had your character shooting a gun underwater, you could have one say something like, "thank god we invented underwater guns," or something less god-awful, to "fix" the problem. This could solve some of the mystery of the magically charged mp3 player, or siphoning gas from cars when pretty much every car made after the 80s has a siphon-blocker.

5) Please don't screw up Michonne!

A fan favorite from the comic book (and one of the top 100 comic book characters of all time according to IGN), Michonne made an amazing entrance in the season two finale. Her character in the comic is basically a cross between Shane, Daryl and Maggie. She's tough, she's a survivor and she still has the emotional capacity to want a relationship. If done correctly, she will be a favorite of fans in both the comic and the TV show. Everyone was excited to finally see her make an appearance and all the we ask the Walking Dead writers is, please don't screw her up!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Complicated Relationship With Girls

by Kait Valdez

I speak of course of the HBO comedy Girls not of, like, girls in general (although there is a truth to that connotation as well, but that's a different topic for a different time). Anyway, if you're a frequent user of the Internet, or have taken part in any pop culture related discussion in the past three and a half month, you've probably heard mention of the show. Although, perhaps not lately seeing as the first season ended about a month ago. But, as I said, we have a complicated relationship and it has taken me a while to compile my thoughts on the topic, so here goes nothing.

The creation of Lena Dunham, a twenty-six-year-old writer/director who first earned major indie cred with her depressingly relatable film Tiny Furniture (available on Netflix instant for those interested), Girls presents a similar dark humor and easily strikes a chord with the post-grad, twenty-something, "what the fuck am I doing with my life" crowd. For this reason, I am simultaneously drawn to and made horribly uncomfortable by the show's blunt realism. And although I did watch Girls religiously while it was on the air, I just can't shake a certain aversion I have to the show as a whole. An aversion that I believe stems directly from my lack of sympathy for the four main characters.

Now, not only is Lena Dunham the show's creator, she has also taken on the task of portraying the show's lead character, Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer, two years out of college, who is "cut-off" by her parents in the show's opening scene. Due to her generation Y characteristic entitlement, Hannah's forced independence results in a season-long self-destructive adult tantrum of sorts, wherein Hannah consistently sabotages her chances at both steady employment and any kind of healthy relationship. Though Hannah's behavior is frustrating, her own egotistical, entitled mindset is, perhaps, somewhat less irritating than that of her roommate Marnie (played by Allison Williams, daughter of NBC Nightly New's Brian Williams), whose constant hot and cold feelings toward her unbelievably loving and devoted boyfriend, Charlie, drain what little charm and sympathy Marnie ever possessed from the character by the end of the season. Rounding out the Girls are the resident "comedic relief" charactersShoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet), the hyper, naive, desperate virgin and her cousin Jessa (played by Jemima Kirke), the sexy, British traveler of the world who exudes an "I do what I want and don't apologize for anything" mentality. Together, these two provide some of the best moments of the show and keep things from delving too far into the depths of self-pitty created by Hannah and Marnie. But, that being said, Jessa and Shoshanna still exude a similar privilege, egotism and entitlement that seems to characterize the show as a whole, which 1) starts to wear thin after a while, and 2) becomes a problem when you decide to call your show "Girls". I mean come on, if you choose a title that suggests you're portraying an entire demographic, you probably shouldn't be surprised when your criticized for your narrow scope. But, all politics aside, let's continue to focus on the show itself.

Even though it might seem that I have nothing but harsh criticism for Girls and the way it portrays women of my generation, that's not really the case. I told you we have a complicated relationship. Of course I realize it's meant to be a satire and in many respects I think it really does provide a fitting and sadly accurate portrayal of post-grad life with wonderfully honest, dark humor. I also realize that the characters aren't meant to be sympathetic and I actually think they're very well written in terms of depth and consistency. But, that being said, by the end of the season it seemed that Hannah and Marnie had become so unsympathetic that I no longer cared what happened to them. To be completely honest, by the end of the season I was so over their bullshit I was actually rooting against them, which is never what something I want in a lead character. Now, I realize there are many, many people who will disagree on that. In fact, I have a lot of friends who adore the show and the characters. I've been told on several occasions that Hannah perhaps the most realistic character on television, which might be true (though I would argue that Louie does realism far better), Hannah could definitely be a real person. Unfortunately, she is not someone I would ever want to know, which doesn't really motivate me to watch a show about her. I'm not saying characters have to be likable or sympathetic, but at the very least, I want to want them to prevail. Once I stops caring about what happens to the characters, you've lost the me. I'd have to say, I think the show peaked at episode seven "Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a The Crackcident." Up to that point I was fully on board, I was still entertained and I kind of looked forward to it every week. Then episode seven came along and it was hilarious. There were great new characters, great dialogue and wonderful twists, everything I had come to expect from the show right down to the intriguing episode title. Seriously, that is a genius title and if you've seen the episode you know it's true. But then came episode eight, then nine and ten and things just got progressively less enjoyable until the last shot of the season left Hannah sitting on a beach and me thinking, "I don't think I'll be back for season two." As much as I love Lena Dunham's dialogue and the golden, hilarious, sometimes wonderfully shocking moments she creates, the truth is, when I have to wait a good seven months to find out what will happen with your characters, please don't leave me in a place where they forget why I ever cared.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A guest article by Dylan Harper

Because this blog is designed to be a safe place for TV fans to indulge in further exploration of this often underrated medium, I have asked a few of my fellow TV junkies to write me some stuff about any television topic that struck their fancy. The first to provide me with content (even before I had any content of my own, actually) was Watchin' Stuff ally and KSFS Radio big wig, Dylan Harper. So, for you reading pleasure, here is Mr. Harper's FrasierIt's Always Sunny In Philadelphia comparison.

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia: The new smartest show on television

by Dylan Harper

Upon first glance, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia may seem like an odd heir to a thrown last held by Frasier; in many ways, the two shows are complete opposites of one another. There are some comparisons to be made however, the most prominent being the great writing that carries both shows.

Frasier toured a world of learned individuals who were obsessed with living a high-class lifestyle, and determined to justify that lifestyle with vain attempts at helping those around them around them cursed with normality. The master of sensational repartee, the joke delivery on Frasier is so fast and fluid that some episodes barely leave the viewer time to take a breath. Frasier is the fastball pitcher of high-class wit. In contrast, Always Sunny delivers low-class change-ups. The plot is set up even before the opening credits. While on the surface this seems to be a separation device meant to highlight the differences between Always Sunny and your average sitcom it's actually a necessity. The jokes on Always Sunny are slow developing. The viewer is given time to settle in and often starts laughing without even realizing when the punch line occurred.

But don't be fooled by the Caddyshack level of class disparity, these two shows are remarkably similar. The low-class material on Always Sunny isn't the result of lazy or slow-witted writing. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The long form jokes often work on several levels and relate back to a previous joke or plot point. There are almost no throw away jokes. Always Sunny is certainly working on the same intellectual level as Fraiser. There are more similarities in the style though; Frasier is about high-class people doing good and Always Sunny is about low-class people doing bad, but both are an exercise in escapism.

A theme of 21st century sitcoms is to provide characters to whom the viewer can relate. For example, one of ABC's newest shows, Last Man Standing (*Kait's feeling on this show: "In the words of Jon Stewart, 'stop hurting America' Last Man Standing!"), tells the story of a man "whose world is dominated by women." Here, ABC is making a shameless attempt to connect to men from the Baby Boomer generation who still want to be thought of as manly. Both Frasier and Always Sunny do the opposite.

The characters in both shows are meant to be laughed at, not with. The viewer has no interest in sympathizing with anyone, except maybe the unfortunate souls who inhabit the story world of the main cast. With Frasier, humor stemmed from the fact that he never broke discipline. From Boston to San Francisco, he remained the naive, pompous socialite, who views himself as at least a minor celebrity, allowing the audience to find amusement in his self-importance. With The Gang on Always Sunny, humor is derived from the fact that all of the characters remain only self-interested as they continue to cower at the prospect of ever leaving Philly.

The plots of both shows themselves share little in common, except essence. Undeniably, the location of each show plays an important role. Where Niles Crane embodies everything that is Seattle, Mac and Charlie are the definition of South Philly. Additionally, when the writers of either show wanted to make a point, neither did it too directly. Both shows crafted symbolism into their episodes that is easy enough to read into, but never feels forced or preachy. The careers of the characters also contribute heavily in both shows. KACL Radio is the center of many a storyline, as is Paddy's Pub, but neither abuse the job sites to the point that they would dominate the show.  Both shows are so character driven that you could move The Gang to Seattle to do a radio show (maybe someone heard Dennis and Dee's air check?) and you could bring Frasier back to a bar (for those who don't know, Frasier Crane got his start on Cheers), but this time in Philly, and the shows wouldn't lose a single laugh.

Unfortunately, Frasier gave up his radio show in 2004 but The Gang was right there to pick up the "smartest show" torch shortly after in 2005 and has been carrying it ever since. Sure, the shows have their differences, but the success of both are long standing examples that there will always be a place on TV for great writing.

Thank you for your two-cents Dylan, it's greatly appreciated. And for those who have yet to see it, Frasier is available on Netflix instant.  Unfortunately, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is not but here are some clips from both shows.

The best of Frasier Season 1

One of my favorite It's Always Sunny clips from Season 3 Episode 9, Sweet Dee's Dating A Retarded Person.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Workaholics: The voice of a generation

by Kait Valdez

From an addiction standpoint, I guess you could say my roommates and I have an unhealthy relationship. We feed each other's compulsion to consume as much programming as possible, bringing different shows to the table and watching an entire series sometimes two or three times through just to make sure everyone has seen it. Admittedly, most of the time I'm the instigator; the asshole who insists that everyone "watch this amazing show I just found." And for the record, I stand by every recommendation I've made. But, every once in a while, it's one of my roommates who comes to us with a show of their own. Although it happens infrequently, this was the case with the half-hour Comedy Central show, Workaholics (a "watch it on netflix" suggestion of the week made by Talor Jacobs on last Friday's show). Now, to be completely honest, it was my 18-year-old brother who originally told me about the show, but I pretty much ignored the recommendation because, come on, it was my little brother. Anyway, the point is, my roommates and I ended up watching both seasons and despite the fact that I wouldn't call it a "good" show, I think it deserves a certain amount of exploration.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Workaholics is a show about three infantile twentysomethings, Adam, Blake and Anders (or Ders for short), who split their time between substance abuse and their jobs as the worst telemarketers known to man. Although the plot might seem mind-numbingly simplistic, it's the characters that make the show worthwhile. Like making new friends, it takes a couple episodes to get into the feel of the show, but once you're in with the gang, both their antics and their conversations become undeniably entertaining. As anyone who knows me well could tell you, I'm big on quotablity (in fact it was my "#1 reason to watch" Portlandia week). If I like a show or a movie, I will find a way to quote it in everyday conversation, even if I'm the only one who gets the reference, it's a compulsion. And, much to my enjoyment, Workaholics is most definitely quotable. So much so, in fact, that it's not uncommon in my house to hear the term 'tight butthole' bandied about. It's the kind of show that starts off funny but gets funnier when you talk about it later. However, this is only the case, I would argue, for a very narrow demographic.

For those of you who didn't understand that whole 'tight butthole' thing, check out the clip. Sorry for the poor quality. 

Created by its stars, Adam DeVine, Blake Anderson and Anders Holm, the show is basically the latest in the progression of YouTube "broadcast yourself" culture. A culture comprised of my peers. Those who grew up in a world of instant gratification and constant technological advancement. The Workaholics boys and I are of the same generation, a fact that became glaringly obvious in an episode from the first season where Blake professes his adoration for Double Dare host Mark Summers. Prompting all 90s kids to simultaneously experience a warm synergistic feeling of unity and nostalgia, for we too remember both the host and the show. But I digress, my point was we're of the same generation, meaning we all grew up with the ability to fairly easily gain access to a camera and create any inane content we so chose. Some of us stuck to the classic format of script writing then shooting. Other, braver (or perhaps just lazier) amateur filmmakers went for the basic plot structure + adlib approach. While the boldest among us decided they were hilarious enough completely unscripted, dropped the sides and the guidelines, and just shot their everyday life. This self-indulgent content gained relevance with the upsurge of YouTube usage in the mid-2000s and as an inevitable progression, it made its way to our television screens in the form of shows like Workaholics

Now, as a writing student, I've heard the saying "write what you know" more times than I can count, but I've also been told that you should never write about your friends, because you inevitably think they are far more amusing than anyone else ever will. Well, it seems as though the Workaholics boys were never given this bit of information (either that or they completely disregarded it) because as far as I can tell, they're all playing themselves (and with far more success than my professors suggested was possible). A fact that is so thinly veiled that the stars Anders Holm, Adam DeVine and Blake Anderson play characters named Anders Holmvik, Adam DeMamp and Blake Henderson. Although this doesn't definitively state that the actors are in fact playing themselves, I received further evidence of this theory's validity a couple of weeks ago. My roommates and I were watching an episode from the second season where Blake jumps off of the roof. Not fifteen minutes later, I read an article online that said Blake Anderson had recently broken his back by jumping off a roof. I became caught in a paradox of life, imitating art, imitating life, imitating art... Where does the character start and the man end or vice versa? Is Workaholics technically a reality show? Is writing even a viable profession anymore or is all programming going to become a voluntary Truman Show of sorts? These are the questions that haunted my dreams for weeks afterward. 

All right, so that's an exaggeration, but it did make me think. Now, I'm not saying that Workaholics is any less entertaining for the fact that it's a self-indulgent offshoot of YouTube culture, or that it lacks merit because the actors play exaggerated versions of themselves (in fact that's exactly how some of my favorite shows...ahem, Portlandia... operate), but what I'm saying is that, for this reason, it is perhaps the quintessential representation of us as a generation thus far. For better or worse, we are self-indulgent and we enjoy the loud, fast and ridiculous (three words that effectively describe Workaholics). So, this show speaks to us in a voice we can relate to. We know these guys, hell, some of us are these guys. And it is most likely due in no small part to the fact that the actors are so true to themselves. It may not be the best-written show on television, or have the most clever or high-concept of plots, but if you are between the ages of say, fifteen and twenty-nine in the year 2012, this show is for you. It's yours, so take from it what you will. That being said, if you're over thirty, there is a strong likelihood that Workaholics will not register. It takes a certain mindset and a good amount of youth and immaturity to appreciate the antics of Anders, Adam and Blake. Youth and immaturity I'm proud to say I still possess because, to me, growing up seems pretty loose butthole. 

Testimonial of a television nerd

Welcome, oh weary Internet traveler, to a page reserved for the brave few who are willing to see the value in the art we call television. "Art?" you may exclaim in outrage, but, alas, I did not mistype. For this is a site devoted to the, perhaps futile, undertaking of promoting television as more than just a passive form of entertainment. A place for the rational examination of the fine (and sometimes not so fine) programming our television, Netflix queue or Hulu account has to offer. So, if ye be brave enough to open your eyes and mind to the possibility of intelligent discourse related to television, you are my welcomed guest.

Kait Valdez