I was inspired by a Facebook post (it’s at the bottom) to compose a cover of the song Jolene by Dolly Parton that depicts Jolene as a monster. It didn’t take long, but I enjoyed it, so I’m publishing it here.
Guillermo Del Toro takes an imaginative crack at a kids show.
Jim Lake Jr. (Anton Yelchin/Emile Hirsch) is a high-school outcast, because he’s the protagonist and that’s pretty much the only thing a teen protagonist can be since Peter Parker. One day, while biking to school with his friend Toby Domzalski (Charlie Saxton), he finds an amulet in what appears to be the remains of a shattered statue. Naturally, it turns out that it’s really a magical talisman left by Merlin (David Bradley) and the statue was actually the remains of its last wielder, the Troll Kanjigar (Tom Hiddleston/James Purefoy). Jim is gifted with the title of “Trollhunter,” the protector of all the good trolls and the slayer of evil ones. Jim is the first human to hold the title. It’s revealed that Jim’s hometown, Arcadia, is actually built on top of a portal to “Trollmarket,” a magical kingdom where Trolls live peacefully, for the most part. However, there is an evil troll named Gunmar (Clancy Brown) who, along with his son, Bular (Ron Perlman), is trying to take over the world. The only thing keeping both the troll and human worlds safe is Jim, along with Toby, his tutor Blinkous (Kelsey Grammer), his protector AAARRRGGHH (Fred Tatasciore), and Claire Nuñez (Lexi Medrano), a gifted martial artist and magically-inclined human.
This show’s strength is world-building. Almost everything about the set-up is a cliche that we’ve seen a thousand times before, but the show uses the audience’s familiarity with the set-up to quickly start expanding its mythology and its setting. The recurring characters each become well fleshed-out and distinct as the show goes on. The locations are all interesting designs that each convey a lot more than any of the characters say, something that always gets credit from me. The villainous monsters-of-the-week, too, are usually very clever concepts or at least visually stimulating, ranging from hive-minded goblins who have amusing idiosyncrasies to mummy assassins.
The main strength of the show is that it’s not really “happy” like most kids shows from my youth. The good guys are good and the bad guys are, for the most part, bad, but we do get a lot of gray areas and the entire series constantly has a bittersweet tone. Everyone has to compromise for victory and the mark of the heroic characters is knowing when and where to make those compromises so that they don’t end up destroying the things that they were trying to preserve. The characters make mistakes, sometimes grave ones, when they try to make those calls, and they keep getting more and more consequences for their actions as the series progresses. The emotional growth of the characters is also a big part of the series, with everyone changing a great deal in order to deal with all of the events they go through.
The animation style is going to be divisive, but I thought it was actually pretty spectacular for a television series. The character designs are simple enough for ease of computer animation, but are all distinct enough that you never get anyone confused. Action sequences are, for the most part, very good for this kind of series. It takes a while for them to get more creative than slash and stab, but once it gets there, we start to get fairly inventive sequences.
Overall, this isn’t the best animated series for adults out there (BoJack Horseman exists), and it starts slow, but kids will like it and it does get better over time as you become more invested in the world that you’re watching. It also serves as the first chapter of Tales of Arcadia, which looks to be a very interesting meta-series, combining Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and whatever Wizards turns out to be.
Everyone’s favorite bending unit gets involved in organized crime.
Fry (Billy West), Leela (Katey Sagal), and Bender (John DiMaggio) go to see the filming of a cooking show featuring Elzar (DiMaggio), everyone’s favorite imitation of Emeril Lagasse. During Elzar’s famous “kicking it up a notch,” Bender acts obnoxiously and leads him to accidentally blast Leela in the eye with a spice weasel, blinding her. To apologize and avoid a lawsuit, Elzar agrees to cook a fabulous meal at his restaurant for the Planet Express crew. After enjoying the dinner, however, the crew finds that the meal wasn’t free, leading them to be unable to pay the huge cost and getting arrested. Bender agrees to work for Elzar to pay off the debt.
While working at the restaurant for a few days, Bender sees the Robot Mafia patronizing the establishment. He starts to kiss up to the Donbot (Maurice LaMarche), the head of the gang, who takes a liking to Bender. Bender is made an entry-level goon and sent on a delivery run. He realizes that the cops are expecting him, so he gets child robot Tinny-Tim (Tress MacNeille) to do the delivery while he distracts the police. This impresses the Donbot and Bender is allowed into the mob under the code-name “Blotto.” He’s recruited for a heist involving the Donbot, muscle Joey Mousepad (DiMaggio), and anger-prone Francis X. “Clamps” Clampazzo (LaMarche). To avoid work, he pretends to be sick, only to find out that the heist is the delivery he just bailed on. To make matters worse, the mob plans on killing the crew.
Bender waits until the mob blindfolds Fry for him to enter the ship and uses a fake British accent to keep the crew from knowing who he is. He pretends to beat up the “sick” Bender while the mob steals the cargo. He then convinces the mafiosos to leave him behind to burn down the ship, allowing him to pretend to be the hero who rescues everyone. He then quits the gang after receiving his cut of the loot.
The robot mafia contains elements of all of the famous mob movies at the time. There’s references to Goodfellas (including “I always wanted to be a gangster”), The Godfather, Scarface, even a reference to Sammy “The Bull” Gravano (real life Gotti crime family member and frequent film character in the 90s), but all of them are subverted or twisted in the traditional Futurama style. For example, being robots, their mob hideout isn’t through a hidden door in the freezer in Fronty’s Meat Market (Not a Front since 2997), but is actually just inside of the walk-in freezer. After all, machines need cooling and robots aren’t bothered by temperature. Also, their way of warning people is to riddle them with bullets, something that is apparently only a minor inconvenience to robots (despite other episodes showing it would destroy them).
The members of the mob are introduced in this episode. We have the Donbot, who is a stereotypical mob boss, including having metal pieces resembling gold rings around all of his fingers. Despite the fact that he’s a robot and thus doesn’t need to wear clothes, he chooses to wear a brown hat and drape a brown jacket over his shoulders. Joey Mousepad is the dumb muscle, who tries to be articulate and fails spectacularly. There are a number of characters like this in mob films and the archetype is frequently parodied in this way in other media. I tend to think that it’s derived from Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) from The Godfather, who delivers an awkwardly eloquent benediction to Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) after rehearsing it multiple times. Then there’s Clamps, who is a scar-faced (and apparently was made with that disfigurement) torture-happy psychopath. He’s basically a combination of Tony Montana from Scarface and Joe Pesci’s Tommy from Goodfellas. As I said before, I think it’s great that they managed to combine so many sources to form the backbone of the robot mob. Despite only having 3 members, by making them these archetypes, it still feels like a real representation of the mob.
Elzar’s character is expanded upon in this episode, making it clear that he’s mostly a jerk. I’m not sure if this is a shot at Emeril Lagasse, but the fact that the character is a combination of Emeril and Gormaanda from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special says they probably don’t exactly like the Cajun cook. The character of Gormaanda was itself a parody of then-popular celebrity chef Julia Child and played by the amazing Harvey Corman. However, much like most of the special, the bit was confusing, ill-timed, tonally confused, and just not funny. Elzar, on the other hand, is hilarious.
This one is actually in Alien 1, one of the two secret languages of Futurama. When you see an ambulance in the show, the word “Ambulance” is written backwards on the front like it is in real-life, so that a person seeing it in the mirror would read it correctly. However, below that is a string of alien language which one would think reads “ambulance.” In fact, it reads “Meat Truck” in reverse. Basically, aliens are, again, openly admitting that they’re eating people, but getting away with it by putting it in a foreign language. If you don’t think this happens in real life, I should mention that I was told at an internet cafe in China that the internet rates in English were higher and that the Chinese version of the rates contained the line “if you’re a foreigner who can read this, you get the discount rate if you don’t tell any of the others.” Bilingual people can get away with stuff.
I enjoy this episode. It’s about average for Futurama, but that’s still pretty good.
It’s a Red Panda singing Death Metal. If you aren’t intrigued, please call a doctor.
SUMMARY (Spoiler Free)
Retsuko (Kaolip and Rarecho (Japan)/Erica Mendez and Jamison Boaz (Eng.)) is a 25-year-old red panda who works in the accounting department of a large company with her friends Fenneko, a fennec fox (Rina Inoue/Katelyn Gault) and Haida, a hyena (Shingo Kato/Ben Diskin). She is constantly beaten down by the monotony of the work, the harassment of her boss, Mr. Ton (Souta Arai/Josh Petersdorf), and the treachery of her senior accountant Tsubone (Maki Tsuruta/Debra Cardona). To cope with all of the stress in her life, Retsuko lets out her frustrations by going to karaoke and busting out Death Metal songs about her life. Most of the series is just her dealing with things like dating, meeting new friends, trying to lose weight, and trying to find a way out of her job.
First of all, Red Pandas are the greatest animal on Earth and my strongest case for my belief in a higher power, as nothing that cute can possibly have evolved naturally (Note: This is a joke, I get how natural selection works). As such, it made sense that Sanrio, the company famous for making Hello Kitty, would eventually use them as the basis for one of their characters. However, I could never have believed that they would have come up with this series, which, while the characters are mostly adorable, is about as bleak and unforgiving as… reality, I guess.
Retsuko’s public persona is unimpressive in almost every way. She makes a lot of mistakes at her job, she has social anxiety, she’s insecure, she isn’t good at dealing with her bosses or her co-workers, and that’s sort of what puts her in the situation we find her in at the beginning of the series. She’s become so unhappy that it actually starts to lead to her making bad decisions that end up getting her in even more trouble at work, but, like most people, she absolutely can’t afford to lose her job. I hope that this doesn’t resonate with any of you, dear readers, but this does seem to resemble many people I know… and am. She doesn’t really have any hope of promotion in the near future, particularly since the people being promoted aren’t necessarily the people who do the best work, but she doesn’t really have anything else she can do. Even if she looks for another job, it’s likely to be a similar position within another massive company that will have the same problems. The only people who seem to be avoiding it are people who have parents helping them up. Basically, she’s most people between the ages of 25 and 40.
Retsuko’s only respite is that she secretly goes and sings Death Metal in an amazing voice and generally takes on the appearance of a demon while she does (becoming Aggressive Retsuko, or Aggretsuko). At first, she tries desperately to hide the fact that she does this, but as the series goes on, she becomes more open about it, particularly after she befriends Washimi (Komegumi Koiwasaki/Tara Platt) and Gori (Maki Tsuruta/G.K. Bowes), two high-powered women within the office. By the end of the series, she’s sung in front of almost everyone, although several people think they were just drunk and hallucinating Retsuko busting out super-loud metal. There are usually 1-2 songs per episode and they’re all pretty amazing, particularly the ones where Retsuko is complaining about her boss.
I do have to give them credit for how they made the animals representative (for the most part) of the characters. For example, Mr. Ton is a pig (because he’s a chauvinist), Fenneko is a fennec because she overhears everything like a fennec fox, Washimi is a secretary bird (she’s the head of secretarial), and Gori is a gorilla (because she’s head of marketing… guerilla marketing). I still haven’t figured out what, if any, meaning there are to some of the other animals, but I’m betting there’s some pun in Japanese.
This show is good in both Japanese and English, so don’t let people pressure you to only do subtitles.
Overall, I like the show, mostly because it’s just representative of the bleak nature of adulthood in the modern era. We spend all of our time working and most of us don’t even talk to people about the things that we love to do for fun because it might not be “socially acceptable.” Give it a shot sometime.
Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) is your typical Los Angeles nightclub owner, except inasmuch as he is the Biblical Devil, an angel cast out of heaven who previously reigned over the damned in Hell. He’s typically assisted by the demon Mazikeen (Lesley-Ann Brandt) and opposed by his brother Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), who wants him to retake his position in Hell. One evening, a pop star whom he was attempting to help is gunned down in front of him. The investigating detective, Chloe Decker (Lauren German), surprises Lucifer by proving immune to his powers, intriguing him. He decides to become a civilian consultant to the LAPD in order to find out more about her and also to entertain himself.
Along the way he picks up a therapist named Dr. Linda Martin (Rachael Harris), a semi-rival in Decker’s ex husband Dan Espinoza (Kevin Alejandro), an unwanted mini-acolyte in Decker’s daughter Trixie (Scarlett Estevez), and an unlikely friend ally in the devout Catholic LAPD forensic scientist Ella Lopez (Aimee Garcia).
The key to this show is the cast. The premise, while not boring, would get a little repetitive if everyone in it wasn’t just so damned charming, particularly Tom Ellis. Of course, his character is supposed to be superhumanly attractive and alluring, but it’s impressive how well he sells that. This version of the Devil is interesting because it’s a Devil who has just become bored with his role. It’s not quite the Lucifer of Paradise Lost, though it’s clear to see that Neil Gaiman drew a great deal of inspiration from Milton in creating this version of Satan. It’s that version several millennia down the line, realizing that reigning in Hell, while better than serving in Heaven, is still not that fulfilling. Also, I like that the show kept the comic version’s policy of never lying, since it both makes for hilarious scenes and also distinguishes him from the typical “Lord of Lies” image of Satan. The show never portrays Lucifer as outright evil in any way, he just has a different view of morality than most people.
The rest of the cast is amazing and they all play off of each other perfectly. Some of my favorite episodes are when two of the characters that usually aren’t together are paired for a B-plot. It helps that the show does actually have the characters change over time as they interact with each other, something that they kind of needed after the relatively strict limitations they held during the first season.
The show’s sense of humor is one of the best features. Unlike most Urban Fantasies, the main character does not attempt to hide his supernatural existence at all, leading to amusing misunderstandings. Lucifer tells everyone he’s the Devil up front, but they all seem to think he’s talking metaphorically or that he’s just coping with some sort of past trauma. Granted, it turns out as the show goes on that Lucifer actually does consider his past to be a trauma, with his relationship with his father being integral to the character. It’s interesting to watch characters dissect the actions of a literally omnipotent and presumably omnibenevolent God (Neil Gaiman) from the perspective of the Devil, who is our sympathetic focal character. Most shows wouldn’t try this kind of thing and I’m happy the show plays it out.
As the series goes on, the expansion of the mythology also helps keep it interesting, with Seasons 2 and 3 each having an added character that pretty much makes for the focus of the season’s arc.
Overall, I’m excited for the fourth and final season of the show, which was pretty much accomplished solely through the fan dedication to the series. I applaud Netflix for allowing shows to get their closure for the people that love them. If only they’d been around for that one series that had the spaceships…
A packed cast of comedians star in this film about life in a Fourteenth Century convent.
It’s 1347 in Italy and a convent of nuns is being led by Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly). The nuns, particularly the extremely angry Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), drive off the gardener and caretaker Lurco (Paul Weitz), forcing Father Tommasso to look for another one. At the same time, a servant named Massetto (Dave Franco) is kicked out of his position and ordered arrested by his master, Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman) for sleeping with his wife Francesca (Lauren Weedman). Massetto flees and runs into Tommasso, who has gotten drunk and lost the embroideries he was supposed to sell to fund the convent. Tommasso agrees to hide Massetto at the convent in exchange for being a gardener and pretending to be a deaf-mute.
Despite not being able to talk, Tommasso is soon befriended by Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie) who grows infatuated with him. One night, Sister Fernanda’s friend Marta (Jemima Kirke) appears and all of the nuns, including Alessandra, Fernanda, Sister Ginevra (Kate Micucci), and Mother Marea (Molly Shannon) get drunk while they’re being told that sex is amazing. Fernanda takes a drunken Ginevra back to her room for sex while Alessandra and Massetto start to get closer.
At one point, Fernanda kidnaps Massetto and she and Marta have sex with him, seemingly confirming him as a viable candidate for something. Ginevra is upset by this, having fallen for Fernanda. Massetto and Alessandra begin getting physical, but get interrupted by one of the elders coming into the room. Soon, Fernanda again kidnaps Massetto, this time taking him to a coven of witches in the woods who prepare to sacrifice him for a fertility ritual. They’re stopped by Ginevra, who has consumed a bunch of drugs and shows up high, but Massetto reveals that he’s not a deaf-mute while escaping. The group is caught returning to the convent by the visiting Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen), who uncovers all of the secrets, including that Ginevra is Jewish and that Tommasso and Marea are having sex.
Massetto is sent back to Lord Bruno, but is rescued by Alessandra and the other nuns. They all escape together, passing Tommasso and Marea who have likewise fled, and everyone lives happily ever after, except Bruno’s wife who is probably dead.
This movie is the most bizarre concoction I’ve seen in a while. It’s an adaptation of one of the stories from the Decameron, specifically the first story of Day 3, albeit a very loose adaptation. In the original, Massetto is a man pretending to be a mute gardener for the purpose of, successfully, seducing the nuns. It turns out that they actually choose to take advantage of him, believing that a mute won’t ever tell anyone. Unfortunately, he underestimates their desires, resulting in him having to beg for help from sheer exhaustion. He ends up begging mercy from the Abbess, who ends up keeping him at the abbey as a steward so that he can continue to service the nuns until he’s very old. That particular story, told by Filostrato within the text, would likely have been a very bawdy comedy by the standards of 1353. My favorite line is: “Madam, I have heard say that one cock sufficeth unto half a score hens, but that half a score men can ill or hardly satisfy one woman; whereas needs must I serve nine, and to this I can no wise endure; nay, for that which I have done up to now, I am come to such a pass that I can do neither little nor much.” While that’s not exactly how the film plays out, you can definitely see the influence.
A lot of the quality in the film is the dialogue, most of which sounds like contemporary speech adapted into subject matter fit for the 1300s. It helps that everyone delivering the lines are all comic geniuses, but Jeff Baena, the writer/director/husband of Aubrey Plaza also does a good job of crafting anachronistic situations that are just farcical enough to work. Granted, a lot of the secret to the movie is that it is just 90 minutes. Any longer and the premise would completely have run out.
Every performance is great, but I do have to say that Fred Armisen’s inquisition scenes basically had me floored with his delivery and quips. If you don’t get into the movie, I’d recommend going ahead and fast-forwarding to that sequence just to enjoy 5 minutes of sheer madness.
Overall, I liked this movie. Not loved, but liked for sure. What shocks me is that I hadn’t heard about it before now. Usually when something has a cast this good and I don’t hear about it, I have to assume that it was just that bad, but this actually got decent reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes the audience score isn’t great, but for a film like this that’s not surprising. It’s not going to be everyone’s taste, but if you like the people in it, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Patton Oswalt plays a blue flying unicorn and Christopher Meloni plays an alcoholic hitman. This is truly the Golden Age of television.
Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) is a former police officer who is now a hitman trying to drink himself into the grave. After killing a number of members of a mob family and learning a secret that puts him in danger, he’s approached by a small, blue, winged unicorn named Happy (Patton Oswalt) who tells him that he’s an imaginary friend to a girl named Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo) who was kidnapped by a man dressed as a Very Bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman). Together, Nick and Happy deal with the mob, child abductors, and a psychotic Santa in order to rescue the little girl.
This show is so bananas is every way and it works perfectly.
Meloni may be best known for playing the angry, aggressive Det. Stabler on Law and Order: SVU, something he draws on at points for Nick Sax’s character, but he also has done a ton of solid comedy work when given the right script. He plays Gene in Wet Hot American Summer and Freak Show in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, for example. This show perfectly blends his talents together by having his character be angry and cynical, but also just a little insane at all times. Unlike many other series, his character really does change from episode to episode, either growing or regressing, but still maintains all of the traits that make him so interesting.
Happy, similarly, changes quite a bit over the series, mostly because he starts as a completely innocent creature thrown into one of the darkest corners of the world. Patton Oswalt was, therefore, one of the best casting choices you could make. Oswalt’s voice constantly seems to be slightly inherently upbeat, but can also deliver a tone of being beaten down or overwhelmed when he needs to. In contrast to the cynical Sax, Happy is a perpetual optimist that is slowly tortured by reality (and occasionally actually tortured). He’s constantly being dragged down by Sax, because that’s the only way he can get Sax to help Hailey, the girl he loves.
The show involves a lot of interesting hidden worlds which are contained within the secret rooms of the normal world, ranging from the obscure to the supernatural. A lot of the humor in the series comes from characters from each area being forced to interact and watching how they respond to each other. The portrayals of the supporting characters are pretty great all around.
The writing is superb and it really needs to be to successfully maintain such an oddball premise. It was written by Grant Morrison, the comic book author famous for doing a lot of very imaginative adaptations such as All-Star Superman and a lot of meta-writing where he appears in the work such as Seven Soldiers. He’s also slightly off-kilter, believing that he once died and saw the fifth dimension and learned the true creation of the universe. Basically, he’s perfect for this series.
This is a dark comedy, about as dark as it gets and about as funny as it gets. I’m not going to pretend that it’s for everyone, but if you like the first 20 minutes, it only gets better from there. The first season is over and now available on Netflix, but there’s a second season on the way soon, so check it out!