Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 7 “Kerblam!”

The Doctor investigates a definitely-not-owned-by-Jeff-Bezos property.

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) receives a package containing a familiar fez from Kerblam!, the galaxy’s largest supplier of consumer goods. Which galaxy, I don’t know, but one of them. Inside the package is a note requesting help, so the Doctor and the TARDIS Trio (I will never stop fighting for this) head to the main distribution center for Kerblam! and sneak in claiming to be new employees. It’s revealed that 90% of Kerblam! is automated, but, by law, 10% of the workers are organic life. It’s also revealed that Kerblam! wasn’t exactly happy about having to hire 10% human workers, because, as the largest employer in the galaxy, they’d rather just use robots. Graham, Ryan, and Yaz (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill) meet three of the workers in the facility: Dan (Lee Mack), a stock man and literal poster boy for the company who works for his kids; Kira (Claudia Jessie), a member of dispatch noted for her clumsiness; and Charlie (Leo Flanagan), a maintenance worker in love with Kira.

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Admittedly, it’s not the best poster.

While the Trio is meeting the rest of the staff, the Doctor meets with Judy and Jarva (Julie Hesmondhaigh and Callum Dixon), the HR managers, who deny any involvement in the recent string of workplace disappearances. The Doctor suspects that it may be the plant’s artificial intelligence trying to get rid of all of the human workers or a malfunction. Dan disappears in the middle of an order, leaving behind only the unbreakable necklace he received from his kid. When Kira goes missing, the Doctor tracks her to the main delivery floor, where she finds evidence of numerous murders and an army of delivery robots, called TeamMates, holding packages. The Doctor speaks directly to the Kerblam! AI, which reveals that it was actually the one that called for help, suspecting that someone was trying to kill off the workers and sabotage the workforce.

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She talks to the AI through “Twirly” and it’s adorable.

Yaz, Ryan, and Charlie find Kira just in time to watch her blow up after playing with the bubble wrap, something Charlie clearly knew would happen, even if he didn’t want it. The Doctor realizes that the army of TeamMates is delivering weaponized bubble wrap which will kill millions of people. Charlie reveals that he’s the one behind the plan, believing that if he causes a massive death from the automated workers that people will demand more human oversight and involvement in the company. The Doctor realizes that this was what the AI was trying to prevent and uses the AI to cause all of the TeamMates to pop their own bubble wrap, destroying the facility and killing Charlie who refuses to leave. After the incident, Judy and Jarva resolve to try to rebuild the company with more human workers.

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Unsurprisingly, half of those boxes contain drunk purchases.

END SUMMARY

So, it’s the Doctor in a dystopia, which we’ve seen used to varying levels of success in the past. This one is definitely in the upper half in terms of quality, but not the best.

First, the pros:

The fact that this is a clear parody of Amazon comes through immediately, but the truth is that Amazon becoming a mostly-automated monopoly and wrecking any number of industries is a completely understandable concern as of this writing (if you’re reading this in the future, Hail Emperor Bezos). So, the fact that they’re basically just showing us a slightly-sci-fi version of a real and imminent problem makes the dystopia feel much more grounded and relevant. The episode even hints at the idea that the corporation is evil or that the technology is evil or that the HR people are secretly evil, then rejects all of the expected answers. They don’t give us the easy message of “big company bad,” but instead they have the Doctor explicitly point out that the system itself isn’t bad, it’s how people use it that needs to change. I give them credit for acknowledging that the service that Amaz-sorry Kerblam!- provides is actually useful and efficient, even if it can be misused in the name of profits.

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Yes. This totally doesn’t resemble any other company. Lawsuit averted.

The supporting characters in this episode are all great. Charlie is a complex antagonist, both because he has real emotions that are unrelated to his plan and because his plan isn’t born out of malice but out of desperation and concern for the future of his people. Is he a terrorist? Absolutely, by definition, but he also is shown to at least have some logical reason to believe what he does, which makes him more than just a mustache-twirling bad guy. Kira and Dan, too, are both likeable and portrayed realistically, both being people who are just trying to do the best that they can for themselves and their families. That’s what makes it so much more devastating when both of them die horribly to Charlie’s plan.

And btw, that’s a pro in my book. This episode was willing to make us like two characters, kill them both off, then got us to kind of understand why the guy who killed them was willing to do it even if he regretted it a lot. And yeah, this is brutal, she’s literally torn apart.

Each of the companions and the Doctor herself each got nice scenes exploring their histories or personalities while they interacted with the new characters, with Ryan being able to talk about his past work in a similar position and Graham being able to talk to Charlie about his past experience with love. They’re all solid elements of the episode.

Also, booby-trapped bubble wrap is hilarious and messed up at the same time and just… brilliant.

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WHO COULD RESIST????

Now for the cons:

Kira’s death gets mostly overlooked, emotionally. I can get that Charlie is used to making compromise, but he pretty much gets over killing her quickly because the episode is running out of time. I mean, we spent much longer on establishing that he’s in love with her than we spend on him even reacting to his accidentally murdering her.

The designs of the TeamMates joins the “too creepy for the job you gave it” category in Doctor Who robots. These things look creepier than the generation 1 drone that used to deliver everything and I think if one of them showed up at my door I would empty at least 2 rounds into it just out of an abundance of precaution. It helps when they end up doing some creepy-esque things, but since they aren’t the ultimate bad guys and, honestly, are trying to help, it seems like no one would ever have made them look this way.

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KILL IT WITH FIRE AND BULLETS!!!!

Everything that’s slightly over-reaching about the company itself, including making employees wear GPS monitors, doesn’t really get followed up on much. I guess because, as the show points out, companies now do that in real life and no one seems to care much.

The finale implies that Charlie’s act of terrorism works and convinces two people to change Kerblam!’s business practices and now people will have jobs and puppies and unicorn wands, etc. This is somewhat unsatisfying in an episode that prior to now had been fairly realistic in how the company had worked. Now, I’m not saying that Judy and Jarva hadn’t learned something, but I am saying that the company is much bigger than them and, if they decided that 90:10 was the best ratio of workers before, the company’s overseers will likely want that ratio back, but with more security. Hell, arguably, they should lobby to get rid of the humans because the AI tried to SAVE people while the human tried to commit MASS MURDER. It just didn’t sit right with me.

Overall, this was a pretty solid episode. There are some great images, some great concepts, solid guest characters, and I admit that I love the company name “Kerblam!”

I give it an A-.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: A Criticism of Criticisms

by: The Grouch on the Couch

I’m gonna talk about some of the complaints that have been levied at this show (to the point that people have been harassing the crew) and say which ones are stupid and which ones actually have merit.

First, people have been complaining that the new She-Ra doesn’t look feminine enough. As to that, I just say: The 8-foot-tall superhuman woman does not necessarily need to be Wonder Woman’s level of curvaceous. Hate to break your mind, but not all women are super-buxom. It’s just that in fiction, they almost always are, since gravity-defying and somehow non-cumbersome big boobs are literally called the “most common super power.”

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HOW DID HER ORIGINAL TOP EVEN STAY ON???? 

However, as to the point that Adora’s outfit as She-Ra isn’t actually any more armored or battle-ready than the original She-Ra outfit, yeah, that’s true. I mean, since she’s nigh-invulnerable, armor might not make much of a difference, but that is technically true and the show could have actually given her a practical outfit if they were already going out of their way to subvert stereotypes.

Second, every comment involving “SJW” needs to be burned. Look, I’m not someone who’s super into shows that focus every episode on the characters learning a new lesson about tolerance, but that’s not what happens in this show. In fact, differences in appearance, culture, or sexuality mostly just get the response of “okay, now let’s do real stuff” if they’re commented on at all. Since this is a planet where people can be part-cat, part-scorpion, part-angel, or have magical sentient hair, it actually makes sense that being black or Inuit doesn’t particularly come off as “unusual.” The show isn’t trying to jam a message about tolerance down your throat, it just HAS characters who happen to be callipygian or LGTBQ+ or non-caucasian. Thinking that the mere existence of non-white, non-idealized, non-traditional characters automatically makes it SJW propaganda is just denying the fact that those people EXIST IN THE REAL WORLD. So, f*ck you.

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Also, they’re still mostly Caucasian, because TV show.

Also, complaining that they changed the race/gender/sexuality/appearance of a character is just not recognizing that the original show’s world was almost entirely white and was entirely hetero, because that was the only market that the creators believed mattered. Hell, the main character is still a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white girl. The only human character on the original who wasn’t caucasian was Netossa, so… congrats, there was a token minority in the original show, and maybe that’s something that needs to change. The show’s not spending forty minutes on “the plight of black people” or “the history of gay discrimination,” which sometimes CAN be seemingly self-congratulatory social-awareness, it’s just got characters who happen to be minorities. What does it say about you that you’re willing to accept a woman with tentacles coming out of her back but not a black guy?

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The Diversity was based solely around Hair Color.

Third, a reboot/remake is not de-facto bad. You know what’s a reboot? The 1939 Wizard of Oz, the Charlton Heston Ben-Hur, Casino Royale, and The Dark Knight. And this attitude of automatically assuming they’re ruining your childhood is getting annoying. Do you remember how many people thought that Heath Ledger couldn’t play the Joker, or James Bond couldn’t be Blond, or that we didn’t need another Mad Max movie? If you can use the reboot to show the audience something they haven’t seen before, then the reboot has a purpose. In this case, the show is very different from the original, while still paying tribute to it. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, but it’s not because it’s a reboot.

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Hell, this PoS apparently produced a decent movie. Still not watching it, though.

Look, I’m not saying this show is perfect. Hell, I didn’t think it was more than slightly above average, and it has the benefit of following other kids’ shows that have been bold enough to have more-developed characters and diverse casts like Steven Universe. The plots aren’t great, a lot of the episodes feel formulaic, and some of the dialogue makes me want to stab my ears with the Sword of Omens (Yes, I know that’s Thundercats). But, some of the shots being leveled at it are completely inane, and that forces me into the position of defending something I don’t care that much about. So, f*cking stop it, so I can move on to better shows… like Ducktales.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Good, But Not Quite the Reboot It Needed (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

Well, Netflix decided to reboot She-Ra: Princess of Power and, while I think it’s actually superior to the original show, it really just served to remind me of how mediocre the original franchise was, not to make something particularly new or exciting. Still, it has potential.

SUMMARY

Adora (Aimee Carrero) is a trainee of the Horde, an army that lives within the “Fright Zone” of the Planet Etheria. Adora is one of the top candidates to become a leader of the forces of the Horde against the evil Rebels, followed closely by her best friend Catra (AJ Michalka). However, when the two sneak out of the Fright Zone, Adora finds a sword and is told that she has been chosen to wield the power of She-Ra. She also finds two others searching for it, Princess Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara), the daughter of the leader of the Rebellion, and her best friend Bow (Marcus Scribner). They capture Adora, who quickly realizes that, surprise, the people called “The Horde” who live in the “Fright Zone” are actually the bad guys. She then joins the rebellion as She-Ra, a superpowered version of herself, and works to gain support of other princesses around the world to fight back against the Horde.

She-Ra - 1Adora
Magic sword = Protagonist. It’s a law.

END SUMMARY

Okay, first thing’s first, I like to keep my work relatively positive, when I can, so I’m not going to go into addressing the criticisms that have been levied at the show and instead focus on my own opinions. Fortunately, by the time I finish this, my Grouchier counterpart should be done watching the show and fully ready to address them. I’ll let him publish that as an addendum, since he’ll enjoy ranting about the stupidity of people.

As to the things the show does right, there are quite a few:

The biggest strength of the show is the characters’ personalities. Each of the characters is distinct, they’re not one-dimensional, they have complex relationships, and some of them even have personalities that we often can’t see on television in their particular capacities. For example, Princess Entrapta (Christine Woods) is literally amoral and is therefore my favorite character. We tend to associate amorality with evil, and the show points out that this is with good reason, but she’s not evil in a traditional sense. She doesn’t want to hurt people. She literally just loves scientific advancement so much that she doesn’t care much about anything else including the fact that evil people will use her technology. I think she’s comparable to Werner von Braun… or maybe some of the characters from Fullmetal Alchemist. She’s truly neutral in her ideology.

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She just builds the weapons. She doesn’t fire them. Naturally, the bad guys love her more.

The relationships in the show are also well-developed and complex, with the best being the relationship between Catra and Adora. They used to be close, to the point that the show implies a modest sexual attraction between the pair. At one point, they dance together and it is as intense an interaction as you’re likely to see on an animated show which is primarily for kids. Of course, now they’re both on opposing sides of a war and are the field commanders on each side, but each one constantly misses the other, even if they don’t always admit it. The best thing about their relationship is that it’s constantly shifting, depending on how each one is viewing the other’s side and how much they’re willing to admit their feelings to themselves. If everything in the show was as well-done as their relationship, this show would be legendary. 

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Seriously, look at Catra in this and tell me she’s not at least slightly hot for her.

The show also has a decent sense of humor about itself, sometimes even pointing out how ludicrous the rules of the the world in which it’s set can be. My personal favorite is Netossa’s line “What do I do? It’s right there in the name! Netossa. Net-tossa. I TOSS NETS.” Sadly, that’s about the only line that takes a shot at how lame the naming conventions were in the original show, in retrospect. I mean, guys, they named a sorceress Castaspella. There’s a creature named Loo-Kee the Kon-Seal, who hides in the background and looks at people. It’s fine that they were named that (I mean, one of my favorite books has a bearded tree called Treebeard), but you have to at least acknowledge that it’s goofy.

She-Ra - 4Netossa
They are EXCELLENT nets, by the way.

The voice acting is solid. I think every voice fits the character and all the performances are filled with the emotion that you need. As you may remember from my entry on Disenchantment, this can give a mediocre script the flair it needs to succeed anyway. 

The character designs and animation are subject to taste. I do appreciate that they actually have a varied cast, with each of the kingdoms basically being a different country (it’s a planet, that makes sense), and therefore having a different culture and sometimes race. I also appreciate that the character body types are not all the same, something that most shows are not exactly great about, particularly the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power. I don’t actually care for the animation style that much, but it started to grow on me as the show continued.

She-Ra - 5OldVsNew
I mean, there were pros and cons to the old style, too. 

As to the things that it doesn’t do great:

The plotlines are weak, as are many of the plots. A series of episodes are basically the core three of Glimmer, Bow, and Adora going out to try and “recruit” princesses, each of which has a suitable quirk, power, and problem. They’re fairly repetitive and not particularly stimulating, aside from the fact that most of the princesses are all fairly entertaining. They also progress the characterizations too fast at times, particularly Adora’s switch from the Horde to the Rebellion. She spent her entire life being brainwashed as a soldier, but she decides she was wrong in one afternoon, something that would have been much more interesting if it had taken longer or hadn’t been as certain.

She-Ra - 6Princesses
And even when they come together, it gets contrived FAST.

The show does the popular thing of undercutting tension with humor. Normally, I’m a fan of this, particularly with things like Deadpool or Steven Universe or Adventure Time, but it does require that the tension being cut is particularly dire. In this, they were a little too tame with how the threats are presented. Basically, the Horde almost never seems like an actual threat. They are stated to be one, but every time they are engaged by anyone, they basically get routed. She-Ra almost takes out armies of them singlehandedly. Without letting the tension really be built up, the undercutting just starts to make everything feel like there are no stakes and that’s bad.

She-Ra’s abilities are inconsistent, but that feels like it’ll be explained within the show. Also, in the original show, She-Ra and He-Man’s powers were explicitly stated to be “always slightly greater than whatever threat they faced,” so power fluctuation can make sense, but it still gets old fast. However, I don’t think this She-Ra, or Adora, uses their wits as much as the original one, which annoys me in a protagonist in the modern age.

Also, the action sequences in the show need a little work. In the original show, She-Ra was forbidden from punching or cutting things due to the censors, but that’s not a thing anymore, so I would appreciate some more action in my action scenes. As it stands, it’s mostly either She-Ra destroying everything instantly in an explosion, or failing to hit anything, with little in between.

Overall, the show has some potential, because the characters are all distinct and interesting, but they really need to give the characters more worthwhile things to do.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Futurama Fridays – S2 E5 “Why Must I Be A Crustacean in Love?”

This season we start getting episodes focused on the other Planet Express employees and this one features the Decapodian Doctor, John Zoidberg.

FuturamaZoidberg
Why not indeed?

SUMMARY

Amy (Lauren Tom) and Leela (Katey Sagal) guilt the Planet Express crew members into joining a gym. While there, Dr. Zoidberg (Billy West) starts to become enraged, attacking everyone and having to be restrained. It’s determined that Dr. Zoidberg has entered the mating period of his species, so Fry (West), Leela, and Bender (John DiMaggio) take him back to his home planet of Decapod 10 so that he can participate.

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This is how men look when horny. All of them.

When they get to the planet, Zoidberg gets to work trying to attract a mate but fails miserably. He then sees Edna (Tress MacNeille), a high school classmate of his who is, by Decapodian standards, apparently super hot. She rejects him, but Fry offers to help Zoidberg win her hearts through the human male art of lying. Zoidberg pitches woo outside of her apartment using Fry’s words and it seems to work. Later, after Leela hears some of Fry’s lines being pitched by Zoidberg, she tries to explain away how terrible they are, but it turns out that Edna’s been loving them and now she’s enamoured with Fry. She attempts to seduce him and Zoidberg catches them. Assuming the worst, Zoidberg challenges Fry to Claw-Plach, a fight to the death.

S2E5 - 2Edna.png
This scene haunts my nightmares.

At the fight, Fry gains the upper hand but refuses to kill Zoidberg. Zoidberg responds by cutting off Fry’s arm, which Fry then uses to beat Zoidberg mercilessly until they notice that all of the Decapodians have left. Zoidberg catches sight of Edna, who is now mating with the Decapodian Emperor (David Herman). It’s then revealed that Zoidberg’s people die after mating, something that nobody had brought up until now. Zoidberg apologizes to Fry and attempts to reconnect his arm… poorly.

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I bet you think I’ll make a joke about him being “unarmed” or “disarmed.” Shame on you.

END SUMMARY

This episode is a send-up of the Star Trek episode “Amok Time,” in which Spock experiences the pon farr, the Vulcan mating drive. Basically, it makes him crazy aggressive until he gets his freak on. Much like Zoidberg with Edna, Spock’s intended mate has someone she prefers and she invokes ritual combat to avoid her commitment with Spock, but she famously surprises everyone by picking Captain Kirk to fight rather than her mate. Kirk agrees right before he learns the fight is to the death. The fight leads to Spock not mating. Like I said, a lot of this episode comes from that, blended with elements of Twelfth Night and Cyrano de Bergerac.

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KIRK SMASH!!!!

The scene of Fry coaching Zoidberg to seduce Edna below her window is a direct copy of Cyrano de Bergerac’s most famous scene. If you don’t know that play, then maybe you saw the movie Roxanne which has the same sequence, but with Steve Martin as an added bonus. The difference is that in this version, Cyrano is Fry and therefore not a master seducer but a complete and utter idiot. However, since Edna’s planet doesn’t have seduction, even Fry’s advice, which is basically “pretend you don’t want to bang her,” works perfectly. The fact that she then falls in love with him just creates a horrifying love-friendship-triangle much like the one in Twelfth Night.

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The show benefits from the fact that people don’t read and think this is original.

The focus of the episode is Zoidberg and I think it must have worked out well for the viewership numbers, because he definitely starts to be present more in the series after this. Not that he wasn’t around before, but the amount he’s allowed to have the spotlight in scenes increases. Personally, Zoidberg is one of my favorite characters, since he’s basically a collection of comedic tropes mixed together: Wacky doctor, failed comic, super-poor person, incompetent surgeon, etc. I especially love that they consistently maintain that he IS a good doctor, maybe even one of the best, but only for non-human patients, which doesn’t help Planet Express much.

The fight between Fry and Zoidberg is hilarious. Bender taking bets against Fry, Fry using a nutcracker as a weapon, Zoidberg cutting off Fry’s arm in the middle of Fry’s speech about friendship, all of it is perfectly timed. I also love that they play the “Decapodian National Anthem,” which is the theme music from the Star Trek episode mentioned above, “Amok Time.”

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Crack kills, kids. 

The end of the episode is brilliant, since so many marine species actually DO die after mating. It also makes it clever in retrospect that the Emperor of Decapod 10 established that he has taken a vow of celibacy, since the civilization wouldn’t want such frequent changes in leadership. When first mentioned, it seems to be a throw-away line, even when we later see the Emperor choose to mate with Edna. At the time, it just appears that the Emperor is breaking his vow, but shortly after we learn that he actually dies from this, meaning he’s essentially eliminating the leadership of the planet to get laid.

FAVORITE JOKE

I’m not going to be highbrow about this. I still chuckle whenever I hear the exchange:

Professor: We, by which I mean you, will have to rush him to his ancient homeworld, which will shortly erupt in an orgy of invertebrate sex.

Fry: Oh, baby, I’m there!

Leela: Fry, do you even understand the word invertebrate?

Fry: No, but that’s not the word I’m interested in. No need to pack pants, people! Let’s roll!

I just love the idea that Fry becomes so excited by the concept of an orgy that he doesn’t think about the fact that he knows that Zoidberg is a crab-like alien. I frequently reference this one by telling people “No need to pack pants.”

Overall, this is just a great episode that has a lot of solid jokes. Loved it then, love it now.

Well, that’s it for this week.

See you next week, meatbags.

PREVIOUS – Episode 17: Xmas Story

NEXT – Episode 19: The Lesser of Two Evils

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

A Tribute to Stan Lee

I don’t usually do tributes, because the number of my heroes who are dying lately would require me to compose paeans on a daily basis. But, this is Stan Lee, so I’m doing one. I know there are millions of tributes to him on the internet, some from greater writers than I will ever aspire to be, but the man’s work meant a lot to me, so I’m going to add my voice to the mournful wail that the world has produced at his passing.

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While he did work on Captain America and he created some characters during the Golden Age of Comic Books, it’s probably inarguable that Stan Lee’s heyday was the Silver Age. The Golden Age had been filled with simpler heroes: Hercules-esque men and Amazon women who punched hard and always did the right thing. Even when DC Comics revived Superheroes by introducing a new Flash (Barry Allen) and new Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), both of whom were considerably more nuanced than their predecessors, the heroes were still unambiguously good and fought for justice for justice’s sake. Lee, however, worked with various artists to introduce different kinds of heroes. The Fantastic Four, a family of heroes, one of whom feels constantly like a social outcast, and all of whom were full of fears, weaknesses, and insecurities; Spider-man, a kid for whom superpowers were a burden, not a blessing; The X-Men, people who were shunned for the way they were born (no metaphors here, obviously); Iron Man, an alcoholic who constantly lived on the edge of death. These were characters that changed our perception of how stories could be told.

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Besides the heroes, his villainous creations showed that the bad guys no longer were the snickering bald mad-scientists and gangsters of the Golden Age. Magneto was a holocaust survivor who (possibly correctly) believed that mutants couldn’t live peacefully with their human oppressors; Doctor Doom was a super-genius who, though driven by personal hatred, actually KNEW that the only successful future for humanity was under his rule; Galactus was a God-level entity that heroes had to stand up to, despite being little more than ants to him.

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The Kingpin is so good that I think the character’s portrayal merits an Emmy.

Additionally, Lee was willing to break social barriers with his stories. He famously did an anti-drug comic arc featuring Spider-man which the Comics Code Authority refused to approve (because drug use was banned, period). He co-created the first mainstream black superhero, Black Panther, and the first African-American superhero, the Falcon. He knew that the audiences for his works were mostly kids, and he believed that introducing heroes of color would lead fewer people to just blindly accept the bigotry that had permeated the past. He famously penned a “Stan’s Soapbox” dedicated to addressing Bigotry:

Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom.

Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God–a God who calls us ALL—His children.

This was a man speaking to millions of kids and telling them that heroes weren’t going to stop this particular evil. It was up to all of them to refuse to fall victim to it.

I’m not going to say that Lee was without his faults. Like most people, he did some shitty or stupid things from time to time. However, unlike most people, he created amazingly interesting stories that tried to show people how to be better, or to get them to empathize with classes of people that they would never have known otherwise. He didn’t give us Superman saying “always be good and bulletproof,” he gave us Spider-man saying “it’s hard to do the right thing, but if you don’t do it and something bad happens, you’ll feel terrible about it.” He didn’t give us the Justice League saying “let’s go punch aliens,” he gave us the X-Men saying “we will overcome the hatred against us through the power of our own willingness to help those who hate us.” In the end, those are the lessons I learned from being a kid reading those comics or watching the animated shows: The world isn’t simple and it isn’t pleasant, but it is fixable. One heroic act at a time. 

Ever upward, Stan. Thanks for a lifetime.

P.S. Thanks for She-Hulk. No other character ever led me to drunkenly write a screenplay at 1 AM.

Netflix Review – Seven in Heaven: WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT???

I can’t do a spoiler-free version of this, but I also think it’s literally impossible to spoil this film, because I’ve now watched it twice and I’m not 100% sure what I saw. Anyway, let’s do this.

SUMMARY

Jude (Travis Tope) is a nerd. We know this because he likes classwork and talks down to a substitute math teacher and gets bullied by Derek (Jake Manley), a guy who literally looks like he’d be the bullied one in any other movie. He’s still haunted by memories of losing his father and his only companions are his friend Kent (Dylan Everett) and his girlfriend, Nell (Clark Backo).

SevenInHeaven - 1JudeNell
Despite being a nerd, he doesn’t finish his major essay until minutes before due, though.

One night he goes to a party at another student’s house and gets dragged into a game of “Seven Minutes in Heaven” by Derek and his girlfriend, June (Haley Ramm). In order to decide who is paired up, Derek deals out a deck of nude playing cards he found, one of which appears to be Jude’s mom. Jude and June get paired up and go into the closet where June offers to make out, despite both of them being in relationships (though she denies it). Jude declines and they wait out the whole seven minutes.

SevenInHeaven - 2JudeJune.png
Man, they sure have chemistry, right?

When they leave, the house has changed as have the behaviors of the people in the party, but neither of them notice. Overall, the party is now much more violent, leading Jude to leave and head home after texting Kent. When Jude gets home, he is surprised to find himself accosted by his father, who we earlier learned is dead. His father accuses Jude of murdering Derek by stabbing him with a pencil. When he goes upstairs, he finds that his room is completely different, being covered with darker and more violent imagery. Jude tries to flee the authorities and ends up running into his guidance counselor, Mr. Wallace (Gary Cole), who punches him and tries to shove him into his trunk, ultimately putting him in the back seat. Wallace reveals that Jude is in another world and needs to get back into the closet. Jude sneaks back into the house with the closet and waits seven minutes, but it doesn’t work. 

SevenInHeaven - 3Wallace
If you could go back to your universe, that’d be great…

Jude goes to find June, in the process finding out that in this universe he’s not friends with Kent, and tries to prove to her that they’re in another world. She believes him after her sister tries to smother her to death and Jude rescues her. Together, they find Mr. Wallace, who helps them get into the closet again. While in the closet, they have sex, something that eats up 3 of the 7 minutes.

SevenInHeaven - 4Sex.png
Finally, a movie that makes me feel superior to the protagonist.

Back at the original party, the guests have become concerned since Jude and June disappeared. The police arrive to stop the party, but Kent doesn’t want to explain the missing people, so he convinces the kids to refuse the officers entry. The officers respond by calling the parents of the kids, who still refuse to leave, until finally they get the homeowners’ mother to open the house. During the wait, Kent has suspicions that Jude and June are on another planet.

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Nell does nothing wrong in this movie, but gets screwed over. Just sayin’.

Jude and June exit, thinking they’re home, and talk to Jude’s mom, who says that she came by the party but they weren’t there. They then get chased down by Mr. Wallace’s car, which they flee, realizing that they are now in yet another dimension. They get a call from Nell telling them to come to Kent’s house, where they find versions of Nell, Kent, and Derek, all of whom are aware of everything that has happened in each dimension. They challenge the pair to a game called “Lie and Die” where, if they lie, one of their family members gets murdered. They manage to turn the game back on the group and escape, with Jude realizing that they can get back to their home if they destroy the closet while they’re in it. They’re successful, but as they walk out together, Derek walks into the closet and disappears, with only a bloody pencil left behind from his death in the other dimension.

SevenInHeaven - 6Pencil.png
Bad way to go, man. 

END SUMMARY

This movie is best described as “really good idea, not great enough execution.” That happens with a lot of Blumhouse horror films like this. Let’s go over the good and the bad.

First, the good parts: I like the idea of being sent to other universes where you’re being held accountable for the bad deeds of another version of you, which has been done in comics but not so much in film. The movie actually does that part pretty well because it shows Jude holding a pencil earlier in the movie when being ridiculed by Derek, contemplating stabbing Derek in the throat, which is exactly how his other-dimensional counterpart killed him. Basically, it creates an implication that, in a world where violence is slightly more acceptable, Jude would have done it. The third, even darker, universe is also a great idea, except that it’s so rushed and so little of it is explained beyond “this is a world where everyone’s worst thoughts drive them” that it doesn’t really land like it should.

SevenInHeaven - 7Darkest.png
At least they light this like it’s a worst-case universe.

Well, that brings us to the bad parts: First, I don’t care about anyone in this movie. Seriously, Jude isn’t interesting, June is somehow even less interesting, and they never explain Mr. Wallace enough to have him be anything but a persistent deus ex machina. If I don’t really care what happens to these people, there really aren’t any stakes. The idea of Jude running into the father he lost should be a great scene, but it’s basically glossed over so that they can keep the plot running. There are a lot of scenes like that in this film, where they should be good scenes, but because I don’t really care about the characters, there’s literally no weight to them.

SevenInHeaven - 8LieOrDie.png
Literally playing for her sister’s life, but it feels so unimportant.

That actually brings me to the second point, they went too plot heavy. There are just too many things happening in this film and with this many going on, none of them feel super important. We have a plotline about finding a naked playing card of Jude’s mom that is resolved with a really unsatisfying explanation. Jude cheats on his girlfriend, and loses his virginity in the process, and seems to feel no guilt  or concern apart from worrying that 3 minutes isn’t long enough for sex (Foreplay, Jude, foreplay). We have a huge amount of time dedicated to Kent keeping the police out of the house which, honestly, is interesting, but it kind of adds nothing to the A-plot.

Third, the performances are wildly uneven. I don’t want to call anyone out, but if you’re going to do “show, don’t tell” in a movie where the point is that the universes are only subtly different, then you need some strong performances to really sell the shock of being in a different world. I don’t think the movie delivers, nor do some of the actors. It’s made even more bizarre by the idea that Mr. Wallace apparently exists beyond realities and that, in one of the realities, the people all know what happened in the other ones and use it against our main characters. If you’re going to have a real “darkest timeline,” then you need someone to sell the darkest timeline and if you’re going to have an omniscient character to explain everything then, well, he needs to explain more or better.

Then there’s the ending, where Jude is implied to now be on the hook for murdering Derek in this world, which isn’t set-up well. While, yes, it’s going to look bad that Jude walked out of the building saying “I didn’t murder Derek,” any attempt to charge him with the murder is going to run into the problem that he never actually had the opportunity since the last time Derek was seen alive, and certainly didn’t have the opportunity to kill him and hide the body. It just doesn’t actually scream “trouble pending” as much as “minor inconvenience ahead.”

Overall, this movie had a lot of potential, but it just didn’t fulfill it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 6 “Demons of the Punjab”

This season of Doctor Who continues to try to push some boundaries. It’d probably get uncomfortable, or even boring, if they weren’t doing the episodes so well.

SUMMARY

Yaz (Mandip Gill) receives a gift from her grandmother, Umbreen (Leena Dhingra): a broken watch that must never be fixed, but refuses to speak any more about it. Yaz asks the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to take her back to when the watch was broken, but Yaz doesn’t actually know when that is. The Doctor uses the psychic circuitry of the TARDIS to take Yaz, Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) back to India in 1947, where they immediately meet a young Hindu man named Prem (Shane Zaza) and a Hindu holy man named Bhakti. Prem takes them to meet a young Umbreen (Amita Suman), who shocks Yaz by revealing that she’s going to be married to Prem, a man who A) is Hindu, B) is not Yaz’s grandfather, and C) is wearing the watch that brought them there.

E6 - 1Prem.png
He’s a sassy one for a man in 1947, too.

The Doctor finds out the date, which, unfortunately, is August 14, 1947, the day before the Partition of India (if you don’t know what that is, I will explain after the summary. I was only kinda familiar with it). The Doctor is beset by painful psychic images of demons. They find the holy man murdered and the wedding is delayed until August 15. The Doctor sees two nearby alien figures and assumes they committed the murder. She and the TARDIS trio try to track down the aliens, before she ends up being transported onto their ship. She discovers that the two aliens are Thijarian, a race of near-perfect assassins. The Doctor escapes and uses their technology to keep them away from Prem’s house, hoping that will allow the wedding to occur.

E6 - 2Thijarians.png
The Thijarians might also be Orcs.

Yaz works on trying to figure out what’s happening with her grandmother while the Doctor tries to create a repellant for the aliens. However, after studying some of the material found in the alien’s ship, she is teleported back onboard. The Thijarians reveal that they are actually the last two of their race. The assassin planet, unsurprisingly, made a lot of enemies and was destroyed. Unable to mourn their dead properly, these two Thijarians vowed to become witnesses to all those who die alone throughout time and space. They were present at the death of the holy man, who they reveal was killed by Prem’s brother, Manish (Hamza Jeetooa). It’s revealed that they’re staying in order to observe the millions of deaths that will follow the Partition, including Prem.

E6 - 3Prem2.png
Could have used a better picture, guys.

The Doctor informs the TARDIS trio that they cannot interfere with Prem’s death, because otherwise Yaz won’t exist. The next morning, Ryan and Graham help Prem prepare for his wedding. Prem, a veteran of World War II, speaks sadly that so many Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus are fighting now over the Partition, something he feels flies in the face of what he learned from the war. The Doctor officiates the wedding on the border of India and the new country of Pakistan, making Umbreen the first woman married in Pakistan. After the wedding, Prem offers Umbreen his watch as a gift, but drops it, making it the broken watch from the beginning.

E6 - 4Watch.png
This is a beautiful scene, honestly.

Manish leaves the wedding angry at his Hindu brother marrying a Muslim. The Doctor confronts him over the murder of the Holy Man, but Manish reveals he’s part of a Hindu Nationalist group that is coming to kill the Muslims. Prem tries to distract the group so that Umbreen and her family can escape, resulting in his death at the hands of a man he fought beside during the war. The Thijarians witness his death and honor him, as the Doctor and the TARDIS trio depart back to the present. Yaz meets with her grandmother again and asks if she was happy with how her life turned out. Umbreen says that she is, even with the bad times.

E6 - 5Gunman.png
Literally shooting a comrade dead for loving someone. F*ck you, guy.

END SUMMARY

This season of Doctor Who is not afraid to take on social issues, obviously, and this episode is a continuation of that, but with a few interesting added elements.

First, let’s go ahead and address the Partition of India. So, this doesn’t get covered in American Schools much, but in 1945-47, the British Empire was set to allow India to be independent. At the time, there were large populations of Muslims in India’s Western half, while most of the rest of India was Hindu until you get to the Buddhists on the Eastern border. So, Britain decided to instead create two states, Pakistan and India. Pakistan for the Muslims, India for the Hindus (and everyone else). Unfortunately, a lot of people near the border of these countries weren’t happy about suddenly having their property or family living in other countries. Others weren’t happy that there were Hindus in Pakistan or Muslims in India. These tensions quickly came to a head in a series of violent riots that killed at least a few hundred thousand, but likely millions. It also created a massive refugee crisis, with over 14 million people crossing borders over the following 5 years.

E6 - 6Maps.png
If your response to this is “there were Muslims in India?” there are still 172 Million there. 

Basically, this was a really shitty time in world history for a lot of people, with a lot of people working hard to make it worse. I think it’s pretty bold of the show to remind us that this happened and that much of the problems were caused by people who chose to make everyone different than them miserable or dead for reasons that were best described as “unreasonable.”

Second, I think subverting the villain in the episode was great. We’re introduced to a race of assassins, aliens who have spent their entire existence killing, only for them to have renounced it because, as violence begets violence, their race was inevitably destroyed. The beauty of this working with the theme of the episode so well overshadows my disappointment at the Doctor not having to deal with a race of super-assassins. It helps that the ultimate bad guy, Manish, is portrayed disturbingly realistically. He loves his brother, but, ultimately, he believes that killing all of the people against him is the only solution. He won’t pull the trigger, but he lets someone else do it.

E6 - 7Manish.png
Some mild discomfort around Thanksgiving is not a worst-case-scenario.

Third, the fact that the episode is focused around a wedding, and an inter-religious marriage at that, gives it an upbeat air that serves to make it more devastating when it’s revealed to be doomed. Since we know WHEN it’s doomed, it adds a ticking clock until the Doctor finally accepts that there’s nothing to be done. Then, we have to see the Doctor going through the motions of helping Prem and Umbreen, fully aware of what’s going to be their fate. It makes her speech at the ceremony in which she calls them “the strongest people on the planet, possibly the universe,” through the power of their love, all the sadder.

E6 - 8Wedding.png
It was a lovely ceremony, too.

Fourth, this was a great exploration of Yaz. I didn’t think she’d gotten her dues yet within the season, so this was a good way of expanding on her. You can even see that she’s conflicted about not saving Prem, even though it would result in her never being born. At the end, when she’s asking her grandmother if she had a good life, she’s basically asking if she did the right thing, which makes it all the better that her grandmother says that having Yaz made everything worthwhile. 

I loved this episode. It’s not traditional Doctor Who (and, admittedly, I’m antsy to get some again), but when combined with “Rosa,” it’s becoming apparent that the show is getting better at doing episodes from history that still have relevance in the modern day. This one isn’t quite as powerful as the ending of “Rosa,” but it’s a better overall episode.

I give it a solid A.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.