Netflix Review – The Dragon Prince: Book 1 (Spoiler-Free)

Comedy. Action-Adventure. Child-friendly. Dramatic. Long ago, the four animation show types lived separately. Then, everything changed when Nickelodeon ordered a new series. Only Avatar: The Last Airbender, master of all four styles, could revive their animation department, but when the network needed it most, the show ended, gloriously. A sequel series followed a new Avatar, a waterbender named Korra. And although a lot of the elements were there, it never quite lived up to its predecessor. But I believe the team can strike gold again.

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Shut up, I spent like 5 minutes on that, that’s more effort than I usually spend on one of these jokes.

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Asshole. Anyway, Netflix hired Aaron Ehasz, who was the head-writer (but not creator) from Avatar: The Last Airbender and also a Futurama writer (including “Future Stock”, one of my favorite episodes). He and Justin Richmond (director of Uncharted 3) created this show. So, is it as good as you’d hope? Well, not quite yet.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

A long time ago, there were six elements (this feels f*cking familiar): Moon, Sun, Stars, Earth, Sea, and Sky. These were the sources of magic, which were used by the humans, the elves, the dragons, and whatever else populates this world. Then, a human created Dark Magic which apparently causes nothing but destruction. Angered by this, the elves and dragons banished the humans, dividing the continent in two. The humans live to the West in their kingdom of Katolis, the magic creatures live in the East in Xadia, and the border is watched-over by the Dragon King. Then, the humans killed it and smashed its egg. This meant war.

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Exactly HOW they took the Dragon King down is not yet explained. Because damn.

The show opens with a group of elves, including Rayla (Paula Burrows), trying to assassinate the human king for the death of the Dragon King. She is tasked with also killing his young son Ezran (Sasha Rojen), who is accompanied by his artist step-brother Callum (Jack “I’m Sokka” De Sena). The trio discover that the King’s advisor, Viren (Jason Simpson), had not actually killed the Dragon Prince, but had stolen his egg and kept it. Realizing that this means there is a chance for peace between the peoples, the three join forces to return the Dragon Prince’s egg to its mother, the Dragon Queen.

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Mage, Assassin, Kid with backpack. Perfect adventuring party.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, let’s pro-con this thing.

Pro: The writing’s pretty great, the characters are interesting, the world has enough rules to feel internally logical but not too many to eliminate crazy surprises, and the designs are excellent.

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The magic system seems well-planned.

Con: The animation is 3-D but is cel shaded and uses a reduced frame rate to make it feel more like a traditionally animated show. It threw me off a bit. The show also starts a little slow and doesn’t even really get going during this season, which, to be fair, is only 9 episodes. There are some pacing problems, though, to be sure. Oh, and a LOT of it is going to make you think “this feels like Avatar.”

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A few of the gags take too long, too.

Okay, it seems like I wrote more in the Con column, but that’s not really true. The things that this show have going for it are that it’s already demonstrated it can balance dark and adult themes with having children as main characters, something that many shows can’t handle. The creature designs range from adorable to horrifying. We don’t know too much about dark magic yet, but the implications are unnerving and I want to see them played through. Mortal danger is pretty constant for the protagonists, as is suffering and loss.

One particular stand-out in the show is General Amaya, the boys’ aunt, who is both an unparalleled warrior and also deaf. There aren’t a lot of deaf characters who are depicted as both fighters and leaders, so I was pretty happy about it. She also has the best lines, even if they’re actually spoken by her Commander, Gren (Adrian Petriw).

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Oh, and she fights with a giant shield, because she’s amazing and my new hero.

Given the way that the seasons of the show are being named, it’s implied that this season is only one-sixth of the total story. It hasn’t really gotten going yet, but it’s got enough set up to build pretty rapidly from here. Here’s hoping it does.

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.

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Futurama Fridays – S1 E10 “A Flight to Remember”

This is where some network stuff kind of starts to screw up the ordering. On the original DVD sets I had, this was part of Season 1. However, on Amazon, this is part of Season 2. This is because this episode was produced as an episode of Season 1, but it was broadcast later. Since going by the broadcast seasons would mean there are 10 seasons of Futurama, I’m just going to stick with the production seasons. At least it’s not Firefly.

SUMMARY

As a reward for not calling the authorities over all of his horrible business practices, Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) takes the entire Planet Express staff on a trip aboard The Titanic, a space cruise ship. Leela (Katey Sagal) is dismayed to find out that the captain of The Titanic is Zapp Brannigan (West) and decides to pretend that Fry (West, again) is her fiancé so that Zapp won’t try to sleep with her.

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He’s a keeper.

Bender (John DiMaggio) meets a wealthy fembot, the Countess De La Roca (Tress MacNeille), and pretends to be a rich bachelor in order to rob her. However, he ends up confessing the truth after falling for her. She reciprocates and they do a parody of Jack and Rose in Titanic. Amy (Lauren Tom) runs into her parents, Leo and Inez Wong (West and Tom), who want to set her up with a random stranger, so she pretends Fry is her boyfriend. Now burdened with two fake girlfriends, hi-jinks ensue for Fry. Leela gets jealous of Fry pretending to date Amy, leading to Leela and Fry having a romantic moment that leads to them almost kissing.

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He’s a fraud. A poor, lazy, sexy fraud. 

Meanwhile, Zapp has decided, for no real reason, to change the cruise route, resulting in The Titanic getting too close to a black hole and being caught in its pull and entering the event horizon. This interrupts Fry and Leela’s moment. The crew starts to evacuate, while Bender heads back to save the countess. The crew gets caught by a bulkhead door which Zoidberg (West) barely keeps from closing. However, Hermes (Phil LaMarr) is revealed to be a professional limbo champion and, with the help of his wife, LaBarbara (Dawnn Lewis), makes it under the door and frees them. Bender and the Countess make it back to the escape pod, but it’s too heavy. The Countess sacrifices herself to save them… and she’ll never be mentioned again.

END SUMMARY

Well, much like “A Big Piece of Garbage,” this was a parody of a then-recent movie. Take a guess which one. It’s mostly a set-up for the first real romantic tension we get between Fry and Leela, but the other character interactions are also pretty fulfilling. Everyone has at least some small side-story.

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So close, and yet, so many seasons to go.

Bender’s romance is pretty much in-character for him. He believes it’s real love but, ten seconds after she’s dead, he tries to pawn the Countess’s necklace. Hermes’ tragic past as a limbo champion is one of the funniest gags in the show that keeps going. The idea that a small child killed himself trying to limbo out of adulation for Hermes is so ridiculous and yet it works perfectly within the episode and for the character. Zapp’s capricious piloting and rampant idiocy is also in character, reminding me why I love him so much and why he would be the first person I would kill if I was on a ship with him. Not that I kill people on boats, but it’s good to have an order just in case. The Professor gets some action from Hattie McDoogal (MacNeille) which will come up a few more times. Zoidberg… well, he’s there and he’s hilarious.

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He has an Olympian’s build.

This episode sets up a few nice character moments that continue through the series. Kif (Maurice LaMarche) and Amy meet, which eventually leads to their romance. Amy’s parents and their constant meddling are introduced. Fry and Leela’s romance starts, albeit roughly. Hermes’ limbo past comes up. Overall, I like the fact that, aside from a few throwaway gags with Bender and the Countess, this episode didn’t really rely on the movie Titanic that much.

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Her parents look way too happy about this.

FAVORITE JOKE

The episode’s lighter on complicated gags, since it’s more a series of vignettes about the characters intertwining. So, here are my top three:

  1. The Buffet

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“All You Can Eat Plus A Whole Chicken.” I mean, I love a buffet, so this one kind of hit home. You can’t beat just dropping an extra chicken on the plate, particularly on a cruise.

     2. Bender’s Drawing

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It was the most e-rotic moment of my life. Yes, that’s a joke.

They replicate the famous drawing scene in Titanic, but with Bender’s finger operating as a Dot Matrix printer. When it’s revealed, it turns out Bender sees her nudity as a circuit diagram. It’s a nice double-joke inside of five seconds.

     3. iZac (Phil LaMarr)

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iZac is a great character gag. It’s Isaac Washington from The Love Boat played by Ted Lange, except that this one doesn’t take any crap. When Bender tries to steal drinks, he has him beaten for being a deadbeat. Also, yes, it’s a pun on iMac which only became more relevant as time went on and iPods and iPads came out.

Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.

PREVIOUS – Episode 9: Hell is Other Robots

NEXT – Episode 11: Mars University

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.

Netflix Review – Murder Party: How to be Amazing on No Budget

Ever witness a really great performance by a street musician or a student actor? A display that makes you think “why the hell aren’t they famous? They’re better than most of the professionals.” Well, part of that is because, unfortunately, opportunities aren’t usually given entirely on merit. You may have all the talent in the world, but getting your foot in the door of most industries is a Herculean task unless you happen to be friends with, or related to, someone within the business already. For Jeremy Saulnier, this film was his epic drum solo… that was played on a pair of trashcans because that’s all he could afford.

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I assume he didn’t have cocaine.

SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY

Lonely guy finds invitation to Halloween “Murder Party.” Finds out it’s an actual Murder Party with him as victim. Fortunately, the murderers are all incompetent art students who mostly kill themselves trying to kill him, before he gets free and turns the tables.

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No relation. To the film.

SUMMARY

Christopher (Chris Sharp), a super sad and lonely guy, finds a random invitation to a Halloween “Murder Party” on the street. Rather than re-use his previous Halloween costume, he makes a new one, a suit of armor, out of a cardboard box. He makes pumpkin bread and heads to the party, which takes him through some bad neighborhoods to a crappy warehouse on the Brooklyn Shore.

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Seriously, I love this costume. I may MAKE this costume.

There, he meets the hosts of the party, a group of art students who, being broke, are all also in cheap costumes. There’s Vampire Paul (Paul Goldblatt), The Warriors Baseball Fury Bill (William Lacey), Zombie Cheerleader Sky (Skei Saulnier), Werewolf Macon (Macon Blair), and Lexi (Stacy Rock) who’s dressed as Pris from Blade Runner. Macon tries to murder Chris, but fails, forcing the group to tie Chris to a chair, revealing that he is the victim of their very real Murder Party.

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He loses the vampire costume… I assume because the rental was up.

While they wait for the mysterious “Alexander,” their patron (Sandy Barnett), Sky eats Chris’ pumpkin bread which contains non-organic raisins, which she is allergic to. She says she just gets dizzy, but falls down and impales her head on some rusty machinery, killing her comically. Angry, Macon pours a bottle of acid on Chris, but it turns out to be diluted Acetic Acid (Vinegar) and does nothing. The group finds out that Alexander is near and hides Sky’s body. Alexander arrives with his friend Zycho (Bill Tangradi), who no one knows.

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Now she’s a real zombie. Sorry, I mean corpse.

Throughout the night, the remaining art students get high and kiss up to Alexander hoping he’ll pay them to make art, resulting in them starting to turn on each other. Then, it’s revealed that Alexander’s not actually wealthy, resulting in the group turning on him as well. Everyone starts killing each other, mostly with Chris watching, until finally Chris escapes and is chased down by Bill, who Chris is forced to kill, before finally heading home, exhausted, in his knight costume.

END SUMMARY

So, if you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me talk about Jeremy Saulnier’s other two movies Blue Ruin and Green Room because I think they’re both masterworks. Green Room, in particular, is a horror movie that somehow never has any character acting irrationally, takes place mostly in one room, is almost unnervingly realistic, and is intense from start to finish. This movie shows where a lot of those elements would come from.

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Including a lot of colored lighting in the scenes.

This movie was made on a small budget. I mean, it’s estimated to have cost $190,000 by Saulnier, but that’s still a pretty cheap for this kind of film. To put this in perspective, Roger Corman, the king of B-movies, thought you couldn’t make a professional-looking film for $250,000. Sure, Clerks was shot for $27,000 and El Mariachi only cost $7,000 (and $250,000 of labor by Robert Rodriguez), but you can see the difference in the quality of the camerawork and lighting versus those movies. It does explain why the majority of this film is set in one location and consists mostly of the characters just talking to each other. There aren’t a ton of effects in the film, so the ones that are there tend to be used very well.

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The melted werewolf mask was a solid effect.

One interesting thing about the movie that helps make it feel less awkward that we’re just watching the people talking in a circle is that the protagonist is in the same state. Chris spends most of the movie bound to a chair, just watching these events unfold, frequently being the only one to see certain things happen, which makes us feel connected to his PoV.

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He also only says a handful of lines.

It’s also interesting that the movie forces Chris at points to deal with the bland inconveniences that are mostly hand-waved by other films, something that is hinted at early on when it has Chris return to the kitchen to turn the light off before he leaves. When Chris first tries to escape, he’s unable to figure out a plan despite being in a room full of objects that could be used as weapons in a traditional horror film, opting instead just to throw stuff at them and try to run. He can’t resist making a pun when the group starts doing it. When he does escape, he has to pee immediately, having held it for hours, resulting in Bill finding him. He stops to take his meds during the climax chase. Best of all, at the end of the movie, he’s lost his wallet and has to walk home while dressed as a cardboard knight and covered in blood. It’s little touches that distinguish the movie and show the origin of the elements of realism that set Green Room apart.

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He keeps getting better.

Also, much like Green Room, the protagonist in this movie isn’t a complete dumbass. Yes, he goes to the party in the first place, but who would have thought it was an actual murder party? When he tries to escape, he takes the freight conveyer up, then when Bill follows him, he reverses it. When he gets to the student house, he keeps trying to find a phone first. He does actually do a decent job of representing how an average person would deal with something this crazy.

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And the chainsaw to the face was inspired.

The villains aren’t exactly brilliant, however, and that’s part of the fun of the movie. They’re the least competent people to attempt a murder plot and they’re desperately seeking the approval and money of a man who is manipulating them with basically no effort. The movie takes a not-so-subtle shot at the nature of many “artists” who are more focused with the image of being an artist than with the actual work. They even have one of the characters admit that the rest of them want to kick Bill out of the group because he actually has talent and makes them feel inferior. At the end of the movie, Bill seems to be rejecting the art scene in favor of just killing everyone, but then stops to have a fancy drink at a party and talk with his friend who likes his work, indicating that even his rejection is still just an act.

I also love that they kowtow constantly to Alexander on the almost inane hope of getting a magically huge grant, to the point that they’re willing to ritualistically murder a person for it. It’s also a nice touch that each of them has a different medium (Painting, photography, film, performance art) which kind of reflects their personalities within the film. They’re actually much more traditionally explored than Chris is, except that we are given some great scenes to get to know Chris in a short amount of time without a lot of dialogue (which every other film should take note of). By the end of the movie, you feel like you know a surprising amount about each of these people.

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They all focus around the guy with the money.

Overall, I think this movie needs to get more attention, particularly with Halloween approaching. It’s funny, it’s got a lot of the Halloween spirit in it, it’s got gore, it’s got two scenes of costume sex, it’s got candy… it’s basically everything that’s great about the holiday. Give it a watch this October!

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.

Rick and Mondays – S1 E9 “Something Ricked This Way Comes”

Starring a prick who has two thumbs, here’s “Something Ricked This Way Comes.”

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Wait, those aren’t thumbs…

SUMMARY

Summer (Spencer Grammer) asks Rick (Justin Roiland) for a ride to work at her new job at the store “Needful Things.” It turns out Summer’s boss, Mr. Needful (Alfred Molina), is the Devil and the store “sells” cursed objects to people for no money. Needful tries to give Rick a microscope that would make him mentally handicapped, but Rick turns the tables and develops a device that can determine the curse on any object. Deciding to f*ck with the Devil, Rick starts a store called “Curse Purge Plus,” where he removes parts of the curses on the items to make them incredibly valuable. The Devil, realizing Rick is better at evil than he is, tries to kill himself, but Summer saves him and gets him to re-make the store into an internet site, before he double crosses her. To get revenge, she and Rick work out, become muscled giants, then beat the hell out of the Devil, as well as some neo-nazi and a member of the Westboro Baptist church.

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Summer, parting a being of pure evil and a being of pure dontgiveaf*ck.

In the B-Plot, Morty (Roiland) asks Jerry (Chris Parnell) to help him with his science fair project, a model of the solar system. Jerry becomes irate when Morty mentions that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. He refuses to accept this, something that leads a group of Plutonians to use him as a source of propaganda to fight against accusations that Pluto has been shrinking. Despite the fact that he has absolutely no scientific credibility and is being bankrolled by the people that would most benefit from what he’s saying, Jerry becomes a star scientist and is beloved by the population. A real scientist, Scroopy Noopers (Nolan North), tells Morty that the Plutonian corporations have actually mined the planet so much it shrank, which Morty tries to tell Jerry. Jerry refuses to listen, but eventually realizes he’s an idiot and tries to tell the truth to Pluto before reconciling with Morty.

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King Flippy Nips (Rich Fulcher) is not the most utilitarian leader.

END SUMMARY

This makes the second episode where Rick and Morty are in separate plots, after “Raising Gazorpazorp,” but the plots in this one are a huge improvement over that episode.

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Even ButterBot is a massive step-up.

Rick and Summer’s plot is a subversion of the traditional “Deal with the Devil” trope right from the beginning, because Rick immediately recognizes who Needful really is. Usually, finding out that the mystery salesman is the Devil is a major plot point, but to Rick it’s just an observation to make in passing. He even lists all the shows (including Friday the 13th: The Series) that the Devil is ripping off (though Rick avoids pointing out that Needful Things is itself a Steven King book and movie about this exact plot). After the Devil tries to outsmart Rick, which fails miserably, Rick decides to mess with the Devil by using science to render him powerless. The Devil even says of Rick:

People like Rick are making me obsolete. I mean seriously, I may be the Devil but your grandpa is the Devil! I just want to go back to hell where everybody thinks I’m smart and funny.

That’s the beauty of Rick Sanchez. Since he believes that everything is meaningless, even good and evil can be rendered pointless. In this episode, the Devil’s items’ punishments, while cruel, teach people lessons about their own personal faults. Rick doesn’t give a crap about human morality or ethics, believing that science is more powerful. Mr. Goldenfold (Brandon Johnson), the first victim we see, even has the traditional breakdown from the end of a normal story, only for Rick to give him an injection which removes any consequence and causes Goldenfold to shout “I haven’t learned a thing!” Even at the end of the episode, after Summer has been betrayed by the Devil, she and Rick ponder whether or not there’s something they could learn from this experience, but then instead decide to beat the Devil up.

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Devil plays a good fiddle, but he should’ve learned MMA.

Meanwhile, Jerry and Morty basically go through a thinly-veiled metaphor for how companies can manipulate science reporting. Jerry is reported by the media to be a scientist and is even awarded the Plutobel Prize, despite the fact that all he does is say that all of the other scientists are wrong. He never provides a case for why they’re wrong, nor does he actually listen to the explanations for why Pluto isn’t a planet. He just stubbornly states his opinion over and over again, but because the opinion is profitable to the wealthy, they promote it as a fact. Most people seem to say this episode is a metaphor for Climate Change, but it could just as easily be one for smoking causing cancer or heliocentricity, if you replace “company” with “church.” The Plutonians could easily be a metaphor for any kind of group that’s easily manipulated by the media.

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Jerry Smith: Master of All Science. That’s what big companies want.

So, the episode’s about how science can be abused. Rick abuses it to eliminate people having to learn from their mistakes while Jerry and the Plutonian elite abuse it to promote an agenda that they can benefit from. These might seem to be connected, but the message from each one is actually pretty different. As Rick says in another episode, it’s just a “cosmetic connection our mind mistakes for thematic.”

JOKER’S THEORY CORNER

I think Rick particularly has it out for the Devil, because the existence of a Devil suggests, although it does not necessarily require, the existence of a God. In other words, this would make Rick wrong about his grand pronouncement that “there is no God” and call into question his belief that everything is meaningless. After all, if there is a higher power that created the multiverse, then it’s probable that life actually inherently does have meaning.

While Rick usually dispatches people who try to one-up him fairly quickly, he goes to extraordinary lengths to make the Devil suffer, lengths that even he later realizes he didn’t really want to reach. So, Rick got insecure about maybe being completely wrong about one of his bigger postulates, and overreacted, causing the Devil to almost kill himself.

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Keep hanging in there, Beelzebub.

See, it’s sentences like that that remind me how much I love this show.

LEAVING THE CORNER

This is a great episode, even by Rick and Morty standards. It’s right up at the top of my list of best episodes, particularly because listening to Alfred Molina say “I’m the Devil, beeyotch!” is basically crack for my ears.

Overall, I give this episode an

A

on the Rick and Morty scale.

Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.

PREVIOUS – 8: Rixty Minutes

NEXT – 10: Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind

100 Greatest TV Episodes Add-on – Free Churro (BoJack Horseman)

*SPOILER WARNING* – This literally just came out, but I couldn’t not add it. I watched it four times in the 24 hours it came out. I may regret this over time.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will acknowledge that this episode hit me especially hard as it deals with giving a eulogy, something that I recently had to do. I know that it feels different than giving a speech or doing a performance or speaking to a courtroom or reciting a monologue. I would not have believed that a show featuring an animated horse could have managed to address all of the complicated elements of trying to summarize how you felt about the life of a person (or horse) that you knew deeply in 25 minutes (let alone the five that I took). However, somehow, they managed to not only nail it, but nail it while having the eulogy be done by a character whose relationship to the deceased was extremely complicated.

SUMMARY

The cold open features a young BoJack (Will Arnett) being picked up by his father, Butterscotch (Arnett), who proceeds to give his son a horrifying lecture that concludes with the lesson that you can’t depend on anyone.

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Butterscotch is every angry failed writer.

We then see BoJack at a funeral parlor next to a coffin. It’s revealed that his mother, Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick), has died. BoJack then proceeds to give a eulogy about his mother which alternates between funny, horrifying, poignant, and depressing. That is the entirety of the episode.

END SUMMARY

I can’t really summarize this episode, obviously. It needs to be seen to be believed. Aside from the cold open, this entire episode is just a speech by BoJack. I’ve never seen anything like it. One of the best monologues in the history of television was at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but that was only 6 minutes and included audience reaction shots. This was over three times that length and the camera never leaves BoJack. We don’t even see the audience until the last 5 seconds of the episode.

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We never see the body, but BoJack does an impression.

BoJack hated his mother, but he didn’t want to. That’s really an insane thing to have a character state outright. Maybe the worst part is when he mentions that he had always hoped that his mother would figure out how to love him the way that she should and that losing her means he finally has to accept that he will never get the love he wanted. Both of his parents, rather than loving him, chose to drown in sadness, something BoJack says he, too, will always chose to do. Because that’s sadly part of the cycle of abuse and depression. In the previous season we had seen how much Beatrice had herself been abused as a child, so she almost became sympathetic, but this episode removes much of that sympathy by reminding us that she knew something was wrong with her and she never tried to change it, even for BoJack’s sake. Instead, she took the love and trust of a child and broke it over and over again, watching her son try to fix it only so that she could destroy it once more, until he never could trust someone again.

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Granted, her dad lobotomized her mother, so she technically did better than that.

The episode’s title comes from what is one of the most uncomfortable but also somehow accurate parts of the eulogy, where BoJack relates that he stopped at Jack in the Box for food on the way to the funeral and the girl at the counter asks him if he’s “having an awesome day.” He opines that he’s usually not allowed to respond to that with anything except “yes,” because that’s a societal expectation, but he tells the girl that his mom died. She cries, horrified at what she’s done, and gives BoJack a free churro. He thinks about the fact that he got a free churro because his mom died, something he later comments was more kindness than he ever got from her.

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They don’t even look that great.

There’s one external reference I found particularly telling in the episode and, honestly, it might be the only one in it. Butterscotch mentions that Beatrice broke down crying after seeing a production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. If you haven’t read or seen the play, it features a man, Torvald, who, much like BoJack’s father, Butterscotch, treats his wife like a living doll, rather than a person. Some of the play involves his wife, Nora, preparing to dance the Tarantella on her husband’s request, something which her arouses her husband. The Tarantella signified violent movement which was supposedly designed to remove poison from the body. Within A Doll’s House, the idea is that Nora is trying to dance the poison out of her circumstances. This is mirrored within this episode by a story of Beatrice dancing at her supper club, while being watched by her husband. BoJack mentions that those were the only times where he felt that his family stopped drowning and remembered how to swim. If you want to know why Beatrice is crying, I imagine it’s because, at the end of A Doll’s House, Nora leaves her family. Beatrice didn’t, instead choosing to stay around the people who were just as miserable as she was.

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This truly is a masterpiece of an episode. The animation and Arnett’s voice acting are unbelievable, all building to a very sincere last thirty seconds, undercut by the last five.

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.

Netflix Review – BoJack Horseman: Season 5 (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

Given that I put one of the episodes of BoJack Horseman on my list of The Greatest Television Episodes while saying it was one of the best shows on television currently, it’s probably fair to say I’m a fan. It’s hard to say whether or not I love the show more after watching this season, but I definitely respect it more for its dedication to improvement. If this isn’t the best season of the show, it is damned close.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

BoJack (Will Arnett) starts working on his new show, Philbert, which co-stars Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz), a veteran TV actress who starts casually sleeping with BoJack. Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) deal with the end of their marriage, while Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) tries to adopt a baby and produce Philbert. Todd Chavez (“Ya done f*cked up” Aaron Paul) has moved in with Princess Carolyn and is trying to make his asexual relationship work with Yolanda Buenaventura (Natalie Morales).

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Sadly, character actress Margo Martindale has disappeared after a pasta accident.

Some stuff happens. Literally describing any of it would be a spoiler and this season is too good to spoil.

END SUMMARY

I truly loved this season.

On some level, BoJack knows that its fans trust it by this point and that it can coast a little and play off of some of the formulas it has set-up, knowing that we’ll still find the elaborate gags and surrealist jokes funny. However, what really sets this show apart is its dedication to constantly build upon them. It doesn’t just subvert established tropes, it subverts the subversion, then subverts that subversion’s subversion. Then, sometimes it plays things straight and the tropes that in most shows would be tired and overused are played out like it’s the first time and we remember why we loved those tropes in the first place. This season does all of that and more, but it tries to really blend the darkness and sadness that is constantly in the show with elements of hope and a lot more social commentary.

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And a lot more meta-fiction.

Part of the beauty of the show has always been that BoJack is aware of how sitcoms work, since he was in a notoriously formulaic one, which gives him an excuse to point out that his life is devoid of growth. But, after spending years having characters in the show telling us how television characters are hopeless because they’re stuck in a sitcom and are never allowed to grow, the series has also been showing their growth. It’s not always in a straight line, to be sure, and there are lots of setbacks, but that’s because that’s how growth actually works. Sometimes you’ll skip the gym because you had a bad day. Sometimes you’ll quit altogether for a while when you start to think that it’s not worth prolonging your life when you hate it. But, then, maybe, after trying enough times, you’ll be a little better. Then you’ll screw up again, but maybe you’ll be better after that. It’s not ever easy, it’s not always even a choice you can make, and life can, and does, kick you down for no reason, but it’s possible to get better. Even a show about characters that are supposed to be stuck in a cycle can remind us that growth really is possible.

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Even if it’s just having only one bottle of vodka every day.

Now, you might watch this season and think that I’m nuts and that BoJack is just going to reset after all of this or that he’s reset after the last season, but after re-watching seasons two and three recently, this season really does show that he’s grown. Yes, he is still unbelievably flawed, but he’s past the stage of believing that it’s everyone else’s problem and he’s past the stage of believing that it can’t be changed. Those are both steps towards improvement. Also, the “reset” in this season isn’t entirely his fault, as he is caught up in an addiction that is, sadly, all too realistically portrayed (though it culminates in him doing something unspeakable). At the end of the season, he does something that almost no one else will ever do and asks to be held accountable for all of the things he has done. Because of that, even more than all of the other things, I do get the feeling that he might be becoming a better person… or horseman, whatever.

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Why yes, there’s an episode about #MeToo. It’s unrelated.

Another thing I noted was that this show, like Rick and Morty, is often criticized for the fact that it has such a compelling lead that it glamorizes being a shitty person. This season finally makes one thing clear: Even BoJack hates BoJack. You shouldn’t like him for being shitty, you should like him for learning how to NOT be shitty.

Also, it’s not just BoJack that grows with the story. All of the supporting characters have been tested and have changed (except, perhaps, Mr. Peanutbutter, something the season directly addresses). Diane is probably the most notable change at the end of the season, delivering a short speech in the last episode which is both touching and devastating. Princess Carolyn, too, has grown, and shows exactly how much during one episode of this season.

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It also shows us how far she’s come already.

The Good Place once said that it’s our connections to other people that make us want to be better, because we feel we owe it to each other to be better.  I think that’s true and I think that’s what makes the characters on BoJack grow, because as the show has gone on their connections have been severed, altered, and repaired, but they’ve mostly deepened through moments of genuine connection, even if they’re rare. The reason why that can happen here, as opposed to most sitcoms, is because things don’t just get dropped. The plots carry on, with things that were skipped over for a season or two resurfacing to confront the protagonists. Hell, they still call it “Hollywoo” after the D got destroyed in season one. That’s really the biggest subversion about the show, particularly for an animated series.

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It caused hell with title cards, though.

The humor in this season is a step up from the last one, which I thought was a little bit of a drop from the previous ones. They really went back to embracing the “shotgun approach” to comedy that I loved from seasons two and three, where jokes can be puns, sight gags, but mostly brick jokes that are set-up with such subtlety that I sometimes just had to pause, go back, and trace all the steps in order to show the proper respect for how amazing it was.

Like I said, I loved this season. I was a little worried after the last one, but this one just blew me away. All the returning characters were great, all the new characters were great, and the world of BoJack just keeps getting simultaneously more absurd and yet more honest. It’s a reflection of the real world through a mirror that shows our true selves, which sadly are kind of shitty. Still, we can get better… mostly if we have shows that keep reminding us how to do so.

Oh, and one of the episodes is one of the best half-hours of television I’ve ever seen, to the point that I’m adding it to the list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes tomorrow.

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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Futurama Fridays – S1 E9 “Hell is Other Robots”

This episode introduces us to the intricacies of Robot religion, one of the funniest aspects of this show. Given that Robots should never have any of the issues of wondering about who created them or why, you’d think they wouldn’t need to create a religion, but they not only create it, they make an afterlife that is designed to resemble only the most artistic interpretations of hell.

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Okay, maybe not ALL artistic interpretations.

*Note: I don’t have anything against Christianity. I do have things against certain interpretations of Christianity that this episode satirizes without naming. If you belong to one of these sects and don’t have a sense of humor about it, you might want to wait a week and read the review of the Titanic parody.

SUMMARY

Fry (Billy West), Bender (John DiMaggio), and Leela (Katey Sagal) attend a concert of the disembodied Beastie Boys. Bender goes backstage and tries “jacking on,” which is something robots do to get high by giving themselves huge shots of electricity. Bender becomes addicted to this, hurting his friends and co-workers, until he ends up trying to get high on top of the Temple of the Church of Robotology, then falls through a skylight and ends up seeking salvation from the Preacherbot (Phil LaMarr).

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Robot drugs are very much like human ones, but with fewer animation costs.

Bender takes up Robotology, but becomes nearly insufferable to all of his friends. They decide that they prefer him as he was, rather than the ultra-pious person he has become, so they take him to Atlantic City and tempt him repeatedly with hookers, booze, gambling, and theft. He asks them to stop because he has inner peace, but Fry keeps encouraging him until he gives in and returns to his old ways. Unfortunately, it turns out that Robotology is more direct than many religions and, for sinning, Bender is abducted by the Robot Devil (Dan “I’m Homer F*cking Simpson” Castellaneta) and sent to be punished in Robot Hell to a musical number.

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Look! Iron Butterflies!

 Fry and Leela make their way to New Jersey, where Robot Hell is located, and descend to rescue Bender. They find out that due to the “Fairness in Hell Act of 2275” anyone can challenge the Robot Devil to a fiddle contest and win back Bender’s soul as well as a golden fiddle. However, if they lose, they only win a silver fiddle and the Robot Devil will kill Fry. The Devil plays excellently, however, rather than play against him, Leela just beats him over the head and the trio escapes.

END SUMMARY

This is truly a textbook three-act structure. The first act is Bender’s addiction which could be a stand-alone story, the second is the rise and fall of his faith, and the last is his escape from perdition. A lot manages to happen in just 22 minutes through the use of a lot of quick dialogue and imagery shortcuts. I know I’ve said that having the “Most Plot” is not the equivalent of having the “Best Plot,” but managing to fit an entire Opera format into a half-hour is damned impressive, particularly since it also has musical numbers.

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Yep, matches the diagram.

Robotology is one of the better digs at some specific churches that I’ve seen in fiction. The church doesn’t actually reflect upon the positive reward aspects promised by the Gospel in Christianity or helping their members aspire to be better people. Instead, it just threatens damnation upon anyone who commits a sin. It’s all stick, no carrot. They even adopt “resistor” as their symbol. Granted, with Robotology, this is actually pretty justified, since many robots can’t actually die (they just download into back-up units or drift around as programs). This means they don’t need a concept of a rewarding afterlife, only a punishment for transgression (though one episode suggests a robot heaven might exist); hence, the Robot Devil doesn’t need to wait for that pesky “dying” thing to collect his victims.

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Instead, it’s just a trip over the Jersey Turnpike.

Bender’s addiction tale is so comically exaggerated, the episode makes a joke about it being over-the-top, then takes it up a notch. However, it doesn’t come off as too disrespectful of addiction, since Bender does seem to recognize that he has a problem. He sees all the trouble it causes himself and others, but he can’t stop jacking on. The fact that he eventually overcomes it by converting to religion is a nod both to the nature of most recovery programs in the US which stress finding a higher power to believe in and also a nod to the fact that Bender’s new obsession with his faith is less a genuine change of belief than just substituting one addiction for another.

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Two minutes after being told to go back to vice.

The Robot Devil is amazing. He’s one of my favorite characters. He’s so melodramatic solely for the love of being melodramatic that you just can’t bring yourself to think he’s really that bad. Granted, part of that is that he is probably less objectively harmful to society than Bender, whose long list of sins are enumerated in song in this episode. I also love that the Robot Devil constantly misuses the word “ironic” in the same way people often misunderstand irony when reading Dante’s Inferno, something that even gets brought up repeatedly in one of his future episodes “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings.” Granted, this was after Alanis Morissette decided to make it even more convoluted with an absurdly catchy song.

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He’s not very good at dodging, though.

FAVORITE JOKE

This is kind of a repeat from “I, Roommate,” but I have to go with the Church’s sign that is displayed during Bender’s Baptism.

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The candles are on “resistance” symbols and the lamps are nested diode symbols. Love it.

This is a reference to the BASIC computer language and the command “Goto” which performs a one-way transfer to another line and never returns. The joke here isn’t just that the rules are written in BASIC or that it’s a one-way transfer to hell, but also that there is literally nothing else to their religion. You sin, you go to hell. You don’t sin… you get nothing. There’s no conditional function that says “find salvation” or “find peace” or “get everlasting reward.” Again, it makes some form of sense in the robot religion, but it’s also an occurrence in some human churches.

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Some are more negative than others. Also, they’re shitheads.

Close runner-up, though, is the title of the episode, “Hell is Other Robots.” This is a play on the most common translation of a line from No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” In No Exit, the true torture of hell is being stuck in a room with other terrible people and being unable to stop valuing yourself through the opinions of others. In Futurama, hell is just other robots torturing you for eternity. Neither version actually requires the demons of traditional Christianity. However, Robot Hell is actually designed to resemble it, making it a subversion of the title’s reference. Whatever, I think it’s funny.

Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.

PREVIOUS – Episode 8: A Big Piece of Garbage

NEXT – Episode 10: A Flight to Remember

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.