Reader Bonus: The Monster Squad

This movie is magical. I have loved it from the first time I saw it probably 20 or so years ago. In a lot of ways, this movie encapsulates one of my most basic philosophies of media: A movie can do anything, as long as it is consistent in the amount of disbelief it asks the audience to suspend. While the monsters in this movie are clearly just people wearing cheap costumes, that’s as a tribute to the old horror movies that the kids in the film are obsessed with. The movie asks you to just go with it because it’s fun, and dammit, that’s enough of a reason to go with it.

So, the Monster Squad is the story of a group of kids who are big fans of old-school monster films, mostly the Universal Monster films from the 1930s-50s and the Hammer films of the 50s-70s. The kids are the Monster Squad, not the actual monsters, despite the monsters also being in a squad. Or perhaps the monsters are the squad, but then the kids also take the name at the end of the movie…. There are many mysteries contained within this film.

SUMMARY

MonsterSquadMonsters.jpg

So, the movie begins with Abraham Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim) fighting Dracula (Duncan Regehr) and attempting to cast him into Limbo. However, Van Helsing fails and is trapped within the other world himself.

100 years later, Van Helsing’s diary ends up in the hands of newly teenaged Monster-phile Sean Crenshaw (Andre Gower). In what is one of the most unbelievably excellent moments in film history, and one that films regularly skip over, Sean finds out that he can’t read the diary, not because it’s encoded, but because it’s in German (Actually Dutch, but why would Sean know the difference?). You know, the language that Van Helsing would naturally write in, because he’s Dutch in the book. Out of basically every Dracula adaptation, this is one of the only ones that actually bother to point this out when reading his diary.

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Sean and the rest of his friends, Patrick, Horace, Rudy, Eugene, and occasionally Sean’s 5-year-old sister Phoebe (Robby Kiger, Brent Chalem, Ryan Lambert, Michael Faustino, and Ashley Bank) go to see the local Scary German Man (Leonardo Cimino), who, as it turns out, is a kind old man who is happy to translate it from Dutch. Also, he was a former concentration camp prisoner. See, the scary figure actually was kind and himself a victim of cruelty. I wonder if this theme will come back in the film?

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A Victim. Not a monster.

The Diary describes an amulet that is composed of concentrated good energy. It helps keep the balance of good and evil in the world. However, one day out of every 100 years, it becomes vulnerable to destruction, which would unbalance the world and allow evil to run rampant. However, on that same day, the amulet can be used to balance all supernatural evil from the world, by casting it into limbo. And, darned if that day isn’t pretty soon. How surprising.

The Amulet was hidden in the US by the apprentices of Van Helsing so that Dracula couldn’t find it, but now, Dracula is coming. He summons his most vicious monstrous assistants: The Mummy (Michael MacKay), The Creature who may or may not be from the Black Lagoon (Tom Woodruff Jr.), The Wolf Man (Carl Thibault), and three school girls (Mary Albee, Joan-Carrol Baron, and Julie Merrill) who are made into his vampire brides. Dracula also breaks into a military plane carrying the remains of Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan), who he assumes will join his army. However, the Monster, being part human, doesn’t like Dracula that much. The monster wanders off into the forest where he encounters Phoebe, who befriends him. The rest of the Monster Squad meets Frankenstein and determines that he is not evil, but kind, misunderstood, and a victim of cruelty. … I feel like I wrote that before.

MonsterSquadFrankenstein2
… Yes, this is really from the movie.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Man, when he’s human, is also not a fan of Dracula, and he keeps calling the police, who, of course, ignore him for talking about monsters. However, Sean’s father Del (Stephen Macht), is assigned to investigate all of the weirdness happening around town. He doesn’t believe any of it to be supernatural, of course.

Dracula and the monsters actually are occupying the building where the amulet is found, but the room it’s contained in is so littered with wards that no evil being can enter. The kids break in and steal it, and manage to avoid getting caught by Dracula. However, Dracula responds by following them back to their treehouse and… BLOWING IT UP WITH DYNAMITE.

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I say Boom Boom Boom.

No, really, in what is one of my favorite movie moments, Dracula doesn’t do the traditional “sneak into your home and attack you personally” thing, he just starts chucking explosives. He’s immune to being blown up, why the hell wouldn’t he do this all the time? It’s brilliant. However, it does draw the attention of Sean’s dad, who finally sees Dracula and believes in the supernatural explanation for recent events.

The team have to find a female virgin to read the incantation to banish evil, and it must be on holy ground, so they drive to a cathedral with their older sister Lisa (Lisa Fuller). However, because it’s a cathedral, not a 7/11, it’s closed at midnight. However, they decide to read it on the stoop, as a work-around, since the entryway is technically holy ground. Lisa begins reading, but the spell fails, because Lisa had figured that the stuff she did with one of her exes “didn’t count.” Apparently the universe draws a different line than she does.

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… No comment

So, naturally, they realize that the 5-year-old Phoebe is a virgin, and the German man helps her read the spell. Meanwhile, Dracula and his monsters have come, so the kids face off against the monsters. What follows is a simultaneous invocation of monster lore (like pointing out that they need a silver bullet to kill a werewolf/no one knows the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s Weakness) with a mockery/common sense takedown of them (alternate solution: hit him in the groin really hard and blow him up with dynamite. Doesn’t kill him, but slows him down a lot/ Bullets work really well on fish). Eventually, they manage to kill all of the monsters except for Dracula, who arrives late.

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Bullets! One of my only weaknesses! Also knives, cars, and heat lamps.

Dracula, unfortunately for the kids, doesn’t really screw around, and just starts killing a ton of the police with ease. He finally reaches Phoebe, and threatens her, however, Frankenstein’s monster shows up and spears Dracula with a wrought-iron fencepost as the portal to Limbo opens. Dracula grabs Sean, who manages to stake Dracula through the heart. However, this doesn’t actually kill him, but at the last moment, Abraham Van Helsing emerges from the portal and pulls Dracula in with him.

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Frankenstein then goes into the portal willingly, knowing that he doesn’t belong in the world of humans, and the portal won’t close without the monsters being on the other side. Phoebe gives him a stuffed animal to remember her.

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Soon, the Army shows up, ready to fight the monsters, but Sean informs them that evil has already been slain, presenting the General with a business card referring to them as “The Monster Squad.” Roll. F*cking. Credits.

END SUMMARY

What’s crazy is that I love this movie mostly for the reasons that other critics seem to hate it. First, it has a ludicrously high body count for a movie starring kids. Dracula is not the traditional portrayal; here he is decidedly more vicious and ruthlessly efficient. He’s not out to seduce lonely housewives or whatever, he’s here to take over the world, and to get rid of the people in his way. He has super-strength, invulnerability, and is immortal. He just dynamites his enemies, because that’s simpler than having to find a way to be invited in. This is one of my favorite Dracula performances of all time.

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I could turn into a bat, but… Dynamite, bitches!

Second, all of the monsters look like guys in costumes. Well, no sh*t. That’s what they are. The movie is a tribute to the costumes of the old horror movies. But they’re damned good costumes. Until The Shape of Water came out, this was my favorite-looking Fish-man (Abe Sapien is his own category).

Third, the plot’s generic. Well, yeah, but they use the generic plot to explore within it. And they play around with it enough to make it fun. Plus, the details are actually kind of nice. Van Helsing’s Diary isn’t in English. Cathedrals aren’t open at Midnight during the week. “Virgin” isn’t exactly clearly defined, because they don’t say whose standard it is. Nothing in mythology about the Creature from the Black Lagoon says you can’t just shoot him. These are great things that the movie points out, it’s like they intentionally were trying to avert some of the more common tropes of these horror movies.

Ultimately, I think this movie is underrated. I really do. I like the fact that it’s ALL of the Universal horror monsters together. I like the fact that Frankenstein is portrayed sympathetically. I like the fact that Dracula is just an unstoppable killing machine when he wants to be. I like the fact that the US Government knows enough about monsters to send in a huge number of soldiers and tanks to deal with them. Is it the best movie? No, but it’s damned fun and it delivers exactly what it promises. Honestly, this is one of the best homages to classic horror, and I hope it keeps getting seen.

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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Reader Bonus: The Flight of Dragons

I think this movie needs to get more love than it does, so I was very happy when it got selected to be an add-on. Now, if only someone will finally take my advice and develop a RPG around it… But more on that later. Now, let’s see what 1982 had to offer.

SUMMARY

FlightOfDragonsCarolinus

The movie starts 1000 years ago. The Green Wizard Carolinus (Harry Morgan), who controls “nature magic,” discovers that his powers, along with the magic in the world, are beginning to fade because Magic is based on faith, and logic/science are starting to overpower faith. This is demonstrated by a waterwheel destroying a group of fairies who were dancing on a swan… it makes sense in context.

This basically summarizes the entire primary conceit of the movie: Science beats magic, and, while Carolinus indicates that they could coexist, the world has chosen logic. Apparently, science beats magic so much that even the scientific education of the EARLY MIDDLE AGES is enough to stop reality-warping spells. However, it’s also noted that science is completely pointless without some kind of magic, that is to say, without some dreams of the impossible to inspire innovation.

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Villain voiced by Mufasa

So, Carolinus, realizing that logic and science are inherently going to beat magic, summons the other three wizards: Blue Wizard Solarius (Paul Frees), who commands the heavens and seas, the Golden Wizard Lo Tae Zhao (Don Messick), whose realm is light and air, and the Red Wizard Ommadon (Darth f*cking Vader himself, James Earl Jones), master of black magic and the forces of evil.  While the three non-evil wizards decide that they will create a hidden realm of magic outside of the world so that they can live on, the evil wizard surprisingly decides to do evil stuff. He decides to infect mankind with fear and greed, which will cause them to eventually use their science to wage giant wars which will destroy them (through nukes). This implies that, prior to the Middle Ages, mankind never waged war because of Fear or Greed. All of history is a lie, kids.

FlightOfDragonsGorbashOrrin
Your starter party

While the other wizards disagree with Ommadon’s plan, they are forbidden to fight him by some sort of magic rule, or because it would make the movie too short. So, instead, they decide to create a party of adventurers to go and steal Ommadon’s crown, which apparently is the source of his power. The party is initially comprised of the knight Sir Orrin and the young green dragon Gorbash (both Bob McFadden), who are outfitted by the wizards so that they can fight Ommadon… which is apparently distinct from just fighting him. The party requires a leader, so Carolinus consults the magical force of Antiquity (which is what bans them from fighting directly), and finds out that the leader should be a man of science from 1000 years in the future, roughly, let’s say 1982. That man turns out to be, I shit you not, the actual author of the book A Flight of Dragons, Peter Dickinson (John Ritter).

FlightOfDragonsPeter
Your hero, ladies

It’s important to note that Peter being the main character is not part of the book The Dragon and the George, by Gordon R. Dickson, upon which this movie’s plot is based, nor is there anything in Dickinson’s real-life book that would make it seem like he actually went back in time to study the dragon-based physics and biology that populate his pseudo-science monograph. This movie just decided to make the real-life guy who wrote a scientific text on fantasy creatures serve as the main character that tries to bridge science and fantasy, and, honestly, I think it’s a ballsy move that really pays off in this film. In other movies where they try to shoe-horn an author into this kind of stories, it often seems forced or cheesy, but here, it actually seems kind of natural.

So, in the 80s, in the movie, Dickinson is a former scientist who is now attempting to create a fantasy board game which is actually based on the characters already introduced in the film… somehow. And I mean exactly that, the movie literally just says “somehow” Dickinson already knows all of these characters. When it’s questioned later by Dickinson, the only answer is basically “just go with it.”

FlightofDragonsMelisandeCarolinus goes to the future and brings Peter back to the past. Peter meets Carolinus’s adopted daughter Princess Milisande (Alexandra Stoddart), who he has clearly been fantasizing about while designing her character in the future. They’re interrupted by the return of the dragon Smrgol (James Gregory), who reveals that Ommadon now controls basically all of the dragons in the world through a spell, and has ordered them to protect his crown. Ommadon then sends the black dragon Bryagh to kidnap Peter, believing that he might actually pose a threat. Unfortunately, in the middle of saving Peter from the dragon, Carolinus screws up a spell and puts Dickinson’s brain inside of Gorbash’s draconian body, where he stays for most of the film.

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Smrgol Descending

So, they set out on the quest, now with Smrgol joining Peter and Sir Orrin to teach Peter how dragons live, which Peter re-explains using scientific principles (that, oddly, are not exactly the ones from The Flight of Dragons). Basically, dragons eat diamonds and store them in a secondary stomach. Then, they eat limestone, which is ground up by the diamonds, then digested. The digestion of limestone produces hydrogen, expanding the dragon’s gut, which is composed of a series of balloon-like chambers, with lighter-than-air gasses, which generate lift like a dirigible, allowing dragons to fly. To land, the dragons exhale the hydrogen, which is ignited by a bio-electric nodule in the mouth, which makes them breathe fire.

FlightOfDragonsCarbonatesAs a kid, I thought this kinda made sense. As an adult with a physics degree, there’s a number of problems with it… including the part where they decided that limestone should be the thing that produces hydrogen, even though limestone is mostly just calcium carbonate… which is the chemical form of antacids, and doesn’t produce hydrogen when interacting with any acid (it produces water, which could be separated into hydrogen by electrolysis, but then why wouldn’t you just drink water?). But, whatever, they’re magic, and I still like that the writers were trying.

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The Add-Ons

That night, the party is besieged by sand murks, which are basically rats mixed with cicadas on steroids, with a chittering so loud that it causes madness. They’re saved by a talking undead wolf named Aragh (Victor Buono), because hell yes that’s a thing that happens. Next, they’re attacked by wood elfs (not elves, elfs. the cookie-baking kind by the look of it) and saved by a female archer named Danielle (Nellie Bellflower), and joined by her and Giles, an Elven outlaw. That night, they rest at an inn, but Orrin and Danielle are captured by an ogre. The rest of the party goes to rescue them, but Smrgol dies defeating the ogre. The rest then press on, before fighting a giant worm, which Peter defeats by igniting its insides, which apparently produce sulfuric acid (which isn’t flammable… but whatever, magic).

They then face Ommadon’s flight of dragons (the movie implies that a group of dragons is a “flight”), but defeat it using a magic flute that puts all dragons to sleep, including Peter. However, Ommadon’s dragon, Bryagh, stays awake, and kills the rest of the party, with Orrin sacrificing himself to finally kill the dragon.

FlightOfDragonsFinalThinking that all the threats are taken care of, Ommadon appears on the battlefield to gloat, but Peter separates himself from Gorbash by stating that two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time. Ommadon then tries to kill Peter, but, as he gloats, Peter counters with the logical reason why what he proposes is impossible (e.g. Ommadon cannot pluck the sun from the sky, because the sun’s light takes 8.5 minutes to get here, so the sun isn’t actually at that location). Peter then denies all magic even exists, and proceeds to fight Ommadon’s spells by reciting various scientific principles that counter most of the magic shown in the movie. Ultimately, Ommadon refuses any acceptance of science and dissolves into nothingness. Somehow, this resurrects all the dead characters, which is good, because kids’ movie, and creates the realm that will preserve magic. However, because he denied all magic to beat Ommadon, Peter cannot enter that realm anymore, and returns to the 80s. But, Milisande uses one last spell to follow him, and happy ending ensues.

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END SUMMARY

 Alright, so, I admit that the actual plotting of the movie is kind of weak. It’s mostly just a series of random attacks on our generic questing group. In the first half, they get saved from the evil by a new character; in the second half, someone dies to defeat it. The character development mostly happens off-screen, too, during the, apparently long, periods of time between the scenes. For example, Milisande and Peter apparently fall in love in the span of two days together. We get a story by Sir Orrin about how he had vowed to woo Milisande in the past and is dedicated to her forever, but he basically falls for Danielle overnight (with her pretty directly soliciting sex from him by reminding him that they’re probably going to die soon). Giles has literally no character development except that he’s an Elf Outlaw. However, they do a good job of implying that all of the bonding and such happened in between the scenes, which takes some of the sting out of it.

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Robin and Marian in one body. Dang.

Also, almost everything in the movie that doesn’t make sense is both commented on as being nonsense, but then handwaved as being “because of the will of Antiquity.” It’s basically “a wizard did it,” but the Wizard is the one having to come up with the excuse, so he has to blame a higher power. The magic in the movie is massively inconsistent: Carolinus can’t destroy a waterwheel, but he can TRAVEL THROUGH TIME and not only has knowledge of the future, but has a library full of all of the books that have yet to be written (though, he has Beowulf, which means that the Beowulf manuscript apparently was composed after 982, which is kinda late in the estimates). I mean, I don’t know all of the rules of magic, but I feel like Time Travel and precognition would be a bigger deal than fireball. I’d say it’s because the waterwheel represented science and thus nullified magic, but the time travel takes him to Boston in the 1980s, which is slightly more advanced than a watermill.

FlightOfDragonsBryaghThe art style in the movie is Rankin/Bass modified to resemble the art style of the illustrations in The Flight of Dragons, but just like other Rankin/Bass movies of the time, sometimes the characters, especially Danielle, look like they were drawn for a completely different film. However, it still kind of works with the fantasy hodge-podge setting, since each of the worlds of the four wizards are both distinct from the “real” world, with their own artistic differences, and presumably all of these characters come from different realms.

The science in the movie is, unfortunately, mostly completely wrong. As a kid, I didn’t know enough about the principles being referenced to disagree with them, but now, I sadly do. What’s super weird is that they are similar to the theories outlined in the book The Flight of Dragons, but changed just enough that they’re now incorrect (though the mechanisms for flight that the book uses still wouldn’t work, they’re at least more viable). However, the idea that dragons sleep on gold because it’s malleable and not flammable is brilliant, and is in my head-canon for all dragons now.

FlightOfDragonsSciFaithAlso, I realized more of what the movie was saying on the re-watch: Science is stronger than magic, because logic itself is infallible and universal. Everyone can do science, few can do magic, so of course science is stronger. However, mankind can’t just rely on science, because magic is the source of imagination, and imagination is how we generate better futures. However, magic is also the source of fear and greed (apparently), which is what leads the world down darker paths, but that’s the trade-off for progress. When I first watched the movie, I thought that the whole point was that science just beats magic, but it’s actually more that logic is superior, but humanity can’t survive without both science as the means and imagination as the motivator. I think that’s a better moral, since it’s accurate that putting all of your belief solely in logic means that you don’t consider philosophical or moral concepts, which tends to end badly for humanity (Like in Rod Serling’s best dystopia). Taken more broadly, it’s saying that science has to win when it conflicts with faith, but faith still has to supply us with a way to deal with the unknown.

However, the final fight between Ommadon and Peter contains one of the ideas that I most want someone to turn into a game: That you can beat a magical construct as long as you can point out why it’s physically impossible. I desperately want that to be a class in DnD or Pathfinder or one of those RPGs: The Physicist. Can’t use any magic or magic items, but as long as the player can explain WHY the magic or monster can’t physically exist, and the caster can’t sufficiently rebut, then it destroys that monster/effect. One day, I will make this game, and then I will be sued by the creators of this movie because I stupidly wrote down that I’m ripping them off and published it online.

Overall, I still love this movie. Is it great? No. But it’s different, and it tries a lot of stuff, and it somehow still feels like it works pretty well. It requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, but the movie is consistent about asking that from the audience. And it’s definitely entertaining, even when the scenes are watching two dragons sing “O Susannah” while getting drunk (and the fact that this sentence exists alone justifies the movie’s existence). I think it’s a movie every fantasy fan should see once. Then read the books, because they’re way better.

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.

Reader Bonus: Josh and Aika (90 Day Fiance)

So, this show exists, and it is already a rejection of everything I look for in television. This isn’t really a narrative constructed to probe the depths of the human soul in search of meaning as much as it is an exploitation of people who… eh, kinda suck.

Alright, so, the premise of the show is that it’s couples where one of them is a US Citizen, and the other one is not, and they have 90 days to decide if they want to marry before the expiration of the visa used by foreign fiancés. The couples have to prove a valid relationship before one member can move to the US, then have to marry within 90 days, or else the visa expires and deportation follows. Gee, what a fun set-up for letting true love blossom.

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The “happy” couple

When this episode was initially requested, I was asked to do “Josh and Aika,” but it turns out that they don’t really have a solo episode, because my life is pain. So, while I’m waiting to figure out how to do this, I’m going to use their “set-up” video from TLC.com. (found here: https://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/90-day-fiance/videos/josh-and-aikas-story).

So, Josh is 43, takes photos of his six pack, is twice divorced, lives with his buddy Jason and a college-aged girl, and runs a home theater company. Aida is 35, from the Philippines and matched him on OKCupid. It’s a little disheartening that the first 30 seconds contains Josh saying that he wouldn’t consider her if she wasn’t hot. I’m not saying that physical attraction means nothing, and I’m not saying that it’s past TLC to have re-cut this to make him seem shallower, but seriously, couldn’t you say something besides “I have to have a very beautiful woman in my life?” Even if that’s what you think, man, maybe try to have a little bit more appreciation for the other traits you like in the woman you’re trying to marry?

Apparently, he went to Manila, they dated, he proposed on Valentine’s Day, and now she’s going to come move into the loft with him. They describe themselves as “party people.” Josh says Aika is “High Maintenance… in her looks department,” which is intercut with Aika saying how she loves to buy expensive items. They’re also already fighting over the fact that she looks hot in public and Josh getting jealous. Man, these guys are off to a great start on the whole “Growing Old Together” idea.

SUMMARY

Image result for 90 day fiance josh and aika

I hate everything about this show, and was not willing to watch the entire thing just to see this couple. It just kept getting worse as I went further in. But, here are the highlight scenes that I was able to find online:

Image result for 90 day fiance josh and aikaOkay, so, their introduction involves Aika reminding Josh that he’s going to be her “provider” now, with Josh saying that Aika is so hot that he knows she’s the right one for an older guy like him. Oh, and, in addition to having terrible relationships with his exes, Josh apparently has no relationship with any of his kids. Josh’s buddies pretty much think he’s being scammed, and don’t seem to be surprised that Josh doesn’t really care as long as he gets laid and has a hot wife.

My second indication that these people are worse than I even suspected came when Josh picked Aika up at the airport. Aika gave off the general impression that she was going to later be asking Josh for money up front before he started taking his clothes off. However, this impression might be because when Josh showed up in a Jeep, she commented that she was disappointed because he’d promised to buy her a Porsche, and reminding him that she has many offers so she expects the finer things.

I should remind you at this point that Josh is in his 40s and lives with multiple roommates. He has obviously not been honest with her about his circumstances. When they arrive at his house, one of the roommates clearly believes that she’s taking advantage of Josh, and tries to interrogate her. It isn’t comfortable for anyone, especially the viewer. Josh also gets jealous when she tries to feel up the muscles of one of his roommates.

I don’t exactly know what happened in the next sequence, because Aika was wearing contacts out of a horror movie (WHICH I CAN’T FIND A GOOD STILL OF), and I was afraid she was going to come through the screen. So, Aika says she wants to model, and Josh wants to be able to say he’s dating a model, but that’s clearly bullsh*t, because the minute they go to a modeling agency and the agency offers her a job, Aika says that she plans to be pregnant within 2 years, so they withdraw the offer. Josh tries to avoid talking about it, but Aika points out that he said he wanted a wife and family when he asked her to marry him (after 120 hours of contact).

So, then, Josh takes her ring shopping… BECAUSE THE ONE HE GAVE HER WAS HIS EX-WIFE’S. Which appears to have been stolen back by him, although he doesn’t admit it. Aika picks a $12,000 ring, which “Porschemaster” Josh apparently can’t afford. At dinner, she’s pissed about the ring, and she keeps saying she gave up her life for him. Also, she wants a baby, and he’s had a vasectomy, which apparently, he hasn’t mentioned to her. I now officially hate him more than her, and I don’t like her.

Josh takes her shooting with his buddy who doesn’t approve, and the friend flat-out says that she’s bad for him. He says this while wearing the goofiest cowboy hat ever, suggesting he himself has not known the touch of a woman (or a man). Josh doesn’t actually say anything in her defense, which suggests that being bad for him is a super-low bar, because he’s a jackass.

Josh finally admits that he’s had his grapes turned seedless, and Aika basically gives him an ultimatum to have the procedure reversed. He tries to weasel out of it, because he is a shitweasel, but ultimately, he gives in to going to the fertility clinic. They head to the fertility doctor where they’re basically told that Aika’s ovaries are shriveled up and dead because she’s 36. I’m guessing that Josh asked him to help get him out of the reversal. I mean, really, the doctor’s primary reason appears to be her age, which is weird, because 36 is NOT too old to have kids.

They leave, and Josh apparently decides he should keep bringing up her age and her infertility, because he’s a festering shitgibbon. Aika responds that she’s going to find a real man with some real swimmers to knock her up. Josh tries to storm off, but comes back and finally agrees to have the vasectomy reversed.

And apparently, I’m missing something, because the next scene is them flying to Vegas, but Wikipedia says that’s actually what happened next, so f*ck it. Josh introduces her to his parents, who don’t like her, nor do they like him. Seriously, Josh’s mom doesn’t like him. At all. She says he was a shitty husband and a shitty dad, and will probably be both of those things again.

Josh’s mom is now my favorite character.

Image result for josh and aika weddingAika looks upset about it, which makes it hilarious when they cut to her wearing jean shorts and a wedding veil. Nobody seems to notice, so I guess that’s common in Vegas. They get married, and Josh’s mom says that she hopes she won’t have to fly back to Vegas for another wedding anytime soon, cementing her as my favorite. After the wedding, Josh says “’Til death do us part,” and Aika shoots back that, as his third marriage, she hopes so. My assumption is that nobody believes that.

Okay, so, the last thing this show does, apparently, is bring people back later to group-chat. Josh mentions that he’s still fixed, which is not a great sign for their marriage.
BOMBSHELL: Neither is the fact that Josh has a history of domestic violence. His first wife has now given an interview detailing that he had hit her on several occasions. Also, some leaked court documents reveal that not only did his kids not want to be with him, they petitioned the court not to allow him any custody.

THIS IS THE WORST SHOW EVER. I think I am actually a worse person for having watched it. I just hate everyone involved with it, and I want them to suffer. Josh needs to be hit by a car, and I might actually be more inclined to support exclusionary immigration policies just to keep people like Aika out of this country. They are bad people. I realize that this show probably cut everything to make them look worse for ratings, but I’m pretty sure they were picked for being terrible people. Even worse, I kinda want to watch more of it! I am now going to drink for a while and cry.

If you enjoy these, please check out more of Joker on the Sofa at the  100 Greatest Episodes of All Time Archives and the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Reader Bonus) Birdemic: Shock and Terror (Without RiffTrax)

BirdemicMegalodonUp front: I was completely wasted by the end of writing my notes, and I think some of them are hilarious. I’ve put them below.

I knew I was already in trouble when I realized that I had never watched this movie without RiffTrax. I had to really be careful not to think of the jokes while watching this, because that might accidentally make this a fun experience. As it turns out, even without RiffTrax, this movie is definitely up there with The Room, Showgirls, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives! or Shark Attack 3: Megalodon in the “so awful, it’s awesome” hall of fame, so, unlike the other two bad movies I had done to this point, it wasn’t that bad. You can actually just go ahead and laugh directly at the movie.

Some background information on the film: This movie was written, directed, and produced by James Nguyen, who had made two prior films, one of which was never finished, the other of which was never watched. He attempted to finance the film with BirdemicDirector.jpghis own money, which apparently was a little under $10,000 over the course of four-and-a-half years. For perspective, this was 1/6th of the budget of the Blair Witch Project’s production, including post-production, and that movie’s 99% walking through the same woods and was shot in 8 days. So, given that there was literally no money for anyone in this film… pause for effect… it’s still bad. Really bad, in the kind of way that only someone who thought that their hard-core belief that they were a gifted artist was only matched by their complete lack of talent or basic directorial knowledge. I call this the Dunning-Kruger style of Filmmaking: You’re convinced you know what you’re doing only because you know literally nothing about what you’re doing.

SUMMARY

So, the plot is that this guy and girl start dating, then, 30 minutes or so of that into the movie, Birds decide to spontaneously start attacking humans. Unlike the movie The Birds (which is on TV in one scene), these eagles don’t just claw at your face (although they do that, too), they apparently spit acid, poop fire, have razor wings, and occasionally explode when they dive-bomb the ground. The couple escapes, joins up with another couple, one of whom is a marine survivalist, rescue some kids, and generally try to escape the birdemic. The marine and his girlfriend end up dying hilariously, they meet up with a tree hugger and an ornithologist who explain that this is caused by global warming, and then they catch some fish and the birds leave. Yeah, that’s the plot.

BirdemicBus
This is one of the better CGI scenes. Really.

SUMMARY END

Alright, so, this movie cannot really be described. It’s on Amazon Prime, so I recommend watching it both with and without the RiffTrax (they’re both on there).

Everything in this movie is wrong. The acting is bad. The dialogue is clearly written by someone who didn’t speak English as a first language. The special effects are literally cut-pasting clip-art graphics onto the shots. The sound-editing doesn’t really exist. Weirdly, even some of the parts where I would assume that the writer knew what he was talking about (mostly the parts involving software sales, which is what he did for a living) were completely illogical. The environmental message is so bizarrely inserted at random that it seems like a completely different movie script. Parts of the movie aren’t in focus, and I’m pretty sure it’s just because they didn’t know how to work the camera.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror, film stillHowever, here’s the thing that really saves the movie: Almost everyone seems to really believe in it. Nobody in the movie, no matter how small their part, appears to be half-hearting this. They’re awkwardly delivering these terrible lines with all of their soul. The director didn’t shy away from putting any of this bad dialogue in, and clearly, wasn’t ashamed at all of his complete inability to do special effects. Even in Manos, the Hands of Fate, which is a terrible movie, sometimes some of the actors actually appear to realize that the scene is awful (except for Torgo, who’s going all out, and the Master, who is clearly immune to shame). This movie never has that. All of these people are really trying, which makes their blind failure all the more hilarious. Comedy is born from tragedy, and they clearly tragically misunderstood everything about this process, even the things that you would believe to be common sense.

BirdemicModel
This makes no sense here or there.

And that’s really what makes this film beautiful, in its own way: Because everyone was really trying. They were really putting forth the effort and doing their best to make a good movie. Even though they didn’t, there’s still something inherently wonderful in people pursuing a passion project just because they can. Besides, unlike Iconoclast, this movie was constantly entertaining. I always did want to see the next scene just to see what the hell they could possibly think of next. I genuinely enjoyed the 90 minutes I spent watching this, which makes this officially better than 3 of the DCU films.

Okay, not really, but still pretty fun.

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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NOTES:

Preliminary: 2 small drinks and 2 miles. Have rum and Diet Coke in hand. Bring it.

10:12 – Pretty sure this was filmed with my dad’s old VHS camcorder.

10:15 – Okay, so, we’re on minute 3 of Dutch tilt looking out the car window, and I don’t know if this is intentional, or if they just put the camera on the dash and didn’t check the viewfinder.

10:16 – Sound editing is not a thing in this film, and I love it.

10:17 – Main character dines and dashes to chase after hot girl. Oh my god, this dialogue is just the worst, and I love it. “I’ve got an audition for a modeling job.” It really makes me realize that the writer didn’t speak English as a first language.

10:18 – They both just ceremonially exchanged cards. We really need to steal that, as a culture.

10:20 – News anchor is definitely the first real actress.

10:22 – Shit, gas is $4.60 in Silicon Valley? In 2010? Or 2006, I guess?

10:24 – The main guy, Rod, just agreed to the buyer’s terms, then gave a 50% discount on top of that. The writer of this movie is a software salesman, he should know that’s not a thing.

10:25 – Greatest. Modeling. Montage. Ever. Victoria’s Secret should sue for being mentioned in this movie. Sound Editing is still not a thing. Refill.

10:28 – Given how much of the dialogue here is dependent on watching the other scenes in the movie, I’m assuming everyone in this is psychic. (Shit, I think RiffTrax said this).

10:29 – Who plays basketball in a tucked in Polo shirt? I feel like the answer is Mark Ruffalo, but I don’t know why.

10:31 – Every salesman in this knocks off huge amounts of money after the sale has been made. I don’t understand how the writer was ever employed.

10:35 – This is the best date in human history. All the awkwardness of being hit in the nuts by a car door crammed into 10 minutes. Now the parrots are flying overhead. Parrots. Why the fuck are there parrots in California? Do I just not know where birds are? Also, refill.

10:37 – The line was so badly dubbed, I feel like her mouth said “wham, bam, shang-a-lang and a sha-na-na”

10:41 – Do… They just have a print-out of a website taped to the wall above their bed? Should I get one of those? Is that what I’m doing wrong?

10:42 – Oracle Corporation should sue for their name being mentioned in this movie. Holy shit, they’re still applauding, like just looping the applause.

10:43 – My electric car gets 100 mpg. If it only gets 100 miles per gigajoule, your car sucks. Or does it? That’s like… 10 gallons of gas, I think, so… yeah, that’s pretty bad. Also, Al Gore should sue for An Inconvenient Truth being… eh, nevermind.

10:49 – This would actually be a pretty good tourist promo for wherever this was filmed. Half-moon bay, apparently. They have big pumpkins. Refill.

10:50 – You can’t edit sound in an enclosed room, and you decided to have a beach scene? Did you not realize the problem ahead of time?

10:51 – The presence of real seabirds only serves to make the CGI dead one all the more terrible looking.

10:52 – There are random wildfires, and all I can think of is the Canyonero song from the Simpsons “Unexplained fires are a matter for courts. Canyonero!!!!”

10:55 – This is the whitest dancing since Carlton from Fresh Prince. I love you Alfonso Ribeiro. Spell-magedon was underrated!!!

10:57 – Tippi Hedren should sue for being on TV in the background of this movie. (Edit: Holy shit, Tippi Hedren was in this director’s other movie. WHAT?) Also, these two people have never had sex, and clearly don’t want to now.

10:58 – Seriously, this town looks beautiful.

11:00 – I had forgotten how unbelievably fast the actual birdemic starts. It just went from 0 to all the birds pooping fire and gaining the strange ability to hover in like 5 seconds. Also, he put his pants and belt back on to sleep.

11:02 – The bird running into the door is the funniest thing in the history of film. If only Alex Karras could punch it…

11:05 – The keys are in the door, woman. This isn’t like one of those things where you’re fumbling. The hard part is done. Also, these birds are the greatest thing ever.

11:06 – That’s not how pistols work. Or guns.

11:07 – The child actors are somehow more believable than 2 of the corpses.

11:08 – They’ve reused the same bird getting shot scene 5 times. This is how you make movies people.

11:09 – I retract my statement on the child actors. They’re actually less believable than the copy-paste birds.

11:11 – I un-retract my statement on the child actors. The corpses are worse. The kids are still awful, but the corpses are way worse.

11:13 – So… the birds are a menace, but outdoor picnics are still fine? And leisurely walks in the middle of an open area?

11:14 – They have Bird Flu Virus? Do they also have Ham Sandwich Food?

11:15 – You just tested their blood? You’re standing in the middle of a bridge having just found them. When? Oh, wow, I forgot this whole insane global warming speech. I mean, this might be the movie that the President uses to disprove it.

11:16 – The random beachcomber in the background seems unaware of the birdemic and birdpocalypse, despite the huge number of birdsplosions.

11:17 – And the random line about the war in Iraq.

11:18 –  Oh my god, I forgot the girl who randomly dies trying to poop on the side of the road. “I’ll cover you” well, no you f*cking didn’t. Refill.

11:21 – How does everyone have invisible megaphones? I need one!

11:22 – One of the guys has an Eazy-E shirt on, and he’s my favorite and now he’s dying painfully from Eagle acid blood and claws. Shit, I think they forgot to animate the eagles for this part. I feel like they’re still supposed to be there.

11:24 – All phones are dead from the Eagle Attack? Also, this is 2006 or 2010 or whatever, you should have a cell phone.

11:26 – The robber has the slowest draw in film history. And now he’s dead by eagle fly-by, and I love everything.

11:27 – You’re leaving the gun and the gas tank? It was your gas tank!You people all deserve to die. Although, guns apparently have infinibullets in this movie, so the gun might be pointless.

11:28 – This might have been too much alcohol.

11:30 – NEVER ASK THAT GUY IF YOU CAN PLAY IN HIS TREEHOUSE KIDS

11:32 – Unexplained fires are a matter for courts, Canyonero!!!!

11:34 – Mai lives in a lighthouse? I want to live in a lighthouse! Also, Mai’s dead, and wearing the shirt for the site that she was screwing under.

11:35 – Man, that sudden pointless cut was dramatic.

11:36 – These kids are adjusting well to their parents being dead. They’ve only complained about being hungry, not about being orphans. See Series of Unfortunate Events? Kids don’t miss their dead parents.

11:38 – The fish is clearly frozen.

11:39 – That’s right, girl, boil that seaweed you randomly picked up off the ground. Also, McDonalds should sue for… no, wait, this is probably their market.

11:40 – Weren’t even trying to animate the muzzle flash with the motion of the gun, I guess.

11:41 – Bird dive-bombing windshield is now my new favorite moment in film. Alex Karras needs to punch it.

11:42 – Why did the doves save them? Shouldn’t doves also be pissed? This movie might have some plot issues. Sad, it was so tight up until now.

11:46 – The birds have not actually gotten further away in the last few minutes of them flying off. And now, after just having the actors stand there through the credits, you freeze-frame.

 

Reader Bonus: The Butler Did It! (A Bird in the Hand) (Police Squad!)

PoliceSquadWinner.jpg
This got 6 episodes

This is the worst cancellation in TV history. Some Firefly fans are probably bitching at me right now, some Dead Like Me fans, maybe a Freaks and Geeks aficionado or two, and probably at least one person who felt slighted by there only being 6 episodes of The Winner (the rest of us thought that was too many). But, the fact is, there are only 6 episodes of Police Squad!,  only 4 that got aired, and that’s just not enough, even with the Naked Gun films.

It’s not like they were running low on material or ideas at this point. If anything, the show really was just starting to find its rhythm when it got cancelled. Maybe that’s a something to be held against it, that it took a few episodes to get going, but the truth is it was too far ahead of its time to do otherwise. Much in the way that Monty Python changed comedy by deconstructing traditional comedy routines and television (and, later, the Arthurian myth and, to a lesser extent, the story of Jesus), Police Squad! picked up the surrealist baton that Airplane! had carried and applied it to police procedurals.

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Always the wrong week.

For those of you who are younger, you might not realize that Airplane! was actually a comedic re-make of the movie Zero Hour. Some of the lines in the film, including Leslie Nielsen’s ridiculous line “The life of everybody on board depends on just one thing: Finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner” were VERBATIM lines in the original. But, more than that, the film was also a lampoon of the fact that people not only kept re-making Zero Hour (which was itself a re-make of Flight into Danger), but that there had emerged in the 1970s a series of films which were based on a book derived from Zero Hour… the Airport series. And, while the first Airport is a pretty good film, its 3 remakes/sequels were not (though they made bank). America was getting an overdose of Airport-based catastrophe movies that were progressively getting worse… which made it all the more fitting when Airplane! just decided to undermine the entire genre and premise by making everything all the more surreal to keep the audience from ever figuring out how far to suspend their disbelief. (Update: someone already did a video comparing them online, so that last paragraph was useless)

policesquadtitle.jpgIn the late 70s and early 80s, police procedurals were much the same as Airport movies: they were taking over, they were getting increasingly ridiculous, and they were STILL MAKING MONEY. So, the team behind Airplane!, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, along with Leslie Nielsen, decided to go ahead and make a TV show that would lampoon how insane police dramas were getting. So, they took shots and lines from other series, ran them through the ridiculous engine that is their minds, and pumped out Police Squad!

SUMMARY

Alright, the plot of this episode is pretty boring and generic, because the point of the show is the sight-gags, puns, and weird situations. So, first, I’m going to encourage you to watch the episode, and second, I’m just going to point out some of my favorite gags from the episode.

PoliceSquadButler“A Bird in the Hand (The Butler Did It!)” gets its title because in every episode of the show, they would put a graphic of the episode name on screen, but, at the same time, the narrator would read a completely different title. This was a joke on the fact that in police procedurals at the time, the words would both be on the screen, and the narrator would nar-read out the title… something that’s mercifully no longer a practice, except when a show is either mocking it or paying tribute to it.

PoliceSquadRobertGouletRight off the bat, in the title sequence, they have two gags of both replacing the third lead with an unrelated actor playing a character who isn’t in the episode (it’s Abe Lincoln shooting back at Booth) and the “special guest star” Robert Goulet being executed by firing squad (which was a running gag on the show: the special guest star getting killed).

The cold open takes place at a debutante’s birthday party, where she is kidnapped from her family’s “Japanese garden,” which is literally a bunch of Japanese people standing in pots. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen), who humorously gets his own rank wrong in the opening monologue, shows up to investigate. He joins Captain Ed Hocken (Alan North, George Kennedy in the movies), finding that the kidnapper has demanded $1 Million by a note which was attached to a window that was thrown into a rock. Frank asks to see the scene of the kidnapping, and Ed plays him back the filming of the earlier scene.

PoliceSquadMime
Look, it’s an internet Mime!

The kidnappers call the house and Frank tries to help keep them on the line, while Officer Nordberg (Peter Lupus, O.J. Simpson in the movies) tries to tap the phone (like a keg). Frank goes to interview the victim’s boyfriend, who is playing a pick-up basketball game. Drebin joins in the game as he interrogates the suspect, and makes a sweet three pointer and a nice steal leading to a stylish lay-up. Frank returns to the mansion, where the kidnappers have sent a tape of the victim’s voice to prove she’s alive. They then throw a mime through the window, attached to a rock. The mime proceeds to tell them, through charades, that the ransom drop will be Thursday at 10 at the Bus Depot.

policesquadlab.jpgThis leads into the second half, called “Act II: Ball III.” Frank goes to the police lab run by Ted Olson (Ed Williams, same as the movies). Ted, who is also running an experiment where he proves gravitation by dropping a bowling ball and a person at the same time, isolates the sounds from the tape to find that the victim is near a large body of water based on a foghorn and a bell. Frank tells this to Ed while on an elevator that also goes to an opera stage. Ed orders Al (Ron “Tiny Ron” Taylor, same as the movies), a comically tall officer never shown above the shoulders, to set up a dragnet near the lakes, and to take off that sombrero.

Attempts to interview locals, who are in a bikini exercise class, prove fruitless. The victim’s father shows up with the ransom money, scared for his daughter’s life. Ed and Frank assure him that they’re working around the clock to find her. He can check for himself, because the clock is right there in the station. Frank and Ed then drive around for hours for no particular reason (that’s a quote), before finding out that the bell was PoliceSquadLasorda.jpgfrom a gas station, and the foghorn was from a tuba. They realize they need to find a tuba place that’s near a gas station… which is complicated by the fact that the city is the tuba capital of the world. Frank finds out from Johnny the snitch (William Duell) that there’s a new tuba club, the El Tubadera Club, which is next to a gas station. Frank leaves as Baseball Legend Tommy Lasorda arrives to ask Johnny about pitching. Johnny gives him a list of recommendations for pitchers and makes a joke about letting Tommy John go, which is even more devastating in retrospect for baseball fans.

Frank drives to the club, and immediately sees the masked kidnapper and the victim on the street, which initiates a shootout that multiple people decide to run through instead of around. Frank gives Ed cover (by putting a blanket on him), allowing Ed to blindly PoliceSquadTubaderastumble around to the kidnapper’s side of the street while Frank decides to take a hostage of his own (a random bystander) to even the score. The kidnapper tries to flee and trips over Ed. The kidnapper is then unmasked to be the Butler… which the title already told us. The butler is then taken away in a Black-and-White, revealed to be a zebra wearing a police light on its head.

The epilogue shows Frank and Ed talking at the station, with a chimp from another case in the background. Frank and Ed banter until they freeze-frame… which is literally just them standing still while everyone else keeps moving, including the chimp, who throws papers all over the place.

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, if you love Airplane! or Naked Gun or almost any surreal comedy, this show was perfect. Airplane! made $83 Million in the US on a $3.5 Million budget, and Naked Gun later made $78 Million on $12 Million, so it’s not like this format wasn’t without an audience. Why did it fail, then? Well, the president of ABC Entertainment explained that

PoliceSquadABC
ABC: We think you’re idiots

it was a show that demanded too much attention from the viewer. People really had to watch it and pay attention to the words, the sight-gags, the running gags, etc. in order to appreciate how great the show was. This is, of course, both stupid and sad. Stupid, in that cancelling a TV show for taking too much effort is akin to shutting down a gym because people don’t want to sweat, and sad, because, it turns out, people actually don’t like putting effort into their viewings. Nowadays, things are a little different, because shows with faster-paced jokes and random gags can at least survive for a while (Arrested Development, anyone?), but, back in 1982, the networks didn’t have faith in the viewers to actually turn up to watch it.

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He was young once.

Honestly, if the show had been made in the time of home video, it would have done better, because the episodes have to be re-watched many, many times to get all of the jokes. Sometimes, there is a sight-gag happening at the same time as a funny line, and you can’t really focus on either one, meaning you’d probably have to re-watch the show in order to get them. It’s a lot of comedy packed in 30 minutes. And a lot of the jokes are derived from police procedurals, especially The New Breed, which had starred Leslie Nielsen, which meant that sometimes things in the show weren’t as funny until you managed to watch the source material. But, for the most part, the jokes are pretty easy to get.

It’s sad that we only got 6 episodes of this show, even if we got 3 movies later, but we just have to be happy with that. Plus, you can re-watch them pretty often. I just re-watched this one for the 3rd time in a week, and I only just now noticed that part of the Crime Lab is a liquor cabinet hidden among the chemicals.

All of these episodes are works of art, so I recommend you watch them at some point. And then watch the Naked Gun movies. And then watch Arrested Development, which provided a slightly more realistic surreal show which contained rapid-fire jokes that range from the simple to the ludicrously complex and was clearly based on this show.

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.

Greatest Valentine’s Day Episodes

Okay, so, I’m going to die alone, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a list of some of the best Valentine’s Day episodes of TV. Or, really, just the first 5 episodes I could think of that were good. I didn’t think of this until Monday, so cut me a break.

Runner Up: Galentine’s Day (Parks and Rec)

Why is this a runner up? Because it’s not a V-day episode…  and although most of it takes place at a Valentine’s Dance, it’s mostly about breakups.

ValentinesParksAndRec

Galentine’s Day is the 13th of February, and it’s a holiday made up by Pawnee, Indiana resident Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) to celebrate strong, independent women. Leslie’s widowed mother, Marlene (Pamela Reed), a guest at the Galentine’s celebration, tells the story of her first love, a lifeguard she met years before she met Leslie’s father, with whom she had a passionate affair before her parents made her break it off.

ValentinesGalentinesLeslie, with encouragement from Justin (Justin Theroux), a man she’s been dating, goes to find the lifeguard and reunite the lovers after all these years. Unfortunately, while Marlene grew up to be a civic leader, the lifeguard, Frank (John Larroquette), is just a barrel full of problems. He’s immature, unsophisticated, unemployed, and just generally is the worst. Marlene understandably wants nothing to do with him.

This leads Leslie to realize she doesn’t really like Justin. Meanwhile, her co-workers’ relationships are similarly dissolving. Tom (Aziz Ansari) is rejected by his ex-wife. April (Aubrey Plaza) breaks up with her boyfriend and his boyfriend. Ann (Rashida Jones) and Mark (Paul Schneider) are still together, but it’s clear Ann is looking to get out of the relationship… which leads Mark to get out of the show.

Message received: Love is a lie and everyone dies alone. Happy Galentine’s Day!!!

5) Operation Ann (Parks and Rec)

Okay, I had to make it up to Parks and Rec, both for lambasting Galentine’s Day and for not ever finding an episode of the show quite remarkable enough to get onto this list, despite how much I like the show.

Here’s the thing about Parks and Rec: Every single couple at the end of the show is basically perfect.

April and Andy (Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt), Leslie and Ben (Amy Poehler and Adam Scott), Ann and Chris (Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe), Tom and Lucy (Aziz Ansari and Natalie Morales), Donna and Joe (Retta and Keegan-Michael Key), Garry and Gayle (Jim O’Heir and Christie Brinkley), Ron and Diane (Nick Offerman and Lucy Lawless), even Craig and Typhoon (Billy Eichner and Rodney To). All of them are amazing. Which is why it’s so great to see where some of these relationships start to develop.

ValentinesBenLeslie.gifThis episode starts with Leslie having her first V-Day with a serious boyfriend, Ben. She makes an overly-elaborate series of puzzles involving multiple riddles that range from “weird” to “punishingly difficult.” Even Leslie admits, at one point, that it’s probably impossible for Ben to actually solve them all. In desperation, Ben asks Ron and Andy for help. Along the way, Ben finds out that Ron actually loves puzzles and riddles, despite his earlier objections to them. In the end, Ron intuits the final solution to Leslie’s riddle, saving Ben.

valentinesanntom.jpgMeanwhile, Leslie asks the office to help find a boyfriend for Ann, who is somehow single despite being sweet, smart, and looking like Rashida Jones (it actually gets explained later that she has some issues). At the same time, Chris, the perpetual optimist, is depressed because he has been dumped by his most recent girlfriend. At the end of the episode, Ann ends up hanging out with Tom, which proves to be a horrible mistake, and Chris realizes that he’s only single because he broke up with Ann for basically no reason aside from location. This leaves both of them in the position to get back together in the future, after they both grow a little bit.

Also, April and Andy are together, and they’re perfect, and I love them.ValentinesAprilAndy.jpg

 4) Anna Howard Shaw Day (30 Rock)

Much like Parks and Rec, even though I love this show it never made it onto the list. Only 2 episodes got nominated, and this is… not one of them, but it’s a natural fit to put it here. Too bad I don’t have a Leap Day list.

Valentines30Rock.jpg30 Rock is a show about putting on an SNL-like show called “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” which is filmed at NBC headquarters located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

30 Rock doesn’t have the perfect ending for everyone, but it has a solid happy ending for most of the characters. It also points out that, even if you don’t find love in another person, you can find it in your friends and family.

ValentinesLizLemon.gifAt the beginning of this episode, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) has set a root canal on Valentine’s Day, which she calls “Anna Howard Shaw Day” after the female civil rights leader born on Feb. 14, but discovers that everyone else has plans and thus she has no one who can drive her home while she’s under anesthesia. At the same time, her boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), meets Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), the ultra-conservative woman of his dreams. Jack tries to woo her, including planning a celebrity party where he invites Jon Bon Jovi (Music Guy), but ends up snubbing him because he’s interested in what she’s saying. Naturally, they bang, and agree to go out again on V-day. On Valentine’s Day, Liz gets her root canal, telling the dental staff that she’ll be fine to go home. On the way out, however, Liz hallucinates that the nurses are her ex-boyfriends, leading the staff to call Jack to help. Jack agrees, but Avery assumes that it’s just an excuse to dump her after they’ve had sex. Jack counters by offering to have her come along, which impresses Avery even more with his kindness. Liz passes out, but at least she knows she has a friend.

At the same time, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) is depressed because her stalker appears to have lost interest in her. Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer) is confused as to why she’s upset that her stalker has moved on, only for Jenna to tell Kenneth that her stalker is her longest relationship. Kenneth proceeds to send her threatening letters to show that he cares.

Basically, this episode reminds us that friendship is a kind of love, too.

ValentinesAnnaHowardShaw

 3) My Funky Valentine (Modern Family)

Modern Family was a show about how there are different, viable models of family structure than just the traditional Nuclear Family. It covered one family in three households.

Household 1 is the Dunphy family. Goofy dad Phil (Ty Burrell), his wife Claire (Julie Bowen), and their kids Haley, Alex, and Luke (Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, and Nolan Gould). Household 2 is the Pritchetts: Claire’s dad Jay (Ed O’Neill), his younger, hotter wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), Gloria’s son Manny (Rico Rodriguez), and their baby Joe (Jeremy McGuire). Household 3 is the Pritchett-Tuckers: Claire’s brother Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), his husband Cam (Eric Stonestreet), and their daughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons).

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This episode’s main focus is Phil and Claire. Phil has taken Claire to the same restaurant for most of their history together, so this year he decides to rent a hotel and have the two of them roleplay for the evening instead. Phil is Clive, a businessman, and Claire is Julianna, a housewife. As they flirt at the bar, Claire goes to the bathroom and removes all of her clothes, returning wearing just a coat. As they make their way up to the room, however, the coat gets caught in the escalator. Claire cannot get out of the coat withouthaving to run to the room naked, and multiple acquaintances keep showing up… all of whom just tell her to get out of the coat.

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Jay and Gloria go to a comedy club at the same hotel, which is fun until the comedian starts making fun of Jay’s age. They leave and run into Claire… who Gloria quickly helps, having realized the situation immediately, since apparently it had happened to her before. Claire and Phil go to their room… where it’s later revealed Phil screwed up the entire evening somehow by mis-using oil.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is depressed because he broke up his and Cam’s Valentine’s plans due to needing to work on a case, only for the client to settle, preventing Mitchell from delivering the best speech he’d ever written. Manny, who they’re watching while Jay and Gloria are out, is also depressed because he wrote a Valentine’s Day poem for a girl in his class, and another boy took credit for it. Manny and the couple go to the restaurant and confront the boy, with Mitch delivering a version of the speech he’d written. Unfortunately, the girl actually likes the other guy more, so Manny’s still single.

I love this episode because it emphasizes the show’s message of “every couple is different.”

2) Three Valentines (Frasier)

Already wrote this one, not doing it again. Still hilarious.

1) I Love Lisa (The Simpsons)

It probably says a lot that my number one pick is an episode about a girl taking pity on a boy, him taking it the wrong way, her having to break his heart, and them ending up friends… but, that’s for my therapist. Here’s the winner:

This episode is one of the best episodes of the Simpsons, and that’s saying something.

It’s Valentine’s Day in Springfield and Lisa’s class (Yeardley Smith) is giving Valentine’s ValentinesChooChooCards to each other. Unfortunately, Ralph Wiggum (Nancy Cartwright), who is not the brightest kid in the class… nor the most sanitary, doesn’t get a single card. Seeing him heartbroken, Lisa feels pity for him and gives him a card saying “I choo-choo-choose you.” This leads Ralph to fall in love with Lisa, who does not reciprocate. At all. This is made worse when Ralph and Lisa are picked to play George and Martha Washington in the school play.

Ralph’s father, Chief Wiggum (Hank Azaria), gets them tickets to a Krusty the Clown Live show, which Lisa desperately wants to go to. Unfortunately, Krusty starts talking to the audience, leading Ralph to proclaim his love for Lisa on live TV… which Lisa responds to by telling him that “I don’t like you! I never liked you and the only reason I gave you that stupid valentine is because nobody else would!” Bart (Cartwright) later uses a recording of this to show Lisa the exact moment Ralph’s heart rips in half.ValentinesRalph

Ultimately, Lisa tries to apologize to Ralph for being cruel, but Ralph focuses on his role as George Washington, leading him to give a stellar performance and the interest of multiple new women. Lisa finally gives him an apology card with a bee on it, saying “Let’s Bee Friends.”ValentinesBeeFriends

This is an amazing episode, even if it’s a bit heartbreaking, because that’s really just how it is sometimes. The girl you like doesn’t like you back. The thing you thought was caring was just friendship. And that’s okay.

Reader Bonus: Dance Dance Resolution (The Good Place)

Okay, so, I usually don’t do this, but, since this show is relatively new, only just got put on Netflix, is worth watching, and is heavily dependent on continuity, I am going to say this:

******SPOILER ALERT******

There, that’s my warning. I usually don’t care about spoilers because I think that anything that’s worth watching should be good even if you know how it’s going to go, but I’m willing to do it just this once.

Okay, so, The Good Place is a comedy version of the “Nice Place to Visit” episode of The Twilight Zone mixed with No Exit. It features four people: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason (Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto) who spend the first season believing they are in “the Good Place” which is the heaven to which the universe sends good people. The “Good Place” is a neighborhood of ~300 people designed by Architect Michael (Ted Danson) and maintained by the AI system Janet (D’Arcy Carden).

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However, Eleanor quickly realizes that she has been sent there in error: Another woman with her name died at the same time and place, so Eleanor, who was bound for “the Bad Place” took her spot. She resolves, with the help of Chidi, her assigned “soul-mate” to become a better person worthy of the “Good Place.” Meanwhile, she finds out that Jason, a DJ and moronic small-time crook, is also there in error, taking the place of a Buddhist monk. Chidi, an ethics professor, tries to teach them ethical behavior, eventually being joined by Tahani, a charity-running heiress. At the end of the first season, however, Eleanor realizes that they aren’t actually in “the Good Place.” They’re in Hell, it’s just a hell designed so that they torture each other emotionally and mentally, rather than demons torturing them physically. However, Michael, their torturer, decides to just wipe their memories and try again, which ends the season.

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The first episode of the second season is Michael’s second attempt, which is defeated by Eleanor passing a note to herself from the past run-through. Michael discovers this, hides it from his boss, and decides to try a third time. This episode begins with that run-through.

As the episode begins, Michael, confident that his plan will work, runs through the exercise of trying to get the humans to torture each other again, but finds out that in each run-through, Eleanor figures out that they’re in hell (although, on one occasion Jason does, which Michael admits hurts more, because Jason’s mathematically the dumbest human…ever).

TheGoodPlaceDemon.jpgUltimately, after 802 tries, Michael’s demon staff goes on strike, leading Chidi and Eleanor to realize the ruse almost immediately (rather than after a few months like usual), leading them to escape to the “Medium Place” which is inhabited by the one person who didn’t qualify for heaven or hell (Mindy, a coke-addicted stockbroker from the 80s who designed an amazing charity… but died before it got off the ground). It turns out that they’ve been there many times, which annoys everyone. Mindy reveals that every time they come, they form a plan to defeat Michael and leave “the Bad Place,” but each time they fail. Also, she and Chidi are usually in love by this point (this time, they barely know each other), and usually use the “Medium Place” as an opportunity to hook up.

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Hell was originally the premise of Groundhog Day…  Wait, I mean Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.

Meanwhile, Michael’s demon workers have gone on strike, and are threatening to tell Michael’s boss that not only did the second attempt not succeed, but that there have been hundreds of failures which Michael is lying about. Michael talks about his problems to Jason, who tells him a story about how his dance crew “Dance Dance Resolution” was challenged to a dance-off, leading Jason to unite them… in slashing the tires of the other crew. Chidi and Eleanor return to the fake “Good Place” and, together with Tahani and Jason, confront Michael, pointing out that they keep winning, which means that he’s losing. Michael immediately agrees, and offers to team up with them to beat the “Bad Place,” shocking everyone.

Okay, so, first off: I love this show. It’s an expanded, hilarious version of one of my favorite tv episodes and favorite plays, but with an actual positive twist: The reason why Eleanor keeps figuring it out is because Michael has one fundamentally incorrect assumption: Michael believes that Eleanor cannot become a better person. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Eleanor, when confronted with how her behavior impacts people, actually does work on being less selfish. The show points out that none of that counts when done for a selfish reason, but she defies everything by actually becoming more selfless as a result of performing more selfless acts (for the record, this is supported by multiple philosophies which are discussed during the show). In other words, the show treats virtue as a skill which can be practiced until it becomes second nature. You can become good just by working at being good for a long enough period of time, like learning Spanish or lifting weights.

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Next, I’m doing 12 reps of comparing systems of morality

This episode starts with all of Michael’s failures, which is hilarious, given that Michael is immortal and has now effectively had centuries to work on the process (if you estimate from his graph in the following episode, it’s about 400 years over the course of this “Groundhog Day” opening montage). He even has a failure just from forgetting to lock the door and accidentally telling Eleanor she’s in Hell immediately. Not only is he failing to torture them properly, but he actually ends up consistently making them the kind of people that don’t belong in hell. He breaks the afterlife, which really calls into question something that hasn’t been answered in the show: Why wouldn’t this be a better use of the afterlife than shoving flaming spears up someone’s butt? In fact, the episode even points out that, apparently, even demonic beings like Michael and artificial beings like Janet can aspire to be greater than they were, which makes you wonder who is actually running this universe, and what the hell they are thinking.

This show manages to make a ton of philosophical discussions and comparisons interesting, by putting them inside of the framework that most makes them relevant: An actual afterlife. Also, it’s freaking hilarious, especially when Ted Danson is supposed to be an evil mastermind who’s in over his head. So, I encourage all of you to watch this show, and see how this plays out. I know I will.

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Best philosophy overview since Monty Python

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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