45) Development Arrested (Arrested Development)

Arrested Development, the story of a family going through trying times, is the comedian’s comedy. Jokes come at you at every angle. Some are sight gags, some are puns, some are jokes on pop culture, some are jokes on absurdly obscure references, some are all of them at once. Often, a punchline won’t be delivered to a joke for several episodes. This is why the show did terribly when it was on television, honestly. It takes at least 3 viewings per episode to get even the majority of the jokes. Sometimes you will overhear a fact or piece of pop-culture trivia in real life, and suddenly get a joke on Arrested Development. Fox never understood this. Netflix did, and let us all be glad Netflix paid to continue the show and hope they allow for the other scripted movie and additional season the team is looking for.

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This is a huge handful of foreshadowing. 

SUMMARY

“Development Arrested” was the original finale of Arrested Development. In the episode before that, most of the plotlines in the show had been wrapped up, allowing the Bluth family to go back to normal-ish. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), the main character (of the first 3 seasons), has finally gotten the charges against his father dismissed, and the family business is starting to turn around (Jim Cramer moves it from “Don’t Buy” to “Risky”). If this was a normal show, we might have just seen a wrap-up and a send-off (the show even teases it by having the episode start in a mirror of the scene at the start of the series), but Arrested Development refused to go out like that. After all, they had some jokes they’d set up in Season 1 that still had punchlines waiting to drop.

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First episode to last episode, the Banner gags continued.

At the beginning of the series, the SEC showed up on their boats (yes, they have boats) to arrest George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor), the Bluth patriarch, on charges of both embezzlement and treason. As it turns out, George’s charges were largely fraudulent, as he had been working for the U.S. government to spy on Saddam Hussein (who we didn’t actually catch, just his impersonator). However, the embezzlement charges had some merit… it just happens that they picked the wrong Bluth. It turns out that Lucille (Jessica Walter), George’s wife, and the mother of the family, was the one actually behind most of the shady business deals. She is ratted out by her adopted Korean son Annyong (Hello in Korean)(Justin Lee) who reveals his true name as Hal-loh (get it?). He had been a mole on the Bluth family for his entire run on the show, in order to get revenge on behalf of his Grandfather, whom Lucille had ruined by deporting to Korea. Believe me when I say, all of these twists were hinted at a full season, or more, in advance. The show ends with Michael running away from his family, Lucille stealing the ship The Queen Mary, powered by male strippers, and running from the SEC. The epilogue shows the series being pitched to Ron Howard (the narrator of the series), who suggests they make a movie out of it.

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He’s a mole, and his shirt has a mole on it, and he has a mole on his cheek, and you get it.

END SUMMARY

It was a sad ending, because the show really hadn’t dropped at all in quality, it just wasn’t meant for television (especially with Fox’s complete lack of faith in shows that take time to build an audience *cough* Firefly, Family Guy, John Doe, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, Futurama *cough*).  Hopefully Netflix will allow it to keep going now that they’ve revived it, because the last season, while not having any particularly mind-blowing episodes, was the epitome of what Arrested Development was about – A show that requires an investment, but has a huge humor ROI.

PREVIOUS – 46: South Park

NEXT – 44: The X-Files

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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Reader Bonus: Chain of Command (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Alright, so, this was probably the easiest voter-bonus episode to write. I’ve watched this episode (both parts) a dozen times at least, because it is nothing short of a master stroke for Star Trek. It barely missed the cut-off for the actual list, and only because the episode that DID make it is amazing for exactly the same reason as this one, but to a greater extent: That Patrick Stewart is a global treasure.

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NO SINGLE NATION MAY LAY CLAIM TO HIS BRILLIANCE

I’m not going to revisit the premise of Star Trek in depth. There’s a ship. It goes into space on a journey. It’s staffed with the best and brightest that humanity and its associated planets have to offer. It’s called the Enterprise. This version, however, has the best captain (FIGHT ME), Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick F*CKING Stewart).

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Please don’t look at me like that, Janeway

This first episode starts off with Picard losing command to be put on a covert mission to deal with the Cardassian threat. No, not the one with the sex tapes. They’re an alien race.

No, not the one with the sex tapes.

SUMMARY

Picard is replaced by Captain Jellico (Ronny Cox), whose command style, by comparison, is… not as good. Picard goes with a small team on a mission to destroy a cache of biological weapons. They arrive on the target planet, but, finding no signs of weaponry, they suspect a trap and try to escape. Picard is captured and brought to Gul Madred (David Warner), who informs Picard that the entire mission was a setup to capture him in order to obtain secrets on the Federation. That’s the first episode, and it’s… well, only okay. But, it sets up the amazing second episode.

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Jellico did actually get Troi into a uniform, though.

Madred spends the entire episode torturing Picard. Starvation, dehydration, humiliation, beating, shocking, forced nudity, degradation. The crew borrowed a list from Amnesty International when writing it, and put basically all of the ones that would be allowed on network television into the episode.

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And Patrick Stewart sells it all.

It starts by Madred telling Picard that he has no name. Picard will only be called “human.” Then, Madred starts to try to break Picard’s will, and these are some of the most powerful scenes in the entire series. The most memorable exchanges involve Madred showing Picard four spotlights behind his desk. Madred asks Picard how many lights he sees. Picard says four. Madred tells him there are five, and when Picard disagrees, Madred uses a device implanted in Picard to cause him all varieties of simulated pain.

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“How many lights do you see?”

Meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise is told Picard is captured, but they are forced to disavow his actions, which means he’s not eligible for rights as a prisoner of war. These scenes mostly just serve to allow for time-skips on the Picard scenes.

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Although, they do give Jellico some solid redemption.

Madred brings his daughter in to work, and he and Picard banter about the nature of raising children to believe that it is alright to value no other sentient life. Madred claims that the Cardassians used to have a rich spiritual society, and it led them to starve. Now, the Military rules, and everyone is fed (Update: Madred would have supported Thanos). Picard responds that Madred’s children will have full bellies, but empty spirits. He then mocks Madred by denying that there are any lights.

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Does Picard have a “are you shitting me?” look? Your question is answered.

Picard is shown to start resisting by separating his mind and body, envisioning himself at his family’s home in France. As Madred tries to break him, Picard starts to turn the tables, pointing out that Madred knows torture is ineffective at getting information or control, so Madred is clearly just using it to punish people because he feels weak. Picard calls him pitiable. Madred proves him right by just shocking him again.

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Picard turns the tables in the middle of a torture session. Most people would just cry.

Finally, the Enterprise is able to intercept a Cardassian ship and threaten to detonate a series of mines that would destroy them in order to force the Cardassians to release Picard.

Madred, having been told that Picard is going to be released, goes to confront a dehydrated, delirious Picard. Madred tells the captain that the Cardassians have conquered the planet that the Federation was defending and that the Enterprise was destroyed, and that they have no need for him anymore. Madred then offers to let Picard live a life of comfort in exchange for one thing: Telling Madred that he sees five lights. Picard, wavering, and uncertain, starts to speak, and then the guards come in and inform Picard that he’s being returned to the Enterprise.

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In what is one of the most amazingly bad-ass moments in the history of television, Picard, a beaten, broken, shadow of a man, turns to his captor and tells him:

“THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!”

Couldn’t find an HD copy, but here’s the scene anyway. It’s also on Netflix.

It’s an amazing scene that would rouse the heart of even the most stoic or cynical of people. It is nothing short of a triumph of the human will against circumstances that should render a person into a shaking pile of incoherent wailing. Which is what makes it even more notable when, in the last scene of the episode, Picard talks to Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis), and admits to her that, during the last exchange, he did see five lights.

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Picard has trouble even admitting to himself he was broken. But he still won. Amazing.

END SUMMARY

People who took High School English seriously probably have read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. One of the most iconic scenes in the book is when the protagonist, Winston Smith, is tortured by the Party’s propaganda agency, the Ministry of Love. The torturer, O’Brien, begins to try to force Winston to think in Newspeak, the Party’s language, by torturing him to the point that when he holds up four fingers, Winston will believe there are five.

‘How can I help it?’ [Winston] blubbered. ‘How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.’

‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.’

That is what Madred is doing here. While Madred is originally supposed to be getting specific information out of Picard, by the end, he has long forsaken that in the name of just breaking Picard’s mind. And, much like the end of the book, Madred does finally succeed, even if only for a moment. At the end of the book, Winston has learned that hope is gone, because the Party controls everything. Unlike Winston, Picard is saved by the momentary appearance of hope because he learns that the Cardassians don’t fully control him anymore. Hope is what a person can hold onto when everything else is lost, and it is anathema to being controlled.

The other central difference between Winston and Picard is that Winston never was able to challenge his torturer, because he never understood what the Party wanted to do to him or what their goals were. Picard, on the other hand, understands exactly what the Cardassians want and what Madred really is thinking at almost any given time. He is able to use that to turn the tables at certain points and regain a position of power.

Using Nineteen  Eighty-Four as a comparison here is particularly apt, because the Federation is the exact opposite of the Party. The Party, and apparently the Cardassian Empire, lives to oppress and control for the sake of control and oppression under the pretense of survival. The Federation exists to put every person within it into a state of self-actualization at any given time. Every person on Earth is cared for, and given the basics to allow them to self-determine for free for the sake of advancement. Pretty much the best possible view for the future contrasted with the worst.

But, mostly, this episode just has Patrick Stewart being awesome. If it wasn’t for the fact that the first half is slow and the intercuts with the regular crew weren’t so off-putting (seriously, it was a bad idea to put Patrick Stewart and David Warner in a scene together and not consider that it made everyone else look like worse actors by comparison), this would have made the list proper.

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.

The good half of the episode (the scene above starts at 45:15):
https://dailymotion.com/video/x5hpsdb

Reader Bonus: Iconoclast (2012)

This movie is the worst thing I have ever seen. It’s awful, but more than that, it’s not even amusingly awful. In another entry on this list, I suggested that one of the best episodes of television was the MST3K of Manos, the Hands of Fate, because Manos is a painfully bad movie on every level. Manos is bad, but at least Manos is bad in an interesting way. This wasn’t. This was both poorly made and profoundly boring.

I’d say this was an attempt at an art film, but it’s not even that. This comes off more as some middle-schooler who wrote a Hot Topic Fan Fiction and apparently found someone to fund it. There’s leather, some nudity, a guy with an axe, muted colors (and sadly non-muted audio), and random glamour shots of the cast. It’s got all of the elements of a soft-core porn but without the quality and dedication that Cinemax demands at 3 AM.

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Again, this is not soft-core porn.

I started the movie off by having a few drinks. Then, during the film, I had more. The biggest problem with the movie is that there isn’t anything happening during the majority of it. It’s just spinning shots of characters standing in woods and fields and beaches. Some of it is in black and white, but they mute the colors of the film so much it’s hard to tell when the switch happens.

Here’s the IMDB description of the movie: “A dark goddess resurrects a lone warrior to slay the old gods and steal their power so that she can make him into a weapon to battle the knights who are rampaging across the land.” And that’s probably what it’s about, but since there is no dialogue in the film, only voice-over monologues that, due to the terrible sound editing, are only comprehensible because they’re repeated multiple times during the film. I’d say that the total number of lines in this film, discounting repeats, comes in at about 28. In 90 minutes. And those 28 lines are not good. My assumption is that the script was written by two people taking LSD at a show for a mid-price Anthrax cover band.

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Slitting this woman’s throat takes 9. F*cking. Minutes.

The movie is mostly a chain of poorly choreographed fight scenes between the main character, Undead Guy, and some random people to avenge something vague. And when I say poorly choreographed, I mean that these people look like when 8-year-olds play “swords” with sticks. During one of the fight scenes, they re-use the same shot 4 times, and they take a break during the fight. Not for dialogue or emoting or whatever, but just a break. It actually looks like one of the actors goes “just a sec,” takes a breather, and they just didn’t stop recording.

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They inexplicably take a break in the middle of the fight. A fight that lasts 3 minutes without it.

The costumes are what Medieval Faire craftsmen call “whoopsies.” At one point, there’s a group of people wearing cloaks, khaki pants, and no shirt. The cloaks appear to be blankets. Two of the women characters are just wearing lace veils and skirts that appear to be lace veils tied around their waists. One character is supposed to be Mother Earth, but her main character trait is standing around topless in strange poses.

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*Thinking* I wonder if the producer lied when he said he knew Baz Luhrmann.

Also, there is a disturbing amount of circle-walking in this movie. Most of the movie is a character walking in a circle around another character. If you cut out the gratuitous circling shots, the movie would probably be 20 minutes long. If you are aroused by the image of someone walking in a circle around another person, as I can only assume the director of this movie was, then you’ll never find better. Oh, and random cuts of the main female narrator, the Generic Dark Goddess, dancing to what I can only assume is the Flashdance soundtrack slowed-down. If you like Circle Walking and Slowed-Down Flashdance movements, this is your jam.

So, what wasn’t terrible? Well, there’s a guy in the movie who licks a tree. Tree Licker is the best actor in the movie. At no point do I doubt that he is actually licking that tree. I even can look at his face and get the impression that he’s slightly scared of the Undead Guy, which makes one more emotion than the rest of the cast manages to convey. Sadly, Tree Licker does eventually get found by Undead Guy. They have a fight, Undead Guy wins, Triangle Man.

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R.I.P. Tree Licker.

At one point, an actress who was already killed in the movie shows up playing another character who teleports with the power of terrible 80s blur effects. TelePatty seems promising, right up to the part where she apparently can’t actually teleport during any part of the fight and gets killed by Undead Guy.

With about 30 minutes left in the movie, they introduce the King which Undead Guy and Generic Dark Goddess are apparently supporting, and he can kill people with his mind. I was borderline angry that King Mind-Kill had been hidden until this point, because it’s almost an interesting character. He promptly gets killed by a random new character, and is never spoken of again, nor is his killer. The remainder of the movie is people walking in circles around each other on the beach. That takes 25 minutes.

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Wait, we had a costume budget?

The best part of the movie, though, is the credits, not only because they signified that the movie was over, but because the names were more interesting than the film. Much of the cast apparently went by their Metal Pseudonyms, including “Smaug,” “Rathamon,” “Whoreyevo,” and “King Caveman.” The production company was Blue Cthulhu, also a good name. Oh, and at one point, I’m pretty sure the cameraman scratched his balls during a shot. The camera tilts for a few seconds, and you can hear a soft “aaaah” that sounds like you found just the right spot for testicular satisfaction. That was probably the only moment where I felt someone in the shoot might have done something worthwhile.

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The cast pseudonyms took more effort than the character names.

Everything in this movie is bad. I have seen student films better than this. Hell, I’ve been in student films better than this. I can’t even be that angry at the movie, it’d be like punching a group of toddlers for bad artwork. Clearly nobody involved in this movie had any experience in any way. I’d love for RiffTrax to see this film, but I honestly don’t know what would happen. Most of the movie is just too boring to even riff on. Watching it doesn’t even feel like an experience, it just feels like a void in my life.

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.

I’ve decided to include the notes from my viewing. Enjoy.

Notes:

ICONOCLAST

Preliminary: Drank 2 beers and ran 2 miles before starting. Hopefully the endorphin and alcohol combo will help. Internet problems are limiting the stream quality. I don’t know how much this will impact the experience.

11:40 – Opening shot on some cliffs and the ocean. Music appears to be a mix of a Theremin and a buzz saw.

11:42 – Woman in generic revealing costume comes on, and the sound editing is so bad I can’t figure out about half of what she says. The half I do understand appears to be written as a high-school fan fiction.

11:52 – The entire movie so far has been voice-over of the same woman walking around. It hasn’t been in focus for much of that, and I can’t tell if it’s on purpose to be artistic, or if the crew didn’t know how cameras worked.

11:53 – A second character and a gratuitous nipple shot. Hooray, progress!

11:56 – Pretty sure the sound for the last 5 minutes has been a 5 second digeridoo clip on endless repeat. It really complements the very odd semi-sexual knife play that the first woman is engaging in on the bound second woman.

12:00 – Don’t play with knives and naked women, kids. Someone always ends up sacrificed to… Fuck if I know, but knowing is half the battle!

12:03 – The cellphone upon which this was shot was not of good quality. It’s really making it hard to appreciate the 4 minutes of half-naked chick, who is apparently a goddess or a witch, walking around a dead guy and… I guess bringing him back to life?

12:06 – I’m 90% sure the guy holding the camera just tilted it while scratching his balls, because it just did the exact tilt and duration of a quality nut-scraping, and there was a soft “aah” of relief in the audio unrelated to anything on screen. This comforts me, because at least someone got some enjoyment out of filming.

12:09 – There’s a fight for some reason between the undead guy and some new woman. Fight choreography confirms my “high-school fan-fiction” theory.

12:10 – They took a break during the fucking fight. They took. A break. In the middle of the fight. Not for dialogue, or anything profound, they both just kind of waved and signaled a break.

12:12 – THEY HAVE JUST RE-USED THE SAME SHOT 4 TIMES. YOU WERE TAKING A BREAK IN THE FIGHT, AND YOU STILL COULDN’T FILM 2 MINUTES OF ACTUAL BAD STAGE COMBAT????

12:13 – So far, all of the movie has been voice-over, and most of it has been the same lines repeated multiple times.

12:14 – We’ve hit the 30 minute mark. Mercifully, it appears that the copy is damaged for now, and I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

12:24 – God hates me. Still going.

12:28 – There’s a new guy in the movie licking a tree, and it’s the best acting so far. I genuinely believe he’s licking the tree.

12:30 – Tree licker is clearly the thespian in the crowd. His face has actually shown an emotion. I get that he’s afraid of the undead guy.

12:31 – Tree Licker is seriously upping this movie’s game. Now he’s making a fight sequence look at least college-production level. And there’s some not-terrible metal music to accompany it.

12:34 – Tree Licker is dead. Undead guy bit him on the shoulder, and apparently that was his one weakness. You will be missed, sir. Godspeed.

12:44 – 10 minutes of backstory flashbacks, and, while I now kind of understand what’s supposed to have happened in this movie, it’s profoundly stupid.

12:45 – More gratuitous nudity. This character is apparently Mother Earth, because of the voice-over, but I would also have accepted “Tits McGee,” as her main character trait appears to be nudity.

12:50 – Tits McGee has made two guys appear. They wailed on Undead guy for like 5 minutes while Tits McGee posed for 15 different album covers. They are not good albums.

12:52 – Periodically, it cuts back to the Generic Dark Goddess that started this movie dancing on the shore. I’m assuming that she’s listening to the soundtrack to Flashdance.

12:54 – Undead guy is killing some random guys in cloaks who appear to be determined to attack him one at a time. Also, they’re clearly wearing khakis.

12:57 – The woman from the first fight sequence has returned, playing another character, in another fight sequence. She can now apparently teleport through 1980s-style editing effects. I’m going to call her TelePatty.

12:59 –TelePatty appears to have forgotten that she can teleport now that the budget’s used up. She’s just getting punched in slo-mo. Now she’s been beheaded.

1:01 – Okay, apparently there was a king that the Generic Dark Goddess and Undead guy were supporting, and he magics people to death with his mind. WHY WAS THAT NOT MENTIONED IN THE FIRST HOUR? This is the first thing in this movie that almost looks interesting.

1:05 – Undead Guy has knelt before King Mind-Kill and said that he is broken just from from “feeling his potence.”  No man should ever say that about another man’s potence. Also, is potence a word? Shouldn’t it be potency? Okay, I guess it is. Thanks internet.

1:08 – King who magics people to death with his mind was just killed by completely new character in about 30 seconds.

1:11 – Generic Dark Goddess has just told Undead Guy not to kill the guy who killed the king, even though he totally could. So he can kill him later. My protagonist hasn’t read the Evil Overlord List, apparently.

1:12 – We’re now in black and white, and there are waves, and a cave, and I can’t feel things anymore.

1:16 – If people walking around in slow circles for no apparent reason is your fetish, this movie is for you. I feel like half of this movie has just been walking in circles around stuff.

1:18 – Okay, so, Undead guy has now assisted Generic Dark Goddess’s suicide in 5 completely irreconcilably different shots, for no apparent reason.

1:25 – So. Much. Circle-walking. This character hasn’t even been in the movie until now, and it’s just circle walking.

1:26 – New guy and Undead Guy are fighting for no reason, and Generic Dark Goddess is alive again? What the fuck is this movie?

1:27 – AND SHE’S JUST WALKING IN A CIRCLE AND DANCING TO SILENT FLASHDANCE.

1:28 – And Undead Guy is dead again? And Generic Dark Goddess is dead again and New Guy is doing the Bodyguard for her body?

1:31 – And Undead guy is re-alivened. For reasons.

1:32 – Merciful Odin, the movie is over. And the credit names are already better than the movie. We have actors named “Smaug,” “Rathamon,” “Whoreyevo,” and “King Caveman.”

46) Trapped in the Closet – South Park

South Park is a show that oscillates between being overly preachy and moralistic, and being incredibly immature and off-color. The truth is that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, are both brilliant and horribly immature, which is why they choose their medium carefully, and why it works perfectly. South Park involves 4 boys with foul mouths whose curiosity and bad luck constantly puts them in the middle of inane circumstances for 22 minutes. (Update) A few seasons ago, the show actually started doing story arcs, and, until the 2016 election, they were among the best works of satire of neoliberalism and neoconservativism that I have ever seen. Sadly, they have now abandoned serialization because the election ruined their last arc, and caused them to lose faith in America. But, c’est la vie. (Update of an update) Okay, so, they actually started serializing again, loosely.

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Oh, and they have received some acclaim on stage and screen.

“This is what Scientologists actually believe.” With six words, South Park unleashed a small hell. Well, there was also a series of jokes implying that Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and R. Kelly are all secretly gay (primarily the first two, R.Kelly is mostly just insane), but those are secondary.

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This is the least crazy image associated with it.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone (who voice almost every character) are famous for their willingness to assault every belief and every religion. They’ve taken shots at Christians, Jews, Mormons, and even Atheists and Agnostics. Usually, it’s in a pretty fair way, pointing out that there is merit to most of these beliefs, even if there are huge drawbacks to some dogma or forms of practice. Even in the episode with Mormons, in which they literally call the founding of the Mormon religion a giant, stupid lie that only idiots would believe, they still point out that it doesn’t mean Mormons are bad people. In fact, it says that most of them are just friendly, polite, and hardworking, and that if you decide to overlook those qualities to judge them for their beliefs, then you’re the real asshole. But, with Scientology, they really didn’t try to look for a good side. They went for the throat, clamped down, and shook it until it looked completely ridiculous, and then burned the body and peed out the embers.

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They were kinder to the religion they made a musical “mocking.”

SUMMARY

The plot of Trapped in the Closet is that Stan, one of the four boys, is feeling bored and broke, and thus takes a free “personality test” provided by the church of Scientology. The test says he is depressed, and thus is a perfect candidate for Scientology. They then ask him to pay $240 to take an E-meter test. This test reveals he has absurdly high Thetan levels, so high that he must be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Stan is then informed of the “secret history of the universe.”

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Are you happy? The answer is: They don’t know, don’t join cults.

The story of the secret history of the universe is… Okay, most religions require some sort of heavy level of illogical belief in their founding. Christian, Jew, Buddhist, even Confucian, you have some stuff that sounds weird to every other religion. Scientology’s is only the craziest because it seems like exactly what a B-grade Sci-Fi writer would have created in his spare time. Oh, and because while explaining the story, South Park had to put up the disclaimer “this is what Scientologists actually believe.” It involves alien souls, DC-8 aircrafts, hydrogen bombs, and the great lord Xenu.

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Alien souls entering cavemen. Again, this is NOT a parody.

After being told of the secret history, Stan is approached for approval by Tom Cruise. Stan inadvertently insults Cruise’s acting, resulting in Tom hiding in his closet. John Travolta comes in to ask him to leave, but also ends up in the closet. Then, Stan tells the church of Scientology that he wants them to help people for free… at which point the current head of the church calls him an idiot and tells him that Scientology is just a giant scam. It was clearly made up in order to get people to give them money and act as a way to avoid taxes through being a church. Stan proceeds to tell the world the truth in a press conference, resulting in the Church threatening to sue him, reflecting the church’s love of litigation. The credits replace all of the names of the cast with “John Smith” and “Jane Smith.”

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What if the guy was actually named John Smith?

END SUMMARY

The fallout from this one episode was much bigger than anyone would have thought. Tom Cruise supposedly ordered this episode to be pulled from the rotation or else he’d stop promoting Mission: Impossible 3, which was produced by Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom. We can’t be sure about that, but the episode was pulled from repeats until after the movie came out. Isaac Hayes, who played the character Chef, definitely left the show over this episode. Whether it was him directly, or the Church of Scientology putting pressure on him, the character of Chef died because of this episode. When Isaac Hayes passed away, the creators put out another episode, further satirizing the church by making up a fake club of pedophiles that brainwashed Chef, then telling their history with “this is what the Super Adventure Club actually believes.” A year after this, Comedy Central and Viacom were STILL dealing with issues getting members of the “church” to participate in projects. Rolling Stone even held an anniversary cover for this episode. Not bad for a cartoon born of fart jokes.

PREVIOUS – 47: Psych

NEXT – 45: Arrested Development

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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Watch the show on Hulu, or mirrored (literally) here:

47) Dual Spires (Psych)

Psych started out as a comedic detective show featuring Shawn Spencer (James Roday), a hyper-observant man-child who pretends to be psychic in order to get hired by the police force, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill), his semi-cowardly and often unwilling partner, and the police detectives Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and Juliet “Jules” O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), the latter of whom is Shawn’s paramour. He also receives help from his father (Corbin Bernsen) and jobs from Chief Vick (Kirsten Nelson). It later became a buddy fake-cop comedy, which occasionally moved back into the detective range. It even had some very dark episodes in the run. The Yin/Yang serial killer trilogy is an exceptionally dark work of homicide fiction. The show also loved to do parody or tribute episodes. One of the Yin/Yang trilogy, for example, “Mr. Yin Presents,” was a tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Throughout the episode, there are countless direct references to Hitchcock films, both the famous ones and the more obscure. That episode was a solid homage, but it pales in comparison to this episode.

Psych-Cast.jpg
Yes, they’re an attractive bunch. It’s television.

SUMMARY

The town of Dual Spires is Twin Peaks concentrated. In the episode, there are more than 200 references to Twin Peaks… in the last 10 minutes alone. It is absurd how much effort the crew put into their tributes, but it is clear from the performances that it was a labor of love. Weird camera angles, strange lighting, props, extras, signs, you name it, they’re a reference.

Psych-DualSpiresEnd.png
This shot has like 5.

“Dual Spires’s” plot is the murder of Paula Merral (an anagram of Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer), while Shawn and Gus visit the town’s cinnamon festival. Since it’s Shawn and Gus investigating the murder in place of the original series character Dale Cooper, everything is a little more light-hearted. Since it’s Psych, all the supernatural elements of Twin Peaks are replaced with semi-realistic explanations, including having Ray Wise’s character from Psych reprise his role in this episode after accidentally dyeing his hair white (as opposed to it just changing in Twin Peaks). The episode successfully manages to be a loving tribute to the original show, while maintaining the dynamic of the usual Psych episodes. Perhaps the best example in the episode is the re-imagining of the Psych opening song sung to the tune of the Twin Peaks theme by Julee Cruise, who sang the Twin Peaks theme. It’s haunting and almost a shot-for-shot remake of the intro sequence of Twin Peaks. The show constantly manages to duplicate the otherworldly and abnormal feel of David Lynch’s original vision.

Psych-DualSpiresSign.jpg

While the twists and turns of the mystery of the murder on Psych turn out to be less insane than those of Twin Peaks, they are just as interesting, and are resolved for the most part in the episode (though, just like Twin Peaks, some things are just left out there). The jokes of the episode are well delivered, even if they are mostly bad puns, and the atmosphere of the episode is a blend of both shows. Overall, this episode manages to be a love note and a mockery of the original, much like a Mel Brooks film. And I love Mel Brooks.

PREVIOUS – 48: The Wire

NEXT – 46: South Park

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.

Here’s star James Roday’s loving intro:

And the Episode, which you should buy:

48) Middle Ground (The Wire)

The Wire exposes the vices of city of Baltimore season by season. First season, they did the drug trade, second season, they did the seaport system, and in the third season, they turned to government bureaucracy, where the real evil lies.

TheWire-1Cast
It is surprisingly difficult to find a cast photo of this show. Is that racist?

The characters on The Wire were the key to the show’s success, but the long and intricately interweaving plotlines were the secret to its longevity. The most popular characters of this season, and of the entire show, are Omar (Michael K. Williams), a privately tender, gay stick-up man known for robbing drug dealers and avoiding innocent bystanders, and Stringer Bell (Idris “GIVE HIM EVERY ROLE” Elba), a drug kingpin and expert economist trying to make his organization a little bit more legitimate. Mostly, Stringer starts trying to reduce the number of murders committed by his organization (murders get the police, drug deals get passed over). He also begins to work heavily with politicians in order to support his building project, which will both provide for easy laundering, and also a path towards a legitimate business. At the same time, Stringer is dealing with the return of the former head of the organization, Avon (Wood Harris), who is less concerned with trying to maintain a legitimate front, and more concerned with his reputation.

TheWire-2StringerBell
Every. Role.

In this season, Omar and Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts)(Mouzone means “judicious” in Arabic), a hitman and drug enforcer from New York who always speaks eloquently and wears a suit, have both had intense dealings with Stringer, who finally attempts to force Omar and Mouzone to kill each other. After a brief confrontation, Mouzone surprises everyone by suggesting that he and Omar instead kill Stringer. After confronting Stringer’s gang, Mouzone then proceeds to give Avon a choice: Stringer’s location, or Avon’s reputation. Avon chooses to give up the former.

TheWire-3Mouzone
This is one of the scariest men on TV.

SUMMARY

This episode is as intense as television can normally get. Even the parts that don’t have to deal directly with Omar, Mouzone and Stringer are extremely tense, featuring the Mayor (Aidan Gillen) dealing with Hamsterdam, a series of drug-safe zones throughout Baltimore, and the major case unit failing to curb the extremely high crime rate in the city, despite pressure from the local government. In the end, every story involves someone trying to reach a middle-ground, and many are reached in the episode. The necessity of compromise is part of politics, because otherwise nothing gets done (though, of course, if your position is that you want nothing to get done, then you have no motive to compromise). This episode shows both the traditional political compromise of ideals and the compromise of economic triage, whereby you just give up and let some things die. The last middle ground, however, is in-between Mouzone and Omar, which is where Stringer finds himself, unarmed, at the end of the episode. Stringer pleas for his life, and claims that he has finally gone completely straight, but, in the end, he tells them there is nothing he can say to stop them. Then, Mouzone and Omar fire, and walk away without a word, leaving Stringer dead next to the sign for his prized building project.

TheWire-4OmarMouzone
It takes both of them to equal one Stringer Bell.

END SUMMARY

In the end, this episode highlights one of the more difficult parts of government: It’s composed of, and policed by, people. And one of the worst parts of being a person is: Even when you want to change for the better, the means by which you effect that change may destroy everything you want to save. Sometimes, you can only advance through losing a little in the process.

PREVIOUS – 49: Cheers

NEXT – 47: Psych

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.

49) Thanksgiving Orphans (Cheers)

Cheers takes place in a dive bar, because, ultimately, all of the characters are people who need to be in a dive bar. They’re a collection of failures. Sam (Ted Danson), the owner/bartender, drank himself out of a major league career. Carla (Rhea Perlman), the waitress, hates her family and most people in general, both in the bar and out of it. Diane (Shelley Long), the other waitress and Sam’s ex, is a constant failure as an intellectual, and really only stays at the bar because it’s the only environment in which she is the smartest person… unless you count Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), who’s only there because he’s alone (and, at this point, divorced once and left at the altar once). Norm (George Wendt), probably TV’s biggest alcoholic that isn’t animated, is there to escape his wife, and Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) is there because he’s an oft-wrong know-it-all who lives with his mother. Woody (Woody Harrelson) is the closest thing to a success, because he’s so stupid that he is coming close to living to his potential. Plus, his girlfriend is super rich… and also dumb.

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Some of these people weren’t in this episode. But ignore them.

SUMMARY

In this episode, the cast’s failures are highlighted, when it’s pointed out that everyone is alone at Thanksgiving: Sam’s fiance is gone for the week, Norm’s wife is at her mother’s and left him alone, Cliff’s mother is volunteering, and Carla’s kids are at her ex-husband’s house. Carla invites everyone over to her house, making it one of the first episodes to be set someplace other than the bar. Once they’re all there together, however, they largely behave exactly as they normally do. They watch sports, rag on each other, reminisce about the times their lives had promise, and Diane crashes the party dressed up like a Pilgrim. Okay, one of those is unique, but still within Diane’s normal behavior. As expected of a group of people who have mostly messed up their lives to this point, everything about the day goes wrong. Everyone is sad about their personal states, the food fails to get cooked, Diane makes everyone wait too long for dinner, and the whole evening starts to fall apart, right up until the food fight starts.

Cheers-2Dinner.jpg
The Losers Club

The food fight is the definition of the word catharsis on Cheers, both for the characters and for the actors. They get to do exactly what a group of losers who serve as a surrogate family have always wanted to do to one-another: Pelt each other with yams. Everyone is angry at everyone else, but also angry at themselves and their lives, and they all just really need to do something to destroy their status quo. This isn’t really a negative, because they’re doing it surrounded by the only people who will understand. To cap off the fight, a pie thrown at Sam by Diane misses and hit’s Norm’s wife Vera, who has shown up at that moment. Vera, whose face is never shown in the run of the show thanks to that pie, immediately ends the festivities by telling Norm to take her home.

Cheers-3Fight.gif

This episode is a fun reminder that, while it is cliché, it’s true, family is not just blood, but heart.

PREVIOUS – 50: Dexter

NEXT – 48: The Wire

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.