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

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: Fighting Cage (Renegade)

Renegade lasted 5 seasons for reasons that will forever elude me, but I will admit these episodes (two-parter) were a lot more entertaining than I expected.

It was one of those shows that was considerate enough to tell everyone the premise at the beginning of every episode: “He was a cop, and good at his job, but he committed the ultimate sin—and testified against other cops gone bad. Cops that tried to kill him, but got the woman he loved instead. Framed for murder, now he prowls the badlands…an outlaw hunting outlaws…a bounty hunter…a RENEGADE.”

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This isn’t even an added graphic. It just appears when you look this 90s.

The main characters were Reno Raines (Lorenzo “My last name sounds like Alpaca” Lamas), his Native-American partner Bobby Sixkiller (Branscombe Richmond), and Bobby’s sister Cheyenne Phillips (Kathleen Kinmont) who were working to clear Raines’s name and hunt down Donald “Dutch” Dixon (Stephen Cannell), the man who framed him, while earning money as bounty hunters. Raines uses the alias Vince Black, because everyone on this show has an awesome name.

Seriously, Reno Raines, Bobby Sixkiller, Dutch Dixon, Lorenzo Lamas, Vince Black? It’s like the festival of St. Kickass of Lastname.

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The 3rd Most Bad-ass Saint

This episode starts with Reno receiving an anonymous call that his brother, Mitch renegadejohnkreese.jpg(Martin “I’m the Sensei from Cobra Kai” Kove), who he thought died almost 20 years ago, is alive and literally kicking as a cage fighter. However, the person who calls him is killed after delivering a tape of Mitch. Then, in order to find out where his brother is, Reno has to enter underground kickboxing matches, because the 90s were awesome at times. So, the team heads to Mexico. Also, they have Charles Napier and Mitchell Ryan in the cast as the bad guys, presumably because they were in Rambo: First Blood Part II and Hot Shots: Part Deux (which came out the next week), which RenegadeBadGuys2parodied Rambo III. I know that’s not the real reason, but it’s why I would have put them in the episode.

Raines beats up three guys, because why not, then he’s offered a team death match, which he accepts. They give Raines a truth serum, because those exist, apparently, and he tells the fight organizers his backstory and that he’s looking for his brother. However, he apparently doesn’t remember doing this, because truth serums also do that, I guess. The organizers contact Lt. Dixon and offer him Raines if they can hold the fight at his palatial estate (apparently no one has ever questioned how a police Lieutenant affords a mansion). Reno is then put into the ring against his next opponent…

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Pause for people who don’t know how TV works…

His own brother, Mitch!

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Dun DUN DUUUUUUUUN!!!!

They fight, Reno is winning, but the fight is declared a draw so they can make it a headline fight for later. It turns out that Mitch has amnesia, and is being manipulated by the organizers. Reno then attends a party to promote the fights, which includes a bizarre scene of underwater day-glo bikini knife fighting. Reno makes contact with Mitch, whose memory starts to return. The organizers, knowing their relationship, threaten to kill Mitch’s Thai wife and Cheyenne if either Mitch or Reno refuse to fight. This fails almost immediately after the fight begins, due to Reno’s and Mitch’s abilities to round-house kick all of the people in the face. All of them. Dixon kills one of the organizers, and Reno and Mitch machine-gun down the other’s helicopter in a very cost-effective scene. Mitch then leaves to be with his new family, and Reno eats a hamburger.

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The Burger was the Real Hero

Not gonna lie, I liked these episodes. I re-watched a few other episodes of Renegade to see whether I’d just forgotten that it was a good show, but, no, it was mostly just the set-up for these episodes. It was like watching a mid-range budget ’90s action movie starring Lorenzo Lamas. It pretty much just gives the main characters an excuse to punch and kick each other for a solid 20 of the 80 minutes. The plot’s super generic, sure, but it was the ’90s, that’s what we had back then. There’s amnesia, a brother who was thought dead, a lot of round-house kicks, and some bikini knife-fighting. If you had replaced Lamas with Chuck Norris, this would have easily been an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. Replace him with Michael Dudikoff, and it’s an episode of Cobra. It probably could also have been an episode of Street Justice. The point is, it was very ’90s, it was very fun, and it’s all about how brothers love each other, like me and the brother who made me watch this episode.

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I was the ’80s. Sorry, kids.

My only real question here is this: Why is there not a role for William Zabka? This could have been the Cobra Kai reunion which we were desperately seeking in the 90s, and don’t tell me that Zabka had other stuff going on, because we all know that he didn’t. Hell, why didn’t they put Steve McQueen’s son who played Dutch in Karate Kid in the episode? He’s a martial artist, and the bad guy is already named Dutch. This just seemed like a missed opportunity. But, overall, I actually enjoyed this.

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: Door Jam (Frasier)

This was a reader request, which brings the total number of Frasier spots up to 4. Granted, this isn’t actually one of the 100 episodes, but it’s still solid.

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SUMMARY

So, this episode focuses on Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and their inability to be content with anything. It starts when Frasier gets a piece of mail that was sent to his upstairs neighbor, the equally snooty Cam Winston (Brian Stokes Mitchell). The letter is an announcement of the opening of “La Porte d’Argent.” For those of you who don’t speak French, this means “The Silver Door.”

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They have an 8 hour negotiation session over bath balm recipes.

The letter contains no information about what “La Porte d’Argent” is, so the pair are anxiously trying to figure out schemes to uncover the secret, until their father, Martin (John Mahoney), points out that they could just go down to the location on the letter and ask. They discover that it’s a very exclusive health spa, which they con their way into, by having Niles pretend to be Cam Winston (who, for the record, has an extremely deep Baritone voice, leading Niles to have to speak like what I imagine Barry White sounded like as a child). The pair are completely satisfied by the unbelievable level of treatment that they receive at the spa… until they see a Senator going into a Gold Door in the spa. They try to follow him, but are stopped by the staff. The Gold Door is for the Gold Level, and they are but Silver.

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They do get stalks of wheat for some reason.

The pair then begin to obsess over getting into the Gold Level at the spa, to the annoyance of everyone else. Finally, Roz (Peri Gilpin), confronts them about why they even care, when the Silver Level is already an unbelievable spa experience. Niles responds “Gold is better.” Roz points out that the Gold might not be the end of it. There could be even more levels beyond that, and the only reason they want them is that they can’t have them. However, she also reveals that she could get them into the Gold Level, because she had an affair with the Senator… and also saved his life from a mid-coital heart attack.

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Can’t imagine what gave him that…

So, Frasier and Niles get into the Gold Level. Frasier is given a color therapy, which partially color-blinds him, and Niles is coated in an orange honey-butter mask and wrapped in seaweed, which renders him both blind and mostly immobile. They are put into a luxurious grotto to relax… at which point Frasier sees a Platinum door. He tries to open it, but is stopped by the staff, making them both anxious to see inside. Together, they stumble/hop through the door into the bright sunlight… of a dumpster-filled alley. The door was for the trash, and they are chased off by a beehive.

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Irony is sometimes easy to get

The B plot concerns Daphne (Jane Leeves) and Martin watching old TV shows so that the English Daphne can catch up on American culture. While watching, Daphne keeps comparing Martin to the elderly characters on the shows, such as Rockford’s Dad on The Rockford Files and Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. Eventually, she just pretends she was confused on the character names and identifies Martin as younger actors just so he’ll stop complaining.

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Hey, it’s a compliment to be Col. Potter.

END SUMMARY

The theme for the episode is pretty straightforward. So straightforward that they have more than 3 characters in the episode comment on it directly. Niles and Frasier want what they can’t have, so they’re never happy with what they do. Each time they reach what they perceive is the pinnacle of society, they seem happy with what they’re getting. After the first spa treatment, before they find the Gold Door, they’re both commenting that they’ve never felt better. After the second in the Gold Room, they think the same thing, until they find the “Platinum Door.” It’s a pretty normal theme, and one that’s fairly universal, but it applies more to people like Niles and Frasier, who are fabulously wealthy off of dream jobs, than to normal people like Roz or Daphne. Frasier and Niles live at one of the highest rungs of society. They should be content, but instead they’re even more focused on advancement than other people. Rich people will argue that their refusal to be content is why they achieved so much, and sometimes that’s true, but Niles and Frasier didn’t really. Niles married rich, and Frasier lucked into a cushy job that he hardly works at. Ultimately, it’s just a “grass is always greener” story. Still, few things are funnier than Niles hopping in a seaweed wrap. David Hyde Pierce knows physical comedy.

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

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

Netflix Review: 13 Demons

Update: This is now on Netflix, and I have to warn the people.

Compared to Iconoclast, this was a masterpiece, but I’m not 100% sure exactly what this movie was by any other measure. On its IMDB page, it appears I’m not alone, since a ton of the reviews are super low, and others are fairly high.

SUMMARY

The plot starts in medias res with 2 guys being accused of murder in a police station. They’re being held and interviewed separately, but delivering similar answers, claiming that they’re both demon-slaying paladins with fanciful names “Torkul of Darkhaven” (Stephen Grey) and “Abelsworth of the High Wind.” (Michael Cunningham) I braced myself at this point. It then flashes back to their origin.

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If you’re being interrogated while covered in blood, you may as well claim insanity.

It’s the 90s, the 2 guys are stoned gaming roommates, and a third guy (Daniel Falicki) brings home a board game called “13 Daemons” (no idea why they changed the spelling for the title) which had previously been banned because it caused people to go on murder sprees. The game immediately does the Jumanji “must be magnets or something” gimmick with the pieces, which one of the characters literally calls “Jumanji shit.” There’s then a 10-minute-long montage of these guys playing a roleplaying game… and it is boring. It’s just pot smoking, reading from the lore book, complaining about the smell of the game, and rolling the dice once. It’s like watching people play DnD but without the banter or coherence. Finally, one of the players gets to challenge a demon, and the movie then moves into this weird rotoscoping-style sequence that looks like either Tron or the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. I admit, despite looking cheap and goofy, I kind of liked the sequence. It just has the player, Torkul, see an animated demon and then stab it to death.

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The characters wake up in different positions with a murder reporting on the TV, bloody upside-down crosses painted in the room, and everyone in completely different positions. But, they keep playing anyway, and now, they start to descend into madness where their characters overtake them. This is represented by them reading the manual in slightly more serious tones and different voices. The acting is… well, they’re playing the “stoned” and “paladin” personas as very over the top and different, but I guess they’re supposed to be playing it that way. I’m not going to pretend this is a triumph of acting, but the director and writer (who is actor number 3) obviously knew they weren’t great, so he kept them at least somewhat in the right range for their skills.

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“Did you paint that in blood?” “No, did you?” “No… let’s get stoned and keep playing.”

The second player does another one of the animated sequences fighting his demon, and then comes what is undoubtedly the best sequence in the movie. The third guy is supposed to fight his demon, but instead of the animated hallucination, we see what is actually happening: He’s putting on pots and pans for armor and carrying a rubber mallet. It is done in a hilariously serious manner in the film. He then tries to slay a demon that is actually a mechanic with a tire iron, and, as would probably happen, the mechanic just beats him over the head with the tire iron. It’s genuinely an entertaining sequence.

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Now is the time of the Hammer.

The movie then loses steam in a very sad way. The rest is a montage of the two remaining players descending into madness while arguing over which one of them is the “purest” paladin. They basically challenge each other to a death match, then sit back down to roll the dice. It starts to flash between these scenes and the police station, where it’s revealed that they’ve been murdering random people who they thought were demons, including small children. And now, both of them believe that the last demon is the other one. The movie then ends with both of them in police custody, being charged with murder, insisting that it’s not “just a game.” It ends with literally no resolution or explanation of what’s happened.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, I’m torn on this film. On the one hand, the concept is… well, not new, it’s kind of a combination of “Mazes and Monsters” and “Jumanji” if you watched both on pot. But, it was at least kind of interesting. The acting is over-the-top and ridiculous, but, since the characters are always either stoned or possessed by a board game, that doesn’t really make it unbearable. The special effects are cheap and cheesy, but they know they’re cheap and cheesy, so, again, it doesn’t really make upset me. The sequence of the guy in pots and pans armor is nothing short of hilarious, but the rest of the movie doesn’t really come off as humorous, so it kind of gives you tonal whiplash.

Which brings me to the thing that most pisses me off in the movie: It completely lacks any climax, either emotional or narrative. If it were a comedy, or some form of alternative film where that made sense, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s literally a quest film. It needs an ending of some sort, but instead, it just ends with the question over whether or not the game was causing the problem or if these guys are just crazy… which makes no sense because WE KNOW THE GAME IS THE PROBLEM. Even the cops should know the game is the problem. Hell, if I was their attorney, I’d point out that the game has a history of causing murder sprees, and it’s a decent defense to raise, which makes the ending argument really, really dumb.

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Is the book made of human skin evil? We’ll tell you at 11.

Honestly, this is almost a decent movie, it just doesn’t go anywhere. They just stretched a joke premise into 80 minutes, like Boss Baby, but it wasn’t funny… like Boss Baby. I really wish it had been either better or worse, because it really comes out as quality-pH 7. It also is never explained how they actually managed to kill this many people, since it’s revealed that one of them was using a stick. Not a large stick, just a stick. I mean, one guy got killed for trying to use a rubber mallet in his assault, and that’s significantly more lethal than the stick. Also, at the end, the police mention that the game was, indeed, banned because it caused people to go on killing sprees, which makes it more confusing that these guys tried the game in the first place, because that’s not a rumor, that’s a Federal law. Also, is it magic? Or is it chemical? I mean, they complain that the game smells, so, it’s possible that it’s just a hallucinogen. Also, the game clearly took like 12 hours of playing to start possessing them, so… how many people really could have had the dedication to play this game to the point of murderous rage?

This movie had some entertaining sequences, but the ending just felt like they ran out of budget, and the fact that about 30 minutes of it is just people reading a book and rolling dice really didn’t help. The movie wasn’t self-aware enough to be Chucky-sequel entertaining, wasn’t bad enough to be The Room level entertaining, and wasn’t good enough to be… good. But, I’ll be damned if the pots and pans armor wasn’t funny.

Skip this movie, unless you’ve really got a lot of alcohol and have run out of other bad movies.

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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Trailer:

Notes:

Preliminary: Sober, slightly ill, and bracing myself. I’ve been told this is better than Iconoclast, but that bar is basically saying “less crazy than Manson.” Hopefully, this one will at least keep my interest.

7:45 – Movie starts with a quote by William Howard Taft that I’m 90% sure is not actually by William Howard Taft. A cursory Google during the credits indicates that it’s unsourced and just being repeated on the internet. Auspicious start.

7:46 – Film quality is significantly better than Iconoclast, but not much above Birdemic. Starts off in police interrogation in medias res.

7:47 – Main character introduces himself as Torkul of Darkhaven, and I’m already slightly worried about the writing. The acting of the other characters in the scene is… I’m gonna have to go with The Room level, but without the dedication.

7:53 – Flashback begins. Oh my God, it’s Jumanji meets DnD. The TV is a tube tv and they’re playing the Dragon’s Lair NES Port, so I’m guessing it’s either the 90s, or they’re poor.

7:55 – And the main characters just said that it’s “Jumanji shit.” At least they know what they’re ripping off. If this ends up just being like that Tom Hanks movie “Mazes and Monsters,” and it’s just in their heads, I might applaud.

8:07 – After a 10-minute montage of 3 stoned guys trying to play this RPG (amounting to 1/8 of the total runtime) and complaining about how bad the game smells, we finally get to the magic shit. The magic effects look like the rotoscoping from Tron and the Bakshi Lord of the Rings. This movie came out in 2016, so that’s dated, but… eh, fuck, I love Tron and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, so it’s working for me.

8:12 – Okay, so they woke up in completely different positions around the room to hear about a murder, the game has changed, and they decide to just keep playing. Yeah, I get nuts about finishing games too.

8:19 – I think the writers greatly overestimated how much audiences would enjoy having rulebooks and lore read to them onscreen for large amounts of time by guys who either are stoned, or play it very well.

8:21 – I get that they’re supposed to be descending into Madness and stuff, but they’re either overselling it or underselling it by just repeating the same lines 5 times.

8:22 – Okay, more rotoscoping-style stuff. Again they wake up in different positions to hear about a murder, and they go back to playing. It’s now been at least 2 full days of playing. This cursed game really takes its time. Jumanji started stuff on roll 1.

8:26 – These guys are not good actors. It was not a great decision to focus most of the movie on them just talking and reading a book aloud.

8:29 – “Roll a 3, take the Right Path. Roll a 4, take the Left.” Okay, but… it’s a 6-sided die. What do they do with the other numbers? I NEED ANSWERS!!!!

8:31 – Alright, rather than the magic this time, they’re just putting on Pots and pans as armor. I might love this movie.

8:36 – “Go back to oblivion to suck on your mother’s teat” might be my new favorite way to call someone out. But now the crazy gamer has a rubber mallet, and the other guy is a mechanic with a tire iron. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t win.

8:37 – To the movie’s credit, he didn’t win.

8:40 – Okay, so they killed a ton of people, including a child. I’m very intrigued as to how this works out. I want it to turn out that all of these people actually were possessed, but I think we’re going the straight route.

8:50 – And now they’re challenging each other to a fight, but then they still have to play the rest of the game by dice rolling. I… Don’t know what the rules are here.

8:57 – “It’s a game.” “It’s not a game.” X 20 is apparently the dialogue now.

8:58 – WHAT? THAT’S THE END? THAT’S NOT AN ENDING!!!

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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.”