Netflix Review – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix spent three seasons adapting one of the most dark and interesting children’s series ever written.

SUMMARY

A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of the three Baudelaire Orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith/Tara Strong). Violet is a brilliant inventor and engineer, Klaus is a polymath with a love of reading, and Sunny… is a baby that bites things hard. After their parents are killed in a fire, the three are sent to live with their distant relative, the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a terrible actor who would never have been allowed to play Doogie Howser. Throughout the series, the Baudelaires try to find a place to hide safely from Count Olaf and his troupe of evil actors while making their way through the macabre world in which the series is set. All of the events are narrated from the future by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton).

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Real talk: Why is it so hard to get cast photos lately?

END SUMMARY

The series is basically divided into two types of adventures: Either the children are taken in by an eccentric/flat-out insane caretaker and attacked by a disguised Olaf or they’re on the run from Olaf and forced to hide in some insane location. The key is that nothing in this world quite operates on real logic, instead operating on the principle that basically everyone is off-kilter and, in most cases, anachronistic. The main characters are often the only sane people within any situation, pointing out that what most of the supporting characters are doing is either stupid or crazy, but, being children, they’re constantly ignored.

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Running gag is that these disguises actually fool people.

The setting for the series is intensely gothic, much in the style of Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfeld… but more the latter because he’s the one that produces the show. Colors are largely muted, buildings tend to be in the gothic style, and the music often is best described as “eerie as hell.” The time-period for the series is completely nonsensical, with black-and-white movies and telegraph lines being commonplace, while also having jokes about streaming internet services.

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Every building in the show was designed by Edgar Allen Poe.

The tone is one of the darkest forms of comedy that you can put in a show ostensibly for children. People die frequently in this show, often in horrifying ways, and yet the spin on their deaths is usually very comical, because most of the characters refuse to react to death rationally. It also helps that Lemony Snicket is constantly adding levity and sarcasm into the series by addressing the audience directly with some off-the-cuff and off-the-wall observation. Since Snicket’s observations were one of the signature elements of the book series, it’s nice that they managed to work it into the show fairly organically.

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He’s basically riffing on his own show.

The acting in the show is phenomenal, although the way that the dialogue is presented will turn some people off. Neil Patrick Harris is a standout, matching Jim Carrey’s fabulous performance from the film adaptation, while still managing not to duplicate it too much. Harris sings the great theme song to the series “Look Away” which he sings in a different voice whenever he portrays a character in the episode, with the lyrics changing from book to book. They also find some excuses for Harris to let out his broadway side, something that, while it does make it harder to believe Olaf is a terrible actor, is too entertaining to pass up.

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Out-of-Character? A little. Out-Freaking-Standing? Definitely.

The downsides, if they are downsides, of the show are that, because of the nature of the medium, there are fewer of the wonderful ambiguities and hidden messages that permeated the books. Things that in the book series were left up to the reader to deduce are almost all made explicit. Additionally, some of the added scenes and characters are actually more positive than the rest of the tone of the show, possibly because it’s just so depressing to watch something that’s absurdist and, largely, hopeless. Frankly, it didn’t bother me, but I have heard a few fans of the books complaining.

However, there are two things this show does differently than most series that I really hope lead to its success. First, the villains are the ones shunning knowledge, while the heroes are the ones who seek it. A problem with the recurring trope of a criminal mastermind is that you have to make the villain the smart one, which often results in them making the hero a brawny dumbass. Think Lex Luthor versus Superman or Loki versus Thor (though neither Superman nor Thor are stupid, they’re not as smart as their opponents). This show 100% goes the other way, saying that the act of reading, learning, and exploring inherently makes someone more empathetic and therefore more ethical. Btw, studies suggest that this is generally true, reading makes you more empathetic (though not always as everyone thinks).

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Scientist bad. Big Muscled Guy good. 

Second, the show ends up pointing out one of the most difficult truths in the world: People aren’t all good or all bad. People are almost all morally ambiguous, falling somewhere on the scale between “hero” and “villain” or, within the series, between “volunteer” and “villain.” Everyone tends to think they’re a hero of their own story, but that’s likely the product of their own moral relativism: we define good as what we do, rather than defining good as good and then doing it. The show does a great job of exploring this concept.

Overall, I loved this series and I’m sad that it’s over. It’s only 25 episodes, total, so you should take a weekend or a week to watch it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, 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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Rick and Mondays – S2 E4 “Total Rickall”

Rick and Morty deal with an infestation of memory-altering parasites that take the form of wacky sitcom characters.

SUMMARY

Rick (Justin Roiland) returns home to the family to find Jerry’s (Chris Parnell) goofy older brother “Uncle Steve” (Tony Barbieri) at the table. Rick then shoots Steve, who is revealed to be an alien parasite that manipulates people’s memories. Rick warns that there are probably more of them and that they take on the role of wacky, zany characters. He’s supported by Mr. Poopybutthole (Roiland), a wacky, zany character who is now in the opening credits.

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Seamlessly integrated. 

Rick locks the house down, writes down that there are only 6 people in the apartment, and puts the note on the wall, but soon a number of characters start appearing, including a Mr. Belvedere-style butler named Mr. Beauregard (Barbieri), Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin Michael Richardson), and Summer’s (Spencer Grammer) magical ballerina lamb friend Tinkles (Tara Strong). All of the characters are introduced through “flashbacks” that resemble Family Guy cutaway gags. Rick and the Smith family soon are uncertain who is real, because, although the new characters are wacky and zany, so are the actual members of the Sanchez-Smith family.

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It feels like even Frankenstein, a fellow parasite, thinks Tinkles is too far.

Eventually, Rick is threatening to shoot everyone and the parasites convince Morty (Roiland), Beth (Sarah Chalke), and Summer that Rick is a parasite… while also convincing Jerry that he’s a parasite and in a secret gay relationship with another parasite named Sleepy Gary (Matt Walsh). Morty is selected to execute Rick, but Morty realizes that the parasites cannot implant bad memories into people’s heads and shoots several of the parasites. Together, Rick, Morty, and the family go through the house, killing all of the parasites until only the family and Mr. Poopybutthole are left. Back at dinner, Beth shoots Mr. Poopybutthole who is revealed to not be a parasite. She tries to apologize at the hospital, but he declines to talk to her, saying only that he’s sorry that she doesn’t have any bad memories of him.

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That’s a hell of a gun, btw.

END SUMMARY

This episode is basically a hilarious parody of so many sitcom tropes at the same time that it almost matches the number of wacky characters. The idea that failing shows add off-kilter new characters to try and bring back some energy to the series is so old that The Simpsons did an episode about it featuring Homer (Dan Castellaneta) playing a new Itchy-and-Scratchy character called Poochie while also having a new “rad teen” character living in their house. That was in 1997. For the most part, this trope has been declining quite a bit in the past twenty years specifically because people started mocking it so ruthlessly. Still, this episode takes it and combines it with the “family member that has not previously been referenced” trope, but makes it into a sadistic infiltration plot by these shapeshifting, memory-altering parasites.

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And this was the best way to get rid of such zany add-ons.

It presents each of the parasites in a cutaway style much like Family Guy tends to use, which may be a shot at how modern shows always tend to play loose with continuity for the sake of making gags. Or maybe it was just funnier that way. Also, the characters get progressively more unconventional as the show goes on, following the typical trend on television writing that each character introduced tends to be incrementally crazier or more abnormal than the previous one, similar to “Flanderization.” We start off with the “goofy brother,” move to the stereotype cousin, and slowly continue until we have a Baby Wizard, a photography Raptor, and a Ghost in a Jar. The idea that the only way to find the “real” people is by finding terrible memories might be a shot at other shows for trying to keep sanitized backstories as opposed to Rick and Morty‘s gritty humor.

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… So EVERYONE is posing for the camera? Fourth wall be damned.

Mr. Poopybutthole being real is one of the best set-ups in television. It’s not the reveal itself. It’s HOW they decided to reveal it. It’s such a perfectly Rick and Morty tone shift that works so well because it’s a subversion of a subversion. The basic joke throughout the whole thing was that Mr. Poopybutthole was clearly an alien shapeshifter that had entered the show, while the twist is that he actually isn’t. This is even foreshadowed by the fact that he’s in the opening sequence, many of which are “bad memories” which the parasites can’t generate or alter. But the show then decides to take the shooting seriously, rather than as a comical error. They blow past any attempt to make a joke out of it and treat it like a REAL SHOOTING, despite the fact that, not 2 minutes beforehand, we’d been laughing at the ways that the Smith-Sanchez family was eliminating all of the wacky shapeshifters. So, even if you saw the twist coming, you almost certainly didn’t see how it would play out. It’s something many shows would never even consider, let alone pull off this well.

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“Is this what dying feels like?” WHAT THE HELL, SHOW?

Also, can we just acknowledge that so many of the parasites are just inherently funny? Pencilvestyr? Reverse giraffe (voiced by Keith Freakin’ David)? Hamurai? Amish Cyborg? These are such great puns and sight gags. Their quips are also hilarious, including Frankenstein’s Monster’s line “I was on the wrong side of the pitchfork on this one.” The subplot where the Sleepy Gary parasite not only makes himself Beth’s husband and the parents of Morty and Summer but also makes himself Jerry’s secret lover is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.

JOKER’S THEORY CORNER

Well, I was going to do a theory about what Mr. Poopybutthole is, but unfortunately Dan Harmon has already addressed that issue, saying that Mr. Poopybutthole is just a higher form of the memory parasites, so evolved that he can break the fourth wall and put himself directly into the show’s history when he wants. 

I already declined to address the popular theory that this episode, as well as the majority of “Mortynight Run,” follow a different Rick and Morty, since Dan Harmon also confirmed that the rocks in this episode are the same as the ones seen in that one and that they’re what carried the parasites.

Instead, I’m going to ask: Were the parasites the point?

So, we know that Rick has dealt with these parasites before, because he immediately recognizes what they are. He shoots “Uncle Steve” after only a few seconds, based on Jerry’s claim that he had been living there, but why was “shapeshifting memory-altering parasite” the first thing that Rick thought of? Because Rick had wanted the parasites. Think about it, Rick had brought that specific rock in from the garage, looking disappointed at it as he throws it away. When we first see him in Mortynight Run loading the car with rocks, he has a huge number, but he only throws away the one that had the parasites.

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Maybe you should have headed to Paris faster, Steve.

I think that Rick had brought the rock back not to harness the rocks (though that might have been a bonus), but because the rocks potentially were going to breed the parasites which he could then use to his advantage. After all, we know from the previous episode that Rick regularly captures and imprisons aliens for the purpose of exploiting them, and the ability to freely manipulate memories would be useful to anyone, particularly Rick. While in the garage, clearly, one or two of them hatched and escaped, with the first becoming “Uncle Steve.” Meanwhile, Rick determines that the rock is defective and throws it away, only to discover that the parasite inside it has escaped.

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That’s the eyebrow of a man who is done with his rocks.

Am I saying that the only evidence I have for this is that Rick knows what the shapeshifting parasites are and that he looks disappointed when he chucks out the rock? No, it’s that he doesn’t wing Uncle Steve. When Rick shoots Cousin Nicky, the second parasite, he shoots him in the shoulder because he’s unsure he’s a parasite, but when Rick shoots Steve, it’s straight through the temple. Rick is absolutely sure that Steve is a parasite. Could it be that Rick just knows that Jerry doesn’t have a brother? Unlikely, as A) this isn’t Rick’s original Jerry so it could be a possibility even if the original didn’t and B) Rick routinely proves he knows almost nothing about Jerry’s life, including not knowing what decade Jerry was born in (despite him being roughly Beth’s age). Is it that Jerry says Steve has been staying there for a year? Well, that’s likely to be what clinched it, but do you really think that’s enough to make Rick risk executing a potential family member? It’s Rick, so it’s not impossible, but I still think it’s likely that something made him think that parasites were the likely source of the new brother.

LEAVING THE CORNER

Since most of Rick and Morty is based on humor within the framework of nihilism and existential dread, I shouldn’t be surprised that this episode about how memory is the only way to really define our existence that involves wacky characters is one of my favorites.

Overall, I give this episode an

A

on the Rick and Morty scale.

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

PREVIOUS – 14: Auto-Erotic Assimilation

NEXT – 16: Get Schwifty

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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Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

I didn’t intend to see this movie. I didn’t really hear much about this film aside from it existing. But, I was walking back past the theater and it was the next film that started that seemed worth seeing. And I could not have been more pleasantly surprised.

So, I loved the original Teen Titans cartoon. I thought it was well-crafted, well-animated, well-voiced, had great characters that were complex while still being relatable, and had some great plotlines that allowed all those things to shine. But, it came to an end and was reborn as Teen Titans Go! which was… different. Truthfully, I only watched like 3 episodes of the new show (one of which was about assembling a sandwich, another about waffles, and another that was about thwarting a pizza boy, so food is clearly a big thing in the show) before stopping because I just didn’t think it was that funny. It was lighter, to be sure, and definitely was supposed to be a comedy rather than a superhero show, but it was not my thing. Even with the same voice actors (WHO ARE ALL AMAZING), it still just didn’t grab me.

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The left one has over 200 episodes. The right one had 65. Would you have guessed that?

Then I watched this movie. If someone could tell me that the rest of the series after I quit watching was like this film, I would probably go binge it all right now. Hell, I probably will anyway, because this was actually pretty well done. Is it perfect? No, but it was funny and original, which is more than I can give most comedies.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE LITERALLY NEVER SEEN A TRAILER)

So, in the Teen Titans universe, every superhero has a movie (and the real ones are parodied and mocked mercilessly) despite also being real superheroes. One person who really wants their own movie is Robin (Scott Menville), leader of the Teen Titans, consisting of Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Raven (Tara Strong), and Cyborg (Khary Payton). The movie consists mostly of them trying to get a movie made, part of which is finding their arch nemesis in the form of Slade (Will Arnett), a villain trying to take over the world, and part of it is convincing Director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make the movie.

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Will Arnett is just gold for animated superhero comedies.

END SUMMARY

First off, this movie is a DC Fan’s dream. There are references to DC comics, movies, and TV series in basically every shot of the city, ranging from the obvious (Mr. Freeze Pops) to the obscure (The Challengers of the Unknown are actually a minor plot point!) to the ridiculous (there’s a poster for the film Jonah Rex, a T-Rex version of Jonah Hex that should totally be real). There are animation sequences designed to mimic the live-action movies, the DC Animated Universe, the Arrowverse TV Shows, and even Superfriends. The cameos are so frequent I think it’s harder to think of a property that WASN’T in the movie than one that was. And so much of them are used as in-universe product placements that it really makes me think that this entire world runs on superheros. If you’re like me and you think that postmodern style mashups between all of these properties can be funny, then you will be laughing throughout… often at jokes that nobody else got. Laugh anyway.

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There are like 30 references in this one screen shot if it’s in HD.

Second, there are the meta-gags. There are so many of these sprinkled throughout, like everyone mistaking Slade for Deadpool (because Deadpool was a rip-off of Slade’s identity of Deathstroke) or calling Superman (voiced by Nicolas Cage) a “National Treasure.” There are at least two “this is Nicolas Cage voicing Superman” jokes that I caught and I’m sure there are more. There are countless jokes about how much DC and Marvel are willing to exploit their IP as much as possible. There is a cameo that makes fun of Stan Lee cameos. There are jokes about the fact that people will continually see superhero films at the expense of any other form of entertainment. There’s even a running gag about how overpowered Raven is and lampshading how boring a movie of a character like that fighting villains onscreen might actually be. The jokes just keep coming, sometimes buried under other jokes.

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A reminder that Cage loves Superman so much, his son Kal-El Cage is IN THIS FILM.

Then there are just the bizarre gags, like having an 80s-style song called “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life” by MICHAEL FREAKING BOLTON  that plays out like you’re on LSD or having the group poop in a prop toilet on a movie set. They’re mostly for the kids but, like I said, sometimes they’re actually just the set-up for a much better joke. And the last line of the film made me laugh for like 5 straight minutes, because it was just such a bizarre shot at children’s movie moralizing. There are also several that I don’t think I got because I didn’t really watch the show, but the fact that they mostly were still entertaining was a good sign.

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That’s Michael Bolton as a Siberian Tiger playing the keytar on a rainbow fountain.

It honestly made me think of Arrested Development in the way that the humor was just kind of shotgunned at you from every direction. It just wasn’t quite as clever as the writing on Arrested Development, but, again, it’s ostensibly a kids’ movie. Some of the jokes had to be made for kids, but I don’t think they all really speak down to them. Maybe a better comparison is The Lego Batman Movie: you can enjoy it as is and think it’s funny, but the more you know about the property and the world in general, the more you enjoy the movie. Granted, Lego Batman was a better film in general, but that’s a really high bar.

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Can’t beat a movie with the Condiment King in it.

The casting in the movie is perfect, with most of the characters being voiced not by people who would play them in movies, but by people who just love the characters they’re voicing. It gives even the minor cameos a passion that adds something to the experience.

As to the plot, it comes off less as a traditional film and more a collection of 15-minute episodes that loosely interconnect until the 30-minute finale, but, honestly, it worked out great, because you never got bored nor knew exactly what gag was going to come next.

Overall, the only real “problem” with the movie is that it is still a kids’ film. The humor is either referential or juvenile, without a ton of other jokes for people who don’t love DC and are old enough that a 2-minute fart joke is 90 seconds too long. But, I still enjoyed it from start to finish. Hell, there are probably 3 scenes in it that are so funny that I would recommend seeing the movie just to see them.

If you love comic books or have kids, you need to see this movie. Oh, and if *SPOILER* the end credit stinger is true, and we are getting a sixth season of the original Teen Titans show (which Cartoon Network started re-running last year, so it’s very possible), then just finding out about that early might be worth the ticket price.

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.