tv review

Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Batman: The Animated Series

batman

Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going.

One of the perennial Batman questions is, “Who played him best?” Do you like Adam West’s camp and goofiness? Maybe Michael Keaton’s slightly nerdy turn did it for you. Perhaps, for some reason, you liked George Clooney and his suit nipples. A lot of people prefer Christian Bale’s elegant Wayne and imposing Batman, but no one has done it better than Kevin Conroy. Pretty much any time you’ve seen a Batman cartoon, Conroy’s been the one doing Bruce Wayne. His stellar voice acting is one of the reasons that Batman: The Animated Series is the best screen interpretation of the Bat. It is an amazing show: beautiful, well-acted, philosophically deep, and highly artistic.

The list of things TAS has done for Batman is long, but foremost among them is steer the public consciousness of Batman away from Adam West’s sunny, hippy, bat-tastic version into the grim persona most are familiar with today. Frank Miller returned grim to the Caped Crusader, but TAS cemented it. Mostly through its action, we went from the hokey, paunchy sixties Batman to the Bale batman who tortures people to get answers and deals with major antagonists by leaving them to die. He didn’t kill people and he didn’t curse (kids show), but he did deal with identity crises, betrayal, and loss, and the art and direction of the show has almost every frame oppressively shadowy.

This is the best intro of all time. It also gives you an idea of the show’s aesthetics.

The art direction of this show is one of the main draws. A lot of cartoons are unimaginative, and the art is just something to throw on the screen to support the sound. Each frame of TAS is original, distinctive, and iconic. Imposing buildings stretch into skylines splashed in ocher and black, the lines are angular and threatening, art deco caught in a Lovecraftian nightmare. The voice acting is another impressive bit of this show. One of the main criticisms of Christian Bale’s interpretation is that his actual Batman voice sounds like a mix between an old bear caught in a trap and the raptor cry from Jurassic Park. It is over the top and ridiculous. Conroy’s Batman voice is deep and threatening, but still within the realm of what humans should sound like. His Bruce Wayne voice is noticeably higher and more friendly. The beautiful thing about Conroy’s Dark Knight is that the Batman voice is the one he uses all the time, with all those close to him, mask on or off. The Wayne voice only comes out if he has to talk to shareholders or reporters, which underlines one of the main keys to Batman’s identity: Bruce Wayne is the mask.

Bruce Wayne’s voice. Chummy and nonthreatening.

Batman’s voice. Small, subtle shift that makes it about 10 times more menacing. Also, as a sidenote for the this-show-is-super-deep-for-kids argument, Batman is dosed with fear toxin, and his biggest phobia is not spiders or heights, but his dead father’s disapproval.

What Faulkner said of whiskey applies to this show. There’s no such thing as a bad episode of Batman: The Animated Series, some episodes just happen to be better than others. There are three key episodes you should watch. “Almost Got ‘Im,” in which many of Batman’s adversaries sit around playing cards and talking about how close they came to finally beating the Caped Crusader. The structure allows for a handful of Batman-kicking-ass vignettes, and the poker game narrative itself is a vital part of the episode. This is a masterful use of frame narrative. You know what else uses frame narrative? The Odyssey, Heart of Darkness, and The Canterbury Tales. I wasn’t kidding around when I called it artistic: it shares some techniques with a Greek epic and a foundational text of English literature. Another good one is “I Am the Night,” which starts with a grimmer-than-usual Batman reading an article about yet another criminal’s release from jail. It sends him on a spiral of self-pity and self-doubt, and the focus of the episode is the Bat regaining his confidence and his sense of purpose. This is surprisingly heavy stuff for a children’s cartoon. In this episode, he quotes Santayana, for chrissakes. The last one that I’m listing here, just because it really stuck with me from the time I watched it when I was 12, is “His Silicon Soul.” An impostor Batman is found running around on the rooftops, and of course, an angered Batman explores. The answer to the mystery involves AI, 1950s robotics, and a wonderfully pulpy, flashy plot.

I rewatch these all the time, and they never get old. Watching these is not just about Batman’s gruffness and karate taking you through a rollicking good time. It certainly has that, but it is also visually stimulating and filled with philosophical dissections of who Batman is and what the point of his mission is. The art direction, acting, and intellectual content is much more highbrow than a lot of what is on offer to adults today. It is, always and forever, one of the best things ever to be on television, and now the whole thing is free to stream if you have an Amazon Prime account. Worst case scenario, you will enjoy your nostalgic interaction with a classic 90s afternoon cartoon, but it’s very likely you will be blown away by just how sophisticated it is.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.

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Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Simon Barry’s Continuum

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Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going.

A few years ago, everyone was bemoaning the loss of quality SF programming on television. Lost had delivered one of the most reviled endings of all time, Battlestar Galactica had wrapped up, the Sci-Fi Channel had just been bought out by Swedish media conglomerate Syfy, which for some reason thought Americans only cared about ghosts and those who hunt them. There was a bit of a dry spell there for a minute, but in the past couple of years TV producers have looked at the success of shows like Battlestar and Lost and threw SF into a lot of their primetime fare with a gleeful what-will-stick-to-the-wall type attitude. The majority of these shows are major flops (I do not know first hand, but I hear Extant is terrible), but in defense of the television executives, a lot does actually stick to the wall. One such show is Continuum.

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Pictured: the man in charge of all Syfy programming.

Its premise hooked me quick. In the year 2077, governments across North America have defaulted, and corporations bailed them out. State sovereignty no longer exists, and the North American Union is administered by a Corporate Congress, where the most powerful corporations run everything. So what’s different, you may ask. Fair enough. Today, if a corporation does not like an organization, they will take a senator out to a very nice lunch and talk to them about all the nice lunches and campaign contributions to come in the future if they sponsor legislation against the interests of said organization. In the future of Continuum, corporations own the police, which is now a private security force, and they would simply pay these security professionals to kill literally everyone involved in any way with this organization. Ah, the invisible and silenced gun of the free market! The show opens with the apprehension of the leaders of a terrorist organization that bombed the Corporate Congress and killed thousands of people. They are going to be mass-executed in a weird future electric-dais thingy, but when the machine activates, the terrorists throw a device into it. Kiera, our hero, is a cop guarding the detainees. She sprints towards the machine to see what’s going on, and then all people anywhere near it disappear in a massive blast. Kiera wakes up in Vancouver in 2012. All the terrorists went back in time as well, and she has to singlehandedly stop them, relying on nothing more than her pluck, determination, and highly advanced bio-implants and supersuit.

The show is hybrid organism, SF-time-travel tissue over a procedural cop drama endoskeleton. The presence of technology in the show is appealing. Kiera is sent back in time solo, but she has many implants (for example, a communications suite implanted directly into her brain/ears, and an eye implant that provides a super-soldier style HUD, can take fingerprints, record evidence, etc) and a standard-issue supercop suit, which is bulletproof in addition to giving her enhanced stamina and strength, cloaking abilities, and a built-in taser. Aside from this, and the advanced technology sometimes employed by the terrorists, most of the show stays in 2012 as far as equipment goes. The technology is central to the narrative, but it is non-intrusive. Kiera’s main weapon is not her suit, but her ability to insinuate herself into the Vancouver Police Department and use police strategies to track down her targets. The story definitely relies on the tropes of future-tech, but it’s not overused, nor is it ever the source of some goofy deus-ex-machina. Kiera herself is the center of the show – torn away from her family (a husband and a little boy), unable to get back, knowing that any change made by her or the terrorists could mean her son will never exist (like Back to the Future, but with less Chuck Berry and more complete isolation and existential terror). The show also does well by not simplifying the terrorists – sure, these are mass-murdering monsters, but the system they want to bring down is horrifying. Kiera wants to take them out to preserve her way of life, which her and many people in 2077 enjoy. Fine, woohoo, let’s root for Kiera! On the other hand, if you go into debt in that world, they implant you with a chip that turns you into a hindbrain-using meatpuppet building microchips in a dark factory forever, so the goals of the terrorists, if not their methods, are eminently understandable. There is a delicious complexity around this issue – as an audience member, do you root for the good person supporting a corrupt system, or for the bad people trying to take down that system?

The season one trailer, to get a basic feel for the actiony parts of the show

The most high-minded trope of the show is time travel. None of the big players fully understand how it works – they work under the assumption that present actions will change future consequences, but they don’t really know anything. The show draws a lot of water from this well, but it’s okay because the well is very deep. Some questions raised are how can the terrorists even know their actions will have the outcomes they want, how can Kiera ever return to her actual future now that her very presence in the past is changing it, and how, over the course of time, people become what they are. This last question is explored mainly through Alec Sadler, Kiera’s hacker buddy (no timewrecked futurecop ever goes long without finding a hacker friend). He meets Kiera because the rig he built in his parent’s barn can access her military-encoded communications chip. This is because he built that chip, or will build it – Alec Sadler is the CEO of the biggest corporation in the North American Union, which makes him de facto leader of the world. He is the one behind many of the evils of 2077, but in 2012, he’s just a shy, geeky tech dude. In a standard cop drama, seeing the hacker buddy becoming ever more competent, more self-confident, seeing him get the girl and outwit the competition, would be a positive thing. In Continuum, there is always an ominous shadow over his character development, as it is taking him ever closer to becoming basically King Bowser.

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Pictured: Alec Sadler. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Of course, in the future, he feeds them with the blood of his enemies, so.

The show uses some tired cop-drama tropes, but it is concept-driven, entertaining, and while it’s not quite as cerebral as Primer, it explores the intricacies and implications of time travel with honesty and detail. You should watch it, and the following five words are the most convincing part of my (or really anyone’s) argument to watch Continuum (or really any show): every episode is on Netflix.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Eight – Cairo

the leftovers episode 8

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

I want you to understand: spoilers.

Where do I start?

So if irony is the case where the viewer knows more than the characters, what is the opposite of that called? I’ll start there, because if once was bad enough, Kevin’s lapse of memory is awfully convenient for set pieces. But hey, the guardian angel character knows what happened right? Just in case the viewer is confused?

It’s like that moment when Jill and Aimee argue over whether Aimee had sex with Jill’s dad, and a whole bunch of sarcasm is used, and you still end up not knowing whether it actually happened. Even the twins afterward have a hard time proving or disproving it.

So here’s the problem: just because you use gaps in memory and divine coincidence and sarcasm to fill the cracks of plot with glue does not mean that anything is intact.

How about Liv Tyler? That opening shot with her beating the living tar out of Matt Jamison and her cussing the living daylights out of our ears was probably the nicest part of the episode. That was after the toneless introduction of Kevin and Patti arranging a table and room respectively. Great directorial transitions between the two, excellent lighting, beautiful music, and nothing to show for it. Sure you could claim some kind of parallels, but in hindsight it seems to be some bookend to her death in Kevin’s arms.

Yes, I’m aware also of the parallels between the knife in both Jill’s and Kevin’s hands, but I just care so little. It’s episode eight and Jill is still playing detective. I could say that Jill began the classic adulthood stage of paranoia, in which we all fit the massive amounts of information from Wikipedia into little stories we call our lives. I could say that, whether through divine assistance, or through radical will, Patti was not going to leave that cabin. I could say that perhaps Aimee has some serious family issues like Nora, considering we haven’t seen any of her family and we haven’t seen her leave Kevin and Jill’s house, and she got all shaky and hurt whenever Jill pushed her about “moving on.” But I’m not, because I am tired.

I definitely think this show is for somebody, like that somebody who watched Synecdoche, New York five times in a row and drooled on a clipboard. At least in this episode there were some interesting visual displays: zooming in on both Jill and Kevin’s faces, for example. But I am way too tired of being tugged around by plot. The plot is heavy and the characters are light and they all bow down to the mighty conflict. It’s like that aggressive coworker that explains their whole predicament only to push you verbally to say, “Okay, I’ll help you.”

I think The Leftovers is trying to create an overarching and powerful plot, while at the same time building the story on sand in order to prove that plots are futile, and I think they failed. It’s not like they didn’t work their asses off, it’s just that they didn’t commit to either. You’ve got Nora’s run-in with Wayne, Tommy’s highway stop with the bodies in which the view is “just like his dream.” Kevin’s father is telling him that his “services are needed.”

Yet Gladys gets murdered and we’re told that Patti and the gang killed her. And you realize that any dramatic emotion you had over Gladys was kind of bullshit, and you wonder why you bothered picking up the show in the first place. Or maybe that was their whole point?

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: 24

24

Mike Hannemann

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: 24’s triumphant return to television and when a half-season is just right.

When 24 was cancelled back in 2008, well, the word “cancelled” actually meant something. Thanks to digital streaming services and Kickstarter, now nothing is truly final on the TV landscape, which is great when shows like Arrested Development meet their end too soon, but it can be a little alarming when shows like 24 end. It could come back, and who knows what it would be like.

On paper, renewing 24 for another season six years after it left the airwaves seems like a huge mistake. It seems like something that Fox devised to cash in on a once-beloved show to rake in some ratings and advertising revenue when other networks were burning off remaining episodes of the nonsense that didn’t make the cut this year. It’s a no brainer. Put Kiefer Sutherland on screen, let him yell and blow things up for an hour, and it’ll pull in an audience. So when I found out one of my once-favorite shows was coming back I was… cautious, at best, in my expectations.

Anyone who has seen the show knows the dip in quality the final seasons had. The show had run out of ideas. The gimmick, 24 hours of real time drama, had been exhausted. Hell, it had been exhausted as early as season one when the now-expected cliches were used for the first time. But Sutherland’s acting and some genuinely smart storylines kept the show going. And going. And going (cue clock ticking sound here). Then, in 2014, 24 finally realized that it didn’t need to be a gimmick. It could just be itself.

And that’s what happened this summer.

It almost seems like a coming of age story, for a show’s legacy. The writers decided to throw the 24-hour real time aspect to the curb. The season was 12 episodes, and the focus wasn’t “OK, how can we make this one long day that keeps the clock ticking?” it was “Alright. What do people love about this show that has nothing to do with the clock? Yeah, let’s go with that.” The show decided to invest its time in the most beloved aspects: Jack Bauer being an unrelenting badass, Mary Lynn Rajskub’s fan-favorite character Chloe O’Brian hacking every conceivable piece of technology known to man, and a sense of escalation that didn’t need to be calmed back down every five hours to figure out what the hell to do from here.

Not to belabor my point on viewing the show’s lifespan in the sense of yours or mine, but 24 is finally done living in its high school years. It has its own identity now that has nothing to do with the number 24 other than that’s… just what people called it. It isn’t beholden to what it used to be. It held on to the best part of its past and it grew up, got a job and a 401k, and finally started using that treadmill that’s been gathering dust for years (but kept that beat up sofa it loved).

“Hey man, why do they call you 24?”

“Long story, doesn’t really matter anymore. They called me that in college, the name just kind of stuck.”

You can watch 24 on Amazon Instant Video or Fox’s website. It may or may not get another season/mini-series/movie/animated cartoon.

Image: New York Daily News

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Seven – Solace for Tired Feet

the-leftovers-hbo-season-1-episode-7-solace-for tired-feet

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Spoilers for Tired Feet

This show is constantly going to push you to wonder if it is worth your time. I don’t mean that in some grocery store aisle kind of way where you have some leftover (haha) cash and you can’t decide between Snickers and 3 Musketeers. What I mean is that the show in and of itself (yeah, I’m using that well-worn phrase) relies on you to provide its interpretation. Let me explain.

It’s not like we weren’t aware of how much the show brings up classic examples of religion only to shoot it down. Matt Jamison’s explanation getting trampled on by Kevin is just another example, but now they seem to trample on their own created religions. Wayne’s Asian franchises brings up the awkward chain of people in history that have claimed to be related to divinity, yet just like the factory scene from a couple episodes back, the one where they put together babies only to have one used as the baby Jesus, all of it is produced in assembly line ways. Wayne’s total awareness and Tom Garvey’s lack of awareness has us all awash with religious insecurity and bullet holes next to our twiddling thumbs.

Great metaphors and symbols for our modern times, right? Except that The Leftovers as a show has been created with little subtlety or regard for tone. Take the first scene in which we hear the all-male chorus chime in during the Guilty Remnant protest while Kevin gives up and turns away from pursuing his father. The easy question to ask is, “How did his father even escape?” but the real question is, “What is the purpose of the music and slowed footage?” The final shot of the three main women in the cult looking at Kevin had me baffled with what I was supposed to take away from that moment. Are we sad that he lost his father? Are we confident that Kevin is crazy and these ladies know it? Is all of it futile? The show never reveals its cards, expects you to play, but doesn’t even bother to explain the rules.

But hey, Nora and Kevin DID IT and boy was that great.

But let’s start to wrap this series up: this show is bad. Christine’s solo water birth notwithstanding, it’s going to take some incredible work to bring all of this back together. Who exactly is receiving the “solace” and who has the “tired feet?” Is it okay to realize only now the extent of Kevin’s medicinal addictions? Is it okay to show Jill a note that we don’t get to see, and then use it as dramatic collateral for a moment with a 1972 issue of National Geographic?

We’re all working too hard. Let’s use something simple. Liv Tyler comes in all hot and bothered by Nora and Kevin’s sexcapade, and she’s writing to Laurie that the dirty deed is being done, and Laurie writes back, “so?” And that is like EXACTLY how I feel. If the wife (ex-wife) doesn’t care, I sure as hell will not care. And she’s known him for years, and I’ve known him for like, what, seven weeks?

And all the while the show is encouraging you to build thematic structures of your own, and yea that’s a cool concept for middle school kids playing Minecraft, but it isn’t very inspiring here.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Six – Guest

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Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Spoilers and such.

We get to see another possibly religious event collide with a secular result in this episode of The Leftovers, an episode with Nora kissing dead doppelgangers and stopping conspiracy theorists from taking her name and Wayne sucking the grief out of her AND Nora wanting to be shot in the chest with a gun while wearing a bulletproof vest AND seeing Kevin at the exact same time in court for the exact same reason, a divorce, AND featuring a question on the departed insurance form that gets a 100% response of “yes” until she is cured by Wayne.

All this roundabout summary is to say that The Leftovers is using a pretty big hammer all the time. Would Nora really kiss a constructed cadaver? Oh, she’s on a drug that’s “going to be FDA approved by October.” Many of the characters’ actions, like Jill’s Nerf fire arrow event and Kevin’s dog shooting, seem to be based on the words, “F#$% it.” If you were to really ask me to find the difference between Jill and Kevin, I would say apathy vs. depression. If you were to really ask me to find the difference between Nora and Kevin, I couldn’t tell you. Yet they create shamwow moments and claim it is character, and that’s textbook hitting the carnival hammer really hard. Kevin yells at dry cleaners. Jill steals Jesus. Preacher beats stealer. If The Leftovers wanted to satirize conventional plot, they can’t have this many signature moments and claim it is still coincidence. At some point, we know it’s a show, fellas.

And this review ends up being even more incoherent than the show. Remember when Nora held a dead grenade in her hands? Remember what was written on it? I sure as hell don’t. The sense of value when it comes to scenes is so frayed (what is more relevant, Wayne’s “I don’t give a shit comment,” or her healing Nora?). If it all matters it becomes paranoia. If none of it matters it’s irrelevant. “So, hey man, what’s your story?”

If it is a show attempting to explain modern living in this way, I think it’s going to ultimately fail. You can’t pull the rug out from somebody who wasn’t standing on it to begin with. And if you split the fan base into categories, are you really achieving anything different from Lost? I’m not looking for answers here, I mean I named my series Postmodern Rapture because I’m that guy. But what about questions? “If they get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

And oh my God Nora and Kevin, just do it already. Put a couple intense scenes around their moments and it feels like Kevin should be pulling Nora’s hair in a game of tag at recess. Kevin says, “I’m a mess” and we’re all nodding our heads, but all for different reasons. I thought of “a hot mess express,” in case you were wondering.

But like, woah man, Wayne “heals” Nora into buying the right groceries, and she replaces the paper towels. It’s a great image, the towel stuff, but it kind of gets lost in the gray. Small tool-like style choices get marred by some “major” plot developments. Nora was compelling when she tipped the coffee cup and broke it because at least it was a small detail that had much larger ramifications, not to mention mystery. Here we have some pretty incredible events (spiritual healing, identity theft, WANTING TO GET SHOT IN THE CHEST WITH LOUD MUSIC ON) that are yes, mysterious, but ultimately boring.

You want to see fun suburban mayhem? Give it a shot.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Five – Gladys

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Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Spoilers on this ride.

Alright, so another episode that starts violently and leaves the rest of our time this week in a slow grind. Gladys’s stoning could be viewed in religious terms with Matt Jamison’s of the Jesus and Thomas conversation. And there is some interesting play between fire, burning, Gladys’s cremation, and the conversation between Laurie and the Guilty Remnant leader over burning in reference to doubt. It’s more ambiguity, and that could be cool, someday.

But is anyone really surprised at the character shifts in this episode? Laurie doubles down in the cult, right after doubting everything, and this after divorce papers are presented. Matt tries harder to invade people’s lives. Liv Tyler decides to join, for real. And Kevin cries into a pillow after yet another existential night episode. It’s not like we weren’t prepared for this.

What we really weren’t prepared for was an offer for Kevin told over the phone to remove the Guilty Remnant from the face of the Earth. Kevin doesn’t talk much, but we can barely hear the other line. A show cannot have both sides of the call with neither making sense, and it played like a bad take. Don’t try good storytelling by making key information obscure.

Kind of like having someone writing, “Neill” on a “doggy bag” and placing it in front of a house without any foreshadowing or directorial stunt pilot maneuvers. I supposed we’re meant to wait until the big reveal episode some time later when we go, “Wow, I had no idea that was Neill,” but just leaving fragments of a story like batons to be picked up later is not a good way to write. In fact, whether it involves way-too-quick flashes in a psychologist session with Kevin, horrifically slow panic attacks with Laurie,  fire nerf gun peer pressures with Jill, or paper bags, most directorial moves on The Leftovers feels intense without earning it. People say things like that all the time, but I mean it: it’s literally impossible to feel their sadness. The people are gone, and it’s been three years.

Okay, so, real quick, more parallels to lack of family ties. Nora and Matt are obviously not having it. Kevin and Laurie getting a divorce, Liv Tyler belongs to no one, Jill will not hug her father while he is in post-drinking sad times. Gladys had no family to mourn for her violent death. Tommy’s phone got broke… I GET IT.

One thing I do enjoy is the occasional dark humor. Last time it was the twins’ funny Jesus drop off, while the alarm this time going off right when he got the phone call for the agent in Washington was a nice touch.

Maybe I’m missing the point, But when I see a sneak peek of the next episode and it involves Nora holding an armed grenade in public, I feel as though someone else missed it.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: Bob’s Burgers

Bobs-Burgers

Alex Russell

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: how Bob’s Burgers is what Modern Family isn’t.

The Simpsons didn’t get nominated for an Emmy this year, and that’s apparently big news. I haven’t been a Simpsons watcher for some time now, but I know that it being left off the nominations list speaks to how much animation on TV has changed lately.

Bob’s Burgers is about to return to finish its fourth season (it comes back on October 5, my birthday, so thanks, Fox). The show started hemorrhaging viewers in the fourth season, so if you’ve been gone, it’s time to come back. You can’t let this one die on us. Bob’s Burgers is the only place on television that “heart” isn’t a dirty word.

Modern Family, one of the most popular shows on television, is built on the idea of “heart.” It’s a kind of The Wonder Years moral machine where someone learns a lesson and then tells it to the audience. In an episode about learning to love your gay son, Dad learns his lesson visually and then explains it through narration just before the end of the 22 minutes. It’s insulting on a colossal scale. It’s lazy and it’s infuriatingly bad television.

Bob’s Burgers has episodes that are also about learning things, but it has mastered “show, don’t tell.” The family in Bob’s Burgers has to learn to love each other through some pretty tough times, but they do so without turning to the camera and saying “you know, we have to learn to love each other through some pretty tough times.” It’s television, animated or no, the way it’s supposed to be.

You can read elsewhere about how the voice acting is amazing or how the music is the glue that keeps the show together. A note on that last bit, you absolutely should check out Song Exploder‘s episode about the theme song. You can read elsewhere about how it’s smart and funny and quick and worth your time. All I want you to know is that the last show on earth about being good to your family — without a garbage tagline at the end or a heartwarming guitar song — is coming back soon. Go watch the last few so you’re ready.

You can watch Bob’s Burgers on Netflix or Fox’s website or, on television, I guess. You’re so smart, you find it.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Four – B.J. and the A.C.

leftovers.recap_.atichrit

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Many spoilers ahead.

One of the valid questions to ask The Leftovers is, “Will the show’s symbolism and larger themes be applicable beyond itself?” Will the show keep its Lost style of supernatural answers close? Or will it turn into something new?

The manufactured 20 inch baby introduction to the disappearance of the baby Jesus in the nativity scene is an incredible and haunting display of the attempts to continue games of standard Mapleton living. From Jill’s remark to her father about replacing Jesus as “cheating,” to the Guilty Remnant cult leader writing “There is no family,” to Tommy talking at his phone at the bus stop begging for a reason to protect Christine for Wayne, establishes a key point that just because characters decide to hold it together, it doesn’t mean things will turn out sane. Laurie wants a divorce. Kevin’s recovery of Jesus was blocked by Matt’s replacement. Tommy receives an automated message. “What is the right answer to that question?” Kevin asks Nora in the school hallway. Answers are only shortcuts to more questions.

However, there are some serious supernatural points that are beginning to cause throwaway lines like, “Just like in your dream” that ruin such indelible images like the manufactured cadavers on the road. What is also a parallel to the manufactured babies is also right here in manufactured people. I mean, that’s a good enough metaphor, just stick with it. The naked fight scene that ends with “I know what’s inside you,” is laughable. It’s hard to believe it’s happening in general, much less with a man naked only from the waist down.

Some things are relatively certain, or we hope to be certain: Nora and Kevin will have sex, and it’s going to be cynical and great.

But there is an overarching symphony that suggests a conductor, so to speak, and it’s happening too soon. Or is it? Is it okay to have a show throw both beginning narratives of characters and divine underpinnings simultaneously?

Take Jill for example: while she is trying to avoid every choice of the sacred and the profane in cult joining or God or shooting Jesus with a nerf gun on fire, she is untouched narratively, and has little character beyond a simple dry teenager who is aggressive with her elbows on the field. But because of Tommy’s burden he becomes a Lancelot upholding his vow to Wayne and Christine, and in a sense he has accepted being damned. Is it okay for the divine to supplement characters?

While I say all this, The Leftovers does an excellent job of displaying memories as gray and muddled things. We assume that Tommy was Kevin’s only to realize Laurie had another relationship before. Doug really did cheat on Nora. Kevin cheated on his wife. Between Matt’s paper and the Guilty Remnant’s theft of photographs, they are hammering down that history is a fool’s errand.

Maybe The Leftovers is striving to measure the limits of what it means to be human, and as characters discover each other they come to understand that those limits are felt now more than ever. From Garvey’s family to the manger, being human is beyond broken.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Image: Mashable

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: Louie

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Alex Russell

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: Louie, Louie, Louie, Louie.

FX just announced that Louie and Fargo are coming back with new seasons. This is great news for anyone that loves TV. You have roughly a year to prepare. Go watch all of Fargo, I already told you to do that last week. This week’s column is just an extension of the same argument I have with people every week: you have to watch Louie.

There is a ton of ink spilled over Louis CK every year. We’re certainly guilty of spilling ink sometimes at Reading at Recess (to the point where we specifically defended it) but overall, it’s just important to make an argument and to defend it. I don’t mind the thinkpieces about how Louie isn’t funny anymore. I think it’s definitely something worth discussing.

I’m not going to argue over if Louie is or isn’t a funny show. I’m going to tell you it’s a show that’s out to do something else. If you want jokes, Bob’s Burgers, Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, and Review are all also coming back. Louie wants you to be uncomfortable.

This last season was hard to watch, but that’s what I want out of it. Louie made poor decisions as a protagonist. He approached feminism and body image and consent as topics, because those are the topics we’re talking about. I don’t think he always did so with as much grace as he could have. I do think he did it when no one else really was.

Right now Louis CK has the mic in pop culture. Your mom knows who he is and he’s the most popular stand up with your friend who has some actual cultural cred. His show isn’t wildly popular, but he’s the subject of thinkpieces (I hate that term and now I’ve used it twice, but it’s really all that works) because there’s something in his show that’s worth thinking about.

This last season was not my favorite season of Louie. I think Parker Posey’s character from season three will be my favorite part of my favorite show for a long time to come. My favorite moments in Louie have always felt to me like I wasn’t exactly sure what was being intended by them. What Louie is to me is not what Louie is to you. It’s not because I’m special; it’s because everyone is going to take away something else from that strange view of the world.

Louie isn’t very funny anymore. There are still great moments — this, the opening to the season with the garbage truck, is the hardest I’ve laughed in 2014 — but I don’t need to laugh at Louis CK on his show. I need him to take some risks. I need him to try to talk about delicate topics and not always do a great job. I need a full world that’s uncomfortable, like the couple next to you at the restaurant getting rude with the waiter. It’s awful, but that’s what actually happens when you go outside sometimes.

Louie can be dark or light, depending on the episode and your personal temperament, but it is always something considering. Season four had big character development (and undevelopment, at times) but it can also be the story of learning how to talk to your kid about drugs. It’s a lumbering beast at this point, and I totally understand if you don’t like what you see. Just keep in mind that for some of us, that’s part of the point.

You can watch Louie on FX’s website or on Hulu. You can also read our recap series about season four where we tried to find larger life lessons in each episode.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.