Entertainment News Roundup (July 26th, 2014)


Lotta news coming out of Comic Con. Let's see if we can tally some of it up.

Gareth Edwards took some time off from ruining Star Wars to announce that Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah (pictured) will appear in his upcoming Godzilla sequel. He also took the opportunity to get snarky with "fanboys" who complained about the titular monster's collective five minutes of screentime in the first movie. Mr. Edwards, you're a gentleman and a scholar.

Zack Snyder unveiled Wonder Woman's new look in Batman v. Superman, along with some teaser footage from the film. Nothing revolutionary, but hey -- at least it's not hotpants and a corset. 

As reported earlier, showrunner Bryan Fuller offered up a metric ton of spoilers for Hannibal's third season, including the imminent appearance of serial killer (and Red Dragon bad guy) Francis Dolarhyde. Looks like the events of that book will play out over the latter half of Season 3, rather than the previously announced -- and not yet ordered by the network -- fourth season. Here's hoping they get there anyway!

In other TV news, trailers for Season 5 of The Walking Dead and Season 3 of Arrow have hit the interwebz. Beware, however: the first minute or so of the latter is just stock footage from last season.

More to come. Be good!

Pic courtesy of The Big Bang Theory Wiki.

Entertainment News Roundup (July 24th, 2014)


The first real image of Ben Affleck as Batman is unveiled, and somehow the lead photo in this article is a shot of Zack Snyder.

Chris Carter still thinks another X-Files movie might happen. His therapist is starting to grow concerned.

Bryan Fuller reveals that Dr. Chilton, Abel Gideon, Lady Murasaki, and Inspector Pazzi will all appear during the third season of Hannibal.

A recent Entertainment Weekly article reveals the set-up for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Basically it's all Tony Stark's fault, as usual.

More to come!

Entertainment News Roundup (July 18th, 2014)


Michael Scofield as Captain Cold? I can dig it.

I'm also surprisingly down for the Shining prequel Warner Bros. is apparently mulling. Especially with One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek at the helm. Not crazy about the title though.

The proposed Dexter spin-off is dead in the water. I'm beginning to rethink this whole atheism thing.

The Supernatural offshoot, on the other hand, is still weakly flailing about. Should we throw out the line or let nature take its course? 

The low-key TNT postapocalypse series The Last Ship has been renewed for a second season. I'll probably keep watching.

More as it develops.

Entertainment News Roundup (July 17th, 2014)


The new Captain America will be a black man. Unfortunately there are no pics of black men in Cap regalia on the internet (shame on you, cosplayers). Anywho... racists, start your engines.

Also, the new Thor will be a woman. Bet she ends up rocking hooker boots and a corset, like all the other female superheroes. 

Jessica from True Blood has been cast in the Daredevil Netflix show. Rosario Dawson is obviously playing Elektra.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (a.k.a. The Guys Who Ruined Star Trek) have been tapped to reboot Universal's stable of classic movie monsters -- Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, etc. 'Cause, ya know, you wouldn't want someone with an actual horror background to do that or anything. 

More as it develops.

Photo courtesy of Ricochet.com

On the importance of good old-fashioned storytelling


"Storytelling itself is a craft, and even though television is a visual medium, storytelling is infinitely more important to the TV format. No one watched the entirety of Breaking Bad entirely for those fast cut montages or beautiful shots of the New Mexico landscape. People watched the entirety of Breaking Bad because they were hooked [on the story]."

This is an excerpt from a comment on The AV Club (written in response to a column you can find here). The article is essentially a screed against "spoilerphobes" -- i.e., those who prefer not to have key story points, plot twists, and so on "spoiled" before viewing a new film or television show. The commenter was very respectfully taking issue with some of the author's main points.

All I really have to say is that I agree with said commenter's sentiments wholeheartedly. I believe plain old-fashioned storytelling gets a bad rap. The predominant viewpoint among critics seems to be that the sights, sounds, performances, and artfulness of the dialogue in a film or TV episode are what really matters, and that the plot itself -- the story -- is kind of a MacGuffin. Something largely inconsequential, that exists more or less entirely to act as a showcase for those other elements.

You see something similar in the academic world, when it comes to writing -- the idea that it's all about the flair and style of the language, or the exploration of theme, rather than whether or not the story holds together or otherwise makes sense. This is why genre work is largely reviled: because it's often so plot (read: story) driven. I'm not saying that a deft hand with language and resonant themes aren't necessary -- they surely are, just as good acting, cinematography, shot composition, and so on are crucial to a good piece of audiovisual entertainment -- but I'd also argue that they amount to nothing if not employed in service to a great STORY.

Essentially, I'd argue that the way critics and academics talk about entertainment is largely out of step with how most viewers (and readers) actually respond to it. This is why critics pretty uniformly loved the TV show Lost, for instance, while most viewers ultimately found it wanting. That show's sins were largely those of sloppy storytelling -- bad art, if you will, as opposed to poor craft -- and, as we all know, storytelling doesn't really matter all that much.


Thanks to anonymous AV Club commenter John for supplying the impetus for this article.

Was the ending of 'Fargo' Kinda/Maybe/Sorta/A Little Bit Sexist?



Watching last night's finale of the FX series Fargo -- which I enjoyed thoroughly, despite the misgivings I'm about to express -- I was struck by the nature of how the show's two villains, Billy Bob Thornton's Hannibal-esque Lorne Malvo and Martin Freeman's Walter White-reminiscent Lester Nygaard, received their final comeuppance. The finale was touching, thrilling, and well-written, don't get me wrong; but I couldn't help but think that if Gus Grimly had been the hero and main character of the show, rather than his wife Molly, he would have wound up playing a much more direct role in the process of his two nemeses being taken down.

SPOILERS AHEAD: Essentially, Malvo was taken out not by soon-to-be-Chief Molly, but by her heretofore gentle-natured husband, who was intimidated into letting Malvo go in the pilot and has been nursing the guilt ever since. Lester, meanwhile, was felled by an act of God (or, read another way, his own stupidity) after straying onto thin ice while running from the cops. Molly isn't even responsible for finding the game-changing piece of evidence that makes Lester a fugitive: her husband hands it over to her, after killing Malvo and finding a tape of his telephone call from Lester among the hired gun's effects.

Now, part of the awkwardness of all this comes not from gender-related concerns, but from a shift in the show's character focus that occurred after that 'One Year Later' time-jump a few weeks back. In the first several episodes, the 'heroes' of the show were Molly and Gus, with Lester and Malvo as their respective nemeses. (In fact, I don't believe Molly and Malvo were ever even properly introduced, unless there's something I'm forgetting). After the jump, however, I'd argue that Gus was relegated to supporting status, with Molly as the show's focal point, Malvo as her primary nemesis -- he's the one who gets the most facetime on her famous bulletin board, after all -- and Lester as a niggling loose end both became obsessed with trying to tie up.

Still, I have to wonder: would the ending we got have seemed satisfying if Gus had been our hero for the duration, dimwitted Chief Jim had stumbled across the evidence incriminating Lester, and Malvo had been taken out by Gus' mild-mannered, milquetoast wife? Maybe in a wacky, 'it's the little things you don't expect that trip ya up' sort of way, but I doubt we could've been expected to take it seriously, or to think it reflected well on Gus as our protagonist.

Do I think that Noah Hawley, or the writer/producers of Fargo in general, are sexist? Not really. But that ending made me think.

So I've had a couple things published over at Thought Catalog...


...and these ladies are happy for me! Can ya tell?

Anyway, you can find the goods here and here. You can also follow me on Facebook here or at My Page, and my Twitter and Google Plus profiles can be found here and here. Oh, and don't forget to check out My LinkedIn profile, as well.

Enough shameless self-promotion for one day? Probably not, but hey -- whatta ya gonna do?

Peace.

Review: House of Cards, Season 2


There's a growing sentiment, among those who write and talk about TV, that the age of the great antihero drama might be coming to an end. According to this school of thought, the likes of shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Shield, and even Dexter (when that show was *really* on its game) have said everything interesting there is to say about protagonists who lie, cheat, steal, and often kill their way to the top of whatever hill they're trying to get to the top of. 

I don't generally agree with this line of thinking -- I don't see the antihero drama as a genre unto itself, per se, so much as a realization of the fact that the main character of a TV show doesn't necessarily have to be either a cop, a doctor, a lawyer, or a superhero. Main characters can be flawed, they can be complex, they can even be downright evil, as long as it's in the service of good drama.

When I watch House of Cards, however, I can see where some of the naysayers might be coming from. Cards is an entertaining, engrossing, and at times downright addictive show, and I enjoyed watching the second season about as much as I enjoyed the first... which is to say, a lot. This is a show built largely on the charisma of its lead, and there's no denying that Kevin Spacey is absurdly fun to watch, as most liars, manipulators, and schemers usually are.

The thing is... Frank Underwood would make a great villain, but does he really have what it takes to be the lead character of a TV show?

The "heroes" of those other shows did more than just lie, cheat, scheme, and occasionally show a glint of humanity while doing so (as Vice President Underwood does when he learns that his wife was sexually assaulted by a business associate decades earlier, or that the proprietor of his favorite rib shack is losing his business as an indirect result of Frank's scheming). Walter White didn't start out as a bad guy -- we actually saw the transformation, and that was the point. Tony Soprano may have been a gangster, a thug, and a murderer from the beginning, but his panic attacks and therapy-room confessions let us know that at least a part of Tony longed to be a good man. Dexter Morgan spent the majority of his tenure on Showtime chafing against the ways that his psychopathic nature prevented him from establishing lasting human connections.

These are all relatable, human motivations. We all want to provide for our families. We all want to be good, at least on some level. We all want to be loved.

Frank Underwood's motivation seems to be nothing more than pure, unadulterated, unbridled ambition. He manipulates and back-stabs his way from one rung of the political ladder to the next, seemingly for the sake of doing so. Maybe he truly believes, on some level, in the progressive ideals of his party, and wants to take the reigns of his country so he can lead it in the direction he's convinced it needs to go. Maybe he was bullied as a kid, and craves power because he never had it earlier in life, when it really counted. Maybe he's secretly a neo-Nazi, and wants to use his ever-increasing power to usher in a new Reich. I have no idea.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to feel while watching this show. Am I supposed to be aghast at Frank's actions? Am I supposed to root for his downfall? There can't be any pathos in watching Frank's fall into further depravity, because he was already well and thoroughly depraved when we first laid eyes on him. Frank is corrupt through and through; and to the extent our occasional glimpses of his humanity seem to conflict with this -- 'tis all for naught, because neither the show nor Frank himself seem to acknowledge the contradiction. There's no conflict within Frank, no inner turmoil; he's more a collection of character traits, at times haphazardly thrown together, than an actual character.

I think House of Cards might be the ultimate vindication of the idea that the villain of your story can't also be the hero. The Sopranos and Breaking Bad worked because they kept pitting their (decidedly villainous) heroes against guys bigger and badder, or at least notably more despicable, than they were. Walter White and his adversaries were rarely less than evenly matched. Frank Underwood has no hero, nor even a slightly less shady antihero, to match him. He's a Goliath with no David... leaving House of Cards little to be but a testament to his cleverness, and to Kevin Spacey's expertly oily charm.

Why do TV show fandoms hate pretty girls so much?


This is something I've been noticing in online message boards and comment threads for a while now, most recently in relation to the characters of Megan on the AMC show Mad Men and Bradley on the A&E series Bates Motel. In particular, the preoccupation with Megan on the Mad Men boards at Television Without Pity seems a bit cloying, not to mention more than a little obsessive. This is a character who was barely there in seasons 4 or 6 of that show, after all - she was only a driving force for the show's narrative in season 5, and even then only as a reflection of the character development - or lack thereof - of the show's male lead, Don Draper. Yet to hear the ladies on TWoP tell it, Jessica Pare is almost single-handedly responsible for the show's perceived decline.

I've been treading the treacherous seas of online TV fandom for quite a few years now - more than I care to remember, much less admit - and the simple fact is that, with nearly every TV show whose fanbase I've cared to interact with, there's come a point, approximately midway through the length of an average show's run (say, after 3-4 seasons or so), where the tide starts to turn and a backlash starts to develop. Maybe it's because that seems to be around the time when a show starts experimenting and changing up its format.  


Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance, lost two or three main characters, added a couple more, and shifted the show's focus away from the relationship between the three (original) main cast members in its fourth season. Mad Men started a new firm, moved its cast to a sleek, modern-looking new set, and sidelined the main character's home life in its fourth season, along with arguably shifting focus away from characters like Pete Campbell and Peggy Olson to accommodate newcomers like Jared Harris' caustic Brit Lane Pryce. Many fans didn't like this, and so, inevitably, the backlash started cropping up.

The tendency to focus this discontent on one or two specific characters, however, is something I've never quite understood. This is something that even crops up in the early seasons of some shows - Lana Lang on Smallville, for instance, or Laurel Lance on the current CW show Arrow, or Laurie (or Andrea) on The Walking Dead, or Bradley on the aforementioned Bates Motel - and, conspicuously or not, in nearly all these cases, the scapegoated character also happens to be played by the most conventionally attractive female actor on the show.


This is also something quite distinct from, say, the "Skylar's a b*tch" backlash among certain segments of the Breaking Bad fanbase - it's not a misogynist thing, men complaining about a strong female character "mistreating" their show's male hero. Female posters seem to be the predominant offenders here. I feel like there's a Pop Culture Studies thesis here somewhere - why do TV fans hate pretty girls so much?