Every time I watch HBO, I feel like a 13-year-old kid peering into the secret adult world of sex, potty-mouthed comedy and gritty violence. Between Sex and the City, The Larry Sanders Show and The Wire, the premium cable channel has excelled in those particular fields for over two decades now. A few days ago, I caught up on HBO’s latest comedic offering: Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the nation’s highly caffeinated vice president. With each F-bomb and dick joke, that warm feeling of grownup-world exploration returned. I didn’t realize how much I missed it!
Louis-Dreyfus’ character, Selina Meyer, is a classic American politician — firm on key issues, spongy on others and constantly relying on her staff for names, faces and talking points. Veep showcases the mile-a-minute inner workings of D.C. life through a satirical lens, embodied especially by Meyer’s sneaky assistant communications director Dan (Reid Scott). Other members of her team include fiery chief of staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky), awkward assistant Gary (Tony Hale) and lazy press guy Mike (Matt Walsh).
As with scores of other comedy shows, Veep’s writing is sleek and sharp but depends on the delivery of a talented cast. In addition to excelling as government movers and shakers, each member of Meyer’s staff is equally as adept at insulting one another. Mike’s fake pet dog, Gary’s (in all his post-Buster Bluth glory) handsy-ness and White House rep Jonah (Timothy Simons)’s general creepiness are all fair game. This quirky crew is heavy on laughs, but the Veep is their sun, pulling them all together. After disastrous public appearances (including sleepy Senate sessions and hot-mic gaffes on Meet the Press), they return the favor for her.
I hate to bring up Seinfeld comparisons, but any show that inexplicably weaves together a mess of goofy situations only to humorously resolve them at the end deserves the association. Take the time when Meyer goes back on her word to a senator whose support she desperately needs on a piece of legislation: “I was charmed by Doyle! He’s got that little twinkle in his eye, he was talking about fisting people… he just niced me! I got niced!” I can just see Jerry throwing his arms up in amusing desperation.
As a leader, Meyer has all the charm and looks to sustain her image, and her policies aren’t half bad, either. She’s competent, and despite the POTUS (an off-screen character) assigning her a campaign to attack U.S. obesity to keep her busy, her desire is to leave a legacy of clean jobs and filibuster reform. Their relationship is complicated: “God bless the President; he’s a great man, but he’s really busting my fuckin’ ladyballs here!” Still, even if she never gets to spend time in the Situation Room, the Veep can rest assured she’s left a legacy of laughs.
History’s littered with bitter rivalries: Irish vs. English, Hatfields vs. McCoys, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Star Trek vs. Star Wars. But none of them — and I say this without the slightest trace of irony — are as vitriolic as the Marvel-DC feud. Good people have died and will continue to, unless something is done. Fear not, my children, for I’m here to lay the issue to rest, decade by decade.
Oh, a side-by-side comparison of competing intellectual properties? How original! Shut up. We’re doing this.
X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997): Easily the best Marvel cartoon of the ‘90s, and possibly the best of all Marvel’s TV efforts, X-Men: The Animated Series kicked all of the ass. It got a little cheesy at times, but it managed to translate years of X-Men comics into an overarching narrative with some of the slightly more modern characters like Wolverine (Cathal J. Dodd) and Rogue (Lenore Zann). Despite being a kids’ show on the surface, X-Men: TAS was never afraid to tackle serious topics like religion, prejudice, divorce, AIDS and the Holocaust.
X-Men: TAS was that rare cartoon that wasn’t afraid to take chances or blur the lines between good and evil. The action and colorful art direction kept kids like me entertained, but the complex story arcs and characters kept usually jaded parents interested. I even remember my younger self attempting an ethical discussion with my mother about whether or not Magneto (David Hemblen) could be considered evil.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998): It had its moments, but Spider-Man: The Animated Series was damned from the beginning by Fox’s desire to avoid “too much violence.” References to death were made “friendlier,” so any time Uncle Ben’s (Brian Keith) murder came up, the writers would awkwardly dance around the subject and shrug their shoulders, hoping nobody in the club would notice through the strobe light that they were really awful, just like this metaphor.
Even more baffling, Spider-Man (Christopher Daniel Barnes) never did much actual fighting — no, seriously, think about it for a second. Do you remember him throwing punches? He just flipped around and somehow won every fight. It’s not that Spider-Man: TAS was all bad, but trying to make a G-rated superhero show is like trying to make a PG-13 porno. You get none of what you came for, if you come at all… Get it?
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995): Say what you want about Tim Burton and Frank Miller, but Batman: The Animated Series owes a lot to Miller’s Year One (1987) and Burton’s Batman (1989). Hell, it even uses Danny Elfman’s theme music from the film. As discussed in a recent Read Me Watch post regarding the series by another blogger, its gothic and art deco imagery made Batman: TAS one of the most stylish cartoons out there, not to mention giving many a child a nightmare or two with its darker tone.
But if you wanted a badass cartoon as a kid, Batman: TAS wrote the book. The characters were stylized, expressive and well-written. The villains were colorful and bizarre, from the cheery Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) — which the series introduced to the Batman continuity — to the tragic, vengeful interpretation of Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara). Batman (Kevin Conroy) had his share of great moments, but the one that’ll always give me chills is that memorable line from Nothing to Fear: “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!”
Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000): The Man of Steel has probably had the most consistently good run of cartoon appearances out of every superhero, and I say this as someone who never really cared for Supes. Besides the excellent ‘90s cartoon, which I’ll get to, he made a legitimately compelling centerpiece for the Justice League series… which I’ll get to later.
Superman: The Animated Series was much lighter in tone than the Batman series and it took fewer liberties with characters, but playing it safe worked to its benefit. Superman (Tim Daly) had to use his wits as much as his powers to best his foes, as shown in the hysterical Mxyzpixelated. Lois Lane (Dana Delany) was tough, sassy and smart, though she unfortunately fell into the “damsel in distress” role a few times. But hey, nothing’s perfect. Ultimately, Superman: TAS was satisfying to fans of the comics and interesting enough to keep non-fans like me watching.
And the winner is… DC!
I’m a little surprised at my final decision, being more of a Marvel fan, but thinking about it, I found that DC’s animated series of the time were far better than Marvel’s. X-Men: TAS did what it could, but you just can’t beat the ‘90s Batman, and Superman: TAS sure as hell didn’t hurt. The real reason Marvel loses this round is that — let’s face it — the Spider-Man cartoon kind of sucked. Its few shining moments weren’t enough to redeem the overwhelming amount of poor decisions. But hey, at least Spider-Man never went to a planet full of furries and made out with a rat lady… Oh, wait.
It’s easy to see why Superman has often been epitomized as America’s patron superhero. Garbed in red and blue, the farm boy-turned-divine-savior is the closest thing to a secular Jesus we get. For my money, however, Superman’s always been a little too squeaky-clean. For me, it’s always been about the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, the World’s Greatest Detective — Batman.
Think about it: Superman’s got it made! He arrived in the middle of a cornfield fully loaded with flight, super strength, X-ray vision, heat vision, super hearing and just about every other superpower in the book. Batman, on the other hand, was born Bruce Wayne, a human heir to his billionaire parents’ fortune. When a mugging turned sour, they were gunned down in front of him, creating an un-fillable void of revenge inside young Bruce. To get it, he used his mind, body and large trust fund to make himself a hero.
In the past decade, Christopher Nolan has captured the essence of Batman in his masterful, soon-to-be completed film trilogy. But a 1992 cartoon laid the groundwork for his accomplishments. Batman: The Animated Series, in its three-year run on FOX, helped to redefine the Dark Knight as the gritty antihero he always was.
On the surface, episodes of Batman: TAS play out like stereotypical villain-of-the-week serials: Batman (and sometimes Robin and Batgirl) respond to a situation, which later redoubles with violence until the heroes put the case to rest. But for a kid’s cartoon, Batman: TAS probed into the darkest corners of the Caped Crusader’s legend. Take the piercing psychological realism of Perchance to Dream, where the Mad Hatter traps Bruce inside his own consciousness, torturing him with the ghosts of his parents. Take the mucky two-part episode detailing Harvey Dent’s violent transformation into Two-Face, complete with Dent’s sanity slowly slipping away. Take our hero’s stark declaration early on in the series: “I am vengeance! I am the night! I AM BATMAN!” It’s enough to even give adults trouble sleeping.
The brilliance of Batman: TAS lies in its masterful storytelling and its equally talented voice actors. Mark Hamill’s pleasantly psychotic Joker is second only to Heath Ledger’s, and it’s no wonder Hamill’s reprised the role for numerous video games. Richard Moll captures both Harvey Dent’s charming eloquence and Two-Face’s raucous growl, a must for the divided character. Kevin Conroy’s smooth, deep baritone colored Bruce’s playboy image while adding necessary gruff for his nightly pursuits.
Batman: TAS would have likely slipped through the cracks of ‘90s nostalgia had it not been for its austere Art Deco animation style. Gotham City is re-imagined as a 1940s time capsule of large cars, trench coats and gangsters in bowler hats, all the while Batman looms above the night on a skyscraper reminiscent of the Chrysler Building. The show’s title sequence proudly declares its boldness as an atypically sleek cartoon series with its lack of actual credits. Instead, the last shot of Batman’s dark silhouette becoming a full figure in the flash of a lightning crack is all the title information a viewer needs.
This show serves as a nice foil to the embarrassing Dark Knight camp of the mid-to-late 1990s courtesy of director Joel Schumacher. (I just like to think Batman Forever and Batman & Robin never happened). Batman: TAS points to the future — 10 years forward to be precise, when Nolan’s Batman Begins hit theaters and allowed fans to once again behold our hero in all his complex, dark, twisted glory. Batman’s unique professional (and personal) relationship with Commissioner Gordon, his humble beginnings as a vigilante thug in a ski mask and his acquiring of keen detective skills are all here, laid out in compelling stories. The overall one, however, is and always has been a story of redemption. Batman: TAS reawakened the Caped Crusader’s potential as the most human superhero of all, and that’s why it’s still worth watching.
Technically, the end of Fringe‘s season four was a two-part episode — but it truly felt like a four-part episode. As such, it’s impossible just to talk about the last two episodes, so congratulations, dear reader! You’re about to experience the first four-episode blog post. If you’ve not seen these four episodes — Letters of Transit, Worlds Apart and Brave New World, Part 1 and Part 2, turn back now. There will be spoilers.
First off, let me just say that I’m incredibly pleased with this show’s fourth season. Its renewal for a fifth and final season only pleases me even more knowing how they ended the fourth. I’m already anticipating a very happy ending to my current favorite show on television — and dare I say it, my favorite show period.
In Letters of Transit, we saw a world where the mysterious Observers, time travelers from the future, have created a dystopia in present after the future became inhabitable. We saw Agent Henrietta “Etta” Bishop (Georgina Haig), the daughter of Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia (Anna Torv), battling it out with the Observers in 2035. Over the course of the episode, she set free Walter (John Noble), Astrid (Jasika Nicole) and Peter from a case of amber, but left William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) inside — and it was revealed that Olivia was killed at some point earlier. These events were all new to us, but left us with a sense of where the show was headed.
In Brave New World, Part 1 and Part 2, we see events that lead to Letters of Transit. Bell reappears as the villain, playing God by trying to collapse the two universes to create a new universe. We see Olivia revealing to Peter that she is pregnant, presumably with Etta. We see Broyles (Lance Reddick) getting promoted to general, and asking Nina (Blair Brown) being asked to head a new scientific branch of the Fringe division, which I can only guess is how our world obtains amber technology only found in the now-closed-off-as-of-Worlds-Apart alternate universe. And finally, we see the Observer September (Michael Cerveris) warning Walter that, “They are coming.”
All of this boils down to what’s going to happen next season. My hope is that they’ll explore the events leading to the Fringe team getting encased in amber, while also continuing to explore the world of Letters of Transit, detailing the liberation of humanity from the Observers. If it was up to me, I’d make it a back and forth season, with one episode showing the progression of the Fringe team’s present day efforts, and the next showing the resistance front in 2035. I think it would be the best storytelling technique (and we all know my passion for storytelling), but we’ll have to wait to see how it plays out.
I like how they almost killed not one, but two major cast members in the same episode. They had Astrid shot at the end of Part 1 and they had Olivia shot in the head by Walter in Part 2. Come on, guys. Cheap tricks!
I swear, if they keep doing really terrible product placement on this show, I’m going to freak out. They had a Sprint phone app used for payment featured prominently in the opening scene of Part 1, which I was fine with. But then they give lines to talking about it. Walter finds a dead man with the app still open and says something like, “Maybe this has something to do with the deaths,” and Astrid responds, “No, Walter, that’s just what people use to pay for things nowadays.” Walter smiles and says, “What will they think of next?” Really, Fox? Really?
Let’s talk about how it took four seasons for Astrid to get to kick some ass. Not only does she attacks someone, but she fires a gun at her attackers — and then she gets shot. Way to go, Astrid!
It was so heartwarming when Walter finally called Astrid, “Astrid.” Adorable.
I really hope they bring back the other universe again. Closing off the gap removes the chances, but I like Lincoln (Seth Gabel) too much to just forget about him. As shown in Part 2, Olivia can jump between worlds (even though her powers were notably weakened afterward) — so there’s still some hope!
I’m really happy with the way they handled this alternate timeline. They made it really mysterious at the beginning, but made it so it’s hardly a problem at all by the finale. Excellent work.
Questions of note
Is Olivia really dead in 2035? As far as I remember, they never actually state she’s dead — they more imply it. And if she’s not dead, why wasn’t she encased in amber? Is she going to be an old woman if so?
With all this time-skipping with September, what happened with him in the future? Is he dead? Walter says what happened to September was “unfortunate” in Letters of Transit, but what does that mean?
Will Broyles, Nina, Walter and Astrid ever get their memories back of the original timeline? I almost hope they don’t, but I wouldn’t be opposed. I like the dynamic between this Walter and Peter, but I feel so bad for Nina.
The second season of the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood has officially been crossed off my list, and the show has yet to be moved to my section of shows I gave up on. You see, Torchwood continues to impress and to separate itself from Doctor Who in ways I never anticipated. Be warned: There will be spoilers below for both Torchwood and Doctor Who.
Much as I said in my review of Torchwood: End of Days, this show takes the Doctor Who universe and creates a whole new series, much like any good spinoff. It relies on its source material only vaguely, but never forgets it. That’s the strength of Torchwood. The characters, the emotions, the drama — everything comes together like any other show, but it always stays true to the universe of Doctor Who.
This season, we saw development on the part of every character around. Jack (John Barrowman) begins to sleep with Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) while struggling with his feelings toward Gwen (Eve Myles). Meanwhile, his old partner John (James Marsters) returns to cause some havoc, all while we discover Jack’s past regarding his younger brother, Gray (Lachlan Nieboer), who was was taken by invaders when Jack, just a young boy at the time, let go to Gray’s hand while escaping alien attackers.
Simultaneously, we see Gwen’s marriage to Rhys (Kai Owen) and some nice dramatic tension between Owen (Burn Gorman) and Toshiko (Naoko Mori) regarding the latter’s unrequited love for the former. Owen is killed halfway through the season, only to be brought back to life as some sort of undead being, which further complicates the matter.
This sort of drama is exactly why I like the show. It’s still got all the science-fiction excitement of Doctor Who, but with the added bonus of heavy character development and actual relationships. Sure, you’ve got the constant unrequited love plots with Rose (Billie Piper) and Martha (Freema Agyeman) regarding the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), and you’ve got the complicated marriage of Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), as well as that of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and River (Alex Kingston) in more recent seasons — but those relationships just don’t compare. In Doctor Who, these plots always seem to take a backseat to the events of individual episodes (minus a few exceptions).
In Torchwood, though, almost every episode adds something to the characters that you didn’t know before, or further solidifies the characters in who they are. It’s so well-written, in fact, that by the time the finale comes along and Owen and Toshiko are killed, you actually feel something. Though not quite tear-jerkingly sad, it’s very strong writing and execution. I think the pacing was a bit off, though. Otherwise, I’d've been in tears.
On that note, I think Torchwood took a pretty big leap of faith in killing off two of its cast in a single episode. Nonetheless, I’ve heard the next season is the best the show has produced, so I’m looking forward to seeing what goes on to give it that title.
I just hope they quit the love quadrangle between Jack, Ianto, Gwen and Rhys. As they’re the only four characters left, continued love drama is only going to bog the show down. We have them right where we want them, after all — Jack with Ianto and Gwen with Rhys. If this season screws up that dynamic, I’m only going to end up really pissed. So please, Torchwood, don’t do that.
I am a little bit of an intellectual snob. I don’t mind admitting it: I like intelligence. I like stimulating conversation. Even if the topic isn’t that intellectual, I like when people know what they’re talking about.
It’s for this reason that I find “reality television” to be a blight upon the world we live in. This world, in which entertainment is such a very big part, from books to TV, from theatre to film, the worst dregs of the industry lie in so-called reality television, or “unscripted programming” and “alternate programming” as it’s come to be called.
This section of entertainment, which, on average, debases the very people that appear on it, makes them eat a variety of unusual foods (the staple of eating kangaroo penis on I’m a Celebrity (UK) is one such example), makes them perform tasks that demean their very character or simply follows the non-celebrity celebrities, recording everything they say and do in the hopes that their stupidity will outweigh their sense of self preservation promotes nothing except ignorance.
Shows such as these prop up the stupid to become role models to children that should be encouraged to look up to people with actual skill, not the likes of Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, whose only visible talent is the ability to lie on the bed like a dead fish whilst getting screwed on camera.
Little girls look up to these women; they want to become famous and they want to become the Snookies or the Paris Hiltons of the world when they could aspire to so be so much greater.
Today’s society should be fostering a sense of intellect in young minds. It should be breeding creativity and the desire to learn. It should not be idolising real people (maybe exaggerated, maybe not) that ask questions on TV such as this titillating set of statements bundled together to form a conversation so inane, I nearly took my eye out just reading it.
This… this ignorant piece of *insert expletive that I can’t feasibly write here* is what it wrong with the world today.
The fact that people who say these things, things like, “Charles Dickens wrote Winnie the Pooh. No, Pride and Prejudice. Dickens wrote Victorian books like Pride and Prejudice,” are given a spot on television and allowed to voice their ignorance to the world baffles me.
But reality TV’s biggest problem is that it is extremely profitable. It costs practically nothing to follow someone around with a camera and record them. They use product placement and they attract a vast amount of viewers to their shows who tune in just to see Snooki getting punched in the face (which I must admit, I looped on YouTube) or to see someone say something stupid.
So I implore you, readers, especially those of you with children: If you see this kind of drivel on the television, use the time to do something worthwhile. Go spend time with your kids, go write something, play a video game for god’s sake. Hell, even burn an effigy of Pauly D or The Situation in your garden, just as long as you turn off the TV and barely refrain yourself from tossing the set out of the window.
Warning: The following contains spoilers of season two episode five of Game of Thrones, titled The Ghost of Harrenhal (there’s also mild book spoilers). If you are waiting to see the episode and don’t want it spoiled, stop now or may the Others take you!
Sunday night’s episode marked this season’s halfway point. On the bright side, the last five episodes are sure to be amazing, and I’m especially excited for episode nine, which George R.R. Martin wrote. However, this means I only have five more weeks to enjoy Westeros before next year’s season.
There wasn’t much of this episode that I disagreed with, but here’s what I loved, hated and what I expect out of the remaining episodes.
The Ghost of Harrenhal opened with a scene I was both dreading and excited about: Renly’s murder. It wasn’t exactly how it happened in the book, as the shadow lingers for all to see, but it looked amazing. Kudos to the special effects team for pulling off Melisandre’s creepy shadow baby better than I could’ve imagined.
I’m also a gigantic Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) fan, so seeing her kick some ass was an added bonus. I also really loved the later scene with her and Catelyn, as an incredibly emotional Brienne swore her loyalty to Lady Stark. As much as I hate Catelyn, I love the incredibly close relationship she and Brienne come to have.
Then we were on to King’s Landing to meet with one of my favorite characters, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). I don’t understand how the writers keep making me love Tyrion more with each episode, but I approve. Lancel is the wimpiest, and I love seeing Tyrion kick him around to find out what Cersei is doing behind his back. We also got to catch our first glimpse of the Alchemist’s Guild and its wildfire, which will play a big part later (and I’m anxious to see what it looks like “in action”).
Next the episode moved onto the Iron Islands, which I thought was rather uneventful. I love Theon Greyjoy’s character (Alfie Allen), but I didn’t even realize the man he spoke with about disobeying his father’s orders was Dagmer Cleftjaw. In the books, the man’s face got sliced in two with an ax, and he’s such a badass he just pushes the two halves back together. I knew it wouldn’t be that dramatic in the show, but at least give him a creepier, full-face scar or something.
Another part that I completely hated was in Winterfell. I absolutely adore Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), but it appears Howland Reed’s kids, Jojen and Meera, have been cut out. In the book, Jojen has the dream about the sea flooding Winterfell, not Bran. He and Meera also help Bran discover why he has dreams of being his wolf, Summer. They tell him he’s a skinchanger, and help him use the power.
Without them, I’m guessing it will fall to Osha to tell Bran what his powers mean. I know adding Jojen and Meera would mean even more characters than we already have, but they play a role in later books, so I hope they at least include them next season.
There was so much that I loved in this episode, it’s hard to narrow it down to a few things. First, there was noticeably a lack of nudity, minus Gendry’s glorious shirtless scene. They should burn all that kid’s shirts so he can never wear one again.
And speaking of the Game of Thrones men I love, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is back! I’m still perplexed as to why they hate on him so much. In Clash of Kings, Halfhand specifically asks for Jon to travel with him, which obviously didn’t happen in last night’s episode. I still have hope that one day, the writers will stop the hostility toward Jon, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Next, we traveled across the Narrow Sea to find Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in the mystical city of Qarth. I love that they’re keeping all the creepiness from the books in her scenes: the warlock Pyat Pree; the masked Quaithe; and I’ve always been creeped out by Xaro Xhoan Daxos. I’m especially excited for whatever episode Dany travels to the House of the Undying.
Finally, my favorite part of The Ghost of Harrenhal was, well, Harrenhall and everything between Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). After Tywin finds out she’s a northerner, he asks Arya if she think Robb Stark is unkillable (as many are saying so about the young king).
“No. Anyone can be killed.” — Enter my immense excitement, as that line was included in every trailer for this season, and I couldn’t wait to see what context it was in.
Directly after that, Arya runs in to my favorite assassin, Jaqen, and he offers to kill any three men she wants. While who she chooses is different from the book, I still can’t knock a scene Jaqen is in. I would’ve rather she picked someone else, since in the book she chooses Weese, who has personally done her wrong. Deciding on The Tickler seems like something she’s doing for the “greater good,” which isn’t the case in the book. She chooses someone for selfish reasons, and I think they should’ve kept that theme.
I can’t wait to see Jaqen in later episodes. However, he and Jon Snow might have to fight for my title of “best hair” and number one crush.
Check back next week for my thoughts on season two episode six, The Old Gods and the New.