League of Gentlemen, Season 3 Episode 4 ” The Medusa Touch”

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Television, 2002

When a serialized work evolves into something distinct from its initial form, it can sometimes be hard not to miss the bits it shed in order to make room for what it became. Is it a creator’s duty to maintain the work’s original aim, or to at least guide its evolution in a way that will mitigate any disappointment on the part of the audience? Certainly not, but it does call into question whether it’s a good idea to keep referring to it by the same name.

This, as you may have guessed is the difficulty I’m having with the third season of League of Gentlemen, a season with big differences from the two that came before it. In my view, so far, there are two departures of note: the absence of a laugh track and the relative mundanity of the characters. The inclusion of a laugh track in the early seasons was something that took getting used to for me. Distracting at first, but once I was able to tune it out it became a part of the ambience, a part that brought out the humor/ horror juxtaposition I previously discussed being central to the show. Without it, we’re no longer watching a network comedy gone delirious, we’re watching something delirious of its own free will, which is much less exciting.

Although it might stand to reason that this would free Gentlemen up to extend the boundaries of its insanity even further, it opts for just the opposite. This season consists of human interest stories- characters fall in love under difficult circumstances, experience career setbacks, and maintain extra-marital affairs. While those elements were always presented in the show, they now dominate it. Royston Vasey is no longer home to the monster children of deranged shopkeepers, menacing circus demons, and malicious psychic twins of seasons past. Where these characters had their roots in nightmare, season there’s characters have their roots in reality.

The thing that compensates for these loses somewhat, and what I imagine what the show’s creators intentionally sacrificed these things in order to achieve, is deeper stories that relate more directly to humanity. And it’s certainly not a failure on that front. But with the depth of its comedy and the heights of its insanity cut off, you’re forced to wonder if it’s really the same show.


Party Down: Season Two

Television, 2010

The second season of Party Down is not as entertaining as the first. It’s not worse, it just isn’t as fun to watch. (But it’s a comedy, so maybe that does make it worse.) Although it’s only the second season of the show, and the first season was only ten episodes long, it spends much of it’s run trying to squeeze interest out of putting the characters where they don’t belong. Ken Marino’s character should never have been the boss, and Adam Scott’s character was the smartest person on the show. Take Marino’s undeserved power away and give Scott the power he deserves, and the characters lose their edge. The resulting misery that the characters face dulls the show down, and it was already suffering from the loss of Jane Lynch. I did realize another thing that distinguishes this show from most other Apatow-inspired productions though; it’s characters aren’t dull-witted man-babies. They’re intelligent, relatable characters. Advantage Party Down. Also, points for realizing that their low rated Starz original show might not get a next season and giving all of their characters happy endings. 3


Cemetery Man

Does an arty, bizarre, melodramatic, funny zombie movie sound enjoyable to you? If so, you’ll love Cemetery Man. If not, you’ll hate it. What should come off as pretentious and annoying comes off as sharp and fun, somehow. Rupert Everett plays a graveyard caretaker who’s residents mysteriously come back to life seven days after they die. He doesn’t know why, and he’d rather re-kill them than bother explaining it to anyone. It has a logic all of it’s own, and maybe my favorite ending to a story ever. 3.5/5


Spider-Man 2

This movie is great, maybe my pick for best superhero adaptation ever. It’s fun, moving and has just enough (and the right kind of) savagely slapstick Raimi direction to give it a great personality. I really appreciate how it pushed big budget films to focus on characterization and story; a lesson that Iron Man learned, and Speed Racer (I hear) did not. 3.5/5


Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Film, 1985

Amazing post-apocalyptic costume and set design elevates what was already a thoughtful film about the way humanity navigates itself into contemplative eye-candy. 4


The Cocoanuts

Film, 1929

Surprisingly sophisticated and funny comedy, but primitive filmmaking techniques obscure (and are the cause of) much of the humor. Harpo is especially hilarious…. 3


Blood Car

An ingenious, disgusting and absolutely hilarious oddity of a film, with only a hint of social commentary (Thank god). 4/5


Channel 101 roundup

Channel 101 is a great monthly short film festival in California, started by the guys who did the Scud: The Disposable Assassin comic book and the great unaired pilot Heat Vision and Jack. Anyone can submit an entry, which gets shown at the monthly screening. The shows are then voted on by an audience, and the top five are put into “Prime Time” which means that another episode is expected the next month. Some shows make it to the double digits, some are one hit wonders.

It started out with some pretty varied stuff, lots of animation, some weird comedy, and even some drama. But a particular style has dominated Channel 101 the last year or so. It’s a weird socially inept humor that embraces its poor production values and is usually Science Fiction to some extent.

Here’s a review of this month’s Channel 101 lineup.

 

 

YACHT ROCK #5
I really haven’t even watched this show since it premiered a while back, even thought it’s pretty much been number one since it started. The first episode seemed pretty lame to me, and I never gave it another chance. It seemed like an SNL skit, and about as funny. Even after watching this episode I’m not entirely sure what the premise is, but I think it’s some sort of VH1 Behind the Music parody thing.

All that said, I was surprised to find out that this was pretty funny. The plot involves Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen trying to kill smooth rock forever because hard rock gets them more pussy. I don’t know if this was me suffering for not seeing the previous episodes, but I got pretty lost after that. Vincent Price comes along and summons a ghost… just watch it, it’s pretty funny. It’s pretty much just humorous pop culture references, but they’re pretty good ones (and not stuff we’ve heard a million times).

 

Writing: 7 Direction: 6 Acting: 7 Visuals: 7 Humor: 7 Obligatory Michael Jackson child molestation joke: 1 Overall: 7

 

 

THE WASTELANDER #2
This show is so good it’s unbelievable. The costumes and special effects are numerous and look great. The direction is very effective, there are moments where you feel emotions other than humor (anticipation, nervousness, fear). This show’s plot borrows heavily from Mad Max, but gives the Max character a proper gentlemen of a servant. Despite the fact that they live in a wasteland, they live in a pretty nice looking suburban home. In this episode The Wastelander’s servant becomes unsure of the Wastelander’s intentions, due to the advice of some spooooooky viiisitors.

This show is so well done that it almost works against it. You hold up a much higher standard for it, and if it fails to meet it in any way, you might become overly critical. The opening credits seemed a little over the top, but I guess they were supposed to be. And too much emphasis is put on production value, and not enough on the humor. This teams previous show Utopia was hysterical, in a way that lets me know that humor isn’t their intention here.

All this really means anyway is that The Wastelander is in a class of its own, and it’s always hard not to hate the smartest fastest kid in class.

 

Writing: 8 Direction: 8 Acting: 9 Visuals: 9 Humor: 7 Overall: 8

 

 

 

THE MUSTACHE CONTEST
Uh, okay. Here’s a cute little cartoon about some sea life that have a mustache growing contest. Each animal finds a different way to grow their mustaches fast, until they are all trumped at the end by a strange visitor. The art is simple and cute, and so are the animals. They swear occasionally, and there is a murder, but this is pretty tame. I do like how all the sound effects are mouth created.

I don’t know how some stuff gets voted into prime time lately. Certain shows give me the feeling that the creators have all their friends attend the screening and vote for them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible show. But it’s not the kind of thing I see getting a million votes from the audience.

(Note: After I wrote this review there were some discrepencies over who the true creator of this animation was and the show was removed from the site. The bottom slot was filled in by Roots of Justice… Schrab and Hartman still denied!)

 

Writing: 6 Direction: 7 Acting: 6 Visuals: 8 Humor: 6 Plausible facial hair growing strategies: 0 Overall: 6

 

 

THE WRIGHT STUFF #3
This is another show that has been doing very well ratings wise on Channel 101 that I never watched for one reason or another. And again I was pretty pleasantly surprised, although I do think that this suffers the same deficiency as The Wastelander- heavy production values and light on the humor. This episode involves Amelia Earhart falling into a vortex in the Bermuda Triangle and being transported to the time of the Wright Brothers. She unwittingly brings a bunch of zombies with her and the boys (along with a baseball bat wielding Theodore Roosevelt).

The visuals are pretty great. They did really good giving it that faux old film look, and the zombies and accompanying gore look pretty great too. There’s some funny moments, and a couple not so funny moments. There’s a robot head on the Wright Brother’s plane for some reason, who seemed to deliver all the worst jokes. This is good enough to watch, certainly. But I don’t think it would be very popular without the professional looking visuals.

 

Writing: 7 Direction: 8 Acting: 7 Visuals: 8 Humor: 6 Plausible facial hair growing strategies: 0 Overall: 7

 

 

CHANNEL101: THE MUSICAL #3
Okay, and then there’s this. It’s very very hard to like humor like this. First of all, I hate musicals. To the extent that I also hate parodies of musicals. I just don’t want to know about it. Second, this is a self referential show about Channel 101. A musical about the pressures and difficulties about making a show. This makes it really hard to like this show. Self referential stuff is cheap humor. It panders to the Channel 101 audience, and has little value outside of it. And it puts Channel 101 as an institution on a pedestal, which I don’t find appropriate either.

All of that said, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. This episode features Dan Harmon, one of the people who runs Channel 101 in a catchy little number called “I’m Dan Harmon and I shit gold” (referring to all of the great shows Dan Harmon has made). Dan Harmon’s performance and singing has some personality, and goes beyond the other actors who seem to be trying to make a straight musical. I understand that this stuff is funny when played with a straight face, but play it too straight and you are boring. I don’t not recommend this, but uh…

 

Writing: 7 Direction: 6 Acting: 7 Visuals: 5 Humor: 6 Overall: 6

 

Not a bad group of shows, I was pretty surprised by some stuff I hadn’t previously given a chance. To anyone who’s curios, here’s some of my all time favorite Channel 101 shows:
Twigger’s Holiday
Documentary: The Series
Laser Fart
It’s Twissleton
House of Cosbys (can’t find this one- they may have removed it again due to Cosby related legal reasons)
Adventurous und Magick Haus
and of course… RIP Most Extraordinary Space Investigations


Adult Swim roundup

Okay kids, gather ‘round. I’m gonna weave ya a long yarn about a television station and the shows that they play. But these ain’t just no normal shows. Oh no, yuhsee this station actually plays good shows! Shows that are creative and experimental and most important of all… funny! An’ these good shows actually get good ratings! Sound too fantastic to believe? Well believe it sucka’, cuz weather or not you think that Adult Swim is annoying or juvenile or crappy, it’s flat out the best thing on TV.
And now that I magically get every channel known to man, I get to watch it every night. Here’s a “roundup” (yee haw!) of the shows featured on their Sunday night lineup.

SQUIDBILLIES
Squidbillies premiered on Sunday night, and I think it’s my new favorite show.

But before I get to that, let me speak about Adult Swim on more general terms. Terms that speak also about Squidbillies in particular. A big attraction to Adult Swim is just the spectacle of the fact that it was ever made at all. The sheer audacity of it being put on the air. You watch it and think “I am watching this on real TV. And so are thousands of other people. This is insane.” This of course is not the only attraction to Adult Swim. There is also the humor, the creativity, and the artwork. But the “What the fuck” factor is big. It is certainly the edgiest thing on mainstream television, as well as having the edgiest humor on television.
Well, there’s a new edge. And that edge is named Squidbillies. This show is completely insane. As the commercials say, the show is about “a family of squids who launch a daily assault on the niceties of country living.” Forget about the fact that these characters actually appear to be octopi. They drink, rob convenience stores, have illegitimate children, spend fifteen years in jail, get raised by wolves, throw Molotov cocktails… all in the first fifteen minute episode. And the dialogue is hilarious, if you’re fast enough to catch it.
And the artwork is probably the best to come out of Adult Swim yet. While the characters themselves look like they come out of a deranged fourteen year old’s notebook, the backgrounds are rich expressionistic paintings that look like they may have been painted in a shack in the middle of the woods by a very gifted but mentally deficient artist. And throughout all of this is Les Claypool-style (if not the man himself) wandering bass and vocal murmurings.
There is no true way to describe this show, but I highly suggest checking it out. If you see a squid humping a small yellow creature in a black mask, leave it on that channel for a few minutes.

12 OZ. MOUSE
Phh. Okay. Describing some of these shows is proving to be tougher than I even thought. 12 Oz. Mouse is about a drunken mouse who drives a big yellow jet taxi. His sidekick is a small chinchilla, who really does nothing but vibrate and scream. He is given an assignment by a shark at a desk to pick up an important client… and then he robs a bank… and pukes on a woman at the bar… who transforms into a man to scare him away… and then it gets kinda weird.
This show is almost all shock value, as the animation appears to have been done rather hastily in MS Paint. The dialogue sounds a little… spontaneous (stoned- as lazy as I know it is to blame this stuff on drugs), as if they were improvising and laughing as they went along. Basically, this is the Most Extraordinary Space Investigations of Adult Swim.
Weather it is or not, and maybe this is an unenlightened thing for me to say, but it seems totally made-up and pasted together. You can come up with some great stuff that would never have happened otherwise that way, but for the most part it’s going to be pretty boring. The opening titles are quite good.

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE
The old standard. Do I really need to tell anyone about this show? You either love it or you hate it. And if you don’t love it, then I hope you can sleep at night knowing I think you are a loser. More on this show at the wrap up.

TOM GOES TO THE MAYOR
This show isn’t as old as Aqua Teen or Sealab, but it’s older than Squidbillies and 12 oz. Mouse. And in many ways is the median between the two groups. It makes more sense then Squidbillies, but less then Sealab. It also focuses on one aspect of Adult Swim shows that I love, which is making a caricature out of the ridiculous methods that people have of communicating with one another.
The show stars Tom, who as the title suggests, goes to the mayor. He has a new idea for the mayor every week, weather it’s a history themed restaurant, an idea for a shirt, or an atrium for the town. He’s an honest guy who just wants to make his mark. So honest that he puts up with the insane man-child mayor, who doesn’t even remember Tom’s name each week he comes in.
It also doesn’t hurt that the show it made by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, whose Mr. Show circle of friends often guest star (Jack Black, Bob Odenkirk, and Sarah Silverman have all been on).
The animation is unorthodox. Barely moving pictures of people manipulated with a standard Photoshop filter. But it still qualifies as animation, and is interesting enough to hold its own.

So there’s a rundown of most of the shows that were on last Sunday. In a strange turn of events, I found myself enjoying Aqua Teen Hunger Force almost the least of all. I think the problem that Adult Swim is going to run into some day is that their own boundary pushing will not allow their shows to age well. Now that Squidbillies and 12 oz. Mouse have taken from what came before them and went even further with it, Aqua Teen Hunger Force seems almost tame by comparison. But, surprise surprise, Squidbillies and Aqua Teen are by the same creative team. And I think it’s going to be a long time before they are unable to top themselves.

OVERALL

SQUIDBILLIES
Writing: 8 Animation: 9 Unprovoked outbursts of violence: 7 Mullets: 3 Overall: 8

12 OZ MOUSE
Writing: 7 Animation: 6 Unexplained appropriation of Space Ghost’s “Old Kentucky Shark”: 1 Overall: 6

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE:
Writing: 7 Animation: 7 Carl’s “Johnson”: 10 Overall: 8

TOM GOES TO THE MAYOR
Writing: 8 Animation: 7 Major Celebrities: 2 Overall: 7