I have a piece about David Fincher–director of such films as Se7en, Fight Club and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo–in the new issue of Wired.
I spent much of the summer reporting this oral history on the Upright Citizens Brigade for New York magazine. I will now spend much of the fall recovering from reporting this oral history on the Upright Citizens Brigade for New York magazine.
If you get that headline, you’re clearly a fan of NBC’s Community. My Wired profile of Dan Harmon, the show’s brilliant-slash-tortured creator, is up here.
The big networks aren’t the only ones rolling out new shows this week: The upstart comedy network Yux!–best known for endless reruns of cult ’70s Brit-coms like A Snifter of Randy and Tootelage–ventures into original-programming with Vice Capades. It’s the story of three ice-hockey mascots who accidentally shred $1 million worth of liquid oxycondone through a Zamboni, thrilling the newly stoned players, but greatly irking the local Oxy-addled gypsy community, who place a curse on the trio that will turn them mute and keep them imprisoned in their uniforms forever.
Alas, despite that intriguing set-up, Vice Capades quickly descends into standard-issue (and rather confusing) sitcom fare. The pilot finds the mascots attempting to woo their sexy new neighbor (Jennifer Tilly), but most of the scenes consist of them making the same oblique wing-flap gesticulations over and over again, while Tilly coos listlessly in the background (complicating matters is the producers’ decision not to give any of the mascots names, and to cast actors with the exact same height and physicality). Episode two, I’m afraid, doesn’t get any better or clearer: I think it’s about Tilly trying to borrow a cup of sugar, but it might also be about her trying to steal birdfeed. Yux! gets points for effort, but Vice Capades will likely leave audiences cold.
First off: Sorry for all the TV-related radio silence. I spent the last month catching up on new fall shows, and most of my recaps were embargoed. But I’m back, and I’ve got early word on one of the most anticipated new programs of the year: Game of Chans, the famously troubled space-drama-turned-sitcom-turned antiquities-appraisal-show-turned-reality-series from big-screen action producer Brent Bondi (Death of a Bullet, Shiv School).
Originally Game of Chance, the story of two moon-stranded lottery winners, the show went over budget before filming could begin. It was subsequently scaled down and reworked as Game of Chants, a comedy about a pair of bickering mantra sommeliers. But when test audiences deemed Chants too ohm-hum, Bondi re-edited the footage into Gayme of Chance, which followed a caravan of bi-curious art dealers as they traversed the 18th-century West, looking for second-hand bargains. Mid-way through production, though, Bondi then died of a cocaine-deprivation coronary, forcing producers to pour $5 million of last-ditch CGI into what would become Game of Chans, about two siblings, Sen and Jen Chan, who silently play boardgames in an office-park atrium. It would be hard to review the pilot–which runs at a brisk four minutes long–without giving away some big spoilers. But Chansis taut and tightly plotted, and the opening two-minute credit sequence is a surreal hoot. Sen and Jan may not make it to the moon, Chans is nonetheless shooting for the stars.
Mike Bennigan is an outcast blanket artisan with two loves in his life: 1) his dog, Fuckity; and 2) insult comedy. An aspiring stand-up in a gray Oregon coastal town, Mike is a true blue meanie, lobbing vulgar insults at everyone from the mailman to the local clergy to even the harbor inspector (whom he wincingly dubs “the sea word”). But when a mistranslated fruit-basket note sent from the Kremlin to the Pentagon triggers a nuclear holocaust, the entire earth’s population is wiped out—save for Mike and his pooch, who were protected by Mike’s flannel-insulated fallout shelter. But now that he’s alone, who will he mock?
This is the set-up for Disstopia, a wrenching, flashback-fueled story of one man’s existential crisis. As first, he wanders from town to town, barking putdowns at burnt shrubs and decimated swingsets. But then Mike Bennigan realizes there’s only to realize one person left to insult: Mike Bennigan. So he starts arguing with himself, all the while thinking back to the incidents that made him the way he is—the father who told him flannel was “a sissy man’s silk,” the kids who bullied him over his missing right hand. As Bennigan, Ray Brink adds layers to his character, carrying on entire conversations with himself, often with the use of fake mustaches and a monocle. But Disstopia‘s real star is the calming, sage-like Fuckity, whose exposure to nuclear rays has given him the power to fart compliments. With his help, Mike slowly rebuilds society—and his own self-esteem.
Cut from the same weird-smelling cloth as Halibut Habitat and Gangland Raccoons, the cult hit Seals: The Deal takes a bunch of wild animals, gives them cute names and fake Twitter accounts, and attempts to weave a soap-like story out of their various day-to-day bickering, foraging, and confusingly omni-sexual dry-humps. Last year’s finale culminated in a dramatic couples-therapy session between Monsignor Whiskers and Lady Miss Barks-a-lot, which was interrupted when Nurse Blubberton announced she had the results of Pup-paya’s paternity tests, and Lightbulb Jones finally succumbed to snail fever. Riveting stuff. But how do you top it?
The answer: Flood the dock. The season premiere introduced 75 new seals, so many that, in order to avoid viewer confusion, every critter must now wear a themed hat, most of which were inseminated and/or eaten before the first commercial break. And based on the sheer number of #sealwholookslikemanson tweets from last night, Swastika Wally is definitely the breakout star, followed by Ping-Pong Jr., Seal Who Looks Like Seal, and, of course, Shitshow, whose wounded stare, hoop earring, and bad-boy rep is clearly going to cause problems between Pickles and Poop-Deck, whose romance is still reeling from the mysterious torching of their restaurant, The Im-Mackeral-Eat Conception. Just one episode in, and, there’s already plenty to bark about.
Gums is one of those quirky detective shows that’s advertised on drug-store circulars and played on airplanes, but that nobody seems to talk about. Which is fitting, considering the set-up: Derrick “Gums” Wallach is a mute private eye suffering from color-blindness, puppetry addiction, and a perpetual case of what’s called “the walking bends.” The only way he can communicate is by animating a pair of dentures that belonged to his grandfather, a famous P.I. who’s seen frequently in Claymation dream sequences, and who’s voiced—via a series of recently unearthed pizza-parlor answering-machine tirades—by the late Dom DeLuise.
Based on a hit British series, which in itself was based on a North Korean daytime talk show, Gums finds its titular hero scrambling to catch an assortment of loiterers, litterers, and literal cat-burglars. He’s also trying to solve the murder of his grandmother, who appears frequently in dream sequences, and who’s voiced—via a series of recently unearthed pizza-parlor answering-machine tirades—by the late Josephine Baker. This season’s been erratic, with more plodding than plot, but Dave McGitten’s aces physicality wakes up even the slowest scenes, and the end credits, for the most part, are properly spelled. Gums may not get people chattering, but it’s certainly got teeth.
(Please note: I’m posting this BEFORE the series finale airs on the West—spoilers abound!)
And so it ends: After four seasons and 20,000 miles in the same car, refusing to exit, Miles Donahue finally opened the door and stepped outside, having at last found the Fuddruckers drive-thru where he was conceived. And when he got there, the screen turned mauve, a ska-punk version of Smash Mouth’s “All Star” played, and the words SO LONG YA SUCKERS!! scrolled across the screen. Thus concludes Actual Miles, one of the most heart-fistingly suspenseful shows on TV, and the first drama to take place entirely within a banana-peel-strewn Peugeot.
Has creator Max Tarkin been screwing with us all along? Until now, every single episode of Actual Miles consisted of the same word-for-word, shot-for-shot set-up: Miles picks up a hitchhiking neighbor, tells her of the time-traveling car he invented just to watch his parents have sex, and then tries to sell her his Garfield “Wheely Cool” steering-wheel cover. Yet every week, we kept watching, convinced Tarkin had some big reveal planned. Could half of America really have just watched the same 68 hours over and over again? Guess there’s only one way to be sure. Better dust off those Actual Miles season-one DVDs, and hit the gas all over again.
Like most critics, I’ve always found producer Skip Beretta’s high-stakes, low-waists USA Network actioners to be variations on the same sexy-gal-gets-amnesia-and-is-forced-to-fight-crime-while-also-trying-to-raise-national-awareness-of-amnesia theme, whether it be the vigilante sous chef of Paprika Nights, the vigilante suitcase repairwoman of Carry-on Thuggage, or the vigilante doula of Vigilante Doula. So I ignored Spade in Full for most of this season, until its dynamo ratings forced me to take a second look. And guess what? While star Natalia Scawitcz is still clearly struggling with her English—she pronounces “revenge” as “riboflavins”—this story of a Las Vegas sunglasses-kiosk employee who gains the power to project a spade on the left side of her face has picked up considerable steam.
Thankfully, Beretta’s ditched the show’s main plot, in which Scawtiz’s character keeps stealing phone books, in the hopes of recognizing her own name; after three or four episodes, she was still in the Bs, while the audience had jumped right to the ZZZZZs. Now Scawitcz’s dealing with real-world, relatable problems: The chaffing of summer earmuffs; the leering of gambling addicts; and, of course, Scawitcz’s misguided, heartbreaking attempt to disguise her affliction with blackface. As for the actual crime-fighting part, Chad Benedict’s dashing human-trafficker disappeared after just one episode, leaving a major plot-hanger unresolved, and a Prius full of Tamir schoolchildren still presumably in the Nevada desert. It’s typical Beretta-style laziness, and while Spade‘s reshuffled itself in the last few weeks, I’m still not ready to double-down.