Monday, June 24, 2019

Rock of Ages (2012) Review

Credit: Rotten Tomatoes


Rock of Ages is a messy through-washed affair that has moments of painful cheesiness and glory all in
one. In short, an interesting film to write about.


The film's reason for existing --telling an extremely formulaic love story sprawled among random 80s
power ballads -- seems so tenuous that it makes complete sense that it's adapted from a Broadway
musical where formulaic love and carefully curated songs are more suited to live stage.


Julianne Hough plays ingenue, Sherri, who’s fresh off the bus from Tulsa although she's hoping to be a
singer rather than an actress. She arrives at a concert venue on the Sunset Strip that's supposedly
legendary where she quickly meets her rocker love interest Drew. While neither of the two leads are
particularly interesting, they are surrounded by a very strong and interestingly assembled cast. 


Tom Cruise takes a break from his day job as a stunt man on film to act the hell out of his role as aging
rock God, Stacee Jaxx (that name alone should qualify the screenplay for awards buzz) whose big gig
at the venue could make or break. Jaxx leans into every stereotype imaginable but displays a
self-consciousness that makes the dialogue crackle when a particularly alluring reporter (Malin
Ackerman) challenges him out of his comfort zone (leading to an extremely hot romance). Screen siren
Catherine Zeta-Jones goes against type as a pent-up politician Patricia acting as rock and roll morality
police. Alec Baldwin (perhaps the only unwise casting decision considering he’s such a good fit as
polished authority figures that it’s a lot to shake that image) plays shaggy-haired club owner
Dennis Dupree with Russell Brand finding his niche as Dennis’s side kick. 


The plot is a lot like the 90s cult classic “Empire Records” whereas there’s a really fun and happening
place that represents the purity of music and all that on one side, and there’s “the man” that wants to
get in the way of all the good fun. The creditors (the actual antagonists in the stage version, here they’re
off-screen) are closing in on the club, a greedy manager (Paul Giamatti) renegs on the proceeds, and
Patricia wants to turn the public against the town (I imagine this is a crusade that might have worked
around the time of “The Music Man” as opposed to the 80s but go with it). 


“Rock of Ages” is populated with a hodgepodge of musical numbers from various 80s ballads. Some are
simply sung by characters walking down the street while a handful (particularly Jefferson Starship’s ”Any
Way You Want It” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) are elaborately choreographed show
stoppers. Director Adam Shankman was able to work some magic with “Hairspray” and does the same
thing here.


Like “Empire Records”, this is a great hang-out movie that drips with a powerful nostalgia. Most people
watching the film won’t be able to relate to the vibe of Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip in its heyday that
inspired the play’s creator (full disclosure: I was entirely unfamiliar with this scene and wasn’t sure if the
Bourbon Room was real). However, most of us have that special hangout of our youth that the film taps
into. With the aging Dennis and Stacee characters finding space in the fictitious realm, the film sends
the affirming message that youth isn’t always wasted on the young.

Like a power ballad, this is a film that rides on raw emotion. It’s a little spotty on non-sensical but it ends
on a clear high. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Has the Five Picture Best System Always Been a Mistake? Yes

Between 1944 and 2008, the Oscars were reduced to a paltry five Best Picture nominees per year and the competition for those slots was intense. 

In the "races" leading up to Oscar Nomination Day, two or three films would establish themselves as clearly belonging:

2000: Gladiator-Traffic-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
2001: Lord of the Rings
2002: Gangs of New York, Chicago
2003: Mystic River, Lord of the Rings, Lost in Translation
2004: Aviator, Sideways, Million Dollar Baby
2005: Crash, Brokeback Mountain
2006: Departed, Babel
2007: No Country for Old Men, There Will be Blood
2008: Slumdog Millionaire, Milk. Curious Case of Benjamin Button

After that, it was a disaster. The 90s had Awakenings (about as dramatic as an episode of ER), Godfather III (considered to be a disappointment), Four Weddings and a Funeral (80% of Jon Cusack romantic comedies have more to say than that film), Il Postino (clearly has been forgotten: I just asked eight of my facebook friends if they've heard of that, I got ZERO yeses), Secrets and Lies (I got one of eight on that one), Babe (how many films were influenced by that? I think Homeward Bound 2 and Zookeeper was the only other film ever to use the formula of talking animals), and The Fugitive (decent for an action film, but even a good action film today like "Source Code" or "Adjustment Bureau" is not going to make the Oscars). 

The biggest danger to the credibility of the Oscars is films looking like TERRIBLE in retrospect. For example, if  I learn that classics like "Easy Rider" and "Wild Bunch" weren't nominated for Best Picture at the 1969 Oscars, I'll be disappointed but I'll usually assume they were too radical for their time and legitimately good entries took their place. However, if I look it up and find that "Hello Dolly" and "Anne of the Thousand Days" took those slots instead, well, Academy, you've got some 'splaining to do!

When a bunch of films are going for that final spot, the Oscars are very prone to making the wrong choice. As seen in "The Reader", "Atonement", and "Chocolat", genre bias will always kick in: Period pieces, biopics, and pieces set in Britain will often win out over a variety of other genres (why James Ivory, Stephen Daldry, Stephen Frears each have directed three best nominees a piece).

Ten years in, we've seen such tremendous genre diversity, that the number of films that the ambitions of film makers from a wider range of genres now has a chance of being able to be rewarded prestige. These films include:
Serious Man-A grim black-comedy with no moral fable
Martian, District 9, Gravity, Her-Science-fiction
Beasts of the Southern Wild-A cross between fantasy and science fiction
Amour-A foreign-language love story
Django Unchained-A spaghetti western set in the South (genre film maker Quentin Tarantino's stats have fared much better in the 10-picture era statistically)
Call Me By Your Name-A queer love story stylistically in the mold of a European indie film
Black Panther-A comic book superhero film
Up, Toy Story 3-Cartoons. The only other time an animated film made the short list was "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991
Shape of Water, Boyhood, Black Swan, Inception, Grand Budapest Hotel, Black Klansmen-Auteurs like Guillermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Spike Lee, and Guillermo del Toro who wouldn't have broken through in the past have benefited and often won big at the Oscars with an expanded field. 
Room-Somewhat of a horror film in the first half with an experimental structure by auteur Lenny Abrahamson


In the years before the Academy expanded its field:
 

Almost Famous, Mullholland Drive, Memento, Royal Tenenbaums, Far From Heaven, Adaptation, About Schmidt, Road to Perdition, Eternal Sunshine, History of Violence, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Dream Girls, United 93, Into the Wild, Sweeney Todd, Wall-E, Dark Knight, and Wrestler all had a good chance of being included if they expanded the nominee slate.

Would it have made up for questionable choices like Chocolat? Most definitely. I think more movie fans were happier with 2011's choices than 2000 because all the good nominees were included and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (according to RottenTomatoes.com, it was the lowest rated 21st Century BP nominee at the time) will just be seen as a quirky anomaly in retrospect.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Seven More of My Favorite Articles in the Field of Journalism

For more of this series, click on the "My Stories" tag


Spelling Bee Double Dip- Skagit Valley Herald and Zebra Magazine (2019)
 
I have been covering the spelling bee for five years now (story of how I got this gig) and it's been one of the highlights of the year. You're mingling with a wide variety of other interesting journalists, you're trailing children and their families having the time of their lives, the media people treats you seriously and gives you your own room with gourmet snacks, and it's this strange subculture where intellectualism is celebrated. On top of that, the competition has turned me onto word nerdom.


But, hey, why not go to your favorite event and make some extra money with a double dip? I'm not sure how embedded this term is but a double dip is when you cover the same event for two publications.

The problem was that unlike previous years where I started querying in advance, I only thought of double-dipping the day before. So on the first day of the Bee I called a couple places I knew were short of coverage in previous years, than local publications in Richmond, Arlington, and Alexandria where I wrote previously and in the interim I introduced myself to the Spelling Bee contestants from those cities.

Olivia Coleman (same name as the Oscar winner, how cool is that!) was half Brazilian, one of the younger contestants in the Bee and the first contestant from Alexandria City Public Schools in their history. After everyone else turned me down, Zebra Magazine (which covers Alexandria) bit. Negotiations and timing were a little hard to nail down on short notice, and I had to go down an extra day (but I'm such a word nerd, I would have gone down anyway). On the upside, the Olivia Coleman story allowed me to write a broader more comprehensive story for an audience that was less familiar with the event. After five years, my Skagit Valley Herald story was pretty much autopilot.

Link: https://thezebra.org/2019/05/31/maury-4th-grader-olivia-coleman-makes-alexandria-school-history-as-first-national-spelling-bee-competitor/

Coverage of the Metro Shutdown of the Blue and Yellow Lines-Washington Times (2009) 
 
n what could be the best journalistic move to happen to me (although I say that with a healthy sense of caution as nothing's guaranteed in this business) in terms of securing a steady healthy income for myself,  the Washington Times expressed an interest in me earlier this year and I passed a trial article to be their regular transportation guy.

The trial article was on an impending doomsday scenario where all metro lines south of National Airport would close for the Summer. Having been in this region through other tortuous shut downs and slow downs, I have spent many a metro ride filled with angst and frustration.

With that said, this was a good opportunity to explore the source of that frustration and find out why the people who run this system seem so incompetent. The people I talked to at Alexandria City's Department of Planning and other agencies were professional and convincing that they did indeed know what they were doing and had thought a plan as unpredictable as this one at the very least. And while I'm not sure I agree with the shut down's logic, it's not my place to editorialize.

Two highlights here were 1) that I got to have an email exchange with the anonymous Twitter source @unsuckdcmetro 2) That figuring I might as well be ambitious and outside of the box, I figured the best way to have opinion was a poll. I personally interviewed 100 people and asked them two questions. Pretty insane experience I might not want to do again but it gave the article some color.

Link: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/mar/25/upcoming-metro-repairs-irk-alexandria-area-commute/


Why Green Book is the Best Film to Discuss Race This Year-The Federalist (2009)
 
How fortunate that I had an opportunity to simply proclaim my esteem for my favorite film of the year in print.

More than that, this past year's Oscar race represented the high point of a particularly toxic brand of identity politics making its way into cinema's most prestigious (and simultaneously superficial) event and while this article was meant (as with much of my writing in this sphere) to directly take on the haters, I'm immensely proud that I didn't stick to the attack ads in this piece.

I discussed the other four Oscar contenders that talked about the black experience in praiseworthy terms but simply showed how they approach race in ways that aren't as brave or necessary as "Green Book" which actually forces the audience to engage with the un-PC side of interracial conversation. I believe that PC culture has created racial tension through keeping necessary conversations about race off-limits and the catharsis that "Green Book" successfully pulls off is about releasing that tension.  The erroneous argument that's become a sacred creed of Woke America: The skin color of the film maker is the determinant of appropriateness of tackling a "black film" and any other backlash that (predictably) would increase exponentially after the publication of the article, is given just passing mention so as to not dignify the inane silliness of it all.

At the end of the day, the Oscar voters sided with me which was quite the thrill.


Link: https://thefederalist.com/2019/01/03/high-profile-films-show-bravely-discuss-race-2018/


What I Learned from Running the Ten Mile--RunBlogRun (2019)


Since I discovered that I didn't necessarily suck at sports by joining the cross-country team right before my sophomore year, running has always been part of my identity. For a while, I simply followed the sport on TV and wrote about it because, hey, write about what you know.

After nine years, two of the captains of my high school team (who are brothers) had the misfortune of their mom being killed in a car accident. At their funeral, I told them I'd run a race in their honor and I thought the experience might make a good article..

The article allowed me to talk about how running shaped my identity (something I've always wanted to do) but I felt I added something new to the conversation by discussing how running was a part of me even when I was dormant or doing it poorly. By talking about running as a learning process and what I had learned, I also thought the article could have pedagogical value and I showed it to a few friends who were also thinking about running too.


Link: http://www.runblogrun.com/2018/12/the-army-ten-miler-by-orrin-konheim.html
 

David's Gardens --Worcester Journal (2016)


Around the time my grandfather died, my grandmother suggested I write about his life. My mom's parents, who fled religious persecution and poor conditions in Persia to be in the first generation to settle and found the nation of Israel. From there they moved around to other countries before settling to the US and as someone who grew up in the same boring stretch of suburbia, that was pretty interesting to me.

A couple years out of college (late 2008) and still in that phase when I hadn't yet broken into journalism, I was looking to give a lot of things a shot and one of those content farm sites (that THANK GOD are not in existence anymore; if anyone ever made money it was because they were putting in way too much labor) had a prompt to write about a relative who gardened. I squeezed a square peg into a round hole and wrote about my grandfather from a gardening angle since he kept a garden everywhere he went throughout his life and the idea of tilling the land figures into Israel's history. I'd call it a square peg/round hole scenario because it was more that the gardening motif was conducive to a good essay than an overwhelming need to write about gardening.

Anywho, this article was rejected in around 2008. It wasn't even a positive rejection of "come back with improvements" but I decided to send it again a year or two later. And guess what? They still rejected it. But I saw a writing prompt for a literary journal and went with that a few years later.

Coincidentally this occurred a little after my grandmother died and I was privileged to take this back to our family reunion. The story sadly didn't run in print because the Worcestor Journal doesn't do print anymore. I'm not sure what the point of such a journal is but oh well.

 

Link: http://theworcesterjournal.com/2016/03/09/201639tbn1py8je3xy0cudin1qcagrz9ah2z/

Ten Film Schools-TopTenz.net (2013)


You kind of hear about how USC or NYU is a prestigious film school but what else is out there? I was curious to know and did a bit of research,  bit of write up, and bam! Article delivered. I like this article because it makes for a good listicle, it's evergreen, it's service oriented (provides use) and it gives insight into a part of the film industry people don't often think about.

Link: https://www.toptenz.net/top-10-great-film-schools-in-the-united-states.php

JEB Stuart Celebrates 50 Years of Rowing-Falls Church News Press (2018)
 
If you seek to do all your stories remotely, you're often missing out. The job requires you to prioritize pertinent information from a list of facts and when you get up close to those facts in a sensory manner, you are able to get a feel for what's important much quicker. You also might find out stuff you wouldn't have known if you didn't go out for yourself and look. More importantly, oftentimes, the events can be a fun--particularly for someone who likes exploring other worlds and subcultures.
 
Fifty years ago, a local high school crew team won a world championship and I was to cover their reunion. Although the first source who called me was a little over-enthusiastic about the story he wanted me to write, I could relate as someone who probably has placed too much importance in my extremely modest high school athletic achievements. I could also relate as someone who often wants to maintain bonds from my adolescent days and I was curious to see how this group of people navigated such a feat (were some of the members of the original team forced into it more than others?).
 
I went and experienced a (word I don't use too often here) lovely picnic and was somewhat inspired to see the world champions, alumni from varying years, and current rowers mingling. With a support network like that, it makes complete sense that everyone who had some identification to a beloved high school sport would want in.  
 



 
 
 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

My Week in TV: Schitt's Creek Season 5 Episode 6: "Rock On!" Review

Stevie in an Awkward Jam

When you go nine or ten months between TV seasons (as opposed to what used to be a summer break), you often lose the sensory memory of what you enjoyed about that show. For a show like “Schitt’s Creek” which had a very specific groove, it’s an even greater sense of amnesia.

Tuning into this show for the first time in a year, I felt similar to my first season experience with the show where I felt like the jokes weren’t pushed hard enough and David wasn’t that likable of a character (relying heavily on holier-than-thou expressions at his podunk surroundings). Because the characters (including curmudgeounly David) grew heavily on me on the next two seasons, it’s possible those feelings will return but it takes a certain transition.

Generally this show relies on character beats rather than outright jokes with the biggest humorous impact coming through a twist at episode’s end (“Silicon Valley” might be the very best example of this format done right).

Of the three plotlines tonight, we had one that was primarily emotional (David dealing with his regrets over letting his boyfriend Patrick go on a date), one that was primarily comical (Johnny accidentally seeing Stevie topless) and one that had a mix of the two (Jocelyn coming to terms with her lost youth on an outing with Jazzagals).

The Johnny-Stevie plot (precipitated because Stevie is making a  naughty video for her long-distance boyfriend) is an example of humor done right. The primary source of laughs is awkwardness and the pair (with the unhelpful assistance of a scene-stealing Roland) finding themselves in situations where they’re unable to avoid bringing this up despite their best efforts. The plot escalates and stays true to the characters. Johnny being a fish-out-of-water-- both with his own family and the town of Schitt’s Creek-- is pretty much the central premise of the show. It’s also a situation where no one’s really at fault so there’s a certain ambiguity that the script has fun with.

In the David-Patrick plot, Patrick gets hit on and David decides the best way to give Patrick space and strengthen his relationship in the long term is to allow Patrick to sew his wild oats with another guy just once so he can ultimately realize how great David is at the end. Cue to ten minutes later and David realizes what a mistake it's been to let that beef cake get away. Alexis unintentionally gets into David’s head and makes everything worse. Although this seems pretty funny on paper there's a lack of comedy unless you count Dan Levy making grimaced expressions and you didn't predict that Alexis would make things worse.

For the most part, however, it’s a plot that could fit on a show like “Parenthood” where the show's flow is dramatic but not in an orchestra swelling way. It’s not as relevant here to the thesis that the show often doesn’t push jokes as far as they can go, so I’ll give this subplot a seal of approval from a dramatic perspective and move on.

The Jazzagals-Jocelyn plot exemplifies where the show seems a little lacking from the perspective of someone who hasn’t watched it in a while. Jocelyn had plans to go to a Poison concert (at first I thought this was the rapper that had that song “Poison”, that’s why I’m not a rock critic) but when she hears they’re cancelled on her planned night out, she falls into a funk. The Jazzagals (other than Twyla, Moira, and Ronnie, they’re nameless extras with no lines) try to cheer up and tell her they’ll still take her to the casino. There’s awkwardness to the situation here that shows potential: Jocelyn is leaning heavily on a group of ladies with a mid-life crisis they’re not particularly prepared to deal with. The differences between what Jocelyn is expecting and the reality of her casino experience (perhaps how far removed from Poison their replacement band is, stylistically) could also be mad awkward. So is Moira interacting with anyone in literally any situation.

Instead all that happens is that Twyla kind of enjoys the fried chicken while Ronnie appears sick of it, Jocelyn pours out her disappointment verbally (but it’s not a total breakdown so it’s not particularly memorable), and Jocelyn cuts her hair like an 80s rocker. The biggest void here is that there’s not much of a payoff post-haircut-reveal. The Jazzagals board their chartered bus heading home with a collective awkwardness and amid the tension, Moira attempts to cut it by making a half-flattering comment. It’s nice for character reasons that Moira has learned not to put her foot in her mouth at EVERY opportunity, but where did this plot get us? Awkwardness isn’t an end to itself. It’s potential begging to be used kinetically.

Then again, maybe this is your thing. Maybe, the haircut was the punch line. As I get more familiar with this show, I’ll come to see where these plots land.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

My Week in TV Part VII Corporate "The Fall"


Corporate (Comedy Central)-“The  Fall”-The popular black comedy closes out a second season without showing any discernible changes from the first and that’s mostly a good thing. Other black comedies like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Shameless” have introduced serialization, but this show has a much simpler formula and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that when it gets the job done. There’s also the fact that the thematic point of the show is that work is an endless purgatory so while mixing things up would  be nice, it’s slightly truer to the show to keep Matt and Jake constant.

This week’s episode, being a season finale, had me going for a while. The episode begins with Christian scaring his employees with an apocalyptic announcement just for kicks (another standard of the show: Christian is one of the most casually horrible people on TV). In the hierarchy of being able to do what you want, Christian has almost sadistic reign with John and Kate enjoying some partial degree of hell-raising privilege. One of the clever things about this show is that although  Matt and Jake are middle management, you rarely see them enjoying the perks of being able to domineer anyone under them (despite the fact that people like Baron and Grace exist). In certain cases where you do see them with an underling, Matt and Jake are often unsuccessful in controlling them.

In any case, the next development in the story is slightly confusing: It’s not exactly the end of the world but Christian decides to begin a marketing campaign which, for extremely tangential reasons, cause Matt, Jake, and Grace to act as if it is the end of the world. At this scale of comedy, it's not worth worrying about.

Jake quits his job and tries to do every Bohemian yuppie idea that fills his head—open up a record company, start a bar with carefully curated music, become a chef—before realizing that there’s a group of roughly identical yuppies with the exact same ideas in their head. The joke of Jake’s lack of originality is a great example of how comedy can be presented visually with a little bit of innovative thinking.

In the interim, Matt seems to have an inverse trajectory to Jake’s unemployment slump riding a magical high. This is another case where presentation- an affirming montage of Matt ascending up the corporate ladder and seeming to enjoy himself for once- makes the difference. 

But the scene stealer as always as Grace who has a list of creepily specific people she wants to sleep with because it’s “the end of the world”(which, again, it isn’t). Technicalities aside, it’s a lot of fun to witness this character, who’s generally been portrayed as asexual, suddenly become the South Asian Wilt Chamberlain.

The disadvantage of an upcoming third season is the lack of room to take many of these characters anywhere else. But as "Seinfeld" and most sitcoms in the 20th century have demonstrated, the status quo can work wonders if the comedic beats are strong enough. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

My week in TV VI: Umbrella Academy Pilot: Wes Anderson Meets Quentin Tarantino



Credit: Comingsoon.net
Umbrella Academy (Netflix)-“Pilot”- Encapsulating the feel of this show is so easy, I can do it in five words: Wes Anderson meets Quentin Tarantino.

When some freak accident in mother nature impregnates and induces labor in countless women across the globe on the same day, a shady rich man travels the world to adopt as many of the kids as he can. He ends up with seven (six of whom are still alive) then trains them in an ornate mansion to use their superpowers, but what else is new? There’s a parody on the internet by the wonderfully film literate You Tuber Patrick Williams:  “What if Wes Anderson directed the X-Men” which hits this show right on the nose.

The found family here feels like a near facsimile of the co-dependently depressed “Royal Tenenbaums”; the adult sibling who’s trapped in a kid’s body (character’s name on IMDB is listed as “Number Five”) is dressed exactly like Max from “Rushmore”; and the lavishly delicate interiors recall any number of Anderson’s films.

But as you’re thinking the show is just ripping off one of the most idiosyncratic auteurs of the 90s (although technically “Tenenbaums” was 2001), the penultimate act of the pilot, Number Five goes into a diner and casually murders (and rewatch this clip, it’s not self-defense but rather gleeful brutally) five SWAT  team members while lights flicker, fast edits ensue, the victims’ last gasps fill the soundscape and the song ”Istanbul Was Once Constantinople” plays in the background. The sensory overload and the glorified violence recall Tarantino and it’s even more jarring here.
From the pilot, the show has a lot of questions left unanswered and Mary J Blige, supposedly the season’s villain, hasn’t yet made an appearance. The other recognizable name in the credits, Ellen Page, works well as a cog in the ensemble.

Despite the stylistic “been there done that” feeling, there are moments of inspiration that come from sheer stylistic  boldness. The montage of Ellen Page’s character playing the violin, for example, while the other protagonists are introduced is endlessly rewatchable.

Monday, March 18, 2019

My Week in TV Part V: Those Who Can't: "Escape Room"

Welcome back to my Week in TV series, where I take a single week of TV and review everything I watch. Thishas taken an extremely long time and this episode aired about six weeks ago but I'm thrilled to get this in in time for the season finale. Let's hope "Those Who Can't" gets renewed for a fourth season. It's a great match for TruTV. With three TV shows left to write, I'm slowly but surely making my way through the series. Stay tuned!

Those Who Can’t (TruTV)-“Escape Room”-Far more than in the first season, this show has become about terrible people (a la “Seinfeld” or “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) who are not just oblivious but downright destructive to their environment. At the same time, the episode points out the flaws of such a categorization: If Sweens (Jerry Minor, one of SNL’s better one-season wonders) thinks that “the quartet” is the scourge of the school’s well-being, he needs to cast a wider net.  Lesley is running high-end rackets; Rod (despite one episode where he went clean) was fired for defiling the school shed and showing up drunk, the doctor twins are a pharmacy for illegal drugs, and there’s the creepy guy with the cats. There’s also the problem that Fairbell is too mentally deficient to truly be categorized as a trouble maker. This seems to be a common trope in TV such as Jason Mendoza (“The Good Place”), Amir (“Jake and Amir”), or Matt (“NewsRadio”) and none of those shows really deal with the characters as if they need to be treated for mental illness.

Moving on, Sweeney makes a power play to get “the quartet” fired through isolating them through an imaginary escape room team-building exercise and then mobilizing the staff to air out their grievances to Quinn. As can be expected, Quinn’s man crush on Loren and company hinders his objectivity. On top of that, he really wants to do an escape room exercise of his own which is a comic riff that last throughout the entire episode and gets funnier as it goes along.

Once in the escape room, the gang pretty immediately resort to cheating and immediate destruction: A pretty literal manifestation of how bad these characters have become. Here’s where I’m starting to think having the gang at least try to solve the puzzle might have been a better use of a plot about an escape room. Use what you got, people! Then again, there’s a certain shock value that it took the group precisely zero seconds to resort to cheating. Comedy is funny sometimes in that there aren’t necessarily wrong answers (which makes me kind of superfluous, huh?).

What’s more important here is the dynamics between the group as the hierarchy of the characters (Loren/Shoemaker > Abby > Fairbell) carries through their interactions as well as the topic of who was and wasn’t invited to the party.

Meanwhile, Leslie steps it up (always a good thing) in a rare act of selflessness and advocates for the quartet as the union rep in some of the episode’s best dialogue. The day of course is saved by none other than Rod who’s discovered in a backroom under the impression that he’s in a consensual relationship with the school mascot costume.

Aside from an uneventful second act (basically the gang breaking things), this episode represents Sweeney as a worthy foil. Better luck next week, Sweens.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

My Week in TV Part IV: Miracle Workers

Credit: FilmGeorgia

Miracle Workers (TBS)-Six Days (Episode 4)-Simon Rich demonstrated an ability to make out-of-the-box comedy in “Man Seeking Woman” and if anyone’s going to make a televised response to ride the coat tails of “The Good Place”, he’s a pretty fitting choice. A version of heaven overrun with bureaucratic rabbit holes and enigmatically incompetent officials raises comparisons to “The Good Place” (particularly, the first season) but as the series has progressed, Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” seems like a more apt reference with all the anachronistic technology and emphasis on bureaucratic overload.

Most of my problems with the series are logistics but they are more nit picks than substantial plot holes that don’t really affect my enjoyment fortunately. There are fair too many easter eggs to enjoy as the show takes us through these labyrinthine delights. The highlight of the week in the humor department was seeing the past lives of three central angels: Sanjay was a cool prince, Eliza was ……[wait for it]….an ersatz Xena Warrior Princess, and Craig was…..[drumroll]…. a caveman who ate dirt in a bog.  The escalation and comic suspense here was priceless and it helps that these comic set pieces fill in blanks to build up this world.

My main irritation was initially the fact that God should have been easy to manipulate. As a leader who has been granted a dangerous amount of power, Steve Buscemi’s version of God calls to mind various interpretations of Presidents 43 and 45: Leaders with unfathomable amounts of stupidity who couldn’t supply the brainpower for the position without considerate staff assistance. And the truth is those leaders are highly easy to manipulate by staff members withholding papers from their desk or foreign leaders appealing to their flattery. Because I had a rooting interest in not seeing the world blow up and preventing our heroes (Geraldine Viswanathan and Danielle Radcliffe) reassigned to single molecules for all eternity, I started to wonder why no one was resisting God’s harmful idiocy.

In the past couple episodes, there have been encouraging signs that it is possible to outwit God and contain his awfulness. Craig (Radcliffe) manages to spare Tim Meadows’ life and Rosie (Lolly Adefope) manages to pass off God to a human so she can get her work done (although it’s entirely possible she’s as lazy as God is). Besides the satisfaction of God (at least this version of him) get his comeuppance, it also levels out the stakes quite a bit.

The central premise this week is a little more in line with “Man Seeking Women” where the episode is driven by a gimmick. God decides to find a new prophet and the process is played out like a match on Tinder. The talent of Simon Rich’s methodology is that pretty much every line of dialogue can be read in both absurdist scenarios: Consistent with both a pseudo-romantic relationship between man and deity; and the biblical history of the relationship between prophets and God.

This is a dense episode, however, and it’s quite admirable that the urgency of the world exploding hasn’t taken a pause so that God can get his friendship on with a prophet. In fact, this might be the most meaningful episode for Craig yet as his central conflict—feeling important – is dealt with more directly. Sanjay has largely served as a foil rather than a direct antagonist so having the two having a TGIF-like talk about how much they value each other isn’t as off-base as it might same.

And then there are the two socially awkward love birds around whose fate the universe might rest. It does seem easy on the surface for these two to kiss but real life shows that it’s not as easy as it looks for most people if there’s any pressure and I’d say two weeks counts. Factor in that these two are on the more socially awkward end of the spectrum and that there are going to be other guys in the dating pool to distract you (see episode 2) and there’s enough to keep the suspense. The latest obstacle is the dying grandma and it’s a good place to close the chapter.

Next week, the IMDB description indicates an emphasis on Rosie. She’s been the hardest to get a handle so it's about time.