Category Archives: television

Best of 2014

I was going to do a formal write-up for each of these three categories individually, but this year I thought it might be more fun to just simply list my personal top-ten picks. These best-of-the-year posts should be a lot more personal that people attribute them as, and I’ve just written about all these titles (albums to a lesser extent) throughout the year anyway. Through this tactic, I hope to encourage a great deal of discussion, and friendly debate…or not-so-friendly? Anywho, here are my picks for the films, shows, and albums that really did it for me in 2014

Film:

boyhood_still

  1. Boyhood
  2. Birdman
  3. Whiplash
  4. The Babadook
  5. Mr. Turner
  6. Leviathan
  7. Starred Up
  8. The Double/Enemy (had to give this year’s two doppelgänger movies a shared spot)
  9. Force Majeure
  10. We Are The Best
  11. Bad Hair
  12. Selma
  13. Ida
  14. The Lego Movie
  15. Blue Ruin
  16. Jodorowsky’s Dune
  17. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  18. Skeleton Twins
  19. Nightcrawler
  20. Calvary

Television:

Louie-Season-4-Portable-2

  1. Louie
  2. Transparent
  3. Community
  4. Fargo
  5. Game of Thrones
  6. Silicon Valley
  7. Girls
  8. Getting On
  9. True Detective
  10. The Affair
  11. Orange is the New Black
  12. Mad Men
  13. The Americans
  14. Broad City
  15. Parks and Recreation
  16. Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories
  17. Masters of Sex
  18. Looking
  19. House of Cards
  20. Boardwalk Empire

Music: la-la-et-run-the-jewels-jpg-20141027

  1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
  2. Swans – To Be Kind
  3. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
  4. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  5. Scott Walker and Sunn O))) – Soused
  6. The Bug – Angels and Devils
  7. Gazelle Twin – Unflesh
  8. Wild Beasts – Present Tense
  9. Mr Twin Sister – Mr Twin Sister
  10. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
  11. tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
  12. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo
  13. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love
  14. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
  15. Future Islands – Singles
  16. Dean Blunt – Black Metal
  17. Eno & Hyde – High Life
  18. Amen Dunes – Love
  19. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
  20. Iceage – Plowing into a Field of Love

Why During My Childhood it Seemed Like Every Adult Was Dead Wrong About The Simpsons.

A lot of people ask me why I am such a devoted fan of the media, and what I grew up with in order to influence this passion of mine. Well, I’d have to consider the amalgamation of shows, video games and movies I absorbed before I was ten, which is a rather lengthy essay (I’ll do it eventually, I promise!). You could look at my teenage years when I began to realize the artful capabilities of storytelling through the animes I watched, or you could even dig further to when I was barely 7 years old and played point-and-click adventure games like Quest for Glory. If you’re talking about my first exposure, however, to a program intended for adults that I fully enjoyed and understood in my own way, however, than I would not hesitate to tell you that it was The Simpsons.

Like many of my interests during my early years, I discovered The Simpsons through video games. As I’m sure plenty of you fondly remember, The Simpsons arcade game was a hoot and a half, and who knows how many of my parent’s quarters got sucked into that game (especially as I died on average about two times per level). It didn’t take long after I defeated Mr. Burns in the final level, that I decided I needed more of a Simpsons fix, and immediately decided that I should watch the show. It was probably around 1994 that I first tuned in and I remember exactly which episode it was: Cape Feare. As the  title suggests, this episode was a parody of Cape Fear, and an altogether excellent introduction to the series, and perhaps chiefly because it had Sideshow Bob in it. Bart Simpson’s arch-nemesis (impeccably voiced by Kelsey Grammer) gave the show my systematic need for a story to have an evil villain, and it didn’t matter at all that it would be a long time before I ever knew what Fraiser was. Needless to say I loved the episode, and I’ve been a devotee ever since…although I hadn’t always been allowed to watch it.

At first my mom seemed to be alright with me watching The Simpsons as I was too young to understand the show’s veiled innuendo, but then my impressionable mind began repeating dialogue from the show. When I reenacted a scene that involved Bart saying, “TV sucks”, my mom immediately became on edge about the show before outright banning me from watching it. Even when she did let me watch it she would always be condescending towards it and tell me characters like Homer and Bart were bad people and not to be emulated. Strangely, she rarely brought up how Lisa is someone that parents would want their kids to be like, nor did she even pay attention to the redeemable qualities of Homer. Still, my mom continued to feel the show was damaging to me, and many of the other adults I knew(from aunts to friend’s parents) shared the same sentiments, with them calling the show “disgusting”, or “something that encourages you to laugh at things you shouldn’t be laughing at.” Dear reader, please smack your head (albeit gently) if you consider these remarks to be bullshit.

Granted, this was a few years before South Park premiered (which I also feel parent’s initially overrated in terms of vulgarity), but I am still completely boggled why parents would have problems with their kids watching The Simpsons, yet allow them to watch Seinfeld. Maybe it’s because these adults weren’t fond of cartoons, or that they didn’t want their kids feeling that it’s okay to have a dysfunctional family. It’s ironic too, as The Simpsons was certainly one of the most moral shows on television for its time, and I’m not talking about the sort of sentimental hooey that you’d find else where. I remember watching the second season’s Thanksgiving episode (Bart Vs. Thanksgiving) with my mom, which involves Bart destroying a centerpiece that Lisa created. All my dear mother could say was, “This is why I don’t want you watching The Simpsons. These are bad values.” Had she stuck around to finish the episode, however, she would of seen how Bart eventually realizes what he did was wrong and then he apologizes. Why can’t people be patient, and wait for the end of the story to get to the friggin moral!

Besides that, The Simpsons undoubtedly taught me a lot about the real world. As fans of the show will tell you pretty much every character on the show is a parody of an American stereotype, whether it be the ambiguously gay Wayland Smithers, the dumb-as-shit yokel Cletus Spuckler, or of course Comic Book Guy. It introduced me to different factions of our society, that enhanced my knowledge as I got older. The show touched on issues involving family, money, religion and politics, which I only half got when I was eight years old, but the cartoony hijinks of the show was just such a draw for me. I also didn’t get a lot of the show’s movie references when I was young, but then when I eventually saw those movies (I.E. Citizen Kane, The Shining, etc.) it made the Simpsons image all the more funny. It’s also so gifting for me to return to old episodes of the show now, where I can pick up the adult jokes that went over my head the first time around. It really is the only show I watched during my youth that I can say impresses me even more now as an adult.

Looking back at my childhood, I feel a lot of my television viewing was misspent. Sure, I watched plenty of great “kids” shows like Ren and Stimpy and Batman: The Animated Series, but so many of the other Nickelodean-esque shows I watched in my adolescence are disposable in the long run. The Simpsons, however, was clearly vital to my growth. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that The Simpsons was instrumental towards my social outlook, my interest in film and television, my recurring objective to consistently achieve more knowledge, and my sense of humor. Honestly, I feel it’s rather detrimental to keep a child away from the Simpsons, and most children should be allowed to watch the show around 8 or 9 years of age (adult supervision recommended perhaps). Hell, I can’t wait to rewatch the show’s first 9 seasons on DVD when I have kids!

Top 10 TV Shows of 2012

10. Boardwalk Empire

Since it’s premiered, Boardwalk Empire has gotten it’s fare share of detractors. While still popular among HBO viewers, I’ve heard plenty of conflicting views of the show with people calling it a glossy, finely produced and extensive bore. Thing is, I feel that even these naysayers will be hard pressed to say that when this show is great, it’s rather excellent. Season 3 might just have been their best season yet, with some brutally efficient scenes of gang land violence, more character insight, and more of the period-piece details that made the show so noticeable in the first place. Not every sub-plot worked (Margaret Schroeder is gonna need some time with the writers), but it’s safe to say that Boardwalk Empire has forged it’s own identity rather than continue to be looked on as The Sopranos latter-day shadow.

9. Louie

It fell it bit short of the brilliant second season, but then again I expect most television too. Louis C.K.’s Woody Allen-isms still knocked me dead, and his show continues to be the most sublimely awkward thing on television since Curb Your Enthusiasm. Great guest stars this season, from Robin Williams, David Lynch, and of course Jerry Seinfeld.

8. Homeland

Homeland was certainly the best show to debut last year, as it was such a breath of fresh air for the political espionage genre. This sophomore season wasn’t quite as superb (if only because it dipped into 24 territory more often), but it still offered up great acting, a slick sense of tension, and plenty of the surprises and twists that a show like this needs to function on. Capping the season off with yet another game changer, I am once again left flabbergasted with what direction the show will go in next season. Until then…anyone down to marathon the first two with me again sometime soon?

7. Girls

The best new show this year. Lena Dunham seems to have become her “art kid” generation’s overnight sensation, with a show that mixes Judd Apatow-esque humor with an indie film vibe. Often hilarious, but more laudable for how real and raw it is. For what it’s worth, Girls handles the subject of sex better than any other show on television, and yes this is how contemporary 20-somethings tend to fuck.

6. Delocated

Alternative comedy’s dead-pan champ had it’s best season to date this year. By making Jon Glaser’s witness protection character even more of a dick this season, the show plays like a gleefully mean-spirited romp about New York and reality television. Eugene Mirman, Todd Barry and Janeane Garofalo are all winners too.

5. Game of Thrones

Call this a cop out, but I don’t think I need to elaborate on why this show is awesome.

4. Mad Men

Another great season from TV’s most lauded drama. While it didn’t quite match the series peak point (Season 4’s episode The Suitcase), it was flowing with great character development that really made you understand the characters better, and it’s hard to now say that this show doesn’t have any likable characters. The inclusion of some surreal dream sequences this season (including a hilarious scene where Roger trips on LSD) could of come off as out-of-place in a series that plays it so realistic, but instead the filmmaker’s kept it at a nice minimalistic stretch that made it seem all the more appropriate. I’m hoping for something really big to happen next season, as it is the penultimate one.

3. Community

Those who feel network TV is unable to be funny anymore clearly haven’t seen Community, which (not unlike Arrested Development) actually flourishes with it’s channel enforced limitations. Dan Harmon continues to fuck with sitcom cliches and conventions, but he plays it safe enough to keep the executives (kinda) happy. The show has great characters and story arcs to it amidst all the lampoonery, and fanboys and culture critics a like will find much to love in the shows pop-culture refences. With Dan Harmon having left as a showrunner for the series upcoming fourth season, season 3 might possibly be looking at the last great season for this show…but let’s hope not!

2. Breaking Bad

The first half of Breaking Bad’s final season did not disappoint at all, which is saying a lot as this is a show that has earned nothing but the highest of expectations. Walt’s long-awaited transition into kingpin-status was handled very well, with Bryan Cranston delivering yet another sensational performance. Oh, what terrible things he did over the course of these eight episodes! I’ll reserve final judgement until after I’ve seen the finale, but right now this appears to be the perfect setup for ending one of the very best television dramas of all time.

1. Eastbound and Down

I really hope you guys didn’t forget about this one. The third season was more than a return to form for the series after the slightly disappointing second one. It was also an utterly brilliant game changer for the series too. It had the shows hallmarks in spades such as rich dialogue, and hilariously pitch-black humor, but finally we got to see more humanity from Danny McBride’s Kenny Powers. While certainly still an asshole for most of the season, the finale hints that the more affable side of Kenny might be taking priority in the future, as the season ends with him finally doing something right (sorta). It would have been an ideal finale for the series, but surprisingly HBO has apparently ordered a fourth season. I have clearly mixed feelings about this, as why I am interested to see what more the writer’s could do with this fantastic character, I also can’t help but feel that the series had it’s three acts already. Whatever the case, season 3 of Eastbound and Down stands as a suitable trilogy closer, and the most satisfying show on TV for 2012

Breaking Scalped

Alright, so we all know Breaking Bad is the best thing since stocks in Clark Wallabees (or at least Method Man would say that). It’s reinvented the basic cable crime drama, and it’s one of the only shows in television history to feel surreal, pulpy, and realistic all at the same time. We all can’t wait to see how it ends next year, but I’m also sure people aren’t too thrilled about their favorite show vacating the TV landscape. I can certainly attest, as I’ve now watched Homeland, Sons of Anarchy, and Justified, and while they are all high-quality shows they just don’t have that delicious aura that BB carries. Is there anything that comes close to capturing the feel that Vince Gilligan and his cronies pull off so well? Well, maybe you guys should check out some comic books.

As you probably saw in my Comic Noir post, I’m a big fan of crime comic books. It’s never been a better time to be a reader of that genre than right now, with crazy cool books like Criminal, Incognito and Fatale on the market (note that those are all written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Ed Philips). Still, I feel the cream of the crop (and most Breaking Bad-esque) is a Vertigo series called Scalped. Simply put, I feel that this series is the best comic that Vertigo has put out in years. Possibly their best since Y: The Last Man, and certainly their most brutally effective one since Preacher.

Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by R.M. Guera (with occasional guest artists), Scalped is a 60 Issue series that started in 2007 and recently concluded this past August. Set in modern times, the story is set in a fictional Native American reservation called Prairie Rose (referred to as the “Rez” by it’s inhabitants) that has really gone down the fucking tubes. Alcoholism, drugs, organized crime and murder are all common on the Rez, especially with Chief Lincoln Red Crow at the head of the Oglala Tribe Council. The native-American gangster runs the reservation’s casino, along with handling drug trafficking and extortion…looks like we need an anti-hero to step in! Enter Dashiel Badhorse, a former inhabitant of the Rez, and son of an ex-lover of Redcrow’s. Decades after leaving the hell-hole he grew up in he returns and Red Crow immediately offers him a job as an enforcer. By the end of the first issue, however, we discover that Badhorse is working with the FBI and is indeed trying to take down the criminal enterprise enveloping Prairie Rose. Ain’t that some shit, eh?

So thus begins Aaron and Guera’s Scalped, and believe me it doesn’t slow down for a second. Issue after issue, the two keep putting out new chapters that are even more satisfying than the last. Aaron is a comic-book crime writer that gets everything right, from dialogue that packs a punch, to well done action scenes, and not to mention the overall ongoing arc of the story. Scalped often makes use of non-linear storylines, which go back and forth to examine the history of Prairie Rose. Never once does this tactic yield convoluted results, however, and instead keeps readers filmly invested with the book’s cast of complex characters. R.M. Guera also turns out to be the perfect artist for this series, which might seem a bit odd given his background, as he used to draw for Heavy Metal magazine. Instead though, Guera’s drawing give the series a real gritty feel, with rugged designs and often grotesque looking facial expressions.

When the series first came out in 2007, Vertigo was describing it as The Sopranos on an Indian reservation. I personally don’t think that’s the best HBO show to liken the comic too though, as I actually feel the Sopranos was hardly a show about gangsters. Instead, I feel the comic is more similar to The Wire and Deadwood (both of which Aaron says were an influence), and the most striking similarity between them is this: explication of setting. Prairie Rose is very much a character in Scalped, as integral as Badhorse or Red Crow is to the story and themes. Throughout the series, readers experience this fucked up locale, from it’s desolate livelihood, to the seedy cracks that aren’t exactly well hidden. It’s very comparable to The Wire’s Baltimore. It feels so fucking believable (if not exactly realistic), that don’t be surprised if you find yourself a little alarmed by Aaron’s view of the state of contemporary Native American culture. I’m sure this fictionalized Indian reservation is a bit worse than any real one, but it definitely gets you thinking about how bad the conditions of these places have to be.

Aaron certainly did his research on contemporary Native Americans, and even says the real-life activist Leonard Peltier was a paramount influence for the series. That brings us to an area in Scalped that works so well, yet could of easily been the series undoing: the inclusion of supernatural elements. Talk of spirits in a hard-boiled crime story could of come off as hokey, especially as the series tackles harsh subject matter like abortion and heroin addiction. Instead, Aaron does it in a way that’s every bit necessary. The series is talking about how a once proud people have lost their way, and the inclusion of a mystical sense (mainly in the character known as Catcher) makes the plight of these flawed characters seem even more harrowing. Also, Aaron wisely keeps the mysticism to the sideline, in a comparable sense to how magic works in Game of Thrones. It’s ambiguous in nature, and that’s just fine.

So in a nutshell, it’s 60 glorious issues of bloodshed, sex, gun fights, torture, drug use, social commentary, character study, revenge, and redemption. If there is one flaw to the series, I feel it might regard the ending. Scalped certainly has a good ending, but I was hoping for a little more of an oomph. Still, it nicely addresses the message that Aaron made through the whole 60 issues, gives enough resolution, and I even managed to get a little choked up by the final monolgue…shit, maybe it was a great ending?

The series can be purchased in 10 affordable trade paper back collections, and they’re available where ever comics are sold. Trust me, if more comic books were this good then there would be no reason to watch any other TV show (expect for Breaking Bad, of course).

Q: Who is this Redgunner? A: Watch Trigun!

Since I started this blog, a few people have asked me why I decided to name it REDGUNNER5. Well, the easy answer was I’m not necessarily creative when it comes to titles and that happens to be the name for my old AIM account. There is a more sub-conscious reason for me choosing the name, however, and it might ultimately be bullshit but here we go anyway. It is a nostalgic reference that goes hand in hand with my blog’s intended purpose towards communicating my feelings towards particular art and entertainment. The name is a reference to the anime series Trigun.

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I’m sure plenty of you already know about this series, but for those of you that don’t here’s a brief summary. Trigun is a 26-episode anime series based off of Yasuhiro Nightow’s eponymous manga, that aired in Japan in 1998 and later on America’s Adult Swim in 2003. The story is set on a desert planet in the distant future, that seems to be a mesh between Tatooine, Dune, and Robert Rodriguez movies. It focuses on an outlaw named Vash the Stampede, a mysterious gun slinger in red who many people blame for causing colossal damage and mayhem where ever he goes. Thing is, we find out almost immediately that Vash is the victim of a misunderstanding, as he’s a pacifist, a defender of the innocent, but perhaps most blatantly a goofball. Those expecting Trigun to be a bloody shoot em’ up will find themselves shocked, as the series actually starts out very much a comedy, but its second half actually becomes dark and serious once we discover our protagonist’s past. Joined by a group of similarly affable characters, Vash very well goes on a journey to save the world from an impending evil threat. If my synopsis does the show justice, than hopefully you’ll feel that it sounds fairly familiar in regards to other anime series. It is in a way, and that’s exactly why I was drawn to it!

I was 13 at the time, and had recently discovered how Japanimation really fit my sensibilities. I had been playing a lot of RPGs at the time, and I was really attracted to stories that had cool sci-fi technology, exaggerated weapons, and a real sense of epicness to them. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted to collect anime (rather than watch it edited on Cartoon Network) and I found Trigun was a hot topic at many comic book stores. Yes, this is before Trigun aired on American television, and I immediately found this was a series I needed to own, watch, and obsess over. I asked for it for my 14th birthday (on VHS!) and wouldn’t hesitate to say it’s on the shortlist for best birthday presents I’ve ever received.

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I did indeed love the bejeezus out of Trigun. It was everything I wanted from an anime as it was action-packed, emotional, colorful, and had plenty of cool characters (including bad-ass villains!). I laughed, I cried, I felt completely immersed with this crazy cool space western that was seemingly made for the inner teenage boy in all of us. It’s funny too, as I remember in the weeks before I saw the show I was growing a bit disinterested in anime. I remember some of my peers would ridicule me for watching “cartoons” and my family didn’t understand why I liked it either. Trigun, however, turned out to appeal to some of my friends after I introduced it to them, and we all bonded over it.

I feel that everyone (fanboy or otherwise) had something from their teenage years that they cherish as being their one and only favorite, and Trigun was definitely mine. It wasn’t obscure enough for me to feel like an outsider for being a fan, but it wasn’t nearly as recognizable as others. It felt almost like a great personal secret, that was just for me and a few lucky others. It was my favorite anime series at the time, even amongst Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion which I can now admit were better. Trigun, however, really identified with me and it’s likely because of it’s protagonist of Vash. Vash was kind, inquisitive, and naive, very much like I was back them and in a way still am. I remember I used to tell people that I loved the show’s team of villains (The Gung-Ho Guns), but now I realize it was because they added depth to Vash’s plight. I found it fascinating that Vash had an oath not to kill, even when confronted by these evil pieces of shit that would mercilessly gun down civilians just to fuck with poor Vash’s head. I was legitimately choked up by the series, and felt bad for the hero.

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I remained a Trigun fan throughout high school, rewatching the show, adorning my wall with posters, and collecting the entire manga series, but this acted as both a blessing and a curse. Every so often I’d find a new schoolmate that would like the show, but I found that my friends in my year were moving past it. I remember feeling upset whenever someone told me they didn’t care for the series, especially when they said it was for the same reasons that I loved it. I myself eventually saw myself grow more interested in checking out American comic books, just as Marvel movies were become ginormous! Still, I have no regrets for being a long standing Trigun fan. Purchasing the manga (which I now kind of consider a jumbled mess that’s inferior to the anime, but that’s another story) showed me the benefits of being a comic book collector. Plus, the series really let my imagination soar. I constructed in my head a whole sequel series to Trigun, where I lifted both elements from the manga and of my own into it. While I would often discuss with my peers how I hoped they would one day make a Trigun sequel, in actuality I was just fine with the one I had constructed in my head. After all, I feel half the fun of liking any fiction is filling in the ambiguous blanks, thereby making the universe partially your own to play in as well.

Eleven years later, after I received all eight tapes from Pioneer’s original release of Trigun, it’s impossible for me to look back at the series without a smirk arising on my face. I am now at the point in my life where I can read a Don DeLillo novel or discuss the hidden meanings of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, but that shouldn’t make me forget the fun and liberation I received from this “teenage-boy show”. Since the time when I stopped following anime, I do realize that a Trigun movie has come out, yet I have not watched it nor plan to anytime soon. Instead, I think I’ll save it for a special occurrence in the future, when I decide to revisit the series (hopefully with a kid of mine). Until then however, I just have to say this: Thank you Trigun! I couldn’t have asked for a better course on nerd 101!

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Tim and Eric: The End?

As a pop-culture nerd from a young age, it isn’t particularly uncommon for me to obsess over things before the rest of my social circle does (Breaking Bad, Cowboy Bebop, 90s hip-hop, etc.), but I’ve noticed my history with Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job is worthy of a good story. The two comedians really sounded off a new phase of my life, where I found myself an art film appreciator and an irreverent humorist. Of course, given the divisive nature of their material, they certainly brought out a darker side of mine as well, where’d I’d find myself in (not always friendly) debates about their artistic merit. Alas, after six years of me knowing about their existence, watching all five seasons of their show, and seeing both of the movies to come out this year that featured them, I’ve come to ponder this question: Am I done with Tim and Eric?

Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job (last time I write the whole title) premiered during the start of my second semester of my freshman year at college (February 11, 2007). I suppose I had been introduced to the duo beforehand in their previous Adult Swim TV series Tom Goes to the Mayor (of which I have still regrettably only seen a few episodes of), but their new show really made me take notice of them. I was grieving over the cancellation of Wonder Showzen, and was looking for a similar brand of out-of-the-box humor (notice I didn’t use the oft used term “stoner”), and Tim and Eric was that and more. The show used intentionally bad filmmaking and awkward comic timing in such a brilliant way that I almost instantly understood what they were trying to say. Tim and Eric were obviously making fun of pretentious people, filmmakers or otherwise, in a style that was clearly inspired by David Lynch. I feel David Lynch is one of America’s funniest auteurs, so it made perfect sense that these two former film students would find such comedic success under his influence.

From freshman year on, I was a Tim and Eric fanatic. I watched their show religiously, sent clips of it to my friends (who more often than not found them to be just two talentless idiots), mimicked it’s sketches, and eventually discovered the brilliant Mr. Show, an earlier sketch comedy show that mentored their own. I even found the show got better each season, and it became more and more obvious to me why I latched on to it: It was cute. Despite all the shit and dick jokes, the so-mean-its-funny humor, and comic violence, there was something really endearing about this fucked up world that they had created. The two really understood friendship, and even when the show was at it’s most grotesque you still got the feeling that these two were nice guys (kind of).

For the first season or so, Awesome Show was relatively unknown around my friends, but it didn’t take long for it to become extremely well known. Tim and Eric clips would adorn people’s Facebook pages, Steve Brule imitations became popular, and I even heard certain college professors would bring up the show’s merits in video and animation classes. Thing was, Tim and Eric quickly gained just as many detractors as it did fans, and these people didn’t dislike the show, they fucking hated the living shit out of it! I’ve met at least one person who’ll grow angry just by hearing the mention of their name, and a few people told me the show didn’t bode well for the future of television. Initially, I shrugged these people off and felt that they just weren’t getting it, but as time went by I began to ponder if maybe Tim and Eric were becoming just that.

I wasn’t a fan of the final season of Awesome Show. In the previous four the duo seemed to get the right balance of the sweet with the ribald, but the final season went way overboard with the latter. The duo brought the gross out meter up severely, suggesting that Adult Swim was giving them more leeway than ever. While I’m certainly a fan of artists not having boundaries, I felt jokes about exaggerated puberty or diarrhea restricting butt plugs just went too far and fell flat. I continued to watch the show out of habit, but I just couldn’t help but feel that Awesome Show was running out. I was actually relived to hear that season 5 was their last season, but almost immediately after that their new show Check it Out! premeired. I found this show far more similar to their earlier work (albeit possibly entirely from John C. Reilley’s brilliance) and it was enough to get me back on the Tim and Eric band wagon.

So, this now brings us to 2012, which finally saw the duo tackling movies. I was delighted to hear that their debut film Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie would be premiering early in the year. The fact that the film premiered at Sundance and was screening at arthouse theater made me confident that the movie was not a sell-out on their part, and would indeed have the bizarre nature of their TV work. It did…and that was the problem.

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie started out pretty funny (Chef Goldblum!) but unfortunately their brand of humor doesn’t work well over a long period of time. The film’s final act was almost embarrassingly bad, and somewhat akin to the writing you’d find in an Adam Sandler movie. Also, like the fourth season of Awesome Show you could tell the duo was just trying to get reactions from the audience through shock value. Scenes involving Eric getting a cock ring, smearing come onto a picture of his love interest, and sitting in a tub while children unleashed their bowels on him were all as unfunny as they sounded. If anything, the film’s “sex scene” that involved Tim screwing inflatible dolls and having sex toys shoved up his ass showed how creative they could be with an R-rating, but it wasn’t enough to save this movie from the intentional vat of stupidity that they had chosen to encase it in.

Still, that wasn’t enough to keep me from getting excited about this new indie film that they’d be featured in, The Comedy. At first I was perplexed by the film’s concept, as it seemed really out there for Tim Heideggar to star in an indie drama that took a stabbing look at hipster culture (inarguably a huge audience for the two). As I began to read reviews, however, I found myself more fascinated by the prospect. I kept hearing the film was really dark, and challenging on it’s views in contemporary society. I was hoping the film might seem really relevant, and show a different side for Tim Heideggar as an actor. I followed the film compulsively, and eventually found that it was going to be screened at BAM CinemaFest during the summer. I promptly bought a ticket, with high expectations.

After having seen The Comedy, however, I can’t help but feel it was naive of me to have such anticipation for it. The Comedy (directed and written by Rick Alverson) clearly isn’t a film that’s supposed to be liked. I don’t want to compare it too much to Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as the two films have little in common, but if that film showed Tim and Eric’s at their most gleefully ribald, then this looks at them at their most dismally ribald. Starting with a scene that showcases a joyless party of middle-aged hipsters dry humping each other, to a climax involving a horrific medical emergency, it’s almost an understatement to say the film made me feel shitty afterwards, especially cause I’m not necessarily that far removed from the culture it’s depicting. If that what Alverson was hoping for, than he gets an A+ for achieving audience reactions. The movie’s grade however, is more like a C.

The Comedy is virtually plotless, and is basically a series of vignettes that shows it’s unlikable protagonist Swanson (sublimely played by Tim, actually) dealing with the prison of hipsterdom he’s encased in. It’s evident that the claims it’s making about contemporary culture are mostly accurate, but the film lacks the development for it to really resonate. For example, every scene in the film focuses on it’s protagonist, but you have to ask yourself is that really necessary? We see him do a whole series of revolting things from praising Hitler, to harassing taxi cab drivers, but perhaps seeing him from a distance would of heightened the enigma, and allowed viewers to decide for ourselves whether he’s a bad person or not. As it stands now, despite a few scenes that suggest he might be finding an enlightenment, The Comedy feels rather hollow in terms of characterization. After all, if you’re looking at hipster culture, how much can one facet of the culture really say about this increasingly relevant (irrelevent?) zeitgeist of America.

That said, I did appreciate The Comedy for what it was trying to do, and the fact that Tim agreed to star in it. It shows the actor is willing to participate in bold projects, and he does a great performance in it too. The film certainly shows his weight as an actor, and here’s hoping that we’ll see him starring in more serious avant-garde films in the future.

So, now for the answer to that question I posed in the first paragraph: I’m not done with them, but I just went from being a huge fan of theirs to just a mild one. There’s no doubt in my mind that the two are excellent at their brand of comedy and video editing, and I know they’ll continue to do this for many more years to come. For right now I suppose I’m not thrilled by them, but I have a feeling that sooner of later they’re gonna put out a video or something that I’m gonna rave about that is so freaking awesome!

watch?v=FpsGcnLEZbk

Why the Wire Matters

*Note: This article is spoiler heavy. If you haven’t watched all of the Wire (which I honestly feel you should) then you have been warned.

 

Of all the lauded programs that have aired on HBO, none of them come close to the examination that The Wire deserves. The highly realistic drama was created by a Baltimore journalist named David Simon and felt like the product of years (if not decades) of experience and research. The Wire never got as much viewership as HBO’s flagship titles, but critics tended to call it the best show on television. It wasn’t an easy show for people to get into, as it strived to be as reality-based as possible, and didn’t always give in to genre conventions. Those that could stick with the show, however, would be justly rewarded. Not only would they experience TV’s most compelling drama, but they would learn more about their society than most books, news reports or even personal experience could tell them.

The book Television and American Culture by Jason Mittell makes a lot of inferences on race and identity on television. In the chapter Representing Identity, Mittel claims that television is a great venue for getting across cultural politics as it looks at what it means to be every sex, race and ethnic group. He of course touches on many past and present shows that have looked at cultural values, from Good Times to the Jeffersons. He says The Wire offered such unique representations of race, yet is considered by most people as “an atypical exception on the margins of television rather than the start of a new trend of representation.” I have to agree with this, as no other show has truly felt as literate as The Wire, and we’re not likely to see another one anytime soon.

Right from the very first episode, The Wire seemed ready to break the standard. Set in present day Baltimore, the first season was told through the eyes of both police officers, as well as the drug dealers that they were trying to apprehend. The show garnered a lot of attention for having a large African-American cast in a multitude of roles. While yes, all of the drug dealers on the show were black, there were plenty of black actors that had less stereotypical roles such as police officers and government officials. Sure, black actors have been cast in these roles on TV for decades, but never before did one single television program have their roles so spread out, nor did they interact with white actors in the same way.

Even the drug dealers were different from the ones in other cop shows. The show paid attention very closely to the lives of these young African Americans who were born into a life no one would want, and they weren’t uneducated thugs. We saw that these low-class citizens were intelligent, hard-working and even caring people (exampled in a great scene where the character D’angelo teaches his friend Bodie how to play chess). While at times they could do some really terrible things, it only made us care for them all the more. A scene near the end of the first season when Bodie is forced to kill one of his friends is chilling, but only because we had seen their lives beforehand.

As unique as the depiction of the African Americans was in this show, perhaps the most radical portrayal the show had on a certain group was with its gay characters. The show’s gay characters were not stereotypical and were not apparently gay on first appearance. The lesbian police officer, Kima Greggs, is a strong character who is a tough cop, but also a caring lover with her girlfriend. In the first season some viewers felt the show was pro-gay as all the good relationships were between homosexuals (as the show progressed this wasn’t the case though). The show even pokes fun at gay stereotypes with the loathsome police commissioner William A. Rawls. The observant viewer will notice that this angry man is most likely a closet homosexual (we spot him in a gay bar, and then trying to pretend to be straight by awkwardly looking at a porn magazine), but we’re never told this directly.

Of course, I can’t touch on the show’s different portrayal of gay characters without speaking about Omar Little. Omar is a gay African American who professionally steals money and drugs from Baltimore’s kingpins. He embodies the typical “bad-ass” character that you’d find in westerns, as he’s a gun toting, smooth talking, highly intelligent character who rarely fails in what he sets out to do. Omar is often referred to as “faggot” or “cocksucker” by his enemies, but is seen as a hero by most others. The character quickly became a fan favorite, which is to be expected from other characters that fill the Clint Eastwood archetype, but rarely are these characters open homosexuals. I personally can’t think of another gay character like him in any form of medium.

Keep in mind that this is all just primarily from the first season. Throughout The Wire’s five seasons the show would grow even more groundbreaking. While the first season was more a police drama than other ones (albeit the best one that’s ever been on TV), it came to establish itself as a program with much bigger objectives than just cops and robbers. David Simon even said the show is “really about the American city, and how we live together. It’s about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how whether you’re a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge or a lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you’ve committed to.” This describes the show perfectly.

The second season took a drastic turn from the first one, with the black drug dealers having limited screen time. The Wire turned its attention to the bad conditions that blue collar workers deal with. The story takes place mainly on the docks of Baltimore and looks at a group of stevedores led by a man named Frank Sobotka. The story deals with the Sobotka family becoming involved with a European crime organization by helping them smuggle contraband into the country. David Simon has said that the Wire holds a “cynical” view towards institutions, and that definitely rings clear here. Despite focusing on a higher social class this time, The Wire is no less grim with the lives of these people. They too work hard hours for little pay, and there are some shocking scenes of violence that stem from these issues.

Perhaps trying to change people’s views that The Wire was a “black person’s show” (and the second season did indeed see the highest ratings the show ever saw), this season introduced a whole group of new characters from different ethnic groups, namely Polish Americans. Like the African-American criminals of last season, we see these Polish Americans faced with much turmoil, even amongst their own kind. The Sobotkas are the main targets in the police investigation, but they are fully humanized. Frank Sobotka is the treasurer for a stevedore union, but is faced with hard times involving the decline of the American port industry. He seeks aid from political financiers (even donating an elaborate glass window to a church in order to get close to a senator), but to no avail. Eventually, he makes deals with the European criminals to help his monetary situation, but this only makes manners worse.

Polish police major Stanislaus Valchek starts a feud with Frank, because he wanted to send the church a hefty patronage too. This leads him to have the police start an investigation into his affairs. The same police team from last season go undercover where they discover a prostitution ring, murder, and drugs. Things really turn sour when Frank’s son Ziggy kills two of the Europeans during an argument, and then turns himself in. Frank then goes to talk with the criminals and is shortly after found dead. Frank Sobotka remains one of the key figures in The Wire’s statement of institutions’ demoralizing and destroying their own kind.

The third season revealed a topic that had only been hinted at in previous ones: the flaws of the war on drugs. David Simon honestly feels that America’s crackdown on drug dealers has mainly become a senseless war with the lower class. He equates it to the degradation of society and the reason why inner city violence exists, however, as with most problems on The Wire, there are no easy solutions.

Police major Colvin serves as one of the season’s key characters when he is asked by his superiors to quickly lower the murder rate or face termination. Colvin decides that the war on drugs has grown senseless. He and his group of officers round up some of the local drug dealers and tell them they can do their business in a secluded area and they will not be arrested. After some skepticism at first, the west Baltimore dealers do indeed start to sell their drugs in a new location completely free of police apprehension. Naming the area Hamsterdam, the experiment proves to be successful at first with less homicides occurring. By season’s end, however, we’ve seen the area become a hellish place with no order.

This was probably the show’s most violent season thus far as it introduces a rising drug lord named Marlo who starts a gang war. The first few episodes discuss Baltimore’s high crime rate and even point out that if the city had the population of New York, the murder rate would be in the five digits each year. David Simon has said that this gang war was a metaphor for Iraq (it begins with the destruction of the housing projects, evoking images of the Twin Towers), but the images ring closer to home. The scenes of murder are not set in third world countries, but on our own American streets. The youths caught up in this chaos are also familiar with American pop-culture and wear garb that’s recognizable in a high school setting. They show us the details of inner city life that most news sources fear to tread.

Another theme of this season is reform, which is radiated from the character Stringer Bell. Bell is the educated right hand-man for Baltimore’s reigning drug lord Avon Barksdale. In the previous two seasons it was hinted at that Stringer Bell might have aspirations to leave the drug game, and in this season we know for sure that it’s true. Stringer Bell is indeed seeking refuge in legitimate business by investing in housing properties. We see him befriend white business men, while at the same time handling his men on the streets.

Its theme of reform climaxed at the end of the season with the murder of Stringer Bell. Avon Barksdale doesn’t approve of Bell’s desire to change, and betrays him. He sells him out to Omar and an accomplice who shoot him to death in one of his under-construction buildings. The results spark a gray shadow on the thugs of Barksdale that were hoping to leave their life of crime. To make matters worse, Avon is arrested himself shortly after Bell’s death, as Bell had revealed his location to Colvin. Unbeknownst to either of them, it was a dual betrayal.

The third season also became very political with the new character Tommy Carcetti. Carcetti was a white council man in his thirties hoping to run for mayor in the upcoming election. Carcetti faces problems from being a white politician in Baltimore, as he is competing in a city that is mostly populated by people of color. Still, through his eyes we see the mechanics of the city government, which carries on throughout the next two seasons. Here, The Wire suggests that even the higher-ups in society make decisions that affect the bottom-of-the-barrel ghetto inhabitants.

Then, there is the fourth season. While not the series final season, it’s arguably the definitive one. Here the themes, characters, and events all came together to culminate the show’s most powerful moments. The show focused on a group of inner-city youths and their troubles not just on the streets, but in school as well. Perhaps the fact that this season’s group of characters was so young was the reason why it was so hard hitting. I think it’s impossible to not feel sorrow for these poor misguided youths.

As to be expected, public schooling was giving a scathing look at by the show’s writers. This season looked at the schools as yet another porous part of society, and the schools that serve these young African-Americans are inefficient. Former cop Roman Pryzbylewski (AKA Prez) replaces Jimmy McNulty as this season’s protagonist, and the story is about his struggles as a teacher at a middle school for inner city children. The students are rowdy and often curse in class, and sometimes even grow violent (there’s a bloody scene that involves a girl pulling another girl’s earring off). The other staff members at the school prove to be mostly unfair to the children, such as when a child is accused of assisting in a rape he had no part in.

Education is a prevailing theme throughout the season, and not just the ones giving in classrooms. The children learn about life from their friends and family, but mainly from older drug dealers. For these kids, survival on the streets is far more important than math and English. Some kids even learn that this sort of life isn’t suited for them. Namond, one of the central teenage characters in this season, is forced by his overbearing mother to be a drug dealer (mainly to follow in his imprisoned father’s footsteps), although time and time again he shows that he isn’t suited for this line of work. Other characters fail as teachers, such as drug addict Bubbles. The character takes in a young homeless boy this season, and asks him to do as he says, not as he does. Unfortunately, the young boy does go down the path of a junky also, and suffers a terrible fate. It’s yet another powerful look at how established norms can be so destructive.

The fourth season also saw the conclusion of the Tommy Carcetti story that started last season. At first it seems that Carcetti has no chance of becoming Baltimore’s mayor, but he changes the odds when he uncovers that his opponent has neglected to tell people that a state’s witness was murdered (a storyline from the first season). This skyrockets his poles and Carcetti wins by a landslide. He begins to crack down on crime, but switches his attention to schools at the end of the season. An instance at how easily politicians (and the public), can changes their ideals.

The fifth season can be considered the show’s weakest link (it’s shorter than the other seasons so it doesn’t get quite as in depth), but it does give a very realistic look at print journalism. The story involves Jimmy McNulty making up a serial killer for the press, in order for Mayor Carcetti to stop concentrating his funding on the school system, and back on the undernourished police force. Through this action we see how the field of journalism works, as well as how it doesn’t.

Most shows that focus on journalism tend to give all their attention to celebrity reporting (such as Dirt). The Wire’s fifth season focuses more on journalism’s role in society. Like the previous four seasons, the Wire discusses problems that are very apparent in the industry in today’s day and age. The lack of reporters and drive for increasing quality are all factors. Through Jimmy McNulty’s lie, we see how easy it is for a news source to fabricate the truth. McNulty ultimately pays for his dishonesty with his job, but the public never gets to know the real story. A good reminder from David Simon (a journalist himself) that you can’t believe everything you read or hear.

The show’s finale stands as one of the best in television history, as everything that took place over the show’s run comes full circle. The youths that were introduced in the last season of the show have grown up for better or worse. Michael has replaced the now deceased Omar as a robber of drug dealers, and Dukie has replaced the now clean Bubbles by taking his position as a junkie. Even amidst the police force the next act seems to be beginning with the character Snydor replacing Jimmy McNulty as the officer that speaks for his own ideas. While the next generation already seems to be following in the path made by the previous one, David Simon also casts a ray of hope that there can be change as well. Bubbles has quit drugs and reunited with his family, and we have a brief glimpse of Prez and find that he has finally gotten control of his teaching job. The fact that these characters have turned their lives around so much is proof that anyone can overcome their problems and make it in this world.

The amazing thing about The Wire is how authentic it feels despite being so fictionalized. The Baltimore in this show obviously isn’t the real Baltimore, and it has made up events, made up criminals, and made up politicians. Still, the basis for all of this is steeped in reality, as the actual Baltimore really is a very violent city mostly populated with African-Americans, and filled with much racial tension. While there obviously was no real Mayor Carcetti, the character is based off the real life Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley, as well as several other lesser known politicians. Also, the fourth season subplot about bodies being hidden in boarded up abandoned buildings is something that actually happened there (although not to the degree the show has it in). Even Omar Little, one of the show’s more over-the-top characters, is inspired from the culmination of several professional Baltimore robbers.

Then again, The Wire isn’t so much about Baltimore. Sure, there are plenty of inside references for Baltimore natives, and it’s the city that David Simon and his collaborators are most familiar with. Still, the show’s purpose is to uncover the working of any American city, it’s just the action happens to be set in Maryland’s capital. Experts feel that the story’s main points can be attributed to city’s like Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland and even parts of New York City. The problems in the work force that the Wire addresses are very much national issues, and as we know, the war on drugs isn’t limited to one area in America.

The real shame here is that it’s not likely The Wire will ever reach an expansive audience outside of the states. In the Television Studies Reader there is an essay on the Bill Cosby Show by Timothy Havens that explains that show had so much success cause it came out at the right time and featured a fun-loving black family that could have been an upper-middle class white family as well. The Wire’s grittiness is off putting for some cultures, plus it’s socioeconomic concerns are more tied to America. The drama is still there, but foreign countries aren’t likely to understand all of the show’s messages.

So The Wire isn’t just the best television drama of our time, but it’s an important one too. It points toward where are government has gone wrong, and shows us a world that plenty of us don’t even know exists. The seedy side of the American city is truly a dark place, where no one is safe and the lines of morality are sketchy at best. Still, David Simon suggests that we try to make a difference in our society, without being too preachy. Sure, it’ll take gigantic proportions to make a lasting effect, but with a little bit of dedication and knowledge anything is possible. It’s a classic message, and so far The Wire is the only instance of something using the television medium to tell it so flawlessly.