A Weird One, About Cartoons

Hey you gals! I’m gonna do something a little different today.  This one is not going to be timely (obviously) or about books (gasp!). And, because I’m feeling more chatty than analytical, it’s probably gonna be a rambly one. Also, if you’re really invested in the super cool dude persona I’ve been putting forward, be warned, it’s about to get wrecked (or is that a good thing? I don’t really what the kids say these days). By reading this article you’re buying yourself a one-way ticket to the centre of my ooey-gooey, nerd heart. But! There’s still going to be a recommendation or two or ten woven in through here so…enjoy?

Anywho! I was motivated to write this one because I found out something scandalous about a co-worker the other day. Something so dark, so horrific, so disgusting, that I felt obliged to give you a moment to prepare yourself. Are you ready? Okay.

She doesn’t like anything animated at all.

Any of them. No Disney, no Pixar, no anime, no Simpsons (even back when it was good), no Archer, no Ghibli, no nothin. Not even Rick and Morty (which is definitely the best animated show being made right now, and up there as one of the best of all time. It can be a little hard for some people to get into, because Rick in the first episode or two is a little more gross and obnoxious and perpetually shitfaced than he becomes later on. I had a hard time with it too, but after getting through the first two episodes I fell deep in. It’s just so smart and weird and aware of itself, so well done. It’s the best)!!

It’s such a strange thing to be against, to not like it when people draw stories, rather than act them out. I get it if you’re not into animations made specifically for kids (not really though, I’m just trying to be nice. Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zootopia, Batman the Animated Series, The Incredibles, Toy Story, The Lion King, The fucking Iron Giant, you heartless monster), but animation covers such a huge range of topics.

Let’s go up a notch, to mid-range young adult. If you can’t get anything out of Legend of Korra, I don’t know how to help you. It has a capable, confident, strong female lead and a cast made entirely of people of colour. It teaches teenagers about relationships (surprise gay ending!), growing up, hard work, coming to grips with having power in the world, dealing with failure and fear, and, maybe most crucially, understanding people with opposing points of view. Every character is well written and treated with empathy, even the Big Bads. The villains are villains in that show not because of their ideals, but because they’re extremists. None of them are completely wrong. One wants to bring equality to those born without the magic that helps to make this universe run, one wants to help the physical world and the spiritual world find peace and coexistence (sort of. Unalaq is, admittedly, the least justifiable of the lot), one is trying to topple the old, rotten monarchies of the world, and one is trying to put the pieces of a country shattered by terrorism back together, to take control, to make things safe (I think I may have written this just so I could slobber all over Legend of Korra for a bit). There’s a whole season dedicated to coming to terms with trauma, coming to terms with the fact that you failed, and at the end of it (even though there’s a big punch up), Korra uses empathy and understanding to talk the villain into surrendering. It’s so, so good.

You want something even more adult? Cartoons got you covered. Rick and Morty (obviously), Archer, Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies, and, how could we forget, Bojack Horseman. Bojack is such a strange show, only slightly less funny than it is sad. It’s about how complicated adult relationships are, what existing in the world is like for a person who makes mistakes, and taking a good, honest look at every part of a person, even the bad bits (especially the bad bits). There’s a whole episode where Bojack drives up to see an old, alienated friend of his that is dying from cancer (Stanley Tucci, my hollywood hubby), to apologize for abandoning him. In any other show they would fight a little bit and then come to terms, but at the end of this one his friend tells him that he doesn’t forgive him, he never will, and to get out of his house. There isn’t always absolution and he’s just going to have to live with that. The episode ends with Bojack, miserable, quietly driving home. Woof.

Anyways, there’s tons of good, unique, really smart animated stuff out there. I could keep writing and writing and writing about my favs (seriously though, do you want me to? Cause I could write about the great writing and educational benefits of todays cartoons versus cartoons when I was a kid until my fingers fell off), but that’s probably time better spent getting out there to discover them for yourself. But before I go I want to ask ya’ll two questions, and if you could actually answer them for me that would be great.

  1. Is this dislike of animation a common thing? Do any of you have it? And if you do, why do you think?
  2. Was this post okay for errybody? I love books, both reading and writing about them, but everyone now and again I want to ramble on about something else. If ya’ll hated it, and never want to see it again, I guess next time I feel like talking about something I’ll just write it down on a piece of paper and burn it in my kitchen sink, keeping my lighter handy in case the fire gets put out by my tears.

Ta ta for now!

VBR

PS. One more thing about Korra and then I’ll stop, I promise. It has my favourite mentor to mentee relationship since Buffy. So much respect and affection and trust. When Korra says she can handle something, even if Tenzin is worried about her, he always believes her. He never condescends. Love it.

PPS. I’m a big proponent of just liking what you like, no matter what (which also means disliking what you like), but try not to dismiss entire mediums for telling stories until you’ve experience at least a little bit of the variety they have to offer, okay?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Full disclosure at the start of this article, I’ve never read a single line from any of these books. There’s a lot of people that I know, not too far off in age from myself, that really loved Daniel Handler’s series, I just completely missed them. I think I was a little on the old side for them when they came out, and a little too wrapped up in my literary snootiness at the time (as a teenager I would only read classics in public, and devour corny fantasy novels by the dozen in private. I desperately wanted to be cool, and hadn’t yet discovered that making sure people in my Highschool saw me reading The Count of Monte Cristo was not the way to get it done). And what a shame! If the books were anything like the show was, I feel like I really would’ve enjoyed them.

Having said that, it’s pretty clear that I’m not the target audience for this. It’s aimed at fairly young viewers (despite the amount of fire related deaths) or fans of the book, neither of which apply, and while I did really like the show, I didn’t love it the way I feel like most people will. The child actors are great, they turn in fine performances that help to ground the show in its most ridiculous moments, and they’re as charismatic and sympathetic as a bundle of orphans needs to be. Even the baby didn’t get on my nerves, and I normally have no patience whatsoever for the whole “baby babbles something and then a joke is written underneath them in translation” thing. Here it was used judiciously, and none of the jokes were as bad as they could’ve been.

I also feel like NPH is, if the marketing campaign is any indication, supposed to be a big draw for the show, and one that I, again, sort of have no reference for. I didn’t watch Doogie Howser, M.D. or How I Met Your Mother, and I don’t have a lot of affection for the Harold and Kumar movies (they were pretty funny, I think? I don’t really remember them), so I missed the Neil Patrick Harris fever that’s swept the nation. But now that I’ve seen the show, I get it. He’s very charming, and he turns in a good performance as a campy, self involved, bad actor/villain.

The biggest draw for me was actually Patrick Warburton, which I get is weird, but I just love him. I loved him in Seinfeld, I loved him as The Tick (though I’ve been told by a friend of mine that I should never, ever go back to that show), and everything else I’ve seen him from. I have kind of a weird crush on him and his dry, “I’m smarter than the dumb as a stump dude I’m playing” sense of humor.

Anyways, as per usual this was just a long, rambly way for me to tell you that the show is pretty good! It’s got a weird, off kilter sensibility that I really liked, the sets were incredible, the story is interesting, the acting’s good. Check it out!

Yours forever and for always,

VBR

Ps. There is one thing that I never got around to mentioning in the body of the article. The first episode is a little difficult to get through. The tone of the show is really strange and it takes a little bit of time to sink into it. For me, the transition was a little rocky and I almost turned it off. I’ve heard a couple of people mention it, even people who were fans of the books, so I thought I’d bring it up. Push through! Persevere! Or you know, don’t. Do whatever you want.

Shame-Watching Supernatural

I mentioned this in one of my posts a little while ago, but I recently started trying to watch Supernatural again. When I was a teenager I watched the show fairly regularly up until about season 6, when I finally threw up my hands and dropped out. The ideas were stale, the writing was bad, and the actors all seemed like they’d rather be somewhere else. So I moved on and forgot about the show and got my monster/mythology/hot dude jollies from other things.

But once every few years I come across it again. Somebody will mention it, or I’ll see a meme, or most recently it just started popping up on my recommended list on Netflix, and I go back to it, having forgotten the reasons why I left it in the first place.

This time I decided to start at season 8. I’d heard from people that the Leviathan season was one of the worst, and if I was going to go back I should start after that. So I did, and because I don’t have a lot going on in my life right now, I almost made it all the way through the season before dropping off again. I went through about twenty episodes before the sexist, homophobic, bro-doucheyness of the show finally pushed me away (and left me wondering what the writers room of that show must look like. I’m picturing a bunch of variations of the comic book guy from the Simpsons and a few teenage gamers).

And after dropping off this time I started asking myself, why do I keep coming back to this show? I think it’s because it should be something that I love. Two hot dudes driving across small town America and hunting monsters from folklore? That is so my god damn wheelhouse. And when it started out it was actually pretty good! Wasn’t it? I remember the beginning of the series being gritty and scrappy, gumshoe mysteries where the two brothers were always in over their heads, figuring it out as they went along. They came up with clever ideas to get ahead of creatures that were stronger and faster than them. Now it runs the same formula every time. They fight a thing that’s unstoppable, it throws them across the room, they get up, it throws them again, they stab it with something (usually after saying something, the jist of which is “you’re probably gay!”), it dies. I think I know why too. This show suffers from the same problem as a lot of other shows, especially those with super powered enemies: control of the escalation of threat.

In order to keep things feeling fresh, to keep people engaged, the writers feel like they needed to keep increasing the power of the enemies that the two brothers face. This isn’t just a run of the mill monster, they’ve killed those before, this is a demon. Really scary stuff. Oh, they’ve got pretty good at killing demons, well…this is the Mother of Demons! Hmmm…still not good enough? This is The Devil! Old Gods. More Old Gods. Tons of Old Gods! Zeus? But the problem with escalating the threat like this is that eventually you end up writing yourself into a corner. You get to a point where it doesn’t make sense that your protagonists can win anymore. One way to solve this is by coming up with clever, out-smarty ways that your heroes can prevail. They plan ahead and lay an ambush, or they have some elaborate twisty plot to get on top.The problem is that in order to write smart, interesting solutions to problems you have to be, you know, smart. And not only do you have to be smart, you have to put in the time. The easier road, and the one that most shows like this take, is to not play fair with the audience. They have demons that can make people throw up their own blood until they die by waving their hands, but when they fight Dean and Sam they just…toss them about. Angels are super fast, and super duper strong, they can teleport and scrub out demons with a touch, but when one of them full on punches the Winchesters in the face, instead of their head exploding, they just get a fetching bruise or slightly cut lip. Powerful enemies seem to consistently forget how powerful they’re supposed to be. This has the consequence of completely undermining any of the tension, instead of ratcheting it up. Because there’s no consistency, because nothing really means anything (this person can make you explode by looking at you! Well, not you, you’re a main character. But other people. They can do it to other people sometimes), it all just feels kinda of…meh.

Anyways, I’m not going to spend anymore time on this show. It’s not really worth it. It’s a mediocre show, aimed at the lowest common denominator, topped off with a heavy dose of casual, bro-y homophobia and sexism (seriously, in one episode of this season Dean says, “You abandoned me for a girl, Sam? A girl!”, one of the hunters is a young woman with a bit of an edge and she’s described as “mouthy”. Can you guys please get one full-grown ass woman on your writing team? And if there is one already I…well, I don’t really know how to help you). Do yourself a big favour and give this one a miss. Or, you know, don’t. I’m not your mom.

Love,

Very Biased Reviewer

Sense8 and Please Like Me

Hey again!

So I’m going to do something a little different today. Mostly so far I’ve just talked about books, but I wanted to quickly chat at ya’ll about two of the tv shows that gave me the warm and fuzzies over the holidays this year. I’m probably not going to talk about tv a lot, I’ve stopped really watching it that often (though I have been shame binging a little bit of Supernatural lately. I know, I know, it’s awful. But they’re so handsome! And it’s part of my mission to sexually objectify as many men as possible to help even out the scales, so…you’re welcome, feminism), but both of these shows connected with me in a really particular way that doesn’t happen very often.

The first was the Christmas special of Sense8, which was a good reminder of all the things that I loved (and really didn’t love) about the first season of the show. I’ll be the first to admit that it has it’s fair share of problems. The writing can be gooey and cheesy and overdone. There’s some really jarring and weird tonal shifts, where sometimes it moves from a drama into something with an almost Animaniacs level of wackiness (does everybody remember the bazooka moment?). I also think that, even though the actors do their best with the material, and turn in some really solid performances, sometimes overacting is an issue (especially Lito. I know his character is supposed to be over the top, but sometimes the actor is a little over the top at being over the top, if you know what I mean). But I still love it. I can’t help it. It scratches itches that I didn’t even know that I had.

When I was watching through the first season I don’t think I really knew what was linking me into it. I mean, I’ve always got time for a new fantasy/sci-fi premise, especially if it is as optimistic and inclusive as this one, but usually when it’s this cheesy I’ll bail after an episode or three (or not. Supernatural. *Sigh*). But with Sense8 I just kept going, and I really enjoyed it, was even really moved by it occasionally, and after watching the Christmas Special I think I’ve figured out why. It was during one of the link-up scenes, where they’re all kind of dancing and having a good time, and two of the main male characters, Wulfgang (who’s essentially heterosexual) and somebody else, were dancing really closely together, that it hit me. It’s unselfconscious male intimacy. That’s the thing that this show gives me that I’m not really getting anywhere else. Other than that one time where CopDude has a bit of an “uhhh” moment after Lito tells him that they had sex, there’s no bro backslap, keep your dick at arms length, machismo bullshit. The men in this show touch each other, and love each other, in a way that you almost never see on TV. I didn’t even realize how hungry I was to see that aspect of my life reflected in my entertainment, and how little of it is out there, until I saw it in this show. Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a gay relationship on television that I found as convincing as Lito and his partner. I remember watching them in bed, not having sex but just talking and comforting one another, for the first time and going “YES! This is what it’s like.” If every bigot could just see how beautiful it is to watch two people this connected care for one another, maybe it would get a little harder for them to hate.

Before I move on to the next thing, I just want to quickly give Sense8 a shout out for being the only show to have an orgy scene that’s actually sexy. We’ve had a fair amount of them on tv in the last few years (because I guess it’s really edgy when more than two people have sex?) but most of the time they’re so lifeless and boring and pointless (*cough* Westworld *cough cough*). But in this show they’re vibrant and engaging and sexy. I was super into them.

The next show I’m going to talk about is Please Like Me, an Australian show created by and starring comedian Josh Thomas. This review won’t be as long, because from the moment I started watching this show I knew exactly why I loved it. You guys, it has real gay people in it! Real, live, actual gay people. Some of them are effeminate, and some of them are not, and none of them are cartoons, and it’s fucking brilliant. Do you know how rare that is? To see a gay person on television that isn’t a caricature? That you could look at and go “I dated a dude like that one time”? IT NEVER HAPPENS. And to top it all off the show is funny and honest and really touching at times. I could gush about this show for hours, but I’ll spare you all the brain space. Just go and watch it. It’s so, so good.

Anywhoodle! That’s all for now.

Heaps of love,

Very Biased Reviewer

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