Superstore (2015) s01e03 – Shots and Salsa

This episode is one of those sitcom episodes where you’re laughing so loud and so constantly, there’s a chance you’re going to miss something. If it weren’t paced well. And it’s paced extremely well, between Ruben Fleischer’s direction and Justin Spitzer’s writing, there’s always the right amount of time to get the giggles out.

It starts immediately with the laughs—store manager Mark McKinney getting everyone to do the pre-opening chant. It’s absurd and inappropriate (McKinney’s Christian religiosity is a very reliable punchline).

From the second scene, the show splits off its two storylines, one for America Ferrera, one for Ben Feldman, with Colton Dunn providing something of a bridge as he advises still new Feldman on how not to fall into the “quicksand” of helping customers and coworkers. Dunn’s fantastic. His deadpan deliveries are probably the best on the show, though Lauren Ash—who I’m warming to, even if she’s still the subject of laughs versus the situations she finds herself in—is getting to be a reliable second.

Ferrera’s plot line is about the store’s new house brand salsa promotion. McKinney wants someone Hispanic to sell it, which Ferrera finds gross. Her coworker, Grace Parra, doesn’t see it that way, neither does Filipino Nico Santos, who doesn’t mind McKinney can’t see the difference. Lots of funny stuff as Ferrera tries to have some morals in the face of capitalism.

“Superstore” also goes in hard on how awful Americans are going to get when it comes to racializing their consumerism. It’s shocking, accurate, and hilarious.

Meanwhile Feldman makes the mistake of helping jackass pharmacist Josh Lawson with some boxes and ends up an assistant pharmacist for the day.

Ferrera, Feldman, and Dunn are all varying comedic straight men, though Feldman a little less as he’s got some quirks more similar to the absurdist coworkers; with Feldman and Ferrera, it’s all about their facial reactions foreshadowing their eventual lines, while Dunn’s got a much shorter lead time before he makes his sardonic response.

It’s a really, really funny episode.

Really funny.

Oh, and the corporate anti-racism video… wow. So funny. And way too realistic, which is the point.

Superstore (2015) s01e02 – Magazine Profile

Two months have passed since the previous episode—based on how long new guy Ben Feldman has been at the store and he’s gotten a settled in. During those two months he’s apparently chilled on the America Ferrera romantic interest, or—more likely—the writers realized they were rushing that plot line. Assistant manager Lauren Ash is still making googly eyes at a mostly unaware, occasionally confused Feldman however, because it gets laughs.

And letting Ferrera and Feldman actually develop chemistry is a good move; it doesn’t come up much in the episode, which has Feldman getting involved with “reporter” Eliza Coupe during her trip to the store. Quotation marks because Coupe writes for the chain’s corporate magazine, which has some hilariously odious practices.

Of course, Coupe shouldn’t be focusing on Feldman but store manager Mark McKinney, who’s a lot more sympathetic this episode than in the pilot—and no longer has gray hair, so something else happened during the two month window.

Ferrera’s time is mostly spent trying to get McKinney ready for reporter Coupe; her visit frames the episode, leading up to Ash discovering Coupe and Feldman locking lips, which leads to a really funny emergency staff meeting—though it’s unclear who gets to go to staff meetings (regular cast and supporting actors with lines) during the middle of business hours—where Ash has to have a hard talk with everyone about inappropriate sexual workplace behaviors.

The episode’s got two subplots. The first is for Colton Dunn, who doesn’t want to end up on the magazine cover… seeing as how he’s both in a wheelchair and Black, it’s not like photographer Josh Fadem (who’s wonderfully slimy) will be able to resist exploiting the combination. It’s really funny. Dunn’s great.

The other subplot is about pregnant teenager Nichole Bloom (who doesn’t look like she’s in still in high school) trying to get jackass, dimwit white boy rapper baby daddy Johnny Pemberton to record a jingle for the store. It turns out in the end, when they present the jingle to Coupe, they’re a lot better playing off people as a couple than playing off each other. It’s fine but it’s not on par with the rest of the episode, which solidly juggles laughs and heart.

Becker (1998) s01e14 – Larry Spoke

This episode of “Becker” has Steven Wright guest starring, so even though it’s not the best writing for Steven Wright, it’s still at least great whenever Wright is on screen.

Wright’s a new patient of Ted Danson’s who hears God. God’s name is Larry and Larry tells Steven Wright to repaint his apartment all the time. Not the funniest situation, but Wright makes it great. It’s actually sort of strange to see some middling plot device so perfectly executed as Wright doesn’t seem very CBS sitcom at all. He’s in jarring contrast to the rest of the show, even when the rest of the show is totally serviceable.

In addition to Wright, Danson’s dealing with a slowly dying patient, Nathan Davis, and the patient’s impatient yuppie daughter, Mary-Joan Negro. It’s not a funny subplot, but a depressing one and it’s borderline unpleasant. Especially juxtaposed against the absurdity of Wright on this show.

The episode also has Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith stopping in at Terry Farrell’s diner for the first time. Almost more interesting—they all just talk about how obnoxious it is to deal with Danson—it also implies something about Winston and Smith’s life outside the workplace. They walk to the train together, at least on this day, which is kind of nice. Especially since Winston and Smith are in the middle of this C plot about Smith keeping a nice jacket her dry cleaner gave to her by accident.

Though the end of the episode is a little too much; all of a sudden wants to comment on Danson’s apparent atheism versus everyone else’s religiosity. Sure, Wright’s plot brings in the discussion of God… but it’s not like it’s a great concept or anything. It’s great because it’s Steven Wright doing a sitcom guest spot playing Steven Wright. His comebacks are consistently hilarious throughout the episode. The holier than thou finale really misses Wright, who doesn’t get to participate. He’s already had his big finale. The rest is regular cast wrap-up.

Still, there are a lot of solid laughs throughout. Thanks to Wright, yes, but also some with Winston and Smith.

Maybe if Danson were more enthusiastic about the hard drama stuff with Negro, but he’s still sitcom star here.

Uneven or not, it’s nice to have the laughs.

Becker (1998) s01e13 – Becker the Elder

Whenever an episode of “Becker” starts, I hold my breath until the writing credit comes up. This one’s from series creator Dave Hackel, who likes doing the Ted Danson is a master doctor and basically right bastard; the episode opens with him ranting about little people. And even though it’s 1998 or whatever, they know it’s wrong because Alex Désert comments on it. Little bit later Danson’s making fun of how his Hispanic patient talks. So when “Becker” is being icky just to be icky, it’s in Hackel’s line. Andy Ackerman does do a solid directing job, however, because it’s Andy Ackerman.

The episode’s about Becker’s dad, Dick Van Dyke, coming through town. Van Dyke ran out on the family when Danson was eleven and Danson’s never forgiven him. Van Dyke’s never really asked for forgiveness either—until this very special episode, which isn’t even trying to be funny unless you count Hackel punching down (no blind or Black jokes about Désert so apparently someone said there were limits)—but since Hackel writes Becker like a complete Dick, who cares if Van Dyke had a reason to run out or whatever. It’s a waste of Van Dyke as a guest star and rather concerning the show creator hasn’t figured out when the show works.

There’s actually some decent stuff with Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith, with Smith making Winston laugh, which is at least something pleasant. Because despite Van Dyke being a lovable career salesman, the show positions him as a deceptive dick (no pun) and then walks it back, then forward, then back, then shrugs it off and goes out on a character building moment for Danson.

Of course, Danson is an asshole so who cares. It’s okay he’s an asshole, however, because he treats a guy living on the street—apparently for free—but whatever. Sitcom is an abbreviation for a situation comedy. This episode is a very light, very thin situational drama. I watched the show because I wanted to laugh.

Nope, not this time.

All Rise (2019) s01e09 – How to Succeed in Law Without Really Re-Trying

Okay, when I said “All Rise” reminded me of “Major Crimes,” maybe I shouldn’t have cursed the show with an Ever Carradine guest star. Carradine plays an old defense lawyer nemesis of Simone Missick’s, who’s got an appeal—she wants to get alt-righter, white supremacist Ben Leasure out of jail—and Carradine’s confident because she’s up against Wilson Bethel not Missick. I mean, Missick’s only got the bionic arm, Bethel never misses. Wait, wrong shows.

Better shows.

Good shows.

Anyway, Missick wants to help Bethel but not too much. Meanwhile she’s pissing off a prosecutor (Suzanne Cryer), who’s trying to railroad some defendant in an unmemorable case but has it out for Missick and it doesn’t at all seem like Cryer doesn’t like Missick because Missick’s a Black woman. Oh… wait… it does. As it seems Cryer will be back to report Missick to her manager… maybe Cryer ought to fire her agent.

The thing about the episode is it’s directed by Cheryl Dunye, who’s an excellent indie filmmaker; usually “All Rise” is just wasting Missick and Bethel’s time, not the director’s. This episode, though, it’s well-directed but with that same tepid “All Rise” writing. At least it’s engaging to watch to see the direction. I couldn’t help wishing it’d lead to Dunye, Missick, and Bethel teaming up on something worth their talent.

Back to Carradine. She’s playing this neuroatypical (but self-aware) defense attorney who’s seemingly convinced Leasure is innocent even though he’s obviously guilty. Well, I guess it doesn’t matter if she thinks he’s innocent. It’s unclear. The show’s not smart enough to delve into the defense attorney of the guilty client thing, even as third lead Jessica Camacho is defending obviously guilty John Ales and doesn’t want to defend him because he’s a pain in the ass. I guess Ales is good? Maybe. He’s at least not unwelcome when he’s in a scene. Carradine hovers around like a threat. The scene where she has a showdown with Missick is patently absurd as Missick starts seeing herself from Carradine’s warped perspective, which has its own optics the show doesn’t seem to recognize.

Also good is Audrey Corsa, as the new law clerk in the district attorney’s office who teams up with Bethel on the Leasure case.

In addition to actually being good, Corsa also reveals J. Alex Brinson isn’t so much interested in Camacho as he is a hot to trot capital D dog, which is fine. I resent liking Brinson given he’s still the murderous spousal abusing cop from “Travellers,” also a much better show. And good.

Last thing—the episode’s weird with the other white people in the alt-right case. Michael Graziadei is a reformed alt-righter who might be a co-conspirator but gets a pass because Christian and no one talks about how “resister” Tamara Clatterbuck, sister of defendant Leasure, is actually a perjuring monster with half-Asian kids her brother wants to kill and she picks the brother.

“CBS woke” is not woke at all.

Though it’s nice to great to see a Dunye credit and pretty please, universe, let her make something else—something actually good—with Missick or Bethel.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e04 – Sanctuary

It’s a really good thing the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) has seen Seven Samurai, otherwise he’d have no idea he and new pal Gina Carano (as a former Rebel shock trooper) would be able to train the villagers to take on the raiders out for their crops. The villagers hire Pascal, who’s on this backwater planet looking for someplace to lie low with Baby Yoda—but, seriously, how can you lie low with Baby Yoda because everyone’s got to notice the inordinate cuteness—and Pascal brings Carano onboard. They’ve already had a fist fight to bond so it’s a natural development in their relationship.

In the village, Pascal meets fetching widow Julia Jones, who also knows her way around a blaster somehow, and considers taking off his helmet and settling down. But it’s only the fourth episode; no spoilers… but it’s only the fourth episode.

The episode’s absolutely gorgeous, with Bryce Dallas Howard doing an excellent job with the direction. It’s also this tranquil village with rice paddies—or whatever kind of paddies—and the kids are all happy and cute and so on. They all love Baby Yoda and he’s thrilled to have all the attention. The show gets around to some exposition as far as Pascal and the Mandalorian way but at some point they’ve got to address Baby Yoda’s development. If Yoda Yoda was 900 and Baby Yoda is fifty, should Baby Yoda be talking by now? No, because he’s lived his life in hiding without a steady caretaker apparently. Baby Yoda doesn’t play into the episode much, not once Seven Samurai versus an AT-ST starts.

The big surprise of the episode is Carano, who’s good. Not sure if it’s the script, the direction, or just Carano learning to act but hopefully she’s not just in it for a single episode. It’s probably also Pascal’s best episode too, if only because he’s got a lot to say and interesting things to talk about. Jones is good too. It’s slight and obvious, but really well-made and performed.

If Disney+’s “Star Wars” shows are going to draw so heavily on Kurosawa movies, they ought to at least offer the corresponding one streaming.

The Super Inframan (1975, Hua Shan)

Until the third act, Super Inframan at least keeps a brisk pace. The movie’s got almost nothing going for it—other than Chen Yung—yu frankly courageous very seventies score and even it’s a small blip of goodness, not a positive feature—but at least it moves. It doesn’t drag through the entire third act, there are a couple good (out of nowhere the fight choreography gets interesting) fight scenes, then some terrible fighting and some silliness, but once the good fight scenes are over, it starts to crawl. Though I assume the general annoyance at the pace slowing instead of the movie ending contributes.

Super Inframan is a low budget Chinese giant monster movie, only with the superhero, Inframan, able to grow big to fight the monsters. There’s a name for the genre; I’m not Googling. The miniatures—outside the opening scene city fire—are bad. But even bad, when it’s giant Inframan fighting a giant monster, Inframan is at its best. That fight is actually successful, whereas the good ones at the end both go bad for various plot-related reasons. They’re a bummer; the Inframan versus kanji is cool.

Danny Lee plays Inframan, which requires he wear a crafting-enhanced motorcycle helmet with antenna so he looks a little like a bug. He’s kind of a cyborg. It’s unclear what scientist Wang Hsieh’s doing to Lee during the transformation scene. Apparently he’s turning him very straightforwardly into a cyborg because there are these illustrated cards flashing over Lee’s body showing mechanical stuff… but they never talk about it. There are monsters to fight. Super Inframan doesn’t have childlike wonder it has childlike stupidity. Screenwriter Ni Kuang is targeting two year-olds and managing to talk down to them.

The effects are mostly silly illustrated lasers. There’s no ingenuity to how director Hua does any of it; he doesn’t even care what blonde-haired, thigh-high booted, supervillain dragon lady Terry Liu whips when she whips. She just likes to whip. She’s got a scantily clad sidekick (Dana) to keep dad awake and Lee’s a very square-jawed handsome leading man type for mom. Though Lee never does anything in the movie after the opening scene. He saves a baby in a fire. Later on, when he’s Inframan, he does all sorts of stuff but it’s probably not Lee and even if it were, Inframan doesn’t talk much (if ever) and so there’s no character development. It’s a fail on some really basic levels.

Still, besides Yuan Man-tzu, none of the acting is too terrible, all things considered, so maybe if it just knew when to stop being bad and roll the credits, Inframan would be all right. But not with the third act slowdown. Not after the fight gets too cartoony. It goes from being a fairly solid albeit boringly directed fight scene between Inframan and his fellow motorcycle-helmeted stunt men, only they’re supposed to be skeleton men to some bad exposition to Inframan doing this almost silent fight against these two robots with slinky missiles and stuff. It’s dumb, but it’s just about to be accidentally really nice and then it stops and the next fight scene is terrible. And the end of the movie’s too dumb too.

Inframan’s a big fail.

Oh, and Bruce Le—not Bruce Lee—is pretty good as Lee’s teammate who fights a monster. See, they’re not all giant, they’re usually just man-sized rubber-suit monsters. And they all talk smack. And Le fights one all by himself and you’re sympathetic to him because he’s being heroic, while Lee’s got the Inframan gig and is bad at it. Scientist Wang, charged with protecting the whole planet from these monsters, he doesn’t make a good choice with Lee. Le’s better. Just not square-jawed.

There’s nowhere near that much angst in the film; no one except monsters get hurt. Okay, one guy but he doesn’t count.

Inframan would be better if it were worse. Though maybe if they just got rid of the backflips it might be a little better too. The backflips are obnoxious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Hua Shan; written by Ni Kuang; director of photography, Nishimoto Tadashi; edited by Chiang Hsing-Lung; music by Chen Yung-Yu; produced by Runme Shaw; released by Shaw Brothers Studio.

Starring Danny Lee (Rayma / Inframan), Wang Hsieh (Professor Liu Ying-Te), Terry Liu (Demon Princess Elizebub), Yuan Man-Tzu (Liu Mei-Mei), Dana (Demon Witch-Eye), Bruce Le (Sergeant Lu Hsiao-Lung), Chiang Yang (Liutenant Chu Chi-Kuang), and Lin Wen-Wei (Chu Ming).


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“Go to the hills”

I got my MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, which both does and doesn’t seem on brand for me. I wasn’t an art school kind of person but I’ve always been a believer in making an education from what’s available in a place, which sucks because I’ve gone on to give that advice only to have it not go anywhere near as well for the recipients of said advice. I’ve never said anything similar about the second Master’s, mind you. The functional one. My undergrad in history and my MFA are far from functional.

I may be confusing pragmatic and functional. I’m real tired. But with that exhaustion has come some clarity as far as my latest boondoggle with the Stop Button move. I forgot to change over this eighteen square pixel transparent PNG file I use on the movie ratings to intent them a little and used a WordPress plugin to do a bulk change. On what I thought was 3,000 posts. Turned out it did something to every post on the site… it eighty-sixed the paragraph tags. Not the ones with additional code, just the standard <p> and </p> tags. It erased them, which is something WordPress started doing a long time ago now (long time ago in Internet time).

It felt really familiar too. Not just screwing something up with a bulk change and not having a backup—make a backup y’all, even if you can—like I could, undo it with yet another bulk import of all the Stop Button, Comics Fondle, Visual Reflux, and Summing Up posts. I’m even more exhausted after typing that sentence. I think I did this same thing before changing something else and I think I went through however many posts and added in the paragraph tags again. But you know what… no one is going to notice. No one reading is going to experience any difference. You know why, because WordPress adds in the paragraph tags when rendering the posts. So it’s a fuck up and I should’ve made a backup and that find and replace plugin is far more destructive than convenient, but it’s also not a particularly… actually, no, it’s not even a visible fuck up. It’s something dumb I did and I should’ve known better, but the resulting material is no different.

The experience for the reader isn’t different at all, which brings it all back to the art school and this instructor—an eighties artist of solid renown and a smart guy—talking about how he got into it with another artist about artifice and when it matters. Kind of like the Val Kilmer Tombstone thing about the original director wanting them all to wear period accurate costumes and not modern fabrics. The camera couldn’t tell the difference. The first director got fired, they got to wear modern fabrics and be more comfortable and Tombstone stank to high heaven. So maybe a bad example. But it’s not worth sweating paragraph tags, not when the whole point of the blog is the blogging. The -ing of it. The generative exercise.

I mean, back up your work. Even if you can recreate it without backing up, back it up. But don’t forget what you’re making.

Sadly, no accompanying cat pictures because I need to go to bed. I also need to decide if I’m going to re-add those paragraph tags as I gradually clean up the old posts.

I always said when I turned forty I was going to dump the novels online. Since turning forty and now one and forty, I haven’t given it any serious thought. I can’t even imagine how much I’d fret over that shit though. The funny thing about the paragraph tags going and the threat of the paragraphs going? I never wrote my fiction in paragraphs. I mean, I initially did but then I got away from it in MFA school; I added all the paragraph breaks later, in one of the edits. I did something similar with blogging at the beginning…

It seems kind of disingenuous to be so worried about paragraph tags when I was so willing to make a lack of paragraphs a style hill. Of course, I don’t think about style hills anymore, which is kind of too bad. But it’s 2019 and there are multiple reasons not to worry about style hills anymore, but damn if they didn’t used to be a thing.

The aughts had a lot of pointless things, things so pointless in hindsight it’s very hard to imagine ever assigning them importance. Previous decades obviously had the same problem, often with greater intensity, but by the aughts we should’ve known better and instead we kept investing in shitty ideas because the idea of them not working out was scary.

And guess what… they didn’t work out.

Wow. There’s an upper. I could use a cat picture right now.

The Flash (2014) s06e08 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 2

So unlike previous seasons, the CW “Arrowverse” showrunners—at least on “Flash,” “Supergirl,” and to some extent “Batwoman”—are doing a pre-Crisis arc and a post-Crisis arc, which might end up making a lot of sense depending on how Crisis goes… so this episode is the big finale to the comically godawful Sendhil Ramamurthy arc. He gets to turn into a big skull-faced Venom CG monster at the end, but the monster still has his voice so even if the CG is bad, Ramamurthy is able to make it even worse with his performance.

Also with the end of the arc thing there are big action set pieces, except they’re not big. They’re fake big. There’s a zombie apocalypse as Ramamurthy infects people in Central City with brainwashed “Dark Flash”’s help. We don’t get to see the apocalypse because budget; instead it’s Candice Patton and Carlos Valdes arguing about what to do next. As Grant Gustin left Valdes in charge (for after Gustin dies in Crisis), Valdes thinks he’s got the best plan. Meanwhile Patton has a different plan, one where Gustin’s not acceptable collateral damage.

Both plans are stupid because the script’s stupid but Valdes’s performance is so lousy, it’s impossible to side with him. He and Danielle Panabaker desperately need to get off this show, both for the show and for themselves. Panabaker at least has some okay moments as (don’t call me Killer anymore) Frost, but when she reverts back to regular Caitlin she’s bad. Not sure why. It’s obvious why she doesn’t use her powers against the zombies when she and Jesse L. Martin go out to the street to fight them. Because budget. But why’s Panabaker so thin playing her regular role? Maybe because she’s so bored with it they had to make her a different character to keep her on the show?

As for Gustin, who last episode went over to the dark side, possibly willingly, he doesn’t get anything to do until the end of the episode when they’re all sitting around moping about Crisis. It’s a terrible scene, though possibly better than the previous episode where he frets about his mortality. I foolishly thought the show might have some good “Road to Crisis” stuff but it’s all crap. It’s not exactly disappointing but it’s surprisingly poorly executed.

The one technically good thing in the episode is when Cecile (Danielle Nicolet, who’s all the show’s got going on anymore) and Victoria Park have to escape from a building overrun with zombies. Nicolet uses her psychic abilities to sneak them out in a long “continuous” shot sequence, which is technically proficient but still bad.

Because budget.

It’s probably not a good idea the show set its whole season up as a jumping off point for after the crossover, but unless they clean house on the cast and get some better writing, “The Flash” has run out of steam.

Tom Cavanagh sucking the season certainly doesn’t help things.

The Flash (2014) s06e07 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1

“The Flash” seems to be in a race—no pun intended—to see how bad it can get before the Crisis crossover. This episode gives Grant Gustin his first showcase all season and instead of giving him scenes opposite the regular cast, like his wife, dad, friends, sticks him in a battle of the wills. On one side is Sendhil Ramamurthy, who—against all odds—is actually worse than usual. He’s Ultimate Venom. On the other side is Michelle Harrison, who sometimes plays Gustin’s dead mom, sometimes the Speed Force. Harrison’s always been a weak casting choice. She did a little better in the stunt as Earth-Three not-Barry’s mom earlier this season and it’s hard to fault her with anything this episode. The personified Speed Force is a really stupid idea. Not Harrison’s fault.

So while Ramamurthy tries to convince Gustin to embrace the Venom so Gustin doesn’t have to die in Crisis, Harrison tries to convince Gustin he needs to sacrifice himself because he’s Jesus.

Only he’s not Jesus. When “The Flash” introduced the idea of Gustin disappearing in the Crisis first season, it was an Easter egg. The way they’ve turned it into a plot point this season has been godawful but not surprisingly so. The “Arrowverse” Crisis for Gustin doesn’t have the traditional gravitas from the actual comic. It’s got the “Flash” gravitas, which is pretty slim stuff.

The episode opens with a lousy cliffhanger resolve—Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) versus Ramamurthy, but really just an excuse to get Sawyer out of the episode to… film crossover scenes? Because dramatically it’s crap. Though everything related to Ultimate Venom is crap.

Meanwhile, Candice Patton gets a big reporter arc. But not really. She’s just avoiding writing her obit of The Flash, which is that season one Crisis Easter egg, which makes sense because she has no idea how he’s going to die. Dumb.

Though Kayla Compton is working out all right, despite being somewhat pointless except to prod Patton into various actions.

It’d be nice if it were at least a good performance from Gustin, but Gustin’s either in dream sequences or possessed by Venom. It’s all so pointless, protracted, cheap, melodramatic, silly, and dumb, it really doesn’t work out.

Kind of like the show at this point. I keep catching myself thinking Crisis might fix the show’s problems but unless they’re replacing the writers are the crossover, I can’t see how it could.

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