Wednesday, October 19, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: The Simpsons, "Halloween of Horror"

(Photo source: FY Springfield)

This week, The Simpsons aired its 600th episode, "Treehouse of Horror XXVII." The following is a repost of my October 30, 2015 discussion of the first Simpsons Halloween episode that wasn't a "Treehouse of Horror" anthology. This 2015 episode is streamable on FXX's Simpsons World app.

The 27th season of The Simpsons marks the first time the show has produced two Halloween episodes in the same season. In addition to the annual "Treehouse of Horror" anthology--where every short story takes place outside the show's continuity, so a character like Bart or Groundskeeper Willy can be killed off in horrible fashion and then be brought back in the next story or later on in the same half-hour--the show has treated us to its first canonical Halloween episode ever, "Halloween of Horror."

Late-period Simpsons can often be so tiresome and stale or so desperate to be trending again (Homer separates from Marge and goes out with guest star Lena Dunham?: I think I'll pass) that I've sometimes gone for months without watching it, so I wasn't prepared for "Halloween of Horror," which is credited solely to staff writer Carolyn Omine, to fire on so many cylinders. It's a better Halloween episode than this week's "Treehouse of Horror XXVI," which isn't an atrocious edition of "Treehouse," but when its most enjoyable segment is the bizarre and grisly couch gag guest-directed by John Kricfalusi (my favorite detail in Kricfalusi's couch gag is Bart's Huckleberry Hound mask appearing in red instead of blue, because the licensed Huckleberry Hound costume Kricfalusi owned as a kid came in an incorrect red instead of blue), that's how disposable a "Treehouse" episode it is. I would have swapped the "Homerzilla" spoof of both the 1954 Godzilla and the 2014 Godzilla (it's kind of weird how the writers didn't have Harry Shearer deliver any jokes about his involvement in the 1998 Godzilla, a movie Shearer probably Lacuna'd from his memories) for the Psycho parody that the "Halloween of Horror" gag writers joke about being featured "next week."

When even the writing staff is starting to express on the show some boredom with the "Treehouse of Horror" format and showrunner Al Jean is admitting that "we've used up 78 horror stories and you can't do them anymore," maybe The Simpsons should just retire "Treehouse of Horror" and do canonical Halloween episodes like "Halloween of Horror" from now on. The "Treehouse" segments haven't been consistently funny in eons. Or maybe the show should start getting guest couch gag directors like Kricfalusi and Bill Plympton to do more than just guest-direct couch gags by having them guest-direct entire episodes as well (or guest-write them like Judd Apatow once did last season). That could provide late-period Simpsons with the creative shot in the arm it often badly needs.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Archer's season 8 plans could be the greatest fuck-you to continuity since Sledge Hammer!'s nutty resolution to its nuclear-blast cliffhanger

When we last saw Sterling Archer, he was, like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, face down in a pool and dead from multiple gunshot wounds. But that shocker of a season finale twist ending back in June was made less shocking by both FX's renewal of Archer for three more seasons and Archer creator Adam Reed's confirmation that the 10th season will be the final one for the longest-lasting of all his animated shows. So we're not through yet with the adventures of the world's most immature spy/P.I., and Reed has now come up with a crazy way (but it's typical for this show, which once had a poisoned Archer hallucinating that he was Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait) to continue on with those adventures despite killing off the title character.

At a New York Comic Con panel last week, Reed announced that when Archer resumes on FX in 2017, it will reboot itself again like it did in both 2014--when the main characters switched from espionage work to drug dealing (while Cheryl/Carol became a country singer) during the season-long arc known as "Archer Vice"--and March of this year. The seventh and most recent season took place in Hollywood and had Archer, Lana and Ray working as private eyes for Cyril, their now-defunct intelligence agency's former accountant. The eighth season will take place in an alternate timeline in 1947.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Young Justice, "Bloodlines"

The third season of the CW's The Flash begins tonight, so the following is a repost of my June 5, 2012 discussion of the Young Justice episode "Bloodlines," a story that united four generations of DC Comics speedsters, including Barry Allen and Wally West, two characters who are central to the CW show. "Bloodlines" can be streamed on Netflix.

I remember writer Peter David best for his work on DC's Star Trek comics (a Len Wein-scripted 1987 issue that reunited the Enterprise-A crew with con man Harry Mudd from the '60s show was the first comic I ever bought at an actual comic shop). But superhero comics readers admire David most for his writing on The Incredible Hulk, X-Factor (the X-Men spinoff, not the wack singing contest show), Supergirl and the original Young Justice comic. David gets to revisit the Young Justice characters in "Bloodlines," the third episode he's written for the animated version. The best part of David's run on DC's Star Trek was the humor, and David's sense of humor is a highlight of "Bloodlines," an entertaining fish-out-of-water story about the unexpected arrival of Impulse (Jason Marsden), a speedster from the future who talks as if he has ADHD and who also happens to be Bart Allen, the grandson of Barry Allen (George Eads), the current incarnation of The Flash.

"Tell us something we don't know yet. When do I become leader of the team? When do I join the Justice League? When do I get my own reality series?," inquires Beast Boy (Logan Grove) when he wants proof from Impulse that he's from the future. And I always get a kick out of how this TV-PG-rated cartoon sometimes toys with Cartoon Network's Standards & Practices department, like it does here when Impulse responds to Nightwing's old cop-show trick of getting his interviewee to verify his identity via a glass of water. "Oh, ah, you're trying to get a DNA sample. You need my spit," says Impulse. "Ha! That's such a Dick Grayson thing to do." The way Impulse puts emphasis on the name "Dick" makes his sentence sound as if it's going to be "That's such a dick move."

In "Bloodlines" (which also finds time to resolve the Roy Harper clone's search for the original Roy during its B-story), an adversary wreaks so much havoc on The Flash's home turf of Central City that it requires the attention of four generations of speedsters. Retired-from-superheroing Stanford student Wally West interrupts his regularly scheduled Asian fetish to suit up again as Kid Flash and keep an eye on Impulse as a favor to Nightwing. Another retired speedster, former Flash Jay Garrick (Geoff Pierson), runs the risk of his wife Joan's wrath because he snuck out of the quiet 70th wedding anniversary celebration Barry and his wife Iris (Young Justice writer Nicole Dubuc) threw for them and dusted off his old Mercury-style tin hat to assist the three younger Flashes on the decimated and scorched streets of Central City.

The destruction-causing stranger in a containment suit known as Neutron (James Arnold Taylor) turns out not to be a new supervillain but a brainwashed human pawn in an alien conspiracy who's having trouble controlling his powers. The aliens who unleashed Neutron on Central City are the same aliens who have been experimenting on teen runaways to access their metagenes, the genes that determine which humans are metahumans (the DC universe's equivalent of Marvel's mutants). Neutron's hidden overseers, who abandon their failed experiment with Neutron and flee their hideout before the team of speedsters can find them, speak in Krolotean but are taller than the Krolotean invaders who previously appeared on Young Justice this season and were blown up by The Light in "Alienated." Is this a superior breed of Kroloteans that's in league with both The Light and this season's shadowy new nemesis The Partner?

Impulse knows more than he's been letting on. His time machine's arrival at Mount Justice at about the same time as Neutron's energy-wave attack on Central City is hardly coincidental. In the grim post-apocalyptic scenes that open and close "Bloodlines," an older, prison-garbed Neutron sees Bart off as he readies his time machine for its destination: 40 years before Mount Justice--and the world--were reduced to rubble. Bart's mission is/was to save Neutron's younger self from prison and prevent the world's destruction. We see that Bart's "hyperactive tourist from the future" persona is just an act--a costume like the ones donned by "half the meat at Comic-Con" (they're so quirky because they're actually from the future too, according to one of the funniest lines David gives to Impulse). We also see that Impulse's accomplishments in the past aren't enough to fix the timestream because aside from older Neutron's slight change in appearance, the post-apocalyptic world remains unchanged.

I don't like that Young Justice is adding time travel as another spinning plate to the Ed Sullivan Show spinning plates act that this season has been basically shaping up to be because I'm so jaded from the aimless time-travel storytelling messes I was subjected to during Heroes. That live-action show soured the enjoyment I used to have for time-travel stories. But when time travel is placed into the hands of more capable writers like David and the Young Justice staffers, I doubt I'll find my not-so-TV-PG-rated self to be saying about the writing, "That's such a dick move."

Monday, September 26, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

(Photo source: 20th Century Fox)

The following is a repost of my September 3, 2015 discussion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

The most astounding thing about director Rupert Wyatt's 2011 surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the second and better-received of two different attempts by 20th Century Fox to relaunch its Planet of the Apes franchise from the '60s and '70s, isn't the motion-capture technology the film deployed to bring to life superintelligent simians. It's the film's ability to somehow take otherwise charismatic actors like Brian Cox, Deadbeat star Tyler Labine and David Oyelowo and make them the most boring fucks on Earth.

For instance, the future Martin Luther King plays a villainous businessman here--before seeing Selma, I almost forgot Oyelowo previously appeared in this loose remake of 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes--but he makes way more of an impression as a villain on the animated Star Wars Rebels, even without ever showing his actual face. As the superintelligent chimpanzee Caesar, Andy Serkis, with the help of Weta Digital's motion-capture tech, is the real star of these modern-day Apes movies. After the remarkable and expressive mo-cap acting of Serkis, Karin Konoval, a.k.a. Mrs. Peacock from the ultra-disturbing X-Files episode "Home," and, in 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Toby Kebbell, there's no way in that place Charlton Heston damned them all to that these Apes movies are going back to burying the actors under rubber John Chambers ape masks.

I appreciate how both Rise and Dawn are Caesar's story rather than the story of either his human father, Bay Area pharmaceutical scientist Will Rodman (James Franco)--whose search for a cure for Alzheimer's inadvertently triggers the events that will lead to the dominance of apes over humans--or one of Will's relatives. It's preferable over the way the Autobots are relegated to guest stars in their own live-action Transformers movies. But these modern-day Apes prequels, especially Rise, could really use a human ally character with the personality of either Heston's cantankerous Colonel Taylor from the first two Apes installments or Ricardo Montalban's Armando, Caesar's foster dad from the third and fourth Apes installments (as Will's dad, who's suffering from Alzheimer's, John Lithgow gives the best non-simian performance in Rise).

Franco is in visibly bored, "grrrr, where's my paycheck so that I can get some new leather paddles for my next art installation?" mode here. I wish Caesar's favorite parent were played by either Jeff Goldblum, who would have imbued some personality into Will and would have been able to bring a bit more life to Will's compassion for Caesar (but Will's dad would have had to have been played by someone older than Lithgow), or better yet, an actress like Jessica Chastain, because these modern-day Apes movies are too much of a sausage fest (Freida Pinto and, in Dawn, Keri Russell are little more than background extras).

That's one other thing that's missing from Rise and Dawn: a charismatic female presence like Kim Hunter's when she played Dr. Zira, the banana-hating chimp who becomes an ally of Taylor's, in the first three Apes movies. It's too bad Konoval's kindly circus orangutan Maurice, a simian character I like even more than Caesar, isn't female.

Maurice, who was named after 1968 Apes star Maurice Evans, is a huge part of why Rise is at its best when it moves away from Will and concentrates on the beginnings of Caesar's ape revolt. The dialogue for the scenes between Caesar and his simian followers is delivered in subtitled sign language, and the large amount of subtitled ASL in Rise is something you'd never expect to see in a summer blockbuster. Rise's comfort with silence and minimized dialogue during the ape sanctuary scenes and its confidence in maintaining that silence both make the digitized little girl's voice that translates Amy the gorilla's ASL in 1995's Congo sound all the more stupid.

All the spoken dialogue in the ape sanctuary scenes comes from the apes' mostly sadistic jailers, with the cruelest of them being Dodge Landon, played by Harry Potter villain Tom Felton in a not-very-convincing American accent. I really wish it were William Zabka from the original Karate Kid playing Dodge instead of Felton. It's such a Zabka part. Who wouldn't want to see a 20-something Zabka get smacked around by an angry gorilla?

Felton has to deliver the cheesiest line in Rise and the prequel's most blatant callback to the first and best Apes movie: Heston's classic "Take your stinkin' paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" line. It's interesting how the worst line in the movie--a line we really didn't need to hear again because it's all too reminiscent of Tim Burton's misguided 2001 Apes remake--is followed by the movie's most powerful line, a moment that was foreshadowed by Roddy McDowall's Cornelius in the first Apes prequel, 1971's Escape from the Planet of the Apes: Caesar saying his first word, "No!"

Caesar's first word is the moment when Rise changes from a sci-fi prequel that's initially as pointless as The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones to the kind of riveting and worthwhile Apes movie we've always wanted to see but couldn't because of early-'70s 20th Century Fox's shoestring budgets and because of how limited creature FX technology was before the geniuses at Weta Digital got their stinkin' paws on it. I dig the city of San Francisco, but Serkis, Konoval and the other mo-cap performers are so skilled at turning Caesar and his lieutenants into sympathetic figures that I ended up rooting for their characters to wreak havoc on San Francisco. Now if only the movie would show Caesar and his army kicking each and every neighborhood gentrifier out of town.

(Photo source: 20th Century Fox)

Monday, September 19, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Rick and Morty, "The Ricks Must Be Crazy"

The following is a repost of my September 4, 2015 discussion of "The Ricks Must Be Crazy," an episode of Rick and Morty. "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" can be streamed in its entirety on Hulu.

"The Ricks Must Be Crazy" feels like somebody on the Rick and Morty writing staff had a chip on his shoulder about Tron: Legacy, especially the ways it handled its premise of Jeff Bridges creating an entire universe full of sentient life inside a computer, and he didn't care for what he felt was a simplistic screenplay. Tron: Legacy is a good example of both the story serving the visuals rather than vice versa--however, director Joseph Kosinski's style-over-substance approach still couldn't stop me from watching Tron: Legacy in IMAX 3D twice because, holy fuck, that movie looks mesmerizing in IMAX 3D--and those visuals being made to look so sumptuous that they're able to distract the audience from thinking too long about the story's plot holes or unexplained details. Some of the questions that arose from those unexplained details included "How's it possible for Jeff Bridges and his family to enjoy a meal of lechon if fresh meat is impossible to bring into the Grid?" and "Was there a Filipino chef in Jeff Bridges' family whom we never knew about?"

A lot of why "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" is a highlight of Rick and Morty's second season is due to how much fun Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon and credited episode writer Dan Guterman are clearly having over imagining if Jeff Bridges could leave and re-enter the Grid freely instead of being imprisoned there by his evil doppleganger/digital avatar Clu and what would happen if Jeff Bridges craved power as much as Clu does and he turned out to be an even bigger dick than the marginally flawed, almost Fred MacMurray-like Zen inventor dad we saw in Tron: Legacy. "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" reveals that Rick has created an entire infinite universe inside the battery in his space car, and its inhabitants' only purpose in life is to power Rick's car battery. "That's slavery!," counters an appalled Morty when Rick introduces him to what he calls the microverse.

Instead of the more simplistic scenario of a completely evil duplicate of the universe's creator betraying that creator by enacting ethnic cleansing and plotting to rule the world outside the universe's barriers, one of the microverse's inhabitants, a Frank Grimes-ish scientist named Zeep Xanflorp (special guest star Stephen Colbert, whose Colbert Report writing staff happened to include Guterman), refuses to fall for Rick's white savior act like everyone outside the scientific community in the microverse. Zeep is on to some of Rick's deceptions. Those deceptions range from Rick disguising himself as an antennaed alien savior whenever he visits the microverse to Rick telling the microverse's inhabitants that the middle finger is a peaceful greeting.

Zeep plans to oust Rick from the microverse and free the microverse from servitude, but Zeep's no saint either: he has secretly created his own infinite miniverse in a box to provide the energy for his microverse and make obsolete the technology Rick brought to Zeep's microverse, and he's exploiting the people in that miniverse just like Rick is doing to the people in the microverse. In fact, one of the leading scientists in the miniverse, Kyle (special guest star Nathan Fielder from Comedy Central's Nathan for You), has also secretly built his own teenyverse in a box and...