Remember What the Dormouse Said

The last time I wrote about something that succeeded across multiple platforms, it was Carmen Sandiego, a relatively recent creation. But there are plenty of titles and characters whose popularity stretches back through time, and have been adapted again and again and again. Alice in Wonderland is a textbook example. There's no way I could even compile a full list of Alice-themed entertainment options, let alone consume them, but happily, I've managed to delve into a good number.

I should mention the original books by Lewis Carroll first. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There were published in 1865 and 1871, respectively. Both books are genius. It's easy to see how they captured the world's attention and have endured through the ages. They're deeply layered, complex, fanciful, fun stories. The references and in-jokes are fairly archaic, though, so I was pleased when I got my hands on The Annotated Alice (1960) and More Annotated Alice (1990) - modern publications that analyzed every line, and gave explanations and theories as to what Carroll may have had in mind. They even went so far as to seek hidden meaning and jokes in John Tenniel's illustrations. Reading these books gave me a ton of new insight into the original works; it was almost like I was reading a whole new set of stories.

Naturally, when most people think of Alice in Wonderland, the first thing to spring to their minds is the Disney animated film (1951). Sure, it's old-fashioned, but it's one of my favorites from the Disney golden age. You have no idea how much the caterpillar delighted me as a kid. Very little of the books' complexity made it into the Disney adaptation, but as the goal was ostensibly to make a decent G-rated, musical cartoon, it succeeded admirably. Here we are in 2013, and I still find myself singing "Golden Afternoon" in the shower for no reason.

Those are the famous Alice works, but like I said, there are countless others. It's a safe bet that when Meryl Streep is asked about her ten greatest works, Alice at the Palace (performed on stage in 1981 - filmed for television in 1982) won't come up. It doesn't even have a wikipedia page, but it's one of those strange things that has become hopelessly entrenched in my brain. Like the Disney film, it's also a musical, but a lot more pensive and ponderous. In a lot of Alice-themed properties, her dream is treated as either horrifying or enchanting, but Alice at the Palace is the one that treats it most like an actual dream - it's very otherworldly. I don't know that I'd recommend it to others, but I enjoy it.

Speaking of horrifying, I should at least mention the Alice game, though I never played it. It's a fascinating take on the character, envisioning a psychologically-shattered Alice that returns to a nightmare version of Wonderland that she must battle through. It's unlikely that I'll ever play through it, but it's certainly a clever twist on a canonical character. Alice has always made a good template to layer another story over - even if it's just as a framework to pose logic problems:

Raymond Smullyan has written a bunch of logic problem books, and though I enjoy all of them, Alice in Puzzleland (1985) is my favorite. There's something so natural about Wonderland as a setting for puzzles about lying and truth-telling, and it's very easy to envision capricious chess queens putting Alice through a rigorous test of quirky mathematical questions. I guess that's why Alice has withstood the test of time - her dreamworld can be molded into whatever we want it to be.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A+
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There: A
The Annotated Alice and More Annotated Alice: A-
Alice in Wonderland: B+
Alice at the Palace: B
Alice in Puzzleland: A-

Fall Movie Preivew: October 2013

This 84-degree bullshit has got to stop. It's called the Fall movie preview for a reason, Mother Nature. Oh, well. While we wait around for it to get cool enough to really enjoy pumpkin-flavored food, let's take a look at the upcoming month's movie offerings. As with last month, I'm not going to outline every release. It may seem strange to omit things like Romeo & Juliet (another straight adaptation seems kind of pointless right now) and Carrie (I assume it'll be too gory for me), but fear not. There's still plenty to grab my attention, even if it's the barest sliver of curiosity.

October 4

All is Bright: This may turn out to be too wacky for my tastes, but the cast list has definitely drawn me in. Paul Giamatti is a paroled criminal who attempts to make money by selling Christmas trees with Paul Rudd. The fact that Sally Hawkins is in this movie is also pushing me towards it, since she's still riding a wave of goodwill from Blue Jasmine. It's not a must-see or anything, but I'll be keeping my eye on this.

Bad Milo: I won't be seeing this one, but I'm bringing it up because I wish I could. Sure, a comedy about a guy who learns his stomach problems are caused by a monster living in his butt sounds ridiculous. But Ken Marino! Gillian Jacobs! Stephen Root! Kumail Nanjiani! Mary Kay Place! Unfortunately, it's a horror comedy, which means it's gory, which means I'm out.

Gravity: This is the must-see of October. I haven't heard or seen or read a single word about this movie that isn't glowing praise. The trailer, showing parts of initial catastrophe that leaves an astronaut (Sandra Bullcok) stranded in space, was eye-popping. Alfonso Cuarón knows how to make a thrilling drama, and this one looks amazing.

October 11

A.C.O.D.: Here's yet another talented cast drawing me in like a tractor beam. Adam Scott! Amy Poehler! Richard Jenkins! Catherine O'Hara! Mary Elizabeth Winstead! Jane Lynch! A.C.O.D stands for Adult Child of Divorce, and the movie is about Adam Scott's character being forced to renavigate the drama of his parents' bitter divorce. Even if I don't catch this in the theater, it'll definitely be an anticipated rental.

October 18

12 Years a Slave: I've been avoiding bummer movies lately, which is remiss of me. I just haven't been in the mood to intentionally depress myself for two hours, no matter how well-crafted a film is. This movie may sneak through the embargo, though, because it's been getting all sorts of critical raves. It's about a free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in 1841 who is kidnapped and sold to a slave owner in the South (Michael Fassbender). And for those of us who have zero interest in the Wikileaks movie, this can be our dose of Benedict Cumberbatch until Sherlock comes back. I've read some extremely effusive reviews of this movie coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival, and if I can sufficiently psych myself up, I'll try and catch it.

October 25

The Counselor: Like All is Bright, my interest in this stems mostly from the people involved, rather than the plot. Michael Fassbender is having a busy month! He stars in this adaptation from a Cormac McCarthy novel alongside Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz. Fassbender plays a laywer drawn into a drug operation that involves Pitt and Bardem, and though this carries the possibility of being as overrated as No Country for Old Men (to me, anyway), it's staying on my radar for now.

Spinning Plates: According to IMDb, this documentary was made last year, and I'm not sure why it took this long to be released or why it's been so roundly ignored. That's not a great sign. But the topic is intriguing enough; the movie explores three wildly varying restaurants and the people striving to keep them afloat. Food documentaries usually snag my interest (unless it's some polemic about how everything sucks), but with the exception of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, none of them have really stood out in a while. Let's see if this one can break the trend.


As each summer of explosion-heavy blockbusters comes to a close, I'm always hungry for smaller, quieter, more intelligent movies. No sooner did September start than my Netflix queue exploded with talky dramas and mild comedies. Of course, just being an independent movie is no guarantee of quality; there are plenty of personal, heartfelt films that suck rocks. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm in an indie sort of mood, and to that end, I just caught two recent movies - one in the theater, and one on the couch.

The Spectacular Now came to my attention when it started getting heavily discussed on the websites and podcasts I follow. If all you knew about it was the plot summary, you wouldn't think it's much different from any number of forgettable romcoms floating around: Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a popular high school senior who's having difficulty adjusting to the upcoming transition into adulthood, and it doesn't help when his girlfriend dumps him because she can't envision a future with such an emotionally stunted guy. He seeks solace in quiet wallflower Aimee (Shailene Woodley), and she takes an immediate liking to him, despite his issues with a broken family and frequent drinking. Their relationship seems doomed for any number of reasons, and indeed, the movie spends 70% of its running time building up to an apparent disaster. When the conflict (and the ensuing resolution) does arrive, it's kind of a letdown, in that it's a well-worn movie trope that I won't spoil, but will say that I wish writers would stop relying on it.

Still, I walked out of the theater liking a lot about the movie, due mostly to its talented cast. The casting and characterization in this movie is very refreshing in its realism. The popular guy isn't super-hot, but coasts on his charm. The blond ex-girlfriend has a working brain in her head, and reasonable life goals. The wallflower isn't teased or bullied for keeping to herself. The conflicts stem from real problems, and not the usual contrived bullshit about misheard conversations or jealousy over who danced with whom. While I doubt the movie will be making my personal top ten anytime soon, it was well worth the price of admission.

The Spectacular Now was based on a book that seemed a natural choice to adapt into a movie, which brings me to the other movie I just watched, Sleepwalk With Me. When I outlined what guides my grading system, I left out some important questions that sometimes run through my head: Why was this made? What was it supposed to accomplish? And given what it was trying to go for, did it succeed? So let me preface the upcoming paragraph with the fact that I like Mike Birbiglia a lot. I think he's a very funny comedian, and when I heard the stories of Sleepwalk With Me as a "set", I enjoyed it.

But what was the point of making this movie? These stories are already out in the world as a one-man show and a book. Was it really essential to release it in a third, mildly-fictionized form? Who's the audience? What does the movie give us that the show and book don't? And the answer to that last question is, regrettably, "nothing". There's nothing much objectionable about the movie - if I didn't know anything about Mike Birbiglia and was coming to this with a blank slate, I wouldn't have had any problems with it. But that's the whole problem. I don't understand why people who aren't familiar with the story would choose this as their first exposure to it, and there's nothing involved that adds any value to those of us who are familiar with it. It's a fine movie. The story is as solid as it ever was, the acting is solid, and it's well-shot. But like the jackal Birbiglia dreams about, it has no reason to exist.

The Spectacular Now: B-
Sleepwalk With Me: C

2013 Fall Preview: Friday (and Summary)

Congrats, you've made it to Friday! Let's check out the vast landscape of televised entertainment. All times given are Central.


Masterchef Junior (September 27, FOX, 7PM): Nope.

Dracula (October 25, NBC, 9PM): The famous vampire poses as an American entrepreneur and teams up with Van Helsing. Nope.

Enlisted (November 8, FOX, 8:30PM): A military-set comedy, which will drop the levity when it deals with PTSD. Nope.




This section is to quickly mention the returning shows that I've never seen, but that are on my radar to catch up with someday, if I ever get the opportunity:


So, that's Friday dispensed with. Let's take a step back and look at the week as a whole. The schedule doesn't include midseason replacements and shows premiering after the new year, but you can assume that Sherlock, Downton Abbey, and Community will join the herd at some point. Of course, the list below also assumes that I like and have time for everything I start watching, which is never the case. This is just the starting lineup - something always gets stricken off pretty quickly. But enough caveats. Let's watch some TV, nerds!

Sunday: Bob's Burgers (7:30PM)

Monday: Nothing

Tuesday: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (7PM)

Wednesday: Stream Brooklyn-Nine-Nine (airs Tuesdays), Top Chef (9PM)

Thursday: Parks and Recreation (7PM), The Michael J. Fox Show (8:30PM)

Friday: Stream Super Fun Night and American Horror Story (both air Wednesdays)

Outside Possibilities: Mom (Monday - 8:30PM), Hostages (Monday - 9PM), Trophy Wife (Tuesday - 8:30PM), Lucky 7 (Tuesday - 9PM), The Millers (Thursday - 7:30PM)

2013 Fall TV Preview: Thursday

Thursday is pretty much the end of the line as far as the television week goes, and is the night that networks often schedule what they think will be their powerhouse shows. But if you look down, you'll see a good indication of why I think the upcoming Fall season is pretty lackluster. There's a new show I'm legitimately looking forward to, a returning show I like, and a show I'm probably checking in on to see if it's a trainwreck. That's it. Well, if nothing else, an unexciting season of television will be a good opportunity for me to whittle down the back catalog on Netflix. Hooray!


The Michael J. Fox Show (September 26, NBC, 8PM): Michael J. Fox has always been a big draw, whether it was for his original star-making turns, or his recent guest appearances. This will be the first show he's anchored since his Parkinson's diagnosis, and I'm curious to know how it'll go. Fox will portray a news anchor who returns to work after learning to manage his disease, and from what I've read about the show, it strikes a good tonal balance between the realities of living with Parkinson's and still being a comedy. I don't know that I can promise regular viewing, but it's not airing against anything else I'll be watching, so it's certainly on my radar.

The Crazy Ones (September 26, CBS, 8PM): An ad exec (Robin Williams) runs a firm in Chicago with his daughter (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Wackiness ensues. David E. Kelley is producing, and it costars James Wolk and Hamish Linklater. I don't know how to feel about this show. It's certainly got the strangest makeup of any new show this season, so it's impossible to predict how it'll land. It could be a total disaster, but part of me is intensely anxious to see what it's all about.

The Millers (October 3, CBS, 7:30PM): Will Arnett is recently divorced, and his dating life hits a snag when his overbearing mother (Margo Martindale) moves in. It sounds a little schlocky, but the executive producer is Greg Garcia, who's definitely built up some goodwill from Raising Hope.

Welcome to the Family (October 3, NBC, 7:30PM): A sitcom about two Los Angeles families that are thrown together after their high school teens get knocked up and married. This sounds equally schlocky as The Millers, but without the saving grace of a strong cast and a reliable producer. I'll probably skip it.

Sean Saves the World (October 3, NBC, 8PM): Listen, I like Sean Hayes. I want good things to happen to him. And I'm all about gay representation on TV. I just wish everything I've seen and read of this show wasn't so grating. Hayes plays a divorced gay dad who takes over the rearing of his teenage daughter. He's got the requisite wacky family, and I feel like the situation that this show lays out could genuinely be mined for laughs. But I haven't stumbled across one yet. The trailer I saw was painful.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (October 10, ABC, 7PM): I'm still working my way through the original show, and don't really have the time or inclination to pick up this spinoff, which follows Alice's adventures from a psych ward back down the rabbit hole. If it's anywhere near as insane as the original recipe Once Upon a Time, maybe I'll watch it someday, but as far as fall television watching goes, I'll leave this one for the diehard fans.

Reign (October 17, CW, 8PM): "It's like Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones, and Felicity in a blender," according to the executive producer of this show, which follows Mary, Queen of Scots as a teenager. It sounds pretty shitty.


Parks and Recreation (September 26, NBC, 7PM): After an enjoyable Season 5, we're in for a lot of change this year. Leslie is up for a recall from city council, and both Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones will be leaving the show. Upheaval in shows that I like is never good news, but hey, maybe this means more storylines for Retta!


This section is to quickly mention the returning shows that I've never seen, but that are on my radar to catch up with someday, if I ever get the opportunity:

Elementary: Season 2, September 26, CBS, 9PM

Parenthood: Season 5, September 26, NBC, 9PM

Scandal: Season 3, October 3, ABC, 9PM

2013 Fall TV Preview: Wednesday

Let's take a score break, since we're halfway through the TV week (Friday and Saturday essentially being a No Man's Land). If the shows that I'm curious about or that have demonstrated some early promise all work out (which they never do, but bear with me), here's my week of watch-as-it-airs TV so far:

Sunday: Bob's Burgers (7:30PM).
Monday: Nothing firm, but Mom (8:30PM) or Hostages (9PM) are possibilities.
Tuesday: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (7PM), and perhaps Trophy Wife (8:30PM).
Wednesday: Catch up with Tuesday's episode of Brooklyn-Nine-Nine online. "But won't that conflict with all the Wednesday night TV?" you ask. Well... Look down.


Back in the Game (September 25, ABC, 7:30PM): James Caan is the patriarch of a three-generation family of baseball/softball/Little League players. I have no issue with him or Maggie Lawson, who plays his daughter, but by the same token, there's not really anything for me to hang my hat on, here. If I trip over a wellspring of free time, I'll watch the pilot.

Super Fun Night (October 2, ABC, 8:30PM): Rebel Wilson has been on a real tear lately, and I admit I'm pretty curious about her new show, in which she plays a recently-promoted dork inspired to hit the town with her nerdy friends. Catching this live may be a challenge (see RETURNING SHOWS below), but it may fit the bill as a show that I stream later in the week.

Ironside (October 2, NBC, 9PM): I've never seen any episodes of the original show, so this is brand new to me. Blair Underwood plays a wheelchair-bound detective, and for some reason, the producers are trying to distance themselves from the word "procedural", even if there's a case-of-the-week. I won't be watching this as it airs, and procedurals (sorry..."crime dramas") make notoriously bad catch-up shows, so it's unlikely I'll be signing up for this one unless it gets fantastic reviews and watercooler chatter.

The Tomorrow People (October 9, CW, 8PM): Robbie Amell is a high school student who discovers he has supernatural abilities, and worries that shady scientists are hunting him down. It sounds like a typical CW show, and that means I am firmly outside of the target audience.


Top Chef (October 2, Bravo, 9PM): Did you know I used to recap this show? I did! I skipped Season 10 (though I did manage to eat at one of the finalist's restaurants), but am on board for Season 11, which is taking place in New Orleans. I admit that half the fun will be heading over to a friend's house to watch this in a group setting. Top Chef is best enjoyed with plenty of snacks, wine, and snarky comments yelled at the screen.

American Horror Story (October 9, FX, 9PM): I've never watched this show before, but the upcoming Season 3 looks insane (in all the best ways). What, I'm supposed to resist Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Gabourey Sidibe, and Patti LuPone as warring witches? Fat chance. My cable package has been reduced to the point that I wouldn't usually watch an FX show, but here's where my friend Kyle's iTunes season pass will come in handy.


This section is to quickly mention the returning shows that I've never seen, but that are on my radar to catch up with someday, if I ever get the opportunity:

Nashville: Season 2, September 25, ABC, 9PM

2013 Fall TV Preview: Tuesday

So, Sunday has one show I want to make sure I'm home to watch, and Monday has none. We're not off to an auspicious start, Fall 2013. Will Tuesdays be any better? Let's find out! ABC is putting the most on the line for Tuesdays; they went on a canceling spree last year, so now they're the sole network whose primetime lineup is composed entirely of new shows. You won't see CBS or NBC once on this entry - apparently Tuesday is where CBS dumps all their returning procedurals that I have zero interest in, and where NBC dumps its reality shows that I have less than zero interest in. As always, all times given are Central.


Dads (September 17, FOX, 7PM): Congratulations are in order! Of all the new shows this season, Dads is far and away the most reviled. Even articles that try to strike an objective tone in their reports of new programs can't avoid mentioning that nobody likes this new sitcom. Most of what I read is that it tries to be envelope-pushingly edgy, and just comes off as lazy and offensive instead. Oh, and also that it's entirely laugh-free. I'm not even bothering to describe its premise. Sometimes, I'll intentionally tune into a trainwreck show, simply to see how awful it is. I doubt I'll bother with this one - my curiosity ends at wondering how long it'll take to get canceled. Someone, please airlift Martin Mull off of this clearly-sinking ship.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (September 17, FOX, 7:30PM): I was mildly interested in this new workplace comedy about cops, but usually can only take Andy Samberg in short, controlled doses. But once I read that it also involves Andre Braugher, Chelsea Peretti, and Joe Lo Truglio (and comes from the producers of Parks & Recreation), I jumped in with both feet. I caught up with the pilot yesterday, and really enjoyed it. Judging by my Facebook wall, I'm not the only person who was pleasantly surprised. If the show continues to be as funny as the first episode was, I'm in for the whole season.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (September 24, ABC, 7PM): Both of the shows above conflict with this one, which I've already mentioned is something I've been looking forward to. I certainly don't give a crap about Dads, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine seems like it'll be fine as a watch-the-next-day-on-Hulu kind of show, so I'm not too worried about it. Though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes into this season with the most promise, it carries the most potential for disappointment as well. Man, I hope it's good.

The Goldbergs (September 24, ABC, 8PM): An autobiographical sitcom about growing up in a loud family in the 1980s. Though I like Wendi McLendon-Covey, I haven't seen or read anything about this show that really grabs my interest. It doesn't really seem the type to inspire a lot of watercooler talk, either, so if it turns out to be good, this will likely be one of those shows I catch up with later.

Trophy Wife (September 24, ABC, 8:30PM): I've been hearing positive chatter about this sitcom, which is unsurprising, given that its co-creator is Sarah Haskins, who made those awesome Target Women web shorts. In Trophy Wife, Malin Akerman is a party girl who marries a much older man (Bradley Whitford), and has to deal with his exes in addition to minefield that is the age gap. This is shaping up to be one of those shows that I give two or three episodes to hook me, and then re-evaluate.

Lucky 7 (September 24, ABC, 9PM): Dramas are trickier than comedies to nail these days. I do like the premise of this show, in which the employees of a gas station win the lottery and discover that - gasp - wads of money come with complications. Done right, this could be an engaging exploration of newfound wealth. Or it could crawl up its own ass and be insufferable. I guess we'll have to see.

The Originals (October 3, CW, 8PM): I've never watched The Vampire Diaries, and won't be watching its spinoff.

Ravenswood (October 22, ABC Family, 8PM): I've never watched Pretty Little Liars, and won't be watching its spinoff.


New Girl (September 17, FOX, 8PM): The first season was pleasant enough, but as with How I Met Your Mother, I'm a full season behind, so if I ever do watch Season 3, it won't be for a while yet.


This section is to quickly mention the returning shows that I've never seen, but that are on my radar to catch up with someday, if I ever get the opportunity:

The Mindy Project: Season 2, September 17, FOX, 8:30PM

2013 Fall TV Preview: Monday

For some reason, my social plans (such as they are) have mostly been taking place on weekdays lately. I'll pack Monday through Thursday with dinner plans, movies, and other hangout activities with friends, only to find myself sitting around the apartment twiddling my thumbs on Saturday. It's odd! And if it keeps up, it'll play merry hell with my television watching schedule. Fortunately, the crop of new shows this season isn't as exciting as in seasons past, so it should theoretically be easier to stay current with the ones I'm interested in. Here's a peek at what's on the slate for Mondays (as always, all times given are Central).


Sleepy Hollow (September 16, FOX, 8PM): I'm not even going to attempt to summarize this - let me paraphrase from the A.V. Club's description: "Instead of the cowardly schoolteacher-cum-ladies man of the short story, this Ichabod Crane is a former Oxford professor turned revolutionary in the War Of Independence who, on special instruction from George Washington, cut off the head of a villainous redcoat who may or may not be one of the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. Crane is then buried for more than 200 years, only to rise from the dead just as the Headless Horseman gets up to his old ax-murdering tricks again. There’s also a police officer who gets sucked into Crane’s adventures in order to avenge her murdered boss." WHAT?!? Normally, I'd write this off as not for me, but as you can see from the premiere date, it's already aired, and people online are reporting that it's a craziness that fascinates, rather than repels. I'm hoping to catch up with the first episode tonight, and we'll see where it goes from there.

Mom (September 23, CBS, 8:30PM): This show has a lot working for it, and a lot working against it. On the plus side, it stars Anna Faris as a recovering alcoholic with two kids and an ex-addict mother played by Allison Janney. Both of those actresses are aces in my book. Well, maybe Janney is an Ace and Faris is a Jack, but you take my point. On the minus side, all that I've read implies that is another Chuck Lorre lowest-common-denominator show, and I have no wish to watch the female version of Two and a Half Men. I wouldn't be opposed to watching the pilot, but I make no promises.

Hostages (September 23, CBS, 9PM): According to one of the producers, "it's a bit like Downton Abbey meets 24... That you have a man standing behind a door aiming a gun at your head, it just supercharges all of these story lines." Yes, well that makes total...huh? The basis of this show has some promise - Toni Collette is a surgeon who is due to operate on the President, but kidnappers take her family and threaten to kill them if she doesn't intentionally botch the surgery. I'm not sure how long such a premise can be spun out, but I've heard worse ideas. How the fuck that has anything to do with Downton Abbey is beyond me, though.

The Blacklist (September 23, NBC, 9PM): I have no interest in America's Got Talent, but its final performance episode was on in the background last night. During one of the many, many commercial breaks, NBC promoted The Blacklist by airing its opening scene. I'm not sure why they did that, because it was pretty lackluster. The premise is puzzling, too. A super-criminal (James Spader) turns himself in for unknown reasons, and agrees to help the FBI track down criminals so terrible that the government isn't even aware of their existence. But he'll only talk to one particular, undistinguished agent (Megan Boone), also for unknown reasons. It seems like a diet version of Hannibal, and probably won't snag my attention.

We Are Men (September 30, CBS, 7:30PM): Remember that wave of brotastic, "mancession" shows that premiered a season or two ago and mercifully burned down, fell over, and sank into the swamp almost instantly? Apparently, CBS doesn't. America may have hated Guys With Kids and Work It and How to Be a Gentleman, but they're sure to love this! A dumped groom moves into a Kirk Van Houten-esque apartment complex for divorced men, and bonds with the other sadsack residents there. So many wonderful opportunities for jokes about hot daughters and bitchy ex-wives! I can't wait to not watch this.

Almost Human (November 4, FOX, 7PM): A mid-season replacement for Bones. It's 2048, and a technophobic cop is partnered with an android that has feelings and free will. So, a futuristic procedural. I won't dismiss it out of hand, but I will say that it doesn't sound like it's up my alley. Still, I may be curious enough to check out the pilot.


How I Met Your Mother (September 23, CBS, 7PM): I don't watch this show in real time, but have caught up with all of the available seasons on Netflix. That puts me a full season behind, so I won't be watching Season 9 as it airs, either. I'll stick to my method of waiting for it to be available via streaming.


This section is to quickly mention the returning shows that I've never seen, but that are on my radar to catch up with someday, if I ever get the opportunity:

There are no Monday shows that fit this category. That's an asset, not a liability. God knows I already have too many things on my to-watch list. Maybe Monday can be my designated Breaking Bad day or something.

2013 Fall TV Preview: Sunday

I'm a little ashamed of how excited I was to finally see the Entertainment Weekly Fall TV Preview issue in my mailbox yesterday. Issues like these are why I still subscribe, despite the magazine's recent shift towards fetishistic worship of young adult properties and society gossip. I'm always anxious to dive into the preview issue and plan my seasonal television schedule, even if that schedule inevitably falls apart two weeks in. As with the new movie preview rule, though, I'm not going to put in the effort to type out everything that's airing on every day anymore. Let's face it, I'm not going to be watching the new season of Family Guy, and researching its timeslot and premiere date is a waste of everyone's time.

There's still plenty to talk about, though. And planning what to watch is going to take work! Most TV obsessives have extensive cable packages and a DVR; I've got neither. So, how to handle the onslaught of new and returning shows soon to bathe us in their warming glow? Let's dive into Sunday's offerings! All times given are Central.


Betrayal (September 29, ABC, 9PM): I like the showrunner's promise that the first (and any subsequent) season will be limited to 13 episodes. I'm less excited about its trite title and what sounds like a well-worn premise - A photographer and a high-powered lawyer have an affair, which is complicated by a murder and legal battle that embroils both of their families. If I've got nothing to do that Sunday, I may check out the premiere episode, but this may be a show that I catch up on later or skip altogether.

Masters of Sex (September 29, Showtime, 9PM): A period drama about Masters and Johnson. I'm not really sure how their studies can sustain an ongoing show, but since this was probably made as a pretext to draw viewers in with nudity, who cares? I like Lizzy Caplan, but she's no guarantee of quality, and since I don't get Showtime anyway, it's immaterial.

Hello Ladies (September 29, HBO, 9:30PM): Stephen Merchant's new comedy, in which he plays a hapless Web designer in Los Angeles who can't get laid. As with Masters of Sex, I don't get the channel it's airing on, so I'll have to catch up with it later if turns out to be any good.


Bob's Burgers (September 29, FOX, 7:30PM): Season 3 was one of the highlights of my TV year, and the new season will be one of the few shows that I'll make appointment viewing. I worry that I'm building my expectations up too high, given how effusive I was about the last season, but I'm reasonably certain that this show still has plenty of creative ideas to mine.

Once Upon a Time (September 29, ABC, 7PM): I've never been so mesmerized by a show that I clearly recognize is not particularly good. Netflix recently added Season 2, and I'm breezing my way through, completely hypnotized. Its special effects are laughable, it includes the worst child actor working today, and it can't make a point without hamfistedly reiterating it a million times. And yet I can't stop watching. Season 3 is premiering soon, and if it didn't conflict with Bob's Burgers, I'd probably be sitting slack-jawed in front of it, wondering why I continue to subject myself to it. As it is, I'll likely catch up with it later, and deny it to anyone who asks.

The Amazing Race (September 29, CBS, 7PM): I'm only bringing this one up because it used to be one of my favorite shows. Every show runs out of steam after a while, and The Amazing Race stopped being compelling a long time ago. Still, as a nod to the excitement it used to stir in me, I thought I'd mention that its 23rd season is starting up. I don't know a single person who still watches it, but for the hardcore fans that remain, have at it.


This section is to quickly mention the returning shows that I've never seen, but that are on my radar to catch up with someday, if I ever get the opportunity:

Revenge: Season 3, September 29, ABC, 8PM

The Good Wife: Season 5, September 29, CBS, 8PM

Homeland: Season 3, September 29, Showtime, 8PM

Song of the Summer 2013: The Winner!

Weather-wise, this has mostly been a delightful summer. St. Louis summers are generally miserable, with humidity running so high, you have to cut the air with a cake knife. But this year, the gross, sweaty heat held off until late August. Now that we're halfway through September, I'm hopeful that these last gasps of summer will soon yield to the welcoming coolness of autumn.

But before it does, let's put the Song of the Summer contest to bed. The Too Beautiful to Live podcast is far from the only entity putting the season's jams through the wringer, but they were the ones to bring a lot of the contenders to my attention. Unfortunately, their listeners chose that wretched Icona Pop song that I hate. Oh, well. There's no accounting for taste. I hope the voters are very happy with those two women screaming at them in perfect non-harmony. Over here where the winner isn't year-old crap chosen because it's associated with a show about Lena Dunham's tits and ironic tattoos, there were some difficult decisions to be made.

The odds would have you believe that Tegan and Sara's "Closer" would be the clear choice. I still love that song, but something about it just didn't scream summer to me. "Blurred Lines" was like a match in that it burst into heat quickly, burned hot, and then just as quickly faded away. Boy, did that one get old in a hurry. "Angel, Please" is a fun song, but just couldn't take down the big powerhouses. Of Janelle Monáe's two songs, I turn more often to "Dance Apocalyptic" than "Q.U.E.E.N.", though both are remarkable. Neither one won, though. That just leaves a single song to claim victory, and rule the summer!

"Get Lucky" is the big winner! It's the perfect blend of upbeat rhythm and laid-back tone for a summer tune, but what really pushed it over the top is its longevity. That is to say, I'm still not sick of hearing it. When the sun is shining and the grills are sizzling, this is the song you want floating on the air. So congrats to "Get Lucky"! Now, let's get some cooler weather up in here. I'm ready for long-sleeved shirts and pumpkin spice latte.

Let Them Eat Cake

Though I'm notoriously picky when it comes to documentaries, Lauren Greenfield's 2012 film, The Queen of Versailles, was on my to-watch list from the first moment I heard about it. And that was before it starting racking up critical praise left and right. The reason it appealed to me so strongly is that it's really two movies in one. Its ostensible original premise was about the building of the largest single-family house in America. The owner, David Siegel, is a time-share real estate magnate, and he and his trophy wife Jackie began construction on a gigantic, garish house inspired by the titular palace. Let's just say there was a lot of gold leaf flying around the place.

If the movie had stuck to that story, it wouldn't have appealed to me as much. Sure, there's an opportunity for some disgust and schadenfreude in watching rich people waste money and resources, but it wouldn't have struck me as appreciably different from an episode of one of those tiresome Real Housewives of... shows that I despise. What makes this movie intruiging is what happens to these grandiose construction plans when the housing bubble bursts, and the Great Recession comes knocking at the door. Suddenly, what began as an examination of an obscenely wealthy family's quest to build a gleaming palace becomes an unexpected peek into the lives of a shell-shocked couple desperately scrambling to keep the walls of their financial empire from crumbling.

This film could have easily become an eat-the-rich hit piece, but though there are hilarious scenes demonstrating the family's inability to readjust to a minutely lessened standard of living (I physically cringed in embarrassment when Jackie asks the Hertz rental agent who her driver is going to be), it's thankfully more even-handed. None of us would be thrilled about a big financial step down, and Greenfield succeeds in making the financial woes of people who never fell below multimillionaire status almost relatable. That fair treatment didn't stop David Siegel from suing Greenfield for defamation after the movie was completed. Though I believe the case is still in arbitration, he's not likely to win.

That's the thing. You don't want to root for a douchey ultra-rich guy who brags about personally getting George W. Bush elected and his plasticized, ex-beauty queen wife. Interviews with their chauffeur and nanny are powerful, contrasting reminders that the Siegels are obviously still doing just fine. But in the big picture, the economic struggles that plague Americans plague ALL Americans, and by happenstance, this fascinating movie was in a position to capture the perfect snapshot of this moment in history.

The Queen of Versailles: B+

Guilty Pleasure: Earth Girls Are Easy

What the bloody hell inspired Earth Girls Are Easy? When someone sat down to write the screenplay, how many shrooms were ingested first? This is one of the goofiest fucking movies I've ever seen. Even the cast list causes a fair amount of head-scratching: Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans, Jim Carrey, Julie Brown, Charles Rocket, and Michael McKean. And how are these people combined? Well, Geena Davis is engaged to Charles Rocket, who cheats on her left and right. And she works at a beauty parlor (Curl Up & Dye) with Julie Brown. And her pool boy is an aging stoner (McKean). And then furry aliens Goldblum, Wayans, and Carrey land in her pool, get shaved, and become the hottie toasts of Los Angeles. And Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum fall in love and she goes to space with him.

And have I mentioned that it's a musical, complete with song and dance breaks? It's completely nuts. And yet, somehow, it all totally works. Sure, it's a stupid movie. But it's stupid and monstrously entertaining. I...may have even bought the soundtrack (sadly, it's long since been lost in the shuffle of moving). Would I recommend it to anyone interested in the Majesty of Cinema? Hell, no. But it's certainly a movie that worms its way into your heart and lays eggs there. And I dare you to watch and not get "Cause I'm a Blonde" stuck in your head for a week.

Black Magic

I don't generally put a lot of stock in the Netflix (Amazon, etc.) algorithms that put together those if-you-like-THIS-then-you'll-like-THAT recommendations. Their logical leaps are pretty tenuous. Computers weren't the only beings to push me in the direction of the 2000-2004 show Black Books, though. Anytime I'd mention my love of The IT Crowd, the conversation would inevitably turn to someone saying "Oh, then did you watch Black Books?" - followed by a stern order to find it immediately. Both are shows associated with Graham Linehan, though Black Books was more the work of star Dylan Moran.

It's a British show, so it naturally didn't take long for me to work through all three seasons (there are only 18 half-hour episodes). It takes place in a small, cluttered bookshop run by misanthropic Irish grump Bernard Black (Moran), who does little but read, drink, and smoke. He hates just about everyone but his like-minded friend Fran (Tamsin Greig), but during one of his alcoholic benders, he inadvertently hires a cheery assistant, Manny (Bill Bailey). The series revolves around this trio, and their confrontations with competitors, dates, parents, customers, and each other.

The nihilistic characters make for a lot darker show than The IT Crowd was, but never to the point that I wasn't engaged with it. I grew to loathe the characters in Peep Show, and had to drop the show, but whenever Black Books threatened to get too bleak, something would come along to make me laugh out loud. It can never replace The IT Crowd in my heart, but for once, the recommendation robots were right, and I got to experience a fun show that I otherwise would have missed.

Black Books: B

Mind Over Splatter

This is going to be a difficult one. You know how sometimes you can just tell that despite a movie's commercial and critical success, it's just not for you? That's how I felt about the Coen brothers' 2007 smash (and eventual Best Picture winner) No Country for Old Men. My semi-reluctance to see it should be pretty apparent, given that I've had six years to watch it, and only just did. I should have just followed my instincts and skipped it, but as an avowed film-lover, I always feel guilty for passing on titles important to the cultural conversation, which this movie certainly is. By most measures, I should have enjoyed it. I generally like the Coens' movies. The cast is top-notch, and I have no complaints about the cinematography, the script, or really any of the big components that make up a movie's DNA.

But it's just...violence. 80% of the scenes are murder setpieces. Don't get me wrong, I don't object to violent movies. Hell, even within the Coen filmography, there's Fargo, an extremely violent movie that remains one of my favorites to this day. But Fargo struck me as a story that incorporated a lot of violence, rather than a string of violence with a dash of story. No Country for Old Men is just murder after murder after murder after murder, and there isn't enough connective tissue of plot holding them together. It's the same reason I'm still miffed about Gladiator winning the top prize: Giving a gore-fest higher production values and a big name cast doesn't mean it's suddenly brilliant storytelling. It's just a big-budget slasher.

I worry that this may come off as blasphemy, and I'm more than willing to believe that movies like this are just not to my tastes (or that I'm missing subtleties that others are picking up). Maybe I just don't get it. But perhaps it's time to stop pretending that I'm eventually going to. Far be it from me to suggest that two hours of people getting their throats shot out isn't Grand Art. Just make sure the theater showing it is far from me as well.

No Country for Old Men: C

Fall Movie Preview: September 2013

Typing out all of the movies that Entertainment Weekly outlines in their preview issues is, frankly, exhausting. And not just physically exhausting, either. It takes a lot of mental effort to work up the will to summarize bargain basement slasher flicks and Taylor Lautner vehicles that I know I'm never going to give a second thought to.

So rather than go through the rigmarole of listing every movie slated for release this month, I think I'll just get a blurb down for the ones that have an outside chance of snagging me. Sorry to all of those heavy metal fans I'm doubtless disappointing by not lining up now for my ticket to Metallica Through the Never.

September 6

Populaire: I've mentioned this one before, but I guess the release date got pushed back. I'm still pretty interested in it, although I'd have no issue with waiting until it's available for rental.

Touchy Feely: I went back and forth on including this one on the list. It's directed by Lynn Shelton, who also made the vastly overrated Humpday. If this film is too mumblecore-y, I'm almost certain to loathe it. On the other hand, its premise (a massage therapist develops an aversion to touching other people, while her brother acquires a seemingly healing power of touch) is intriguing, and it includes Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, and Allison Janney in the cast, all of whom I generally enjoy. So, I'm not sure. Seeing this will essentially come down to an internal coin flip.

September 20

Thanks for Sharing: There are lot of "TBD" movies in September, and this one certainly continues that trend. It's a comedy about a group of people trying to cope with sex addiction, so there's a lot of room for this movie to be a total disaster. The cast is a mixed bag, too - it includes Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Josh Gad. It looked interesting enough to catch my attention, but I have no idea if it'll keep it long enough for me to sit down and watch it. A review or two will probably tip the scales one way or the other.

A Single Shot: When a girl is shot during Sam Rockwell's hunting trip, he and a group of backwater criminals enter into a tense game of cat and mouse. I'm unsure whether it's Rockwell or another character who fires the fatal bullet, but this movie has the potential to be a nicely suspenseful thriller. I'll need to hear more about it.

Enough Said: It's a shame that the traction this movie is getting is mostly due to James Gandolfini's recent death, when there seems to be a lot more going on with it. It was Gandolfini's only romantic comedy. It costars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Catherine Keener. The director (Nicole Holofcener) has done some really strong, smart films and TV episodes. While I wouldn't mind seeing it in the theater, this more seems like a good rainy-Sunday-afternoon rental kinda movie.

September 27

Don Jon: As with Populaire, I've already described this movie, which is the only real "Must-See" of the month.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2: I should be skeptical of this, because slapping a "2" on the end of an animated movie usually just means that it's a boring, lazy cash grab. I have no desire to dive into Despicable Me 2 (or God forbid, Smurfs 2), so why should this one be any different? Well, the original book is a cherished childhood favorite. Also, the first movie came out of nowhere, and was ten times more entertaining than I expected it to be. It's entirely possible that this sequel won't be able to capture lightning in a bottle again, but I don't want to repeat my mistake of dismissing it out of hand.

The Incredibles

When I summed up my year in reading at the end of 2012, I mentioned that it's often difficult to get my hands on a book in the same year that it's published, because I tend to get my material from the library. That means waiting lists. For some reason, though, my latest batch of books have all been recently released. It's such a giddy feeling to read something that's still getting hashed out at the online water cooler!

One of these books was George Saunders' latest short story collection, Tenth of December. Saunders is a highly-celebrated author, and he's been recommended to me from everyone I know who's read his work. This was my first exposure to his stories, which are very complex, despite their brevity. These are not happy stories, but they're wide ranging: A little boy who's unsure he can break his parents' strict house rules in order to assist the neighbor girl he witnesses getting kidnapped. A man sent to a shady scientific facility instead of prison reaching for one bit of redemption, even as his brain is infused with experimental chemicals. Even one as seemingly simple as a family going to pick out a puppy for adoption can plunge into some of the uncomfortable truths that course through our minds. I very much enjoyed it, and am looking forward to checking out more of Saunders' books.

The other book I just finished was Steven Amsterdam's What the Family Needed. It's one of those stories that grabbed me with an interesting premise - a typical family whose members develop superpowers. None of the family members really share their newfound gifts with anyone else. They don't take to the streets to fight crime. They don't hide from society, nor seek out fame.

Each chapter follows a single person coming to grips with their supernatural abilities, and Amsterdam takes the refreshing tack of having time pass as we read. That is to say, we spend the first chapter with a teenaged girl figuring out how to master her invisibility, and by the time the book gets around to her uncle, that teenaged girl is a grown woman. The book is an interesting exploration of how we might use superpowers to do some self-examination, and though I felt like it could have dug a little deeper, it's still a really intriguing read.

Tenth of December: B+
What the Family Needed: B
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