Newsworthy and Blogworthy: Superman, Glee, Beyonce and more

Batman/Superman

The premise of this blog post is simple. News happens, and I react to it. I think we can manage that, right? Let’s get to it.

Fox delayed the season premiere of Glee by a week to accommodate for the tragedy of Corey Monteith’s death. The first two episodes of the season will pay homage to the Beatles, and the third will pay homage to Monteith.

So far, so good. Glee has been placed in an impossible position with the death of one of its biggest and most likable stars. Finn is too important a character to simply be written off as if he had never existed, but the untimely nature of Monteith’s passing makes the issue all the more sensitive. No matter what the Glee writers do, someone is going to have a problem with it, but I think they’ve done as well as they can given the circumstances. Creator Ryan Murphy’s interviews last weekend implied that Lea Michele (Monteith’s girlfriend in real life, and Finn’s on the show) has encouraged the continuation of the series and wants to pay tribute to Monteith on the show. The challenge now is to find a way to pay tribute to Monteith without forcing the cast to tackle a difficult subject in a way that they don’t feel comfortable. I hope Monteith gets an appropriate send-off.

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“Falling Skies”: Temporarily Beardless, Consistently Spineless

Falling Skies

(Warning: This blog post contains fairly significant spoilers for last night’s episode of Falling Skies, “Strange Brew.”)

Falling Skies aired its 28th episode last night, and it had something that the previous 27 episodes lacked: Noah Wyle’s clean-shaven face.

Oh, and the element of surprise. You can judge which one is more important.

In all seriousness, “Strange Brew” (the eighth episode of the show’s third season) struck me for its willingness to try something different on a show that has remained stubbornly entrenched in neutral gear for its herky-jerky run so far. Unfortunately, the episode fails to deliver on the promise of its ambition, but the presence of that ambition gives me some hope that the Falling Skies writers are working to break out of the reductive storytelling pattern they’ve confined themselves to since the popular TNT series began in 2011.

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“Under the Dome”: So Over It

Under the Dome

I was slogging through the awful third episode of CBS’ hit summer series Under the Dome when I decided to liven up my unpleasant viewing experience. I pulled up a Word doc and took notes every time I heard an unintentionally amusing piece of dialogue. The doc quickly grew in length, and I came to realize one of my biggest problems with this disappointing series. The characters aren’t real people! I don’t believe that real-life versions of the people in this story would say the things the writers are making them say.

I understand I’m not watching a documentary. But I am watching a show that purports to take something people in real life have experienced (small-town life) and place it in an unusual fantasy context. And yet, the people on the show are as unbelievable as the sci-fi conceit. I can’t emotionally invest in Under the Dome because the characters don’t make any sense, and the dome issue doesn’t really seem to affect them in the way that it would any real human being.

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Adventures in Summer Reading, Part 1

Perks

Back when I was a wee middle schooler, reading books was my THING. I did it constantly, often at the expense of pesky alternatives like “having a social life” or “participating in extracurricular activities.” But hey, knowledge is power, right? And if you needed any knowledge about young-adult fantasy or classic science-fiction, I was your guy.

Unfortunately, I had to stop being that guy once the pressures of high school and college filled my schedule with “commitments.” Now my regular reading for pleasure is confined to the summer months, when the sun is hot and the air-conditioning cool. This summer, I’ve found quite a bit of joy in getting back into the habit of reading a book regularly. I wish I had the time to keep up this habit all year-round, but it seems unlikely given the demands of my schedule. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to devour three excellent books so far, and hopefully a few more will follow in the weeks to come.

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“Pacific Rim”: Monster Mash

Pacific Rim

All summer long, my movie reviews have essentially amounted to a never-ending chant of “No more smashing! No more destruction! No more senseless, consequence-less violence!” Now I feel like a hypocrite, because several times during the running time of Pacific Rim, the tale of an epic clash between monster and machine, I repeatedly thought to myself, “If this gigantic action scene keeps going…I’ll be OK with it.”

So what’s the difference? Passion, for one. Director Guillermo Del Toro loves monsters in all shapes and sizes, and his obvious reverence for creature design comes through in the staggering images of the kaiju beasts that ravage the world in this movie’s vision of Earth’s very near future. The kaiju (named for the Japanese for “monster”) enter our humble planet through a fissure in the earth’s surface that serves as a portal to another, far more sinister realm. In response, the world has instituted the jaeger program, which constructs gigantic robots capable of fending off these beasts before they lay waste to the entire world, but usually not before they enact some cinematic destruction of their own. Two humans occupy each giant robot, and they’re forced to do a sort of mind meld in order to work in sync to walk and fight.

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Celebrating Cory Monteith

Monteith

Whatever my problems with Glee, Cory Monteith was never one of them. He wasn’t the best actor, singer or dancer on the show, but his imperfections perfectly matched his character Finn Hudson, who was never the best singer or dancer in the fictional glee club. Monteith brought a decency and consistently youthful quality even as he aged further away from the character with each passing year. Finn represented the possibility of finding out that your weaknesses don’t have to matter, as long as you don’t let them.

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Justin Timberlake, We Need to Talk

Timberlake

Dear Justin Timberlake,

You’re one of my favorites. I love The 20/20 Experience more than a lot of people. Anytime I want to listen to some great pop music, I turn to Justified and the revolutionary FutureSex/LoveSounds. I gobbled up your latest SNL hosting gig and your five-day stint on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in the spring, even though it was pretty nakedly a promotional gambit for your musical comeback. I even like your acting! Friends with Benefits isn’t a great movie, but your rapport with Mila Kunis makes it watchable, and your turn as Sean Parker in The Social Network is legitimately strong.

But I’m not sure I’m willing to fully support what’s going on with you these days.

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The Summer Speed-Watch: “Louie” and “Arrested Development” – Season 2

Louie

There’s a reason many shows make the leap from “good” to “great” in their second season. The break between writing the first and the second season is the first substantial period of time for the writers to assess the successes and failures they made in their initial run of episodes. With a first season under their belts, they likely won’t have to worry nearly as much about working in necessary but dull exposition. And the between-season break allows time for creativity to blossom, as it so often does when the right creative team combines with talented actors and a solid concept.

Arrested Development and Louie both had quintessentially excellent second seasons, albeit with very different accomplishments. Arrested Development had already established itself as a revolutionary and reliably hilarious comedy in its first season; all the writers had to do was rev the engines even faster, and that they did. Louie, meanwhile, nailed down the complicated mixture of tones swirling around in the mind of the show’s auteur Louis C.K., and demonstrated a more frequent willingness to break the rules and conventions that television structures typically demand. Taken together, these two shows represent examples of the range of artistic expressions that the malleable structure of television allows. Oh, and they’re also really funny.

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Good Shows You’re Probably Not Watching: “Rectify”

Rectify

Rectify, a little-seen drama series that aired earlier this year on the Sundance Channel, starts out with a tantalizing premise that could easily go astray in the hands of lazy writers and formula-minded network executives. Instead, over the course of six quiet episodes, Rectify asserts itself as one of the most interesting dramas on television.

The pilot opens with the release of Daniel Holden (Aiden Young) from prison after a seventeen-year stint for raping and murdering his high school girlfriend. He’s spent the entirety of his adult life confined to a prison cell, with only the occasional piece of respectable literature and a friendly but distant next-door neighbor to keep him company, to say nothing of the horrors he’s witnessed and the trauma he’s endured. A batch of new DNA evidence suggests Daniel’s conviction was premature, and so he emerges, squinting because of the bright Georgia sunlight, yes, but also because the world around him has changed so greatly since he left it.

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“Monsters University”: Lessons Learned

Monsters University

Franchise culture has made us cynical. Every year, we’re inundated by Superhero 3 and Comedy Part II and 2 Much 2 Action, and when those movies disappoint us with unimaginative retreads and unfortunate character decisions, we cry foul and lament the domination of original stories. We don’t always put our money where our mouth is, though, and that’s how we end up with sequels, prequels, threequels, and all manner of other -quels.

For the early part of the last decade, Pixar provided mainstream counterprogramming to the onslaught of franchise extensions, delving into unexplored cinematic universes with heart, humor and wisdom. Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Ratatouille, Up: those movies show us vibrant, fully realized worlds we could never have imagined, telling stories with universal appeal and personal resonance. But, with the release of Pixar’s first uninspired film, Cars 2, certain sections of the Pixar fanbase turned against the animation studio, crying accusations of “sellout!” Never mind that two of Pixar’s most affecting movies, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, are sequels. “Down with sequels!” the masses cried.

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