Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sorry, Glee, I'm Done.

I've finally had it. I'm done with Glee. I've been a supporter from the very beginning, and even when the writing took many dips in quality I'd hold out for the time it bounced back. I'm a loyal viewer and I don't like to bail on a show. But after last week I find I just can't do it anymore. What used to be a smart, satirical, and enjoyable show for music geeks has lost almost everything that made it special. I find now the show is nothing but pandering to its tween audience or is Ryan Murphy's big gay soapbox. It tries too hard to be "relevant", the music isn't as varied. There were always problems with the series, but now going into its fifth season those problems have taken over.

This season opened with a two-part Beatles spectacle. I love that they were finally devoting time to the Beatles, but found disappointment in the first part when only maybe one song was pre-1965. And this was supposed to be when they focused on "early Beatles". But they only did songs from Rubber Soul and Help! Beatlemania hit the U.S. back in 1964 and the Beatles released at least four albums and a movie before that point. It was just a missed opportunity in a way. Then the episode ended with Blaine proposing to Kurt and I felt like the series was treating gay marriage differently from how it treaded other marriages on the show. Now, you don't want a show to repeat itself of course. But season 3's drama toward the end was all about whether Finn and Rachel should get married. Parents were against it. Friends were against it. They were too young, they hadn't thought about their future plans, etc. While I'm sure they were just dragging things out so Finn and Rachel could get together in the series finale, there was a certain reality to that reaction. So I find it completely false that when two gay teenagers make the same decision, everybody supports it. No one questions if they are too young. And Blaine goes out of his way to make an elaborate proposal because he wants to "send a message". Look, let's not even deal with the socio-political arguments for or against homosexual marriages. This was a teenage couple being treated differently from another teenage couple and the only real difference was that one was gay. I find that inconsistent writing. The show can be tolerant and inclusive without denying all drama just to "send a message".

I didn't even watch part two.

But then we got the episode dealing with the death of Finn because of Cory Monteith's overdose. And it was a good episode. Honestly, one of the best episodes of the past few years. I was bothered by the fact that the cause of death was never mentioned in the episode. Did Finn O.D. too? We are left not knowing, and I thought that was a mistake. But it was emotional and well-written. It only took 5 years and a dead cast member before we got a Dylan song on this show ("Make You Feel My Love"), and even that I suspect was more via Joan Osborne than Dylan. This episode also addressed one of my criticisms of season 1 (or was it 2?) when Kurt's dad lashed out at Finn for using the word "faggy". It's a seminal moment on the show and while I understand where it was coming from, I always felt like he was too hard on Finn there. And now he admitted that. I really liked that moment. As always there were songs I thought would be great that weren't used (like Alanis Morissette's "Simple Together"), but I can't fault them for that. There were very nice moments for all the cast, but sadly for me it is the last gasp of greatness the show has.

Two weeks later, the next new episode premiered and boy was it a mess. The central conceit of the episode was that there are two kinds of people in the world: sweet girl-next-door types, and brash edgy types. The show defined these as "Katy Perry" and "Lady Gaga" respectively. This is wrong on so many levels. First, the show has ALREADY DONE both Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to death. When I saw the promo for the episode say, "Glee does Katy Perry and Lady Gaga!" my first thought was, "do they do anything BUT Katy and Gaga? Not these days. It was concocted just to cover/promote the new Katy Perry single, "Roar" and the recent Gaga song "Applause". Honestly, I'm thinking the record companies are pushing stuff on the writers now in some kind of weird TV karaoke payola scheme. The lack of variety and the constant push of whatever the current hit song is has reached critical mass on the show and I can't take it anymore. I don't need to hear Glee do "Call Me Maybe" or that awful Rebecca Black monstrosity. I want to hear all kinds of songs in one episode. I want to hear arrangements that even better the song, which sometimes happened in early seasons. I had forgotten that "Keep Holding On" was an Avril Lavigne song for example. The series does less and less of that now; it's just about being current and outrageous.

The second problem with the scenario is the constant characterization of Katy Perry as the epitome of the "nice girl". Katy Perry is not the girl next door. Katy Perry is the slutty babysitter. The sugary imagery of her videos may make it seem that she's just a sweety, but she's all about double-entendres and sexual experimentation. It's about making vapid bubblegum pop that's primarily suggestive. She's a singer who couldn't cut it as a Christian artist and only found success in singing about lesbian kisses and going all the way ("no regrets, just love"). And lets not forget some of her other winning lyrics ("had a menage-a-troi last Friday night", anyone?). Marley is not a Katy Perry. She's sugary in a Julie Andrews way, not in a shoot-whipped-cream-from-your-boob-cannons way. The current pop star who maybe does represent what they were talking about is Taylor Swift. And I can't remember them every doing a Taylor Swift song; this was an opportune time. The episode was poorly written from the beginning. This central theme made me so angry that as they kept trying to hammer it I found I was just yelling at the TV.

I hate the way they write Marley now, who is my favorite of the new cast members. I miss when she used to wear hats. I hate that now everything just happens to her, she's never allowed to be happy. Her character is undermined in ways Rachel never was; it feels unbalanced. The episode had the "Katy" kids do a Gaga song and the "Gaga" kids do a Katy song. But Marley refused to go along with the Gaga number, saying she couldn't compromise herself. And then she was suspended. Can you even suspend someone for not doing an assignment? What kind of bizarre school is that? I couldn't tell if she was suspended from the Glee Club or from school. It was very odd. Besides that, she may have dressed like Katy Perry, but she was gyrating on the floor, so I don't see what message that sends about not compromising yourself (meanwhile in her personal life she was being pressured into sex, which is where part of this was coming from).

I flipped over to last night's episode briefly and it was about twerking. I'm done. The show is grasping at straws of relevance at this point. I sat through all last season's "catfish" storyline even though I knew immediately who the other person was. I sat through all the heavy-handed bullying stories. But I've had it now. The show has nothing left to say. Meanwhile other characters continue to be poorly written as well. I was glad when Becky was brought on the show and that they didn't try to pander and make her the magic Down Syndrome girl, but now they just write her mean. I don't want Becky to be evil. And poor Tina is one of the original cast and she still gets almost nothing to do! She looked particularly gorgeous that last episode, but she doesn't get many solos or storylines. In fact, now it seems the only Tina stories are when they need a "why do we keep ignoring Tina?" story. And every time, it's just Tina essentially saying, "Hey, stop ignoring me!"

I've had some good memories with this series, but I think back to those first 13 episodes when I was recommending the series to people. I think it had a great pilot. I got cast autographs. But if I'm going to spend each week yelling at the TV, I can't do it anymore. I'd rather watch The Michael J. Fox Show. I'll probably pop in next season for the finale, but I've given up on regular viewership. I just can't be a cheerleader for it anymore.

Sorry Glee, I'm done.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What to Watch on Halloween?

If you're anything like me, when Halloween rolls around you don't wanna put on a slutty costume and get drunk at a party at the house of someone you barely know but you're there because your best friend insists that gay guys throw the best Halloween parties, or at least that's what Sex and the City told her. No, if you're like me you want to sit home maybe handing out candy to neighborhood children and watch scary movies alone or with family or a few friends and a pizza.

But maybe you've grown tired of watching The Exorcist, Halloween, The Omen, Psycho, and It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown year after year. Isn't it time for something else? Well, here are some more out-of-the-box suggestions that I like for Halloween viewing. This post will focus just on TV episodes or specials; I may do a follow-up post with movies tomorrow. Television shows are great though because you can marathon a bunch of episodes or try different things as your mood changes.

Halloween is Grinch Night

This is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss television specials because it's so weird and doesn't get the airplay that some others get. On video, this one has also gone under the titles Grinch Night and It's Grinch Night. Nothing in the special itself specifically mentions Halloween, but since it was the original title, I'm sure that was always Seuss' intent.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Once a year the Grinch descends from Mount Crumpet with a box full of scary stuff to terrorize the Whos down in Whoville for the night. Hence, Grinch Night. On his way this year, he encounters young Yucariah Who who insists he's not scared (though he totally is). But to prove it, the Grinch torments him with some weird imagery for the next 15 minutes. At the end, Max the dog runs off with him as I recall. Which means this has to take place after the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes and all that. I guess old habits die hard.
This was a favorite of mine whenever it would air on the Disney Channel but unfortunately it only came around in October.

Freaks and Geeks -- "Tricks and Treats"

This episode is the typical go-to for my Halloween viewing. It's the third episode of the short-lived NBC series. I remember watching it first-run. It's a nice slice of life '80s story with your typical "we're not too old to trick-or-treat... are we?" and "I'll vandalize things so I can be cool" stories. But what elevates it are some of the great comedic moments. Martin Starr as Jamie Summers, the Bionic Woman is hilarious. The only real detriment of the episode is that for some bizarre production reason, they couldn't shoot at night. So it's bizarre that everyone is trick-or-treating in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight. Still, any excuse to watch Freaks and Geeks is worth it.

Punky Brewster -- "The Perils of Punky"

While not actually a Halloween episode, this two-part episode of the '80s sitcom Punky Brewster is uncharacteristically freaky. It's summer and Punky and the gang are on a camping trip. When the dog runs off, they go to look for him, get lost, and stop inside a cave (as you do). They find the cave populated with Indians who tell them the story of an evil spirit who haunts the cave, and that Punky has been sent to defeat it (of course). What follows is the creepy and bizarre descent into the cave where Punky fights a giant spider and is tormented with the grizzly deaths of her friends (the low-budget effects are awful, but it's still shocking, especially for impressionable children). Despite the creep factor,  the episode remains humorous, particularly when they meet Mr. Pieces, a man who was ripped apart by the evil spirt, and so all his still-living limbs hang from the rocks. The notion of a disembodied head longing to be put back together sounds macabre but is handled here with a fairy tale quality reminscent of L. Frank Baum. And then the whole thing turns out to just be a ghost story Punky was telling to pass the time while in the cave until Henry finds them. Of course. A fun, spooky take on scary story cliches.

Northern Exposure -- "Jules et Joel"

This is a very different choice, but for those who don't want a typical "Halloween" show, you can't do much better than Northern Exposure. "Jules et Joel" is essentially the Halloween episode of the series, only insofar as it takes place during Halloween night. But actually, the majority of the episode is a dream, allowing for a fun dabble in stories even Northern Exposure likely wouldn't do normally; in this case, Joel's got an evil twin brother who comes to town. Come to think of it, a lot of Northern Exposure episodes involve dreams.

Raggedy Ann and Andy: The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile

I have no idea when this originally aired, but they used to show it every year on The Disney Channel. It's a fairly innocuous story about a sentient Jack O'Lantern who is very sad. It's been so long now that I totally forget the particulars. I'm not sure how easy it is to find a copy, but if you can, check it out. Oh, and did I mention it's from legendary animation director Chuck Jones? This was back when animated adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy were a thing. That reminds me, the creepy animated movie Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure is another great choice for Halloween. Maybe I'll watch that this year.

Millennium -- "A Room With No View"

The X-Files' darker cousin, Millennium concerned real world evil, apocalyptic cults, serial killers, doomsday fears and demonic forces. While the series was inconsistent season to season due to the different show-runners, it's definitely creepy and there are a handful of fantastic episodes that could have made this list. "The Curse of Frank Black" is the most obvious Halloween episode, though I find it a little slow. It's more of a character piece, and there are threads set up that pay off later in that year's Christmas episode. It's also not an episode for a newbie unfamiliar with the series. If you like Millennium, it's not a bad choice of episode (I think it's the one being advertised in the picture above). However, I chose "A Room With No View" because it is genuinely scary and very well-made. It concerns a character who is essentially evil personified. Her previous appearances also make for good episodes, but something about this one is more memorable. Essentially, it's a woman who traps young men in this isolated house playing mind-games with them while playing "Love is Blue" on a constant loop. And it features Christopher Masterson (Francis on Malcolm in the Middle). Rarely have I seen psychological torture handled so well on television.
For a Millennium with a lighter touch (though still dark), viewers can also try "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense", a sort of sequel to the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space". It features Charles Nelson Reilly in a story that is a brilliant satire on Scientology and to a lesser extent the self-help movement, written by the incomparable Emmy-winning Darin Morgan.

The X-Files

Last year I had a marathon of favorite creepy X-Files episodes. There are many fan favorites and I couldn't choose just one so I'm going to suggest a few. Please note that "Home" is absent from this list. It's become ubiquitous and expected for scary episode lists, and the point of this post is to avoid the obvious. Plus I'm one of those who doesn't think the episode is as scary (or good) as it's hyped to be. While some of my choices here may also seem obvious, they are nice alternatives. I tried to choose ones that I actually liked, and not ones that were just violent or gross for the sake of it (here that, "Sanguinarium"?). Other obvious classics like "Squeeze" and "Ice" are also not on this list.

Genetic experiments have created seemingly innocent identical-looking girls who are actually very frightening sociopaths. The story starts with the exsanguination of their fathers and gets better from there. One of the best episodes of the first season.


The episode that ultimately inspired Millennium, "Irresistible" is about a monster who is all too human; a fetishistic serial killer. Often hailed as one of the scariest stories the show ever did. For a Halloween double feature, follow it up with the sequel episode "Orison" which is more supernatural in nature. Particularly if the "Squeeze"/"Tooms" double-feature is too obvious.

"Bad Blood"

Okay, this one's a fan favorite and is a bit of an obvious choice, but I had to include it. Told in flashback, it's a comical look at Mulder and Scully's relationship as they uncover the truth about a town of vampires. Luke Wilson guest stars.


"Let's have fun." The episode co-written by Stephen King. It obviously borrows heavily from the Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll", but has some amusing moments along with the genuine creepy factor. Evil dolls are just always scary, especially when accompanied by the Hokey Pokey. That's what it's all about.
There are a lot of good contenders in season 5, but I've got to be selective.


If you're suffering from Breaking Bad withdrawal, why not pop in this gem penned by Vince Gilligan and guest-starring Bryan Cranston? And if you're still in a Breaking Bad mood, you can try "Lord of the Flies" which is not nearly as good (and is from the Mulder-less final season), but does have Aaron Paul doing a great take-off of Johnny Knoxville.

"Signs and Wonders"

A personal favorite contrasting a seemingly reasonable church with some hillbilly snake handlers. When evil comes into town, guess which church it infiltrates?


A great single episode from the Doggett years, with Scully kidnapped by crazies who implant a giant worm in her. Also from the kooky mind of Vince Gilligan.

"Via Negativa"

One of the most genuinely frightening episode of the series for me, with some disturbing imagery and a truly heart-pounding climax.

"Scary Monsters"

A fairly simple story of a child's imagination becoming real. But I love the way it uses Doggett's character and I consider it among the best episodes of the lackluster final season. A character recurs here who previously appeared in the episode "Alone", which might also make for good double viewing.

Star Trek -- "Catspaw"

Yes, the original Star Trek series did a Halloween episode. That's not to say it's a good episode because it's not a particularly good episode, but it does make for fun Halloween viewing. The Enterprise is terrorized by magic, Kirk is put in a spooky dungeon, there's a giant cat, it's all designed to put horror tropes through the Star Trek lens. May also pair well with the animated Trek episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu" in which the Enterprise encounters "Lucien", who may in fact be the devil himself (the show seems to sympathize with him in the end, which apart from any Miltonian undertones makes it one of the wierdest Star Trek episodes ever).

Star Trek: The Next Generation -- "Devil's Due"

Speaking of the devil, how about this story of Picard fighting a woman claiming to be the devil in a legal battle for the souls of an entire planet. Again, not a good episode (the script was actually left over from the aborted Star Trek: Phase II series of the '70s and rewritten) but amusing.

Star Trek: Voyager -- "The Haunting of Deck Twelve"

If Voyager is more your Trek of choice, how about this spooky tale Neelix tells of strange goings-on aboard the intrepid vessel (get it, Voyager is Intrepid-class!). I cannot recall a single appropriate DS9 episode; that series is too good to resort to cheap scares.

Boy Meets World -- "The Witches of Pennbrook"/"And Then There Was Shawn"

If wacky comedy is more your speed, how about this '90s cult favorite? Here I suggest a double-feature from the show's 5th season. The actual Halloween episode that year featured Candace Cameron as a witch who lives just down the hall from Jack and Eric. But the one everyone now remembers as the "Halloween" one is "And Then There Was Shawn", a send-up of slasher movies, particularly those en vogue in the late '90s, especially "Scream". Jennifer Love Hewitt makes an appearance. And if you still can't get enough Boy Meets World, I suggest "The Psychotic Episode" which is kind of like "And Then There Was Shawn" only with Cory instead of Shawn. Cory's being haunted by nightmares where he keeps killing Shawn.

DuckTales -- "Ducky Horror Picture Show"

Why not include some animation on this list? And while most people would cite the obvious Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes, I say what about DuckTales? In this one, Duckburg hosts a convention of monsters who are send-ups of classic Universal horror icons. Other fun DuckTales episodes for Halloween include "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. McDuck," and "Much Ado About Scrooge" which is a take on the Scottish play.

Lost in Space -- "The Astral Traveler"

Thinking of Scotland gets me thinking of this Lost in Space episode, which transports Will and Dr. Smith back to 19th Century Scotland where, among other things, "old Angus" has been haunting a lake for hundreds of years.
If you prefer your Lost in Space from the first season when things were less silly, may I suggest a couple ghost stories for your enjoyment? "Ghost in Space" has Smith trying to contact the spirit of his Uncle Thaddeus only to disturb an alien monster, and the first season ender "Follow the Leader" has John Robinson possessed by an evil spirit. The concept is pulpy, but Guy Williams gives it all he's got.

Sailor Moon -- "Natsuyo Umiyo Seishunyo! Omakeni yuureimoyo" (translated: "It's Summer! The Sea! Our Youth! Also, a Ghost")
This episode of Sailor Moon was never dubbed for America, so if you want to see it you'll have to watch it subtitled. It's episode 20 if that helps you hunt for it. Anyway, it's a light-hearted spooky excursion that has nothing to do with the main plot arc of the series. It's just Usagi and the girls spending summer vacation at a haunted mansion on the beach.
If you enjoy that, you may also enjoy an episode of Sailor Stars (this entire season was never dubbed for America either) which pays homage to the old lake monster haunting a summer camp concept. It's episode 183 for those seeking it online, and it's titled "Shiryou no Sakebi? Kyoufu Kyanpu no Kaijin" ("The Scream of Dead Souls? Terror of a Monster at Camp") Also, there's some fun parody of Power Rangers in this one.

The Twilight Zone -- "Nick of Time"

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't suggest a Twilight Zone episode. There have been three iterations of this series to date and a movie, but the first is still the best. While the William Shatner episode that everyone remembers is "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" ("There's a man on the wing!"), Shatner did two episodes of the series and I prefer the other. "Nick of Time" is a very simple but engaging story of a man who stops into a roadside diner only to become consumed by the fortune-telling device on the table. I highly recommend this episode.

I hope you've enjoyed this list; I found myself wanting to follow some of my own suggestions now! Whatever you do Thursday night, have fun and stay safe.