Dan's Stuff

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Community's 2011 Christmas Episode

If it’s all right with everyone, I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about Community’s 3rd Season Christmas episode, “Regional Holiday Music.” How great was this episode? I mean, it really was quite fantastic. The premise: When the Greendale Glee Club has a nervous breakdown over the ASCAP ordering that they stop performing copyrighted material, the Study Group is asked to step up and put on the best Christmas Pageant ever; they refuse. Yes, this episode is a Glee satire.

Community and Glee, filmed on the same lot and both premiering in the Fall of 2009, are fraternal twins of sorts. Though loved by critics, Community has never been able to compete with the popularity of Glee. If the Nielsen Ratings System was a high school, Glee would be the football team and Community would be, well, the glee club. This ratings imbalance gives the students of Greendale a free pass to take a few swings at the New Directions. Community’s first jab came in episode 1-18: “Basic Genealogy.” Jeff, dealing with a bad breakup, expresses his emotions to Pierce:

Jeff: (weeping into Pierce’s shoulder) We always used to watch the shows she wanted to watch. I hate Glee.

Pierce: I’m not crazy about Glee either.

Jeff: I hate it. I don’t understand the appeal at all.

There have been a few more shots fired, but “Regional Holiday Music” is the first time that Glee jokes ran through an entire episode.

One of the wonderful things about Community is that there’s no such thing as a one-joke episode. Though the Study Group initially refuses to perform in the Christmas Pageant, one by one they fall under the Glee Club sponsor’s spell; not only is this episode a Glee satire, it’s also a spoof on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There’s a moment when the group is reconsidering their dismissal of the pageant:

Shirley: I guess we did have fun last time.

Troy: Did we? I can hardly remember it. It’s all a weird, happy, musical


This sums up my understanding of Glee. I don’t dislike Glee; in fact, I’m glad to finally see a musical television series last more than one season. I’ve only seen a couple of episodes, and I liked those two well enough, but for a show titled Glee, it’s a rather depressing program. Those kids are dealing with some heavy shit: sexual identity, death, teen pregnancy, and there’s even a dude that will never walk again. I didn’t realize all this while I was watching because I was paying attention to the musical numbers.

Community criticizes Glee for only showcasing covers, so, rightly, all the songs in “Regional Holiday Music” are original compositions (this could also be because NBC doesn’t want to have to pay royalty fees). Though you could form an argument for how each of the songs attacks an aspect of Glee, only the first number overtly mocks Fox’s ratings giant. The truly brilliant songs come when Troy and Abed lure Pierce into participating and later when Annie works Jeff over lyrically.

“Baby Boomer Santa” is a manic cluster of buzzwords that pays homage to pop music from the mid-forties to mid-eighties, or at least it is at first glance. This song manages to call out the “well-documented historical vanity” of the baby boomers. Great music, according to this song, begins with “The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” and ends with Bob Seger. It also plays with the idea that the millennials are equally self-absorbed and thus only have the faintest grasp of 20th Century history. Examine these lines:

Santa fought at Woodstock and Vietnam,

And smoked a ton of acid, and burned his bra.

And then in 1970, he did more drugs

and his hair stayed long, and he grew a mustache.

This suggests that the only discernible difference between the 1960s and 1970s was that War and social revolution were replaced by the mustache. The song is beautiful because it both praises and buries nostalgia in a single stroke.

“Teach Me How to Understand Christmas” is a send-up of the sexy Christmas songs such as “Santa Baby.” As it mocks the sexualizing of Christmas, it really calls into question the American Sex Symbol. Alison Brie’s performance fuses Marilyn Monroe and Betty Boop in order to make a dim, giggling seductress. What begins as playful descends to childish and then deteriorates into incoherent babbling. Joel McHale’s straight-man reaction to the Annie’s self-degradation is the moment where I always laugh hardest, even though I now know it’s coming.

As to the ending: it is one of the best ever offered up by a television program: After escaping the Glee club’s spell, the gang shows up, caroling, at Abed’s apartment to keep him company and watch Christmas television specials. This is a sweet, but mundane, moment, and that is its genius. Looking to other Christmas episodes of years’ past, such as Boy Meets World, you find heartwarming moments of family togetherness, such as everyone sitting down and listening as Mr. Feeny reads Dickens’s A Christmas Carol; the problem with such an ending: now I feel guilty for watching television when I could be sitting ‘round a fire with my family and a good book. Community’s episode reinforces the practice of watching television specials. People see the tenderness involved in Jeff, Britta, Shirley, Pierce, Troy, and Annie’s arriving to comfort Abed, and, better yet, people are able to share in this moment because they too are watching television on Christmas.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Captain America Redesign

Project Rooftop called for submissions to their latest redesign contest. For reasons unknown, I decided I'd try my hand. The subject of the competition: Captain America.

I wasn't the only interested party. My friends Cody Barnhill and Shane McDermott, both of whom are actual illustrators, each submitted entries. Check them out when you have a minute, until then, here's my stuff.

If I had my way, Steve Rogers would get to retire and enjoy a simpler life of painting and baseball games; but if he's staying in the game, he is going to remain Captain America. Steve operates at the physical peak of the human body, yet that still leaves him on a different level than his armored, mutant, robotic, and divine teammates. Captain America's true power lies in him being a symbol.

Symbols can change over time, but they have to remain recognizable; thus I kept the same colors a few of the design elements. Captain America has to feature red, white, and blue, so let's move on. The star dead center in the chest is absolutely necessary, but I'll get back to that a bit later. The gloves preserve his symbolic status in two ways: they are familiar, and they are red. The embodiment of everything good about America doesn't need to be seen with blood on his hands, therefore, red gloves are good. Steve has more of a claim on that shield than anyone, and I don't believe Barnes would let himself wield it if his mentor was still Captain America. Some things need to stay the same.

This is a redesign competition after all, so there are changes. Steve no longer has a secret identity, everyone the world over knows that he is the man carrying the shield. This is the reason for abandoning the mask. The zipper marks the top as a bit of attire more suited to quick changes than the spandex/plate-mail costume that he's been using. Captain America is one of the many comic book characters that is both superhero and soldier; opting for fatigues as the lower half of his outfit establishes his dual role.

The current Captain America, James "Bucky" Barnes, shouldn't have to give up the name. In fact, I think there needs to be more than one person bearing the title. Marvel doesn't have as many legacy heroes as their competitor, and they rarely have more than one person using a codename at a time. DC has 5 Green Lanterns, 3 Flashes, 2 Wildcats, and so on; Marvel could handle 2 Captain Americas (Captains America?). Furthermore, there needs to be more than one person in that role. From the Whigs and Tories of the 18th century to the Republicans and Democrats of today, America has always been a collection of viewpoints and opinions. To try and hold to all of these ideas, some of which are in direct opposition to one another, is too much for an individual. The United States is at its best when differing groups work together for a common goal. There needs to be more than one Captain America.

Bucky's costume, like Steve's, features red, white, and blue colors and the addition of some standard armed forces apparel. I opted to keep the mask in order to give James a chance to forge a life outside of the costume, but it's an easily-donned bandanna type instead of the balaclava-esque model currently in use. As I already mentioned, Steve's gloves are red in order to hide blood; still coming to terms with his violent past, Bucky wears white as a reminder to avoid bloodshed when possible. The cavalry style shirt is an obvious throwback to his days as Cap's sidekick, but, as those were the best days of his life, I don't think he'd object. This redesign features the return of the photonic shield utilized by Captain America in the late 90s. Barnes sees some of its practicality over the original shield, and it complements his bionic arm. Since he is still Captain America, and since I already established the superhero/soldier dichotomy being expressed through the addition of fatigues, I chose the urban camouflage.

His emblem is a stylized eagle consisting of red and white stripes and thirteen stars representing the original states. Captain America should always have a prominent insignia on his (or her) chest, or, to clarify, superheroes like Captain America should always have a prominent insignia on their chest. To walk about with a big target right over the heart is a mark of panache; it is both standard and challenge. That's the kind of guy Captain America has to be.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Evil Exes?

Less than two weeks remain until the release of the final book, and the movie premieres three and a half weeks after that; so, I've been thinking a lot about Scott Pilgrim. To those unfamiliar with Bryan Lee O'Malley's tale of life, love, and video games, I feel so sorry for you. These five, soon to be six, digest format tomes prove to be the best primer for the post-graduate lifestyle. The bare bones of the plot follows that of the late 80s to early 90s 16-bit video games: the hero has to fight a series of progressively more difficult foes before reaching his or her goal. Scott Pilgrim, the hero, meets Ramona, his goal, but can only date her if he defeats her past relationships, the aforementioned series of foes.
There is a lot to be said, and probably has been, about the main characters, the nature of romance and friendship, and influence of pop culture on youth in reference to the series. However, I keep coming back to the League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends. I have no problem believing that these people would take turns trying to rub out their ex's current boyfriend; I get hung up on the fact that they call themselves "evil." I think it's common knowledge that the majority of people in the wrong believe that they are on the path of the righteous. It's been my experience that there are two main reasons for someone to refer to themselves as being evil: either they are ashamed or they get off on doing wrong. In my eyes it seems that the sum of guilt and pleasure determines each ex's level of evil.

I'm going to try and spoil sparingly, but I also have to back up what I say with the books. So, yes, this is a SPOILER WARNING.

My hypothesis of Lucas Lee being the least evil ex is easily proven by his fight with Scott. After hurling our hero into a tower, Lee calls for a timeout in order to offer Scott some juice and baby carrots. They then sit down and start talking about Lee's acting career and relationship with Ramona. He tells of his heartbreak and tries to talk Scott into getting out of this situation before he gets hurt. He gives the Scott and the reader the two reasons why he's sided with the antagonists, "They almost didn't let me join the league. But I knew they had to. I'm an important figure in Ramona's past. Plus I'm super tough and cool." Pairing this statement with what little regard Ramona has for him, it becomes clear that Lucas Lee is beating up suitors in order to receive a sense of validation; and, yeah, the League let him join because the dude is a tank. The only way that I would classify Lee as evil would be based on 1 Timothy 6:10, because, after all, he is still a sellout.

Some. Pleasure: Little. Evil Level: -1. Designation: Probably an Okay Guy.

I'll be the first to admit that the twins, Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, really don't come off as nice guys. They're manipulative, prone to speaking with hidden meaning, use proxies to avoid a direct assault, and cheat. Yet they're not obsessed with destroying Scott or Ramona. Like Lucas, Ken and Kyle warn Scott of his girlfriend's past infidelities. Unlike Lucas, they also reach out to Ramona. It may be a ploy to drive the young lovers apart, but the twins do remind her that she came here to get away from the world and that the world is still out there waiting. The Katayanagis seem to be enjoying themselves while tormenting Scott and Ramona, but it reeks of bitterness more than sadism. They're both trying to make up for their past betrayals, for which they blame Ramona, by a.) working together as good brothers should, and b.) getting Scott away from the woman that hurt them.
Guilt: Some. Pleasure: Some. Evil Level: 0. Designation: Lovers Scorned.

Roxy Richter hates Scott Pilgrim. She also hates Ramona, Gideon, and herself. Roxy's a very angry girl. She attacks Scott half-heatedly, finding more pleasure in messing with him first rather than finishing him off from the get-go. When Mr. Chau walks into the room, she immediately assumes he was sent to be her backup, and proceeds to engage him in martial combat. She still cares for Ramona, evidenced by Roxy's trying to keep her from being hurt by Scott; also, Ramona alludes to making out with her during her stay. Even this bond is overwritten by her own rage when Ramona chooses to defend Scott instead of leave him. Her anger makes her a less effective warrior, causing her to have low self-esteem, which in turn makes her angry. She's sort of out of control.
Guilt: Little. Pleasure: Some. Evil Level: 1. Designation: Imbalanced.

In Marvel's Earth X series, Ross and Krueger explain the logic behind Magneto's choice to name his group The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. According to them, by calling himself evil, Magneto was locking his opposite, Professor X, into being good, and thus limiting Xavier's possible actions; the character of Todd Ingram reminded me of this. Todd grew up pushed to succeed by a father who held no faith in him. He worked hard and graduated top of his class. Now it's his time. He's going to do whatever he wants. Todd sleeps around regardless of his committed relationships, he breaks the rules of he and Scott's fight, and he eats whatever he wants whether it contains animal protein or not. And yet this Hedonistic lifestyle has yet to deliver the contentment for which he searches. He doesn't set out to hurt people, they just get caught in his telekinetic wake. Todd is evil only because of his absolute refusal to be good.
Guilt: None. Pleasure: Little. Evil Level: 1. Designation: Evil by Default.

Some friends and I disagree on this next point. As stated earlier, each boss offers greater difficulty than the last; this does not mean that each ex is more evil than the last. Matthew Patel is the first, and therefore least deadliest, opponent Scott must face, yet he is far from the least wicked. Of all the League, Patel's skill set is the only one that has overtly devilish tones(he summons fiery, demonic hotties to do his bidding). Furthermore, he's enthusiastic about what he's doing. He sends out letters announcing his presence and intentions, dresses up for the occasion ("Pirates are in this year"), and makes a grand entrance. He operates under the idea that malevolence is en vogue. If somebody enjoys acting evil, how long before they enjoy evil acts?
Guilt: None. Pleasure: Some. Evil Level: 2. Designation: Poser, yet Dangerous.

Gideon may very well be unapologetically evil. He appears to be Ramona's most recent ex and leader of the League. So far, he's only been directly involved in the story on two occasions. The third book's upbeat ending is taken down a peg by a mysterious stranger moving among the crowd; only Scott catches a glimpse of him. He does nothing overtly sinister, but the reader knows that his presence foreshadows trouble. Gideon's next appearance is in voice alone. He telephones Scott in order to check on how he's handling a hard time. He then ends the conversation with the question, "When would it be convenient for you to die?" I don't know much about Gideon Gordon Graves, but I'm laying money on him being able to differentiate between right and wrong, if only to aid in choosing wrong whenever possible: a true sociopath.
Guilt: None. Pleasure: Lots. Evil Level: 3. Designation: Absolute Evil.

By the way, I grabbed the above image from Comics Alliance; I hope they don't mind.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

This post is mainly for my benefit.

Important Dates:

Jun. 30: The Walking Dead, Vol. 12: Life Among Them - Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
Jul. 2: The Last Airbender
Jul. 9: Predators
Jul. 20: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour - Bryan Lee O'Malley
Jul. 27: Batman: Under the Red Hood
Aug. 13: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Sep. 3: Machete
Sep. 7: Green Hornet - Kevin Smith & Jonathan Lau
Sep. 17: The Adjustment Bureau
Oct. 26: Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files - Jim Butcher
Dec.17: Tron: Legacy

Summer: Scott Pilgrim Video Game

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In Defense of Blackest Night

For those that don't know, each year the two main comic publishers have what is now called anevent. These events are so large in scope that they touch upon every character currently in print. DC's latest event left some fans disappointed. Last year's event featured a high-concept apocalypse that played with the rules of storytelling and killed Batman. This year's event, The Blackest Night, almost seemed a rehashing of Marvel's "Zombie" franchise three years too late. I, however, thought Blackest Night was great.

The phrase, "struggle between life and death," is tossed around a lot in melodramas, but Geoff Johns used it as the setup for his story. Blackest Night shows the fight against death itself. This is Hamlet's most famous soliloquy in the form of a spandex clad free-for-all. That's it. I know a lot of people weren't crazy about the emotional spectrum of light. To say that all feelings can be broken down to seven emotions (a few of which aren't actual emotions) is a bit of a leap. Ethan Van Sciver, one of Johns's collaborating artists, agrees that referring to the driving forces as emotions seems flawed, he prefers to think of it in terms of motivation. Now, that leaves us with the idea that there are only seven motivating factors in the universe, which is still fallacious.

I want to take it a step further than motivation. I say that the real trick to lighting up a power ring is having a reason to live; after all, the whole story was about fending off death. It's easy to make a case for the positive (hope, compassion, love) and neutral (willpower) motivations. But what about the negative? Can it really be said that hatred, avarice, and fear make life worth living? Yep.

I did not enjoy reading Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, I want to get that out of the way early. But, like all dutiful high schoolers, I pushed through it. My memory always catches on one part, and that's the comparison between Hester and Chillingworth, particularly regarding love and hate. The following three sentences come from chapter 24:
Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place, almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's death, in the appearance and demeanour of the old man known as Roger Chillingworth. All his strength and energy--all his vital and intellectual force--seemed at once to desert him; insomuch that he positively withered up, shrivelled away, and almost vanished from mortal sight, like an uprooted weed that lies wilting in the sun. This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge; and when, by its completest triumph and consummation, that evil principle was left with no further material to support it,--when, in short, there was no more devil's work on earth for him to do, it only remained for the unhumanized mortal to betake himself whither his Master would find him tasks enough, and pay him his wages duly.
To paraphrase, hatred was the only thing keeping Roger Chillingworth alive.

Silas Marner, also not one of my favorites, features an outcast gradually transformed by love. But that's not in the first act. The eponymous character begins as an outsider concerned with one thing: his gold. He works harder and harder, later and later in order to earn more wages, which he promptly hides under a loose floorboard. He never spends any, and the only joy he has in life is counting his horde. In chapter 5 he returns home to find his gold missing. He doesn't take it well.
Silas's next appearance follows a lengthy discussion of ghosts and spirits among visitors to the inn. He goes unnoticed at first, then cautiously greeted. His arrival at that point in the conversation and his sudden appearance in the room both mark him as ghost. Without his gold, he's might as well be dead. It isn't until he finds a small, blonde haired child outside his cottage that his spirits lift. The primary reason for this revitalization is because he believes the golden haired girl is his gold given human form. He refuses to part with her, taking her in himself. Hoarding this child as if she were treasure.

In Bruges is a movie I love. It's a darker movie, meditations on life and death and whatnot. Colin Farrell plays a hitman laying low in Bruges, Belgium after a job turns South. Things went bad, really bad. He spends the moving questioning morality, atonement, and the afterlife. To top it all off, he's stuck in Bruges. Everything is history, cobblestones, gas lamps, and too many bridges and canals without a bowling alley to be found.
Nearly everyone is afraid of death to some degree, it's the cornerstone of caution. Colin Farrell's character searches for some reason to keep on living. He finds it in fear. After some bullets find their mark on his person, he is rushed to an ambulance. All he can think of is whether or not there is a hell, and if so, what if it's like spending an eternity in Bruges. He no longer wants to die.

I know, now the response is, "there are more than seven reasons to live." Fine, there are. But only seven can manipulate that particular type of energy. If you don't like that answer, I suggest you try to plug a lamp in to the socket using string instead of copper wiring. Lots of things conduct electricity, but some are better conduits than others.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


We did much better this time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Be Seeing You

I've come to understand that AMC is re-imagining The Prisoner as a week long mini-series. Though surprised when I saw the full page ad, the timing isn't all that surprising.

The Prisoner, a trippy television series from the U.K. in 1967, is one of the more relevant pieces of pop culture for post-millennium America. I believe that the resurgence of "socialism" as a hot button topic provided the final push needed to get a Prisoner remake a reality. I may not watch AMC's version, but only cause I'm digging the original too much.
The premise of the show is what happens when the Crown's top agent all of the sudden resigns. Considering the secrets stored inside his head, it would be quite easy for him to become a risk to national security. He's abducted and deposited into what could be seen as an international retirement community for the intelligence services.
I think that the themes present in this show will hit home with Americans with any political leanings in either direction.
Patrick McGoohan's protagonist refuses to play the game set out for him by the system. Each episodes' opening features the main character shouting, "I am not a number, I am a free man." The first episode finds him explaining his position to his supposed new superior, "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own." This rallying call for individualism appeals to our country's right wing. No. 2, the seeming (yet quite temporary) operations manager of the Village, often assures, "We're quite democratic, you know." The individual having to bend to the will of the majority, a majority that they don't understand, is an uncomfortable thought. This is what people are screaming about at town hall meetings now.
The philosophies of the Village are only half the problem. It's the forces backing up those concepts that lead to quiet chills. The opening sequence shows a man kidnapped from his home over political matters and then taken to a an unknown place where he is interrogated and threatened; today we call this an extraordinary rendition. One of the sets frequently employed on the show is that of the control room: a circular room of maps, monitors, and a seemingly motorized seesaw with cameras on either end. No. 2 and his associates often observe the protagonist from this location. That's the Patriot Act. The left wing is tired of shadow governments acting without the people's consent.
Benjamin Franklin is paraphrased as saying, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." Both sides of the argument have been using this rhetoric, usually to try and shut down the other party. It gets me thinking about the American mindset. It seems the defining principle of being an American comes down to this:
We always think the other guy's out to get us.