Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
Header

ALF, "My Back Pages"

“My Back Pages” is named after a Bob Dylan song. I’ll get that out of the way right now, since it was bound to happen sooner or later. My all-time favorite musician has an ALF connection. So it goes.

I guess it’s not really anything to get that grumpy about. As I’ve said before, somebody on the staff had pretty solid taste in music, based on the episode titles and on the choices of songs used (and referenced) in the episodes themselves. Alongside the competent (and often very good) puppetry, the nods and winks to music history represent the only observable passion in the show.

It’s an odd choice of title, though. For one, it’s not one of Dylan’s more popular songs. (Though it is one of my personal favorites.) It’s also a title that doesn’t occur anywhere in the song itself, meaning that folks who have actually heard it might not know what it’s called. It’s especially puzzling when the theme of the episode — though by no means incompatible with the theme of the song it’s named after — would have fit perfectly well with the more recognizable “The Times They Are A-Changing.”

It’s also odd because the pivotal moment in the episode occurs when Willie and Kate reminisce about Woodstock…and Dylan didn’t play Woodstock. Crosby, Stills, and Nash played Woodstock, and later released a song called “Woodstock,” so why not just call the episode that?

I bet nobody out there will suspect that I’m stalling.

Blah, whatever. “My Back Pages” opens with the funniest god damned thing I’ve ever seen this puppet do: it shuffles into the room all disheveled and verbally abuses Brian for picking a sock off of him.

It’s wonderful. It’s almost as though ALF really exists, and his time in this shitty show is taking the same toll on him that it is taking on his human costars.

It’s really funny, and for the wrong reasons. ALF’s grouchiness is totally out of scale with the situation, making this seem like behind the scenes footage of an alternate universe recording session, where ALF really was some washed-up comedian starring in a terrible sitcom he thinks he should be above.

This illusion is sustained by the fact that Benji Gregory appears to be legitimately angry in the above screengrab, as though he’s finally snapped, too.

It’s wonderful stuff, because the visible misery of the cast relieves me of a little bit of my own.

Honestly, though, there’s a kind of pulsing anger that flows through this episode, and it’s really odd. This isn’t one of those episodes where ALF pisses everybody off…it’s just a silly story tossed out as an excuse to get Willie and Kate into some dumb costumes. It should be lighthearted and airy. Instead it’s tense and miserable.

ALF fell asleep in the dryer, or something, and I guess someone turned it on. You’d think there’d be some kind of explanation, but there’s not, so it plays more like ALF just rolled out of bed after a long night of binge drinking and is looking for someone’s wife to hit.

He bitches to Willie for a while about wanting a proper room of his own, and Willie tells him to go fuck himself. ALF replies, “Fine. Just remember this the next time you complain about fur in your shorts.”

It’s not much of a joke (if it’s…even a joke?), but I point it out because the line is clearly overdubbed, with an entirely different sound quality. It’s obviously ADR, but the fact that he’s a puppet means there’s no hope of lip-reading what the original line was.

Any guesses as to what the punchline could have been? I honestly can’t imagine anything worse than the one we got.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

After the credits we see ALF in the attic. He walks around and then he falls over for no reason and says, “I hate it when that happens!”

The audience laughs.

At what? I have no god damned clue. ALF hates it when he trips? Who gives a shit? What kind of writing is this? That’s not a joke. Is it? What is this show doing to my sense of humor? Why can I no longer identify what does and does not qualify as a joke?

Willie and Kate come upstairs to see what the fuck he’s doing now, and he tells them they really need to look into Public Storage. “We have,” Kate replies. “They won’t take you.”

And, okay, that’s pretty funny. Both Anne Schedeen and Jack LaMotta get a handful of good lines in this episode, which I’d love to interpret as some kind of peace offering on behalf of the writers.

Willie finds one of the leather straps he used to use on hobos in the crack dungeon, and he and his wife reminisce about the good times, before the National Enquirer stepped in.

They also find a dime-store silver peace sign, completely lacking in detail, attached to nothing, and the two of them beam over it like it’s some beloved talisman of the past.

Which it might be…but man, these two must have been some pretty lame hippies if they bought a peace sign at Hobby Lobby and called it a day. Didn’t hippies…make things? And didn’t they like vibrant colors and exaggerated shapes?

It’s a shame that the props department didn’t put any thought into this. An believable memento with personality could have told us a lot about their personalities. Or maybe it does. These two are just vague, flat representations themselves. Why should their cherished knick-knacks be any different?

It does lead to a funny line, though, when ALF sees it and says, “I’m impressed. When did you guys own a Mercedes?” That just about redeems to plainness of what we’re supposed to believe is an important and evocative memento.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Then we get a slightly different angle of the room and see a box of “XMAS GARLAND!” If ever a two-word phrase deserved an exclamation point, it’s surely that one.

ALF tells them to throw all their old shit away so he can expand his shrine to the Tanner ladies into the attic, and I’m okay with that seemingly dickish request. ALF might not understand human sentiment, and it makes sense that he’d ask why boxes full of crap they haven’t looked at in years gets to hang around while the family is facing space concerns.

Then again, ALF went back to gather up all of his mementos instead of using that time or that space in his UFO to rescue any of friends or family members before his planet exploded.

So, no, he’s not confused. He’s not even just dickish. He’s a massive pile of dicks.

Willie and Kate explain that it’s not junk…it’s part of who they are. “Or who we were,” Kate adds.

And…I don’t buy it.

We’re three years into knowing these people, and we’ve been told who they are (and were) several times already. “Hippie” was never one of these things, and nothing we’ve been told has stuck anyway.

This is just an excuse to get them into silly costumes, which is an approach to comedy writing somewhere on par with having a character fall over and then say, “I DO SO HATE TO FALL OVER!!”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s sad that the idea of learning more about these people used to fill me with hope for the next half-hour, and now it just makes me want to skip the episode.

Part of me, admittedly, was defensive because “Night Train” already told a story about the difference between Willie the Idealist and Willie the Murmuring Scrotum. What’s more…it told that story really, really well. It’s a firm contender for my favorite episode of ALF, and while that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, I’ll say this clearly: I really did enjoy that episode on its own merits.

To have “My Back Pages” rip that very welcome backstory out of the character and replace it with love-beads and some silly wigs…well, it’s fighting an uphill battle to say the least.

However, since this episode shows us Willie at Woodstock, and we assume he was around 45 at the time this aired (his age as of “Jump,” anyway), that would have put him in his late 20s when he attended the legendary outdoor music festival. Since “Night Train” told us that he rode the rails at 17, both of these backstories can slot comfortably next to each other.

The fact that I still hate “My Back Pages,” then, is entirely down to its own internal failures, and not due to any kind of conflict with a superior episode.

Rest assured: you’re watching shit.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Willie and Kate find some old filmstrips (and I admit I know very little about late 60s filmstock, but this sure looks a fuck of a lot like a spool of thin, white ribbon) which are, we are told, the home movies they shot at Woodstock.

…and fuck off.

Really now. Fuck the fuck off.

What “home movies” were shot at Woodstock? Honest question. In 1969, on Max Yasgur’s farm, where for one long weekend the closest thing we’ve ever had to a functional utopia came and went, who was shooting home movies?

I’d be glad to be proven wrong, but as far as I know there really isn’t that much footage of Woodstock outside of the professionally-shot stuff, which largely became the documentary Woodstock. I’m sure there were at least a few amateur videographers in attendance, but there is not much film in existence to prove it.

Additionally, any film equipment back then would have been extremely expensive (which is probably why hippies wouldn’t have had it in the first place). It wasn’t until the late 80s or early 90s that camcorders became popular, and even then they were quite expensive. That the Tanners could afford one in the present day of the show is believable, but “My Back Pages” wants us to assume they had one two decades before they were invented.

So this footage should be extremely valuable. Like, urgently valuable. This film represents a newly discovered angle (at least) on anything that Willie and Kate caught on camera. And in some cases — say, had Willie been filming while Pete Townshend cracked Abbie Hoffman in the head with his guitar — it would represent the only angle. This is a reel of immaculately preserved gold.

This episode aired around twenty years after Woodstock. If the Tanners have really been sitting on never-before-seen footage of the event, they should easily be able to sell copies of this to the media, to documentarians, to hobbyists…to absolutely anybody with any kind of interest in American, musical, or cultural history at all. The question of how they managed to film it on a spool of white ribbon in the first place is one thing, but the question of how valuable it is never occurs to anyone. And that’s driving me insane.

I can’t wait for next week, when Willie and Kate remember that they recorded the Kennedy assassination with their iPhones.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Whatever. They set up the filmstrip that we’ll see once and which nobody will ever refer to again. Lynn comes home and ALF smacks her in the face with a fistful of peanuts.

Fine. Who cares. This is Lynn’s thing now, getting hit with food and raising her arms in dismay. (The latter half of that is certainly my thing now.)

It can’t be a coincidence that this occurred in back-to-back weeks, can it? Like…this has to be a conscious attempt at a running gag.

…right? Please tell me they didn’t write LYNN GETS HIT WITH FOOD OR SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW in two consecutive scripts without realizing it.

ALF throws peanuts fucking everywhere because who the fuck fucking fucks. At least Lynn grabs a handful and throws them back at him. That’s my single favorite moment in all of season three so far.

I told you, everyone’s pissy in this episode. It’s automatically the most realistic installment yet.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Mr. Ochmonek comes over, and before he hides ALF complains about never getting to meet anyone. Which is pretty ridiculous, since by this point ALF has directly interacted with more people than any of the humans on this show. The writers don’t realize that they can’t pull this shit anymore, do they?

Mr. O busted up Willie’s weed whacker, which would probably make him a dick, but after all the crap Willie’s said and done to him, this is nothing. Mr. O could decapitate Lucky on Willie’s porch and he’d still rank as the better neighbor.

Anyway, the Ochmoneks are off to play bridge with some other people, and Mr. O asks if he can borrow some bridge mix. Willie says he doesn’t have any, so Mr. O says, “I guess we can’t play bridge.” Then he thinks and asks, “Got any gin?”

It’s a stupid, stupid, stupid joke that begins and ends with a pun…but it works.

Jack LaMotta’s delivery sells it, as it so often sells things like this, and the fact that he only pops up to make the joke and then disappears helps it a lot. It’s an interlude, and a welcome one, before Willie begins his filmribbon. (Funnily enough, ALF even refers to this exchange as the cartoon before the main event. It’s a nicely observed bit of meta-humor.)

I don’t think the writing for LaMotta is any better than it is for anyone else on this show; I think it’s just a matter of the fact that he, like Anne Schedeen, studies his lines, and decides how to give them heft. In Schedeen’s case, that often comes down to good acting. In LaMotta’s, it’s more about being as funny as possible in as little time as possible. Two very different executions, but they come from the same place: the all-too-rare desire to do good work.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Then we see the film and suddenly I understand how Willie obtained it: he ordered it from a stock footage company. It’s just a bunch of clips of hippies standing around, shuffling around, looking around. Great stuff, Willie. Maybe eventually we’ll see some examples of his photography, like a smiling black man and a smiling white man shaking hands in a boardroom.

There’s some sitar noodling in the background, which is unbroken through the scene transitions, so I guess Willie not only had expensive film equipment, but an entire editing suite at his disposal. Fuck this show.

Conveniently, ALF cuts to a different angle before Willie says, “Look! There’s Mama Cass!” Because that would have cost something, as would playing any actual Woodstock music instead of the pack-in disc from Sitar for Dummies.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

We see Kate on the screen, with Willie helpfully pointing out who we’re looking at, because it’s not like her own children or the alien who tries to fingerfuck her every time she takes a shower would recognize her.

And okay, okay. I know; she’s dressed a lot different in the film than her children or her lodger have seen her. That’s okay. But it leads me to wonder what future generations will do for their flashback episodes.

The Simpsons might provide some kind of answer, as Homer and Marge’s backstory involved similar late-hippie culture, and Principal Skinner’s involved a stint in Vietnam. At least, that was the case at first. Later on the show had been on long enough that these things no longer made sense for characters their ages, and another flashback episode showed Homer and Marge coming of age in the 90s instead.

The thing is, though, that the latter didn’t offer much in the way of opportunity for humor…or for sweetness. The culture of the 60s (and the specific iconography of Woodstock) stood for something…even if it was something intangible. (Or, if you’re being less generous, false.) It was representative of a conscious turning away. It was an entire generation standing up and saying, “No, I don’t want that. I want this.”

Volumes will continue to be written about what this actually meant or did not mean, but it’s fair to say that it meant something. It was liberty, and it was irresponsibility. It was the celebration of a future that never got here, and a denial of the present that already was. It was a chance for the young to spring forward into a childish idea of adulthood with the ability to make all of their own choices, but with none of the experience or foresight to make them intelligently. It wasn’t a culture of contradiction, exactly…it was more like a culture of often beautiful confusion.

…which is why it makes for such a nice setting when it’s time to visit “the past.” The fashions may look silly, but much of the music is timeless. And the entire backdrop serves as both a wistful dream and a cautionary tale. It’s a rich and evocative setting.

The 90s? Well, according to The Simpsons when it dipped a toe into that possible past, it was grunge music and slow internet. Ha ha.

There’s a reason That 70s Show was actually pretty good, made stars out of much of its cast, and continues to have a life in syndication, while That 80s Show barely staggered through a single, abbreviated season. And it’s because, to be totally frank, some generations are simply more culturally rich than others.

As sitcoms move forward — and as we grow older — we’ll see more and more of them building backstories that involve the Gulf War, the dot-com bubble, the Furby. But that will be out of necessity, and it will happen by default. It won’t happen out of love in the same way that the endlessly revisited 60s do. Or the similarly revisited 70s. Or even the ironically revisited 50s.

And so we beat on, boats against the current, away from richer kinds of culture. What we move toward remains to be seen. And I’m not particularly looking forward to it.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Oh, shit. We’re still watching ALF?

…alright.

We see Willie in the film, so either he and Kate handed the camera back and forth to each other a shitload of times, or there’s a third person who filmed this for them whom Willie and Kate couldn’t be arsed to name. ALF says that Willie looks like a fucking idiot and the family does this:

ALF, "My Back Pages"

What an insightful episode.

It’s extremely disappointing that “My Back Pages” just goes for the sight-gag of Willie looking like a dolt (and then has ALF say as much, presumably for the benefit of the blind), instead of mining any comedy from the contrast between the Summer of Love and the Me Decade.

No, it’s enough that at Woodstock some of the guys had long hair and that’s hilarious.

Viewing this event through alien eyes should have been interesting. For all the great music and provocative imagery that came out of 60s counterculture, we so often end up boiling it down to a handful of symbols and touchpoints. We accept that it was something, but if you weren’t there (and, surely, in many cases even if you were), it’s impossible to know what it meant. How it felt. Its human impact as opposed to its accepted social impact.

The absolute best way to explore that significance? Through the eyes of somebody who, somehow, has never even heard of Woodstock. Somebody like…I dunno…a cunting SPACE ALIEN?

We don’t get that, though. While ALF indeed raises questions about it, they’re answered (in a moment) by a simpleton. Willie isn’t just a bonehead who himself couldn’t identify with the movement beyond the symbols and touchpoints; he’s a voicebox for the writers who seem to believe that there really wasn’t anything else to it.

There’s no reason to believe that the staff understands what they’re talking about, and that’s frustrating. Vineland, a novel by Thomas Pynchon, explores exactly this territory…specifically, the distance between 1969 and 1984. How did America let its idealism falter so severely? How did we go from peace, love, and rock and roll to the War on Drugs? What shift of cultural complacency occurred to change the world once, and then let it change right back without interference?

It’s a great novel, and while I don’t expect an episode of ALF to measure up to high literature, Pynchon’s novel itself stoops to low comedy, slapstick, winks toward the popular culture of the time. In short, even though Pynchon is writing a work of art, he’s able to craft better sitcom material along the way than a sitcom aspiring to nothing else is able to craft.

Do yourself a favor. Buy Vineland. It’s brilliant.

alfep310k

Later on, Willie comes into the kitchen to find ALF eating fuckin’ everything. He starts to wax nostalgic about his college roommate, Snout. Snout also ate a lot, so at least now we know the writers consider that a valid sole personality trait for characters to have.

Anyway, Snout was awesome. (At least, that’s what I assume the show wants me to assume.) Everyone loved him, including Willie, who thought he was just the kitten’s tits.

He talks about a time that Snout took off all of his clothes and burned them, in order to stop the war. ALF asks if that worked, and Willie says yeah, he’d like to think it did, which shows not only what a fucking nincompoop Willie is, but exactly how simplified this important and unique cultural movement is treated by “My Back Pages.”

ALF, channeling the charmless political idiocy of “Pennsylvania 6-5000” and “Hail to the Chief,” asks why people don’t pull these stunts for peace anymore, what with Central America and the Middle East being war-ravaged hellholes.

Willie explains that he can’t do that stuff nowadays, because he has a family to support and he needs to pick his battles.

This proves he’s learned nothing in his half-century on Earth, because what he should be explaining to ALF is the fact that we can shape our country by voting, by contributing to causes, by volunteering, and so on. Instead he buys right into the same idea that he just sold ALF on: that, yes, you can change the world by doing ridiculous, tangential things with no demonstrable relationship to the thing you’re trying to affect.

It’s weird. Like, so weird that if this were a radio show, I’d have no idea which of these idiots was the alien.

ALF says Willie sold out, and Willie storms off to bed. Man, if you are what you eat, then ALF must have eaten Grumpy Cat.

But, you know what? Fuck Willie.

Seriously. Fuck him.

If he really believes that he can change the world by setting his clothes on fire or painting FREE HUGS across his paunch, and he still chooses not to, then he’s just a selfish asshole.

Either he doesn’t believe those things, in which case this conversation needed to take a very different turn, or he does, and he needs to start pulling his weight as a member of the human race.

Then ALF eats a big sandwich and the scene is over. HOORAY!

ALF, "My Back Pages"

In the next scene, Willie is pacing around, complaining that he can’t sleep. Kate suggests that it might be because he’s pacing, which is a very human response, and which I like…probably because it reminds me of a similar joke on Father Ted. (Albeit one that was pulled off far more artfully.)

“I used to organize peace marches, now I organize coupons,” Willie bitches, while his wife goes unlaid. Really, though, Willie should be distressed by the fact that he used to organize peace marches, and now he verbally abuses, kidnaps, and assaults those in need of his help as a social worker. But, hey, potato potato.

ALF comes in and does some ALF shit, and then Willie lays down and…

ALF, "My Back Pages"

NO

fucking NO NO

fucking fucking fucking NNNOOOOO

God shitting dammit.

A dream sequence. What is it with this show and dream sequences?

Typically dream sequences exist in sitcoms so that you can put the characters in fantastic situations, and have them do and say things that are beyond the reach of its normally grounded reality. It’s a cheat, really, but one that can be fun for both the writing staff and the viewer. And the cast, come to think of it. It’s a chance for everyone to enjoy an expanded playing field, and it temporarily opens up the context of the show, letting it feel a little less constrained and stuffy.

In ALF, though, the title character is a centuries-old intergalactic pederast. That is its normal, grounded reality. Zany situations are built in. We don’t need to do this…especially since the dreams are never any less dull or more creative than anything we get in the show proper.

Oh well. At least this dream sequence contains the Ochmoneks. More specifically Mr. Ochmonek, who welcomes Willie to the bar by saying, “All you need is love! There’s a two drink minimum.”

It’s rock solid delivery. Seriously. No snark from me at all on this one; LaMotta’s a fucking ace.

Sadly, though, the dream isn’t about him. It’s about Willie being Willie while everyone else around him gets to be a hippie and smoke a lot of drugpuffs and rub each other’s nipples and exchange patchouli recipes, or whatever the hell the ALF writers think hippies did.

Nightmare Hippie Kate starts telling Willie about this awesome guy named Snout, and if you can’t tell where this is going you should probably have that head injury looked at.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Yes, it’s ALF dressed as flower child icon Bruce Springsteen.

Wait, why Springsteen? His first album wasn’t released until 1973.

Well, you see, there actually is a really clever connection here: they already paid for a puppet-sized jean jacket for “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” and they wanted to make damn well sure they got their money’s worth. Also, Springsteen played music, and Woodstock, the writers are pretty sure, had some music, so, really, it’s a seamless fit.

ALF says a bunch of vaguely hippie things like “sit-in” and “hey man” and “you can’t rebuild without tearing down first.” To which Willie says a bunch of Willie things like “Hnnnggghymmn pffyyvr fsstmnrm.”

It turns out everyone in the Hippie Tavern agrees with whatever the fuck ALF says and disagrees with whatever the fuck Willie says because one of them is wearing a suit and holy shit I could not possibly care less about any of this.

Then it turns out that Willie and ALF are going to be roommates, which causes Willie to shit the bed and wake up.

Actually, no, he doesn’t. We just watch him toss and turn for a bit and then…

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Oh fucking suck my god damned taint.

A time skip? In a dream.

I…

WHY

Why are we leaping forward four years in a dream? What kind of dream has establishing subtitles? Is Willie actually asleep for four years? What the pissing shit are they going for here?

Mr. Ochmonek — who goes by the name Big Daddy in this sequence, suggesting a subconscious attraction that I truly do not want you discussing in the comments — is updating the specials board.

Wow, he sure couldn’t have done that four years ago. Thank Christ for the time skip.

Willie comes in and…wait. Why wasn’t he already there? This is his fucking dream. Was he dreaming of a restaurant owner writing on a chalkboard for a few minutes before he himself entered the room? What kind of dream is this?

Ugh, who cares. He’s turned into Shaggy from Scooby Doo I guess.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

Willie reveals that he’s graduated with honors, even though he’s a hippie, then ALF comes in, and ALF also graduated, even though he’s a hippie. No, I have no idea what we’re meant to glean from this, and it only gets more confusing.

ALF says he has a job lined up for him, which makes Willie flip out and accuse him of abandoning his ideals, which makes ALF lecture him for wasting his life…

…but I don’t see why any of this is happening. They’re acting like there’s this big gulf between them, but if they both graduated and have jobs and accolades to carry them into the workforce, why are they accusing each other of anything? Didn’t they both end up in the same place?

I honestly have no clue. They’re each upset at each other, which makes it seem like they’ve each revealed something that the other finds unpalatable. And yet…they both kind of revealed the same thing. And it’s nothing bad. And…they were still both hippies. And they’re both graduating and going to work. Why is this a conflict?

Fuck that…why is this a dream?

Who the fuck knows. It’s such a manufactured complication and it adds nothing to anything. Good thing we jumped four years ahead to get to it.

Six years later Willie wakes up and heads to the kitchen to speak with ALF.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

He either stretches or does the Chicken Dance, I can’t tell which. Then he says that ALF can have the attic, because he used to be a hippie, but then he wasn’t anymore, and he had a dream about not being a hippie, and then later in the dream he was a hippie again.

With that trail of sound logic followed to its obvious conclusion, Willie eats a cookie and the episode ends.

ALF, "My Back Pages"

In the short scene before the credits ALF puts on some library disco music and bops around.

COOL

Personally, I’d have far preferred an episode about Willie accidentally eating the brown acid.

MELMAC FACTS: Willie is from Decatur, Illinois. Melmackians had a word for guys who pierced their ears: pirates. The fact that ALF swears it’s not a gay joke doesn’t make it any less of a gay joke.

Adult Swim Comes to Hulu

April 24th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet | television - (5 Comments)

Rick and Morty
…and we all have a lot of catching up to do.

I got a press release regarding Turner Broadcasting and Hulu reaching an agreement. But as many stations as Turner owns, and as many programs as it has the rights to, the press release spotlighted Adult Swim coming to the streaming site.

This is both interesting and refreshing to me. While other shows on TBS and TNT draw larger viewing figures regularly (understandably so, being as Adult Swim is only discovered by those who have trouble sleeping one night), Adult Swim’s programming pushes the envelope. And while it’s by no means always good (hello, Assy McGee!), it’s at least always interesting. To see these shows being heralded above the more traditional comedy fare on its sister stations represents a much-deserved step forward in terms of visibility.

The press release doesn’t specify a date, and it’s crawling with future-tense, so I have no idea when these shows will actually arrive. But it promises full back catalogues, so get ready (seriously, get ready) to work your way through some of the best alternative television ever made.

HERE I MADE YOU A LIST

  • The Venture Bros.
  • The Boondocks
  • Moral Orel
  • Tom Goes to the Mayor
  • Metalocalypse

And anything else you feel even slightly compelled to watch. The above, as far as I’m concerned, are varying degrees of required viewing, with The Venture Bros. easily — easily — ranking high on the list of my favorite shows of all time. (Don’t tempt me to prove it by making the list.)

The press release also mentions some great Cartoon Network (non-Adult Swim division) fare coming along as part of the deal. Adventure Time, Regular Show, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and lots of other great stuff. I’m…really excited about those. Even more than I am the Adult Swim stuff, because I have much less experience with them, and I’m thrilled to get to know them properly.

And, yes, the choice of header image is deliberate, because a few people here have asked me to check out Rick and Morty, and I haven’t, because I’m a stubborn ass hole who hates you. But with it coming to Hulu, I’ll be giving it a spin. I can’t promise I’ll review it or anything, but we’ll see. As of right now that screen grab represents all I’ve ever seen of the show, so we’ll see where it takes me.

Regardless, I’m excited, and I hope you are too. Viewing these shows was always a hassle to do it legally, requiring cable (which I rarely have), the ability to stay up late (which I also rarely have), and the luck of catching whatever it is you want to see in their constantly fluctuating schedule (which I almost never have). The Adult Swim site has episodes available to stream, but they rotate as well, meaning any time I wanted to sample a new series I’d have to buy the DVD, or buy an episode through iTunes…both of which are definite gambles.

This will be a great way to help people fall in love with these shows, and I’m excited to discover more of them myself. I hope you are, too.

(Watch The Venture Bros. at least. You owe that to yourself.)

ALF, "Changes"

Well, we’re back…and just in time for a pretty important episode in the history of ALF. Not because people remember it fondly (or at all…I certainly didn’t) but because it has an actual job to do. “Changes” must shoulder more responsibility than any episode before it, barring the pilot: it needs to introduce Anne Schedeen’s real life pregnancy.

In any other episode, ALF could spin its wheels. There’s no real serialization here, and like most sitcoms this one comes with a press of the big reset button at the end of every episode. That means that very few of them have long-term impacts on the narrative of the show.

This, in itself, is not a weakness, but I point it out now to contrast the role of “Changes.” In any other episode, ALF just needs to make us laugh. (Ostensibly.) Here, it needs to go further, because, like it or not, Kate’s going to look pregnant for the next few episodes, and we’ve got to address it somehow. (Of course many readers here have already mentioned that Kate was showing. I didn’t notice this, because I only pretend to be observant.)

This could actually shock the writing staff out of their weekly stupor. Instead of writing a script in which ALF becomes an underpants model because why the fuck not who cares, they have definitive direction here. There’s a big announcement that they need to build toward, and while that might bind the creativity of funnier people, with these bozos such specific instructions are likely to help.

And it actually opens pretty well. For the first time in what feels like forever (and maybe is actually forever) the short intro scene is actually…well, short. It’s punchy. And while it’s not funny, strictly speaking, it creates an effective illusion of being so.

It’s under a minute long, and the entire joke is that ALF keeps asking if he can eat Willie’s meatloaf since Willie’s not home yet.

That’s all.

Again, not funny on its own, but this scene demonstrates quite well how an effective rhythm can make comedy pop. Comedy isn’t not all about the writing…it’s about the performances and the direction. And those things actually work here. A very simple joke which would probably have been overwroght and belabored in some lesser episodes is given exactly as much time as it needs, and that’s it. The repeated specificity of “meatloaf” rather than “dinner” or “food” helps a great deal as well.

It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s probably not the product of anything deeper than one of the writers realizing that “meatloaf” is a funny word. But it clicks in the right way, and it’s not as though a show’s opening joke needs to be its strongest. All it really needs to do is convince you to keep watching, and based on this alone you’d be forgiven for thinking that the staff of ALF had some idea of comic timing.

Then Willie comes home, announces that “the union” is going on strike — ah yes, the legendarily powerful social workers’ union — and that’s it.

But…it’s okay that that’s it.

A good joke, a hint of the plot, and the intro credits. This is dangerously efficient.

And, yes, it convinces me to keep watching. Good on you, “Changes.”

ALF, "Changes"

After the credits, we see Willie and Kate in bed, and I have to conclude that he’s grateful to the strike for giving him a reason to bitch all night instead of fucking his wife.

Kate turns to him and offers her support. Man, she must get tired of being the only person in the universe who acts like a caring human being.

Willie says he can’t sleep, and expresses concern about all the people who rely on social workers that won’t be getting the help they need. You know, help like Willie making fun of them for having too many kids, and abducting undocumented Mexicans.

Kate, as a wife, is great here. She really is. She’s a person. She has emotions, and empathy, and a capacity for rational thought. I don’t know how she so often escapes the writers’ best attempts to reduce her to a generic cutout like the rest of her family, but she does, and that’s why I feel the need to compliment her so often.

In fact, this episode is a great showcase for Schedeen, as it should be. She doesn’t get quite as much of the spotlight as I would like (that is to say, she gets LESS THAN ALL OF IT), but when a show like ALF spends time with the one character who is a character, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

Kate expresses her support for her husband, and lets him know that they will find a way to make ends meet during the strike. She assuages his concerns about social services shutting down by explaining that innocent people suffer in all strikes, and that’s not his fault. If he’s ultimately making things better for the people he serves, then he’s doing the right thing.

Willie responds by saying, “I think I can sleep now!!!”

The audience loves that punchline, but I don’t even get it. Was he bored by his wife’s understanding and supportiveness?

Fuck the fuck off, Willie. I’m starting to understand why you’re named after a dick.

Seriously, guys. He woke her up because he was troubled. He was losing sleep, so she gave up her own sleep to comfort him. She tries to keep him from worrying, and promises that if she needs to make sacrifices so that he can have his candy-ass strike, she’ll do it. And he just rolls his eyes until he decides it’s time for her to shut up, because that’s how you treat a wife.

Ugh. Actual, serious ugh.

Also, after however many fucking raises and promotions Willie’s had, he talks about the strike being necessary because he deserves “fair compensation.”

So, yeah. According to the show, this asshole who has never once been good at his job and has often been shown to be actively horrible at it (remember, we last saw evidence of his approach to social work when he threatened to stab a hobo to death in his garage) still isn’t making enough money.

The fucking christ almighty.

ALF, "Changes"

Then ALF comes in because of course he does.

There’s a funny joke when he says he’s worried about the strike, too, and he has a five-word suggestion: “Willie gets another job.”

Yes, we get the joke, and no, we don’t need Willie to say, “That’s four words…” but he does anyway, and it leads to a second gag in ALF’s reply: “Good. I ran out of fingers.”

It’s not often that a good line gets compounded into a better one, so I’ll take this, even if it comes at the tail end of Willie trying to convince us that Kate is a meddling shrew because she loves him and wants what’s best for the family.

Actually, this little exchange is a good microcosm of “Changes” as a whole: a lot of crap, but a few really, truly nice moments and lines. There’s about five minutes’ worth of good material in this episode, which is about seven minutes more than most episodes have.

Kate volunteers to get a job, which I think is the first time that idea has ever been floated on this show, even though ALF’s decimated their finances a thousand times over and prevented their daughter from going away to college. As soon as she floats the idea of employment, Paul Fusco laughs himself silly. Since the laughter could also kind of make sense coming from ALF, the editors left it in.

I really don’t like it when this show rags on Kate. At all.

It’s not because I’m protective of her character — god knows it’s flimsier than I’d like to believe it is — but because of why they rag on her. Instead of making jokes at the expense of, say, her anal retentiveness, her strict rules, or her seething hatred of everything her life has become, we seem to instead get jokes about the fact that she’s a woman. Which is why she’d better wake up when Willie needs her, and then shut up when Willie’s sick of her. And why “I’ll get a job!” is inherently a joke.

She’ll get a job? No she won’t. She has a vagina. She’ll stay put, just like she’s supposed to.

I’m not a fan of the way women are treated in this show. And I say this as a truly awful man.

Kate explains to ALF that she used to sell real estate. She left when she got pregnant with Lynn, then went back and left again when she got pregnant with Brian. She was going to return again to work, but then they got ALF.

This causes ALF to bring up the idea of adopting him officially. Obviously they can’t do that and the whole conversation is a bit of a waste of time, but I do like that ALF asks at one point, “Doesn’t it bother you that I don’t carry the Tanner name?” And Willie replies without lifting his head from the pillow, “No.”

The adoption idea actually runs throughout the episode, with characters mentioning it at various points, making it feel like a nice touch. Of course, the episode doesn’t do anything with it, but the fact that it serves as the episode’s refrain means that somebody, at least, put some thought into this, and made a creative decision.

There’s an even better moment at the end of the scene, when ALF says he’s worried that if Kate returns to work, nobody will be around to take care of him. Willie says, “ALF, you’re 231 years old. You should be able to take care of yourself by now.”

ALF replies, “You’d think so, wouldn’t you.”

“Changes” is so damn close to being a good episode that it hurts.

ALF, "Changes"

At some later point ALF is watching TV. Brian comes in, and ALF doesn’t even look away from the screen to greet him, which pretty much sums up the kid’s role in the show at this point.

Brian at least justifies his appearance in this scene, though, because he sets up a legitimate laugh. When he sees that ALF is just flipping through the channels rapidly, he asks, “Doesn’t that make you dizzy?”

ALF responds with “Yeah!”

Moments like this, marooned in the mire of what’ll turn out to be a largely forgettable (and at times disgusting) episode, remind me of what the writing staff is capable of. There are so many good things peppered throughout “Changes” that it becomes frustrating that there aren’t more of them…and that other episodes have none of them.

These minor flashes not of greatness but of competence, of understanding, of coherence, are maddening, because they suggest a much higher baseline for the show than we’re actually getting. The writing staff is more concerned with beating rush hour traffic than they are with writing the best script possible. And that’s sad, because when they try, they show they can do it. And if they tried more often, they might get pretty good at it.

ALF, "Changes"

Willie comes home with a picket sign that says ON STRIKE. That’ll teach ’em, Willie!!

He sits down on the couch and immediately settles in to go to sleep. So, just to put this into perspective for you, one day of standing around with a sign has tuckered this guy out more than any given day doing actual social work. That should put into perspective just how good at his job he really is.

ALF asks about the strike, and when Willie starts to explain the concept to him, ALF says, “Let me get comfortable,” and then asks for a bunch of shit, wiggles around, pops his knuckles and his neck…and it just keeps going. It’s fucking awful.

After Willie says whatever the hell he says — I’m not sure I’ve ever made it through two consecutive Max Wright sentences without falling asleep — ALF waxes nostalgic about when Kate used to be around…feeding him, following him around with a johnny mop.

And yes, he actually said that Kate would follow him around with a johnny mop. So my exaggerated jokes about ALF shitting all over the house? Not jokes, apparently. Actually just pretty astute.

Then, when ALF concludes his revelry, he says, “Now she’s dead.”

And, okay, that was actually really funny.

It keeps going, too. Willie says that Kate might want a little more out of life than swabbing alien shit out of her family’s living space, and ALF says, “Why? If it ain’t broke, don’t step on it.”

Willie says, “Fix it,” and ALF says, “Fix what?”

A lousier episode would have stopped there, with the laughter of dead people assuring us that this was much funnier than we’d otherwise think. But then Willie explains, “The expression is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

To which ALF replies, after thinking for a moment, “Why would you?”

I’m…amazed. Two characters sitting in a room having a conversation, and it is actually, for the most part, funny. That’s a serious rarity for this show.

ALF, "Changes"

In the next scene we get an establishing shot of Kate’s workplace, which I assume is called EE Realty Co. Either that or they made sure to film someone else’s sign from an angle that wouldn’t require them to pay anyone. COULD BE EITHER.

Kate has an unconvincing breakdown over how much there is that she needs to learn, because she’s been away so long. It’s kind of lousy, but I do like the way she and her coworker bond over it briefly. It’s true to life. The coworker is just a nondescript woman with long black hair, and I honestly don’t even remember if she’s given a name, but she and Schedeen have a nice chemistry together that suggests a longer history than the writing does.

One problem I have with it, though, is that as soon as we see Kate at work, she’s floundering. It’s exactly like Willie’s first day at his new job in “Movin’ Out.” Why are the Tanners always totally incompetent right off the bat? Why do they keep getting re-hired and promoted? I love Kate, but nothing about her behavior in this episode supports the idea that she’d be hired three times by this agency.

Why can’t we see them doing good work for at least for a moment before they reveal themselves to be dangerously unqualified to leave the house? It might require a little more effort on the part of the writing, but, hey, call me crazy, I think it might still be a good idea. If anything it would give us something like progression of character, rather than an abrupt shift to a new scene that might as well have HERE’S WHAT’S FUCKING HAPPENING NOW stamped across it in subtitle.

Anyway, ALF calls, because this is ALF, and if we aren’t seeing or hearing ALF we might be confused about what show we’re watching.

Which…is a valid concern, actually, come to think of it. We’re three seasons in and he’s still the only recognizable character, so maybe he does need to pop up every thirty seconds to stave off audience confusion.

There’s a less funny (but still not bad) reprise of the conversation with Willie, with ALF mixing up a different idiom, and then it’s over. Which is good, because now that he’s gone we’ll get to see more of Kate in the workplace and…

ALF, "Changes"

Oh.

Uh, nevermind. We’re just going to listen to ALF crack wise in the kitchen, because God forbid this episode end up focusing on something specific and isn’t just a collection of disconnected ALF routines.

It’s a scene of Willie cooking dinner, with all of his ingredients on a table across the room for some unknowable reason. Brian reveals that he doesn’t know what a garlic press looks like, which is where that much beloved running joke began (by season four it’ll be a weekly tradition for Brian to enter a room and say, “Hey! What’s-a the gahr-lic press??” to rapturous applause).

Then there is an admittedly good line when Willie talks about the pasta primavera he’s making, and after he describes the sauce, ALF says, “But I like the sauce Kate opens.”

So, yes, I’m definitely down on most of the Kate-shitting in this show, and on the surface this is no different (seriously, why does nobody on this show appreciate the one person in the universe who Gets Shit Done?), but the turn of phrase in ALF’s reply, which is delivered perfectly, makes this worth it. The fact that it’s an actual joke — as opposed to a reminder that Kate is a member of the inferior gender — no doubt contributes to its success.

Of course, we can’t end the scene there, what with it being a funny line that also ties into the general plot. No, instead ALF has to ask what a certain vegetable is, so that Willie can say, “Radicchio,” and ALF can reply, “The whole idea of you cooking is radicchio!”

It’s a joke that works better when spoken than in print, and it doesn’t really work when spoken either. But, hey, we have the recorded laughter of dead strangers to create the illusion that something funny happened.

Then Lynn comes in, and we get a whole new attempt at defining a character for her: she’s a feminist warrior. Why? Who fuckin’ cares. She’s Jessie Spano now…and only now. She’ll walk off stage shortly and transmogrify into somebody else yet again.

I…god. At this point I have so much to say about Lynn, but the season is still young, and lord knows what I have yet to endure. I’ll save it for the Character Spotlight, because holy buttfuck this character jesus.

She announces that she stayed after school to protest cheerleading practice…which is odd. I thought she was in college now, but this suggests she’s not, and later in the episode ALF specifically mentions that she’s still in high school. So not only can the show not agree on who she is as a person, but it can’t agree on how old she is or what stage of life she’s in. They really, really couldn’t make it any more obvious that they don’t care about this character, could they?

It was some kind of protest, she explains, about women always being spectators or who cares. No offense to feminism, and I’m sure I could find the ghost of a good point in there, but since we’re never going to see this character trait again I’m not getting invested.

It seems as though there might have been the germ of something smart here. Since Willie is on strike, maybe Lynn could have been inspired to launch this poorly-considered protest of her own. One with good intentions, surely, but which falls apart when she gets the ear of the school (or her classmates) and has to reveal that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about; she just did it for the sake of doing it.

It would have been a nice way to inject some personal, human stakes into this story. Willie’s little sabbatical isn’t just affecting his family in terms of their finances, but in terms of their attitudes, and in terms of their approaches to solving problems. He’s Lynn’s father, and whatever he’s doing, for whatever better or worse, she’s learning from him.

Perhaps Willie’s cause isn’t worth fighting for. Or perhaps it is, but he’s failed to demonstrate the difference between a good cause and a poor one to his children. This is a chance, for the first time in a long-ass time, for Willie to stop being a guy who recites lines from a cue card and start being a father.

But instead we just throw salad on Lynn and move on.

ALF, "Changes"

GREAT SHOW DUDES

In the next scene, Kate walks in on ALF masturbating in front of the shrine he built to her.

ALF, "Changes"

Bet you thought I was kidding, huh?

It’s a bunch of pictures he took of her when she wasn’t looking, and together they joke about him getting photos of her wearing lingerie, and, oh! how they laugh.

Why she doesn’t beat SPEWEY to death with a rake here and now is beyond me. Instead she tries to cheer him up by explaining that she likes working, and it’s okay if he feels a little lonely now and then because he’s still part of the family, and Anne Schedeen delivers all of this just fine but holy fuck is it unnerving to have this heartwarming speech unfold while the shrine to ALF’s voyeurism is still in frame.

Then Willie comes in and literally wraps up his entire plot by saying, “Good news! The strike’s over.”

Well, that sure was pointless. Why did the episode have him strike at all? If Kate had already been planning to go to work anyway, then this wasn’t necessary at all. And now it ends without fanfare or explanation. Willie’s happy, I guess, but since I don’t know any of his coworkers, or his clients, or what his working conditions were like, and all I ever see is Willie fucking off on the couch, why should I care?

Was he a freedom fighter or an obstinate pig? Based on what I’ve actually seen in the show, I can’t answer that. And that’s a problem.

In fact, if I weren’t writing a novel about this episode, I probably wouldn’t even remember at this point that there was a strike. Oh well. Willie says, “Good news! C-plot’s over.” And we know that this garbage is at least winding down.

ALF, "Changes"

Then we get the moneyshot. Kate announces she’s pregnant.

And…it’s kind of pretty good! She comes home from work and alludes to the previous two times she had to leave her job. Willie’s not looking at her, focusing instead on doing his taxes, just like when they have sex. This leaves ALF free to silently figure out what Kate’s hinting at, and Paul Fusco — as is almost always the case — does some great puppet work with that.

I can’t stress enough how good a puppeteer Fusco is. As critical as I am of the other facets of his (apparent) personality, I’m genuinely impressed by how much mileage he gets out of his puppet’s largely static features. He’s very, very good at what he does, and with better writers he could have been remembered much more fondly today.

Eventually ALF says, “Willie, you fuckbag, your wife is pregnant for shit’s sake.” Willie stands up and hugs Kate, overcome with joy at the fact that he now has evidence of all three times he’s gotten laid.

They call the kids into the room to announce the good news, and there’s some legitimately good acting from Andrea Elson, who seems genuinely happy and surprised. Being as Anne Schedeen was actually pregnant here, and given how close these two seem to have been in real life, I’m content — and happy — to believe that Elson was channeling what she actually felt when she found out her costar was pregnant. Either way, she’s great here.

It’s nice. It really is. Brian makes it clear that he doesn’t know what sex is any more than he understands the garlic press, but aside from that dud, this is a nice scene, buoyed by the easy mother-daughter chemistry that Schedeen and Elson have.

Right now I’m willing to say that it’s a massive, massive shame these two don’t get more to do together. They’re the only pairing of characters that I believe want anything to do with each other.

ALF, "Changes"

Then we’re back at the office, where Kate and her colleague bond over their experiences with morning sickness. Just like their previous conversation, there’s a kind of effortlessness between the two that suggests a real friendship. Schedeen really doesn’t get the credit she deserves, because freed from the idiots she usually shares the screen with, she reveals herself to be quite good. Man oh man did she deserve a better sitcom…

ALF calls up just to tell her he misses her, which is fine. It’s not bad, but I also don’t give a shit. Then the scene ends and…

…huh.

I thought Kate was going to quit again.

I mean, I’m sure she does, but not in this episode? Maybe she’ll actually work this job for a while. That’d be fine, since she said she’s only one month into the pregnancy, but it also seems like a bit of a departure for ALF to allow such a significant change in what a character does from week to week.

Having said that, I hope she does keep working here. It’ll be nice to see her interacting with someone who at least appears to be from Earth, and it could open up new plotlines as well. I’m curious. And clearly setting myself up for disappointment.

ALF, "Changes"

In the short scene before the credits, Willie attempts to talk to Brian about sex.

If the thought of Max Wright talking to his TV son about how the engorged genital shaft of an aroused man penetrates the meat vacuum of an unfortunate woman isn’t off-putting enough, Brian then says that ALF already told him all about it.

So, yeah, for those of you who enjoy ALF at his most sex offensive, here you go. He provided detailed descriptions of the reproductive process to a little boy when there was nobody else in the house. Yet another great inroad for your creepy Uncle Ticklebeard.

Willie then goes to thank ALF for saving him the trouble (which in itself is an admittedly nice twist, as we’d expect him to maybe yell at the guy who he just found out has been engaging in secret sex talk with his grade-school son), and ALF says that he doesn’t think Brian understood the part about “releasing the pods.”

So, there you have it, folks. We end the entire episode on the hilarious reveal that a preteen doesn’t quite grasp the concept of ejaculation, despite a pedophile’s many enthusiastic attempts to teach it to him.

And on that bombshell…I’M BACK MOTHERFUCKERS

Better Call Saul, "Marco"
I went back and forth about whether to review “Marco” on schedule. Something about it seemed to call out for more consideration than I could give it after only one viewing. So I decided to wait…and the next day, I found out that my grandmother passed away. Jimmy’s loss of an important person in his life overlapped with my own. By no means am I suggesting that this provided me with any useful insight…it was an interesting thing to have happened, and that was about it.

And that’s about what I can say about “Marco” as a whole, after much reflection. Closing off an extremely promising first season, “Marco” feels like a significant letdown. Not just on its own merits, but in terms of where we’ll be when we return for season two.

It’s not a bad episode of television by any means, but with the incredible strength of the previous seven episodes behind it (I still hold that the pilot was relatively weak), “Marco” feels…well, dead. And being as it contains Jimmy’s most emotional journey so far, a lot of answers about his past, and “the moment” when he decides to become the shyster we all know and love (more on that presently), that’s odd. “Marco” isn’t running in place. It’s not playing for time. It’s an important episode. And yet it feels so trivial.

It’s still hard for me to figure out exactly why “Marco” doesn’t work. So many excellent pieces are there, but it feels as though it lacks cohesion. Which means that as down as I am on it as a whole, I can definitely spend a lot of time rattling off the things I really liked. And then, probably, undermining them, because I’m a miserable old bastard.

For starters, there’s the most obvious one: Jimmy’s bingo night meltdown. Odenkirk delivers this masterfully, swinging from playful to frustrated to desperate as a roomful of people bear witness to something they’ll never be able to explain. It’s a great chance for the actor to showcase his talents, and he absolutely rises to the occasion.

But, I have to admit, it plays too much like a “big moment.” It smacks of narrative effort. Through no fault of Odenkirk’s, the bingo speech feels like something the writing room would have been celebrating before it was even on paper. Compared to Mike’s “I broke my boy” speech from “Five-O,” which felt as though it grew organically from the tragic story we’d just watched, this felt a little artificial. It felt like a product of structure rather than one of discovery.

I like that the other major players in this show — Hamlin, Kim, Chuck, Mike — got sidelined. They popped in for a scene or two, nodded at the audience, and disappeared. That helped to sell both the importance of this episode — with its unapologetic focus on a single character’s journey — and the decided detachment of Jimmy himself. Reeling from the revelation at the end of “Pimento,” our main character throws up his hands and walks away. So, too, does the show itself.

However, this also places an undue weight on that character, asking him to shoulder — for the first time — a story entirely on his own. Odenkirk is up to the challenge. Jimmy McGill is up to the challenge. But I don’t think the writers were up to the challenge. Stripped of his familiar environment and supporting cast, our protagonist falters. Removing him from his comfort zone is a great way to show us unrealized aspects of his personality. By the end of “Marco,” though, they stay unrealized. And while the episode does a good job of letting us know right off the bat that we’re going to witness an important step in Jimmy’s (d)evolution, the artlessness of the ending makes it too difficult to appreciate any of the preceding subtlety.

I like the idea of Jimmy’s Lost Weekend relapse being a string of low-stakes cons. His relationship with Marco has a believable feeling of history behind it, and there’s a lot of very nice things done with the idea that these two hold each other back while feeling like they pull each other forward.

Then again, the cons aren’t particularly amusing. Only one (the wristwatch) has resonance, being as that’s the one we saw pulled off successfully in “Hero.” Ending their reunion with a sour reprise of that note is smart, but it’s not worth the unimpressive (and overly long) string of cons it takes to get us there. Breaking Bad left an impact with its willingness to deliberate, to work through its own logic openly, to pull us along step after agonizing step. There, however, it was in aid of escalating tension, and it worked very well. Here, in particular with the Kennedy half-dollar con, it just leaves the audience with too much room to wonder if it’s making good use of the time. We spend too long on simple concepts, making it feel as though Better Call Saul is padding out the clock. It’s not a pleasant feeling. (And the less said about the idiotic fact that the Nigerian Prince con is in their rotation the better.)

The scene outside the church was wonderful, with Kim’s phone call feeling like a tentative return to normalcy. She knows he’s doing something self-destructive, but she understands why. She knows he probably needs that. She doesn’t pry, and she spins a few plates on his behalf while he’s gone. It dovetails nicely with the scene in which Jimmy checks his messages and finds that he has clients — actual people for whom he is doing actual good, and who pay him actual money — waiting for him, and it feels like a nice moment of awakening for the character. She tells him that he stands a good chance of being hired on at another law firm…and hands us a great setup for where season two can go.

But ah, the Sickle! Jimmy comes home, stands in a parking lot for a little bit, then says “Fuck it, I’ll be a bad guy!” It’s an unconvincing reversal, to say the least, and it again feels so effortful. It’s a forced conclusion that speeds us toward Jimmy’s eventual transition into Saul, which works against the quiet, tragic slowness we’ve known all season. (Which has, I say confidently, worked in the show’s absolute favor.) He drives over to Mike’s perch, says everything short of “I’m Saul Goodman now. See you next season!” and drives off humming “Smoke on the Water.” With the high highs of the previous episodes still so strongly in mind, I find it hard to believe that that’s where we actually ended things.

“Marco” seems to take at least a step back for each step it takes forward, and I think it’s the ending that works most strongly against it. It’s too obvious, and it reduces a journey (I keep using that word, because I want it to be true) to a snap decision.

I’ll watch season two, unquestionably. But Jimmy deciding he’s going to be a crooked shit is too easy. We already know where he ends up, so this isn’t surprising. It should have been something more momentous than flipping a light switch, which is what he might as well have done.

A far more intriguing end to season one would have been Jimmy getting hired on at that firm. He could spend “Marco” doing largely the same things, coming to largely the same conclusion as he comes outside of that church. He decides that he can do this, and sets out to make a name for himself at a reputable firm.

…at which points he finds it extremely difficult, makes an ass out of himself, and despite his best efforts keeps getting beaten back to the man who will eventually give up and become Saul.

That could have been a great series of episodes. It would have proven to him that he couldn’t handle what he expected to handle. It would have given Chuck’s “chimp with a machine gun” concern some retroactive weight, as Jimmy fails to live up to the sacred practice of law.

I’m not saying that I know the direction of this show better than anyone else does, but I do know that Kim’s arrangement floods my mind with possible storylines, whereas “I’m Saul Goodman, and you’re not! G’night everyone!!” doesn’t.

We already know what he becomes. The fun, I’d have thought, would be in stringing us along. Stretching it out. Working him through various ups and downs, false promises and pyrrhic victories, which, eventually, break him.

Everyone involved with the show is talented enough to pull that off. And they may well still pull it off. But “Marco” ends in the last place I’d want it to end: being comfortably obvious.

I still owe you all a season one review. And don’t worry…I’ll have plenty to say there as well. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your patience.

Death and Taxes

April 15th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (4 Comments)

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Just a partial return from me on Tax Day, the holiest and most introspective day of the year, to let you know that I intend to resume full service (and then some) next week. For now, Mr. Fabiola is letting his engine cool a bit.

I appreciate your understanding during this time, but I look forward to getting back into a routine again, and having specific things to write about. That will be a big help.

Losing my grandmother was rough…but seeing how it affected others she was close to — related and not — is what really hurt. The strained relationship I have with my family doesn’t make it any easier, as I ended up without much of an outlet for mourning. It’s hard…but it happens. It’s a part of life. Specifically, it’s the last part.

It’s sobering when you lose a family member. I joke a lot with my friends that we don’t really feel like adults. When does that start? I don’t feel like a kid, either. I just feel like I’m somewhere in the middle…and many of my peers seem to as well.

I think you start to feel like an adult when the previous generation or two starts to pass on. As those lives wind down, you realize that yours is winding down as well. As those people go away and do not come back, you realize that, one day, that will be you, too.

And that’s when you’re an adult. When you realize that anything you’re ever going to do, you need to be doing now. Fortunately for me, I realize that I am doing much of it now. The reminder that I don’t have forever doesn’t fill me with despair, but has rather given me a little more appreciation for what I have, and for where I am.

On the subject of taxes, I got unexpectedly hammered by the government. I owed a pretty large chunk of money, thanks to the (mercifully short) time I spent unemployed this past year. I sent in my tax return about a month ago and got an electronic acknowledgment that it’s been accepted…but the money is still in my account, so I have no idea what to do now. I guess I’ll just wait around until it disappears? Or should I let someone know?

You’ll probably notice that I’m trying advertising again. This time I’m using Google Ads, so they should be pretty reliable and unobtrusive. If you’d like to toss a fraction of a penny my way, click one now and again. If not, that’s fine too. The only thing that I do ask is that you let me know your thoughts. If you get some obnoxious ad or see something spammy, or it in any way interferes with whatever it is that keeps you coming back to this site, let me know, please. If I can defray the cost of webhosting, that’s great. If I’m doing it at the cost of readership, that’s far from great.

Years ago when I managed an appliance store, we hired somebody I knew when I was a kid. His name was Joe. He’d hit a really rough patch in his life…I knew little about it at the time, but when he re-emerged we brought him on as a delivery driver.

Only a month or so before he’d been involved in a serious car accident. His brakes failed on the highway, and his car went underneath the chassis of an 18-wheeler. The roof of his car — and much else — was sheared off. He ducked. His car veered into a ditch, where it crashed and caught fire. He doesn’t remember being pulled out of it, but he was. I saw the photos of the car. It seemed miraculous that anyone could have walked away from that…let alone with nothing but some bumps and bruises.

Joe agreed, I guess, in his own way. He was going to get his life back on track. He said the same thing he said when he showed anyone those pictures. He said, “I shouldn’t be alive, but I am. God wants me here for some reason.”

He struggled with a lot, and I couldn’t begin to express — or want to try to express — the nature of whatever demons he faced every day. But a matter of weeks later, still fresh off of his awakening, he died of a heroin overdose. He didn’t come to work one morning. Later that day his roommate found his body.

The other delivery driver was named John. John knew Joe well. He was happy to see this man — who, at one point, was probably a friend — start taking his life seriously, and working toward something…even if that something was just a job and a steady check.

When John found out about Joe’s death, he threw something on the ground. It could have been his clipboard. I don’t remember. But I remember that he threw it. And that he looked up at the sky, raised a middle finger, and said, loudly, “Fuck you.”

John wasn’t a man prone to theatrics. He had his own kind of posturing and self-assurance, but these were small. He acted like a tough guy, but the kind of tough guy who didn’t need to say much. When this facade broke, and he cursed whomever it was that he cursed, it hurt. It was scary. And I remember it — that moment, those words, the sound of those words and the gravity of that gesture — more vividly than I remember anything about Joe.

Seeing others dealing with unexpected death is always harder for me than dealing with it myself. In the latter case, I know someone’s gone. It’s sad, but, eventually, it’s something you can come to terms with. When it’s somebody else, though, the victim is still alive, and is carrying a new kind of pain. I can say with confidence that it’s nearly always a kind of pain that nobody deserves.

Do something fun this weekend. Whatever you might consider fun to be. Have yourself a good time. One you can look back on and be happy about.

You may not die tomorrow, but somebody sure will.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...