Couch Potato

I’m Not Mad at Iron Fist, I’m Just Dissapointed

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I’m a huge sucker for Marvel. I grew up with these characters, and while I do enjoy DC and have some favorites characters and stories from them, I’m completely a Marvel guy. I don’t think that that makes me blind to flaws in stories put out by Marvel, be they movies, films, TV shows, or even video games, but I certainly am willing to give them a bigger pass than most. I certainly prefer it if my Marvel stories have quality plots, are well constructed, and actually feature decent character work, but there are times that just simply seeing a character that I’ve loved for most of my life making the leap to a new medium. But there are definitely times where I run into an adaptation of a character that I love, and things miss the mark. I’ve seen a lot of complaints on the internet about the Marvel shows that Netflix have been putting out. That they’re overly long, dull, and and don’t have enough of the fun and charm of the Marvel films. I disagree with these assertions, and have greatly enjoyed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and even Luke Cage. They’ve all been a whole lot of fun to me, and have featured some of my favorite comics characters of all times. I still have issues with them using the title Defenders for their team, but I’ve been completely in the bag for these shows. And of course, the knowledge that the final Defender to join the party would be Iron Fist had me excited. I really love Iron Fist, especially in the context of him working with Luke. By even on mostly solo stories, like the Claremont originals and the Immortal Iron Fist series from Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja. Then things started coming out about the show. The casting was a red flag to begin with, but I knew that I would still give the show a fair shot. Then the reviews started coming in. But that usually doesn’t matter to me, I like what I like and don’t need other people’s opinions to alter that. So when the show finally dropped I dove in like I usually do with the show. And folks? It’s not good.

Iron Fist tells the story of Danny Rand, the heir to the massive Rand Enterprises, who has been thought dead for a decade after the plane he and his parents were on crashed in the Himalayas. But one day Danny returns to New York, bedraggled and shoe-less, and expects to be welcomed back in open arms by the Meachums, the family who has been running Rand since he was gone. Ward and June Meachum, two people who were basically siblings to Danny, assume that he’s a crazy person, and try to get him committed. But things aren’t as they seem, because it turns out Rand has been overtaken by the mystical criminal organization known as the Hand. The Hand, lead by Madame Gao, have infiltrated Rand, and have faked the death of Harold Meachum and have him under house arrest in his penthouse. So there are our villains, which means Danny’s going to need some allies. He manages to eventually get out of the mental asylum when he convinces the world that he’s actually Danny Rand, and ends up meeting a kung fu sensei named Colleen Wing. He begins hanging out with Collen while trying to keep the Meachum’s from being assholes, and lets everyone know that he’s the Iron Fist, a magical protector of a hidden city known as K’un-Lun. Danny is now a master at kung fu and can funnel his chi into his hand to make it indestructible. Danny then begins juggling all kinds of plots, trying to make Rand a decent company that does the right thing, get the Hand and their synthetic heroin operation out of Rand, track down Madame Gao, and help Harold Meachum destroy the Hand to save his own life.

But eventually things start going right when Danny travels to China with Collen and her friend Claire Temple, and they encounter Gao and her heroin operation. They manage to capture Gao, and learn that she was involved with the death of Danny’s parents. But before they get any more information they’re attacked by Hand soldiers, and Colleen is wounded. She has Danny call her former teacher, a man named Bakuto to come help, and things get nuts. Bakuto arrives and brings Danny and Colleen back to the hidden kung fu school that he runs. He helps Danny learn more about being the Iron Fist, showing him how to heal himself and recharge his chi. However, this is ruined when it turns out that Bakuto and Colleen are a splinter faction of the Hand, leaving Danny in an awkward position. But this is helped with the sudden arrival of a man named Davos, who is also from K’un-Lun. Davos saves Danny and the two escape the Hand. Turns out Davos was Danny’s best friend, and he’s come to New York to get Danny and bring him back to K’un-Lun so that he can resume his solemn duties as the protector of the magical city. But Danny convinces him to first let him defeat Bakuto and the Hand. Which they quickly do, and even convince Colleen to rejoin their side. And, with the enemy of the series defeated we now have to deal with a new villain, Harold Meachum. He’s going crazy due to the magic the Hand has placed on him to let him come back from the dead, and is actively trying to destroy Danny at this point. Oh, and he was responsible for killing Danny’s parents, putting the plane crash into action. So Danny and Colleen storm Rand Enterprises and end up killing Harold with the help of Ward Meachum. Danny and Colleen then return to K’un-Lun only to find it destroyed.

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Okay, let me say right off the bat, this show is a mess. It’s poorly directed, has some spotty acting, and just generally isn’t written well. There’s like three seasons of plot going on in this show, mixed together and badly told. Having Danny deal with the Meachum’s and the betrayal of Harold, two separate versions of the Hand, and Davos is probably too much for a single thirteen-episode season. None of it felt well-told, and it all came off as rushed. Which is insane, because if they had taken one or two of those plots away and let the remainders breathe it might have been a solid story. But story wasn’t the only issue here. I know that the show is getting a whole lot of flack for being accurate to the comics and casting a white, blonde guy as Danny Rand, the best practitioner of kung fu in the world. And I definitely think that they should have cast an Asian-American in the role. Danny being white isn’t necessary, and more comes from the fact that at the time it was just standard practice to make a new character white, as if that was the default. However, I don’t think that making Danny Asian-American would solve all of the issues with his characterization in the show, since it would still be a guy who assumes all Asian people speak Chinese and who just bums around quoting Buddha like a college freshman who spent a semester abroad. Danny just isn’t the character I love in this show. He’s a dopey, gullible, and ultimately ineffective protagonist who just bumbles along with every plot development, being dragged by the supporting characters to actually accomplish anything.

I could talk forever about the technical issues that Iron Fist suffers from, the direction, the writing, the choreography, but the real issues I have with this show is that it has so much potential, and it squandered it all. Iron Fist shouldn’t be this difficult to nail down. Danny is an optimist who is trying to make the world a better place. That takes the form of using Rand Enterprises to help people, using his abilities to help the downtrodden, or using the Iron Fist to help K’un-Lun. But that’s not the guy we got here. These Marvel Netflix shows have been known to tackle interesting issues while also telling fun superhero stories. Daredevil has examined the concept of justice and if it’s possible to attain, Jessica Jones looked at the idea of trauma, and Luke Cage told the story of inequality. But Iron Fist doesn’t have anything. It’s just the story of Danny trying to get control of his family’s company back. They tease interesting paths that the show could go down, like the exploitation of the mentally ill, corporate greed, the opioid epidemic, or even something as blatant as duty. But it doesn’t do anything with them. Any of these themes could have sustained a fascinating Iron Fist story. Even if they had kept the shallow and lackluster portrayal of Danny if the show had doubled down on an engaging theme for the show to examine things may have turned out better. Instead we have a show that seems to change what it’s about every two episodes. It’s like the show will find one of these topics, point out that it found it, and then move on like that was enough. There just didn’t seem to be any flow to this show. I enjoyed parts of it, and I have to admit that any time they discuss some of the goofier aspects of Danny’s backstory I grinned like a child, but overall the show just didn’t seem to have any ambition. It just paid lip-service to ideas from the comics and fumbled along with an overly complicated plot for thirteen episodes. This show could have been great. We could have gotten some crazy kung fu revenge story, a tournament to save New York, or basically anything to give this series some life. I wouldn’t have thought it would be this hard to tell a decent Iron Fist story, and it’s really disheartening to see it done this way. Hopefully when the Defenders comes out they can find some redemption in Danny’s character, because we sure didn’t get anything interesting here.

Iron Fist was created by Scott Buck, 2017.

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Couch Potato

The Surprising Complexity of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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Not every piece of media is made for every person. That’s a pretty basic idea, but something that really seems to blow people’s minds when they get so up in arms about people not liking the things that they like. But it’s completely true, and something people just need to learn to accept. And when I first heard about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I assumed it was going to just be something not made for me. Clearly I didn’t learn what the show actually was, but when it first started airing I just seemed to gather enough information about it to gain a wrong impression. It’s first strike was that it was on the CW, which besides making some ridiculous superhero shows that I love to hate is typically a huge red flag for me. And really everything else I gathered about the show was that it seemed kind of mean-spirited. I thought that it was a show making fun of some woman who was stalking a man she once dated, and that it was going to be a cringe-worthy and sexist show that boiled down to “bitches be crazy.” But holy crap was I wrong. I started hearing about the show again when the second season began, and just about everyone whose opinion I trust online began beseeching people to check out the show, that they insisted was genius. So I figured I’d give it a shot and check out the first season, and it blew me away.

The show follows Rebecca Bunch, a successful but overworked lawyer in New York city who is about to have a nervous breakdown. Which is just when she runs into a guy named Josh Chan that she had a fling with at a summer camp when they were teenagers. And just like that, Rebecca decides that she should quit her stressful and unfulfilling life and follow Josh to the little California town of West Covina. Despite the fact that that is a completely insane thing to do. So Rebecca heads to California and starts a new life, working at a low-rent law firm with her eccentric boss Darryl and her pushy and loyal friend Paula. And once she has work figured out she begins doing everything she can to win the affections of Josh, which she thinks will fix her life. And this is easier said than done as she finds Josh is already in a committed relationship with an awful woman named Valencia. She also complicates things when she meets Josh’s sullen bartender friend Greg, who starts to develop and infatuation for Rebecca.

From there the series follows Rebecca’s obsession as she plots and schemes her way around West Covina, doing everything she can to convince Josh that he should leave his girlfriend and be with her. It follows several different sitcom tropes, with plots that don’t seem very ground-breaking, such as love-triangles and plenty of miscommunication. But sprinkled into the sitcom tropes is one of the most interesting aspects of the show. It’s a straight-up musical. Several times in every episode the plot take a break so that characters can break out into song and dance. And the songs are hilarious. They’re well-written, genuinely funny, and cover a multitude of different genres, all depending on what works best for the story that week. I’m not really sure why musicals have fallen out of favor in modern film-making, but this series really shows that there’s a lot of power and fun left in that genre.

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If the show was just a silly musical, I think I would still like it quite a bit. But I slowly came to realize that there was a lot more going on in this show that you would imagine based on the premise. Because, yes, the idea that Rebecca is insane and stalking some guy that she barely knew has a lot of room for comedy, and probably would have been pretty offensive in lesser hands. But the show ended up having a lot more to say than just being a silly comedy. The show ended up becoming a really thoughtful examination of the problems that go into being a young adult in this country. Every one of these characters are grappling with actually being adults and living on their own. They have stresses, anxiety, depression, and are just generally worried about the world and how they’re going to fit into it. Rebecca isn’t just “crazy” she’s having a legitimate mental-breakdown. She’s fixated her entire life on being perfect, and going down a certain path to be successful, while sacrificing happiness. She’d become over-medicated and obsessed with trying to find a source of happiness. And just when she thinks that her life can’t get any lower, she finds an out. True, it may not be the ‘responsible’ thing to do, but Rebecca leaves her unfulfilling and depressing life behind and starts trying to follow her bliss. She moves to a new city, make new friends, falls in love, gets heart-broken, and just generally starts living her life. She has ups and she has downs, but sometimes that’s better than the nothing that she was having in New York. She was going through the motions, just trying to get through life, but now she’s living life.

And it’s not just Rebecca. All of the characters end up dealing with some serious stuff during the course of the first season of the show. Greg has to learn about his self-worth and that he shouldn’t settle for being someone’s second choice. Josh learns to think for himself and get out from under his over-bearing girlfriend while also learning what actually makes him happy in life. Paula comes to terms with a failing marriage and realizes that it’s half her fault for not nurturing love. And just about everyone realizes that love is a whole lot harder than it’s portrayed in movies. The show continues to look at the idea of soul-mates and love at first sight, but time and time again it’s proven and to be an unreliable and ridiculous metric to base your life on. I wasn’t really expecting much from this show when I first checked it out, but I ended up walking away with a wonderful experience and a shockingly mature series that really examines happiness and the idea that you shouldn’t settle in life, which is something we could all stand to learn.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, 2015.

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Couch Potato

Luke Cage Pushes Forward

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I think at this point it’s pretty clear that I’m a huge mark for both Marvel’s Netflix series’ and Luke Cage. I’ve talked about each of the Marvel series that Netflix has produced, and also talked at length about how much I love Luke Cage, despite some truly bizarre old stories.  And take those two interests combined with the stellar performance Mike Colter as Luke in the Jessica Jones series and you can tell that I was excited about this one. Luke’s become one of my favorite superheroes of all time, and seeing him be fully realized in live-action was something that sounded almost too good to be true. And then I started to hear that the show was going to follow more in the footsteps of Jessica Jones, and tackle some more hard-hitting issues. Namely how it would be to be a bullet-proof black man in the horrifying world we live in. It’s such a brilliant idea, and a truly moving and inspirational premise to base the adventures of the first solo black hero in the MCU. So, naturally I’ve been waiting for this show to arrive with bated breath, checking out every teaser I could find, and finally brave Netflix crashing before checking out the adventures of the Power Man himself, Luke Cage.

The series takes place after Jessica Jones with Luke Cage just trying to get by in his life. He’s working at two jobs, cleaning up at a local barbershop and washing dishes at a Harlem nightclub, and just generally trying to keep his head down. Unfortunately, having superpowers does tend to attract problems, and pretty soon Luke is drawn into a veritable mob-war on the streets of Harlem. Luke has to grapple with four versions of old, pretty ridiculous, villains who have been updated and made more realistic. There’s Cottonmouth, the owner of the nightclub Luke works at and would-be kingpin, Mariah, his cousin and a corrupt city councilwoman who is trying to establish political power by building housing in Harlem, Shades, a henchman who is desperately trying to rise to power himself, and Diamondback, an insane gun-runner with a personal grudge against Cage. Cottonmouth is trying to do everything he can to take over Harlem, while also turning his family’s club into a center of criminal activity, and his pursuits eventually incur the wrath of both Luke, and a police detective named Misty Knight, when one of his underlings kills a local barber that was immensely beloved.

That killing sets off a series of dominoes that has Luke using his abilities to help the common man for the first time. He’s always been trying to keep his powers on the down low, especially to hide from his past, but he’s been pushed hard enough that he’s going to finally use his strength and bullet-proof skin for good, cleaning up the streets of Harlem by any means necessary. But it becomes evident that when physical force won’t be enough to stop the meddlesome Cage, our villains decide to step things up and make things political, framing a brutal death on Luke and making him public enemy number one. Mariah spreads the belief that Luke is a dangerous criminal that can’t be trusted or stopped, and almost succeeds in turning the public around on Luke. Meanwhile, Diamondback shows up with some high-tech bullets that can actually pierce Luke’s skin, and starts making his grudge personal. We end up learning that Diamondback is actually Luke’s half-brother, and the two get embroiled in an bitter feud with Diamondback doing everything he can to kill Luke, and get revenge for some half-imagined slights in their life. And while all of this fighting is going on, Luke is coming to terms with his past, the origin of his abilities and the wrongful conviction that lead to them, and his general place in the world. Along the way he learns more about his powers, his personal strength, and regains his standing in the community as a true hero, all while forging deeper relationships with Misty Knight and our bridge between all of these shows, Claire Temple.

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I really enjoyed this show. I’ve seen a lot of people complain about it, calling it one of the weaker entries in the Netflix series, but I don’t agree. One of the major complaints is that the show struggles with pacing issues, which I’m not sure I can refute. Like all of the shows, the series could probably be a couple episodes shorter and become a tighter and more efficient story, but some technical issues don’t distract from what remained an enjoyable and interesting story. However there is one quibble that I could make before getting onto what I liked about the series, and that’s that we kind of got the wrong Luke Cage. Now, Luke has had two major characterizations over the years, the cocky and self-aggrandizing Hero for Hire and the more calm and collected leader of heroes that we have today. This series went for the calm and collected Luke. Which isn’t bad, but I always felt like Luke became that way after marrying Jessica and having his daughter. Those things mellowed him out, and made him a more responsible man and hero. He was always a good man, but he became a great man when he settled down. And this show kind of put him in that stage of his life without the personal growth. Like I said, that’s a minor quibble, and I know people have much bigger problems with the show, like the pacing, the writing, and just about everything to do with Diamondback, but none of that really distracted me from enjoying this show.

I love Luke Cage, and while this show didn’t give me my favorite version of the character, I still fully recognized the character before me, and was thrilled to see him brought to life. I have a serious soft-spot for the more cocky and brazen version of the character from the Silver Age, wearing his classic Power Man costume. And while the show took some unfair jabs at that look, it still did give us a great version of Cage, but a more modern one. I’ll admit, I think it makes more sense to have the calm and reserved Cage that we saw in this show when placed in the context of being a husband and father, but it didn’t feel unearned in the show, and still felt like the character that I’ve come to know and love. And it wasn’t just Luke. I was thrilled to see a capable and strong version of Misty Knight, even though she didn’t have her funky robot arm, and I think all of the villains held up splendidly. Cottonmouth was a delightful villain, just reveling in his suave evil, and Mariah quickly established herself as the truly frightening villain, because her pursuits and the lengths the goes to accomplish them seem all too real. Honestly Diamondback felt a little out of place, and he maybe would have served better as a villain in the second season, only being teased in this one, but he still brought some great drama to Luke’s life and provided an unhinged villain to end the season on.

But the thing that I really loved about this series what more what it represented. When I was first learning about this series I was so incredibly excited to see a show tackling really hard-hitting social issues, and what it means to be black in America today. Now, I’ll start this off by saying that I am one of the whitest people you’re ever likely to meet, but as Frank Zappa said, “I’m not black but there’s whole lots of times I wish I could say I’m not white.” It seems to be incredibly hard to live as a black person in America, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of mainstream media that speaks to them. We’ve had more than a dozen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while there have been black characters, none of them has taken the lead. And obviously I can’t speak for the black community, but I have to imagine that having the first black lead character in a Marvel project be such a honorable and powerful character like Luke Cage, just fighting to keep his community safe and legitimate is a great thing to see. So we can argue about if this show was actually any good, and if it’s many technical issues weigh it down, but Luke Cage has pushed the boundaries of superhero media, given us a superhero that’s not played by a blonde and white actor named Chris, and has pushed us forward. Hopefully things continue that way.

Luke Cage was created by Cheo Hodari Coker, 2016.

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Couch Potato

Exploring Self Worth With BoJack Horseman

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I’m pretty pleasantly surprised at the general quality of the original programming that Netflix has been putting out the last few years. I wasn’t really expecting all that much from their original series, probably residual skepticism from back when all that was streaming on Netflix Instant was Steven Seagal movies and terrible nature documentaries, so it’s been great to see them put some of the most thought-provoking and interesting stuff on television right now .I’ve given almost every one of the series’ a fair shake, and have been impressed almost every time. And there’s one show in particular that I really wasn’t expecting that much from. BoJack Horseman. When the series first launches I wasn’t really sure what it was about, but the trailer and the images were really turning me off. A weird art style and a general look about it that just seemed like Netflix courting the Adult Swim audience, which typically isn’t my style. But when I started hearing great things about the show, and started seeing just how amazing the cast was, I decided to give the show a shot, and boy was I glad I did.

The premise of BoJack Horseman is pretty simple, but weird-as-hell as well. Set in a world where there are humans and anthropomorphic animal-people commingling, the series follows a washed up actor named BoJack Horseman. BoJack was in a popular, but pretty terrible, sitcom in the nineties, and is now an old, bitter, alcoholic just trying to find success and happiness in life. There’s a handful of other supporting characters and plots that go on through the series, but for the most part we follow BoJack and his eternal struggle to remain relevant. The show has settled into a nice little formula, with each season showing BoJack slowly regaining his celebrity and relevance and dealing with some new shot at breaking into the mainstream again. The first season we had BoJack trying to get a tell-all autobiography written about himself, only to have it tell way too much and expose him for the wreck of a person he is. But by the second season it turns out that people loved seeing that side of him, and he’s gotten enough cache in the entertainment business again to get his passion project, a biopic about Secretariat, off the ground. We then follows BoJack through the arduous filming process of his dream project where he learns how cutthroat and unfulfilling the life of a mainstream actor. And our latest season follows BoJack as he does everything and anything he can to lobby for a nomination for Best Actor for his role as Secretariat.

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There have been a lot of television series’ and films about what it’s like in the movie-business, and I generally find them all fascinating. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story quite like this, that takes such an honest and depressing look at what it’s like to try and get acceptance for your job. This season we saw BoJack bend over backwards to get the acceptance of his peers. He doesn’t just want to be a washed up actor anymore, and he’s willing to do anything to get the success and admiration that he thinks he deserves. He get mired in endless interviews, has to go under the sea to make appearances in an underwater city in what may have been the most interesting and shockingly beautiful episodes of the season, he sells his soul to a publicist who teaches him how to schmooze and smile during endless minor awards ceremonies, and just generally pushes everyone close to him away due to the stress of the impending awards season.

And it’s not just BoJack who is dealing with success, just about every character on the show is dealing with that in one way or another. BoJack’s dorky ‘roommate’ Todd manages to create and run a successful business in this season, and struggles to remain himself with new wealth and power. Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s agent is trying to keep her new talent agency afloat. Diane is trying to make a living as a social media expert and find some sort of fulfillment in her life through that. Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane have a run-in with an unexpected pregnancy and the implications that that has for their lives. Every character in the show this season was trying to find some sort of success in their life, and therefor some meaning.

The entire series has been more or less about this idea, but it wasn’t until this season that the message really clicked for me. Over the three years that we’ve known BoJack we’ve come to learn that the only thing that he wants in life is success. From a young age he thought that being accepted and loved was the only way to not only be happy, but to be worthwhile. And he had that for a while, and pissed it away. When he became washed up he decided that he didn’t have anything to live for, and that his life was without meaning. So he’s been doing everything he could to become famous again, assuming that that would make him happy. But it was never enough. He was on a famous TV show, and that wasn’t enough. He released a powerful and popular memoir, and that wasn’t enough. He even acted (mostly) in his dream project, but that still wasn’t enough. So this is what he thinks is his last chance for success, getting an Oscar. That would mean that he’s not just an actor again,  but a great actor. That would be the true sign that people like him,and therefor he’s a worthy person. But then something happens. He gets nominated, and doesn’t feel any different. The series takes an odd turn from there, that continues to make BoJack’s erratic rise to the top more interesting, but it’s that moment when he realizes that being nominated doesn’t feel any different that was so powerful to me. The rest of the season revolves around BoJack coming to terms with the idea that his whole life may have been a lie. He’s been convinced that the key to being happy and having self-worth was other people telling him he’s good, at the expense of true happiness. He sees his friends around him growing and changing, coming to terms with themselves and finding new way to make themselves happy, but not BoJack. He just can’t do that. He doesn’t know how to be happy. He doesn’t know how to feel worthy in life. And at the end of this season, he finally realizes that. I’m fascinated to see where this series goes from here. All of the other characters are on interesting paths that should play out in great ways in the coming season, and I can generally see where they’re going. But not BoJack. I have no idea where that character is heading. It could be to peace and enlightenment, or sadness and torment. But either way, it will feel earned. This has become a shockingly enlightened, beautiful show, and I hope everyone gives it a shot. They just may learn something about life.

BoJack Horseman was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and released by Netflix, 2016.

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Couch Potato

In Defense of Adam West’s Batman

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As I mentioned earlier, today is Batman Day, a pretend holiday that DC has created to worship their most profitable creation, the Dark Knight himself, Batman. And all the love for the Caped Crusader that’s been going around the internet today has led me to think about Batman. Now, I’ve discussed it a lot here on the site, mainly through the Bat Signal series, but I really do have a serious affection for the character. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t aspects of Batman that I don’t like. Because trust me, there are some issues with the guy. Which makes sense. Batman has been around since 1939, so there’s bound to be a lot of change in his character. Times change, and since Batman has  almost always been a sure-fire way to make money, he changes to fit those times. Which is how we’ve gotten so many different variations on the character. We’ve had his dark and violent pulp origins, his turn as a father-figure to Robin, his goofy antics as the World’s Finest best friend to Superman, his insane sci-fi adventures in space, his embrace of camp, his return to darkness, his globetrotting super-hero antics, the plunge into darkness and anger in the 80’s, his ridiculous need to top that darkness in the 90’s, his Art Deco throwback years of the Animated Series days, the pseudo-realism of the Christopher Nolan films, his sociopathic torturer time in the current films, and his return to form in the current comics. There are pros and cons for every variation of the character, but in general there’s always something to find likable about Batman. But there’s one version of Batman that has always has a soft spot in my heart, and one that I’ll fight for. The sixties Batman show, as portrayed by Adam West.

There’s been quite a lo of changing opinions in regard to Adam West’s version of the character as time has gone by, mainly as people’s opinions on how serious the character should be portrayed, but I’ve always loved him. The story is that producer William Dozier saw people laughing at old film-serial versions of Batman and Robin during ironic campy parties, and he decided that he could replicate that feeling with a new television series that took a less than serious look at the character. So he put together this gloriously insane little show that was equal parts action, adventure, mystery, camp, satire, and Batman. They borrowed from the recent era of the comics, which was so built on obeying the strict and insane rules of the Comic Code of America, which drained a lot of the pulp from the character, and left him a fun-loving detective who be more at home solving pranks than murders. This was a time in the comcis where you were more likely to see the Joker planning to throw a pie in the face of the mayor than to see him planning a way to kill as many people in Gotham as he could. And the show took that more innocent, child-friendly take on the character, and spun it into pure televised gold.

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I understand that there are people out there who believe that their comic book stories should be treated with deadly seriousness. That Batman should be portrayed as a dark, avenging knight who will beat the hell out of villains who are planning dark and twisted crimes. That he’s supposed to be this realistic hero who goes on gritty and violent adventures, and that it’s for adults. Which I personally find ridiculous. To me, seeing a Batman who is being treated like a gritty crime-drama is more silly than seeing him dress in a satin cape and dance in a go-go club. I love superheroes, but I don’t really see the point in trying to make them realistic. I kind of feel like that’s a side-effect of people being ashamed that they still like comics. The people who hate on Golden and Silver Age stories because they’re not serious enough are usually the type of people who insist on calling them ‘graphic novels’ instead of comic books. They still don’t want to let go of what’s perceived as childish things, but they’re ashamed to admit that they like something as fun and silly as a Golden Age Batman story. So I understand why there’s people who hate this version of Batman. I kind of think that it’s a ridiculous complaint, but I see where they’re coming from. After Frank Miller convinced the world that Batman stories needed to be dark deconstructions of the character that were gritty and filled to the brim with angst, the idea of a campy and fun Batman would seem ridiculous. A defamation of the strong, serious character that they love.

And that opinion has been around for a while now. We’ve had almost 30 years of “Angry Batman” being the preferred version of the character. From Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns to the excess of 90’s stories like Knightfall, to the gritty ‘realism’ of the Dark Knight trilogy to whatever the hell Zach Snyder thinks he’s doing with the DCEU films, the public seems to love their Batman angry, vindictive, and filled with hate. And yet, while all of that’s going on, there’s been a resurgence in popularity with the Adam West version of the character, and the whole Batman ’66 aesthetic. I’m not quite sure if that’s because the rights of the series have been worked out, and it’s finally been released on DVD and Blu Ray, or because the rise of the hipster movement has made it okay to ironically like things again, or if there’s indeed a backlash against serious Batman brewing, but whatever it is, fun Batman is more popular than he’s been my entire life. And I’m stoked.

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I first became aware of the 60’s Batman series when I was a kid, and was obsessed with the character. I’ve discussed it on the site before, but I actually didn’t have that much experience with the comics adventures of Batman until I was much older, because we didn’t have a comic shop anywhere near where I grew up. Instead I was obsessed with different adaptations of the character. And I grew up during a great time for that. I was born the summer that the Tim Burton Batman film was released, so I’ve always had that series to watch. My brother and I would watch and re-watch the two Tim Burton films, and eventually the two Joel Schumacher films, and when that wasn’t enough we would watch as many episodes of the terrific Batman: the Animated Series. It was a great time to love Batman. But of course, we would eventually get tired of watching these things, and so I would search around in my TV Guide, trying to find new episodes of the Animated Series, and eventually came across what I assumed were reruns playing on TVLand. But it turned out to not be what I was expecting, and instead it was my first exposure to the 60’s series. And after getting over how odd it was, I was hooked.

When I got to my teenage years, and started to agree with countless adolescent before me that Batman needed to be angry and violent, and that the Joker was totally the coolest character of all time, I put aside Adam West’s Batman, relegating it to silly camp. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come around on the character. I’ve talked ad naseum on this site that I’ve had a real shift in my understanding of heroes within the last few years. I now am of the opinion that a true hero doesn’t focus on punishing evil, they focus on protecting innocents. And the Batman that people seem to love nowadays is certainly more interested in punishing villains. He’s dark, brooding, and all he wants to do is make people pay. But this ‘silly’ and ‘childlike’ Batman? He’s obsessed with protecting people. In the first story from the show, Batman becomes inconsolable when one of the Riddler’s goofy hench-women falls to her death in some crazy nuclear reactor in the Batcave. The woman was there to betray and possibly kill Batman, but he is incredibly upset when he isn’t able to protect her. And that, in a nutshell, is why I love this version of Batman so much. I didn’t really talk that much about the actual show, or the delightful film from 1966, and I’m sure I’ll talk more in depth about specific episodes some day, but for now I just want to reflect on the fact that this Batman, who people dismiss as a silly joke, is more of a hero than any of the Batmen that we’ve seen on screen in the last ten years. This is a Batman who never gives up, who does everything he can to protect the people of Gotham. So on this Batman Day, I heartily recommend that you check out this series, or the film that spun out of it, because when given the choice between seeing a Batman who reflects everything mean and awful in the world, and one who shows us how optimistic and courageous we could all be, I’ll pick Adam West every time.

Batman was created by Bill Finger and (kind of ) Bob Kane. Batman was created and produced by William Dozier, 1966.

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Couch Potato

The Musical Joy of the Get Down

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Welcome to part two of my accidental theme-day. Like I said earlier, I didn’t mean to be experiencing two narratives that dig deep into the tumultuous life of 1977 New York, but here we are. And lo and behold, we have something just as enjoyable and scatterbrained as the book I discussed earlier today. But this story, the new Netflix show the Get Down, has an added twist on the story, and one that would normally be a handicap to me. I don’t talk about music much on here, mainly because I’m not sure how to, but music is a big part of my life. That said, two of the big genres that don’t appeal to me are rap and hip hop. There are exceptions of course (like all right thinking humans I’m obsessed with the soundtrack to Hamilton) but for the most part hip hop doesn’t do much for me. So when I heard that Netflix was making a show about the origins of hip hop, I wasn’t super thrilled. Adding in the fact that it was co-created and partially directed by Baz Luhrmann, a director whose batting average is very suspect for me, I was probably planning on skipping this one. But then I started hearing good things about it, and the false claim that it was a musical show, my wife and I decided to give the show a go. And after getting over the fact that this show is in no way a musical, we found ourselves engrossed in a really interesting and odd little show that I ended up loving.

The premise of the show revolves around a young man named Ezekiel Figuero, who lives with his aunt and uncle in the Bronx in 1977. He’s a talented poet who doesn’t want to admit it, and just wants to get through his probably depressing life, while hoping to gain the attention of a girl named Mylene that he’s in love with. But his life changes forever when he accidentally meets a graffiti artist/hustler named Shaolin Fantastic while they’re both on a quest to get the same record, Shaolin for his DJ hero Grandmaster Flash and Ezekiel to give to Mylene who wants to use it to break into the disco game. The two strike up a hesitant friendship and Shaolin shows Ezekiel a new passion. Hip hop. They don’t call it that yet, but he brings Zeke to a Grandmaster Flash show, and the two realize that they need to get in on this, because Zeke’s natural poetic skills will make a him a natural “wordsmith” and Shaolin has been training to become a DJ.

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And from the partnership we see a real friendship grow as Zeke and Shaolin team up with a group of Kipling brothers that are friends with Zeke and begin making their own hip hop crew, the Get Down Brothers. But it’s not all about this crew’s rise to prominence, because there’s a lot more going on in this show. We follow Mylene and her attempts to break into the disco world with the help of a sleazy record producer named Jackie Moreno, we see Mylene’s uncle Francisco Cruz try to gain political power in the Bronx in order to build affordable housing for his people, we see Ed Koch running for mayor, we see the criminal pursuits of a local gangster called Fat Annie that Shaolin works for, and the stupidity of her moron son Cadillac. And we watch all of these plot lines twist together to create a dramatic, funny, funky, and all around enjoyable story examining what life in the Bronx in the 1970s was all about. We see the New York blackout, the contentious mayoral race, and all manner of social woes that I learned about in the book from earlier. Really, the only thing that seemed missing as the Son of Sam, but I suppose he didn’t do much in the Bronx.

The show was just immensely likable. I would have loved it even more if it actually was a musical like it was marketed as, but as it stands it becomes a fun story that embraces the music of the times in a really beautiful way. And really, despite my reticence at Baz Luhrmann’s involvement the show didn’t suffer from his normal aesthetic choices. He only directed the pilot, which is probably the weakest episode of the whole series, what with his spastic and frenetic editing style, but once they give him the boot the show takes on a more traditional and pleasing format that really works for the show. It can get a tad soap-operatic at times, but the characters are all fully realized, the art direction is wonderful and finds the equal beauty and foulness of New York in this time period. And the music. Guys, the music. The 70s really was producing some of my favorite music of all time, and while I don’t have a huge affinity for hip hop, what we got in the show was very enjoyable, especially knowing what the characters have done to accomplish it. But we also got some amazing funk, disco,  and soul thrown in there as well. Now we just need to toss in some punk and we’ll be set. I know that this was planned as a limited series, and will only have six more episodes, which is kind of a great idea. America needs to get over the idea that television shows need to drag on until we get fed up with them and they get cancelled, because it’s kind of a ridiculous model. We should be encouraging more well thought out narratives that have beginnings and ends, and this show is shaping up to be a hell of a story of American history, all while barely having any boring old white people in it. It’s a true American tale, about people that we don’t usually think about. And it’s terrific.

The Get Down was created by Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis, 2016.

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Couch Potato

Stranger Things Succeeds In Spite of Its Obsession with Nostalgia

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Nostalgia is a funny thing. We usually get comforted by our past, and the things that made us happy. Especially when you’re a young adult and the crushing realities of adulthood is looking at you in the face. I mean, look at me, I’ve been writing about the goddamn Simpsons for a year. It’s comfort food. The things that made us happy when we were kids can remind us of the carefree days of our childhood, and can be quite comforting when we’re older and dealing with the stresses of the world. But it’s also kind of a toxic thing, because as we grow up we’ll expect our childhood memories to change with us, which is ridiculous. That’s how we get violent Transformers movies. That’s just insane. But it’s not going to stop people from trying to recreate the passion they had for things from when they were kids.

Which brings us to the new Netflix series, Stranger Things. Now, I feel like everyone has already watched this show, because it blew the hell up when it was released. Basically like every Netflix show has to this point. They’re really knocking to out of the park with these series’ aren’t they? I feel like I haven’t been talking about a lot of them here, because it kind of goes against my general mission statement of geekiness. I really love Orange is the New Black and this season was superb, and I thought Master of None was one of the best television shows I’ve ever seen. But I couldn’t quite find a way to tackle them, so they just kind of drifted by. But when you tell me that there’s a new show coming out that can be described as “a Stephen King story if it were directed by Steven Spielberg,” then you’ve got my interest. I honestly didn’t know a whole lot about this show, other than it was drenched with an 80’s suspense aesthetic and that it was creepy, and went in pretty much blind. And I’m glad I did, because this show really worked for me, and after blazing through the whole season over the course of a weekend, I wanted to talk about it.

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The premise of the show kind of tracks with the comparisons with Stephen King, mixed with a little Twilight Zone. It takes place in a small town in Indiana called Hawkins in the early 80’s, and opens up with a group of dorky kids named Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will, playing D&D. My people. And after a rousing game the kids split up for the night and all head home. And as little heads home to his house he finds it empty, his single-mom and older brother not there, and a monster attacking him. But right before he gets attacked by the monster, they both seem to vanish. What the hell?

And from there we get an incredibly twisty and strange story, because obviously people aren’t going to assume that Will was stolen by a monster, and instead think that it’s a missing person case. So we follow several groups of characters, Will’s frantic mother Joyce, his older brother Jonathan, his buddies, and a drunken sheriff named Hopper. And there’s some great stuff in there. There’s teen-drama with Jonathan and Mike’s sister Nancy, some fascinating stuff from Joyce slowly going crazy, and Hopper tracking everything down, but the stuff that’s most fascinating to me is the group of boys. Because while investigating their friend’s disappearance they come across a mysterious girl named Eleven who has clearly been experimented on in some shady government lab in town. Oh, and she has telekinesis and is telepathic. So that’s awesome.

And when the central characters are all established they get to start investigating, pulling at the strings around town and uncovering all sorts of insane conspiracies and mysteries. We get great detective stories from Hopper, creepy mystery stuff from the boys and Eleven, and even teen drama and romance from Jonathan and Nancy, and it all comes together with an insane climax that involves everyone trying to kill the mysterious monster that kidnapped Will, getting away from the CIA agents with possible MK-ULTRA connections, and motherly-love triumphing over everything. And everything ends with everyone more or less going back to normal, but with plenty of loose threads that could lead to new stories in a second season.

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I liked this show quite a bit. I’ve never really been a big horror-guy, but I do have an affection for Stephen King books and John Carpenter movies, and this show is really falling within those wheelhouses. It’s got that classic King method of tossing children into scary and mysterious worlds, while also having a strong sense of conspiracy and things hiding behind the shadows that Carpenter was so good at nailing. And it came together to create a fascinating little show that certainly has a lot of nostalgic influences, but doesn’t necessarily use them as a crutch. Honestly the thing that really made me think of after watching this show was Quentin Tarantino. I think I’ve talked before on the site about how Tarantino uses homages like no one else, and manages to spin fascinating films out of a variety of sources that ends up standing on its own, and being enhanced if you know what it’s referencing. Tarantino movies don’t feel like they’ soullessly massaging your nostalgia to make you happy, he’s just remixing various influences and making a new story. And if you happen to know what he’s referencing the story gets even more enjoyable, but it’s not necessary. And that’s how I felt about Stranger Things. It was referencing a lot of stuff from the 80s, but even if you weren’t familiar with them it didn’t kill your enjoyment of the show, like a lot of other nostalgia-heavy pieces do.

It’s a very delicate balance to have, because something like this show, which leans so heavily on its love of the 80s horror/mystery aesthetic could easily fall into the realm of pastiche. It’s not a direct adaptation of anything in particular, but you can really tell where it came from. It has pinches of Stand By Me, bits of ET, a smidge of Carrie, a tad of It, and even some Pretty in Pink oddly enough. But it doesn’t just reference these shows and expect that that’s enough to be enjoyable. They took a nostalgic framework and build a really strong, mysterious story on it. They took stock characters and added something fresh and new to them to make some of the most instantly likeable and recognizable characters that I’ve seen in a long time. A lazier show would just make a mishmash of 80s nostalgia and sit back, confident that there’s a certain breed of people who only crave things they recognize from their childhood. But instead they made that a starting point and ended up creating something unique and different that seemed familiar and yet unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

 

Stranger Things was created by the Duffer Brothers, 2016.

 

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