Case Study 85: Pair of Kings, Episode 33–“Pair of Clubs”

Original Airdate: October 24, 2011 on Disney XD
When I was a kid I was a regular viewer of the Disney Channel, despite knowing that the material was often sentimental and nauseatingly family friendly. You were never going to find Ren & Stimpy on the Disney Channel. Sometime around the turn of the century, I stopped paying attention to what was happening on the network altogether, so I missed out on a parade of smash hit original live action programming that no doubt shaped the tender brains of many a millennial. Hilary Duff, Raven-Symoné, the Sprouse brothers, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez all managed to crawl out of the primordial slime that was entertaining untold numbers of tweens after school and on the weekends and into the light of quasi-respectability in the world of adult celebrity. But is anything that’s happened in the world of live-action Disney original series worth paying attention to? I have it on good authority that it is not. Nevertheless, here is a review of Pair of Kings.

Strengths

  • One slightly charming joke. Okay, it’s not much, but here it goes. At one point in the story, we’re meant to understand that a week has passed, and we’re shown this information with the traditional image of a calendar’s pages turning. King Boomer (Doc Shaw) turns to King Brady (Mitchel Musso, Hannah Montana) and tells him “Close the drapes; the wind is blowing the pages off the calendar.” Yep, that’s the highlight. A tiny soupcon of postmodern self-awareness. By the way, does anyone reading this actually have a page-a-day paper calendar that shows nothing but the date?

Weaknesses

  • Unfunny. Always a bad way to start things off with a comedy. In case that gem with the calendar didn’t do it for you, here’s a couple other random gags. Boomer wants to open a nightclub in a disused library, which Brady disparages as entailing “storytime at club bookmobile.” Boomer tries to get customers to come to the club by offering visitors an opportunity to kiss him. Villainous cousin Lanny (Ryan Ochoa) receives commands from his talking pet fish Yamakoshi (Vincent Pastore, The Sopranos), causing him to marvel, “How can something that swims in its own toilet be so smart?” How, indeed.
  • What the fuck is even happening here? Just in case you’re as agitated and disoriented as I was when I finished watching Pair, let’s take a quick step back. Pair of Kings is about two brothers who look nothing alike and are also somehow the joint kings of the Pacific island of Kinkow. How can a place have two kings at once? Never mind, who cares. But don’t worry about remembering that bewildering premise, because being island kings has sweet fuck all to do with the story at hand, which is about nightclubs. Why are these teenagers running nightclubs when they’re not old enough to drink? Is it because they want to find people to fuck? No, don’t be stupid, this is Disney, no one fucks anything. So if there’s no drinking, no fucking and no recreational drug use, what’s the point of a nightclub? If you guessed Mitchel Musso singing, you’re in luck. Anyway, evil talking fish exist in this world and for some reason want to overthrow the monarchy. Yamakoshi convinces Lanny to try and trick the kings into…wait for it…raising the dead. Eventually zombies appear. Brady and Boomer come together to defeat them. I wonder if I’ve entered some kind of fugue state. Did I mention that there’s a little person with white guy dreads named Hibachi? (Martin Klebba, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)
  • Cheap-looking. When I think remote Pacific island, I definitely think “soundstage.” When I think about the props in this show, I think “Dollar General.” When I think about the director (Adam Weissman, Liv and Maddie), I wonder if IBM has developed some kind of primitive AI for directing television aimed at America’s slack-jawed preteens. At no point does anyone involved in this show make an intriguing choice in terms of visual presentation and I’ve seen work in high school auditoriums with better production values.
  • Wanting it both ways. Look, I get it if you want to have some comedy violence, especially if the whole plot centers around those awful boys getting torn apart by the ravenous living dead. I also understand that they’re the protagonists and that it’s hard to come back from having your lead get disemboweled. At least tear someone apart. But there’s not even a glimpse of blood, even when Hibachi is turned into a zombie. Apparently it’s a painless transition. If you’re determined to be squeaky clean with this bullshit, maybe don’t raise the dead, especially if you’re raising them to kill people and then they don’t actually kill people. I realize some PTA member out there would be pissed off if there were bloody eviscerations being performed for the benefit of fifth graders, but walk the fucking walk.

Final Judgment: 1/10. By all rights, this should be a total zero, but there’s something hypnotic about the depths of the bizarre mediocrity on display here. It’s confusing, it’s bewildering, but it’s not boring. Family Ties is boring.

NEXT TIME: Let’s never speak of the Disney Channel again, and instead focus on The Six Million Dollar Man.

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Case Study 85: Pair of Kings, Episode 33–“Pair of Clubs”

Case Study 62: Dance Academy, Episode 32–“Like No One’s Watching”

Original Airdate: March 20th, 2012 on ABC3

Someone put Fame, Center Stage and Degrassi in a blender and what came out was a teen drama with the appropriately bland name of Dance Academy. Sydney’s National Academy of Dance is the prestigious art school this time around. I watched four episodes for this review, and while Academy manages to jettison its cliched roots early on, that doesn’t mean it gets more interesting. Let’s keep this brief, shall we?

Strengths

  • Alicia Banit. None of the characters are particularly distinctive, though the late addition Ben “Benster” Tickle (Thomas Lacey) possesses a not inconsiderable amount of well-observed douchiness. Despite this, Banit manages to set herself apart and successfully creates the illusion that her character Kat Karamakov has a personality. Here, she gamely tries out for a role as a cheerleader for a rugby team, managing to convey that she’s not super into it despite doing a credibly good job at the audition. She also manages to manufacture some chemistry with the otherwise questionable Ben. Pay those dues, girl!

Weaknesses

  • Too many plots. I blame Seinfeld, Friends, and other hip 90s sitcoms for this. Time was that you’d have at most two plotlines in any given episode of television and if that meant every single character didn’t get an equal share of screentime, too fucking bad. At least in the light-hearted, dynamic world of a sitcom you can still get plenty of laughs if the plot is gossamer-thin, but this doesn’t work so well for a 30 minute drama. With an hour long format you could hammer out a more soapy vibe, but if you were writing a soap opera you’d have to write better plot lines than these. Our heroine Tara (Xenia Goodwin) is feeling insecure about herself because she thinks she’s dating out of her league by hooking up with Christian (Jordan Rodrigues.) Kat’s been chucked out of the Academy and is trying to figure out what her next steps are. Sam (not that Tom Green, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn) is waging an ongoing war about his future with his father (Anthony Cogin, Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’hoole) and his proxy for this battle is his younger brother Ari (Narek Arman, Tomorrow, When the War Began.) None of this is really very interesting, and like the other episodes I watched, the oxygen-starved gasps of interest that occasionally emerged were quickly muffled with the reemergence of a different boring plotline. My advice here is to take one storyline and let it breathe. I don’t care about Tara and Christian because I have nothing invested in their relationship. I don’t buy for a second that they’re in love, because much as in The Secret Diaries of a Call Girl, the show hasn’t bothered to put in the work. That’s probably because it doesn’t have time to put in the work if we have to worry about two other plot lines. Kat and Sam’s stories are pretty perfunctory, but in other episodes I saw their more interesting plotlines got handled in the same way. Kat’s parents are both successful, experienced professional dancers who bring plenty of baggage to her life as a dancing student. That could be a fascinating angle on the ambitions and futures of the main characters, but there’s no space. There’s also no space for a story about Sam struggling with his sexuality. It’s all the more frustrating because you can see the show fighting to get these stories out in about as much time as a commercial break. It doesn’t work.

Final Judgment: 5/10. Dance Academy is a glass of plain water. It’s beige Soylent sludge. It’s something to fill the gaps between the advertisements. I can’t say I hate it, though—what’s there to hate? Readers, I challenge you to have a feeling about Dance Academy.

NEXT TIME: Did you know Aaron Spelling made a TV adaptation of Vampire: The Masquerade? Come back soon to read about Kindred: The Embraced!

Case Study 62: Dance Academy, Episode 32–“Like No One’s Watching”

Case Study 54: Roswell, Episode 22–“Destiny”

Original Airdate: May 15th, 2000 on The WB

Over the last couple of decades, TV shows about teenagers dealing with the supernatural have proved a reliable source of ratings and dedicated fans. In addition to The Vampire Diaries, we’ve seen titles as varied as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Supernatural and Teen Wolf explore their characters’ angst via cheesy monster makeup. Roswell wasn’t quite as successful as these shows—it only made it three seasons before going back to its home planet and dying along the way—but it definitely followed the same formula, and much like Diaries, its consistency varies sharply from episode to episode. I watched six episodes from the first season for this review.

Strengths

  • Action thrills. “Destiny” is the exciting climax to season 1, so it’s not surprising that there’d be some thrills, spills and bellyaches. There’s car chases. There’s shootouts. Our two leads jump what looks like 20 feet into a reservoir to evade bloodthirsty FBI agents. It’s all very stimulating, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Liz & Max. Roswell’s protagonist is the all-American girl next door Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby, Unreal.) The heart of the show is her ill-starred relationship with undercover alien Max Evans (Jason Behr.) The viewers would be doomed to scene after boring scene of these two making ineffectual goo-eyes if there wasn’t chemistry here, but thankfully they seem like a very real couple with years of history and charged sexual tension. Behr’s performance in particular is very low-key and understated, but instead of seeming wooden he radiates an alluring calm and confidence even in times of ridiculously heightened conflict and drama. His performance affirms an unearthly nature that you’d expect to find in an alien, and it offers a startling contrast with Appleby’s confusion and vulnerability. This episode is particularly momentous for their relationship, as well. The happy couple are presented with mounting evidence that Max’s destiny lies in a relationship with his fellow alien, Tess Harding (Emile de Ravin, Once Upon A Time.) Early in the episode, Max assures Liz of the profundity of his love for her, telling her that she was the only thing giving him strength and perseverance when the FBI was torturing him in the previous episode. The dialogue doesn’t read like much on the page, but the chemistry between the actors really sells it. The effect is doubled at the episode’s end when the characters finally figure out how to activate a message from their alien relatives and Max’s long-lost alien mother (Genie Francis, General Hospital) confirms that Tess is fated to be Max’s bride. As Liz tearfully walks away from Max, the emotional impact is real and persuasive. It makes for a very satisfying cliffhanger.
  • Alien superpowers. Did I mention that the aliens can disable vehicles at 50 feet, induce hallucinations in hapless FBI agents and change the molecular structure of doorknobs? They can totally do those things, and it’s awesome. Giving the aliens weird powers spices things up, because there’s only so much you can do with canonical aliens evading detection. It gives them a meaningful way to defend themselves against hostile humans without completely sacrificing their human “identity” and therefore their relatability.
  • A well-executed double/triple-cross. Ah, there’s nothing quite like a scheme. In this episode, the aliens are finally able to neutralize the threat posed by zealous FBI crusader Agent Pierce (David Conrad, Ghost Whisperer.) To do this, they need to develop the perfect plan and marshall all their allies and powers. The key player in all this is Sheriff Jim Valenti (William Sadler, The Shawshank Redemption.) Over the course of the season, Valenti had been an ambiguous factor for the aliens. He doggedly investigated them and created a constant atmosphere of paranoia, but he also resented federal overreach when the FBI started their own investigations, even when his own investigations depended on intelligence from the Feds. By the time Max is kidnapped by the FBI, Liz is desperate enough to place complete faith in Valenti, but that faith is put to the test when it’s time to finally take action against Pierce in this episode. The show goes in for the good old-fashioned double/triple-cross—at first it seems like Valenti was only playing along with the aliens so that he could lead them to Pierce, and this would make a certain amount of sense. Valenti’s father was a dedicated alien conspiracy theorist drawn to Roswell for the obvious reasons, and Valenti’s initial passion is fueled by the desire to prove his father right. It’s also reasonable to assume that his allegiances would lie with his own species, especially since rogue alien Nasedo (Jim Ortlieb, Flatliners) is going around killing people. But, no—it turns out that Valenti was on the right side all along as he helps the aliens capture Pierce. This makes sense too: Pierce is a big fan of using extrajudicial force on innocent teenage civilians. The key to a successful triple-cross is plausibility. There has to be sufficient motivation and ambiguity around a character to make the viewer believe a double-cross could really happen, and it worked here for me thanks to the residual mistrust built up around Valenti over the course of the season. Here’s a great example of the power of serialized storytelling on television. By creating a whole roster of episodes where Valenti is on various sides of an allegiance, there’s an elegant aura of instability around the character’s motivations that would be very difficult to achieve in a screenplay.
  • Comeuppance. As mentioned, a huge chunk of the previous episode was centered on lengthy torture and interrogation sequences. Now the tables are turned, and Max has complete power over Pierce’s fate. The show underscores this by having Max repeat some of Pierce’s intimidating spiel verbatim. It’s a bit of a hack move, but it’s still effective, and it was very satisfying when Pierce finally got killed.
  • An exciting set-up for next season. In addition to the aforementioned romantic strife, the grand finale also offers an exciting glimpse into the plot of season two. Max’s mother’s message tells the aliens that a great and evil enemy has pursued them to Earth and that they may not be able to identify the enemies until it’s too late. All of a sudden, the FBI is the least of their problems. What’s more, activating the message also alerts unknown agents all over the country, as showcased in a chilling closing montage. If I were a fan of this show, it’d definitely make me want to come back for more.

Weaknesses

  • Slo-mo. Ugh. Don’t do this. It never looks cool. It’s never exciting. It only underlines the paucity of any given action sequence or dramatic moment if it has to be slowed down to make it seem important or interesting. You’re better than this, Roswell.
  • Contrivance and artificial tension. Whoa, it sure is a happy coincidence that Valenti stumbles on Liz and Max just as they’re about to be captured by the pursuing FBI agents, and it’s an even happier coincidence that Valenti brought along the alien Michael Guerin (Brendan Fehr,) and it’s the happiest coincidence of all that it’s only then that Michael discovers his magical ability to disable vehicles. Also dumb: an argument among the aliens about whether they’ll stay in Roswell or go on the lam and settle down somewhere else. It turns out this show is called Roswell, not Schenectady, and there’s no way in hell they’re skipping town. Why bother pretending like that was ever a serious option?
  • David Conrad. Pierce is supposed to be menacing, authoritarian man made into a monster by his unrelenting pursuit of alien justice. Instead, he comes across like a smarmy milquetoast. The contrast is dazzling. Pierce is the main antagonist of the season, but he’s not believable for a second.
  • Native American mysticism. I’ve written in the past about the unpleasant tendency in media to exoticize Asians, but this is a phenomena that can affect all people of color. Another prominent example is the frequent othering of Native Americans, especially around areas of religion and spirituality. It’s possible for anyone who’s not Christian to be a victim of this kind of flimflam, but the wide variety of unfamiliar religious traditions practiced by hundreds of Native tribes leads to, at best, a messy syncretism in white media. You also probably know I’m not a super big fan of using people of subaltern identities as plot devices for the betterment of the white, straight, able-bodied characters. Both of these sins are on display here: our alien pals resurrect Nasedo with magical Indian healing stones, dispensed over the course of a trilogy of painful episodes set to generic mournful flute music. At least it wasn’t as painful as when the X-Files did it…multiple times across several seasons. Sigh.
  • Michael & Maria. So some genius decided that since Max & Liz work so well, we need to pair off the other four main characters. Thankfully, the romance between Alex (Colin Hanks, Fargo) and Isabel (Katherine Heigl, Grey’s Anatomy) takes up a scanty amount of screen time in the episodes I watched. I wish I could say the same about the subplot between Michael and Maria (Majandra Delfino.) You see, Max & Liz are a perfect fit for one another, so we’re given a ham-handed contrast in the form of a fire & ice pairing. The actors are good at convincing me that they dislike each other, but the sparks are decidedly artificial. I could buy that they’d hook up once to hate fuck, but the tepid drama of the on-again/off-again romance on display here is the stuff of an exhausted writer’s room.

Final Judgment: 5/10. When all’s said and done, there’s a lot to like about Roswell, but you have to put up with a lot of crap to get there. Besides that, the sci-fi elements and the soapy teenybopper fare will put enough people off in equal measure that I doubt it’s on the top of anyone’s list. I will say that some of the episodes I watched were quite good—the show generally does better when its sense of humor shows through.

NEXT TIME: Yes, it’s another kid’s show—but it’s one I remember from my own youth! Check back next week to hear about Talespin!

Case Study 54: Roswell, Episode 22–“Destiny”

Case Study 17: Powerhouse, Episode 4–“Master of the Art”

Original Airdate: December 13th, 1982 on PBS

In some ways, Powerhouse is reminiscent of the TV show I claimed as my favorite when I was 8 years old–Ghostwriter. Much like Ghostwriter, Powerhouse is a live-action PBS show for kids starring a self-consciously multicultural troupe of supercool teens having adventures with the thinnest of educational veneers. Even though these shows star teens, I’m convinced they’re pitched at younger audiences. Not only are they dripping with didactic moralism, but they’re banking on the fact that little kids will think that teenagers are automatically cool and whatever they’re doing must also be cool as well. You can tell because no teenager remotely concerned with being cool would ever be caught dead watching these shows. But Ghostwriter sure as hell worked on me! Perhaps if I looked on it with today’s jaundiced critical eye I’d be displeased, though, because if Powerhouse is anything to go by, this formula can get ugly pretty damn quickly.

Strengths

  • A heist. Much like a murder mystery, a daring heist is a natural plot engine, and I’m a sucker for them. Considering the general level of production values and half-assery going on here, the heist at the episode’s core is surprisingly entertaining, hitting all the notes–multiple semi-contrived obstacles to overcome, down to the wire suspense and even an unexpected curveball thrown in by a nosy busybody determined to go somewhere she doesn’t belong, putting everything at risk for our heroes. I’m a little afraid to imagine what Powerhouse is like without a heist, though.

Weaknesses

  • Cacophonous. As you may have gathered, I can be particularly sensitive to an overbearing score or aggressively unnecessary musical cues. Let’s just say subtlety isn’t Powerhouse’s long suit. This episode is one of those where the whole thing centers on the problems of a character we’ve never seen and will never seen again. Here, that’s Thelma Gray (Anne Helms-Irons,) the head of security at an art museum. When Thelma reveals to the main characters that she’s lost her job, I get that we’re going to get a sad musical sting. But do we really need sad/dramatic stings in the scenes where the firing is being set up and Thelma is asking her boss why new security measures were implemented without her being notified? It’s sad when someone loses their job, but it’s a little melodramatic to pipe in the orchestral ominousness before it’s even remotely clear that the axe is about to drop. This is on top of generally clamorous musical cues all around, including a cheesy-even-for-1982 theme song and an impossibly large number of horrible noisy little children.
  • Utterly nonsensical. So what does a heist have to do with some random lady losing her job? Why, of course a ragtag team of scrappy teens who like to hang out at a community center are going to come together to help the woman steal artifacts from her former employer in an ill-conceived attempt to get her job back! The idea is to demonstrate that Thelma is a much better security chief than any lousy computer system, so I guess this is a story about automation in the labor force. It may be the stupidest and least realistic such story since John Henry, but that’s neither here nor there. Somehow, this idiotic plan works out perfectly and Thelma does indeed get her job back after demonstrating her ability to coordinate art theft. At the last minute it’s revealed that Thelma told her old boss about her plan in advance and he agreed to allow her to demonstrate, instead of doing something realistic like laughing for five minutes and then telling her to leave the building and never come back. In addition to being a plainly unsatisfying story with wildly implausible motivations, it also doesn’t do a very good job of meeting the show’s educational standard. The theme song declares that “we all have a powerhouse deep down inside,” so you’d expect some sort of mealy-mouthed parables about strong moral fiber and self-actualization. From the title, I was expecting one of the characters to try and discover their artistic potential. If they were going to do something around automation, I imagine the kids working together to research the issue, convene a community forum or a panel discussion with local experts on labor, technology and business, etc. Sure, it would be boring as hell, but this is PBS we’re talking about. Instead, all of that goes out the window and we get to see a story about teens discovering they have the power to–steal things. Admittedly, they’re stealing things in order to redress labor grievances, but I’m still not sure how that’s on message for PBS.
  • Interstitial insanity. Christ on a cross. Instead of taking another seven minutes of screen time to figure out a way to concoct a halfway believable motivation for after school grand larceny, Powerhouse decides to spend that time airing little Sesame Street style short films and animations on a variety of themes, all dripping with sickly-sweet moralism. At least there’s a redemptive factor in that the shorts are all hideously campy. One features a bunch of gawky teens chugging beer, shots and wine before attempting to run a marathon. They don’t do too well due to supposed alcohol side effects such as “blurry vision.” Hey kids! Don’t do shots before running a marathon! The more you know. The most nightmare inducing of these segments is an animated feature entitled “Celebrity Organ.” In lieu of an entertaining montage of star-studded wardrobe malfunctions, we’re given a talk show-esque set-up where the organ of the week can be interviewed. The organ of the week is of course not actually an organ: it’s a horrifying amorphous black blob with arms, legs and gigantic teeth. It’s teeth personified. Did I mention they’re vampire teeth? And the thing has a cape and a “Transylvanian” accent? “Comedy” is alleged to ensue, and we’re introduced to the hideous teeth’s hideous teeth son and it climbs into a coffin and long story short you and your entire family will have teeth nightmares. Why does Powerhouse do this, you ask? How the fuck else are they going to teach you about oral hygiene?! And if PBS doesn’t do that, who will!?!?
  • Racist. Wow, you may be thinking, how can Powerhouse possibly get worse? What if, when the kids are attempting to case the museum, we put them in sheikh outfits and burkas? Dressing up like people from other cultures is always hilarious and fun, especially if you’re planning to commit crimes! The sad thing is that Powerhouse is intended to be a sop to diversity, deliberately foregrounding an inner-city setting and a diverse cast. Apparently, in 1982 that meant whites, blacks and Latinos. Arabs only get to be included in the form of hilarious appropriation props. Speaking of which, that artifact the kids are trying to steal? An implicitly cursed Aztec artifact with glowing ruby eyes! The prospect that the artifact is cursed is brought up, along with an appropriately racist musical sting, but there’s no payoff, unless we’re supposed to think it cursed the guy from the security company who took Thelma’s job. Not only is this part of the story stupid, it’s also totally unnecessary! Hooray!
  • Anne Helms-Irons. Since IMDB didn’t even bother to include a full cast for this episode beyond the principals, I had some trouble even figuring out who this woman was. It turns out that’s because she built her career not as an actress, but as a social worker. As her obituary from the Baltimore Sun tells us, social work was just a way to pay the bills, because her true passion was the stage. And while I’m sure Ms. Helms-Irons was an awesome person and a great social worker, let’s just say that it’s entirely evident that her acting background consisted of star turns in community theater. It’s been frequently remarked upon that great stage actors don’t necessarily translate well to film because they’re used to delivering big and broad performances for folks in the back row of seats. That’s definitely what’s going on here, and it really doesn’t help that the reason that Thelma knows the Powerhouse kids at all is because she’s their magic tutor. What? Yes, of course that’s a thing! Of course that is a thing that you would have. A magic tutor. So Thelma’s the kinda gal that uses her sick sleight-of-hand skillz to produce a rose from thin air when introduced to the security company stooge about to take her job, and coming from Helms-Irons it fits right in. In other words, she’s a goddamned bone-in ham.

Motivation: For some reason, the kids on this show give two shits about Thelma’s gainful employment, so this is all in service of her getting work/money.

Final Episode Judgment: 1/10. Chances are pretty good that you’ll find another way to scratch that itch for a well-executed heist.

NEXT TIME: I peek inside the Secret Diary of a Call Girl!

Case Study 17: Powerhouse, Episode 4–“Master of the Art”

Reviewing Random Episodes: Monsters We Met, So Little Time, Comic Book Men

The embarrassment of riches on television these days has gotten to the point where the CEOs of television networks are complaining to the media.

Part of me thinks Landgraf’s complaints are a bit strange—Isn’t it a good thing to have lots of different options that can speak to lots of different people? Predicting the demise of TV’s golden age because your new Billy Crystal vehicle flopped reeks of California’s sourest grapes. The entertainment industry has always been mercurial and this business you hear about how “back in the day shows had time to hit their stride” sound a lot like contemporary myth-making about the good old days. Capitalists love the free market until their pet project fails, and then we get this schoolyard whining about how robust and diverse competition is unfair.

But there’s also a grain of truth. There really is quite a lot of critically acclaimed, high quality television out there, and we’re well and clear past the point of water-cooler TV. It’s another example of how the zeitgeist has shattered into a million pieces in the age of the Internet—these days, everyone has options that offer unique appeals to their tastes and interests. (See also: pop music. Movies have too much overhead and still veer to an imagined mainstream, which is why you hear so many people talk about how TV has gotten so much more compelling than film.)

And that’s if we’re just talking about new, high-profile, widely lauded American TV shows. Once you start digging into international TV, your options grow exponentially. There’s also tons of older shows on Netflix and other streaming services begging for your attention, and every time you talk to a friend you’re likely to come away with 5 new recommendations. The preponderance of different narratives on offer makes TV look a lot less like TV and a lot more like books—millions of options for millions of readers. Someone with an interest in pop culture these days has to devote serious thought to what they’ll consume next—at least, if they’re as obsessive as me.

I already have nerdy, intricate systems in place for deciding what book I’ll read for pleasure next—because otherwise I’ll spend the second half of the book I’m reading now agonizing over it—as well as systems for new movies and music to check out. TV, however, was the case I couldn’t crack. I couldn’t come up with any hard and fast rules about how far back I’d go, how much of a series I’d watch, how I’d pick those shows, and how I could do that while including the mostly unknown options being cranked out all over the world, both in English and in other languages. Hell, the extensive variety of anime alone is enough to drive a person like me berserk.

So I’ve put a system in place that will expose me to completely random TV–the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ll take this blog along for the ride and write reviews of each episode I watch.

Since it’s me we’re talking about, though, there have to be some rules.

  • One episode at a time—also randomly selected. This means I won’t have to watch all 119 episodes of Sister, Sister back to back. I love my readers, but I don’t love you that much. This presents its own complications for today’s fast-paced, can’t miss an episode mega-dramas where each episode is a single chapter in an endless novel, but I hereby swear to do my due diligence and thoroughly research every show I drop into so I know who the players are and what the overarching story is so I can offer a fair assessment.
  • Some kinds of TV shows are simply too impractical to cover. Anything that airs a new episode every day is out, whether it’s Maury, JeopardySportscenter, The Daily Show, Jimmy Fallon, The Today Show, whatever. It’s not that I’m not interested in these shows—well, I don’t care about Sportscenter—but that it would be impossible for me to actually find a random episode of Jeopardy from 1996, so I couldn’t use the same democratic technique of randomness. Even though it’s a weekly, 60 Minutes and its ilk are also out. A rule of thumb: If Wikipedia or a similar source doesn’t have a numbered episode list, it’s pretty much not viable. This doesn’t mean I’m adverse to covering current events programming or non-fiction, but it has to be discrete enough to fit in this framework. Frontline works, Newshour does not. As you’ll see, the very first episode I’m reviewing is non-fiction. This also means traditional daily game shows of all stripes aren’t going to work, but reality TV game shows are up for grabs (see more about those below.)
  • Obviously if I can’t find some way to watch a show, it’s not going to be possible.
  • I’ll do my best to give every episode a fair hearing on its own terms. For shows I’ve never seen before—like all three of the episodes I’m reviewing tonight—it’ll also serve as a de facto review of the show, since it’s my first impression of the entire series. I’ll try and get a sense from research about how representative it might be, especially if it’s one of those intricate mega-dramas I talked about above. If it’s something I’m already familiar with, I’ll obviously be able to provide more context and perspective.
  • I’m totally fine with covering multiple episodes from the same show, should the gods of random chance dictate thus.

Let’s get this party started.

Case Study 1: Monsters We Met, Episode 1–“Eternal Frontier”
Original Airdate: April 8th, 2003 on BBC

This also aired in the US on Animal Planet under the name Land of Lost Monsters. It appears from the muddled Wikipedia page that there were some changes made, including new narration from an American, because who wants to listen to some snotty British person narrate a BBC documentary, I guess? Why settle for Ian Holm, the acclaimed star of stage and screen, when you can get the guy that played the crooked cop that was in league with Jack Palance in Batman? Clearly I don’t understand this business—how dare Animal Planet disrespect Bilbo Baggins! Anyway, Land of Lost Monsters also featured footage borrowed from other BBC documentaries about prehistory. I’m not sure how transformative the changes actually were, since I watched the BBC version.

This is part one of a three-part historical documentary about encounters between early humans and megafauna. It centers on North America; the second and third installments focus on Australia and New Zealand, respectively. I imagine this was produced along with a rash of similar BBC programming on prehistory in the wake of the astronomical success of BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs as narrated by Kenneth Branagh in 1999.

Strengths

  • Interesting Subject Matter. You see lots of documentaries of this stripe about dinosaurs (with many latter-day examples inspired by the Branagh series) and you see lots of documentaries about nature in the modern world, but I haven’t seen anything that specifically talks about megafauna, which is a shame because it really is a fascinating topic. Kudos on that!
  • Educational. This serves as an appealing introduction to this topic for the unfamiliar. I happen to have spent some time reading about megafauna recently, so the facts discussed here didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, but this wouldn’t be out of place in a classroom or in the living room of anyone interested in prehistory.
  • Comprehensive. Admittedly we have limited knowledge about this subject and have to make a lot of intelligent inferences, but this does hit the most interesting points and is able to paint a mostly complete picture. I do have some quibbles—I was disappointed to see that this series doesn’t touch on Eurasia/Africa at all. North America, Australia and New Zealand are widely considered to be the hot spots of interaction between megafauna and early humans, but I think there’s enough to talk about with Eurasia/Africa to have eked out another episode. This doesn’t mention that mammoth migrated over the Bering Strait land-bridge and that these animals may have been familiar to the Clovis, for instance, so that’s a bit of a blind spot. As I’ll mention below, the series’ commitment to dramatization and narrative seems to wed it to Montana specifically, which also limits the scope—the speed with which the early settlers explored the breadth of the Americas from Canada to the Tierra del Fuego is remarkable, and “Frontier” doesn’t touch on that. Still, these are minor complaints about a take on the subject that is really quite thorough in 45 minutes while also being entertaining.

Weaknesses

  • Unnecessary Dramatization. I’m aware that this is a common downfall of television documentaries, but it seems even more ridiculous in light of how little actual information we have about the Clovis. On the other hand, that very fact makes the dramatization all the more appealing for the creators—it’s harder for the viewers to wrap their mind around a subject where there’s so many questions, so why not make some intelligent guesses and make up some people with a fake language and fake names and give them a story? My answer to that would be that every minute we spend watching the adventures of Xi’yuu and friends is time we could spend learning about something real. I’m also a little dubious about the amount of lipstick and eyebrow plucking this woman from 14,000 years ago appears to enjoy.
  • Cheesy SFX. This feels a little unfair to me even as I write it, because I’m sure the producers did the best with what they had. Still, the saber-toothed cat running to catch its prey looks so laughably fake that it really does take you out of the moment. I think a big reason people watch these documentaries about prehistory instead of just reading a book is the thrill of actually getting to see the animals. This is a big part of why Walking With Dinosaurs was such a hit (although perhaps if I ever review that I’ll be similarly dismayed.) Monsters does not provide those thrills. A big part of this is just bad timing—if this series had been made 10 years later, it would be a whole different ballgame. And I’m sure the resources of the folks at the BBC were not unlimited here—it’s not like they’re working with a Jurassic Park level budget.

Final Judgment: 6/10. If you’re interested in this topic, I doubt there’s a better television documentary out there. If you’re just looking generally for a TV documentary, this will probably fall more towards the bottom of the to-watch list, as it’s hardly essential for the average viewer. It’s well-done for what it is, though.

Case Study 2: So Little Time, Episode 24–“Look Who’s Talking”
Original Airdate: March 23rd, 2002 on ABC Family

This is the second and last TV series starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen in the wake of their wholesome early 90s megahit Full House. In view of the news that Full will be revitalized on Netflix under the unfortunate name Fuller House, Nickelodeon has apparently scooped up the rights to a substantial chunk of the Olsen back catalog and are airing this show in the hot and unforgiving light of 2015.  As you’ll see…this isn’t a great decision on their part.

Let’s talk a bit about the Olsens. Thrust into the limelight at 6 months old, they took turns playing the role of cutie-pie Michelle Tanner on Full due to those darn labor laws that say you can’t make a toddler shoot 18 hour days for scale. (Ah, just kidding—they were probably making a lot more than that. I sure hope so, anyway!) They’re the archetypal child stars of my generation and this was just one stop on a gravy train whose returns increasingly diminished the further away they got from the halcyon days of the Tanner household. Mary-Kate has been forthright with the press about how her under-18 career was entertainment and not acting, though there’s no word on how she looks back on her blip of an adult career, featuring a serviceable but forgettable stint on Weeds and a role in 1990s period piece (how appropriate) The Wackness as someone named “Union.” Both the Olsen twins have since retired from the acting biz (though there are threats that they are “teetering” re. a decision to appear in Fuller) and have established themselves as quite successful businesswomen in the upscale fashion industry. Their couture brand The Row has been well-received by the fashion world, and if you’ve got $200 to spare, you can snap up an Olsen-designed no-frills Made In The USA t-shirt at Barney’s, so it sounds like they’re arrived to me. (Though to paraphrase Marge Simpson, fashion is none of my business.) It sounds like the twins have found their calling and are doing quite well for themselves; Mary-Kate is even married to Nicolas Sarkozy’s half-brother. I wonder if their younger selves would be surprised that their baby sister Elizabeth would be the Olsen to walk away with a serious acting career; I wonder when they realized that their own acting careers had peaked at the age of 5; I wonder what they think of Bojack Horseman. Eh, there’s too much good TV these days—they probably don’t watch it.

Strengths

  • Urk. I really don’t want this project to turn into “Oryx Shits All Over Obscure TV Shows.” I really don’t. I want this to be about uncovering hidden gems and curiosities in the vast tapestry of television content. I know people put love, sweat and hard work into this (though actually being able to see the hard work in the finished project is a bit elusive in this case.) Time, however, is truly terrible. A big part of this project will be to find the quality in forgotten dreck, but the scale has to have a low end. So I guess it’s good that we’re getting it out of the way early? And make no mistake: I don’t feel this way because I’m prejudiced against kids’ TV. Stories for and about kids can be just as good as things pitched at adults. A story doesn’t have to have nudity and violence and swearing to be compelling. (Looking at you, HBO.) Even light fare like Time can be a showcase for great performances, witty writing, amusing situations and complex characterization. But this truly ain’t it, folks.

Weaknesses

  • Clip Show. A clip show isn’t ideal at the best of times, but I’m a bit baffled as to how a clip show came to exist in the first (and only) season of this show with a scanty 23 prior episodes to draw on. I suspect that the twins and the other producers (yep, the Olsens had EP credits—every great show has two fifteen-year-olds on the senior production staff) saw the writing on the wall, knew that posterity was not in the offing and that the curtain was soon to fall. Still, this could have played to Time’s advantage: this could have been an exhibition of all the series’ highlights and best moments, revealing Time at its best. For all I know, this is what they did. If so, I cringe for all the Nickelodeon viewers out there being exposed to the full run at a tender age.
  • Unfunny. At exactly one point in this supposed collection of highlights from a comedy show did I make a noise somewhat resembling laughter. (I guess I’d peg it somewhere between a chuckle and a snicker.) We were treated to a montage of Ashley’s character Chloe trying to get neighbor Travis (Brandon Tyler) to notice her by attempting different poses on a patio that Travis kept walking past. The culmination of this montage featured Chloe laid out like an odalisque atop the skinny railing, and of course she promptly fell off. A good sight gag/slapstick one-two punch is the kind of comedy bread & butter this show needed. Instead, the show relies on cliche: look, here’s the flamboyant, sassy, scenery-chewing housekeeper Manuelo (Taylor Negron, The Last Boy Scout) wearing a dress. Har har! Men aren’t supposed to wear dresses! To make it even better, he’s wearing a thong, which gives him an opportunity to deploy his dumb catchphrase! Oh, look, here’s a montage of him saying the dumb catchphrase! Another tepid cliche is on full display as we watch Chloe leave an increasingly painful series of answering machine messages for Travis.
  • Reactionary. Allow me to put forward a hypothesis that I believe we’ll have an opportunity to test again and again in this project: reactionary politics are the watchword of lazy comedy. The big offender here is rape culture, which I’ll get into momentarily, but a bit on queer politics—Manuelo is clearly coded as queer, but of course he’s not textually queer. This leads us to a interesting tidbit of Time trivia. The internet tells me of another episode of this show where the girls’ dad Jake (Eric Lutes, Caroline In The City) is chatting with their Annoying Friend Larry (Jesse Head.) Jake is recounting a moment when he saw a movie featuring a woman in a strapless dress and he was fascinated by the question of how the dress was able to stay on. Larry asks, “Is that when you knew you wanted to be a fashion designer?” Jake says that no, he wondered if he was gay. Wokka wokka. Nickelodeon decided that joke was too edgy for 2015 and cut the gag. Hooray for puritanical homophobia! On to gender. There’s a moment where a character named Tedi who works as a model (Natashia Williams, She Spies) laments the fact that she was unable to signal a wildfire rescue copter by virtue of her sexy body. There’s another moment where Manuelo responds to breakfast chat from the women in the family with “I feel like I’m watching The View!”…because, you know, if a group of women are talking it’s remarkable enough to make hack jokes about. But the really glaring thing here is two separate montages on the topic of how it is charming and endearing to perpetually harass people who have made it entirely clear that they want nothing to do with your misguided affections. I guess I should be pleased that both male (Larry) and female (Chloe) characters are given the opportunity to be gross and creepy.
  • Teaspoon-shallow characterization. The way this particular clip show is set up, each of the major cast members is given a montage of memorable moments. Chloe and Riley (Mary-Kate) come across as complete ciphers, since they are the object and the subject of the above-mentioned celebrations of rape culture—Chloe harasses Travis, Larry harasses Riley. Hilarity is meant to ensue. Jake’s montage is about how he’s in touch with his sensitive side. Manuelo gets to say his catchphrase about a million fucking times & the show is brazen enough to lampshade the fact that they had no idea what to do with mom Macy (Clare Carey, Coach.) Eventually they settle on a half-hearted montage of her losing her cool (just because, you know, her, Jake and Tedi are trapped in a wildfire.)
  • Laziness to the nth degree. This is really the disease of which all of the above are merely symptoms. It’s probably pretty clear by now some of the many ways this show is as lazy as a ground sloth being hunted by the Clovis, but let’s enumerate a few more. Some of the choices made around the clips are baffling. We get to see Jake doing yoga, and the “punchline” is that he follows the directions on the tape, which instruct him to congratulate himself out loud for the good job he is doing with the yoga. Okay? Is that really one of the highlights of the show? I’m kind of afraid that it is, even though it’s not really a joke so much as a slice of life. And not a very interesting slice, either. The writers and actors struggle with the punchlines—this episode begins with a big set-up: all the family members see something on their TV that horrifies them and they immediately run to one another. It seems like it might be a natural disaster—they’re not sure how long it’ll be until things return to normal, they think they’d be safer in Santa Monica but the freeway would be clogged with others panicking for the same reason, etc. It turns out that the cable is out. This is a big punchline on a silver platter that they spend a significant amount of time setting up, and they totally bury it with only a brief chortle from the laugh track. This let me know early on that I was not in good hands. The more superficial details of the show are also puzzling in their incompetence: the musical cues are terrible (the theme song is particularly wince-inducing,) the set dressing is off-putting (why does their house have newsroom clocks?) and the view out the windows is jarring in its lack of realism—the Carlsons live in an ocean-front property, so you expect to see ocean out the window, but here’s what you see instead. There’s a difference between living in a beach house and living on a boat.

Final Judgment: 0/10. Run, don’t walk from this turkey—currently a revenant stalking the halls of Nickelodeon. Really, it was cruel of them to bring this back from the grave.

Case Study 3: Comic Book Men, Episode 6–“Ink”
Original Airdate: March 18th, 2012 on AMC

Since this is our inaugural study of reality TV, a preamble on that subject before we dig in to the particulars. As the folks at the Emmys have taken note of, there are really two types of reality TV—there’s the modern day game show where Regular People are brought together to win a contest of some sort. Think Survivor, The Amazing Race, American Idol, Project Runway, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Top Chef. Staples of the genre, these shows have an intrinsic hook and are often quite fun. People who are otherwise reality TV snobs—and we all know them—tend to be a bit more forgiving of this genre, since there is a clearly defined point to the drama that plays out on the screen. The Bachelor is the black sheep of this family, I think.

Then there’s the other kind of reality TV, where we follow around a questionable celebrity (Kathy Griffin, Kardashians, Flavor Flav) or a group of allegedly interesting people in some subculture or another (the quirky staff of an animal rescue shelter, the staff of a black owned and operated tattoo parlor, ice road truckers, inebriated Southerners) as they go about their day to day lives. As far as the snobs are concerned, this is what makes reality TV irredeemable.

Comic Book Men flaunts these genres, to a certain extent. There’s a group of allegedly interesting people who work at or hang around a comic book store. There’s a questionable celebrity in the form of future Hollywood Square Kevin Smith (dir. Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back.) There’s also the game show aspect pioneered by proto-reality show Antiques Roadshow and more latterly by Pawn Star. Comic’s genesis is somewhat interesting—AMC is one of those TV networks whose name literally used to stand for something but subsequently pivoted into a different format. In 2003 they shed their past as “American Movie Classics” to devote more attention to original programming. They’ve had a few mega-hits: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead. Two of those have increasingly popular spin-offs. (Sadly, the Mad Men spinoff I dream of was not to be after Peggy rejected Joan’s offer to run a production company together. I want to live in the timeline where Holloway, Harris & Olson is real. I want that more than anything. Single tear.) They also have a wide back bench of also-rans and hopeful up and comers. And up until 2014, they had a healthy slate of reality shows, all of which got brutally massacred with the exception of this show and Chris Hardwick’s Talking Dead. Aren’t you thrilled that there are three separate shows that allow you to immerse yourself in a universe where a hellscape of shambling corpses constantly threaten to eat your children? Also, Talking Dead sounds like a joke show. Perhaps the fact that these are the two shows that survived signals that the Podcast Revolution has arrived at last, since Hardwick is of course emperor of The Nerdist podcast networkWhich brings me to my next point…

Comic started its life as Kevin Smith’s podcast. Take it away, Wikipedia: “Filmmaker Kevin Smith was drawn to television through his love of podcasting, through which he says he realized his true calling: telling stories with words rather than pictures.” I can think of two things wrong with that sentence. 1) This filmmaker realized his true calling was telling stories with words rather than pictures? and 2) This realization led him to create a TV show? But here we are.

Strengths

  • Entertaining appraisal of comic book memorabilia/depiction of ensuing negotiations.  This is positively fascinating! I’m an unabashed lover of Antiques and narrowing the focus to the wide and deep comics market is a great move. It’s always interesting to see the variety of objects that people bring in to have assessed. We get to see how that assessment transpires and how value is determined. Adding the haggling component is also a good decision because it allows us to see the flexibility of value and it gives us a better sense of the investment the parties have, as well as their connection with each other. It’s very fruitful ground—my favorite exchange in this episode is between manager Walt Flanagan and a customer whose appearance Walt compares to Kirk Cameron. Flanagan and the customer instantly form a warm bond over the comics that the customer has brought to the store, which include several very valuable items as well as a classic Alan Moore story, “The Killing Joke,” and an issue of Steve Ditko’s landmark title “Mr. A.” (Weirdly, Smith hadn’t heard of this. Dude, you own a comic book store and I’ve heard of “Mr. A.” And I am hardly a comics nerd—I felt my eyes glazing over as the group discussed which specific superhero team formation was their favorite because there were so many heroes I was unfamiliar with. Comics nerds have endlessly fertile fields to trawl.) Caustic hanger-on Bryan Johnson jokes that Flanagan is desperate to be friends with the customer. The customer and Flanagan finalize their transaction by sharing an awkward hug over the counter, which Johnson later mocks. This kind of moment is gold for an appraisal show like this. For better or worse, however, the show spends a lot of time on things that aren’t appraising.
  • Kevin Smith himself.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, as he’s obviously the reason this exists, Smith is the most charming person on this show. I don’t think his movies are very good (I was greatly amused to see a poster for Jersey Girl hanging in a place of prominence in the store, memorabilia which Miramax is thanked for providing in the credits) but every time he was on the screen I found myself smiling and wishing we could spend more time with him. He only appears in the segments of the show where the group are recording the podcast, which is unfortunate because that’s one of the most questionable parts of the show. However, Smith is a saving grace in these segments, despite the fact that it looks like he always wears the same shirt. I hope he has 50 of them, because otherwise he probably smells. And I don’t want to imagine him smelling bad, because I want him to be as cool to hang out with as he is on TV.
  • Amusing moments. One of the potential strengths of this flavor of reality TV is the ability to let funny moments float to the surface organically. Of course, we’re all cynical about how staged and over-produced reality TV is, but if the production isn’t obtrusive and gets out of the way, real-life moments can shine through. Two examples, both stemming from the episode’s main “plot” about the staff getting tattoos together: Smith tells an anecdote about getting drunk on pink Zinfandel while working on Clerks and subsequently getting a tattoo of what turned out to be the wrong character from “Alice In Wonderland,” and a moment in the tattoo parlor: Comic store employee Mike Zapcic asks the tattoo artist if people ever ask for comic themed tattoos. The artist replies that people do ask for the big names—Superman, Batman, Spiderman. Zapcic says, “That’s cool.” Artist: “Eh. I guess.” Ha!

Weaknesses

  • Reactionary. Oh, Jesus, here we go again with this shit. Let’s look at the genesis of the tattoo plot—a customer comes in with a lot of tats and when he leaves this becomes the subject of discussion. Johnson recalls an incident where Flanagan vowed to get a New Jersey Devils tattoo should they win a championship, and when they proceeded to win, Flanagan backed out of his pledge after it turned out his wife wasn’t happy with the idea (though she did have to bribe him.) This leads to a lot of hay being made over the fact that Flanagan is pussy-whipped just because his partner wants to have some input in a major decision. Ugh. More along these lines floats up when Johnson mocks employee Ming Chen for being short, pointing out that while Chen is sitting his feet don’t quite touch the floor. Johnson compares him to Lily Tomlin doing her Edith Ann bit. (Boy, these guys are really in touch with the youth culture.) This sexist bullshit climaxes when Flanagan refuses to purchase a customer’s special edition superhero Barbie dolls. It’s not that they don’t sell toys—there’s fucking Walking Dead figurines on sale right next to the goddamn register. (Nice synergy, AMC. Also prominently displayed: Walking Dead comics, because of course. Right next to the Clerks comics.) As becomes clear in a podcasting segment (where Smith rightfully calls Flanagan on his egregious bullshit,) the only reason Flanagan won’t buy the Barbies is because they’re Barbies. They’re for girls. I guess this show is called Comic Book Men for a reason. Let’s not forget the racism, heaped unilaterally on perennial punching bag Chen—in a conversation about who would prevail in a fight between Chen and Johnson, Johnson says he’d take on Chen and Jet Li at the same time. An Asian customer comes into the store shortly thereafter and when asked for his opinion he says he’d back Chen out of racial solidarity. Johnson announces that both Chen and the customer are “racists.” Later, when Chen is showing the others the design for the family crest he eventually ends up getting tattooed on his back. He hands the small piece of paper that it’s on to Flanagan, who likens it to “something out of a fortune cookie.” Enchanté.
  • Unlikable characters, apart from Smith. Admittedly, we don’t spend a lot of time with Chen and Zapcic, so I’m not 100% sure how I feel about them. Flanagan, however, is completely unappealing. In addition to being a sexist asshole, he’s also a windbag. He loves to brag about his negotiating tactics in the podcast segments. He tries to spin his geeky bonhomie with the Kirk Cameron-esque guy into a scenario where Flanagan is “sneaking up on an unsuspecting elk.”  As we see, however, his negotiating prowess amounts to having to take a complete pass on the rare issues the guy brought into the store in exchange for giving him $12 for “The Killing Joke” and “Mr. A.” Yeah, what a master negotiator. The AV Club calls Johnson “mordant” and forecasts that he will be a “breakout star.” I think the word I’d use is simply “asshole.” A woman comes into the store looking for a gift for her boyfriend. In response, Johnson proclaims that if she’s looking for a thoughtful gift, “the honeymoon’s over,” despite her protests that they’ve been seeing each other for a mere four months. Later, when she balks at spending more than $100 on two comic books, (Flanagan protests too much on the podcast about not trying to soak her as a novice buyer, and of course he doesn’t suggest any option that’s within her price range) Johnson crows about how she doesn’t think her boyfriend is worth more than that. People love to carp about how Kim Kardashian doesn’t “deserve” to be famous or on television, but here’s the thing about her: people like her. She’s charming. She’s fun to watch. People want to spend their limited amount of TV time with her. Conventional wisdom is that reality TV needs “villains,” but this is asinine. This isn’t Wacky Races and I don’t need Dick Dastardly plotting in the background. That’s a bug, not a feature. Smith brings charm and humor to the show, but jagoffs like Flanagan and Johnson suck the air out of the room.
  • Bad banter. I have a friend (who is incidentally heavily tattooed) and once we were listening to sports radio in anticipation of her boyfriend being interviewed in an upcoming segment. She took the opportunity to bemoan banter of any stripe, calling it the bane of her existence. “Say something or don’t—but don’t act like you’re doing me a favor by giving me a window into your inane chit-chat.” Now, this is somewhat of an extreme position. Obviously she is not a part of the Podcast Revolution. But a show like this makes me see where she’s coming from. I’m not exactly surprised to hear geeky talking points about the merits of the Superfriends or the mechanics of the Green Lantern’s power batteries, but the tepid riffing we get here adds nothing, even if you care about the Superfriends or the Green Lantern. Can we leave spitballing about the kid-friendliness of The Munsters vs. The Addams Family in Smith’s shitty movies where they belong? This does make me wonder about an alternate universe where Tarantino’s career sputtered out after Reservoir Dogs, Netflix was never invented and he wound up on reality TV managing a custom-branded video store. Vincent & Jules’ Secret Stash. File that next to Holloway, Harris & Olson, I guess.

Final Judgment: 4/10. This show has some robust strengths, but its flaws make it something I won’t voluntarily return to. If the idea of a Pawn Stars with comic books and Smith compels you enough that you’re willing to put up with some rancid bros in a hastily stitched-together Frankenstein of a show designed to keep people watching AMC after The Walking Dead have stalked off into the sunset, you’ve met your match.

NEXT TIME: Dead Like Me and others!

Reviewing Random Episodes: Monsters We Met, So Little Time, Comic Book Men