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Tag Archive: Community


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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SMT X

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

Around this time last year, my good friend Steve suggested that we check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) at the Silent Movie Theater here in Los Angeles and I had no clue what it was.  I briefly checked the description, saw a positive Metacritic score and thought to myself, “Why the heck not?”  I ended up seeing a fantastic slow-burning film that made the vampire genre fresh.  I also saw one of the best images to portray a character in a long time.

Early in the film, the co-protagonist girl vampire decides to go home with a drug dealer who had previously threatened the other protagonist as well as a local streetwalker.  As he bursts into his lair, he walks by a large fish tank and gives it a smack.  Seconds later he’s doing lines of cocaine on a glass table, a mounted deer head and a mounted antelope head on the wall behind him, before turning on the annoying techno.  He sits on a couch draped with a blanket of what looks like tigers that would jump out under black light.  In the corner there is a hookah.  As the girl vampire explores the rest of the pad, she finds a set of drums just below a large marijuana leaf poster.  I laughed to myself as I immediately realized I had in those brief seconds already characterized this asshole in my mind with no redeeming qualities.  Sure, the actions earlier helped, but that apartment spoke to me clearly and it screamed into my brain “HE IS A DOUCHEBRO.”

douchebro

Those items and that music might not mean the same thing to every person.  Maybe to others they see a seedy drug-dealing criminal.  Some may see a guy that is definitely more current in his musical taste than I (as Clem Snide and The Replacements play as I write.)  Others may see an advocate for marijuana besides business reasons that has been stigmatized due to its frequent use by hippies and non-WASPs.  (I put myself in the advocate camp, by the way, as the criminalization and the imprisonment of many people in jail due to marijuana related offenses seems to be one of the many effects of the inherent racism in our justice system.  But, that’s for another discussion at another time by others much more qualified than I.  Check out Deray McKesson on Twitter to start your journey on that front or some of the great essays in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the soon-to-be author of the Marvel comic Black Panther).  I just know that for my viewpoint, the more the scene unfolded, the more it verified my judgment.

Such is the magic of great set design.  As a background actor, I get to see lots of set design up close.  Items might not show up distinctly on camera, but choices get made in the costume, prop and set departments that impact the feel of a scene.  The care that the professionals take in these aspects of filmed entertainment mesmerizes me more than most things.

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Community cast

It may be a sign that fans of much-loved TV series are finally having a say in determining what stays on TV.  With fans voting with their wallets last month to bring Veronica Mars to the silver screen via an unprecedented Kickstarter campaign, someone savvy at NBC programming must have realized the loyal fan following of Community was worth keeping by saving the half-hour comedy series.   Last night NBC announced Community will be back for a fifth season, moving it ever closer to the series not-so secret mantra “six seasons and a movie”.

The roars of thousands of series fans who chanted along with the montage of key scenes from the past three seasons at Comic-Con last summer said it all.  And it didn’t matter that Chevy Chase wasn’t returning to the series or the much liked show creator Dan Harmon was cast away, as show regulars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, and Donald Glover continued to provide all the fans want and more over the past 84 episodes.

Community McHale

Why do fans like the show?  The humor?  The characters?  The actors?  All of the above?  Watch the series cast talk about the show last year at Comic-Con:

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By C.J. Bunce

You can spend your weekend at Comic-Con wandering the exhibit floor looking for mass market collectibles, talking with dealers of original art, talking with writers and artists of current and classic comic books, attend panels and see comic and other creators, TV and movie stars and get the low-down on coming projects, go offsite for parties and studio and publisher events–the biggest problem is doing all you want when there is nowhere close to enough time to do it in.  If you’re in for only a few days, you really have to pick up your pace and narrow down what you want to see.  Since I spent a whole day in panels and did not stay for the entire weekend, any encounters I had with creators and studio celebrities were pretty much based on happenstance this year.  Many creators are now friends, others I gawk at like everyone else from afar.  So who did I see?

First of all, in panels I saw the cast of Community, Firefly, and the new series Arrow, including guys I’d love to talk in person someday–Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin, David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel from Bones, and the guy you may know as Bud from Married with Children, David Faustino, who is doing voice work now for Nickelodeon, and he voiced the character Mako as part of the Legends of Korra panel.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, waiting in line allowed me to meet and get a photo with Joss Whedon.

The Soup host Joel McHale, Firefly star Nathan Fillion, former Angel star David Boreanaz and Korra’s David Faustino really stood out as funny guys in these panels–surprisingly quick-witted people who got the crowd cheering with everything they said.

I saw the main cast of the Syfy Channel series Haven during their signing session.  They really looked like they were having a good time–like they really get along with each other.  Also signing in the Sails Pavilion were Richard Anderson, who was the classic character Oscar Goldman from one of borg.com’s favorite borg shows: The Six Million Dollar Man, and Cindy Morgan from the original Tron and Caddyshack.  I hoped to run into Bruce Boxleitner, JK Woodward and Scott and David Tipton but my panel schedule caused me to miss meeting them.

On the exhibit floor I watched Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) and Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) talk with fans and sign autographs.

Arnold Schwartzenegger was coming into the hall and I staked out a photo op location but his handlers moved him out of the hall so I missed seeing him.

As a Star Trek fan, I was very happy to finally meet and have a nice conversation with Brent Spiner.  He was a great guy who was as nice in person as you’d hope him to be from years of watching his lovable character Data.  I also had a brief chat at day’s end with Levar Burton, also a friendly guy, signing photos of Geordi LaForge for fans.  I’d met Marina Sirtis before so I didn’t chat with her this round, but she was also signing Counselor Deanna Troi photos in the hall.

Earlier this year I reviewed Table Top, a new, fun Web series hosted by Wil Wheaton with the Geek and Sundry creators.  I met him near a Starbucks and shared my feedback with him on his show.  We talked about some of the games and he graciously introduced me to his wife and friends.

Wheaton is truly “one of us” and a really personable guy.  Of everyone at the Con, he is probably my first pick of someone you’d like to wander the Con halls and chat with.  Another show host, Blair Butler was attending the Con from the popular genre cable channel G4.

Of the comic book realm, I met Cat Skaggs, a well-known comic book artist who was signing cover prints to Smallville Season 11 #1 and she sketched a great Green Arrow bust for me.

I also met Neal Adams–a comic book legend who created the look of the Silver Age Green Arrow and I finally was able to add one of his sketches to my folio.  Neal was sketching non-stop for fans just like the newer, younger artists in Artist Alley–a real “working artist” even after all these years.

I ran into my friend Freddie Williams II also, and he also was busy sketching for fans throughout the Con and selling original art from his various DC Comics series.

David Petersen, known best for his Mouse Guard work, was working on commissions for attendees and selling shirts and art at his booth in Artist Alley.  I also lucked into getting a sketch from him and enjoyed talking with his wife, who manned the booth when he was doing signings elsewhere.

I ran into Frank Cho again this year and he said he is still expecting to get Guns & Dinos out soon.  He was selling a great pin-up calendar featuring Brandy and the Liberty Meadows gang.  More on that in future posts.  A nominee for the Eisner in two categories this year, Rachel Rising creator Terry Moore was busy talking with fans.

As with last year, Jim Lee could be found at several panels and signing throughout Comic-Con.

As with Freddie Williams, I met up with several folks from back in the Midwest.  I ran into artist Ande Parks and met his wife, while hanging with Sean and William from Elite Comics and Chris Jackson who runs Planet Comicon.  Parks was chatting with his frequent cover artist Francesco Francavilla, this year’s Eisner cover artist of the year winner, and someone we have talked about here at borg.com all year long for his great cover art.  I ran into Star Trek author Kevin Dilmore twice on the exhibit floor–my third year seeing Kevin at the Con.  It’s crazy how you can be in your hometown and never run into anyone, and then fly to San Diego and see so many people from back home.

By the borg.com Writing Staff

As the spring TV season winds down, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect back on this season’s viewing, looking at what ultimately made our “must watch” list, and what didn’t.  Look back to see our reviews, then check out our weekly lineup!

Let’s start with what didn’t make it for us:

  • The Firm.  Although we enjoyed the performances, and the overall series mystery seemed intriguing, the focus on courtroom melodrama bogged this one down.  The fatal moment, though, was an episode in which the Rules of Criminal Procedure were so wildly distorted as to kill any suspension of disbelief.  Note to courtroom drama writers: We’ve all watched twenty years of Law & Order.  You need to step up the writing if you want to succeed.
  • Terra Nova.  This series just lost us.  The pilot was serviceable and showed us the great potential the ideas behind this series had, but episodes quickly devolved into a weak combination of weekly world-destroying strawman threats (yawn) that just felt more and more incredibly contrived, and a confusing (and, IMO, un-needed) effort to create a dark, mysterious, earth-shattering plot with shadowy characters and alignments similar to the epic Lost.  The last two episodes we watched (in January) were literally painful to watch, mainly due to the largely wasted potential that a time-traveling colony in the Cretaceous era. WeI’ve heard that the last few episodes in this season showed promise, but we won’t be tuning in unless we hear some positive buzz on the show once it starts again in the fall.
  • The Killing.  This is the only show that Jason can remember where he actively rooted against it succeeding.  The first season treated viewers with such contempt for their intelligence, after a promising pilot and first couple of episodes, and that means any resolutions for the plot or characters are unimportant.

Hanging on by a Thread:

  • Once Upon a Time.  This one is still nabbed weekly by our DVR, but we missed a couple of episodes during the holidays and never bothered to get caught up again.  There was nothing really wrong with it; we were enjoying it–but other series (see below) bumped it from the tight nightly schedule.
  • Ringer.  See OUAT, above.  The ongoing soap opera gained momentum after the midseason, but ultimately fell victim to things that held our attention a little bit more.  Escalating outrageousness and cringe-inducing (in a good way!) plot twists raised the stakes for the series, so this one deserves a marathon to get caught up.
  • Falling Skies.  Our review of this summer series here at borg.com remains unchanged; we saw great potential, and though the series had its issues, it also had its positive aspects, and we’ll be tuning in this summer when episodes resume on TNT on June 17th at 9pm Eastern Time.  Hopefully the second season comes out with a bang and delivers on this series’ massive potential.  And you can catch a promising glimpse of the season opener here.
  • 30 Rock.  One of the favorites of past years, it isn’t at the top of viewing lists anymore, though if the episode focus is on Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy, it can still be magic.  Because it only streams on his computer, it is tough for Jason to watch now.

So, what are the big winners this season at borg.com?

Lost Girl.  We are loving this lighthearted adult urban fantasy!  Satisfying world building based in European fairy lore combines with strong performances by the supporting cast to make this a weekly guilty pleasure.  It’s like Buffy for grownups–what Angel was trying to be, only done right.

Awake.  Launched in the same Thursday night time slot as The Firm, (which also hosted another fine debut series, Prime Suspect), this paranormal crime drama only gets better.  Jason Isaacs makes a compelling lead, and the series writers have wisely increased the genre stakes for the series, giving it extra pull.  They’re teasing the paranormal plot out very slowly, but when the moments hit, they pack a wallop.  We’re looking forward to seeing the mystery build.

Grimm.  Elizabeth’s personal favorite this season!  After a compelling pilot, this series has taken a while to get going.  But, as with Awake, they’re finally starting to really build the ongoing genre plot, adding complications to the established “monster murder of the week” formula.  New characters and a stronger focus on the otherworldly underbelly have given Grimm a much-needed boost, and we were happy to see that it’s been picked up for another season!  Friday nights just haven’t been the same without Chuck.  One thing we’d like to see more of, please: strong women characters.

New Girl.  C.J.’s favorite comedy of the past ten years and favorite series of the year.  He still cannot believe each episode is only a half an hour, since the writers crammed so much into each show.  Zooey Deschanel’s Jess is as put-upon as any classic female comedy lead in the Mary Richards variety, and is as brilliantly funny, smart and zany.  The supporting cast only got better throughout the first season, but the funny stories didn’t really explode with humor until they finally linked-up Max Greenfield’s Schmidt with Hannah Simone’s Cece.

Psych.  Still occupying the top spot in our must-watch lineup, the second half of the Psych season really delivered.  From beginning (the great season re-opener guest starring Cary Elwes) to end (that CLIFFHANGER!), with very few missteps in between (not sure what to make of “Let’s Do-Wop It Again,” with Shawn in the hospital and minus Keenan Thompson), all around, the show’s still got it.

The Walking Dead.  The second season of this series just got better and better, with deeper storylines, clever surprises, and a real aura of uncertainty around favorite characters survivability.  And the season finale was one of the best of the year (Michone!!!).  It’s the one series I simply cannot wait to resume in the fall.

Community.  This is Jason’s only show he will watch in real time.  The characters keep developing and adding depth and when the writers create a personality quirk, it is in service of character and not the story of the week.  He would visit the Greendale campus (and did as a background extra) to see all the characters, but attending Greendale would be the worst decision of his or anyone’s life except for those that want to learn to make a diorama.

House, M.D.  After Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie) drove his car into Dr. Cuddy’s home we thought this series was pretty much done for.  We still had doubts that we’d need another season after House’s prison stint.  Then BAM!  This last season is on par with the best of its eight season run, especially because the writers have let Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) be Wilson, Chase (Jesse Spencer) be Chase, and Russian bride-in-name-only Dominika (Karolina Wydra) almost make it as House’s single perfect mate.  Although Charlene Yi and Odette Annable are fine as Drs. Park and Adams, the show still struggles with the one note Cameron/Thirteen replacement role.  We wish we had Amber Tamblyn back.  Although Omar Epps’s Dr. Foreman pretty much vanished, Peter Jacobson’s Dr. Taub continues to amuse to the bitter (?) end.

Fairly Legal.  Although we’ve fallen behind thanks to new diversions like Awake and Lost Girl, the sophomore season of this unusual, lighthearted legal drama continues to entertain. Star Sarah Shahi is cute and engaging (although we liked her better as a cynical cop in Life and as Gus’s adrenaline junkie girlfriend in a guest spot on Psych), even if her harried approach to life gets a little exhausting.  We’re hoping for a bigger role for Gerald McRaney this season.

In Plain Sight.  We’ve let the final season of this solid crime drama get backed up on our DVR, but from what we’ve seen so far, they’re going to round the series out nicely, with the same sharp dialogue and complex relationships that have given this series staying power despite a history of scheduling mishaps.  It’s nice to see Tangie Ambrose (Agent Parmalee) get a stronger role, Tia Carrere is always fun, and all things considered, I think everyone prefers baby Norah to Jinx and Brandi.

Parks and Recreation.  April Ludgate, Andy Dwyer and Ron Swanson continue to be three of the best characters on television.

A few other shows we’re thinking about, but haven’t mentioned here before:

  • Surburgatory. Jason has no clue what makes this interesting.  He laughs and that’s a big part.  The supporting cast (Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell (SNL) and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) is just so, goofy and fun. Mostly, it is earnest father and daughter relationship of the two leads, Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy.
  • Modern Family.  The second season of this award-winning series was side-splitting.  Better than the great comedic actors and fantastic use of the “mockumentary” format is the terrific writing of the scribes behind the show, particularly Jeffery Richman  & creator Steven Levitan. The stories of the three households making up the dysfunctional Modern Family intertwine effortlessly to create the funniest half-hour on network television.
  • CSI (Crime Scene Investigation).  After a dozen seasons in the bag and numerous cast changes, CSI could easily be slipping off of most people’s radar, especially with the mid-season exit of long-time favorite Marg Helgenberger.  And though it will never likely recover the viewership it enjoyed when William Peterson was on the cast, the new additions of Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue has been a breath of creative fresh air.  After missteps with recently departed cast, especially the badly conceived Dr. Ray Langston character portrayed by the excellent Lawrence Fishburne, the series seems to be back on an even keel and cranking out the crafty, clever alternative plotlines to the rote procedurals currently on the air everywhere else. Amen.
  • Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.  Only four episodes in, but having James Van Der Beek play a cartoon version of himself, keeps paying funny dividends.  If that lasts, this will be a keeper.
  • Mad Men.  Jason got rid of his cable and finding this show in a legal manner can be tough, but he knows it is worth it.
  • Archer.  Jason says, “Give me the voice of H. Jon Benjamin in crazy spy situations or give me death!”
  • Bob’s Burgers.  Jason says, “Give me the voice of H. Jon Benjamin in crazy burger joint situations or give me death!”

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

As I drive back and forth to visit my parents in Arizona, I use those long solitary times in the car to listen to podcasts. “WNYC’s Radiolab,” “the memory palace,” “Thrilling Adventure Hour,” “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” “Doug Loves Movies” and “The Sports Poscast” all satisfy different moods and help make the drive a chance for laughs, learning and great stories.  On my past visit, I queued up the two-hour plus “Poscast” from 3/14/2012 featuring Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur as I drove across the Mojave Desert.  The first half concentrated on my favorite sport, baseball, and discussions and predictions regarding the upcoming season.  (Go Cardinals).  The second half concerned something that I think all readers of borg.com can get behind – a draft of the characters of Star Wars.  (Star Wars was defined as Episode IV through Episode VI – any other movies never had existed.  That is the correct view).

So, as much as I loved the baseball discussion (go Cardinals, again) this draft excited me.  My one addition to the draft (everyone’s a critic) – I would have drafted Biggs.  The idea of an infinite universe and somehow two friends from Tatooine end up flying X-wings together is better than just running into someone you know on the streets of Chicago or in a café in Paris (though both of those are pretty awesome).  It’s just my idea of magic and what I read into the trilogy, though all of their picks made perfect sense.  I still am up in the air about who would have won – each team had two Jedis, each team had people good with blasters and the last pick, though one was much more powerful, one was a lot more lucky.  As far as favorites go though, I have to side with Schur’s draft.  He had the first pick and of course he took Han Solo and the ensuing discussion got me to thinking.  That moment they cite as the favorite Han moment, that moment that we all want for ourselves, the moment where chills run through me, my hair stands on end and my eyes well up is the Millennium Falcon shooting a TIE Fighter out of space, disrupting Darth Vader’s shot on Luke’s X-wing, and Han exclaiming, “You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.”

The rogue becomes a hero.  He is in it for more than the money, he has a heart.  He cares enough to love something.  We all want to be that person.  In continuing to think about that, it ran up against my thoughts of Community as I finally got to see a panel for the show at WonderCon the previous Sunday.  Then, I finally had my epiphany on my love of this show and other well crafted ones like Schur’s own Parks and Recreation.

We all love Star Wars.  It’s a great story.  However, the characters are archetypes and therefore, we can vicariously insert ourselves into them and become the hero.  We can “play” Han and Luke and Leia as kids because the simple traits that they have don’t intrude on our true personalities.  We all want to be heroes.  We all want to find that cause to champion.  We will defend ourselves.  We will defend our friends.  We will save the girl or the boy with our own bravery and pluck.

On the other hand, you look at a Jeff Winger or a Leslie Knope and you run into something different and that is specifics.  Winger is a lawyer.  He cheated his way into becoming a lawyer and once he was found out, he had to return to community college to earn his degree.  He knows how to talk himself out of about any situation and can convince about anyone to do anything, but he’s learning that isn’t always a good thing.  He’s trying to coast through college because he doesn’t know how to work hard and study.  His Halloween costumes are just excuses to dress well and show off his good looks.  He once wet himself playing foosball.  He’s an agnostic.  He interferes with others’ relationships.  He stinks at pottery and it can infuriate him.

We know Leslie is a tireless worker in the Parks Department.  We know her mother intimidates her, but that she looks up to her success in city government.  Her mom can be a rival for the affection of a man like Ben Wyatt – and she will stand up to her to fight for him.  She will prepare 72 hours of reading for her best friend Ann Perkins to do in 12 hours for an interview Ann never wanted.  She’ll risk her career for love, but she won’t give up either because she wants it all.  She’ll steal artwork to protect it from censors.

We can’t project ourselves onto these people – they’re too different.  There may be some similarities, but I doubt there is a real Leslie Knope or Jeff Winger or Britta Perry or Ron Swanson or Abed Nadir.  However, because they are so likable, we can project ourselves into Greendale or into Pawnee, Indiana because we want to hang out with them for the 22 minutes every week.  Then I have to shift to first person as my adventures of driving an hour to WonderCon after waking up at 5 am to volunteer at the L.A. Marathon to go and sit in a room for two hours watching the two previous panels just to be sure I can get an early viewing of “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” and see my first Community panel after two years of Comic-Con disappointment due to not getting to the line in time, because my experience is more specific.  (It also deserves more than one, long, rambling sentence).

Following the episode, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chris McKenna, Ken Jeong, Dan Harmon and Steve Basilone assembled at the panel table in front of the huge crowd.  We found out that in the 18-34 demographic Community beat American Idol, which got a huge cheer.  Then Yvette prefaced her comments by saying that “Dan Harmon is broken” and thanked the audience for their support, because through all of the tributes, they can feel that love for the show.  The best line was, “The fact that you guys walked away from your computers and watched us live and got us those numbers, it’s magic.”  Even though I’ve seen this week’s show, I’ll be watching again live, though no one will count it.  If you have a Nielsen box, please do the same.

Some of my other favorite moments of the panel:

While discussing the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” that the moderator attributed to Chris McKenna, he said, “We have a writing staff.  Dan came in and vomited up a bunch of ideas for it and we picked through the vomit.”

Gillian mentioned going to Comic-Con last year and a few people whooped, while Dan jumped in and said, “You guys like comic books?”

Steve describes the episode “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” as “retardedly awesome” and the moderator steps in and asks, “Are there any retardedly awesome people in the audience?”  (As an aside, I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Scrooged as my favorite holiday entertainments, but this year, I just watched “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”  It’s easily in the top 3 of Christmas for me now).

The interplay between Yvette and Dan when Yvette started talking about Dan’s skills with rap flow and lyrics and Dan’s humility deflecting it to a voicemail from Chevy Chase that says he won’t live past 57.  Most of it is Dan going in to detail and Yvette repeatedly saying, “Harmon.”

The character of Britta was just a list of stuff that the writers (and Dan) considered as things they found attractive in a woman.  Then a female writer, Hilary Winston then said that she didn’t like Britta and gave Dan the reasons.  Dan then said, “Instead of changing the character, I thought, ok so that’s who Britta is.  She’s the woman that women don’t like.”

Dan again on Britta and other female characters, “What creates a good female character is a guy forgetting that it’s a female character.”  Then Yvette added, “It works for diversity as well.”  Then Yvette and Dan went into another dialogue, as Dan got a little humorously offensive about writing about race and talked about going to RaceCon.

Re-listening to the panel, it didn’t strike me then because I had no clue who it was, but I have to say that Gillian is pretty darn correct in the fact that she can resemble the later-in-life Michael Jackson that she plays in “Contemporary Impressionists.”

Just re-reading this, the differences between a fan of Community or Parks and Recreation and a fan of Star Wars (heck, they’re probably the same people a lot of the times) are not that great.  The characters have more depth in the TV show because they have over 20 hours to develop over three seasons instead of six hours over three movies.  Fans get crazy excited about all three.  I just want to figure out what makes a show like Community so special to me and that makes me spend the past few days watching my DVDs of seasons 1 and 2.  I thought the idea that I wouldn’t play a sitcom out with friends when I was a kid might be that germ of understanding because of the character depth.  Then again, if I were ten again, maybe I would “play” Community.  I get to be Troy.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Both Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters premiered the same day.  Chasing Ghosts premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2007.  The King of Kong premiered at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, taking place as well in Park City, Utah, but reserved for films with budgets under $1 million and only for first time directors.  Other movies at Sundance included Black Snake Moan, King of California, The Savages, Snow Angels, Eagle vs. Shark, Reprise, Waitress, Once and Rocket Science. The King of Kong, by my personal calculation*, is easily the biggest movie out of Slamdance that year.

Don’t mistake that I’m saying popularity equals quality or the film festival where your movie premieres means a difference in quality.  Still, Sundance, like Toronto and Cannes just seems to mean a higher pedigree, the difference between a regional dog show and the Westminster Kennel Club.

So, why is The King of Kong more popular than Chasing Ghosts?**  I think it is that same reason that made the video gamers of both stories so special: specialization.

I just finished Chasing Ghosts and it is fascinating.  Just like Confessions of a Superhero or Murderball or Grizzly Man or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Capturing the Friedmans, there’s something about true stories and the voyages in life that people take to get to today that make my eyes and heart open wide.***  Following the story behind the boys and older boys**** in a picture from a Life magazine photo shoot in 1982 on the main drag of Ottumwa, Iowa made me smile many times.

The classic Life Magazine photo from November 1982, taken in downtown Ottumwa, Iowa with the gamers and some Ottumwa High School cheerleaders. Billy Mitchell, featured in King of Kong, is third from right at front with the moustache and his hand on the Centipede game.

But, it’s no King of Kong Chasing Ghosts gave us glimpses of many different video game champions.  Boys that spent up to 60 some hours straight playing video games.*****  We learned about strategies (and saw some cool, modern 3-D images) for Pac Man, Berzerk, Centipede, Frogger and Missile Command.******  Each person had strategies and abilities that made these games easy for them.  Each person had a compelling life story.  The only names I remember though are Steve Sanders and Billy Mitchell and that’s because they were also in The King of Kong.*******

The King of Kong just looked at one game.  The King of Kong just looked at the rivalry for this one high score.  It followed Steve Wiebe as he tried to unseat Mitchell’s high score and what how much that meant for him at that time in his life.  It had a compelling narrative because it focused on one thing, kind of like these video game specialists.

Why do we love specialists?  Why do we put the most elite athletes, the most elite soldiers like Navy Seals, the most elite actors/directors/producers that win Oscars on pedestals, sometimes literally in the case of the Olympics or sports draft coverage?

I’d like to think this is some grand philosophical question, but it’s not.  We all want to be the best at something, so we celebrate those that become the best.  The richest man in the world.  The most beautiful woman in the universe.  The fastest.  The strongest.  The biggest weekend at the box office.  The smartest.  In recent years of baseball analysis and the Baseball Hall of Fame, most researchers (and conversely voters) show that emphasis every year.  The guys like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell who were pretty good at everything–and therefore each a great player–aren’t nearly as appreciated as those that did one thing well, like hit for average, play defense, steal bases or hit a bucket load of home runs (though because of steroids, that isn’t as smiled upon as before).  Being the best wins, second place will always be a set of steak knives and third prize is you’re fired.

Capitalism expects us to specialize.  We do one thing well, and we trade the money we make from that to other people that do their one thing well.  So, did I like The King of Kong because I’ve been trained to like the specialized over the general?  I’d like to think that isn’t the case.  There’s room in the world for both movies, and I’m glad I saw both.  If you ask me which one I liked better in this case, it’s Kong.

—————————————————-

*Check out the list here. I’ll admit, films with James Cromwell, Tony Hale^, Ali Larter and Gary Busey feel like they should be bigger, emphasis on “feel” and nothing more.

**I’m basing this on the fact that I saw The King of Kong in a movie theater and watched it on TV over Thanksgiving this year.  I finally found Chasing Ghosts on Netflix Instant when a friend recently recommended it to me and it appeared in one of the lists that Netflix tailors to my watching patterns.  Netflix is like my best friend who always can tell what I’m in the mood to watch.  Except that Netflix is a cyborg, bent on taking over the world.

*** A note – in some cases the emotion from my “heart” is sympathy.  Sometimes it is appreciation.  Sometimes it is horror.  Films that generate feelings always rank high in my book, but the documentaries that evoke horror I’m much more likely to never, ever, ever watch again.  Like Capturing the Friedmans.

**** After watching the documentary, it feels weird to use “men” as their noun, even to this day.  Yes, they have kids, wives, girlfriends and jobs, but you look into those eyes as they talk about video games or other aspects of their lives, and the boy inside still takes center stage.

***** I loved the still picture of one video gamer being fed French fries as he played.  If this happened today in New York, he would have been video gaming’s Alex Rodriguez.

****** I have to admit to being a little more curious about the Missile Command guy.  It looks like he made video game themed pornos.  I can see that having major appeal.  I mean, how many guys would love the fantasy of sitting at home, playing video games, when all of the sudden, a knock comes at the door and there are three buxom women who want to pleasure you.  I’ve probably said too much.  Still in the argument of specialization, I want to see a movie about him.

******* Ok, maybe a slight lie.  I think I remember the name Ben Gold.  I also don’t remember the Twin Galaxies owner/ref names that appeared in both films.  It probably helps that I’ve seen The King of Kong twice.  Then again, it’s been almost four months since I watched it compared to about four hours for Chasing Ghosts.

^That’s the Arrested Development and Community  Season 1, episode 19 fan talking.  I’m going to go ahead and assume you know Ali Larter and not give her a footnote.  Why? She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.^^

Ali Larter in Heroes

^^World is defined as a section of my mind circa the first season of Heroes.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Since the wonderful CJ Bunce mentioned Comic-Con last week, I figured I would work in a mention of its “wonder”ful cousin.  Next weekend marks my first time attending WonderCon (March 16-18 at the Anaheim Convention Center).  Last year, I planned to go in San Francisco, but I needed to move out of my apartment fast (never, ever, think that you can get a guitarist and a drummer to stop playing music at 3 am in the apartment below you) and it happened on WonderCon weekend.  So, now that it has moved to Anaheim, in my comparative backyard, I’ve already started to plan everything. I’ve found my train ticket.  I’ve alerted my hiking buddies that I won’t be available.  I’ve told people hosting a party on Saturday that I may be late due to a “wonder”ful engagement.  (I’ll stop that now.)

The next step: figure out which panels to see.  I know one that is easy.  Sunday at 3 pm is the Community panel.  I haven’t been able to catch it at Comic-Con due to long, long, LONG lines.  I missed PaleyFest.  Now, I hope that I get my chance to just sit back and enjoy sixty minutes and a movie-like clip.  (FYI–PaleyFest has a few days left).

Then I found Ruby and Spears and it looked pretty obvious as a must attend.  At first I saw the name and thinking of mash-ups (Have you seen The Charming Man-Video Games one?)  I thought it would be a Wizard of Oz, Game of Thrones mash-up and that would be awesome.  It turned out to be even more so.  This is a panel for Joe Ruby and Ken Spears.  I’m just going to quote most of the panel description so that you can jump up and down in place like I am doing:

“Since the sixties, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears have been the most successful writing, creating, and producing team in Saturday morning television. Among the shows they brought you were ‘Scooby-Doo,’ ‘Wacky Racers,’ ‘Jabberjaw,’ ‘Dynomutt,’ ‘Thundarr The Barbarian,’ ‘Plastic Man,’ and dozens of others.”

Raise your hand if you had Dynomutt or Plastic Man comic books?  I’m sure that if I had them, so did CJ Bunce, because I knew as soon as he mentioned Laff-a-Lympics that we were buying the same titles when we were comparative tykes and probably watching those same Saturday morning cartoons from this panel.

Next comes the “20th Century Fox: Prometheus and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter…in 3D” panel.  You might think I’m going to see this because I’m a movie buff.  Well, that’s a little bit of it.  Mostly though it’s because of Damon Lindelof is the co-screenwriter of Prometheus and I’ve seen how well he did promoting Lost at Comic-Con.  So, I have high hopes for his performance at WonderCon.

Lastly, there’s this brief hint from DC Comics in the description of their panel.  “DC Comics: All Access Special Edition— Don’t miss this panel about the sure-to-be most talked about project of 2012!”  You had me at “DC.”

But, that’s all I have so far. I need help. Do you have any suggestions for any panels that I should add? I know if I can get over to the Marvel one at 4 pm on Saturday (after the DC one) that would be a good one as well.  The J. Michael Straczynski Writing Workshop could be cool – if I can find a late night train after it ends at 7 pm.  But, I know from going to Comic-Con that trying to cram in everything is just an exercise in frustration.  It never works that well.  The beautiful thing, it will be around next year.  These conventions are too big to go anywhere.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, relax and just take it all in.  Talk to a stranger.  Look at art.  Buy some new comics you’ve never seen before.  It’s all part of the fun.

Still, if you know of anything really cool, please let me know.  Rushing around to something cool is worth a little frustration.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Hi!  It’s been a while.  How are you?  I’m fine.  Now.  After a month long mourning period that we now have to address even though it borders on the very edges of what borg.com talks about.

It’s sports.  In particular, it’s Albert Pujols.

In fact it’s (censored)ing Al(censored)bert Poo(censored)holes (censored) (censored) chorizo-flavored (censored) (censored) pine-scented (censored) (censored) lump of (censored) (censored) stoat (censored).

I know, I know.  It’s not like the old studio days for movies or the old times in the land of baseball where the “owners” could get the “workers” to act or play for however little they wanted or ban them entirely.  It’s freedom.  It’s the free market.  It’s getting paid now what you deserved when you first made it big.

Doesn’t mean I’m not going to pout about it for a month.  So there.

Pujols rare Topps original sketch trading card

Since I write for this site it should be obvious that I’m not an owner.  I’m a fan.  I’m a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, science fiction, comic books, novels, thunderstorms, warm days at the beach, hikes in the mountains, sushi, large pizzas and tall brunettes.  With respect to the Cardinals, I’m going to miss Pujols being a part of my team.

There you have the magic phrase.  My team.  Substitute “team” for any piece of entertainment: “TV show,” “movie,” “book series,” “comic,” etc.  Once an artist has created a work, unless they don’t want to be paid, they release it to the public.  At that point, each person that consumes the piece of art owns it in some way.

Maybe “owns” is a bit strong.  How about “possesses”?  Fans possess the work with their own connotations and meanings that are representative of their life up to that point.

Autographed Pujols MVP ball

If I were to ask what Albert Pujols meant to baseball fans, I would get different answers from each one.  Some would say the greatest first baseman since Lou Gehrig.  Others would say the greatest first baseman ever, since Gehrig didn’t play in an integrated game, fWAR or rWAR be damned.  Others might point to an individual statistic like .328 (career batting average), 445 (career home runs) or three (number of MVP awards).  Some might point to his faith and his work with charities.  Every person would have a different point of view and none would be the same as Albert’s own.
Lou Gehrig autographed ball

Lou Gehrig autographed ball

What if I did the same for the Star Wars franchise?  What if I asked you about the career of Harrison Ford and how would your answer be different if I asked you in 1989 compared to 2012?  What if I asked you about the first movie you ever saw with your current significant other?  How do you feel about that movie and the actors in it?  What about the favorite TV show that you view with that special someone, once a week, when you sit close and enjoy the company of each other and those people on the screen in your living room?  I’m sure each question to each person would get a very different response. Heck, some people might say that they wish Harrison Ford had done more movies like Regarding Henry.  They’d be wrong, but they might say it.

Ford and beagle friend in Regarding Henry

Around the same time as Albert Pujols shot my heart through with a poison arrow (and you think sports fans aren’t just drama queens waiting to happen), I finished reading A Feast for Crows.  I’ve talked about the other books in the series that I have read so far, but darn it, you put thousands of pages in front of me with well-defined characters and at some point I’m going to get fed up like I have with Harrison Ford in his last fifteen years of work.  LIGHT TO MEDIUM SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

How is there no Tyrion?  Yes, I know, the next book, I read the epilogue, but still, Tyrion!  Tyrion!  I want my Tyrion!  Waawaaaaaaaaa.  You introduce about a thousand new characters to be subjects of chapters and no Tyrion?  Waaaaaa.  What about Brienne of Tarth!  She’s about to get hanged.  Are you going to kill everyone we love?  (With Mr. George R. R. Martin, it could go either way – so I won’t put it as a definite that she is dead.)  Come on!  She can’t die.  Waaaaaaaa.

I have no creative input into the series except for the consumption of it, if you can call imagining how the characters look, move and act in your mind as you read a creative act.  (I do.)  I possess the characters with my viewpoints, with my motivations and my love.  I want to spend time with them.  I don’t want to see them go.  I don’t write fan fiction (yet) but it makes sense as a natural outgrowth of the fandom that consumers of art have.

I’m sure that compulsion for fan fiction is even worse when there’s no hope for further adventures after the lack of a conclusion. For the TV show Terriers (available to watch instantly on Netflix) I will never get to see anything further from Hank and Britt.  Sure, after a few years, maybe the official people behind the series will get a movie like the folks from Party Down or maybe Netflix will reunite them to do the show again like for Arrested Development.  I’m not holding my breath.  The only thing I’ll hold my breath for is a return of Community.  I still hope there will be three more seasons and a movie.  But, I know there is a strong chance that it has already disappeared the same way as Jaye Tyler and Wonderfalls did.

We all really miss Jaye Tyler and Wonderfalls

Did you just notice what I did in those few paragraphs?  I just jumped the gulf between reality and fiction.  Is how I view Albert Pujols and Harrison Ford different than how I view Brienne or Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack?  Is getting weirded out by Tom Cruise after he jumps on a couch different from feeling a pang in your stomach when Peter Parker dies in Ultimate Spider-Man?  I know none of those people personally and doubt I’ll ever meet them.  Through media coverage of the real ones and the creative talents of writers and artists on the fictional ones, we feel we know them.  We possess them with our viewpoint and they can enhance our love or betray it with each successive appearance in the public eye.

Artists may think that the possession is strange, but without it, without those strong connections they created in us, would we consume their art?  Probably not.  Do we throw a hissy fit when the values we’ve ascribed to their characters fall by the wayside as the artist creates a storyline that diverges in tone but makes them creatively happy?  Absolutely.  The artist gets to do whatever they want as that is the beauty of freedom. As a fan, I’m free to give my entertainment dollars to other people and leave it at that.  Right or wrong, it’s how things work.  We trust the good artists though and we will stay with them to see what they have in mind as long as they don’t do something idiotic like sign with the Anaheim Angels or air a show that focuses on tattoos and Bai Ling.  Once we leave, we can find new things worthy of possession and maybe it will be the next best thing ever.  Until we find that next best thing, we just have to be sure not to move from possession to attempted ownership as I think that would be called kidnapping and is illegal in all 50 states.  But, is it ever tempting to try to drag Albert Pujols back to St. Louis.

“Community,” Steve Jobs, and Us

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

On Wednesday, October 6th, Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 56.  I found out when I looked at my Twitter feed for talk from Cardinals and Phillies writers as I watched game 4 of the NLDS.  I looked for other people sharing the same game that I watched and found quite a different experience.

The pithy sentiments expressing sorrow appeared almost immediately and the most poignant found themselves retweeted post haste.  There was genuine outrage from a writer I enjoy, Brian Hickey, because of such remorse for a man no one really knows while people in your community, on the obituary page in your local paper, go unnoticed.  That the cult of celebrity in all its forms has made it easier for us to care about people that we’ll never have to get to know, that we’ll never see past their carefully cultivated public image, while the people next door argue at all times of the night and drive too fast will go unmourned when they pass.  I get that and it makes a lot of sense.  Then again, so does mourning Steve Jobs, Dennis Hopper, Amy Winehouse and so many others as we all try to understand our own future, our own last scene.

I first started to think about death when I was seven or so.  I hated to go to bed at night.  I equated death with sleep.  You don’t remember anything of the night and your life as you know it, (reading, watching TV, running around) stops during that time.  What’s to keep it from stopping it forever?  What if I don’t wake up? To this day, when I’m feeling bad, non-migraine edition, I fight to stay awake and will try to find anything that will keep me alert, keep me going until my body’s clock wins and I collapse from exhaustion.  Most nights the show Community fills that need.

I’m not sure how I started to watch this show, but I know that immediately it shot up to the coveted #1 spot on my DVR priority list.  (Coveted by television marketers everywhere; I hear they use it on Community advertisements in Sierra Leone.)  I can’t wait until I get to watch it on Thursdays.  I need to buy the DVDs, but for now, I just keep episodes saved on my DVR if I need a fix. “Contemporary American Poultry.” “Modern Warfare.” “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” “Mixology Certification.”  “Cooperative Calligraphy.”  Depending on my mood for the day, they can all entertain me for that extra half hour, that extra bit of time to coax total exhaustion out of my body, or I can start watching early in the evening and run them all in a row, reliving the growth in the relationships of the characters.

Even though the characters of Community aren’t real, they are there for us every Thursday promptly at 8 pm.  They aren’t delayed by traffic.  Their babysitter didn’t abruptly cancel.  They didn’t happen to get a date for the night.  They flirt with us, share pop-culture references with us, set us straight, give us a caring shoulder or just make us laugh and we can forget about whatever else for a few minutes.  They are there for us.

Kind of like Steve Jobs.  I don’t know him.  I don’t even know all of his accomplishments.  I know that his company, with all of its engineers, technicians, programmers and salespeople got to me the MacBook Pro on which I write.  I couldn’t tell you what he liked to eat or watch on TV or his favorite movie, but his presence is here, in my life on a daily basis.  Without his leadership, would my laptop, iPods or iPhones be possible?  Without the unwavering faith that the capital markets had in his vision, would these chances to make portable computers and portable music machines no bigger than a thick postcard have happened?

The world is a big, big place with billions of people living in it, most of whom we will never even know.  With all of our technology though, we can get from Los Angeles to London in ten hours.  That’s over 5000 miles in less than half a day. We can travel even faster to see or hear our loved ones via cell phones, iChat or Skype.  If we don’t have time to talk, we can text or email.  Even as we walk along the train tracks outside Amboy, California in the middle of the Mojave Desert looking for railroad marbles, we can just check in with friends.  (You don’t walk along train tracks near Amboy, CA?  Huh.  Well, that explains why I didn’t see anyone else out there.)

Even as it becomes so easy to stay in touch, there’s still a lot of time away from each other.  There’s still time spent around people we don’t know while sitting in the middle seat of a plane, looking at the cars stuck next to us in the traffic jam or waiting in the checkout line. We fill these times with entertainment in all its glorious forms and create our own bubble universes.

My favorite bubble comes while watching Community.  For the half hour of that show, I’m hanging out with friends, back in college, no worries except which flavor of ramen noodles I should eat for a snack, how many glasses of milk I should get in the cafeteria and when my next test happens.  If I don’t have to study tonight, maybe I’ll watch “Kickpuncher.”  Maybe I’ll go check out the Model UN off to see how my friends do.  Maybe I’ll play one of the best games of Dungeons & Dragons ever played, and I can bring along my were-tiger fighter.  Maybe I’ll just sympathize with a friend that feels so alone for the holidays as he can’t be with his family.

This week my bubble contained an intruder, an outsider, a Todd.  The other seven and I knew he couldn’t be a part of the group.  He had to go and in that moment, they became a group unto themselves, separate from the rest of the class.

Yes, I know just writing all of the last two paragraphs is the very definition of vicarious living.  Isn’t everything?  The sorrow we feel for others for the loss of their loved ones, the joy we feel when friends get married, the anger at injustice after another round of layoffs.  Our empathy for others extends to those we see on TV, whether they are real or fictional.

We feel for other people.  We feel for those close to us and we feel for those far away.  We make room in our hearts for people in other countries when the stories of famine, revolt and disasters come in through the different airwaves.  We give the $10 to the Red Cross and exhort others to join us in our various social media platforms.  We volunteer our time.  We donate blood.  Through the democratic process, we try to elect the leaders that we think will do the best job at helping those in need.  Maybe it’s even easier to do it with fictional people that have familiar problems invented by writers that have presumably experienced the same things in their lives.

I can feel the loneliness of trying to make a connection with strangers on the first day of work or class.  I can feel the fear of not keeping together my core group of friends as life, careers and relationships move us in different directions.  I can feel the fear of rejection when unintentionally excluding people because I know that could be me next time given a new set of circumstances.

Then again, I can experience the same problems with lower personal stakes from my television “Community” and feel those same emotions all the while holding my breath hoping that the study group will all be together next week with a new adventure.  (I follow entertainment news.  I know they are under contract for the whole season in the deep recesses of my mind and I feel safer.)

It’s easier to live with the emotions and forgive injustices in this vicarious life than it is with a person you’ve known for fifteen years.  You can go back and watch the good points of a television character again and again, while the good points of an acquaintance fade with age and you can just dwell on the negative emotions associated with losing touch and not really understanding their divergent life.  For those just met, you don’t even have to go further and can just start the forgetting process right away.

I used to not understand mourning people you had never met.  I understand that now.  The fear of the uncertainty of death carries so much meaning to each of us in our own lives, perhaps more than our many other emotions like joy, ecstasy or pain.  Even if it is from afar, sometimes it feels good just to feel those things, to practice if you will, to know you can handle it when it happens closer to home.  Knowing that you can respond and things will work out.  You can find a friend nearby and give them a comforting hug.  You can post about your own personal viewpoint and sadness and send it out into the ether, to share with all the other people grieving.  You can just find someone via your cell, iChat or Skype and just talk about how much that person meant to you. If you can’t, then maybe just staying up with your “Community” of friends on your DVR can make it easier for tomorrow and you can try again.

Though, as much as I would want to join, I, like Todd, like the rest of Greendale, like the rest of the watchers of Community must stay perched on the outside.  We can never be part of that study group.  But, we can be part of the greater community that shares compassion for a fellow human, be it Steve Jobs or anyone that touches our lives in some way.

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