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Tag Archive: Parks and Recreation


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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Sesame Street at NerdHQ

Nerd HQ offered up a great variety of panels from the best of TV Saturday.  Here are some great panels to check out.  After four years of 45 minute panels offered just yards from San Diego Comic-Con, many of these have become a source for stand-up comedy from the actors.  See for yourself.

First up what may be the best panel idea ever, the voices and muppets themselves, from Sesame Street, Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert, and Murray.  And Grover reveals the true identity of Super Grover.  This one can’t be missed.

A Conversation with Sesame Street

Intruders TV Series Panel with John Simm, Mira Sorvino & Glen Morgan

Orphan Black Panel with Tatiana Maslany and Other Cast Members

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Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany as everyone

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and we’re certain we read more and reviewed more content this year than ever before.  And that in no less way was true for TV watching.  At the same time we waded through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre films we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our 25 picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  Today we reveal the best content focusing on the moving image, and tomorrow we’ll run through our picks for the best in print and other media.  We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2014!

Year’s Best Fantasy Fix — The Wizard of Oz in Theaters.  It’s a film that has been viewed on TV so many times you might take it for granted.  It’s historically been on many movie reviewers’ Top 20 movies of all time.  But when you watch The Wizard of Oz on the big screen in the middle of a year of modern blockbusters you realize how it can stand up against anything Hollywood has to offer today, even after 70 years.  Remastering the print for a new generation to see it in theaters was a highlight for movie watchers this year.

Almost Human partners

Year’s Best Sci-Fi Fix — Almost Human, Fox.  Like Continuum last year, the new series Almost Human created a future world that is believable and full of extraordinary technologies based in today’s science and touching on social issues of any day.  And even putting aside its buddy cop and police procedural brilliance, every episode plunged us into future police grappling with incredible technologies–DNA bombs criminals use to contaminate a crime scene, identity masking technology to avoid facial recognition video monitors–it was the best dose of sci-fi in 2013.

Best TV Series — Orphan Black, BBC America.  What rose above everything on TV or film this year was BBC America’s new series, the almost indescribable Orphan Black From its initial trailers that piqued our interest, to the surprise series consisting of one actress playing multiple roles that dazzled from out of nowhere, magical special effects, and a unique story of clones and X-Files-inspired intrigue propelled Orphan Black to be our clear winner for Best TV Series of 2013.

Sleepy Hollow

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Episode VII poster

If you have any doubt Patton Oswalt (Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Starsky & Hutch, The King of Queens, Dollhouse, Community, Caprica, Burn Notice) is a genius, or comedian, or improv performer, good actor, or all-around cool guy, this week should remove that doubt.  borg.com writer Jason McClain is a fan of Parks and Recreation and has championed the series at borg.com here before.  To advertise Oswalt’s guest appearance on the show last night NBC released this completely improvised scene of Oswalt performing a filibuster before the show’s city council.  It illustrates a lot about how this guy’s brain works and that he’s solidly a genre fan like the rest of us.  

Parks and Rec logo

So check out Oswalt’s vision for the next Star Wars movie (a cool Boba Fett opener!), tying in the Marvel Universe (Moon Knight!  Wolverine’s clone daughter X-23!  Hercules!) and some good ideas you could actually see J.J. Abrams taking seriously (um, minus the Chewbacca one, that is), as well as a good recall of tidbits of Star Wars and Marvel trivia. 

The background extras really had their work cut out for them by keeping straight faces, although you can see five young guys in the back that are totally engaged in Oswalt’s story almost ready to crack.

Bravo!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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.