Posts filed under TV

Wet Hot American Summer's Netflix Series - Best Sequel Since Gremlins 2

Before you jump to the comments to immediately express outrage like, "You're insane! Is that a cynical insult? Are you serious? What about Godfather Part II? Empire Strikes Back? Terminator 2: Judgment Day?" calm down. Hold on. Let me explain that headline, which could absolutely read as the clickbait I so loathe.

The cult-film Wet Hot American Summer was not only the first starring vehicle for some of the most successful present day actors and comedians, it was also a commentary on the tropes of camp films. The whole sequence where Michael Showalter's Coop rallies Camp Firewood for their big softball game against their rival across the lake only for it to end with everyone agreeing that it's a trite concept that's been played out in too many other films was indicative of the tone and approach the film took. It's only fitting that its eight-episode "sequel" currently on Netflix, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, took that tone and cranked it to 11.

It occurred to me this morning on my (always) lengthy drive into work that the latest installment of Wet Hot American Summer isn't just another mirror on the camp film, it's also a mirror on the prequel as a whole. 

Looking back at the series, without delving too much into spoilers, the new mini-series not only explores origin stories, it explores EVERY origin story. Even things that you didn't think had or needed an origin story like the "Higher and Higher" song used in the original film. The radio broadcast? Here's the origin story for it. Beth becoming the camp director? Here's the origin story for that. Christopher Meloni's Gene having a torrid love-affair with a fridge? Yup, here's the origins of that. By the eighth episode of the series, you realize that it's not a storytelling device, it's a comedic device that's poking fun at a prequel's need to detail the origin stories of anything and everything, leaving nothing to mystery. Much like the Star Wars prequels where we get the origins for anything and everything like C-3PO (wait, Anakin Skywalker built him from scratch? Huh?), Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp follows the same pattern by giving us backstory to many things that we didn't even think needed a backstory.

And that's where the comment about Gremlins 2: The New Batch comes into play. 

The oft-maligned sequel to Joe Dante's dark-humor Christmas film usually gets a bad wrap. So many of the critiques of the film is that it "just rehashes everything from the first movie" and is way too "silly." Those criticisms aren't without merit, both of those statements are true but the film is purposefully a commentary on sequels, especially those in the late-1980s. The movie takes the exact same premise, rehashes it on a larger scale in a different environment (Gremlins: In Space!) and pokes fun at the tropes that sequels often fall into that everything has to be bigger, better, heightened, and the same beats from the first film have to be hit no matter the cost or the placement in the second film. Phoebe Cates reiterates her hatred of certain holiday because of a bad memory associated with it. Gizmo sees a television broadcast of a larger than life hero and chooses to imitate it to save the day at the end of the film. All the while, this very pointed commentary on what sequels have to be and achieve continues on a runaway train.

Taking that same logic, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is to prequels as Gremlins 2: The New Batch was the sequels. A very biting satire on the formula that I think I'll only appreciate more and more with follow-up viewings.

Posted on August 6, 2015 and filed under TV.

SPT2015: Catching Up on Marvel Awesomeness

I vividly remember right after the release of Batman Returns that I sat down with a small notebook and somehow figured out that if Batman was released in 1989, and Batman Returns was released in 1992, that it would roughly take them another three years to release another Batman film. I don't know where that logic came from, but 11-year-old me was convinced that it would be true and I started a countdown to 1995. Sure enough, 1995 rolled around and so did Batman Forever (for better or worse). The countdown was a little on the excruciating side, especially at that age when time seems to crawl at such a snail's pace and three years seemed like an eternity.

I can't imagine being my present-day 33-year-old self and going back in time to tell my younger self that there would come a time in 2015 that I'd watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on television, which immediately led into the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, then I'd be in Montreal and Vancouver (to work on two Marvel projects) and be watching Daredevil on Netflix, and a month later would be watching Ant-Man in theaters. There's more on this in the upcoming Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Two Declassified (/end plug) but I can't think of any other time where there has been new content for a property consistently for six-plus months like there has for Marvel this year. And it seems like this is just the beginning as Star Wars will be following a similar model - and you can bet other intellectual properties will be hot on their heels.

The storytelling possibilities have been fantastic. One lengthy and connected story told over multiple years, through multiple mediums, with multiple focuses. How great is that? It's the comic book page having come to life and sent to the mainstream. I've been enjoying it completely. And yes, I do have a personal bias and was a little spoiled in seeing both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man at their respective premieres... one of the amazing perks of being the Kimmy Gibbler to the Marvel family. But I'm enjoying every minute of it. Even though Ant-Man is another origin story, it falls in the midst of an on-going story that it's able to weave in and out of seamlessly. Age of Ultron was similar, it didn't need to carry the burden of introducing all the main characters (though it did have to carry the burden of introducing a variety of other characters, which made it a super-dense flourless chocolate cake). 

Ant-Man was a completely different film. If Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a politically-charged action thriller, then Ant-Man is a comedy-charged heist film. Shades of Oceans Eleven, The Italian Job, even a little bit of Mission: Impossible are all in there. It's great how all of the live-action Marvel properties have a very different feel and tone and probably a good reason why they've all been so successful.

One thing is for certain, between a Marvel-fueled first half of the year and a Star Wars-fueled second half, both 11-year-old and 33-year-old Troy are loving every minute of it. And I don't even have to wait three years in between it all. 

Actually The Truth Has Been Out There (A While Now)

"Mulder! Your tauntaun will freeze before you reach the first marker!"

Next thing you know, time is missing from your watch... trust no one.

Mulder and Scully are back as the first frame posted to the official X-Files Twitter account has shown the world. It seems like, for the first time in a long time, everyone is buzzing about the return of X-Files, which just began shooting a ten episode run in Vancouver this week. While ordinarily, this would incite a binge view of the entire X-Files series to prepare for the new episodes, it's actually elicited an involuntary twitch in my eyelid. 

A long time ago, in a day job not so far away, we were working on the then forthcoming Blu-ray release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe (the second feature film released in 2008). 2008 of course was a time when Blu-ray was still building momentum and it seemed like all the studios wanted to do the "new and interactive thing that's never been done before!" It seemed like every project was some overly complicated interactive doohickey. Our mandate from the studio was to work with Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, as well as finishing the amazing work done by several authors who had published official episode guides for the first seven seasons, to create the ultimate episode guide and timeline that would prove to be a constant and invaluable resource to X-Philes. Dubbed "X-Files: The Complete Timeline", we would create the ultimate canon timeline for fans that also would allow you to easily track and layout running themes like the black oil, cloning, alien encounters, Mulder's sister, and more in the days before "hashtag" had become a common part of the vernacular.

But then if you sit down and think about the sheer scope, it's nine seasons, 202 episodes at 45 minutes each, and writing the synopsis and analysis while scrutinizing every frame to find dates and clues as to what day and time the current events were taking place while also tracking all the running elements took about three hours per episode. Math, math, math... that's roughly 25 days (straight, no breaks, no sleeping) just to get through all the material. We had roughly three weeks. As a point of reference, note fan Dan Goldwasser's website where he said the timeline inspired him to go back and watch the show from the beginning, but didn't think he could do it in a year.

Intrepid X-Philes Jessie Drake, Matt Popham and myself split up the seasons and set to work. There was a string of about eight days where I sat on my couch for all eight days straight, watching, writing, lying down to sleep for an hour here and an hour there (and having some of the most frightening stress-fueled dreams thanks to the subject matter). It was a long-haul where I essentially lived in the world of Mulder and Scully full-time, as did those working on the project with us. It was the ultimate binge watch... once again, before the phrase "binge watch" was even a part of the common language.

Serialized television plays so much better when you watch it back to back. It plays even better when you watch several seasons straight through without subjecting your brain to things like the outside world or common conversation. You're fully immersed in the world and you start to notice each and every tiny detail. So much so that we all circled around several issues with Scully's pregnancy which we were able to finally get a final read from the showrunners on addressing within the context of our text, giving fans definitive answers to some of their questions. Once everything was written, it went through several rounds of notes and checks with the showrunners and super-fans to make sure everything was accurate.

The huge amount of writing finally finished, the project then went into the design process and trying to make all of this work within the then-clunky Blu-ray technology. There was a lot of puzzle-solving and authoring conversations that Jessie and Adam Vadnais had in just trying to make the whole thing work, making sure that photos and clips from the episodes actually played and several other tricky elements that are fairly simple to do on your phone seven years later. Look at the recently released SNL app with 40 years of material, photos and video all on there in the palm of your hand. It's amazing to see the exponential progress of technology just in that short period of time.

When all was said and done, as a long-time fan of the series, who was first in the seats when Fight the Future was released when it was totally uncool to do so... I wanted to burn my X-Files boxset in a ceremonial funeral pyre.

I was fried. I hadn't slept in a little over a month, I had gained about 25-30 pounds of what I quickly dubbed my X-Files weight, and probably in the process had taken a couple years off my life.

Worse, when X-Files: I Want to Believe, which our interactive feature was attached to be a special feature on the Blu-ray for, was released, it was met with a decidedly mixed reaction from hardcore fans and casual fans alike. What we thought would be an incredible resource included was released, only a handful of people noticed. Clicking a "tag" (#hashtagweallgetitnow) was a little confusing to some, completely lost on others. A few of the dedicated DVD/Blu-ray review websites picked up on the feature and called it out as something worth note, which was a very welcome feather in our cap. But a big part of me sits here with a Mulder-like wonder if there's anyone out there that uses the feature as a reference, or if it's far too cumbersome to beat a quick Google or Wikipedia search for whatever answers they seek?

All of this a very circuitous way of getting back to the topic at hand, do I think I could sit and watch the show from start to finish as a primer for the upcoming new six-episodes? My complete X-Files television run boxset has a Post-It still strapped to it this day that reads "Do Not Open Until Doomsday" both as a statement of truth and a reference to a famous Real Ghostbusters cartoon episode. It's been seven years after all. And I think the answer is yes, the show is absolutely fantastic. Yes, even those last couple seasons. And the disadvantage to having plowed through it all so quickly on my last viewing is that it didn't have the time to process and sink in, much in a way that happened when my wife and I went back and re-watched all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation over the span of a couple years. I think it would be great to go back and revisit the show now that some time has passed, and even reference back to the timeline to see how I had interpreted it back then.

Just don't be surprised if that eye starts to twitch.

Posted on June 11, 2015 and filed under TV, Gadgets.

Raisin Balls and Eye-Contact: Why You Should Watch Last Man on Earth

Let's be honest, bathing in margarita probably still smells better than any brand-name body spray.

I've been on a pretty pressing deadline for a project the past couple months, so I have to be incredibly selective with how I'm spending free-time (and also the reason that posts here on SPT have been sparse as of late). But high on my list of acceptable break-time spending since it was announced, was the Phil Miller/Chris Lord produced and Will Forte created Last Man on Earth which debuted last week on Fox.

The second episode of the season aired last night and I can safely say that it's not just my favorite comedy show in a long time, but one of my favorite shows in a long while. It's one of those shows where you're better off not knowing anything about it going in. It's completely unpredictable and far from formulaic. In fact, I'm torn in writing this plea to people to watch the show because I don't want to give away too many of the best gags and surprises that have been the highlight of the first few episodes.

Phil Miller sees the love of his life in a store-front window in Last Man on Earth.

What I will say is this: while so many episodic shows either rely on tried and true formulas, are procedurals, or complex tapestries that weave a greater mythology, Last Man on Earth is something completely different. We don't know what happened to everyone on Earth (other than a virus decimated the entire population), and it really doesn't matter. There isn't an overarching mystery that requires explanation or exploration. All you need to know is that if you were the last person on the planet, as Will Forte is, you would probably react in a similar manner. The world is your oyster, so to speak and without social anxieties (or appropriate social behavior) getting in your way, how would you spend the rest of your days? There's a particular moment in the second episode that really tickled me. As Forte's character awakens from a nightmare, he goes to the window and sees the desolate population-free landscape outside and relieved with what he sees says, "Everyone's still dead... oh, thank god." That moment seems to encapsulate the entire spirit of the show.

Much in the way that a video game like Portal or Portal 2 entertains you for its sharp sense of humor and unpredictability, Last Man on Earth has quickly become appointment television for me, and is one of those rare shows that I can't bring myself to delete off my DVR knowing that I'll want to revisit it again and again. Quite honestly, I have no idea what direction the series is headed toward, and it's amazing. 

Posted on March 9, 2015 and filed under TV.