Ted Lasso

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not usually into sit-coms. Most of them are carbon copies of each other, with nothing new or fresh to say, rehashing jokes that have been around since the 50’s. There are exceptions. I’ve already done an entire blog post about The Good Place, I fell in love with Brooklyn 99 just a year ago and I’ve just recently found a new sitcom that I adore, Ted Lasso. Much like The Good Place, Ted Lasso defies an easy description. Yes, it’s a comedy, but there are times that it will kick you right in the feels. There’s a sports angle, but it doesn’t dominate the story line. And, oddly enough, especially for a show I like, if I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be wholesome.

Okay, so the show itself is about an American football coach, the eponymous Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock), who is hired to coach an English football team. That premise, if you know anything about both sports, is funny in and of itself. Obviously, a big part of the humor is that Lasso knows nothing about English football, AKA soccer. The reason he is hired is that the owner of the team, Rebecca Welton (played by Hannah Waddingham of Game of Thrones and Krypton), knows how much her ex-husband, Rupert Mannion (played by Anthony Head of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Merlin), loves the team and she wants to see it fail. Lasso is assisted in his coaching position by Coach Beard (played by Brendan Hunt of We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2) and Nathan Shelley (played by Nick Mohammed of Intelligence and Hank Zipzer).

Obviously, some of the players factor into the show. The two with the biggest roles are Roy Kent (played by Brett Goldstein of Derek and Hoff the Record) and Jamie Tartt (played by Phil Dunster of Catastrophe and Humans). Roy is the older player that was great in his day, but is now slowing down. He’s gruff and taciturn, but does care about the team and is seen as a leader. Jamie is Roy’s polar opposite. He is the star player of the team and selfish and arrogant. He rarely listens to anything anyone else has to say and is completely self absorbed. The other players are mainly background for these two, but we do get to see a little of Sam Obisanya (played by Toheeb Jimoh of The Feed and London Kills) and Dani Rojas (played by Cristo Fernandez  of El Hada de Las Chelas and When You Are Gone). Sam is a Nigerian player still trying to find his place on the team and so far from home. Dani is from Mexico, new to the team and, potentially, has just as much talent and star power as Jamie. He’s also the most insanely happy character on the show and that’s saying something.

The origin of Ted Lasso actually started 7-8 years ago, as a commercial for NBC’s coverage of the Premier League. In these promos, Sudeikis played the character Ted Lasso, usually giving a press conference and answering questions in such a way as to display a comical ignorance of soccer. That character must have stuck with him, because he went on to develop into a series, along with Bill Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt. All of them have had a hand in writing episodes. Fun fact: Zach Braff, of the television show Scrubs, directed the second episode of season 1.

Some had suggested that Ted Lasso is loosely based on the American football coach Terry Smith. He started as a defensive back for the New England Patriots, but injured his knee bad enough to ultimately retire. He coached at a few U.S. Colleges, but then went to Great Britain to coach the Manchester Spartans. I haven’t been able to find out how much Smith knew about soccer before crossing the pond, but he was wildly successful at his job. He took a 2-10 team and turned them into a 14-0 undefeated team in his first season. After an incredibly amazing coaching run, he became the owner of several professional sports teams, including the European Champion Spartans. According to Wikipedia he’s a teacher now, but I don’t know more than that. I tried to do more research, but evidently Terry Smith is a very common name, even among football players.

But I digress; back to the show. It’s hard to describe why I love it so much, but I don’t think I’ve seen one without crying at some point during its 30-40 minute run time. Watching the show almost feels like a therapy session. The easiest thing to describe it as is a comedy, but it’s more humorous than laugh out loud funny. The characters are incredibly well written, achieving that rare balance of being strong and vulnerable. The stories are often good people going through tough situations and sometimes overcoming them, but, also, sometimes just being big enough to accept the things that can’t be changed. One of the best quotes I’ve heard about the show comes from Keri Lumm of Paste magazine. She said, “Ted Lasso is the wholesome American hero we need“,  going on to say “… the landscape of television has felt kind of gloomy, so imagine my surprise when I turned on the TV to Ted Lasso and felt a swelling of a now unfamiliar emotion – hope.” Perhaps that’s the word I was looking for to describe the show; the word hope. Do yourself a favor and watch an episode. 

Grimm

Note: Sorry for the long hiatus. I’ve been working 2 jobs, plus trying to selling art, so the last few months have been fairly busy. I’m glad to post again, but I don’t know how frequently I’ll be able to do that. I’m going to try for at least one post a month. If you’re reading, I’m glad that you’re here. 

This delightful little show ran for 6 seasons, from 2011 until 2017. This is another title that I will classify as a Child of the Slayer. I first mentioned this concept back in my post about the television show Reaper, but given that I don’t think anyone reads these posts, I’ll talk about it again. The term is a reference to the wildly popular series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how that popularity spawned several children, television shows that mimic many aspects of the original. I’ll point out the similarities that make Grimm one of these children, but first, let me tell you about the show. This is not a bad show. I certainly wouldn’t call it a great show, I’m not going to tell anyone that they HAVE to track down this show and watch it, but it will always hold a place near and dear to my heart because of its star – the city of Portland.

The show itself is billed as a horror police procedural and follows the main character Detective Nick Burkhardt (played by David Giuntoli of Privileged and A Million Little Things) and his partner Det. Hank Griffin (Russel Hornsby of Seven Seconds and Proven Innocent). Nick discovers that he is a Grimm, a person with the ability to see mystical creatures that live among us, called Wesen. This is a family heritage, passed down from generation to generation, along with the responsibility to keep these creatures in check, since some of them aren’t so friendly. Given his position as a Portland police officer, he will often discover that he is looking for a Wesen while investigating a case. So, what qualifies Grimm to be a Child of the Slayer? Let me break it down.

First of all, there is the very nature of the show itself. Set in modern day America, there are other-than-normal beings that co-exist with us unnoticed. These beings each have their own histories, traditions, habits, abilities and diets. They are somewhat magical in nature. And many of these creatures, due to their proclivities, prey on humans and could be called evil, though that could just be a human-centric outlook. I should point out that due to the name of the show, all of these creatures are supposed to be related to the ones found in Grimm’s fairy tales. The premise being that the original Grimm was actually a Grimm, like Nick, and that those “fairy tales” were actual stories about the creatures he tracked down and had experience with.

Secondly, he is a “chosen one”, he has abilities, passed down through the family, that others don’t have and allow him to detect and, if necessary, kill these Wesen. This ability to see these creatures is probably his primary ability. These beings look just like ordinary humans for the most part, hold down normal jobs and lead pretty average lives. In times of stress or strong emotion, however, their mask fails a bit and anyone who is a Grimm, such as Nick, can see their true form. That’s his biggest power as far as I can tell. While he always prevails, he never displays steel bending strength or super speed; if he does have actual powers, they are understated to say the least. He does have a few advantages though. One of them being his reputation. Evidently, Grimms have a long history of tracking down and slaughtering Wesen, so those that encounter Nick are usually deathly afraid of him. He also possesses his aunt’s trailer.

His aunt, who is the one who tells him he is a Grimm in the first episode, brings an Airstream trailer with her. Inside is a weapons cabinet, filled with medieval appearing weaponry. Some of these have been chosen, because they are the only thing that can kill this beast or that. Along with the weapons, the trailer contains ancient-looking, illustrated tomes, filled with notes and illustrations of some of the different creatures that have been encountered over the years. Often times, an episode involves a great deal of research to figure out what they’re dealing with and how to defeat it. I suppose you could say that this research is another way that Grimm is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But this wouldn’t be a Child of the Slayer without the Scoobies. The first one we meet is Monroe (played by Silas Weir Mitchell of Prison Break and My Name is Earl), a Big, Bad Wolf flavor of Wesen, though the show calls him a Blutbad. By day, a mild mannered clockmaker, but in his Wesen form he’s basically a werewolf. Seriously, he rips a guys arm off in the second episode. Then there is Bud (played by Danny Bruno of Nowhere Man and Leverage), who is an Eisbiber. I don’t know what that is supposed to be, but he is adorable. He acts a liaison between Nick and the rest of the Wesen community. Later we meet Rosalee (played by Bree Turner of Undressed and Good Girls Don’t) who runs an herb shop. She is a foxlike Wesen called a Fuchsbau (who the hell makes up all these names?) and assists in researching lore and creating potions.

I hesitate to name Hank as a Scoobie. He is Nick’s partner and he does help out with the cases, but for a good chunk of the show he has no idea that Nick is a Grimm or that there are even things called Wesen. Then there is Sergeant Drew Wu (played by Reggie Lee of Prison Break and All Rise), a Portland police officer who also helps Nick in a professional capacity, but, like Hank, has no knowledge of anything Wesen. That being said, Wu became one of my favorite characters of the show.

It’s no real surprise that Grimm gives off such Buffy vibes, it has a more direct connection than most other of the Slayer’s children. One of the showrunners was David Greenwalt who was also a co-executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and co-creator of its spinoff Angel. Another showrunner, Jim Kouf, also worked on Angel. Even Alex Denisof was in a few episodes. Yes, the actor who played Wesley in both Buffy and Angel, was Viktor Albert Wilhelm George Beckendorf, a power hungry human trying to rule the world.  As for other people who worked on the show, I did try to find out the writers, or at least the process, for coming up with the names for the different Wesen. Turns out they’re most just German words, which many times make no sense when translated. There are over 100 different Wesen presented in the show, so they dipped into other mythologies and, when they did, the names were words from those cultures. I did find out who did the illustrations in the many books they pour over. Carly Sertic is a freelance film maker and graphic designer who has worked on several other productions. Her Oregon connections are strong. She graduated from the University of Oregon and has worked on Portlandia and Twilight. There are a few other crew members with Joss Whedon connections. Jose Molina was a co-executive producer for 5 episodes of Grimm, but he also worked on Firefly and Agent Carter.

The show is not without its problems. The whole Grimm’s fairy tale thing doesn’t always work and often comes off as a bit forced. In the first season, we get to see Wesen based on bees and for the life of me I can’t remember any bee creatures in any fairy tales. The show tends to start mysteries and plot threads that fizzle out and go nowhere. The woman playing Nick’s wife, Juliette (played by Bitsie Tulloch of Quarterlife and Superman & Lois), is annoying as hell. They must have realized this, because they kill her off and bring her back as a Hexenbeast, a witch-like Wesen, which doesn’t really improve her any. Later in the show, season 5, I think, they introduced another Grimm to the cast, Trubel (played by Jacqueline Toboni of Easy and The L Word: Generation Q). I’m not sure what the writers were thinking introducing her character so late in the show, but she just wasn’t that interesting.

But, again, the real reason I watched the show was because of Portland. I’ve lived in Portland for over 20 years and I love this city. I loved the show, because Portland was prominently on display. Unlike certain other shows that filmed in Portland (I’m looking at you Leverage), but pretended they were in another city, Portland landmarks were celebrated. Nick and Juliette’s house was classic Portland, in a charming little Northeast Portland neighborhood. The exterior of the U.S. Custom House building downtown was often shot for the police department that Nick worked at. There’s a scene at popular tourist spot Multnomah Falls. A number of episodes were filmed at Hoyt Arboretum. Fuller’s Coffee Shop, the Raven & Rose and Nell’s Cafe all had scenes in Grimm. The easily recognizable pink boxes of Voodoo Donuts show up on a regular basis. They even filmed a scene at a house across the street from where I was living in North Portland.

But as I had said, it was far from a perfect show and if you weren’t in love with Portland, Grimm may not have made quite the impression that it did on me. It got mixed reviews from the critics, though it did seem to have a pretty loyal following from the viewers. There was a spinoff planned, one that would focus on a female Grimm, perhaps that was what they had planned for Trubel, but it the project was declared dead as of June 2021. It was popular enough to get a comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment, which lasted about a year. Three novels were published based off of the show. Episodes are not easy to find these days. I looked for it on the NBC website and then on Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service, but no dice. Amazon Prime has it, which seems like an odd place for it and ensures that I won’t be watching reruns anytime soon. I’m not too concerned; it was a fun show while it lasted, but there are better things to watch right now. And besides, the star of the show, the city of Portland, I just happen to live with her.

Z Nation

I never really got into The Walking Dead (TWD). Which is odd, because I’m into most things zombie-ish. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the comic book, TWD, written by Robert Kirkman, but the television show was never that interesting to me. The bleak flavor of storytelling that made the comic so compelling, just came off as grim and joyless on the screen. And while this production of TWD was completely devoid of fun, how the heck else would a show about a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled wasteland be? Then, back in 2014, the Syfy network aired a little show called Z Nation. I don’t expect there are many fellow fans of this show. It was NOT the most watched show, on a niche network and most fans of the zombie genre prefer their shows with a bit more horror. A good chunk of Z Nation was pure silliness.

If you’ve ever watched any zombie show, you know the basics. The dead now walk the Earth, hungry for human flesh, an apocalypse of the undead, destroying civilization and reducing nations to bands of tribal humans fighting over the scraps that are left. In the specific instance of Z Nation, the show starts 3 years into the zombie apocalypse, and scientists are trying to find a cure. They do so by injecting prison inmates with a cocktail of experimental drugs, often causing a painful death, but what are ya gonna do? On one such occasion, while the experiments are taking place, a horde of zombies break in and devour everyone in the room. Well, everyone except one of the inmates, an insufferable example of humanity named Murphy (Keith Allen of Stumptown and The Good Doctor) . In some bizarre twist of fate, the experimental drug he received, along with the zombie bites he suffered, turn him into the only person on Earth to be immune to whatever it is turning people into the undead. This suddenly makes him the most important person in the world and Sgt. Charles Garnett (Tom Everett Scott of La La Land and 13 Reasons Why) is charged with the task of transporting Murphy to the last remaining lab of the. He is assisted in this journey by Lt. Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith of The Bernie Mack Show and The First Family), who really becomes the star of the show.

Along the way, they are joined by other survivors. Doc (Russell Hodgkinson of Leverage and Grimm) was a wellness counselor and recovering drug addict before the apocalypse, but now serves as the group’s healer. His character is mostly stoner, burn-out comic relief, with the occasional flashes of hippie wisdom. Then there’s 10K (Nat Zang of, of … nothing else, really), the youngest member of the group, whose oddly numerical name is based on his goal of killing 10,000 zombies. Addy Carver (Anastasia Baranova of Scout’s Safari and Veronica Mars) is described by the Z Nation Wikipedia page as the group’s communication specialist, but I’ve completely forgotten about exactly what she did. It’s been years since I’ve seen an episode of Z Nation and she didn’t really stand out among the cast when I was watching it. I’m leaving out quite a number of cast members. One reason for this is that I don’t want to write any spoilers, so I’m sticking strictly to characters in the first season. The second is that the cast is huge; across all 5 seasons of the show, I don’t have the room to include every single cast member. The cast member I can’t leave out is Citizen Z (DJ Qualls of My Name is Earl and Supernatural). I’m a big fan of Qualls and feel that his awkward goofiness adds some fun to any show he’s a part of. On Z Nation, he plays an ex-hacker, NSA agent that was at a listening post in the Arctic circle when the apocalypse occurred. Relatively safe in his frozen bunker, he monitors the group as they make their journey, warning them of dangers and pointing out areas of interest.

The show works for a number of reasons. I found the characters likable and unique. Allen plays Murphy amazingly well, alternately making fans want to punch him in his stupid face and root for him to succeed. Doc is the lovable Cheech and Chong extra and 10K the brooding assassin with goth appeal. I kind of liked Addy, but I thought her character was much less fleshed out than the rest of the cast. Then there were the writers. I found the story lines fresh and inventive, adding quirkiness and humor into a genre I didn’t know needed it. The show had several different types of zombies, including exploding ones, and they were usually dispatched in ultra-violent and amusing ways. If those two descriptors don’t seem to go together, you need to watch the show. It didn’t always work. When the show first started, whenever they would “kill” a zombie, they would say the phrase, “I give you mercy.” That phrase was even a part of their intro theme song, but, holy shit, did that get old fast. I get it; they saw the undeath of being a zombie as a fate worse than death, but it really lost its impact over time.

A few years ago, after Z Nation had ended, the Asylum (the fine folks who brought the Sharknado series), the production company that created Z Nation, put out a prequel called Black Summer. I was so excited for it to come out. Z Nation had been off the air for about a year or so and I was missing some of that zombie action. It had been said that this wouldn’t be done in the same tongue in cheek style as Z Nation, but nothing could prepare me for the soul crushing desolation of this show. It was neither bad nor exceptionally good, but it offered no respite from the violence and tension in each episode. There was no binging this one; after a single episode, my mood was so depressed that I couldn’t even dream of watching a second episode.

While I write these little pieces to show my love for these shows, it’s hard for me to recommend Z Nation to anyone else. It does have a 6.7 rating on IMDB, so I can’t be alone in my fandom, but I, personally, have never met anyone who spoke fondly of the show. Plus, my tastes tend to be somewhat unique. I’ve given many a recommendation which resulted in those who listened looking at me a little differently, and not in a good way. But if you’re looking for a show that balances the Yin of violence and death with the Yang of humor, then Z Nation might be the one for you. You could certainly do worse (I’m looking at you, Fear the Walking Dead).

Chuck

Before there was Limitless, the Bradly Cooper vehicle about a brain boosting drug, there was Chuck. The hero trope has been around since before the Greeks spoke of Olympus, someone special, better, and with the will to fight to make the world a better place. In some of the earliest stories, this came in the form of overwhelming strength, as in a Samson or Hercules, or extreme prowess, as in the Samurai mythos or even Robin Hood. As we have entered more of an information age, intelligence, both intellectual and emotional, have come to the forefront when it comes to superpowers. Perhaps Neo of The Matrix films could be considered in this sense, having the intelligence and perception to see through the veil of “reality” and tap into the source code underneath. I’ve already mentioned the Limitless franchise (the TV show was pretty damn good) and another obvious entry into this category is the Scarlett Johansson movie, Lucy. But, in 2007, an unassuming little action/comedy came along called, Chuck.

Since this was never the most popular of shows, I’m going to assume that the majority of viewers haven’t seen this one, so here it goes. The titular character, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi of Shazam and voice acting for several of the Tangled films), is a directionless 20 something, working as an IT guy for a big box electronics store. The show presents Chuck’s “best friend” as Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez of Invasion and Without a Trace), a fellow employee at the unimaginatively named Buy More store, but, honestly, I see little in their relationship that I would call friendship. I’ll talk more about this, but let’s table it for now while I go on with the rest of the show. Chuck lives with his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster of Saved by the Bell: New Class and Everwood), and her fiance, Devon, AKA “Captain Awesome” (Ryan McPartlin of Sequestered and L.A.’s Finest), both of them doctors.

The premise of the show begins when a former classmate of Chuck’s, Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer of Doom Patrol and White Collar), a CIA agent, emails something called the Intersect to Chuck. Upon opening the email, Intersect, the merged database of both the CIA and NSA, downloads itself into Chuck’s brain. Bryce then destroys the computer that the Intersect had been in, making Chuck the only known repository of the secrets of two of America’s biggest intelligence agencies. Unfortunately, Agent Larkin dies in the process. Given the resources of the NSA and CIA, they have little trouble tracking down Chuck and send two agents to deal with him. The CIA sends the obligatory (not that the CIA is obligated to send a hot, female agent, but that a show of this nature is obliged to have a hot, female lead) hot, female lead, Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski of Dexter and A Handmaid’s Tale), while the NSA sends the farcically intimidating , Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin of Firefly and The Last Ship). These two are allies in that they both must protect the asset that Chuck has become, but adversaries in that they are from two separate entities that each have a vested interest in Chuck.

So, what sort of asset is Chuck? Not much, at first, him being portrayed early on as the bumbling everyman that has had greatness thrust upon him. He’s mainly a repository for knowledge. He’ll be in a situation, then something will trigger these “flashes”, times when the Intersect is activated by some clue in the environment and a quick cut montage of images will be played to indicate these classified details that enter his mind. This Intersect will allow Chuck to defuse bombs, recognize international terrorists, etc. Other than this ability, he is a liability in the field, flanked by the more experienced agents Walker and Casey, Chuck displays no coolness under pressure, no fighting prowess, no more abilities than hiding under a table and somehow not being hit by the swarms of bullets flying around him. This will gradually change over the course of the series, when the Intersect seems to be able to imbue him with an almost inhuman ability at spy craft. Depending on the situation, viewers will see Chuck become a master martial artist, an expert marksman, he’ll even get the ability to play musical instruments and speak a foreign language. The whole thing can get somewhat deus ex machina at times, but given that the show never really takes itself that seriously, it’s not that disruptive to the narrative.

The high point of the show for me is the romance that develops between Chuck and Sarah. It’s obvious from the start, and no different than what a hundred other shows like it have done, but Strahovski does such a great job with Sarah’s character, it just feels natural. And, yes, I’m giving her most of the credit. Levi is great, but his investment in the Sarah/Chuck flirtation seemed minimal. The low point of the show is Chuck’s “best friend” Morgan. This character is about as appealing as a cold sore. I’m not sure what the producers envisioned for this character, but over the course of the show, we see him constantly perv on Chuck’s sister, sneak into Chuck’s room without anyone’s knowledge or permission, shirk work duties that would help Chuck, blow Chuck’s mission on several occasions and just generally be an annoyance to everyone. Possibly this was meant to be comic relief, but the guy seems like absolute slime to me. Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s a number of elements about the show that bother me. Why were Chuck and his sister (along with her fiancé) living together. Sure it’s Burbank and it’s expensive, but they were both doctors. Even if they were residents, together they easily could have afforded their own place. Did they just pity Chuck? Also, having the intelligence agents work nonsensical cover jobs to keep an eye on Chuck was ridiculous. Again, I feel this was to add one more comedic element to the show, but, damn, did it get old quick.

So, while I did enjoy the show, it was by no means perfect. And I’m certainly not alone in that, given that the show teetered on the renewal roster for almost its entire run. As early as season 2, NBC considered canceling Chuck, due to it’s consistently low ratings, but fans launched a “Save Chuck” campaign to bring a season three into existence. There was the standard letter writing and push for renewal on social media, but then they got creative by teaming up with Subway. Yes, the restaurant chain; please note that this was all before the Jared Fogle arrest, which occurred in 2015. As Chuck’s run continued, constantly plagued with the threat of cancellation, fans would team up with a number of unlikely organizations to save their beloved show, such as the American Heart Association. It ran for 5 seasons, which isn’t bad, as shows go. And Agent Bartowski has not been forgotten. There are still Chuck fan websites out there and even Chuck themed fan art. Wildstorm publishing, affiliated with DC Comics, I believe, put out a Chuck comic book, and the cast of Chuck has definitely been doing the Comicon circuit. Their fan base has been so enduring that a Kickstarter for a Chuck movie started up earlier this year. I think these fans know that the world needs a show like Chuck. Sure there’s action, comedy and romance, but it’s all done with such an element of wholesomeness, of innocence, that’s it’s an oasis of entertainment protected from the maelstrom of drama, spite and violence that plagues most of television these days. After I’m done watching the endless parade of bipartisan bickering, the constant reminders of how we are destroying the Earth and the ever looming threat of war, I want a bit of fun escapism. After a year like this one, we need Chuck more than ever.

Person of Interest

For an action/sci-fi, Person of Interest is an exceedingly depressing show. The pandemic has me watching more videos than ever before, as well as grinding the filming and production of new episodes to a halt, so I’ve had to forage far beyond my normal viewing proclivities. Which is fine; I enjoy exploring and realize that with that will come the occasional dud of a show. But I ended up binge watching Person of Interest and its dark tone and grim mood were NOT what I needed right now. It’s good, if a bit uneven, for a network show, but, holy shit, I’m looking for escapist fantasy, not an inevitable dystopia that this program presents. This is a rant and there will be spoilers. You’ve been warned.

via GIPHY

Okay, for those of you who have never seen the show, it centers around a man and a machine. Not just any machine, mind you, but a near omnipresent artificial intelligence. The man is Harold Finch (played by the amazing Michael Emerson of Lost and Evil to name a few. I’ve praised him before and this show, as depressing as it may be, hasn’t changed my mind about that.), a bookish and altruistic genius who created the Machine, along with his partner, for the U.S. government. An attack on both of them, shortly after creating The Machine, killed the partner, Nathan Ingram (played by Brett Cullen of Narcos and Joker), gives Harold a limp and drives him underground. This inspires him to use The Machine to help others. He programs it to look for potential devastating events and to point him in their direction by spitting out the social security number of a “person of interest”. While Harold is smart, and rich for some reason that is never fully explained, and The Machine is all seeing, they both lacked the ability to get physical. Looking for some muscle, Harold recruits ex-CIA agent, John Reese (Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ and Escape Plan). He in turn coerces a crooked cop, Det. Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman of The Equalizer 2 and Black Dynamite), to assist him in their crusade. Det. Josalyn Carter (Taraji Henson of Hidden Figures and Empire)is the cop tasked with tracking down Reese (referred to the Man in the Suit) who eventually becomes a love interest.

As the show goes on, they build on this little cadre of would be heroes. They inadvertently save the life of, and later imprison, local crime boss, Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni of Veronica Mars and Galaxy Quest). Their begrudging admiration for each other becomes a full fledged alliance over the course of the show’s 5 seasons. Root (the fabulous Amy Acker of Angel and Alias), a morally dubious hacker who becomes enamored with The Machine, shows up in first season, but doesn’t become a regular until season 3. And lastly, we have Agent Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi of The L Word and Chicago Fire), a CIA agent ordered to track down The Machine, who switches teams to work for it. There’s a handful of other recurring characters, as well, but, for the most part, the show is a monster of the week deal. In the first few seasons anyway.

I’ll admit it, I really enjoyed the first season. The AI was well written, cryptic in its communication and an almost alien presence. The stories were smart and the action fast paced. I mention how much I love the work of Michael Emerson, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Chapman’s acting. Then, it started going to shit. I’ve watched enough long running television series to recognize the general patterns that they take. Usually, in each season, there is a long running story arc that concludes in the finale. It might be a definitive end or it might be a cliffhanger to carry over into the next season, and either way, the ending usually affects the next season. Sometimes that means that the characters start the next season down and out, one of their group winding up dead or being hunted or losing their powers. But it can go the other way as well, with a new member joining the group or the development of new found powers, becoming better, more powerful than before. The ups and downs that the characters experience can be a great part of the storytelling that keeps viewers guessing (and watching). Unfortunately, the overall arc of the show is a constant downhill slog, each season taking away more and more from the main characters and making their enemies stronger. It was disheartening to be perfectly honest. Out of the six main characters that formed the team, only half of them survive to the end.

There are other things that got to me. Both Reese and Shaw are great when it came to ass-kicking action, but they had the emotional range of a pair of manikins. In Shaw’s case, it worked out, to an extent; she was written as an emotionless sociopath, but as the show wore on, we learn that she went to medical school. While I can believe that maybe there is a sociopath or two that might go into medical school, but then going on to go into the CIA and become a killing machine definitely stretches my ability for sustained disbelief. Even in the case of The Machine itself, it’s portrayed as having superhuman intelligence and sentience. At one point it had itself dismantled and spread in boxes throughout the city to protect itself and in another occasion, it even established a business for itself, displaying a great deal of competence and initiative. With that sort of history, it amazed me that it didn’t do more. Why did it not built itself an army of drones to assist its creator? Why did it not rewrite its own code to improve on itself? I get that the show might be boring if it became an all powerful entity, but the restrictions the writers did put on it were almost nonsensical.

One bright spot was Root in God Mode. When she formed her bond with The Machine, she had microphone implanted in her ear, so The Machine could communicate directly to her. With her blind obedience to The Machine, she would do whatever it transmitted to her without question, which made her the most bad ass thing on the show and it was a thing of beauty. Sure, there were some bright spots. I’m not saying it was all bad. But each season brought them down just a little more and, oof, was that last season tough to sit through. There had to be 20 different ways the writers could have worked a win in for them, but, no, they just kept wracking up the losses. What started as a great show slowly became a steady dose of depression. And, good God, this year doesn’t need any more of that!

Doom Patrol

In the marvelous HBO miniseries, The Outsider, one of my favorite characters is Holly Gibney, a borderline autistic investigator, who clearly operates in a slightly different reality than most of us. In one of the last scenes, after defeating the Big Bad, it asks Holly how she recognized it. To paraphrase (because, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’m remembering it right) her answer, she replied, “An outsider can always recognize another outsider.” I’m not sure that one needs to be an outsider to enjoy Doom Patrol, but the feeling it gives me, of maybe there is somewhere I belong, is why this show brings me so much joy. It is ostensibly a superhero show, but the majority of obstacles that this misfit band of odd balls must overcome are internal. Sure there are superpowers, but there’s also family, mental illness, lost loves and plenty of self-loathing to go around. There are punches aplenty thrown at bad guys, but the hardest punch they pack is right in the feels.

The show involves the wheelchair bound scientist, Niles Caulder (Timothy Daulton of The Living Daylights and Flash Gordon), whose questionable experiments, not to mention ethics, created most of Doom Patrol to begin with. The earliest member is Rita Farr (April Bowlby of Slammin’ Salmon and Two and a Half Men), a former star of the silver screen changed, by a toxic gas, into a stretchy, elastic mutant. Next to join would be Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer of White Collar and Will & Grace), a former test pilot who, during an experimental flight absorbed an entity made of “negative energy” that now dwells within him. Oh, yeah, and he’s horribly disfigured and emits so much radiation that no one can ever physically get close to him again. Possibly the most powerful member of the team is Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin), a disturbed woman with multiple personality disorder (MPD), each different personality possessing their own superpower. This can range from her persona, Baby Doll, who believes “everything is lovely”, to Lucy Fugue, who has radioactive bones and see-through skin, to Sun Daddy, who is a huge figure with a sun for a head and can throw fireballs. With a current tally of 64 separate personalities, she’s like a slightly less together Legion. There’s the unimaginatively named Robot Man (Brendan Fraser of Encino Man and George of the Jungle. Yeah, that Brendan Fraser.), a former race car driver that suffered what would have ordinarily been a fatal accident, were it not for Niles Caulder placing his brain into a nearly indestructible robot body. Last to the party is Victor Stone, AKA Cyborg (Joivan Wade of Youngers and Doctor Who), the only member to not be created by Niles Caulder. Normally associated with the Teen Titans, or the Justice League for those Snider cut fans out there, he is a former football star who, after a horrible accident, is recreated with cybernetic parts. Boo-ya!

All of these people are very, very flawed, and that’s what makes them all so goddamn beautiful. Jane grew with an abusive father and was subjected to years of sexual abuse. Leading to the development of her MPD, she spent years institutionalized and indulging in excessive drug use, both psychiatric and illegal. Despite having incredible powers, she has absolutely no control over them, often arguing with herself to even get anything done. Robot Man, being super strong and close to invulnerable, is a bitter, angry man who mourns his former life, an empty life previously lived carelessly. Likewise, Cyborg misses being a popular football star, but an otherwise normal person. His bitterness is mostly aimed at his father, for turning him into something more machine than man and, in stark contrast to how Cyborg is usually portrayed, is less superhero and more soul searching, self-doubting kid. Rita, once used to fawning adoration, now cloisters herself, uncertain of when her body will betray her. She has the ability to stretch and bend like Plastic Man, but, much like Jane and her erratic powers, it takes all of Rita’s concentration to even just keep her body from oozing everywhere. Larry Trainor, AKA The Negative Man, may be my favorite of them all. He lost it all. Once a virile man in his prime, a decorated pilot, with a wife, a child and a gay lover on the side, his body is now covered in scars from head to toe, the amount of radiation coming off of him requires that he always cover himself in specially designed bandages, Invisible Man style. Oh, and his super power? The entity inside him may also be indestructible, can fly and made of pure energy, but it is not under his control and, once unleashed, leaves Larry helpless.

Niles Caulder may be the most tragic figure of all. A man of exceptional intelligence, it seems he leads the Doom Patrol more out of his feelings of guilt over the failed experiments that he views them as. In various flashbacks during the show we see him as he interviews Crazy Jane or fiddles with the inner workings of Robot Man. He isn’t the cause of their current condition, but, in his hubris, he saw fit to use their conditions to play God and tamper about with them as if they were nothing more than lab rats. Much like the rest of Doom Patrol, we are torn between looking up to him as their ingenuous leader and hating him for turning them into freaks for his own curiosity. His history gets more complicated and more tragic as the show goes on, but I don’t want to give away too much.

Equally as fun are the villains of the show. One of the first we meet is Mr. Nobody (played by the amazing Alan Tudyk of Firefly and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil), a reality bending entity that breaks the fourth wall like a less sane Deadpool. Yes, LESS sane. He can control the action on the screen just by his narration. There is a government agency, The Bureau of Normalicy, dedicated to eliminating aberrations just like the members of Doom Patrol. There are Nazis, a Ghostbusters-like team, known as the Sex-Men and Beard Hunter, a serial killer who hunts down men with beards. Lest we think that the entire world is out to get Doom Patrol, their allies are equally as weird. There’s Flex Mentallo, The Muscle Man of Mystery. Imagine Charles Atlas come to life, but his actions, instead of being feats of brawn, are more like magic spells cast by flexing his muscles. I loved him in the comic books, and was dubious when I heard he’d be in the live action Doom Patrol, but they got a fantastic actor to play him (Devan Chandler Long of Runaways and Bosch). And then there’s possibly the most surreal character of all, Danny the Street. What Danny is is a little hard to describe, so I’ll just plagiarize Wikipedia. They say, “Danny is a living and sentient piece of urban geography who can magically and seamlessly place himself in any urban landscape at will, without any disruption to his surroundings.” It is mentioned that he identifies as gender queer and he is usually lined with dance clubs, gun shops and drag cabarets.

Did I mention this was originally a comic book? Maybe I should have said that up front, which would explain my effusive praise of the show. But I’ve been reading Doom Patrol from so long ago, that it’s just common knowledge to me. I sometimes forget my audience, mainly because I’m not sure if I have an audience. The original Doom Patrol was published in My Greatest Adventure #80 in 1963, created by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney. It’s actually had several different incarnations, but I’m relatively sure that the heart of the television show is based off of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Writing the title from issues #19 to #63, he is the one who introduces Crazy Jane and Danny the Street. He injected a level of surrealism to the comic that overshadowed anything it had previously been. In fact, it was so…I don’t know …different, I guess, that I didn’t know how the show could even be pulled off, but under the creative command of Geoff Johns, it truly shines. As with most things I review, this show isn’t for everyone. If you want non-stop action or a clearly demarcated fight of good vs. evil, then this isn’t that show. Doom Patrol is that ugly, orphaned puppy who is just so scrappy and adorable in his own way that you can’t help but love him. It’s the show that makes you feel that no matter how strange or different or broken you are, you are still worth something and that you can still find a place you belong. And I absolutely love it for that.

Channel Zero

I don’t have a lot of time, so I’m going to try and make this post short and sweet. I’ve just started a huge project that I’m going to be devoting a huge chunk of time to. So much so that it may spill over into my blog here and change the focus of the entire thing. But now is not the time for that, so, with the possibility of me no longer writing about TV or movies, I want to make sure that I talk about a few of the shows I consider “must see”. Particularly the ones I feel just don’t get enough love. Which brings me to Channel Zero.

Channel Zero was a horror anthology that ran for 4 seasons on Syfy. It was written by Nick Antosca, who has, in addition to writing Teen Wolf and Hannibal, has also written several novels, like Fires and The Quiet Boy, and even a few films, like The Forest and Antlers. It’s an impressive resume, which explains some of my praise. And while my praise is effusive, it’s a little hard to explain. It’s like those jokes that you sort of just have to be there for. I’m normally a “story guy”, all about the plot, the character development, but, admittedly, Channel Zero is a bit weak in that department. Not that the plots or the characters are bad, it’s just that they aren’t the strengths of the show. The characters are thin, the plots slightly confused, but the feel of the show itself is CREEPY! It’s one of the eeriest shows I’ve seen, giving the viewer that otherworldly feeling that is so elusive. I’ve talked about this rare quality before, in films like The Endless and A Cure for Wellness.

Each of the four seasons tells a story involving different bits of creepypasta. If you don’t know what creepypasta is, welcome to the club, even now I have only a cursory understanding of the term. The best description I can think of is urban legends for the internet. The Slender Man and The Russian Sleep Experiment are examples of creepypasta, spooky stories, once told round the campfire, now skulking around the information superhighway. Season 1 tells the story of Candle Cove, a mysterious children’s show from a studio that shouldn’t be transmitting. The theme of Season 2 is The No End House, which, as the name implies, consists of a series of impossible rooms. Season 3 is called Butcher’s Block, about a highly carnivorous family of exceptional longevity. Lastly, season 4 is a story that is equal parts disturbing and depressing, called The Dream Door. Each one is very different, except for the ability to make one’s hairs stand on end.

I consider Season 1 to be the best, but I’m not sure if that’s because it’s true or if I wasn’t prepared the impact it would make. The first few minutes of the first episode stay with me to this day. There’s so many things to creep one out in this season. The children’s show, Candle Cove, is a puppet show and puppets are almost as creepy as clowns and dolls. Murderous children are involved and children are kind of sinister even when they’re normal. And, then, then there’s the tooth monster. The main character is guilt ridden and possibly insane. Almost every scene exudes menace and danger lurks just out of sight.

Before I had seen season 2, I had never heard of the No End House. There are several iterations of this particular creepypasta, but it essentially is about a house that people are called to go into, sometimes because there’s prize money if they go through all the rooms in the house, sometimes because they are dared to. Each room is sequentially numbered, this number appearing on the door to the next room, usually starting with 1 and going up to 9. The first room is deceptively cheesy, but each of the others get progressively more horrifying, the last one nearly driving people to madness. Those who get through all of them to finally escape the house initially feel relief and return home, only to find the next number on their front door. This is basically the story in Season 2 of Channel Zero, except that a group of friends enter the house, each experiencing different things, based on their individual fears and, as you might guess, they don’t all get to leave. There’s a heck of a lot more to it, themes involving grief and loss and how much of one’s self is in their memories, but I don’t want to ruin any of this by saying too much. I also wanted to say that one of the cast members in this season is the phenomenal John Carroll Lynch of The Drew Carey Show and Fargo. He’s an amazing actor who absolutely nails his roles in everything I’ve seen him in and this is no different.

According to Wikipedia, season 3, Butcher’s Block, is based on Kerry Hammond’s “Search and Rescue Woods” , but if that’s true, it’s very loosely based. If you’re unfamiliar with “Search and Rescue Woods” (I was), it was originally a series of stories first featured on the subreddit, No Sleep, and later collected into novel form. The stories are told by one of the search and rescue rangers who work a particular set of woods where all sorts of mysterious and spooky happenings occur. Butcher’s Block involves a pair of sisters, one with severe, almost incapacitating, depression, who move to a new town and find a strange flight of stairs, in the middle of the woods, seemingly leading to nowhere. Eventually, they meet Joseph Peach (played by the incomparable Rutger Hauer, RIP, of Blade Runner and Hitcher), the elderly patriarch of the Peach family, the head of a butchering and meat packing empire. This season is a bit more meandering than most, but no less eerie, culminating in the sisters having to make a devastating choice.

The fourth and final season is Dream Door, based on Charlotte Bywater’s story, Hidden Door. I’m guessing Antosca is a Reddit fan, because Hidden Door also is a find from r/Nosleep. In Dream Door, a married couple find an odd door in their basement, that they hadn’t noticed before. They explore it and initially found nothing, but before long, the door, or the room behind it, manifests their dreams. And, true to the nature of the show, these things are perverted manifestations of these dreams.

My love of television is well known. I mean, I’m writing a frickin’ blog about it, for goodness sakes. Most of the shows I talk about here are shows that I feel are high quality entertainment, shows I want to tell people about, because I think that they’ll enjoy them as much as I do. That being said, I wouldn’t really call them art. Entertainment? Yes, but art? There are the few rare shows that attain that vaunted title that few television shows even consider. I feel that Legion did it, Antosca’s other show, Hannibal did it and Channel Zero does it. By this, I’m not saying that these are the best shows in the world, but that they “subvert the paradigm”. They don’t care what a show should be, they have an artistic vision, one that is different than what the very concept of a television show should be. Often, certain things, like plot, are sacrificed in pursuit of this vision, but what emerges is a thing of beauty. Well, maybe not beauty, per se, in the case of Channel Zero, but something pure nonetheless. It’s not so much entertainment as a work of art that evokes a feeling. It bypasses the brain and triggers fear and dread directly to the brain stem. If you, dear reader, ever decide to watch Channel Zero, remember this. Don’t dwell on plot points or if things make sense or any of the things that one normally focuses on a show, just feel it.

The Greatest American Hero

Superheroes are on an uptick right now. Maybe not as exalted as they were right before Avengers Endgame, but they still get the likes, still bring the dollars in. This was not always the case. Being into superheroes in high school, in the 80’s, made me a nerd and not very popular. Not that I’ve ever been that popular. The most popular action shows in the 80’s were things like the A-Team, The Dukes of Hazard and Miami Vice. Even if one focuses on action shows with a bit of sci-fi thrown in, the heroes weren’t exactly super, just people with exceptional skill, such as The Master or MacGyver. In stark contrast to today, the television viewing audience of the 80’s just weren’t appreciative of the superhero set. But during that decade, I would tune in religiously to one of my favorite shows, The Greatest American Hero (tGAH).

I will also admit that I was a fan of The Incredible Hulk, but, let’s face it, with one of his comic book titles still currently running (The Immortal Hulk), not to mention at least six movies (yes, I’m counting his appearances in The Avengers movies, but excluding the animated movies he’s been in) to his credit, he’s a pretty well known character. Not so much, Ralph Hinkley. In tGAH, Hinkley (William Katt of House and Carrie) is a mild mannered high school teacher who is visited by aliens and given a super suit. Yeah, I get it, it sounds pretty hokey when I say it out aloud, but I loved it all the same. If you are familiar with superhero lore, they all must have some weakness, an Achilles heel. Superman has his Kryptonite, Hinkley has a suit he doesn’t know how to use. The suit may endow a near limitless power upon him, giving him flight, super strength and speed, X-ray vision, invisibility, etc., but he lost the instruction manual and, therefore, only discovers these powers through trial and error. No man is an island, as they say, so Ralph is aided in his battle for justice by Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp of I Spy and Everybody Loves Raymond), a CIA agent. Rounding out the cast is Pam Davidson (Connie Selleca of Hotel and Second Chances) as the obligatory (well, it was the 80’s) love interest.

Created by Stephen Cannell, writer of such fine television shows as The A-Team and 21 Jump Street, he envisioned a different kind of superhero. Someone happy in his mundane humanity who has immense power unexpectedly thrust upon him. Rather than a Superman who flies in to save the day, he wanted the show to be about a man who just happens to wear the suit, and focus on human problems, like corruption and racism. He wrote Hinkley and Maxwell as the Odd Couple: Hinkley, the super-powered, bleeding heart liberal and Maxwell, the gun-toting, slightly misogynistic conservative. Oh, fun fact, on March 30, 1981, John Hinkley shot President Ronald Reagan. After that, the show subtly changed the name of Ralph Hinkley to Ralph Hanley. Unfortunately, after the first season, there was a change in the upper echelons at ABC, and the new executives forced the show to be a more conventional superhero show, complete with Hinkley fighting the Loch Ness Monster in one of the episodes. The show ran for 3 seasons, between ‘81 and ‘83, and can still be found on Amazon Prime. There’s even a fan-based website about it.

I got the inspiration for this post when I remembered the show and thought it would be great for a reboot. It’s a great concept, but, as I researched for this post, I discovered that such a reboot has been tried multiple times. In 1986, the original cast returned and tried to launch The Greatest American Heroine, The plot involves the aliens who originally provided the suit telling Hinkely to find a successor. As the name would imply, he decides upon Holly Hathaway (Mary Ellen Stuart of One Life to Live and As the World Turns), an ”elementary school teacher who spends her off-hours looking for lost kittens, raising environmental awareness and serving as a foster mother”. I shit you not. Alas, the show was never meant to be. The pilot was never broadcast, but, instead, was re-edited as an episode of the original series. In 2014, it was announced that Fox was looking at rebooting the show, in 2017 entertainment news sources said that actress Hannah Simone  (of H+ and New Girl)had been cast as the lead in a reboot, but in 2018, ABC declined to pick up the series. William Katt even started a comic book company in 2008, Catastrophic Comics, and put out a Greatest American Hero comic book. Given that I can barely find any evidence online that they exist, I’m guessing that didn’t work out. The show does still have an active fan base, however, which discusses the possibility of a reboot, so who knows? It could happen.

This post wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning the theme song. I’ve said before that theme songs should not have words. It’s too easy for them to become ear worms and this one is no different. Believe It or Not, composed by Mike Post (music) and Stephen Geyer (lyrics) and sung by Joey Scarbury can still be heard on easy listening stations to this day. During the show’s run, I couldn’t escape the poppy little tune as, in addition to being at the start of every episode, it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Record World Chart. For a bit of added trivia, Mike Post not only created the Theme music to Law & Order, he is responsible for their unmistakable “Dun Dun” sound.

I still say I’d like to see someone take a run at this show again, but, looking back, it was very much a product of its time. There was an innocence about it and it was pretty goofy, possessing a strong comedic element, often at the expense of the hero. The reluctant hero who trips over his own feet has been done to death now, but it still felt fresh back in the 80’s. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I believe it contains a number of jokes and scenes that may not be acceptable today (The character of Bill Maxwell often refers to Pam, among other women, as “skirts”). Even with that, though, the show was so damn wholesome. Maybe the reason it’s having such a hard time coming back is because it imagines a world where most people are inherently good, where any evil can be overcome by good old hard work and cooperation and all the endings are happy. And maybe that’s just too much of a suspension of disbelief for audiences these days.

Pontypool

This is a film that doesn’t get nearly enough love. I get it; it might not be for everyone. It’s a zombie movie with no undead, flesh-eating zombies. It’s a horror movie with little blood and the secret weapon against the apocalypse is poetry. It’s weird. It’s unique. Dare I say, it’s a thinking man’s zombie movie. And the threat isn’t a monster or a virus or a demon; it’s language, it’s a meme. I would say that Pontypool is way ahead of its time in demonstrating how dangerous the wrong meme can be. I actually feel a little bad about calling this a zombie movie, in that the producer has explicitly said that this is not a zombie movie, referring to the infected, instead, as conversationalists. That being said, the infected were once normal humans who have been turned into mindless creatures bent on violence and everyone else calls them zombies, too.

I don’t think many people have seen this movie, so I’ll give a brief description. It’s a bottle movie, almost the entire movie takes place at a small radio station in the town of Pontypool, Ontario, reminiscent of 10 Cloverfield Lane. We soon meet shock jock DJ, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie of Watchmen and Come to Daddy), a grizzled renegade, abrasive and slightly arrogant due to being a big fish in a little pond. He comes into the station to do his show on a cold and snowy day, assisted by the station manager, Sydney (Lisa Houle of Cold Squad and Scene of the Crime). Given that it’s talk radio, his show involves taking calls from listeners, but the first call is from their “eye in the sky” traffic reporter. He describes an odd scene in which a group of people seem to be attacking another and then he gets cut off. That sets off a series of calls, each one more bizarre and frightening than the last, the story of a zombie apocalypse told in snippets. Finally, the infection and the infected arrive at the studio and death enters the bottle.

It feels like a radio show, almost more so than it does a movie. There’s a good reason for that, in that, not only was the production inspired by Orson Welles, War of the Worlds, but it was also made into a radio play at the same time it was filmed. Based on a book, Pontypool Changes Everything, written by Tony Burgess, who also adapted it for the movie, it is part of a trilogy. The first book in the trilogy is The Hellmouths of Brewdley, followed by Pontypool Changes Everything and finally, Caesarea. I say trilogy, because that’s what’s on the Wikipedia page. Reading the descriptions of the three books , however, I have no idea how they are related. In addition to writing the screenplay for Pontypool, Burgess has written 7 other screen plays, including Septic Man and Hellmouth. He has even been in a number of his own movies, including Pontypool (he played Tony Lawrence).

In order to be complete in my research, I started tracking down these other movies. Septic Man involves a sewerage worker who gets trapped in a septic tank and becomes mutated by toxic sewage. It addition to sounding too much like The Toxic Avenger, it just sounded incredibly disgusting. Ejecta got horrible reviews, scoring a 4.6 on IMDB and sounded like it might be tortuous to watch. So, Hellmouth it was. Much like Pontypool, it seemed as if were made on a show string budget. Filmed in black and white and making liberal use of cheap editing tricks, it has the feel of the movie, Sin City. It’s the story of Sydney, an old and dying cemetery caretaker. He receives a box that contains a key and a mysterious map. Hellmouth was …okay. Watchable, but not too compelling. Somewhat disappointing, really. I’m writing this post because I LOVED Pontypool. I though it was amazing enough that I’ve seen it three times and I would see it again in an instant, and I rarely see movies more than once.

At the start of this post, I mentioned the word meme. While I have never heard anyone else associate Pontypool with memes, the connection seems obvious. A meme is defined as an idea, behavior or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person. Many of these are merely humorous, like Bad Luck Brian and Business Cat, but memes can be weaponized. In 2015, The journal, Defense Strategic Communications published an article by Jeff Giesea titled, It’s Time to Embrace Memetic Warfare, urging that, as countries prepare for cyber warfare, they should also be preparing for memetic warfare. One passage reads:

Cyber warfare is about taking control of data. Memetic warfare is about taking control of the dialogue, narrative, and psychological space. It’s about denigrating, disrupting, and subverting the enemy’s effort to do the same. Like cyber warfare, memetic warfare is asymmetrical in impact. It can be highly effective relative to cost. The attack surface can be large or small. Memetic warfare can be used in conjunction with troops, ships, aircraft, and missiles, or it can be employed without any kinetic military force at all. It operates in the communications battlespace.

Anyone who has been online in the last few years knows how pervasive a good meme can be, influencing large segments of society. I believe that Pontypool mimics this effect, though pushed to nightmarish conclusions.

This movie isn’t for everyone. The monsters in it are less monsterish than in most horror movies, and the deadly infection is somewhat conceptual in nature. Still, I feel that the actors are excellent and that the director does a fantastic job of slowly dialing up the tension until the viewer feels just as trapped and threatened as the people inside the tiny, small town, radio studio. The nature of the infection itself is so esoteric that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. The best horror movies are the ones that won’t let go. That hold onto one’s psyche. And, for me, Pontypool is exactly that. I may just have to watch it again.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Superman

Superman statue

Image by Joseph Lee Novak

As a new reader, growing up, I was never that into Superman. He was the ultimate Mary Sue. Super strong, super fast, nearly invulnerable, Kryptonite his only weakness; what’s the fun in that? He truly earned his nickname of the big, blue boy scout. Good and altruistic to the core, there seemed to be no darkness in him, no conflict and few shades of gray. Besides, I was a Marvel guy. Spiderman and Iron Man, the X-Men and Conan the Barbarian, they were the one’s I followed month to month. Even when I started buying comics on my own, my first purchase was Ghost Rider. I always wondered what that said about me, that my first choice for a comic book was a vengeance demon from Hell. Even when I started branching out, it was years before I even looked twice at a DC comic. It was their Vertigo line that caught my attention with titles like Preacher and Hellblazer. Even then, I was attracted to the dark and edgy titles; Superman sure as hell wasn’t on my radar. But then a few titles caught my eye and I took the plunge. Now I’ve found a few stories that write Superman in such a complex and vulnerable way that I was sold. These are the stories that convinced me to love Superman.

All-Star Superman

Holy shit, this comic book miniseries is frickin’ awesome. It helps that it was created by the power duo of Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly. I’ve waxed poetic about Quietly earlier, so you know my fan boy man crush on his art, but Morrison really outdoes himself with the story telling in this one. It begins with Superman dying. He has absorbed so much solar radiation, the yellow sun being the very source of his power, that it is breaking him apart. It also has supercharged him, so that during his last few days, he is stronger, faster, smarter, etc. than ever before. He’s always felt responsible for, well, the entire planet, so he knows he needs to get his affairs in order. What follows is a 12 issue tale that pens the Kryptonian with such warmth, such humanity, that I was completely won over.

Does he fly? Does he use his heat vision and bend steel with his bare hands? He does, but many of the challenges he overcomes take far more than brawn or powers. He shows compassion to his enemies and love for his friends. His father’s funeral will break your heart and his date with Lois Lane will make your heart swell. You will be introduced to novel aspects of his story, like black Kryptonite and Bizarro World and a super-powered Lex Luther. Yeah, I’ll be talking about other great Superman stories, but this is the one. This is the story that overcame my disinterest in Superman.

What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way

Written by Joe Kelly, this story appeared in Action Comics #775 in the March of 2001 and was called “the single best issue of a comic book written in the year 2001”. Wizard Magazine called it the “Greatest Superman story of all time”, which should prove that I am far from alone in my praise. It was also developed into an animated feature in 2012, called Superman vs. The Elite, which is worth seeing. As the name would imply, Superman encounters a new “superhero” team called the Elite. They clash in their methods in that, while Superman does not kill, the Elite have no qualms about it. This escalates into an all-out brawl where the Elite basically mop the floor with the Big Blue Boy Scout. Then things get interesting.

Seeing Superman turn bad-ass is always a treat. The juxtaposition between someone who is so morally good that it’s almost sickening and an alien being with nearly god-like power and no sense of restraint has been a winning recipe in a number of different stories. That’s what Bright Burn banked on, but What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way may be one of the earliest stories to lean into it. It was written at a time when superhero comics were getting grittier, more violent and central to the plot is the question, “Has Superman’s time passed?” Let’s just say that Superman convinces the Elite, and the world at large, to be happy with the way he is. Cause they won’t like the alternative.

Irredeemable

I’ve already talked about the storyline of Superman going bad , but I don’t believe anyone takes it as far as Irredeemable. Written by Mark Waid, for Boom Comics, and spanning an impressive 37 issue run, it featured a Superman copy called, the Plutonian. Superman, being one of the most powerful and idolized superheroes on Earth, has always had the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he had the mental stability to handle it. The Plutonian does not. He cracks under the pressure and lashes out at both his superhero team mates and the entire world. As I said, there are other stories like this, but none have a 3 year time span to explore the concept as fully. The title is completely appropriate, as well; this character does reprehensible things. I should mention that Boom comics put out a related comic called Incorruptible, also by Mark Waid, but it doesn’t live up to Irredeemable. In it, one of the Plutonian’s enemies, Max Damage, is so shaken by the Plutonian’s turn to evil, that he becomes good. It’s a good concept, but it just doesn’t read as well.

So, why am I including this Superman knock-off in a piece specifically about Superman? A few reasons. In addition to the blatant similarities, it is revealed that the Plutonian’s powers are mentally related, or psionic, rather than physical. This is a reference to a research paper published back in 2009 that stated that, with the breadth of Superman’s powers, it would break the laws of physics if they were physically based and, therefore, they had to be supernatural in nature. Also, at the end of Irredeemable, the very last issue, Waid makes it perfectly clear that the entire thing is a gorgeous homage to Superman.

Kingdom Come

Conceived and illustrated by Alex Ross and written by Mark Waid, Kingdom Come presents Earth on the brink of disaster from the multitude of vigilante superheroes that have populated the planet. Much like What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way, a younger breed of superhero, one who doesn’t mind the use of lethal force, has come into favor and the public has turned away from Superman. As a result, he has sequestered himself in a holographic Kansas, away from the world. But with violence spiraling out of control, a militant Wonder Woman convinces him to return to the fight. There begins a battle of the wills, with Superman determined to stick to his ethical refusal to kill and nearly everyone else screaming for blood. As if this weren’t enough, mankind has generally grown sick of all these living weapons running around and generally, making the world a dangerous place to live in, so they’re planning to take drastic action on all the capes, both good and bad.

I’ve already written about how much I love Ross’ artwork and that is one of the best parts of this graphic novel. The story itself is told through the eyes of a minister who feels as if God is showing him all the events unfolding so that he can save the world. There is great comic book action here, but also complex ethical struggles that are rarely seen in the superhero world. My copy of this graphic novel is almost as well read and tattered as my copy of the Watchmen, which, by the way, is falling apart.

Grounded

In 2010, J. Michael Straczynski took over as writer for Superman and DC’s Dan Dido wanted him to re-invigorate the character. What emerged was a 14 issue run called, “Grounded”. The events of the previous run,” New Krypton“, finds Superman feeling disconnected from Earthlings and wondering if he can truly be the planet’s protector any longer. Disillusioned and lost, he decides that in order to get back in touch with the common man, he’s going to travel across America. And since he can’t connect with them from 20,000 feet in the air, looking down on them from above, he decides to walk the length of the country.

It’s a great look into Superman’s psyche, a god among men, trying to understand their experience as mortals. Once again, this is a story that in which his powers are useless. There’s no enemy to defeat nor disaster to overcome, while the run isn’t devoid of action, its main theme is Superman’s soul searching. My main complaint about the character Superman is that he can’t be beat, but this story shows that he isn’t immune to self-doubt. During his walk across America, he encounters very human problems. People with life-work issues, loneliness, domestic abuse, joblessness and poverty. Problems for which super strength and heat vision are useless. Grounded was a great run that showed a side of Superman that has rarely been explored and it’s written amazingly well.

Runner Up: The Incident

In 2011, DC published Action Comics #900, a title primarily featuring Superman, and ran a story called “The Incident” written by Paul Cornell. While not as deep or meaningful as the stories I have discussed above, nonetheless, I feel that it’s a story that deserves to be mentioned. It’s set in Iran, where a group of peaceful protesters are being attacked by Iranian soldiers and Superman swoops in to save the day. While, on the face of it, this is a straight up heroic act, it angers both the Iranian and American governments. Basically, this is because both governments consider Superman an exclusively American asset. As such, Superman’s actions could be considered an act of American aggression, maybe even a declaration of war. Realizing his duty is to protect the entire planet, not just the U.S., he publicly renounces his American citizenship.

While this was a nifty development for Superman’s story, what was really amazing was how much of a fervor this caused. The news story that Superman had renounced his citizenship was carried by everyone from Fox news to the New York Times and it caused such an uproar that DC comics back tracked on the story, labeling it a “What if” story. It goes to show what an icon Superman is, that a 70 year old comic book character is still so important to so many people.