Thursday, May 30, 2013

Inexplicable TV Review: Nobody Trusted The B in Apartment 23

 I’ll write about my other favorite but cancelled sitcom, Happy Endings, at a future date, since its fate was seemingly at least pondered a bit before the axe fell. However, for now, let’s focus on the titular B of this entry, even though both shows probably suffered from the same problem.

That issue – Don’t Trust The B In Apartment 23 is a stupid name. Yes, it’s appropriate given the show and its content, but it’s a name that doesn’t make it easy to endorse to your friends. “Gimmick” names seldom work for primetime shows – Most of the successful ones are short and not too cute, whether it’s Seinfeld or Friends or Cheers or Modern Family or *shudder* 2 and a Half Men.

So, it’s not surprising to me that the show didn’t catch on, and I’ll lay the primary problem at the feet of its name. Just call it Apartment 23 instead and I bet it gets to a third season. Looking past the name problem, I’m left with two content “problems” that I didn’t really find to be problems, thanks to the demographic I’m in.

Firstly, a lot of the humor is narrow and aimed at people who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s. For example, you weren’t going to get a Journey reference on Don’t Trust The B – you were much more likely to get Natalie Imbruglia. The whole character of James Van Der Beek, while hilarious on its own, does rely a bit on you buying into his past as a famous actor on Dawson’s Creek. While I’m not opposed to that, I also realize that sitcoms pitched at people primarily younger than 40 tend to fail quickly.

Secondly, the most consistent “tone” of the show is biting snark. There weren’t many sweet moments on the show, to the point that two recurring characters had obsessions with stalking and peeping on Chloe (Krysten Ritter) and June (Dreama Walker). To be fair about this, it could have been that they needed to switch from Liza Lapira to Michael Blaiklock for acting reasons, but still, I probably would have been OK without a stalker character in the first place.

I didn’t view any of this as a serious impediment to my watching, but I do understand why other people weren’t big fans of the show. I found the chemistry of Ritter, Walker and Van Der Beek to be quite charming though, and the people in other roles – like Eric Andre as the wet blanket Mark and Ray Ford as James’ assistant Luther – were serviceable enough, if nothing special.

The show unfortunately ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, as James finds out his real father isn’t actually Richard Dean Anderson. Unlike with Happy Endings, there has been absolutely no talk of the show continuing on in some form, so I guess we’ll never find out.

Bizarre tangent – For unknown reason, political blogger Steve Sailer has a weird deep dive on the show, where he notes that Luther and Mark are actually covert commentaries on the sacred cows of the liberal media, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. He then notes that he’s the only person who’s been able to notice this, and also likens the show to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. This strikes me as wonderfully insane theories, kind of like the stuff featured in Room 237, but good for him.

For more wonderful Chloe / Ritter GIFs, go here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spoilery Thoughts About Arrested Development, Avec Pictures

So, I figure four full days is enough of a waiting period to discuss the fourth season of Arrested Development. Plus, I'll be upfront with this warning – All of the fourth season is fair game for discussion in this entry! If you’re still pacing yourself through it, well, just bookmark it and read this later.

Anyway, on to the business at hand – The season doesn’t suck! Huzzah! Overall, I’d probably give it a seven or eight on the 10-scale. The first couple episodes start out slowly (and ye gads, what happened to Portia’s face?) but things really start to pick up once Michael gets the job at Imagine, and starts dating Ron Howard’s girlfriend daughter.

To nitpick, here are the three style and structure things that really jumped out at me and hurt the viewing experience:

Here is a picture of Isla, because she's gorgeous.
- As opposed to the standard network television sitcom model of about 22 minutes per show, I think the minimum for each episode of Arrested Development was around 26 to 27 minutes, with some of them even hitting the 31-minute mark.

While this is a seemingly minor thing – who minds having more of a good thing? – it resulted in a couple episodes feeling overly long to me. It didn’t feel like much ended up on the cutting room floor, and echoing the comments of my buddy Tom, they probably could have taken the sheers to a couple episodes.

Because each episode was a bit longer, it basically turned the usual sitcom three-act structure into four acts per episode. I would have preferred if they just sheared off five minutes from each episode, and stretched the season from 15 episodes to 19 or 20, roughly.

- Arrested Development made its money with frequent callbacks and intertwining plots when you least expected it, but it was tougher to track all of that with the “one season” format.

For example, in season three you had a couple different arcs, which usually only lasted from two to six episodes. The spy mystery of Mr. F gave way to the mentally-retarded dating storyline, which then transitioned into the series ending “save our Bluths!” telethon and the final episode.

With the fourth season, everything is more of a slow burn because of how stretched out everything is, plus there is constant recapping. Maybe they just assumed that people wouldn’t be binge watching episodes or familiar with the third season, but as a result, you get to see some of the final scenes from Lucille hijacking the Queen Mary about 500 times.

- There was a big hoopla on The Internet about the fact that some actors and actresses had to do their scenes via blue screen. I didn’t really think that specifically was such a big deal, but rather, you can tell that some limited availability for them probably really hurt the shooting schedule.

As a result, there aren’t many big ensemble scenes, or not as many as you would think with a show that has (essentially) eight leads – Michael, George Michael, GOB, Buster, Lucille, George Sr., Maeby, Tobias and Lindsay. When you factor in all of the accessory characters that they have to shoehorn in for fan service, plus that Barry Zuckerkorn is practically the ninth lead at this point, and new characters like Rebel Alley and on-camera appearances from Ron Howard…

That’s a daunting task, and I can understand why they mostly seem to focus on scene “clusters” of characters, for lack of a better term. It was fine at the beginning of my viewing, but by the end, you kind of figured out that there was usually just two to four characters per scene, and you didn’t have to worry about a walk-in by George Michael at the end.

But hey – Enough dwelling on the negative! As I mentioned at the top, I still found the fourth season really enjoyable, and better than most of the other sitcoms I’m watching on a weekly basis. In particular, I thought the high point of the season was Egg Bland Ann finally getting a well-deserved glory moment, with the straight-bait trick on GOB and Tony Wonder.

I also liked how the season ended, with George Michael punching Michael in the face. It was a tone shift for the show, but not an undeserved one. Over the course of the season, I thought they did a decent job turning Michael into more of a heel. At the beginning of the season, I kind of didn’t like that they were doing it, but I thought it paid off in the end. With George Sr. as more of a comic figure now, you kind of had to make someone be an antagonist, and it made more sense to have it be Michael as opposed to GOB.

Random thoughts here and there:

- As noted in this wonderful article from Buzzfeed, what the hell happened to Portia’s face? I don’t say this to be mean – I mean, Steve Holt also got fat. But Portia’s face in the third episode just looked so drastically different that it was distracting. And THEN, once you got used to it, she went back to “normal” by the time she got her short haircut!

I can’t explain it. The obvious answers seem to be “bad makeup” or “bad botox,” with maybe the crew realizing that she looked a mess after shooting a couple of her scenes. Or maybe they had a big break between that episode and some of the other ones they shot. Whatever the explanation, it was severely distracting at times. (In contrast though, Judy Greer, you keep doing what you do, girl.)

- Keeping her streak alive of great performances in non-Saturday Night Live roles, I loved Kristen Wiig as a young(er) Lucille Bluth. Seth Rogen as George Sr. was a little pitchy to me, but Wiig had the perfect look and tone for Younger Lucille. Thankfully, I did keep away from spoilers on the fourth season, so it was a pleasant surprise for me to see her in that role. (Also, I’m fully onboard for the spinoff show with her and Rogen in five years, if and when their acting careers fall to launch.)

Also good in their guest roles were Isla Fischer as Rebel Alley, Ron Howard as an aloof version of himself, Ben Stiller as Tony Wonder, Ed Helms as the sleazy real estate agent, Maria Bamford as Tobias’ new lover, and Tommy Tune as Lucille 2’s brother. Just OK were Carl Weathers and the dude playing Lindsay’s new guy for that hot minute or so he’s on the show. Also, looping back to Ron Howard, I was
surprised he didn’t use one of his actual daughters to play Rebel Alley, given the past stunt casting on the show with Justine Bateman. (And also also, she, Franklin and J. Walter Weathermen were the most noticeable absences to me.)

- The Buster-focused episode was the best overall of the season to me. I kind of wish it had been earlier in the season, but I understand why it wasn’t. It definitely had a lot of setup in it, mostly involving the Fake Herman Cain campaign of Terry Crews. (That was definitely the most “dated” element of season four – It feels like Cain ran a million years ago. I feel like an AD-original politician probably would have been more amusing.)

So, anyway. After watching season four, and thinking about it for a few days, I’m on board for a season five – I want to see where they go with the Michael and George Michael relationship, and to a lesser extent, how Lindsay will screw up in a campaign race with Sally Sitwell. While I don’t think the fourth season is as re-watchable as the previous three, it was still among the better sitcoms I watched this year.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Inexplicable Video Game Review: Keeping It Balanced With Ecolibrium

This is one of the cool creatures that cost a million points.

So, what would happen if you basically fused the odd cult SNES game EVO with a simulation / management game? The answer is Ecolibrium, a rigidly timed game available on the PS Vita. It’s free if you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber, which I am.

Basically, the goal in the game is twofold: 1) Solve “challenges” facing three different ecosystems by balancing the animals, plants and fungi in each one. 2) In your own one to three ecosystems, build up vibrant wildlife balances to earn points, which help you buy new, more valuable animals, plants and fungi that earn you more points.

The life forms you buy are all original creations, although most of the animals are vaguely dinosaur-ish in appearance and sound (or rather what I imagine a dinosaur would sound like). Likewise, the plants tend to have real world analogues, with the most expensive and best tree kind of resembling a redwood.

The most intriguing and frustrating aspect of Ecolibrium is its usage of real-time. You start out with 100 energy points per challenge or free ecosystem. Introducing a new creature costs 20 energy points, and a plant costs 10 points. Energy points restore at the rate of one per minute, so when you use up all your energy, it takes roughly 100 minutes to recover it back.

However, this mechanic isn’t really used well enough. Except for your first few times playing, and when starting a new challenge, you usually don’t have to worry about your energy consumption because the scarcer resource is points.

As previously mentioned, you use points – either the system-wide ones or the challenge-specific points – to buy animals, plants and fungi. However, you build up points with the same real-time mechanic as energy. After about a month of playing the game, I have a level eight ecosystem with a wide range of creatures, but my point production is only about 1,100 per hour.

This is a problem when the second ecosystem you can buy costs 1 million points, and the third ecosystem is a whopping 2 million points. With the (roughly) 400,000 points I have now, it means I can’t afford a second ecosystem for another month, which means limited playing on my part. You can repeat challenges for points, but only for 10 percent of the original reward – so, around 12,000 points. It’s usually not worth the effort.

Because of the point shortage, it severely hampers the other fun parts of the game. There is an auction house where you can bid on and sell surplus creatures, but if you’re hoarding points to buy an ecosystem, it doesn’t usually help to bid. (Example: The platinum-level creatures generate points at a much-higher rate of around 200 per hour, but to buy a pair from the auction house costs around 1 million points by itself.)

Of course, like a Facebook game, Ecolibrium does offer you “add-on content” that you can spend real money on, kind of like the packs in Mass Effect 3. Unlike that game though, you can’t buy, say, creature or plant packs with points – you have to spend real money. While there are posts on message boards about people doing this, the overall quality of Ecolibrium isn’t high enough to tempt me.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I don’t want no part of yo’ tight-ass country club, ya freak bitch!

So yeah, Arrested Development is back. There were so many good moments in the previous three seasons, I just don’t know where to start when it comes to highlighting quotes. I was always a big fan of Franklin, so that’s why his quote leads this entry, and why I’m including a picture of him on the entry too. If you want a 10-minute, 200 quote "Best Of," check out that YouTube video at the bottom of this entry.

I’m making my way through the fourth season today, but I probably won’t write about it until at least Tuesday, to give y’all a chance to watch it. Arrested Development is one of those rare sitcoms where there actually are spoilers for the story that would ruin things, like if you found out about Mr. F or the Godzilla-jetman fight early in season three. There is also the excitement of wondering who is going to show up in season four – Will we see Annyong? Barry Zuckercorn? Gene Parmesean, private eye? Carl Weathers??? (It’s for this reason that I didn’t listen to Tony “Buster Bluth” Hale on The Nerdist podcast yet.)

I’m definitely curious to see how the fourth season is received both critically and commercially. I fear that kind of like the new Daft Punk album, it can’t possibly live up to all of the hype, but as long as it doesn’t completely suck, that’s good. According to an interview with a Netflix executive, a season five is possible, but it sounds like the biggest impediment is the cast and creator’s schedule, not Netflix.

(Tangenting off of this - Could you build a season around the “less popular” Arrested Development actors, or a smaller ensemble? Tambor, Bateman and Michael Cera strike me as the busiest actors, as the rest of them tend to be either character or supporting actors on a variety of other shows. There is also the matter of the creators, as Mitchell Hurwitz and others seem to have other projects in the pipeline.)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Random Access Music Thoughts Spurred By iTunes

Just randomly shooting out an entry based on my iTunes shuffling…

- Is it needy of me to ask when the heck Girl Talk, a.k.a. Gregg Gillis, is going to release a new album? It’s been about three years at this point, and whether it’s relying on samples of popular music again or a completely original effort, as Wikipedia hints at, I’m eager to hear what he’s got planned next.

His last effort, All Day, came out in 2010. Originally, I didn’t like it as much as 2008’s Feed The Animals, but as time has gone on I think I appreciate it more. I think from start to finish, it just seems to flow better, whereas Feed The Animals has more rigid stops and starts. Feed The Animals is an album I sing along to in my car, whereas All Day is more appropriate for a 71-minute work session.

- Speaking of albums I like to play in the background or my headphones while working, I think that’s going to be my eventual judgment on Random Access Memories. Of course, as others have noted, there was no possible way it could live up to the great media campaign and hype and teaser videos.

However, I’m fine with that, and I’m still glad they did all of that. I mean, I’m a pro wrestling fan, so the whole thing reminded me of another great countdown and tease – the WWF debut of Chris Jericho, and his return against Randy Orton. Heck, I even stole the idea for my own blog, and it worked great in terms of raising anticipation.

So basically, you can’t ever go wrong with a countdown clock, and with teasing. I guess that’s the moral of the story… Oh, you wanted to know about Random Access Memories? Well, it’s solid. “Get Lucky” is by far the standout track, so it was smart to use it as a single, while the rest of the album is more of a mellow groove. Hence, a good CD to get some work done to, but I imagine “Get Lucky” is the only song that’ll end up on one of my playlists.

- Here is a random listen / watch on YouTube recommendation: “Chillin’” by Wale with Lady Gaga. For somewhat inexplicable reasons, Lady Gaga is dressed normally. (Maybe because it is inexplicable?)

Like everything else I write about, the song has actually been out for years, and Lady Gaga’s presence doesn’t make it sound any different than a generic Wale or 2000s-era rap. However, there is something to be said for artists just making something that sounds good, even if it doesn’t break fantastic new ground. So, good job by both of them.

All album artwork is taken either from Wikipedia, or in the case of Daft Punk, their official website.


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