Why We Love….In The Loop

It’s election season! Which, just like the football season, is something where the losing team get to claim it’s a close result if they lost by 40 points, and the winners get to claim “nobody can question us” when they win by 4. They both run far too long, consist of people straddling the poverty line claiming “they’re just like us” about millionaires who wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire, and are likely to dominate the news for months on end. Unless you’re The Sun of course, who decided, in the middle of election season, that THIS was the most important bit of news in the world:

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Hold the front page: women have bums!

Due to the standard of political reporting by newspapers these days (which basically consists of “insult the party that our owner doesn’t support) is it any surprise that people are disengaged with politics? Almost every election now, no matter who wins the results are the same; the largest section of the results belong to non-voters. This is particularly weird when you look at some of the most dominant TV shows of this millennium; The Thick Of It, Veep, The Daily Show are some of the most well-regarded comedies ever made. It’s the same with drama too, particularly in America where The West Wing and House Of Cards are so well liked that if you say you don’t like them you’re likely to get thrown out of whatever room/building/spaceship you’re in. This shows that it’s not politics that people don’t like, it’s the state of politics. It’s like how if you refuse to eat rancid food, it’s not because you don’t like food, you just hate the option offered.

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So, this film in particular. A spin-off from the aforementioned The Thick Of It, featuring just four of the same characters, yet most of the same cast. This film gives a wonderful yet bleak view of what it actually means to be a modern politician; often thrown out of your depth, being put into no-win situations by other people, going from debating going to war whilst in Washington one week, to discussing someone’s garden wall falling down the next. This isn’t glamorous, it’s not sexy, it’s certainly not aspirational.

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Adapting a TV series to a feature length film is never easy, the path to successes like The Naked Gun and 21 Jump Street is littered with the corpses of Guest House Paradiso, Magic Roundabout, and countless Saturday Night Live films. This film works though, and I think part of that is because it uses different characters but the same actors. So you have actors who know the best way to play their roles, but new viewers don’t have episodes worth of character development and history that they need to know to enjoy the film, everyone starts on equal footing. The returning cast are in an odd position, people like Chris Addison now have to act alongside established acting behemoths like James Gandolfini, and the British cast more than hold their own. It also helps that it’s REALLY well done, the plot of this is extremely intricate and well developed. I spoke a short while ago about how you can have Friends on in the background and still get the gist of what’s going on, you definitely cannot do that with this. In fact, to be honest I’d recommend not even sneezing lest you risk missing someone’s facial reaction which then sets up the next plot development. If you don’t pay attention to this, you will be confused, actually even if you are paying attention it could still confuse you, but in a good way. Not in a “the screenwriters have no idea what they’re doing” way, in a “there is so much subtext in every line that I think I misread someone’s intentions”. It’s also REALLY funny, endlessly quotable, not just the political lines, there’s one line in particular I’ve always loved and will probably adapt to a facebook status at one point:

“Have you ever seen a film where the hero is a builder? No, because they never fucking turn up in the nick of time.”

The political stuff also works really well; where you have American and British politicians deciding whether to go to war based on dubious intelligence (good thing THAT’s not still an issue right? Right?). This film is actually quite rare in that it doesn’t present politicians either as evil, or as crusaders against evil. They’re just people who are put into situations they don’t understand by their bosses, which is something everyone can sympathise with. This somehow does the impossible, it makes politicians human. For that alone it deserves accolades, and for everything else, it deserves adoration.

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Oh yeah, it’s also kind of sweary, but never in a way that comes off as crass and infantile, which is a really fucking hard thing to pull off.

Why We Love…Arrested Development

I think it’s best summed up by a sentence I heard which compared this and Big Bang Theory: one is a dumb comedy about smart people, one is a smart comedy about dumb people. This is probably one of the smartest sitcoms that’s existed, if not “the” smartest. It’s not a show you can watch in the background. I remember many hours playing Football Manager in the early 2000’s (actually I think it might have been Championship Manager, but that’s not important right now), and I’d always have Friends on in the background, because that show is the epitome of background noise, you don’t need to pay to much attention to it, you can just have it on in the background and tune in and out, not really missing much (in fact I’d say you can probably start watching any episode halfway through and immediately figure out what’s happening). That’s definitely not the case here, you have to pay attention to it, it’s pretty much the only sitcom I can think of which feels like it a written test at the end of the episode to test how much you remember.

 

Related to that point; thank God for netflix. This is a binge-watching show. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like watching this one episode a week, there’s so many call-backs and running jokes running throughout the series that I feel unless you watch them in quick succession you’re at risk of forgetting certain things; you’ll still find it funny, but not as much as you could. It could be because I’ve binge watched it that I, personally, find it difficult to remember specific episodes. The episodes are so interlinked and connected that it can be difficult to differentiate between them (with the exception of the fourth series where each episode focused on a different person). Although this itself turns out to be a good thing as it means when you want to watch a certain moment you usually have to watch two or three episodes to get to it, by which point the show has pulled you back in and you have to watch every episode again.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have great standalone moments. Do you have access to the internet? Then congratulations, you’ve almost definitely seen a gif or screencap from this show. Including two which everybody should have stored up so they can post them as reactions to certain news items:

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80% of news items are made funnier by those reactions (the other 20% are mainly football scores). You may have noticed this blog has been a bit different to the ones I normally do about this kind of thing, it’s more rambling, less coherent, a bit more like it’s been drunkenly written at 1am. That’s because it’s really hard to get across how great this show is, it almost transcends sitcom and stands alone as it’s own thing. It’s achieved a cult status and devotion that many shows would love to have (only sitcoms I can think of in the last few years to have achieved something similar are It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Community). So you want to know why you should watch this show? Go up to a fan of it, and ask about it, see the excitement and genuine excitement in their eyes as they talk about their favourite moments, the passion they talk about this show with. Or, just watch the damn show in preparation for the new series.

Why we love…Adrian Mole

Today is 10th April 2017, three years to the day that Sue Townsend passed away at the age of 68. While she did write other books, (The Queen And I in particular is brilliant) it’s Adrian Mole that she’ll be forever associated with. `They’re the books that basically got me into reading. That and Horrible Histories are the books I can remember from my childhood that I still keep today (well I say childhood, I was about 10 when I started reading them). And it turns out I’m not alone in that (well, the Adrian Mole books anyway, sadly not enough people read Horrible Histories). I remember when she died, i spent the day browsing the comments section of websites and searching on Twitter, finding many people who had a similar experience: they read the books as children, liked them and had it kick of an appreciation of literature, read them again as adults, loved them.

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What started as just one book a family member told me to read has no spread out into a love of literature for which I am glad. I have read books that made me laugh, books that made me cry, and books that changed the way I view the world, and it’s all because of a fictional pretentious teenager from the Midlands. It was the first time I saw a main character who didn’t have the characteristics of a main character. He wasn’t popular, he didn’t have any skills, and (despite what he may have thought) he wasn’t very clever either. This wasn’t the story of something amazing, it was the story of something very ordinary, and that in of itself was amazing.

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The books weren’t outright political but simply made a personalised record of politics at the time, which made them political, and this was a theme that spread throughout the series. From the later books where the character writes to Tony Blair to get him to provide evidence that WMD’s could hit Cyprus so he could get money back on a cancelled holiday, to the early books where he frantically searches for the Falklands on a map after hearing of the invasion, only for his Mother to come in and find them under a wayward crumb of cake. It was a weird time in British history, a unpopular female Conservative Prime Minister was thinking of declaring war on a foreign country over the ownership of a small useless island we didn’t need anymore, just to make herself more popular with the tabloid press which started using jingoistic and racial slurs daily.

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Thank god THAT never happened again

What makes the books truly resonate among people is the accuracy of them. We read them and see a small piece of ourselves, and then hope we weren’t that bad, but truthfully a small part of us knows that we were. His poetry was hilariously awful, and his logic a little bit strange

my skin is dead good. I think it must be a combination of being in love, and lucozade”

but for that we loved him, and cringed at the every mistake and misconception (of which their were many). It’s an odd series to binge-read as you read basically his entire life; from a confused adolescent, through to a confused single father with prostate cancer. You see the character grow before your very eyes, and see how not only the character develops, but how the world develops too. We see him recall the Iraq War, royal weddings, royal deaths, and his own personal tragedies which everyone goes through; divorces, family deaths and break ups.

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I still remember when the author died, and sadly it was only after hearing that she died that I found out more about Sue Townsend, and it made for sad reading. She had TB peritonitis at 23, a heart attack in her 30’s, charcot joint degenerative arthritis, suffered from diabetes, registered blind in 2001, suffered kidney failure in 2007, and had a stroke in 2013. I read that and immediately felt awful for her, the fact that she continued to write such funny material is a huge testament to both her character and her talent. And whilst I am glad she’s not suffering in anyway right now, a small selfish part of me is disappointed that Adrian will no longer update his diary.

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Why We Love…..A Night At The Opera

I’ll freely admit, despite being a massive Queen fan, this is the only actual Queen album I own. The rest are live albums or greatest hits. I think they have a weird issue when it comes to their songs in that they’ve got so many well known ones. As such when you buy a greatest hits from them it’s got so many songs on it that you kind of forget that they have others because, well, there’s three albums of songs here and you know every one, it’s not like a lot of greatest hits albums where there’s a few you don’t know or don’t like. There’s very few bands/singers who are like that, the only ones that come to mind are Elvis, The Beatles, and possibly Bob Dylan. This album though is the best example of this though as it kicks off with the best unknown Queen song; Death On Two Legs. Anybody who has spoken to me about Queen albums knows how much I love this song and I DESPERATELY want My Chemical Romance to cover this song to bring it to a wider audience. It’s bombastic, it’s musically brilliant, and the lyrics are unbelievably harsh, people tend to think of Queen as a band you can show to everybody, forgetting how damn sexual this band could be at times, and that they sing lyrics (as they do in this) like:

“Do you feel like suicide? I think you should”

This songs lyrics were so harsh that the person it was about (their early manager Norman Sheffield), sued the band for defamation. He won and received an out of court settlement, with the downside of confirming that this song is actually about him. People love other songs, but to me this is Mercury’s finest hour as a songwriter.

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Although this is DEFINITELY his best work as a singer

It’s not just him though, whilst John Deacon only writes one song this album, it’s one hell of a song. You’re My Best Friend is a very sweet and lovely song, despite sounding nothing like a lot of Queen songs, it still sounds like a Queen song somehow. It’s not many bands who can go from bombastic rock through to a slow melodic acoustic number on the same album, and have it not sound like “ok this is our obligatory acoustic song”. Special mention should also go to ’39, a science fiction song that deals with time dilation and Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which for some reason is not that popular a subject among most songwriters, can’t imagine Rihanna doing a song about Fermat’s Last Theorem, although I think Ke$ha could pull it off.

So yeah, this album has such a wide variety of songs that it’s almost like a compilation album, and that is why to me whilst it’s not quite perfection, it’s pretty darn close. Oh, it also features a song called Bohemian Rhapsody which I’d recommend listening to, I can imagine it becoming really popular.

Why We Love…Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

1. The Songs

Start off with obvious here; the songs in this show are really good, and not just “good for comedy music” good, I mean “you will end up with at least one of them stuck in your head for weeks afterwards”. They range from the incredibly catchy, the deeply inappropriate, and the incredibly catchy yet also deeply inappropriate. The songs mean it’s different from almost every other sitcom around. It’s also GENIUS from a marketing point of view. You can post all the adverts you want, yet what is likely to get people to watch sitcoms is word of mouth and personal recommendations. With sitcoms that can be hard to do as you need to find the clip on youtube and send it over (if the show hasn’t taken legal action and got the clip taken down off youtube for breaking copyright. If it was the entire episode I’d understand, but a scene? You’re killing a chance for new people to discover your show), or force someone to watch an entire episode. With this you can go “hey, I’m watching a new sitcom called Crazy Ex Girlfriend, you should watch it” “I don’t know man, what’s it like” “I’ll just send you a song. A quick 3 minute clip that I feel is funny and encapsulates the show yet also showcases the characters in a quick, easily digestible and easily shareable manner”. I’ve got people into this show through my almost constant posting of songs from it.

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2. The Characters

In sitcoms you usually have your typical cliche characters within the core group; you have the ditz, the sexually active idiot, the “couple” etc. This doesn’t really do that, the characters are all snarky, bitter, and messed up. Not just that but holy crap the diversity is astounding. The male romantic lead can best be described as an “Asian Frat Bro”. Also, one of the story arcs of the first seasons is one of the characters coming to terms with his bisexuality. That may not seem like a big deal but there are very few bisexual characters (especially male ones) in television, and the ones there are tend to be either:

  1. Serial killers/sociopaths.
  2. People who use their sexuality for power.

So just having bi visibility in this show is something that’s incredibly progressive, and the fact that’s the case is deeply disappointing and says a lot about the state of current television. That story arc also gives us one of my favourite lines of the show:

“you’re gay? Then why do they call you White Josh not Gay Josh?”

“”They don’t call other Josh “Straight Josh””

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3. The Actors.

Yes, this is definitely Rachel Bloom’s showcase, she’s the lead actress, executive producer, co-creator, and writer, but the show belongs to everybody else just as much. Despite her character being the main character, she’s not afraid to let the other cast members shine, this is more than a vanity vehicle and comes off more like “look what we can do”. Santino Fontana will probably be recognised more for this than being the male lead in Frozen (and I’m glad I still haven’t watched Frozen as hearing a Disney character sing a song about UTI’s would either be weird or brilliant, I’m not sure which). Donna Lynne Champlin gives her character an air of what can best be described as “powerful vulnerability”, whilst Gabrielle Ruiz is thrown into the role of “sympathetic not-quite villain”, and carries it off beautifully, being an ultimately sympathetic character (from her point of view the series is about her downfall), yet one you still can’t like too much.

4. It’s Really Funny

It’s not just the songs that make this show funny, the script is hilarious. Whilst it’s the songs that draw you in initially, it will be the jokes that keep you invested. I was completely sold on this series before the first song (actually within the opening few minutes). Quick background about how I got into this show. I knew absolutely nothing going in, I didn’t know what it was about, what style it was, almost nothing. All I knew was Rachel Bloom was in the poster and I was bored. I got into her after hearing Fuck Me Ray Bradbury in Mitch Benn’s Podcast, two years ago. Since that I’d only really seen her in the deeply under appreciated puppet cop sitcom The Fuzz, but she wasn’t in that as much as she should have been. Then I saw the poster for this and noticed her in it, thought I’d give it a go. Within the opening we see her have a slight mental breakdown at work at the prospect of promotion, run outside and then pray whilst saying “dear God, I don’t pray to you because I believe in science”, which for an American show is a majorly risky firing shot, but hits the target easily. Although I suppose what makes this show more than just a standard sitcom (besides the music, obviously), is the emotion it portrays. Everyone who read my Bojack Horseman review (or has spoken to me for longer than 21 seconds) knows I like funny, but I LOVE emotion in sitcoms. Jokes can wear thin after the third time you’ve heard them, yet good emotional stories will stick with you. I identify with some of the characters here in ways that’s probably emotionally unhealthy (seriously, this song I feel is practically my theme music, but this also comes close). As one person I know said “[this show is] the best musical sitcom about a woman having a nervous breakdown I’ve ever seen”. And that sums it up wonderfully.

5. Season Two Is Out This Weekend (with a new theme song)

Or today if you’re in America (you lucky people). I watched the first season of this on Hulu, but I had to abandon that website when they started charging (you can have either adverts, or you can charge, having both is just greedy and highly user-unfriendly, especially with the amount of problems the website has with shows suddenly skipping back to the beginning and making you watch all the adverts again. It’s a good service for free, but a diabolical service if you pay for it). As such I was unsure of how I was going to watch the second one, would I have to resort to illegally finding it (which is something I have issue with. Although if the show is not shown in the country at all, is that still ethically dubious? Because you’re not taking viewing figures away from them as you have no way to participate to those numbers anyway). But then joy of joys, they announced it will be shown here on netflix, which makes sense as I think it was that which got the show over with people in here, they put the entire first season on a few months ago and people just fell in love with it. Best part is, UK fans won’t have to wait long, the episodes are shown in America on the Friday, then over here on the Sunday (which is actually less waiting time than Hulu, where you’d have to wait a week after airing). So yeah, this Sunday, it starts again, and I begin the process of getting songs stuck in my head on a weekly basis, I can’t wait to handle this in a solemn and dignified manner.

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This will be me this weekend

Why We Love…The Wanderers

This is an odd choice of film for me to write about; it’s not a famous one, it’s not even one that’s talked about by a lot of pretentious media studies types. In fact, I’ve yet to meet anybody outside of my family who knows about this film, I’ve met people who think they know it, but they actually mean The Warrior’s, which I still haven’t actually seen.

This is probably the first film I remember watching at home. My family owned it on video, I say “my family” because I’m not entirely sure to whom it belonged, but I suspect it belonged to my brother, who went through a phrase of watching american gang films such as this, Boyz N The Hood etc.

So why do I love this? It’s odd, as unlike a lot of films from that era there’s not many “hey it’s that guy” moments. In fact the biggest name in this is probably Karen Allen, who most of you will know from Indiana Jones but I know from the infinitely superior Scrooged. That doesn’t mean the performances aren’t good though, John Friedrich as Joey in particular has a certain something which makes his character likeable despite being a bit of a dick.

I do worry that a small part of my love this is based around the music though. This has one of the most perfect soundtracks I’ve ever seen/heard. A good collection of classic 60’s tunes guaranteed to raise a smile (including a song you may recognise from the new Fallout advert). Which brings me onto the next point: this film portrays a definitive change in culture, from the somewhat innocent nature of the 60’s, through to the violence of the 70’s. One of the plot points shows this perfectly: what starts as a bunch of racial slurs in the class room means they organise a gang fight for later in the month, with them agreeing “no guns or knives”, which then gets turned into a football game. It then becomes a lot darker as this game breaks out into the most violent gang fight of the film. The fight at the end is almost the film equivalent of the Rolling Stones at Altamont. Optimism and peace are replaced by violence and despair. At first this sudden darkness seems to have come out of nowhere, and then you realise the undercurrents have been there all along: one of the main character’s has died, JFK has been assassinated, one of the other characters is clearly being beaten by his dad, you just haven’t noticed because of the bright colours and wonderful music. Although it does end with a nice sing song, although it’s taking place at the engagement party of a shotgun wedding so…..

Why we love…Daria

Right upfront this will probably be a bit more rambling than a few of my other posts, as I found it’s hard to talk clearly about something you’ve loved for so long. There will also be some spoilers, so be warned.

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Daria, for those who don’t know, is an animated TV show from the 90s, about the day to day life of social outsider Daria and the eccentric mesh of people in her life. And it is one of the best sitcom-Coming-of-Age, comedy drama thingys ever; or a teen-angst cartoon, as some call it.

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Thank Christ we never saw them in the show! And that they changed the animation.

A spin-off of a character of the far inferior Beavis and Butthead (a show I have never understood the appeal), who thank god never have a cameo. Now what set Daria apart from other shows about people on the outside of the norm, was that Daria was there by choice. She didn’t have overly strange interests, nor had one incident that left her unpopular.

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She was just too smart to care what people thought, and didn’t care letting people know what she thought; leading to one of the sharpest wits in television.

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It got what I felt a lot of teen shows didn’t, that some people didn’t have heaps of friends because the general populares found them too strange, but because they didn’t want the general populares as friends.

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But Daria wasn’t friendless; enter Jane Lane, the spunky artist who can match wits with Daria without being as openly antisocial. And it’s there we have the heart of the show, something woefully lacking in fiction, a straight-up great female friendship- a hoemance if you will.

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This isn’t Mean Girls, this isn’t Clueless, there’s no vindictive undertone to them; they are great friends who get each other, through the lows and the highs and the many many middles. And they teach us the lesson that anything can be solved by pizza.

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Daria also got high school (or secondary school as us Brits call it), well it got middle class suburban high school. It was depicted as dull, but not without its moments of great fun. It was a breeding ground of hormones and terror, but not without those moments of maturing clarity. But what really made it different was how it dealt with teenage issues.

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Having a sarcastic lead that could always bring the chuckles no matter the situation, the show didn’t try to throw them into overly wacky situations (well not all the time), instead dealing with more mature stories in funny ways. Like the death of an asshole student and how people should feel about his death, dealing with your parent’s morality, working out your future, coming to terms with your past mistakes, all that good stuff. And it’s in those moments that Daria isn’t just funny, but offers startling insight into growing up and becoming comfortable with yourself.

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But the show isn’t constantly heavy with its plots; it has plenty of lighter episodes, like Daria and her family getting lost in the woods, the derogatory camping trip, Jane becoming an art forger, The X-files, the musical episode and many sillier things. But the show never loses its voice of the under spoken, unheard teen.

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From left to right: the actual good person who just needs better friends, the really dumb one, the bitch queen, and Quinn

Another thing that made it different from almost every other high school set…well anything, there was no real antagonist. No anti-Daria trying to make her life miserable or out to get her. Yeah, the fashion club and Daria’s sister Quinn can be bitches, but they rarely take focus.

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And the so-and-so popular kids who always seem to fall into the villain slot are anything but here. They’re dumb but there is not a vindictive bone in their bodies; they’re just lovable. The ditsy cheerleader Britney is one of my favorites of the show, who behind her genuine airhead demeanor is surprisingly scheming, if only towards her on and off again BF Kevin.

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The more you know the more you see it.

Beyond Daria and Jane, the rest of the cast are well defined too, with the next most focus falling to Daria’s family. From her parents, the hapless father and hard working mother (who I’ve realized were stolen for Rick and Morty), who desperately just try to work out their eldest daughter. To her bitch Sister Quinn who has one of the best arcs of the series, growing beyond a shallow hub of well moisturized skin to a real person, though that doesn’t really kick in till season 4.

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And they all get at least three or four episodes of focus and development

Then there’s Jane’s slacker elder brother, the perpetually jobless musician Trent, and then….you know what, it has a sodding big cast so I’m not going to go much further, I’ll just say all characters are well put together and even the smaller ones get their time to shine; so go watch it.

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But I will talk about….Tom, who a lot of fans hate, but I honestly I liked; he’s like a male Daria but less cynical. Introduced at the start of season 4 as Jane’s new boyfriend, that season follows the gradual break down of that romance, and the build of one between him and Daria, ending the season with them cheating on Jane behind her back. And for something that a lot of people didn’t like and could have really been done badly, I kind of love it (though I do have a taste for teen bullshit).

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The moment that split the fandom!

Yes it’s falling back into more typical teen drama tropes, but after four seasons of building up these characters as anything but typical, seeing them have to deal with these problems I was completely behind, and as I said they did it well. A lesser show would have done the whole arc in 2-4 episodes or less, but Daria took a whole season to develop Tom and Daria’s romance out.

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I always thought they just kind of got each other. If you can be sarcastic together then you know it’s true love.

It’s always there in the background; Daria and Tom getting closer while he and Jane drift apart. It then of course leads to Daria having a boyfriend throughout the final season (5), and I refer back to what I just said, a typical story can work when done with none typical characters.

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Just some wise words I thought worth ending on.

Actually, that’s not a bad description of the show as a whole, so I’ll end it there. If my rambled thoughts have sold you on the show, then go watch it (where ever you can 😉 ) and if this hasn’t, GO FUCKING watch it anyway, it’s great!

Anyway, next week I’ll try to cover something none animated (but promise nothing).

 

 

 

Why We Love…..Amelie

It’s coming up to a week since the terrible attacks in Paris and the world is still struggling in the confusing aftermath, uncertain of what to say or do. This tragedy is a bit unlike 7/7 and 9/11 though. Maybe it’s because unlike the other two events, this one happened in front of us. It seemed to unfold, not just on national news, but on social media. As it happened people were tweeting about it, facebooking about it etc, letting the world know what was going on as it happened. The world became spectators to a game that they never wanted to see in the first place. Also different are the reactions. Outside of a few people most of the messages are ones of hope. Messages that France, and the world, will get through this. Twitter was overloaded with messages of support, not just for the victims and their families, but also for any innocent Muslims who might end up getting attacked as a reaction to this. The general feeling of this attack isn’t “kill all Muslims” (apart from Trump, who said they should be made to wear identifying badges, in a move that makes it hard not invoke Nazi analogies), instead, the feeling is “Fuck ISIS”. It’s progress. So why is this? I have a theory:

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One of the explosions occurred during a internationally televised football match, and if it wasn’t for the actions of a security guard at the gates of the stadium, it would have been a lot worse. But through doing this, he denied the Assholes an important opportunity (side note: editorial guidelines for this blog dictate we don’t call them “terrorists” as that gives them power over our fear, they don’t deserve that, instead we will just continue to refer to them in whichever capitalised insult springs to mind. We are a media blog, so I doubt this will happen that often). Through this man doing this, it meant there wasn’t a defining image of the attacks. 9/11 had the smouldering towers as well as the man jumping from them, 7/7 had the masked woman being led away from the blast. These images fuelled a lot of intense arguments and hatred, and the Paris attacks lacked that visceral image. In years to come the images we will associate with these attacks will be national landmarks draped in the colours of the French flag. Never deny the important of an image.

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So, Amelie? Why did I pick this to talk about? Mainly, it’s because it is French, and this is my simple way of showing solidarity with a country in turmoil right now. Films and media are important. When people think of Japan they don’t think of the mountains, they don’t think of Karoshi, they think of the food, they think of the films, they think of the music. People associate media with the parent culture. A lot of people’s first interaction with foreign cultures is through their films and it can help define them.

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I feel we also need to mention the awesomeness and inherent loveability of Audrey Tautou

But why this film specifically? Why not Two Days, One Night? Why not the absolute sublime Belleville Rendez-vous, especially in light of Chomet’s brilliant couch gag for The Simpsons. The reason is simple: this film is simply beautiful. Watching this film is like eating a box of Guylian chocolate and feeling it melt in your mouth. It’s not just a story, it’s an experience. It’s something that makes you feel warm inside. But that may just be the whimsical nature of it. It’s one of the most hopeful films you could hope to see, about decency, about the positive side of human nature, about convincing someone to travel by stealing their gnome and getting people to take pictures of it all around the world.

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It’s this sort of whimsy and loveliness that we need to showcase right now. Just as the characters of Amelie needed her, we need this film. We need, well, I think Maximilien Robespierre said it best:

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Why We Love…The Allusionist

As anybody who has ever read any of my scripts would know: I can be a bit wordy. Some would say “super super pretentious”. My method for writing a lot of things is basically: monologues first, everything else, after. On the upside this means that it’s piss-easy to find pieces suitable for audition as can just send one of the auditions over and it’s easy for them to record on their own. On the downside it does occasionally make it seem like all my characters have suddenly appeared from a Diablo Cody film (side note: watched God Bless America yesterday and it had a brilliant line: “fuck Diablo Cody, she’s the only stripper with too much self esteem”).

The other downside is that it can occasionally provide slip-ups for actors. I’ve rejected people’s auditions based solely on a mispronunciation of a film title. And at least once per film I have to explain what a word is. My favourite was when I put the word “defenestration” in a script, actor didn’t know what it meant so in the next draft I put the complete etymology of the word in the script. See what I mean about me being pretentious?

So why am I saying all this? Simple, because of my predilection towards pretentious monologues and obscure words, I’m interested in language. I like finding out how words work and interact with each other. How changing one word can effect the whole flow of a sentence. Sadly most people don’t agree with this so the chances of there being a long running series about language on BBC2 is slim (ok, there was the Stephen Fry show but that was a while ago). As such you have to go to other sources. Enter, the world of podcasting.

The Allusionist is a podcast about language (as you can probably guess from my self-celebratory rant above). Hosted by Helen Zaltzman, (perhaps better known from the Answer Me This podcast), it’s a joyful ride through the history of words you know, the truth behind words you think you know, and the definitions of words you probably don’t. It describes itself as “small adventures in language” which is pretty accurate. Zaltzman has a genuine love for the subject and a warm wit that shines throughout, whether she’s talking about werewolves, baby talk or penis’s, she never wavers and you end up leaving each episode entertained as well as educated. Let’s face it, language can be a tricky subject to make interesting, but she makes it fascinating so you’re never bored whilst listening.  For example, my new favourite fact is that “Tory” comes from the Irish for robber/bandit. I’m sure you’ve already made a joke about that in your head. The average episode is about 13 minutes long so you get through them remarkably quickly.

So yeah, that’s that, The Allusionist is available on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher and TuneIn. Listen, I doubt you’ll regret it. Or just go to the website and read the transcripts here: http://www.theallusionist.org/transcripts/

Where To Start:

  1. Episode 1: not only is the first episode always a good place to start, this episode is specifically about puns, so you can see why it had a special place in my heart.
  2. Episode 4: Lots of swearing, lots of laughs.

Also Listen To

  1. Answer Me This. Helens other podcast, her and Olly Mann (alongside Martin The Soundman) answer user-requested questions. A lot funnier than I’m making it sound.
  2. Skeptics With A K. The Merseyside Skeptic Society discuss everything in the world of skepticism. Very funny, very interesting, and very useful for telling people exactly why homeopathy is balls.