Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The book on comics

Saw the documentary "Dear Mr. Watterson," about the comic strip "Calvin & Hobbes" by Bill Watterson. Berke Breathed, the creator of "Bloom County," talks about Watterson in the film, and shows a cartoon Watterson drew on a letter to him with a caricature depicting Breathed giving in to the merchandising machine.

When these comics were both being published in their original runs, I was a bigger fan of "Bloom County," because it seemed edgy to me. What the documentary explained, that I didn't realize at the time, is that Watterson was the real revolutionary because he never allowed his work to be merchandised in the form of toys, lunchboxes or anything else. Watterson wanted the strip to stand on its own merits, for all time. That stance appears to have gained "Calvin & Hobbes" a deep and abiding appreciation from fans to this day.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I've been away from keeping up my site jesterjournal.com as much recently, and completely for the past couple weeks. The former because life events have taken over now; the latter because my computer melted down, and it's in the shop right now (so there hasn't been an updated October calendar posted, or new reviews recently).

Wish I could actually put this on the site itself for explanation, but that may take a few more days at least. I wanted to get it out there somewhere.

Anyway, once the technical problems are sorted out, it still will be running on a reduced basis because of these other focuses happening now. But I hope you'll still check it out and refer back to it from time to time.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Big Sitcom Theory

A lot of my family and friends are fans of "The Big Bang Theory" but I really have never favored many of the CBS sitcoms, especially the rat-a-tat, joke-joke-joke Chuck Lorre style ones.

This is a few weeks old now, but I did catch Bob Newhart's guest starring spot on the aforementioned show, and the respected comedy icon had a nice way of slowing down the pace with his performance, holding everything a beat or two longer than normal for the show, and thus making the episode funnier than it might otherwise have been.

Newhart's performance reinforced my point -- a sitcom needs something more than just hammering away with jokes to really be interesting. He injected something else into the proceedings, even on a multi-camera, largely studio-bound show.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Killing Spree

What I put out there with Jester is an intense interest in comedy performance, but I’m just as equally into well-told dramatic TV and film, and have been for an equally long time – I just don’t write about it very often. 

Anyway, I’ve gotten inspired to do so again by catching up to episodes of the AMC series “The Killing,” which returns next month for its third season. I’m currently on the first few episodes of season 2 and thankfully have managed to avoid any major spoilers. (Please don’t tell me any!) I had heard people were disappointed and felt let down that season 1 did not conclude with a resolution of the murder case at the center of the story, but when you marathon-watch the episodes, that doesn’t matter so much. 

From the start of watching The Killing, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorites, the 1990s NBC series “Homicide,” whose creators Tom Fontana and David Simon went on to do the HBO series “Oz,” “The Corner,” “The Wire” and “Treme” (the latter three being all Simon’s), among other works. Despite the mastery of those shows, The Killing, in tone and subject matter, could be called the true successor to Homicide.

It starts with something as small as the credits’ theme music -- airy flutes over percussion that sounds like wood striking wood – and the visuals of abstract close-up colors depicting sirens, rain, a murdered body and other images. The tone of this introduction then bleeds into the action and the story itself. The Killing’s central detectives, Linder (Mireille Enos) and Holden (Joel Kinnaman), parallel Homicide’s Pembleton (Andre Braugher) and Bayliss (Kyle Secor). Linder and Pembleton are the intense, focused ones and Holden and Bayliss are more casual and sometimes screwed-up.

A large portion of Homicide’s first season also focused on the murder of a young girl, with Pembleton and Bayliss chasing several red herrings and dead ends. Some of the criticism of The Killing – admittedly I had to skim it to avoid spoilers – sprung from fan frustration at the way one possible suspect after another was eliminated as a possibility, leaving our protagonists Linder and Holden no closer to catching the killer. In the current television and pop culture universe, audiences have less patience for this type of storytelling than they might have when Homicide aired – hence the online chatter.

Just as Homicide did, The Killing points out that real life doesn’t usually offer the decisive resolutions that the Law & Order franchise, for all its dramatic excellence, still does. With that, The Killing yields great characterizations even in small parts. The detectives’ interrogation of Belko Royce (Brendan Sexton III) and that character’s twisted relationship with his mother recalls a scene in Homicide’s first season about Calpurnia Jones, who kills off husbands and family members for insurance money. The detectives are interviewing her very dim nephew, who reveals, “My wife, Aunt Calpurnia…” You can just imagine the rest.

Aside from this dark comic example, larger aspects of both shows have parallels – highlighting depressed American cities outside the media capitals of NY, LA, SF and DC as their settings – Seattle and Baltimore respectively. The police brass in both shows are mired in department politics and bureaucratic pressures. And when there’s real danger, you really feel it, as when Pembleton is threatened in “The Gas Man” episode and when Linder makes a discovery about mayoral candidate Richmond toward the end of the first season, while at his apartment to speak with him.

With so many parallels, the creator of The Killing, Veena Sud, has got to be a fan of Homicide. Sud previously did extensive writing and editing work on the late, lamented CBS show Cold Case, and undoubtedly is steeped in crime fiction television as a viewer as well.

Even if The Killing doesn’t go beyond a third season – which is still a possibility if the twists and turns don’t continue to stay true to this crime fiction TV standard, it’s already made a mark as a classic piece of work, and an inheritor of the Homicide mantle.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Adam Carolla - Dennis Prager evening

While on vacation in Southern California this past week, saw a performance of Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager's touring conversation show at Cal State Northridge on March 16. As a frequent listener to Carolla's podcast, but less familiar with Prager, a conservative syndicated radio talk show host, it appeared to me that Prager, who may be more well-thought out on his own air, lost some of his logic in trying to keep up banter and witticisms back and forth with Carolla.

At one point, remarking on political correctness, Prager said we are choosing between fighting evil and fighting carbon emissions, which is really a false choice. Just because we ought to fight evil, it doesn't mean we shouldn't also be concerned about global warming, or can't be. Prager also pulled up another example of what he believes is liberalism gone too far -- President Obama's admittedly misstated remark, "you didn't build that," made while attempting to explain the benefits government can provide, like an interstate highway system. But again, Prager couched his criticism using a false choice, saying that the same roads liberals want to claim credit for as infrastructure that supports commerce -- are also the same roads rapists use. Well, sure, but society would never build anything if it went by the possibility that it could conceivably make crimes possible on a very tangential basis.

In contrast, Carolla is experienced at making what could be considered political points and doing so humorously, which showed on this evening. Further elaborating on those who allege that there is "white privilege" in society that ought to be compensated, he tells a story of applying to be a firefighter in L.A. when he was 19, and not getting called to take the test for nine years. Carolla decided to go take the test anyway at that point, and of course found minority applicants in line to take the test who had only just applied that week. Skillfully told, as you might agree.

Carolla may enjoy working with Prager and the banter they have, but I expected a bit more after having enjoyed a previously recorded version of this show that the duo did last year, in which they seemed to draw the humor more organically out of their conversation. On this night, Prager sounded more unglued, possibly out of an effort to try and keep up with Carolla's wit, or to be as entertaining or funny, when that isn't really his forte.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Heisenberg - Disney experiment

I recalled that when I went to the Googa Mooga fest in Brooklyn's Prospect Park last May, and wore my Heisenberg t-shirt referencing Breaking Bad, I probably got about 3 or 4 compliments or comments recognizing the show.

Here in Southern California for vacation, on the inevitable Disneyland day, I decided to break out the Heisenberg shirt again.

Granted, there may be a lot more people that I encountered, at a much faster rate, and over a longer time, but I still got more nods for Heisenberg there than in the heart of hipster Brooklyn ... 7 overall. Perhaps Disney patrons are hipper than anyone might have guessed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Die Hard 5 ... as reviewed by my mom

This is just too good not to share:

"I wanted to see a shoot-em-up, destroy the neighborhood movie one time out of curiosity. I will say that in the scenes in the movie where acting ability was required, the actors did a fine job. They all showed ability to carry roles in other movies where more acting would have been required."

I have to say, I think this is the birth of a new movie genre, the "destroy-the-neighborhood" film, where only the barest hint of acting is required, no matter how fine a job the actors can do.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cheap Laughs

This story about the UCB Theatre's practice of not paying performers is sparking controversy among comedic performers in New York. I wonder what everyone thinks and who's right. Please write me or feel free to comment on this post.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Amy Schumer: Mostly Sex Stuff

I had wanted to also publish a full-length review of Amy Schumer's latest special, "Mostly Sex Stuff," this week, but demands of work, school and also fighting off the same cold everyone seems to have and can't get rid of have kept me from getting to it.

Have taken a look at most of the hour though, and can say that this time around, her performance is more interactive with the audience, and more exclusively drawing on sexual topics but presented with the dark twists also heard in Anthony Jeselnik's material or the style also used by others she's touring with this season on a package tour (Jim Norton, Dave Attell and Artie Lange).

Schumer's debut, "Cutting," introduced her with strong material. This one is a little less consistent and less uproarious. The material isn't as resonant and doesn't connect as well as Kyle Kinane, subject of the rave review given this week on the site.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Where To See Kroll's Best

I’m very late to it, but rapidly catching up on the FX series “The League,” which features a few UCB-spawned performers, including Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and Nick Kroll, in its well calibrated ensemble cast. And for Kroll, who's debuting his showcase "Kroll Show" this coming week on Comedy Central, it's still probably his best work.

The show began on the marketing hook of being about the travails of players in a fantasy football league, complete with guest appearances by Terry Bradshaw, Chad Ochocinco and other football players and broadcasters. But after its first season, it morphed into being more about the characters’ misadventures, and started to show its pedigree as being created by former “Seinfeld” writer/producer Jeff Schaffer with his wife Jackie Marcus Schaffer. The stories in this half-hour comedy now often reach successfully for catchphrases, just like “Seinfeld” did, and end with utter catastrophic failures of one of the characters’ schemes and plans. 

As it’s evolved, “The League” has definitely reached the upper echelon of TV comedy, with its network-mates, “Louie” and “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” as well as “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Bored To Death” and “Parks & Recreation,” other shows with the same sensibility and pedigree.