The Kids In The Hall

The 80's and 90's nostalgia wave has struck again. This time, it has resurrected the Canadian cult sketch comedy The Kids In The Hall. I love The Kids In The Hall, but if you had asked me if the comedy of the group of 60-year-olds would hold up after 30 years, I would have said that I would be skeptical. At least, that would have been before I saw one of their live acts when they performed in Vegas. To my surprise, it held up! So I was uncharacteristically optimistic about this particular nostalgia reboot.

The group has, after all, continued to perform together all this time. All five members have returned for the Amazon Prime reboot, which is technically being considered the sixth season of the show, which is still being produced by Lorne Michaels, in cooperation with Broadway Video, as if it had never stopped production at all.

The Kids In The Hall - resurrection © Amazon
TV and movie studios are still digging up old nostalgia properties from the 80's and 90's.

But the truth is that it had stopped production. For almost 30 years. The kids aren't "kids" anymore. They're all around 60 years old. The humor has shifted to being more about growing old, the changes in culture and technology, and plenty of self-deprecation. The opening skit is a prolonged joke that, after selling a video cassette of Brain Candy (the Kids In The Hall movie from 1996) at a yard sale for a single looney, the movie had finally broken even, thus greenlighting Amazon to literally dig the show up from its grave. This imagery of the backhoe digging up the grave of a dead show from the early 90's is just so perfectly on point and sets the tone for much of the rest of the season. Other sketches from the first season include Cathy and Kathie sending the last ever fax, old businessmen adjusting to having Zoom meetings, and a sad apartment dweller fixating on how things just aren't what they used to be.

The Kids In The Hall - how do we men make money off of gender parity? © Amazon
Don Roritor plainly asks
"How do we men make money off of [gender parity]?"

A lot of comedians have been walking on ice for the past few years whenever they joke about race, gender, #MeToo, cancel culture, and so forth. The Kids take on these subjects as well, but manage to do so in their trademark absurdism that somehow manages to make it feel less mean-spirited, less out-of-touch, and less like they are trying to deflect from their own personal guilt. They are sensitive to the issues, but still able to poke fun at them without punching down at any individual or marginalized group. For example, there's a bit about an office worker being fired for "cultural appropriation". And in yet another perfectly on-point bit, Mark McKinney's corporate executive Don Roritor point blank asks a panel of women how white men like him can profit from gender parity, to which the women reply matter-of-factly "you can't. That's the point."

The individual episodes are all kind of hit-or-miss with the individual sketches, as was always common with this show. The absurdism either lands, or it doesn't. But when it does, it lands so smoothly and perfectly that it more than makes up for the misses around it. I think the second episode was the peak of this reboot for me, as it's "drop average" sketch had me almost crying from laughter. This episode also features the Queen of England cutting the ribbon on a monument to Canada's last gloryhole, an adaptation of the "Imaginary girlfriend" sketch from their live show, and ends with a bit about masturbating during Zoom meetings.

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Star Trek Strange New Worlds

CBS and Paramount are finally learning. After years of trying to force some offensively awful Star Trek down our throats, they've finally given us something palatable. Well, I guess that's not entirely fair. I actually like Lower Decks. But Lower Decks is a self-parody animated comedy, so it's not really "serious" Star Trek, even though it's far more worthy of the franchise than the first season of Discovery or Picard.

Well, now Paramount+ also has a live-action Star Trek show worthy of the name, in the form of Strange New Worlds.

The first episode of Strange New Worlds is much more in-line with what I expect from a Star Trek show. I already talked up the virtues of an episodic format in my Lower Decks review, but focused mostly on how the self-contained nature of episodes allows some to be bad without dragging down the entire season or series with them. But the episodic nature of Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds also highlights another fundamental advantage of the episodic format: those self-contained episodes can tell more high-concept stories.

Star Trek Strange New Worlds - past mistakes © CBS
Strange New Worlds is about learning from past mistakes and getting better.

The first episode of Strange New Worlds isn't the most creative or the highest of concept stories, but it's a serviceable story that is true to the spirit of classic Trek, and I'll be spoiling a lot of its plot in the coming paragraph. A first contact goes wrong, and the Enterprise has to be called into rescue the missing crew of a small scout ship. They find a pre-warp civilization that learned to reverse-engineer a warp drive from observing the events of Star Trek: Discovery. Except these people didn't use the technology to build a propulsion device; they're using it to build a weapon that they plan to use to end their own civil war. Realizing that Federation activity has already influenced the cultural development of the planet, Captain Pike decides that General Order One (the non-interference Prime Directive) does not apply. He choses to share the history of Earth's World War III (which this series assumes lies in our real-life immediate future) in an attempt to convince the warring factions to reconcile instead of risk mutual destruction.

Put simply, the first episode of Strange New Worlds differs from Discovery in that it is about preventing a war instead of starting one. It's about learning from the mistakes of past history so that they aren't repeated. And it's a stark warning of what might go wrong in today's society if political tensions don't cool off, without having to depict a future for humanity in which no social progress seems to have happened at all.

It's the type of forward-thinking story that I like about classic Trek, but which is absent from Discovery and especially from Picard (well, the first season anyway). Those shows give us a view of the future in which all the same problems that exist today still exist in 2 or 300 years. Strange New Worlds goes back to depicting a future in which humanity has learned from its past mistakes and improved itself. It's the hopeful, optimistic future that I loved from the older shows. I want to see more modern science fiction depicting futures for its audience to aspire to, instead of all the bleak, dystopian settings that dominate modern sci-fi and makes our future feel hopeless.

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I've been sitting out of a lot of movies this past few years due to the COVID pandemic. Even though I'm vaccinated and boosted, I'm just still not comfortable sitting in a crowded theater with a bunch of randos. And if I did go to a movie in a theater, I would wear a mask, and that can get uncomfortable for a whole 2 or 3 hour movie. I could maybe be convinced to go to a theater for a small movie with a mostly-empty theater, but for a big summer blockbuster, I'm just not there yet. So despite being a big Spider-Man fan, and generally having liked the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far, and despite the movie's universal acclaim and praise, I passed on seeing No Way Home in theaters when it released last year. I waited until it finally showed up on streaming, and just now finally got around to watching it this past weekend.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far is that none of them have been terribly surprising. Both Homecoming and Far From Home had pretty predictable plots, with the only real surprise being Mysterio's deathbed public reveal of Spider-Man's true identity. No Way Home does not deviate far in terms of predictability. The multiverse aspect and return of villains from the previous movie continuities was in the trailers, and the fact that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles was one of the worst-kept secrets of any movie ever.

In fact, the only real surprise for me was that this movie did not do the one thing that I really thought that it would do. It doesn't have any new villains -- not even in a bit part. I thought for sure that some new minor villains would show up early in the movie, knowing Spider-Man's identity, and threatening him, May, MJ, and/or Ned, and that would be the impetus for Peter going to Doctor Strange to reset the timeline.

Specifically, I was expecting to see the Scorpion. The end-credits stinger from Homecoming introduced Mac Gargan, who very much wanted to learn Spider-Man's identity from the Vulture. I thought for sure that with Spidey's identity being public, that the opening act of the movie would have J. Jonah Jameson hiring Mac Gargan to become the Scorpion to hunt down Peter Parker and capture or kill him. Peter would defeat Scorpion, but not before Gargan goes too far in threatening Peter's friends and family, leaving Peter with no choice but to go to Strange to help protect the people he loves.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Mac Gargan © Sony Pictures, Disney
I was surprised that the Scorpion did not show up early in this movie to raise the stakes.

This never happens. The impetus for going to Strange is that Peter and his friends aren't accepted into college because the colleges are afraid of the controversy of admitting a known vigilante. It feels like a flimsy excuse for wanting to change the timeline or mind-wipe the entire planet, especially considering that the MCU's Peter has strong connections to Stark Industries, Nick Fury, and the Avengers, and shouldn't have any problem finding ways for him and his friends to have professional lives together.

So I thought the lack of Scorpion was a huge missed opportunity. It would have raised the stakes, provided some act 1 action, and allowed for the inclusion of a new character. It also would have served as a red herring for the movie's trailers by letting Disney show some action scenes with a villain, while trying to keep the rest of the villain roster a secret for as long as possible. Maybe this was part of the original plan, but Marvel axed it after a version of Scorpion showed up in Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe they didn't want to look too similar to Spider-Verse?

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If you want to depress yourself going into the new year, go ahead and check out the movie Don't Look Up on Netflix. It is categorized as a "dark comedy&qout; -- a parody of modern politics and plutocracy -- but it rings so true, and is so frustratingly believable given the events of the past 5 years, that I have trouble labeling it as a "comedy". It induced facepalms and fury rather than laughs, and its pervasive bleakness offers no hope for our future. It feels less like a warning, and more like a eulogy for the human race. And I recommend it so completely.

It's worth watching almost for Mark Rylance's performance of Bash Cellular CEO Peter Isherwell. His send-up of an eccentric tech billionaire (think Steve Jobs meets Jeff Bezos meets Elon Musk) is one of the few outright funny things about the movie that isn't also depressing.

I've read some people online suggesting that Don't Look Up might be this generation's Idiocracy. I'm not sure if I agree with the comparison. Idiocracy has a sort of naïve optimism that makes it charming. It is a stark warning of a possible dystopian future brought on by corporate greed, public ignorance, and the out of control birth rate of stupid people. But while the characters are all idiots, they are at least well-meaning idiots. They could and (more importantly) would do right by everyone else if they only hadn't been brainwashed by corporate propaganda all their lives ("Brawndo has the electrolytes plants crave"). It's a world run by, and completely populated by, Homer Simpsons: dumb, but well-meaning buffoons.

In Idiocracy, the average-intelligence time-traveler from the present gets a high score on an intelligence test, and is immediately sworn in as a high-ranking member of the president's cabinet. After demonstrating that watering crops with water instead of Gatorade will cause them to grow, he is promoted to vice president, and eventually elected president. The people of Idiocracy may be the dumbest humans to ever live, but they still value intelligence, competency, and demonstrable truth. There's a hopeful optimism there that things will get better if they can only be shown the error of their ways.

Don't Look Up - presidential administration
Copyright: 20th Century Fox, 2006.
Idiocracy - president
Copyright: Netflix, 2020.
Don't Look Up is being compared to Idiocracy. I'm not sure the comparison is apt.
Idiocracy is far less cynical and more hopefully optimistic.
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Star Trek: Lower Decks - title

It took me a while to get around to watching this one. After having been immensely disappointed and frustrated with both Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, I was not going to give CBS a single penny of my money. I still haven't watched the second season of Discovery (let alone the third), despite having heard that the second season is an improvement. In fact, I've been so bitter at CBS that I didn't even bother activating my account to stream the second season of Twilight Zone, even though the first season was good enough that I was curious to see the second season. I also didn't bother reactivating my CBS account to stream Star Trek: Lower Decks, even though my partner really wanted to watch it.

I was willing to cut a little more slack for Lower Decks, on the grounds that "surely an animated comedy will not be considered 'canon', so I don't have to take Lower Decks as seriously." But then I started seeing events, characters, and ships from Lower Decks showing up in articles on the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki, and the thought of having to take Lower Decks seriously as canon tanked my interest in watching the show. I wouldn't be able to sit back and enjoy Lower Decks in the manner that I enjoy something like The Orville; I would have to watch it with my critic glasses on, and the baggage of expectations that comes with carrying the Star Trek torch.

I told my partner I didn't want to pay for CBS, so we would wait until all the episodes had aired, do the free trial with a new email address, and binge them all in like a weekend or something. And maybe I'd check out season 2 of Twilight Zone while I was at it. But we didn't keep track of the progress of the show, it fell onto the back-burner, and we just didn't get around to it.

Then, a few weeks ago, a friend offered to let me borrow his downloads of the show, as well as offering pretty high praise. My partner and I still wanted to give Lower Decks a chance, so I accepted, and we watched it.

... And it's ... fine. It's fine. It's OK.

The Best "Trek" that CBS has to offer?

Lower Decks is entertaining enough. It provides a decent laugh here and there. And it's actually telling some high-concept sci-fi stories -- albeit wrapped in a layer of absurdist comedy. As a stand-alone show, without the baggage of the "Star Trek" title, it's perfectly serviceable. It's not quite up to the level of The Orville -- at least not once The Orville had set aside the Family Guy antics and started focusing more on its characters and stories.

Star Trek - freighter
- ST: Animated Series "More Tribbles, More Troubles", episode 5
Star Trek: Lower Decks - NCC-502 freighter
- ST: Lower Decks "Terminal Provocations", season 1, episode 6
Lower Decks remains faithful to the aesthetic of Star Trek, while still establishing its own visual identity.

And you know what, as an official installment of Star Trek, Lower Decks ain't bad either. Lower Decks is certainly the best Star Trek show that CBS has created for its streaming service so far, and definitely [ironically] the most worthy of "canon" status.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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