TV RECAP: Agent Carter - Season 2: Episodes 1 & 2

With apologies for the week's delay - as you may have heard, I've picked up some work recently. Before anyone asks: Yes, I've also seen Episode 3 - it'll get it's writeup likely sometime later today.

Anyway...



The first season of AGENT CARTER was a revelation: The so called Marvel "assembly line" spinning-off the CAPTAIN AMERICA franchise with a female-fronted period action drama whose narrative functioned as a series-length metaphor for the forced-backslide of women's rights in the post-WWII U.S.? Even if you'd seen THE FIRST AVENGER and thus knew that Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter could more than carry a show, that wasn't what anyone was expecting. And while the first season didn't precisely stay sturdy all the way through (what should've been a gangbusters finale was undercut by TV budgeting, but only just so) it was one of the worthier editions to the canon by far.

So it's with some trepidation that one approaches the series' second season. Sure, the characters more than deserve to be revisited and there are definitely more stories worth telling, but the first run felt like such a meticulously constructed piece - the right actress, the right character, the right story to tell with her - that there was always going to be some worry that any follow-up might stretch the setup too far: The first season felt like it used up every possible angle in the Marvel-ephemera-as-historical-feminist-metaphor toolbox, so where else might there be to go beyond new villains and more world-building for the broader MCU?

The good news is, it turns out that AGENT CARTER still has a lot to say along with being as reliably fun as ever. The less encouraging news, at least thus far, is that there might already be a sense of diminishing returns involved. Notice I said "might."

Make no mistake, Season 2 starts strong: Carter vs Dottie rematch in the opening minutes? Awesome. The SSR Agents (except for Agent Thompson) now holding Peggy in close-to-fetishistic respect? Good development. Shipping her out to the West Coast to help Agent Sousa with a nascent Los Angeles division? Nice change of pace. New mystery involving (thus far) a secret stash of black-hole creating extradimensional black goo already confirmed to be the (chronologically) first appearance of the not-yet-correctly-named Darkforce? Very cool. Lotte Verbeek as Ana Jarvis? Hilarious character, a great addition. All the misdirection business with the frozen lake/bodies? Good stuff. All told, in terms of technical quality and overall charm, it's basically every bit as good as it was before - one of the most seamless progressions between seasons of a non-procedural I can remember.

And yet... yes, it doesn't quite pack the same level of punch the arrival of Season 1 did. To an extent, that's to be expected: We're in the realm of the familiar now, so there's less sense of discovery on the audience's part. But I worry that it also has something to do with the underlying scenario being not as fundamentally compelling.

Realizing that Season 1 really was going to make it's meta-story entirely about Carter as a stand-in for an entire generation of Rosie's who braced at being told to put down their rivet-guns once the war had concluded was an invigorating system shock; not just because a Marvel show was tackling something so specific but because it's a hugely important moment in modern history that we never really get to see in popular entertainment - to the extent that the only major mainstream movie or series I can name offhand that tackled it previously was A League of Their Own.

By contrast, apart from the end-of-Golden-Age-Hollywood setting, Season 2's big thematic bugbears (so far) appear to be pre-Civil Rights racism (Peggy's new would-be paramour is a Black scientist with pointedly Steve Rogers-esque dorky/handsome vibe) and early signs of anti-Communist paranoia and... well, we've seen both of those before. They just don't feel as novel.

Or at least they don't so far.

Like I said, it's early yet. And even if AGENT CARTER can't always be super-novel in addition to being super-entertaining, well... "just" super-entertaining is hardly much of a negative. It's encouraging to remember that this series isn't cheap to produce, and its being handled largely by powers from the Film side of the Marvel business, so its unlikely they'd spend the time or resources to bring it back if they didn't think they had a compelling reason to. Given how good a job so much of the same team did last time, I'd say it's worth enjoying the fun for now and being optimistic about everything else.

QUICK TAKES:

  • I honestly wish Marvel hadn't been so preemptively eager to inform us that Whitney Frost is indeed a variation on Madame Masque - that would've been fun (if easy) to put together. I expect she'll end up wearing the signature gold mask at some point.
  • I'm going to go out on a limb NOW and say that they're building to a "twist" with Dottie this time around. She's back to early to "just" be a heavy again, why would she be trying to steal an Arena Club pin if she was working for them, she's super-insistent about only talking to Peggy, etc - it doesn't add up. I'm calling it now: She has a good(ish) guy agenda this time, and she and Peggy will be fighting on the same side at some point.
  • Speaking of the Arena Club and/or Council of Nine business, they're logo looks too much like a missing-link in that "devil symbol gradually becoming HYDRA symbol" evolutionary change laid out in AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D to be anything but, right? So the question becomes: Are they HYDRA, or do they and HYDRA just share a common ancestor. At this point, they mainly seem to be standing in for The Maggia, hence the Madame Masque connection.
  • Masque being an "evil" equivalent to Heady Lamar? Good angle.
  • I maintain more than ever that I really want Chad Michael Murray's Agent Thompson to ultimately become an MCU equivalent to William Burnside.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Big New Plans & What They Could Mean To YOU!

Well, hopefully that title was suitably attention getting.

Anyway! Remember that time I wrote a book?



Well, the experience actually worked out pretty good for me overall. I learned a lot about publishing, met a lot of interesting new people, and continue to be making a decent profit off of it. In fact, things went so well that I've been itching to publish a follow-up ever since. And since one of the lessons I've long resisted learning is to recognize my own limitations, I've decided that I don't want to follow-up Brick-By-Brick with just one book - I want to publish a whole bunch of books.

Hit the jump for further details:

So. Here's what's going on. I've recently finished officially acquiring the rights to republish a rather substantial amount of writing that I previously produced both for the this blog and for other outlets, most notably the bulk of my written work for The Escapist including the Intermission and High-Definition film and television columns. I've heard from many fans, viewers and readers over the years that they would like the opportunity to revisit various pieces that I wrote but don't necessarily want to hunt them down in the backlogs of this or that website, or that they'd like the opportunity to support their favorite older pieces in a way that directly benefits the author (since I, like most writers on a work for hire basis, do not continue to receive royalties or other compensation from future traffic on older writing); and I'm sympathetic to both of those desires - and not just for the obvious reasons.

So I've decided to do something about it.

Over the last few months (and continuing) I've been going through this aforementioned backlog of older work and dividing individual pieces out by subject, and have thus far arrived at a point where it looks like I have enough material (after discarding pieces that have either aged poorly or, like many "speculative" pieces, are no longer especially relevant) to conceivably publish anywhere from 7 to 10 individual volumes of collected writing; organized into subjects like reviews, the film industry, geek-culture, video games, interviews and profiles of celebrities, etc.

That's... quite a bit of product.

And to be perfectly honest, it's a more substantial (potential) project than I was originally preparing to deal with, which means its probably going to take a bit more time and effort than I originally expected to get it underway - and that's if it looks like I've got an audience that's receptive to what I'm offering. Hence the purpose of this post: I'm looking for feedback about how best to make this material available to you, my fans and readers.

Make no mistake: This is happening.

I am determined, barring some unforseen disaster, to get a run of books collecting my previous decade of writing out into the marketplace for sale. The question, however, is what that means in terms of the form they are available and how much can be inititially produced. Ideally, I'd prefer to get the entirety of what I've got out for sale all at once, but production costs are a reality and so is the concept of over-saturating one's own market. In other words, it would likely be prudent to release volumes in "waves;" which means determining both what people most want to read, how they'd most want to read it and what the best system for delivering that is.

My original plan when setting up this project was limited to producing a series of ebooks, and that format remains my primary focus given that I'm an independent freelancer and that these, after all, are republications of previously-existing material (though finished volumes would include new introductions and contextual-intros for each entry.) However, as part of my goal of becoming more active on the convention circuit outside of strictly making panel appearances, I am looking to have more physical product/memorabilia to bring with me when I do. 

That means I'll have to find means of producing these volumes in print form, too - easier said than done, since my aim isn't so much to have them on store shelves or printed-on-demand for fans who prefer a physical copy (though I certainly wouldn't be against either) but rather to be able to order copies to sell myself without some kind of obscene markup: FYI, the reason you're able to purchase copies of Brick-By-Brick from me in person at Conventions, occasionally at reduced rates, is because I paid for the printing services myself upfront on the gamble that I would sell enough of them to eventually make that money back (which I did in a shorter than expected amount of time.) That made sense for a smaller single-volume project, but isn't feasible for a bigger enterprise like this particularly in my current (improving, but not fast enough) financial situation.

So what am I looking for right now?

At the moment, I'm mainly looking to get the word out: "Hey a bunch of MovieBob books, get excited!" Could there, potentially, be some a crowdfunding campaign to help facilitate all this at some point? That's definitely a possibility, though there need to be a lot more logistics ironed out before I start asking people for money. Well... money apart from The MovieBob Patreon, of course, as that's still the best way for fans to help ensure that their favorite MovieBob-branded content continues to be produced.

But right now, I'm mainly looking to see if any of the fellow creator/producers in my audience have any advice vis-a-vi getting printing/ebook-formatting done with wide distribution channels without necessarily going broke setting it up - or, hell, maybe there's a publisher out there looking to roll the dice on some eclectic multi-volume entertainment-writing? To that end, here's the basics on what I'm (currently) looking at in terms of eventual product:
  • Between 7 and 10 volumes of work, culled mainly from my near-decade of work for The Escapist but also from my blogs and other sources during the same time period plus new work in some instances.
  • New introductions for each volume and mini-intros for each individual piece of writing, placing the work in context and offering thoughts in hindsight on the work itself.
  • Each volume comprising about 120-170 pages of writing (in standard MS Word doc formatting), not counting introductions, index, etc. Shorter volumes = greater selection at a lower pricepoint, win/win.
  • Volumes covering a diverse array of topics, including but not limited to: Geek Culture, Video-Games, The Movie Business, Film Reviews, Television Retrospectives, Classic Films, Superheroes and more.
  • Each volume tied specifically to the proven MovieBob brand, with the possibility of additional subseries-branding tied to other projects such as "The Game OverThinker" and "Really That Good."
But before anyone gets TOO excited:

At this time, one thing I can say that I know will come as a disappointment to some but I feel I need to be honest about: These will not be "book versions" of Escape to The Movies or The Big Picture. Property-rights work differently for projects like that, and even if they didn't reviews written for spoken-word scripts of that nature do not often translate well into plain text. So while a book of straightforward reviews of recent films is on the "to-do" list, if you're expecting your favorite episode from one of those shows it probably won't be part of the series. That still leaves plenty of reviews to be had from the columns and from this blog, but if you're looking for (for example) the early TRANSFORMERS reviews, they won't be in there. Sorry.

On the other hand, if you remember enjoying reviews like WINTER'S TALE, or the retrospectives of older films related to holidays, sequels, remakes or the passing of famous actors and filmmakers, or pieces like "Re-Tales," "South Park as a Gated Community," "Advice From a Fanboy," "Bat-Mitt vs Obamavengers," etc; that's exactly the sort of material being collected. Also, the Video-Games volume will likely included adaptations of scripts from the early Game OverThinker episodes, as well.

So when can you expect to hear more?

That largely depends on what I hear back. Do you have advice, feedback, questions, etc? Let me know in the comments. I'm excited to move forward with this, and I hope folks are as eager for this material in this format as people have been telling me they are.

Thank you for your time,

- Bob.

2015: The Year SOUTH PARK Finally Got Old

NOTE: The following piece is possible in part thanks to donations to The MovieBob Patreon. If you'd like to see more like it, please consider becoming a Patron.


Let me first stipulate the following to be true, as I see it:
  • South Park is one of the funniest television shows ever created and arguably among the most culturally-significant.
  • Trey Parker and Matt Stone are two of the most gifted comedy writers, in any medium, of their generation.
  • Both the series and its creators would deservedly retain their pop-immortality even if neither entity were to produce a single work of further note (however unlikely that appears to be.)
  • Anyone over the age of 30 writing on the subject of popular-culture in 2015 who declares something else to be “old” is all but certainly asking for at least 1/3rd of whatever they get. 
That having been said…


If Trey Parker, Matt Stone and South Parkhave always better than almost anyone in the business at exactly one thing, it’s preventative self-defense: Few other creators are as consistently reflective enough to anticipate almost any criticism of their work and bake sly inoculative retorts directly into the batter. This is, after all, the same series and creative team that structured their (thus far) sole theatrical outing, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, around the conceit of a busybody helicopter mom unwittingly unleashing an Apocalyptic war with Canada over fury at her son being admitted to an R-rated animated film.

So it was both unsurprising but also a bit worrying when the series’ fifteenth season’s penultimate episode arrived with the title “You’re Getting Old,” telling a story that felt as nakedly autobiographical as any before (which is saying something!) in which Stan Marsh (Parker) finds himself in a state of agonizing depression after being struck with an age-related malady leaving him unable to enjoy any of the hobbies, music, movies or even personal-relationships that once brought him joy. Despite poor Stan’s illness being framed in terms of perceiving a world literally morphing into feces (this is still South Park, after all) it was as sad a half hour of TV as ever produced; and that was before Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” queued up over a pointedly punchline-free finale. To twist the knife further, the storyline’s subsequent concluding episode (“Ass Burgers”) teased the possibility of positive personal-growth from the experience… only to rip it away with a comedically-slapdash hard-reset to zero and a stinging final jab, implying that Stan’s continued “in character” participation in classic-style Park shenanigans with his friends from there on out was to be possible only through drinking himself into a stupor first.

Dark, sure, but also slyly utilitarian: Let no one dare say that any subsequent season carry a sense of creative fatigue or the appearance of going through the motions, lest Parker and Stone (or their legions of fans/defenders) banish you to their Island of Human Punchlines with Barbara Streisand and the Church of Scientology; no doubt cackling all the way. “Ha ha! No duh, genius! We told you that way back in Season 15!”

So it was with an ever-optimistic sense of “maybe they’re building to something I just don’t see yet” that I watched as the show’s most recent season (its nineteenth, i.e. four years out from “You’re Getting Old,” for those keeping track) play out with something feeling consistently… “off.” To be sure, the laughs were still to be had and the craftsmanship was as impeccable (and consistently-evolving) as ever. But there was a sense permeating the air that something in the chemistry – or perhaps the ingredients? – had changed; and as the season-long storyline charged toward its climax (South Park is the latest series to embrace the binge-friendly format of longform episode-to-episode continuity) and a consistent tone, theme and choice of targets began to coalesce in hindsight I could finally give it a name:

Old. The characters, the creators (speaking through them,) the philosophy, the voice of the show suddenly sounds so very, very old.

South Parkhit the popular culture in 1997 with the kind of out-of-nowhere impact that nothing can really have anymore, at the last moment in history when “everyone” (at least as defined in terms of Western TV viewership) would find out about a new piece of media all at once. Whereas today even the most obscure talent can accrue a legion of followers via the internet before finally spilling into the world’s livingroom, what became South Park was only ever a crudely-animated video Christmas card from a pair of malcontent Midwestern comedians being passed around Hollywood by this or that insider (early fans included George Clooney) until Comedy Central – seeking to radically rebrand itself away from a clearing-house for standup-boom overflow and quirky fare like the (then) recently-departed Mystery Science Theater 3000 – took a huge chance on a series order. And while history will undoubtedly remember Jon Stewart’s retooled Daily Show (arriving two years later in ’99) as the network’s most lasting and important contribution to the culture, for a minute there Parker and Stone’s foul-mouthed quartet were the face of new wave in TV comedy.

The show seemed to stumble into greater relevance somewhat by accident. It wasn’t the first animated series to work “blue” or to come under fire for it (even The Simpsons, which feels about as “edgy” as Spongebob at this point, earned protests back in the day) but it felt like the first one to truly lean-into the criticism and thrive as a result. Parker and Stone may have begun with a punk rock mandate to enrage as many as possible, up to an including their own fans (early-adopters scratched their heads at an episode that dropped the scatology for an extended Godzilla/Ultraman pastiche and shocked the creators themselves by not finding it hilarious to have been denied an answer to the question of Eric Cartman’s parentage) but when push came to shove it turned out the duo had a lot to say about politics, media and the culture.

Deviously, since they often said so in the voices of precocious cartoon children, their words were invested with a cutting sense of immediacy: No matter what Parker and Stone had to say, it sounded fresh, new and doubly-transgressive so long as it was coming out of Stan, Kyle, Cartman or Kenny – a nifty trick of the medium not deployed so effectively since Charlie Brown singlehandedly collapsed the aluminum Christmas tree industry, and one that South Park used so cannily for so long that having done so is yet another mark in the series’ favor and further testament to its creators’ skill. It also helped that their other skills included maintaining a Herculean turnaround-time in production and a willingness to remain truly engaged with the culture they were commenting on; debuting episodes about “World of Warcraft,” Game of Thrones, Pokemonand even the election of Barack Obama at their discussion-worthy high points.

But all things eventually recede, and in retrospect it seems almost appropriate that I’d get the sense that mortality had finally come to South Park at the tail end of the same year that also saw Comedy Central’s (by now) more iconic fixtures, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, bring down the curtain on tenures that defined an entire generation of American political comedy if not politics, period. The difference, though, was that Stewart’s Daily Show and The Colbert Report came to an end by their creators own hands – and in acknowledgment that they’d said their piece and it was time to move on. By contrast, what was ultimately so disquieting about this season of South Park was how uncharacteristically non-introspective it seemed to be. Not only did Parker and Stone’s avatars, so much more than ever before, sound like angry old(er) men shouting back at a world passing by; they seemed for the first time ever to be striding ahead completely unaware of it.

For those who didn’t watch (or only peeked,) the season’s episodes were structured around an elaborate conspiracy storyline wherein newly-sentient internet advertisements attempted a They Live-style covert takeover of society, starting in South Park, Colorado. The tendrils of the conspiracy manifested in a variety of seemingly-unrelated ways, from construction of a Whole Foods to the gentrification of the town to the popularity of a subgenre of Japanese fan-art depicting same-sex relationships among male cartoon characters (because this is, again, still South Park;) but by far the most prominent was the arrival of a new major antagonist in the form of “PC Principal,” a school administrator who approached a zealous commitment to a laundry list of social-justice causes with an incongruous bullying macho bravado befitting his stereotypical frat-rat character design. In what will probably go down as the season’s signature episode, PC Principal’s attempt to establish criticism-free “safe spaces” for everyone in town gave rise to a personification of “Reality” in the form of a sneering silent movie villain, who berated the townspeople (but, really, the audience) not confronting the supposed facts of daily life – or, in his words, “Well, I’m sorry the world isn’t one big liberal arts campus!”

PC Principal, of course, made an apparent face-turn to the side of good in the season’s strange, rushed-feeling finale. And some of the season’s other attention-grabbing topical bugbears (police shootings, Donald Trump, Caitlyn Jenner) likely would’ve been targets for South Park even without some sort of unifying season-long theme, with Parker and Stone having always taken particular glee in tweaking the nose of topical progressive causes, particularly those embraced by their reflexively-liberal Hollywood peers. But the inclusion of yaoi (male/male romance) fan-art as the main plot-point of an entire episode (“Tweak x Craig”) helped to crystallize, for me, a theme within the theme: namely that this wasn’t simply South Park returning to Team America: World Police’s well of sneering-back at the smug side of pop-progressivism, but more pointedly two of the leading voices of Generation X comedy taking in the increasing cultural-prominence of Millennials and finally, in exasperation and with an almost suspicious lack of self-awareness, demanding to know, well… “What’s the matter with kids today!?”

Yaoi, of course, is an established art and literary subgenre with a long and complex history in its native Japan, but it’s popularity has come to the West mainly in the form of online fan-art and exploded in recent years on the social-media platform Tumblr, a fact which feels like the key to the whole season if you’re as familiar with internet-activism culture as Parker and Stone clearly are (the platform has played a part in prior episodes of the series.) Moreso than Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr’s reputation has become that of a rallying-point for socially-conscious Millennials, particularly around social-justice subjects like race and gender politics (fairly or not, it’s often framed as the left-of-center opposite to older libertarian/right-leaning platforms like Reddit and 4chan) which Tumblr users often promote via a mutually-supportive meme-sharing culture that thrives particularly at the intersection of politics and pop-culture where South Park once reigned supreme: In 2005, it was amazing that Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny could turn every snarky college kid into an anti-Scientology whistleblower in a single broadcast, but fifteen years later it’s Tumblr that can mass-anoint the latest Disney Princess an LGBT icon halfway through the first trailer – with both phenomena sharing only the occasionally-overzealous righteousness of their advocates.

In online-adjacent spaces, Tumblr often stands in as a rhetorical punching-bag for everyone from outright hate-groups (think the “GamerGate” harassment campaign, or the various arms of Breitbart and Stormfront) to more reasoned blowback from aging Boomer and Gen-X comedians like Jerry Seinfeld (or Chris Rock) bracing at criticism about offensive jokes from “politically correct” Millennial audiences. PC Principal, of course, is a blunt personification of the former, a literal “PC bully” inflicting aggressive punishment on anyone who dares speak or think out of step with an ever-changing ideological purity; what innumerable hand-wringing thinkpieces have dubbed the “outrage culture.”

All of this, especially the spinning of inbound-criticism into a caricatured villain, is the stuff classic South Parkhas previously been made of, but this time there’s a palpable lack of actual connective tissue between the disparate elements (a late-arriving moral about politically-correct speech being “gentrification, but for language” lands with a bizarre, impotent thud in the finale) which is, quite frankly, shocking coming from creators who once turned their rivalry with Family Guy into an occasion to examine freedom of expression vis-a-vi religious parody in the post-9/11 era. Parker and Stone are hardly bulletproof and Park has stumbled plenty before, but the spectacle of a series that rewrote the book on staying evergreen and engaged with the culture it satirized seemingly devoting an entire season to scoffing at the concerns of the rising generation without any accompanying self-appraisal was utterly puzzling – particularly since the self-defense was still there, with PC Principal’s first scene being a monologue about how the town’s (read: the series’) behavior was “stuck in a time warp.”

That’s not to say that South Park (or any other series) has some kind of obligation to keep current with the generational or political winds. Indeed, the show (and its creators’) eagerness to prod the left and right with equal vigor has always been part of its signature. It’s easy to forget, but when the series landed right in the midst of the Clinton 90s (the decade where “political correctness” first became a mainstream phrase) seeing a comedy show with actual youth-culture street cred fire volleys at environmentalism, the “tolerance” push and other progressive-perennials Gen-Xers had been receiving as default-positives from Sesame Street right up through Friendswas part of what made it feel exciting and different. It’s also what won the series a (then) unlikely following on the right-wing, with columnist Andrew Sullivan dubbing circa-2001 young conservatives “South Park Republicans” to the chagrin of the creators; who steadfastly insisted that they (and the show) had staked their claim squarely in the middle: on the South Park moral spectrum, the military/industrial right and the do-gooder left are equal antagonists of the “little guy” who was likely doing just fine until they started bothering him.

Of all the personal fixations and grievances that Parker and Stone contributed to South Park’s foundational DNA, that particular outlook is perhaps the most quintessentially demonstrative of their upbringing in the American Midwest, a region given to seeing itself as caught between the battles of clashing cultural-behemoths; be it the Republican South versus Democrat coasts or merely New York verus Los Angeles as economic power-centers. But it’s also a universally-comforting notion, since almost everyone would like to think of themselves as the normal, sensible person beset on all fronts by absurd extremes – and who, after all, doesn’t prefer stability (their own, at least) to chaos and upheaval? When a protest-march shuts down a city block, South Park’s first instinct is to look past the activists andtheir enemy to cast sympathy with the folks who didn’t ask to be involved but are now late for work all the same.

But the absolute middle is as much a fantasy as the existence of “pure” good or evil, and the problem with “leave me alone” as a philosophical ideal (whether for a cartoon show or a human life) is that you can’t resist upheaval without also upholding the status-quo. And in an era where “change” itself (changes in demographics, changes in society, changes in acceptable language, etc) is often at the forefront of our most divisive discussions, being reflexively anti-upheaval (regardless of the reason) is very much taking a side no matter how much one insists otherwise. This is tricky terrain for any work of satire where immediacy is part of the brand: It gets increasingly hard to be a rock star when you’re the one asking for the music to be turned down.

That’s precisely the predicament where Parker, Stone and South Park have now found themselves, in my estimation: It took a while, but they seem to have crossed the point where their dual central-sympathies – their own self-righteousness and the righteousness of put-upon “little guys” – are no longer one and the same. South Park is The Establishment at this point, and the little guys in perpetual danger of being trampled increasingly look less like the middle-age Generation-Xers who created it and more like the aggrieved rainbow of dissidents making noise on the likes of Tumblr (or out in the streets, for that matter.) And Season 19, by the end, felt like nothing so much as the creators gnashing their teeth at ascendant Millennials moments after the realization of this finally smacked them in the face. “Hmph! You kids today with your hula-hoops and your social justice!”

On the one hand, there’s no rule that says edgy humor is the sole province of the under-30 set: witness the aforementioned Jon Stewart’s career-defining metamorphosis from snarky MTV fixture to the sarcastic gray-haired political conscience of a nation for proof of that. But while it’s entirely possible for comedy (and comedians) to survive or even thrive as in the form of an ever-aging grownup grousing about “kids today,” it’s unclear exactly how South Park would do so. Unlike The Simpsons, which gradually pivoted focus from Bart to Homer in transition from trendy-troublemaker to cultural-landmark stature, Park feels permanently wed to the Main Four as central figures. Family Guy navigated similar longevity-pains (your mileage may vary on their success at such) by allowing creator Seth McFarlane’s self-insert character, Brian, to shift organically from being the moral-center of the series to a narcissistic, out-of-touch grump that nobody likes; but “You’re Getting Old” already took Park’sversion of that kind of character-shift to the logical extreme and back again.

On the other hand, not every act stays potent in advancing age. Once upon a time, Dennis Miller was political comedy’s pre-Jon Stewart icon; a human-thesaurus motormouth whose snarky takes on current-events made his HBO series a kind of proto-Daily Show. But the march of time (and a self-admitted life-altering reaction to 9/11) took his comedy in an angrier, more conservative direction; and to the degree that he’s known at all today it’s for a right-wing talk radio show (recently concluded) and a recurring guest spot on The O’Reilly Factor – a fate far-removed from what the fans who once regarded him as the “thinking man’s” stand-up hero. Granted, it’s unlikely anything so extreme awaits the maestros of South Park(for one thing, they’ve already established a second mega-successful career as blockbuster Broadway musical creators,) but the gap between Miller’s full-throated embrace of Bush-era neoconservativism to the bafflement of his Gen-X fanbase and Parker and Stone’s grumpy cynicism about “Tumblr Generation”-embraced causes like transgender issues feels less and less vast every day; and the spectre of Miller’s fall hangs over every comic who wakes up one day to find themselves as the Old Man when just yesterday they were still the children he’s about to order off the lawn.

The final irony, though, and the one which makes South Park’s Season 19 pivot feel all the more askew, is the particularities of just what about Millennial social-consciousness, Tumblr-activism, “outrage culture” and the rest seems to bother Parker and Stone so much. The grievances bubbling under the season’s narrative-surface are familiar to anyone whose endured a wave or three of Internet blowback against “SJWs” (“Social Justice Warriors”): They’re too angry. They’re never satisfied. They “shoot” first and ask questions later. They demand ideological purity. They don’t respect procedure, or tenure, or institutions. They rant and rave and rage, treat pop-culture alternately like a toybox or target-range and won’t take “that’s not how it’s done” for an answer. They, effectively, act like indignant, infuriated adolescents too charged up at discovering a new power to shape the cultural conversation to bother wielding it any measure of responsibility.

That reminds me of somebody I used to know. Somebody who reacted to worries about how to tell jokes post-9/11 with “Watch us.” Somebody who wasn’t simply unafraid but eager to “call out” everyone from Michael Moore to Christopher Reeve to Tom Cruise. Somebody who’s response to professional-betrayal by a colleague was an eye-poppingly combative “Fine, go – but we’re gonna turn your character into a brainwashed child-molester and then kill him.” Somebody who saw the value in being loud, angry and tactless where it concerned getting one’s point across, and who didn’t merely invite the condescension and hand-wringing of the older generation but actually reveled in it. Sound like anyone you used to know, Stan? Or you, Kyle?

There’s no such thing, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone have always been all too eager to remind us, as an unacceptable target when it comes to satire. But choice and timing of targets can reveal a lot about those picking them, and in turning the full measure of its guns (an entireseason of television) on perceived cornerstones of Millennial culture and, implicitly, on Millennials as a generational-class themselves, South Park would appear to have completed its transition from rebellious “angry kid” firebrand raging at every hint of authority to established, dug-in angry old man shaking a fist at the generation rising up behind it. And while South Park has endured and made fools of its critics before, it’s hard to imagine how you pull out of this particular trajectory when your “brand” has always been blunt-honesty at all costs.

“You’re Getting Old,” indeed.


NOTE: The following piece is possible in part thanks to donations to The MovieBob Patreon. If you'd like to see more like it, please consider becoming a Patron.

What's Going On?

UPDATE: The first of the "new projects" listed below can now be revealed - I have officially become part of the ScreenRant News Team!

You'll find my news items handily catalogued under my contributor tag, HERE. If you want to keep my content chugging, here's a brand new and simple way to do so: Share the HELL out of these posts to social-media, Twitter, Facebook and wherever else you may want to. Cheers!

(original post appears below)

Hello, friends!

So. Some changes are afoot, and it's time for a quick update. This technically should have been up sooner, but I was working a convention all weekend. Anyway...

You may have noticed that there wasn't a new episode of IN BOB WE TRUST this weekend. That wasn't an oversight - there wasn't one produced. IBWT and ALL-NEW GAME OVERTHINKER are both taking a bit of a hiatus. There won't be new episodes of either series for a time, and at this point I can't specifically say when they'll be back or in what form.

Don't freak out.

Here's the thing: The reality of Internet-based original programming is in the midst of a major evolutionary shakeup. As original web creators consolidate and grow bigger, in tandem with major media companies becoming increasingly part of the equation; the old model for web video i.e. self-producers making episodes week-to-week on their own self-determined schedule is gradually giving way to a more traditional TV-style "seasonal" model whereby shows come and go in arranged runs. You'll note, for example, that ScrewAttack's DEATH BATTLE is currently taking its break, and popular series like EPIC RAP BATTLES OF HISTORY have adopted the seasonal model to increase their production caliber and accommodate their live shows.

So it also goes for independent producers like myself: IN BOB WE TRUST and GAME OVERTHINKER were produced for a set run with ScrewAttack, that first run has concluded and now they're on break; while fans of ScrewAttack's broader content-library have no doubt taken note that BEST/WORST EVER and TOP TEN have started back up again. So goes the cycle. I can't say when my two series will return at this point, or in what form: It's possible that IN BOB WE TRUST (for example) might find a different homebase in the interim. It's also possible (again, for example) that you might see me on ScrewAttack with another brand-new series. All I can say on that front is that you should stay tuned.

Especially since that's far from all I've got going on :)

There are (at least) two major new projects I've currently got in production, at least one of which you should be hearing about very soon and another which is going to substantially expand my footprint in multimedia; so stay tuned for news on both of those fronts.

Finally, tops on my 2016 "to-do" list is to replace this blog (which is, I'm aware, very out of date for the kind of operation I'm increasingly running here) with a more functional, modern website. So keep an eye on that as well (especially if you've got experience in building professional sites and have anything to reccommend.)

As ever, while I'm aiming every day to once again be supporting myself and my work through regular employment in my chosen field(s), the new media landscape remains a tricky place in that regard. If you'd like what I'm putting out and would like to help ensure that I can keep providing it for you, please consider joining (or increasing!) support for The MovieBob Patreon.

Stay tuned!

REVIEW: 13 HOURS - THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (2016)

The only thing anyone seems to want to know about 13 HOURS is whether or not it’s “political.” To me, that’s a stupid question – everything is political to one degree or another, and even if you try to not engage in such consciously people are going to read a political dimension into whatever they want to no matter what.

Same goes for the actual events (the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya) being dramatized: There shouldn’t really bemuch of a political dimension to an attack on a diplomat beyond “that’s not how you express whatever grievance you happen to have,” but everyone knows there will be anyway. What makes Benghazi especially irritating in terms of politicized tragedy is that it isn’t even politicized in an appropriate or meaningful way: There are real, serious questions to be asked and issues to be raised about these events, in terms of whether “we” (the U.S./West) should intervene in situations like Libya, why or why not, broader foreign policy, etc; but the only thing anyone in U.S. political circles has actually come to care about is whether or not Benghazi can/will/should be used as a cudgel with which to beat back the presidential candidacy of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Which, of course, begs a question of its own: Who’s going to be more obnoxious about 13 HOURS? Your racist, Trump-supporting/Fox-watching uncle on Facebook – or your overzealous bro’gressive cousin who keeps insisting you “FEEL THE BERN!!!!!” on Twitter?



As such, it would’ve been impossible for 13 HOURS to be fundamentally “apolitical” since even saying “it was sad that these people died” implies (fairly or not) a certain level of sympathy (if not explicit “support”) for they’re having been there in the first place which is essentially the key (non-sensationalized) political issue of the entire incident. And yet the film and director Michael Bay will almost-certainly be given positive marks (even in otherwise negative reviews) for “not being political,” on the grounds that they’ve managed to resist including a cutaway of a fiendishly-grinning Hillary explicitly ordering her underlings to feed the Americans to attackers before tossing a symbolic plastic army-man into her cartoonishly-oversized fireplace while lounging on a blood-red velvet couch sipping martinis with Huma Abbedin.

Not that it matters, of course: The mere existence of 13 HOURS as a button-pushing action-melodrama designed to make you sad (Michael Bay has somehow managed to go 11 movies before finally presenting a scene of an American flag being slow-motion shredded by a terrorist machine-gun) will likely be more than enough to guarantee that Fox, talk-radio and the Breitbart thugs to order their low-information hinterland acolytes to symbolically pack theatres over the next few weeks. Which is sort of darkly amusing, since the main thing that will end up distinguishing 13 HOURS from previous recipients of artificial right-wing box-office-inflation like PASSION OF THE CHRIST and AMERICAN SNIPER is that 13 HOURS isn’t a complete a total piece of shit.

It’s certainly not a great film, don’t misunderstand: This isn’t an especially well-made or important film, but it is a engaging and technically-superior action film that serves as a reminder that whatever else you think of Michael Bay when he shows up to work there are just certain things he does better than anyone else in the business; and lavishing near-pornographic love on depictions of high-end military machinery and the men wield it doing what they’re (both) built for in extended action setpieces is one of them. Whether or not it’s ghoulish to use a major recent tragedy like Benghazi as fodder for what’s effectively BLACK HAWK DOWN: THE ALL MONEY-SHOTS VERSION, it’s hard to deny – this guy can shoot the hell out of a firefight.

Dramatically, though, it’s another matter entirely. I don’t know or care to know Bay’s politics, but whatever they are the film stops short of assigning specific blame for the lack of manpower/support that dooms the victims of the attack apart from infrequently hammering that yeah, someone probably should have sent more men and/or guns. Apart from that fact being a likely disappointment to the Fox News crowd and a relief to the Clinton campaign, it’s net-effect for the film is that there’s an lack of dramatic tension visceral enough to compliment the action: Morally reprehensible or not, the “Evil Queen Hillary cravenly sacrified Our Boys to The Enemy!!!” version of this story would’ve at least been more narratively compelling than “Fighting men get the shit end of the stick – what else is new?,” which is where 13 HOURS decides to plant its slow-motion waving flag, save for the (theoretically) notable detail that there’s aren’t your typical fighting men.

Indeed, the one respect in which 13 HOURS opts to feign toward novelty is in offering what’s likely the first unambiguously-heroic portrait of private military contractors (read: mercenaries) in a modern/post-9/11 setting. In lieu of focusing on the diplomatic outpost housing ambassador Chris Stevens (the initial target of the attack), the story centers on a team of soldiers-for-hire stationed nearby as security for a covert CIA operation that’s technically not supposed to exist; a scenario which briefly threatens to present an intriguing dillema: These guys have the firepower, manpower and proximity to potentially rescue the diplomats and hold back the attack; but if they go active they risk causing an international incident by revealing their and The Agency’s technically-illegal presence in Benghazi.

Unfortunately, neither Bay nor the film seem particularly interested in any real exploration of that. The mercs are our heroes because they’re story has the most action-ready material and because they allow what would otherwise be a grueling siege/survival horror show to be fronted by quintessential embodiments of the Michael Bay hero: Hulking slabs of muscle hauling immense high-end weaponry with faces concealed behind indistinguishable beards and varying styles of mirrored sunglasses, with any potential narrative shading regarding their war-for-profit employment status repeatedly undercut in favor of reminders that they were soldiers, SEALs, Marines, Rangers etc beforehand.

Instead, the drama sets up a disappointingly rote dichotomy between the mercs and their CIA/State Department charges on an overstated-feeling class-divide: The Agents are all snobby, Ivy League-educated know-it-alls who are overconfident that they’ve “got this” and don’t need these boorish musclebound cavemen around getting the way; while the warriors are all noble, jovial ‘bros overflowing with common sense and working-class resolve, with David Costabile in the Walter Peck role as a dismissive/arrogant CIA Chief.

Sure, one get’s what they’re going for here and it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a growing respect/experience divide between soldiers and those issuing orders in the 21stCentury military, but 13 HOURS version of it is Saturday morning cartoon-level business, to say nothing of how it (however inadvertently) plays into the stereotype of American soldiers as low-intelligence brutes when in fact U.S. military enlistees are (percentage-wise) better educated than the civilian population overall. It also, unfortunately, means that Chris Stevens is basically a non-entity in the story: They obviously can’t include “the” martyr of Benghazi among the snob meanies, but Bay clearly has zero interest in the heroics of anyone who isn’t hauling the latest and greatest in munitions or who doesn’t look like one of the guys from Altered Beast one power-up away from werewolf-mode; so Stevens is relegated to being a symbolic MacGuffin of only slightly greater import than the aforementioned bullet-riddled flag.

Still, once the actual siege and shooting gets underway and Bay is in his element, it’s hard not to be impressed. There’s enough deliberate chaos on display (that no one seems to know what’s going on or how to discern enemies from local-friendlies is a recurring theme) to mistake some of the bigger moments for examples of the time-filling hyperactive nonsense that clogs up the TRANSFORMERS movies, but overall Bay has seldom had better restraint and control of action geography or composition. The firefights are among the best-looking since ACT OF VALOR (though here going for glossy, high-contrast stylization as opposed to stark realism) and the big blowouts are seriously impressive – though it may have been a miscalculation to blatantly recycle the infamous “bomb’s eye view” shot from PEARL HARBOR in a key moment. It's enough to make you wish, again, that Bay actually had something to say with all this - especially when you run into interesting but out-of-place feeling sequences like the "fun" he seems to have with the idea that the attackers are wielding heavy-arms they don't actually know how to use versus a sudden left-turn wherein the anonymous enemy casualties are mourned by their loved ones.

In the end, I almost found myself wishing the film was actually worse so there’d be more interesting things to say about it. As I said before, if Bay was (visibly) setting out to make the anti-Obama-but-really-anti-Hillary hitpiece many assumed 13 HOURS would be, there’d at least be no shortage of material to chew over; and since the AMERICAN SNIPER crowd is all-but assured to treat it like one anyway so we’re going to drown in thinkpieces no matter what. Someday, Michael Bay is going to land on a story that actually compels him and also lines up with his aesthetic impulses and surprise everybody, but this isn’t the one.

2015 Oscars - Whatever

So we're doing this again? Okay.

This is a frustrating year for the Oscars, which is to say more frustrating than previous years where you're at least garaunteed the spectacle of being annoyed that no one can seem to decide whether to name each year's show for the (current) year that the ceremony airs or the (previous) year that the nominated films are from, which only becomes more confusing as we proceed on into this continuing business of many of the nominees not coming out beyond NY or LA qualifying runs until February or later. Instead, this year's added frustration is about a lack of obvious "villains" - as ever, there are plenty of snubs to be bitter over, but not a lot of obviously "bad" calls to redirect that bitterness onto.


Well, almost none. Pretty-much every nomination for THE DANISH GIRL could be handily scrubbed, and the Acting noms are overstuffed with "Award Fave" names turning in middling work (Cranston, Fassbender) - which is puzzling, since everyone is so sure DiCaprio is finally going to win (Christian Bale "Dude, here you go - now dial it back, we'd like you to make it to middle-age!"-style) they could've easily packed some more interesting choices in around him just for show. Meanwhile, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett wound up with the Best/Best-Supporting split for CAROL, which will now accelerate the debate over what to do about nominations for romance movies where two partners have equal-scale roles in an era where we're only going to see more same-sex pairings; which is interesting because I have no idea what the solution is.

The elephant in the room will once again be a look of diversity in the major categories, though I'd (gently) offer that it's less of a surprise this year: Like it or not, The Academy was never going to nominate TANGERINE and Academy Boomers by and large likely looked STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON and wondered why they'd received a screener for something that looks/sounds to them indistinguishable from RIDE ALONG or a FRIDAY sequel - sucks, but there it is. BEASTS OF NO NATION wasn't going to get in because there's a substantial animus on the studio/producer side of the industry toward Netflix's potential negative impact on the theatre business. The "Great Brown Hope" for 2015 would've been CREED, and the studio never understood what they had with that movie until it was too late: They figured they had a "budget" answer to the STAR WARS/JURASSIC WORLD nostalgia-sequel trend at best, never once considering that Coogler and company were going to deliver one of the year's best films.

Anyway...

BEST PICTURE:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Sucks that CAROL isn't here, ROOM is overpraised, otherwise hard to be annoyed by any of this. BRIDGE OF SPIES will be retroactively declared the best movie of 2015 once people see it, a'la SHAWSHANK in '94. Glad to see two sci-fi movies make the cut, rooting for THE MARTIAN, won't be as annoyed as some others when it turns out to be SPOTLIGHT, worried that THE REVENANT will win because Innaritu's ego is quite big enough as it is, thank you.

BEST ACTOR:
Bryan Cranston - Trumbo
Matt Damon - The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl

DiCaprio is going to win, though he already should have for WOLF OF WALL STREET. This is probably the worst major category this year: Cranston and Fassbender were both middling to miscast and Redmayne continues his streak as the most overpraised flat-out bad actor working.

SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Christian Bale - The Big Short
Tom Hardy - The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo - Spotlight
Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone - Creed

I feel like Stallone has this, "win for the career" style, even though he was legitimately excellent in CREED. But Rylance wowed everyone in BRIDGE and The Academy loves theatre mainstays who make late cinematic bows, plus BIG SHORT is the big out of nowhere Awards Circuit darling of the year and The Academy does love Christian Bale.

BEST ACTRESS:
Cate Blanchett - Carol
Brie Larson - Room
Jennifer Lawrence - Joy
Charlotte Rampling - 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan - Brooklyn

This feels like where Blanchett will win for CAROL being "snubbed" otherwise. Jennifer Lawrence (or at least her "people") are likely praying that she doesn't get it, with JOY being widely dismissed otherwise and the backlash-bomb primed and ready now that "My daughters really love Katniss" isn't going to be there to absorb it anymore.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara - Carol
Rachel McAdams - Spotlight
Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs

I feel like this is going to Vikander. The movie is bad, but she's good in it and (more germane to the discussion, sadly) she's the current-model "smokin' hot chick who can actually act" for the Awards Circuit. My preference would be for Leigh to take it, both as HATEFUL EIGHT's only major representative and because if we're going to hand DiCaprio an Oscar for having a rough shoot on REVENANT an actress who also spent most of a Western being cold, blood-drench and beaten-up.

BEST DIRECTOR
Adam McKay- The Big Short
George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Innaritu - The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson - Room
Tom McCarthy - Spotlight

It's bullshit that Ridley Scott isn't here (to say nothing of Spielberg!), but that's what happens when A.) everyone already knows you're great and B.) you opt to not actually DO anything great for almost a decade. Miller is the sentimental favorite here, but I'm feeling like this is going to McKay. BIG SHORT has been really well-recieved and he in particular is a popular, well-liked figure in the industry for awhile now. Just please, please not Inarritu again - and I liked the movie, too!

CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Hateful Eight
Sicario
The Revenant
Mad Max: Fury Road
Carol

Should be MAD MAX, will probably be REVENANT, HATEFUL could sneak in because fellow DPs adore the 70mm revival. Honestly they're all worthy choices here, not a bad pick in the bunch.

EDITING
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

MAD MAX should take this one walking away, but I have a suspicion that STAR WARS is going to roll right over all the technical categories.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

Tough one. Had been feeling like this is where CAROL would get it's "sorry for no best picture" heat, but The Academy clearly really, really loves THE BIG SHORT.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

SPOTLIGHT will take this one. Would prefer BRIDGE OF SPIES.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

Good lineup. I honestly, at this point, think INSIDE OUT is actually marginally better overally than ANOMALISA, but I think ANOMALISA will win based on animation folks loving the idea of the medium getting to bask in Kaufman's "grownup indie" cred - plus the movie is really good.


The Academy Awards will be take place February 28, 2016.

NEVER FORGET

RIP David Bowie: 1947-2016

No words. This one hurts. This one really hurts.

Much Needed

If you're like me, about 2 years ago you considered THE VENTURE BROS one of the Top 10 TV series ever to air. And if you're like me, you imagine you'd probably still feel that way when Season 6 (finally!) starts airing later this month... except it's been so long between seasons this time you've pretty-much forgotten where the narrative left off - which is kind of a big deal, since THE VENTURE BROS went from making fun of dense comic-book style mythology to actually having a super-dense mythology of its own (has there ever been an attempt to mock longform continuity where that didn't happen?)

Fortunately, those concerns have been heard: Just like they did for the similarly-stalled Season 4, Adult Swim has released a continuity catch-up reel hosted by Gary/Henchman 21:



Well, I'm pretty-much psyched again!
 
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