Sunday, August 22, 2010

SpongeBob SquarePants 1.3 (Jellyfishing / Plankton!), 1.4 (Naughty Nautical Neighbors / Boating School) & 1.5 (Pizza Delivery / Home Sweet Pineapple)

[I continue to make my way through my SpongeBob Squarepanets DVDs...]

I think I may have gotten Michelle into the show. Well, not quite, but she wanted to do some cross-stitching this afternoon and I put this on, showing her "Bubblestand" as a sample episode. She enjoyed it (but didn't like SpongeBob's bubble blowing technique!) and was amused that I laughed so hard at Tom Kenny's "Bring it around town" rendition. She watched episodes 1.4 and 1.5 with me after that, and enjoyed parts of it. That's better than I expected for some reason. She did agree with my Looney Tunes/classic cartoon comparison.

Episode 1.3 (Jellyfishing / Plankton!)

The relationship of the sentient beings in the SpongeBob underwater world and the 'animals' is an odd one. SpongeBob has a pet snail and chases after jellyfish, which are treated like violent butterflies. Why are these creatures non-sentient? What makes a sponge or plankton inherently more advanced? Granted, there are hints of intelligence, but that's standard for this sort of thing. The bottom line is that there's a divide here and it seems somewhat random. Now, if it were only fish that were sential, I'd get it. Despite there being dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of species of fish, there's a common link there. Throw in dolphins and whales, and you're set. But why lobsters and crabs, but not snails? Why starfish, but not jellyfish? It's somewhat baffling.

"Jellyfishing" and "Plankton!" didn't blow me away. "Jellyfishing" basically had SpongeBob and Patrick torturing Squidward for no reason, while the jellyfish come off as both victims and total dicks. Some nice gags like the opening music, but not one I really enjoyed.

"Plankton!" introduces the show's main villain: a small, green, evil plankton named Plankton. He owns a rival burger place to the Krusty Krab called the Chum Bucket and his quest in life is to obtain a Krabby Patty to analyse it and reproduce it with the hopes of putting the Krusty Krab out of business. It's pretty inane stuff and, really, shouldn't be that hard to accomplish. But, of course, it is. I like how Plankton revels in his evilness by playing evil, bombastic music at the end of his evil monologues. SpongeBob not realising he's being controlled by Plankton was funny since it makes you wonder what his internal world is like. He must be used to his body just doing as it wishes.

Despite "Plankton!" being a 'big' episode, it doesn't feel like a proper introduction to Plankton. It's too small scale. Too wacky. The plot is the sort you expect for his third episode, not his first.

Episode 1.4 (Naughty Nautical Neighbors / Boating School)

There's a nice recovery with these two episodes. "Naughty Nautical Neighbors" is a simple morality play, while "Boating School" shows SpongeBob in the outside world a little more. They both play up the physical humour well. In the first, Squirdward is annoyed by the fact that SpongeBob and Patrick are having fun, sending messages to one another via bubbles, and he ruins it by creating his own messages. As a result, he soon has the two of them competing to be his best friend. In the second, SpongeBob wants his boating license, but can't pass the road test because of nerves.

"Naughty Nautical Neighbors" reminded me of sleepovers when I was a kid. I don't know how everyone else's sleepovers tended to go, but it was common for me (and my sisters and on The Cosby Show, too) for there to be a fight with my friend, causing ten to twenty minutes of hating one another before making up and forgetting that there was ever any problem. It didn't happen every time, but it seems like it did. Kids are weird like that. You hate someone, you like them again... I got in a fight once in the first or second grade when a friend was being mean to my sister, but we were best friends again when he accidentally knocked out a loose tooth (meaning I'd get Tooth Fairy money). That's what happens here. A stupid little argument seems like the end of the world for SpongeBob and Patrick, but they eventually make up and it's like there never was an argument. It was all stupid minor shit. No worries.

"Boating School" has a fantastic moment where Patrick is helping SpongeBob with his road test after they shoved a radio in his head, so Patrick could tell him what to do while watching through a telescope. I'm slightly bothered by the idea that Patrick is not only a good driver, but he's good enough to guide SpongeBob from miles away. But, the road test is almost over the poor, beleaguered woman, Mrs. Puff, that teaches at the boating school is so happy that SpongeBob has finally gotten over his nerves that she wonders aloud how it could have happened, laughing the entire time -- and she describes the Patrick/SpongeBob scheme exactly. Except she's laughing and SpongeBob is laughing, too, until she mentions that would be cheating.


SpongeBob freaks the fuck out. He's cheating. He's cheating! He just flips his shit, starts screaming "I think I'm cheating!" over and over again, loses control of the car, and crashes. Sometimes, SpongeBob is such a child.

Episode 1.5 (Pizza Delivery / Home Sweet Pineapple)

"Pizza Delivery" coming right after "Boating School" had me thinking that they just did two boating-related stories in a single episode. I lost track of how many stories I'd seen, so it seemed like a nice continuation, of sorts. It still works that way. SpongeBob and Squidward have to deliver the first ever Krusty Krab pizza right at closing (mostly because it's a chance for Mr. Krabs to make some money and that's what he loves most). Things go wrong when Squidward makes SpongeBob drive. All he has to do is back out of the parking space. Instead, he begins backing up and keeps on backing up until they run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. What ensues is them lost, tired, SpongeBob saying ridiculous things that he heard the pioneers did, Squidward wanting to eat the pizza that SpongeBob insists is for the customer. It all culminates in them finally delivering it and the customer being a giant asshole, claiming that SpongeBob forgot the drink he ordered despite not ordering a drink. When it nearly breaks SpongeBob, Squidward shoves the pizza (in the box) down the guy's throat.

This is a nice classic premise of characters stranded in the middle of nowhere. SpongeBob annoys Squidward while clinging to his faith in serving the customer. We get to see SpongeBob pushed to the limit of sanity as his idealism is nearly crushed by the reality that some people are loud, boorish assholes. Squidward shows his softer side by protecting SpongeBob from his awful truth. This was a needed episode as it at least established that Squidward isn't all bad. We had hints of that in "Naughty Nautical Neighbors" when he was enthused/surprised at SpongeBob wanting to play him some music (until SpongeBob played, of course...).

"Home Sweet Pineapple" does little for me. SpongeBob's house is eaten (or, more properly, drank) by nematodes. It's an amusing idea that never really works after it happens. I enjoyed the nematodes drinking the house and, somehow, that meant objects inside were drank, too. After that happens, SpongeBob looks forced to move back with his parents, but tries two things first: building a new house with Patrick and, then, staying with Patrick. Neither work out. Both have the odd decent gag, but, like I said, it never really works entirely. It's a fine, decent, average sort of episode. The solution at the end is eye-rolling.

More as I watch them...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE Smackdown 08.20.10

I guess I didn't discuss last week's episode at all... ah well. Some quick thoughts:

* I'm not loving the Dolph Ziggler/Kofi Kingston feud. I'd like to actually see a clean finish to a match. The matches have been fine, but neither guy is delivering stunning performances yet. I had hoped they would really up their game at SummerSlam this weekend given the event's history of fantastic Intercontinental Championship matches (for some reason, I always think of SummerSlam as the IC belt's PPV), but booking kind of fucked that up.

* Hmm... now Matt Striker is insulting internet wrestling fans. Considering a big part of his fanbase as a commentator is that audience, it seems odd. Or, McMahon has a giant bug up his ass about the IWC. That seems to be in the air right now with the people running the WWE and TNA, I guess. Then again, I can understand the WWE taking that stance since it's got a solid fanbase outside of that group... TNA, though...

* I really do like LayCool. They have their act down.

* Glenn Jacobs (Kane) has upped his game on the promos. His work tonight was the best yet. Confident, emotional, delivered perfectly. I want to see Jacobs taking up stage acting once he retires. I've thought for a while that wrestlers interested in acting should look to plays since their talent as speakers is performing in front of a live audience and emoting on a large scale. It seems like a nicer fit than film or TV, honestly. It's why backstage segments never work as well as they should.

* "Dashing" Cody Rhodes is awesome. He just is.

* Enjoyed the Drew McIntyre/Christian match. Not convinced that Christian going over was the right move entirely. Not sure what to think of a Rhodes/McIntyre alliance either. We'll see how that plays out.

* Alberto Del Rio was decent in the ring against Rey Rey and getting the win is big. We'll see how long this push lasts.

All in all, a fine episode.

Edit: Forgot about the mixed tag match, which was Serena's first match at this level. I liked her in the ring. She isn't amazing, but she looked just as good as a lot of other Divas who are with the company... and have won belts... Her doing a variation on the Go to Sleep was exactly what I wanted and my first instinct suggestion for a name is the 'Stomach Pump.' Not a fantastic name, but it suits the SES. Also, it occurred to me that, with Tiffany suspended, Smackdown currently has one active face Diva. Four heels, one face. Wow.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SpongeBob SquarePants 1.1 (Reef Blower / Tea at the Treedome) and 1.2 (Bubblestand / Ripped Pants)

It's something of a joke in my family that I like SpongeBob SquarePants. Somehow, even with the comics and the wreslting and the other geeky things I like, SpongeBob stands out. I simply find it to be a funny, inventive cartoon that has a shot of standing amongst the best of all time. A bold statement, but having just rewatched the first two episodes of the show, it's an easy statement to make.

I've decided to do short posts as I work my way through the DVDs I have (which is up through the first volume of season four plus The SpongeBobe SquarePants Movie) and discuss whatever occurs to me.

Episode 1.1 (Reef Blower / Tea at the Treedome)

First off, the DVD doesn't break the show down into the episodes it aired as, it simply presents each segment/story on its own. I'm grouping them together to try and get a sense of how they work within the context first shown.

Second off, this episode is missing a key part, the pilot of the show, "Help Wanted." It's not included on the first season DVD for copyright reasons of some sort. It does show up as a bonus feature in the third season set, so I'll discuss it then. Why? Because I am too lazy to switch DVD sets. Plus, while I'm trying to replicate the original airing feel, I also want to see how it works on DVD.

"Reef Blower" actually works very well as a first episode in an insane way that probably doesn't actually work. It's the show's only silent episode, which is part of the charm for me if it were the first exposure to the show that someone has. Something I always enjoyed about Looney Tunes and other classic cartoons was the mixture of regular ones and silent ones. The focus on visuals to tell the story completely is interesting and shows off how creative the makers of the cartoon are. Since SpongeBob is very strong visually, I'm kind of surprised they wouldn't do the occasional silent segment... then again, that probably doesn't play well with executives or, possibly, the voice talent.

This story revolves around Squidward noticing a piece of reef on his lawn and tossing it onto SpongeBob's. SpongeBob responds by usins his reef blower to get rid of it. This creates problems for Squidward as SpongeBob blows sand all over the place. The final result is SpongeBob's property looking great and the rest of the neighbourhood (especially Squidward's lawn) having big sand piles.

You get a good sense of the show's over-the-top antics with SpongeBob using his reef blower. One part that sticks out is the blower breaking and requiring some extra muscle to pull the ignition cord, so SpongeBob drags it a few blocks, let's go to wipe his hands off, but the cord stays in place, so he can be pulled back when he grabs it again. Basic visual gag, but done well.

"Tea at the Treedome" introduces Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel that lives in Bikini Bottom and acts, intially, as something of a love interest for SpongeBob. Sandy is a strange character in that she's a squirrel that lives at the bottom of the ocean and is apparently from Texas. Not exactly the sort of character you'd expect on a show like this. She walks around in a deepsea suit. The conflict comes when, in an effort to impress her, SpongeBob claims he loves air, not knowing what air is. His best friend, Patrick (a starfish) confuses it with 'airs' as in 'putting on airs' and instructs SpongeBob that he needs to act classy, mostly by holding his pinky up -- the higher the pinky is, the classier he is. When SpongeBob goes to Sandy's dome, he immediately begins to dry out, but tries to hide how awful it is from Sandy to avoid spoiling their time together. The dried up version of SpongeBob is pretty well designed. You also get to see the timing of the show as they often hold back those extra few seconds before having SpongeBob act to create some anticipation. His constant fakes towards diving into Sandy's birdbath to get rehydrated is fantastic as they keep teasing it and teasing it, making the payoff all the better. They also show their willingness to go beyond traditional animation when we see SpongeBob and Patrick both completely dried out and replaced with a real sponge and starfish.

All in all, the first episode (minus "Help Wanted") has some good gags, mostly predicated on visual storytelling. That's an area I find a lot of cartoons fall down on, but SpongeBob kicks it off with lots of wacky, over-the-top visuals.

Episode 1.2 (Bubblestand / Ripped Pants)

"Bubblestand" has some really funny character bits:

* SpongeBob trying to build a stand to sell turns at blowing bubbles quietly and not accomplishing anything.

* Patrick having to keep borrowing quarters to purchase a chance to blow a bubble and, then, lessons at blowing a bubble. For added humour, SpongeBob bites the quarter he lends Patrick after Patrick returns it as payment to see if it is a legitimate coin.

* The amount of time they spend on Patrick trying (and failing) to blow a bubble is insane. It never seems to end and it becomes awkward almost.

* SpongeBob's bubbleblowing technique is horribly involved, which makes it funnier. His pelvic thrusts while yelling "WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!" and his 'bringin' it around town' circular hip movement are highlights.

* A second punchline to the technique comes when SpongeBob blows intricate bubbles that also produce sound effects.

* Squidward dismissing the bubbles as pointless and childish before being tempted to blow some himself is done well. You can see him debating it in his head (not literally) and, when he goes to do it, SpongeBob and Patrick are there to charge him a quarter. He blows sad bubbles that fall to the ground immediately. In his frustration, after doing SpongeBob's technique he creates a giant bubble by screaming into the blower.

SpongeBob is insane and childish, while Patrick is a bit more serious/even more childish, and Squidward plays off both well. It's also hard to get Tom Kenny saying "Bring it around town. Bring it a-rouuuuund town!" out of your head.

"Ripped Pants" is a weaker episode, but deals with an idea that some could use against the show: running a joke into the ground. Jealous of the muscular Larry the Lobster, SpongeBob tries to lift some weights (well, a stick with marshmallows on it) and rips his pants. It gets laughs, so he keeps doing it until it doesn't anymore. It just bores people and, eventually, annoys them. This show sometimes runs jokes into the ground in a similar way, so this episode acts as a pre-emptive critique of sorts. One notable bit is the use of a musical number with a song produced by the Hot Olives, a group that occasionally opened for the Beach Boys. I used to say that SpongeBob SquarePants reminded me of Family Guy in its technique (the willingness to draw a joke out through extended silence, to break from traditional visuals/storytelling, and how it will go off on a tangent or run a joke into the ground through repetition) and this episode shows that off quite a bit.

So far, a decent start to the show. It hasn't stuck to the same characters too much beyond SpongeBob and we haven't even seen the Krusty Krab (though it was introduced in "Help Wanted"). I like the shorter stories/segments as well. I'm looking forward to watching more.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Smarkass Reviews: WWE Royal Rumble 2009

I've been to two WWE live shows. The first was an ECW/Smackdown tapping on May 6, 2008 (ECW aired that night, Smackdown aired on May 9) in London, Ontario, and that was really fun. The second was the 2009 Royal Rumble in Detroit after Michelle got us tickets as my Christmas/birthday present. I was very excited since the Royal Rumble is my favourite PPV of the year. I love the Royal Rumble match and how it kicks off the stories leading to WrestleMania. Seeing it live was insane. Since I'd been to the show, this was also the first PPV I bought on DVD, so I could have a permanent reminder of that night. The night itself was fun, but cold. Cold and Michelle had hurt her ankle, so she couldn't walk too quickly. But, it was great. So, let's take a quick walk down memory lane...

Match #1: ECW Championship Match -- Jack Swagger (C) vs. Matt Hardy
How far we've come in a year-and-a-half. Pretty much everyone involved in this match is on Smackdown now, including Tony Chimel (ring announcer) and Matt Striker & Todd Grisham (commentators). They talk up Swagger's potential and, yeah, I'd say he lived up to some of that. The ECW title was huge, physically. I loved that belt -- the final, silver version they had. This match was fine. Nothing special really. You could see the beginnings of Swagger's ability, while Hardy did a good job in making Swagger look decent. Odd moment when Hardy goes for a moonsault and it was one of the worst moonsaults I've ever seen. Nearly botched entirely. This was the sort of match I hate: a guy wins the belt just before the PPV, so he's going to retain automatically. More about giving Swagger a chance to do some PPV work than anything else.
Winner and STILL ECW Champion: Jack Swagger [**1/2]

Match #2: WWE Women's Championship Match -- Beth Phoenix (C) vs. Melina
Wow, a Divas match that didn't constantly make me cringe. This was a good effort by both women and has one of the few memorable Divas spots: Beth Phoenix bending Melina's leg back and using it to beat Melina in the head. For some reason, the ref broke that up and I can't figure out why except that if it continued much longer, Melina would have lost right there and then. Melina won and looked pretty good doing it in the upset. Fun fact: for Halloween in 2008, Michelle and I dressed up as Beth Phoenix and Santino Marella.
Winner and NEW WWE Women's Champion: Melina [**]

Match #3: WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match -- John Cena (C) vs. JBL
The story here was JBL employing Shawn Michaels after Michaels lost all of his savings in the economic crash of 2008. Prior to the match, JBL promises Michaels all of the money JBL would have paid him over the course of his employment, a release from JBL's employment, and a Royal Rumble spot if Michaels makes sure JBL wins the belt off Cena. After JBL leaves, Michaels turns and there's the Undertaker to say "Sometimes, it's Hell trying to get into Heaven." Nice tease for their WrestleMania match. This match was enjoyable. Cena started strong, but JBL's brutality and the odd distraction from Michaels shifted things JBL's way for a lot of the match. The big moment came when JBL accidentally nailed the ref with a big boot and Michaels entered the ring, delivering a superkick to JBL and THEN! hit one on Cena, too. He put JBL's body on Cena and went to the back to get a ref. But, he took too long and Cena kicked out, hit the FU, and retained the belt. A solid, entertaining match that set up the match at No Way Out between Michaels and JBL.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: John Cena [***]

Match #4: No Disqualification Match for the WWE Championship -- Jeff Hardy (C) vs. Edge
Hardy had won the title (his first world championship) the previous month in a triple threat match against Triple H and Edge. Prior to this match, Vickie Guerrero (then-Smackdown General Manager and 'wife' of Edge) came out and made it a no DQ match. This match was a fun one to see live, because I'm a fan of Edge, but not a Jeff Hardy fan really, so I cheered Edge and booed Hardy. This little kid, maybe eight or nine sitting in front of us noticed and it blew his mind. He looked at me and couldn't fathom how someone could cheer for Edge, while also booing Jeff Hardy. For the rest of the match, we would cheer/boo for our respective people while giving looks to one another. Yes, I started a feud against a little kid at a wrestling event (in good fun, I must add). This match was really strong, I thought. Hardy was motivated and both men worked their asses off. There was a spot that tells you everything you need to know about the Jeff Hardy character: he jumps off a ladder through the announce table on Chavo Guerrero, who was at ringside. Yeah, he risked an injury and getting beat down to take out someone other than his opponent. Hardy in a nutshell. This was also the match that finished the big story of someone trying to take Hardy out permanently. It was apparently supposed to be Christian's return to the WWE, but that's what everyone assumed, so the WWE swerved and went with... Matt Hardy. Yet another example of McMahon choosing 'surprising' over 'good.' It didn't make much sense when Matt nailed Jeff with a chair and it didn't work as a feud, but it would have made sense with Christian. I wonder how it would have played out with Christian instead. Nonetheless, a better match than I remember. Hardy looked especially impressive. It puts his recent work at TNA into perspective a bit.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: Edge [***3/4]

Match #5: Royal Rumble Match
I'll do this one bullet point style.

* The match began with Rey Mysterio and John Morrison. Watching it tonight, I ranted about Mysterio being a chickenshit pussy coward. Michelle disagreed. What? He is! He attacks people without notice and runs away. He spends most of the Royal Rumble on the ground, clinging to the ropes. He always relies on being the 'underdog' to act as a reason to not stand up and fight with honour. He acts like a heel most of the time. It's funny how people love him.

* Before the first entry, Mysterio was on the ground, clinging to the bottom rope.

* Number of people in the match no longer with the WWE: five (Carlito, Mike Knox, The Brian Kendrick, Shelton Benjamin, and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan) plus Rob Van Dam, but his appearance was a 'one night only' thing, so that doesn't count. Still, a year-and-a-half later and 20% of the people in this match aren't with the WWE anymore.

* I assume that Cryme Tyme were given the spot being held for Shawn Michaels in case JBL won the belt, because they needed to flip a coin to see who would enter the Rumble. JTG cheated and used a double-sided coin. Thus began Shad seeing that it needed to be his tyme.

* Kozlov enters the match and immediately eliminates the Great Khali. It's funny to see old Kozlov stuff where he was booked as a threat. Now? He teams up with Santino.

* Pre-"Dashing" Cody Rhodes is not nearly as awesome as "Dashing" Cody Rhodes, but his confrontation with Goldust was fantastic. Goldust makes both Rhodes and Ted DiBiase look like bitches until Randy Orton walks over, hits the RKO, and instructs Cody on how to toss his big brother over the top rope, while DiBiase gets his ass kicked behind them. The Legacy storytelling was great.

* Kane enters, kicks tons of ass until it's just him and the Undertaker standing. They look at one another and resume kicking everyone else's ass.

* Cody Rhodes skins the cat, like, 39 times in this match.

* The Big Show enters at #30 and has a staredown with the Undertaker until Kane comes out of nowhere to punch Big Show in the face.

* Santino is in! out already...

* Man, I miss The Brian Kendrick. I like his character (when he appears) on TNA now, but the funny dancing and singing along to his own entrance music? AWESOME. I've made Michelle laugh many times by doing Kendrick's little dance with his arms out at his sides.

* JR and the King could barely keep up at a few times because, like, half of the 30 guys were in the ring at one time.

* The final six: Big Show, Undertaker, Triple H, and all three members of Legacy. The four 'groups' were in a corner.

* The Big Show is the definition of a sore loser as he eliminates the Undertaker after he was just eliminated. Baby.

* Rhodes and DiBiase act as cannon fodder, so Orton can eliminate Trips for the win and, then, he fails to find his mark to set off the fireworks and conclude the show.

* All in all, a very entertaining match. The right guy won and I loved the use of the Legacy faction. One of the few times it actually accomplished anything.

Winner: Randy Orton [****]

Show Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE Smackdown 08.06.10

Shit, son, I haven't discussed Smackdown in a month! Perhaps that's because Smackdown has been kind of boring. I watch it and find I have nothing to say except for the odd bit of outrage at how the shit with Rey Mysterio and Jack Swagger played out. If the WWE's goal was to make me loathe Rey Mysterio, mission accomplished. I understand their need to make the current world champion an underdog because he's a small little man, while Jack Swagger is bigger than he first looks, but... come on. Swagger pretty much spent two hours holding Mysterio's ankle in the Ankle Lock. It was on so long that it was hard to believe that Rey Rey could walk, let alone wrestle. I'm not one to call bullshit on wrestling for guys coming back from injuries or beatdowns, because, if it were realistic, it would be MMA and that shit is boring. (Yes, real violence is either repulsive or boring. It either last too long and becomes a grotesque self-parody where you wonder why two people would do this to themselves, or it's so short that you wonder why you even bothered... I prefer fake violence where there's a point to it.) But, at some point, you have to wonder if they considered that they oversold it to the point where it became unbelievable. It did for me. So that made Smackdown pretty uninteresting for a while.

Then there was the Straight Edge Society looking like shit because of the Big Show. The WWE threw away the unmaskings of CM Punk and Joey Mercury for reasons that no one can explain. The SES seemed to get it together a bit this week, but I still think they need one more member: an existing wrestler who is converted to the cause through feuding with the SES. Then they'd have the right numbers to take a world belt, a secondary singles belt, the tag belts, and a woman's belt. Maybe this is just the dip before the SES rises to the top? I doubt it. (Possible candidates for conversion: MVP, Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne, maybe even Yoshi Tatsu...)

I am digging "Dashing" Cody Rhodes. The new gimmick seems to have given him a purpose and direction he's been lacking. His match against Matt Hardy this evening was one of his best singles matches. He was focused and acted his character in the ring. He just needs to push it a little further and he'll be golden. I suggest he makes an obvious show of going for pins where he can watch it happen on the screen. I'm reminded of the scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman is having sex with two hookers and spends much of it admiring himself in the mirror. More of that, please. Rhodes should change positioning of moves so he can admire them. More of him watching the screen post-match to see how great he is. Maybe give him a valet or assistant to hold up a mirror during matches so he can watch himself. It could become too cartoonish, but it needs that little bit more.

Dolph Ziggler winning the Intercontinental Championship was a smart move. The finish was odd since the distraction from Vickie didn't actually help him since Kingston never went for a pin. In fact, Kingston never would have hit Trouble in Paradise if Vickie had been a distraction on the outside for Ziggler. I want to like Ziggler more than I actually like him, sadly. He never really wows me in the ring.

Drew McIntyre, on the other hand, has been impressing me lately. He's been better on the mic and in the ring since that deportation/visa bullshit. His inclusion in the Rey/Kane stuff was odd, but worked out well. Aside from Rey doing his usual routine of getting the shit kicked out of him for ten minutes straight and then winning after hitting four moves. The more I watch Rey Mysterio, the more I don't believe him. I did like McIntyre attacking Rey's image as a hero by pointing out that he doesn't do anything that doesn't benefit him. Rey's insistance that various things weren't his business made me turn to Michelle and go "That's not Spider-Man's philosophy." Real heroes don't need it to be their business -- they make it their business.

I did enjoy LayCool outsmarting Teddy Long with their breakaway Women's Championship belt.

All in all, an alright episode, but nothing that blew me away. I do like them playing with the taped nature of the show and including music/videos in the promos more. When Rey first said the Undertaker's name and we got a quick flash of images, I wanted that to happen every time his name was said. Not really, but it would have made me laugh.

One question to end things: where was Jack Swagger? I missed him and his All-American ways.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Forgotten Favourites: That's My Bush!

I don't actually have a lot to say about That's My Bush!, the short-lived 2001 sitcom made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the duo behind South Park. It only lasted eight episodes, based partly on the huge cost of making it and, well, not many people giving a fuck once they realised that it wasn't a show actually making fun of George Bush. Everyone assumed it would be, but it turned out to just be a sitcom making fun of sitcoms. A little insular and such a curveball from expectations that I can't exactly blame people for not jumping on board, but, fuck it, I'll blame them anyway.

It's a remarkably stupid show full of lame, obvious jokes... but it works. It's meant to be stupid. It's only eight episodes, but they seem familiar because of the sitcom tropes Stone and Parker use. You've seen these stories a hundred times before, just not with these specific characters. There's the 'have to be in two places at once' episode or the 'trapped in an elevator' episode or the 'overhears a conversation and misunderstands what's going on' episode. It's all shit you've seen before, coupled with a random political issue that doesn't really mean anything, it's just that Bush was President and that was his day-to-day life.

Originally, Stone and Parker thought that the show would be about Al Gore with it being called "Everybody Loves Al." The show was pitched prior to the 2000 election, making Bush as the lead somewhat unexpected. Though, I do think Bush lends himself better to that likeable buffoon role.

The cast are all made up of sitcom types:

George is the likeable buffoon father/husband. He's well-meaning, but selfish at times and kind of dumb. See... well, every dad/husband in every sitcom. Ever.

Laura is the seemingly more intelligent mother/wife. Not necessarily smarter than her husband, she's just accepted as such. She acts as the moral barometer much of the time except when it's one of her own personal failings that is the centre of the episode.

Maggie is the sassy maid. Karl Rove is the sleazy workaholic. Princess is the dumb, hot bimbo. Larry is the annoying neighbour always willing to lend a hand.

The use of types is important as it allows Stone and Parker to work in shorthand. They don't need to really develop any characters, they can jump right in with no explanation ever. All you need to know is that Bush is President and be able to recognise all of the characters for their types. While you can argue that sitcom characters have some depth (and I would), the only characters here that offer any sort of complexity are George and Laura (though, Laura less so) and even that isn't much. It's all surface; all artiface.

Stone and Parker say that they constructed episodes in a fairly simple manner: combine sitcom stock situation with random political issue, then write the first half of the episode as a sitcom and the second half as farce. It's very effective with the first half setting up the situation, while the second half over does it so much that it collapses in upon itself. By the end of the show, it had become a parody of itself almost with a finale that had Dick Cheney get George fired, take over the show, and force Bush to seek work in the world, resulting in him running through a variety of sitcom parodies (The Jeffersons, Welcome Back, Kotter, Cheers, and Just Shoot Me...) before the status quo is eventually restored. What makes it even better is the inclusion of new opening credits with every new job.

Included within this framework is the Stone and Parker sensibility where they add cruder, more surprising touches to these stock characters and situations. When Barbara Bush arrives for an episode and the story is 'mother-in-law hates son's wife,' her hatred to Laura is so over-the-top, resulting in long, prolonged insults about Laura being a two-dollar truck stop whore or saying that she can smell the 'man jam' on her breath after accusing her of cheating on George. Or, the crazy mix-up episode has Laura worried that George finds her vagina digusting, while he discusses putting down their 24-year old cat (the unstated connection being that both plots involve concerns over an aging pussy, of course -- I'm kind of surprised they never used that word). The butting heads of these familiar, usually tame stories and characters with these harsher, more 'mature' elements creates an interesting tension that makes the show legitimately funny much of the time beyond its parodic nature. The surprise of the subjects of the plots creates laughs. George's punchline (with which he'd end every episode) is the perfect example of this: "One of these days, Laura, I'm gonna punch you in the face!" It's said with affection, but is so direct and harsh in its parody of Ralph Kramden's 'moon' line that it can't help but amuse (slightly).

As they say in their commentaries for the show, Stone and Parker didn't think the show would have had much to say after these eight episodes. It works for a limited amount of time, but would grow tired and stale after a while -- mostly because of its lack of depth. It's so superficial that the final episode is almost all farce, getting through the premise in the cold open.

If you love (or hate) sitcoms, it's worth checking out.