Podcast! The Comics, Episode 160 – Grandma Bait

Contains Cougar Town, at last!

This week’s episode is brought to you by Goodwill Industry of Alberta’s Comic Book Fair!  This Saturday and Sunday (March 28th & 29th), stop by 8759-51st Avenue NW rom 9am to 6pm and check out all the comics they have!  Throughout the year, Goodwill collects comics, graphic novels and memorabilia, and this weekend they’re all on sale!  Check out the Fair’s Facebook page for more information and head over the weekend for fun and comics, two things we here at C!TB are definitely behind.

Contact us if you’re interested in your business, event or petty feud sponsoring the show!


This Column Has Seven Days #049 // Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

I’m getting this out of the way right now — this week I have no comics to talk about. I have been thoroughly underwhelmed by the comics I’ve chosen to read this week, which is not to say that there aren’t good things out there, it’s just that I’ve chosen poorly. Outside of comics, though, I feel I’ve made some good choices, especially in the area of comedy and comedy-related works, and I come to you with three offerings that I feel have some excellent potential.

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Television: I have watched so many episodes of Parks and Recreation over the past few weeks that they are seeping into my subconscious and leaking into my dreams. (Seriously, earlier this week I had a less-than-pleasant dream, bordering on nightmare territory, that was interrupted by Leslie Knope and Chris Traeger yelling motivational and self-improvement slogans at me.) I’ve moved quickly through seasons four and five and into season six, and the speed at which I’m getting through episodes has helped me put my finger on why I feel the show lost a little of its punch after the fourth season. After the election at the end of season four, the show relied much less on jokes for its humour and much more on the characters. There are individual episodes that are veritable joke-fests, but the show’s overall shift is to one that is powered by a character-driven sense of humour. Ultimately, this later incarnation of Parks and Recreation sacrifices quips for character beats, which makes for a different viewing experience, though not necessarily a bad one. In fact, I enjoy that the writers and actors have enough confidence in the characters to let the show breathe a little, allowing the funny moments to come from their interactions and their responses to bizarre situations. The show meanders a little bit after season four, which is a trap a lot of long-running sitcoms fall into, but at least in the case of Parks and Recreation, even when the creators don’t know where their storylines are going, the characters and performers are strong and versatile enough to carry the show.

Books: I am a third of the way through Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, which is a quick and fun read (with a few rough edges). It’s an oral history of SNL, compiled from interviews from dozens of people who have been involved in the show over the past 40 years, including past and current writers, performers, hosts, network executives, and producers. It’s fascinating to hear stories,straight from the horses’ mouths, about how the show came together, and then how it was on the verge of falling apart for the next 10 years, so why am I frustrated? It has nothing to do with the subject matter or how the interviews conflict with each other. On the contrary, I find that reading subjective accounts of the same event from different people and trying to piece together what objectively happened is absolutely fascinating; when three people tell three different versions of the same troubling story, each of them making him or herself out to be blameless, it’s as though I’m a detective trying to decide on the most likely chain of events. No, my problems with the book are the authors themselves. Their interstitial comments that help to advance the story are full of either pompous windbaggery, awful attempts at jokes, or both. It’s very clear that Shales and Miller have put SNL on a pedestal, especially the early seasons with the original staff, and their pretentious and unfunny style is so at odds with the more conversational tone of the interviews that I get frustrated every time they start editorializing. Overall I am definitely enjoying the book, and would recommend it wholeheartedly if the authors could just get out of their own way and be a little more irreverent, like the version of the show they claim to love so much.

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Comedy: On Kyle Kinane’s most recent special, I Liked His Old Stuff Better, he has the same gravelly voiced delivery and out-of-left-field punchlines, but as he says at the top of the show, he’s a little older and a little mellower. And while Kinane isn’t the fiery comedy meteor he is on his first two albums, Death of the Party and Whiskey Icarus, that’s actually a good thing. For one thing, he gets to touch on a wider range of topics than he’s done in the past, which gives the show a little more depth than I’d expected. For another, he’s more confident in taking his time with his bits and sacrificing a little of his frenetic energy to allow the audience to appreciate the material on its own terms. That’s not to say he’s abandoned his intensity entirely, he’s just reigned it in a little and uses it when it’s most effective. Whether he’s recalling a metaphysical conversation he had with a cat, being overcome by realizations about the nature of love thanks to listening to The Commodores while drinking in the shower, or exploring the folly of his youth through misadventures in therapy, Kinane is on point throughout the special, adeptly combining quick-fire jokes with long-form anecdotes. There’s one point towards the end of the special where he threatens to lose me entirely, but he manages to pull out of the tailspin and finish the show with a flourish, though he’s a little wobbly on the landing. The Kyle Kinane in I Liked His Old Stuff Better is slightly older and wiser and better for the experience, and this special points the way to a very interesting path for the comedian. It’s the most polished and consistent work I’ve ever seen him do, and would be a very good entry to the man’s work.

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That’s about it for me this week. Until next time, do something that makes you laugh. I’ll see you in seven days.

Fast and Fury-ous: C!TB rewatches THOR

[After the “noted” “success” of our LOST rewatch two years ago, James and Scott are back to prepare for the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron the only way they know how: by going through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, movie by movie.  We are not very imaginative.  Check in every week as we go into way too much detail about pop entertainment and frequently say people are wrong about things.]

James: So right down to business, then! Last week, we talked about the often maligned IRON MAN 2, and found a lot of stuff to like about it! This week, we take on another movie in the MCU that’s often maligned: THOR!

so confused... so wet

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 159 – Committing Your White Collar Crimes

Contains a Belushi joke.

This episode is brought to you by [YOUR BUSINESS HERE]!  Our previous sponsorship arrangement has ended, and we’re looking for news ways to pay the (modest) bills.  If you’d like to pay us to say nice things about you or your business, or simply not insult you on-air, or maybe to repeatedly insult someone else, let us know!  I’m sure we can come to an agreement.


This Column Has Seven Days #048 // They Alive, Dammit

Despite losing an hour I somehow managed to get a fair chunk of reading done this week. And my accomplishments weren’t just limited to reading; I decluttered the apartment, tackled a knitting project, and all manner of other things besides. Oh, and I watched an entire season of a sitcom as well — no, it wasn’t Parks and Recreation. (Though I am almost finished season four of that.) Let’s get to it.

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Television: The pedigree of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt practically guaranteed that I was going to watch the entire thing. Produced and created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who made one of my favourite sitcoms, 30 Rock? Check. Starring the charismatic and talented Ellie Kemper? Check. Supporting cast includes Jane Krakowski and Tituss Burgess (both also from 30 Rock) and legendary actress Carol Kane? Check. And though it had a bit of a rocky start, and some questionable artistic and story choices (Krakowski’s Jacqueline Voorhees has an unfortunately tone-deaf backstory, for starters), it’s a very clever show that lives up to its potential. Sometimes it feels like it’s haunted by the ghost of 30 Rock, as the shows unsurprisingly share a comedic sensibility and are both scored by Jeff Richmond, but though the shows share some DNA Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is very much its own creature. The cast is a particularly strong point. Kemper is the perfect choice to embody the indefatigable main character, Burgess has all the best lines, and Kane steals practically every scene she’s in. Some of my friends and co-workers were turned off by the show’s premise — Kimmy was kidnapped by a cult leader and trapped in an underground bunker with three other women for 15 years before finally escaping — but the darkness of the show is the biggest selling point, as the way Kimmy and the rest of the characters cope with the tragedies in their lives and their secret pasts is ultimately inspiring. (It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, in case I’m making it sound more like a Lifetime Original Movie than a sitcom.) After a promising but shaky start Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt grew into a smart and funny show with a strong message, and a lot of potential for the upcoming second season.

Comics: I used Daylight Saving Weekend to making my way through my stack of unread single issues and I have to say that winnowing that pile down to under two inches has given me a surprising amount of energy and motivation to tackle other things. It’s strange, but true. Here are a few updates on some of the best of my current books:

  • Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s critical darling about time-freezing sex maniacs gets better with every issue. The story has been making a slow, subtle transition from “wacky sex comedy with hijinks” to “thoughtful sex comedy with hijinks,” which I thoroughly appreciate. My favourite thing about the book is the letter column, though; as much as I like the story itself, the feedback and the sharing from the community of readers always makes me laugh the hardest.
  • Swamp Thing – I didn’t think much of Charles Soule’s Swamp Thing run when he took over from Scott Snyder, but the last few issues have turned the book around very sharply. I found his first issues limp and in search of direction, but with one issue left before this series comes to an end, Soule has pulled together the weaker plot threads and characters and given the book a real sense of urgency. The rise of the new Metal Kingdom, or the Calculus, as a rival to the Green, the Red, the Rot, and the Grey, could be seen as muddying the DC mythology a little bit, but it’s a good idea and executed well. The book also looks gorgeous; Jesus Saiz’s art is given some fantastic depth by Matt Hollingsworth’s colours, and letterer Travis Lanham gives the denizens of each realm distinct voices thanks to font and word balloon choices. It’s a foregone conclusion that our hero will come out victorious in the final issue, I’m sure, but Soule and company have at least given Swamp Thing a challenging adversary and clever story to finish the series with.
  • The Wicked + The Divine – This is still my favourite book currently being published. The first story arc ended with a hell of a bang, and the second story has not only picked up the pace but is further exploring and developing the world and the characters’ places in it. The beautiful thing about a book like this (and also Sex Criminals) is that I have no idea where it’s going. Don’t get me wrong — I like some corporate superhero comics but I am well aware of their storytelling limitations (namely, having to make due with the illusion of change instead of actual change), and not only does The Wicked + The Divine allow for change, but it provides danger and actual stakes for the characters, so the reader comes to care about them. Plus, for my money it’s the best-looking book on the stands. It’s the comic I never knew I wanted, and now that it exists I never want it to end.

Books: This weekend I finished reading a book of comics criticism — Voyage In Noise: Warren Ellis and the Demise of Western Civilization. It’s definitely a niche volume, but for fans of Ellis it’s an interesting read; there are chapters that dissect how his work is influenced by his views on superheroes, science fiction, violence, anger, and authority. The book also features excerpts of Ellis’ interviews for the film Captured Ghosts, giving the man himself the opportunity to expound on these and other topics. My biggest problem with the book is that it would benefit from a final pass from an editor; there are a handful of typos, missing words, and confusing clauses that interrupted the flow of reading. That’s the kind of risk one runs when getting a self-published book, though, and the analysis in the book is thought-provoking and made me want to re-read some of Ellis’ work with this new perspective.

Comics: Speaking of Warren Ellis, this week I also read the first volume of Trees from Image Comics, written by Ellis with art from Jason Howard. Trees tells the story of humanity post-alien-invasion, with a twist — the aliens are giant cylinders that tower over cities, and not only do they not have any interest in communicating with the human inhabitants of planet Earth, they don’t seem to recognize us as life forms at all. Ellis and Howard show the reader a world where humanity lives in the shadow of powerful and unknowable alien beings and how that has become the new normal. A diverse cast of characters additionally shows us the impact of these Trees all over the world, from an artist’s community in China to street gangs in Italy to a mayoral candidate in New York City to a research station in Norway. I’m halfway through my second reading of the book; I’m an unapologetic Ellis fan but I feel there’s something really special and yet elusive about Trees that I really think needs more exploration. I wholeheartedly endorse everyone read the book and discover it for themselves.

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That’s all for this week, cats and kittens. Until next time, I encourage you to catch up on some of the things that have fallen to the wayside and get yourself energized. Spring forward, so to speak. I’ll see you in seven days.

Fast and Fury-ous: C!TB rewatches IRON MAN 2

[After the “noted” “success” of our LOST rewatch two years ago, James and Scott are back to prepare for the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron the only way they know how: by going through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, movie by movie.  We are not very imaginative.  Check in every week as we go into way too much detail about pop entertainment and frequently say people are wrong about things.]

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 158 – One Dikembe Mutombo Away

Contains no Powers!

This episode is brought to you by [YOUR BUSINESS HERE]!  Our previous sponsorship arrangement has ended, and we’re looking for news ways to pay the (modest) bills.  If you’d like to pay us to say nice things about you or your business, or simply not insult you on-air, or maybe to repeatedly insult someone else, let us know!  I’m sure we can come to an agreement.


This Column Has Seven Days #047 // The Story of This Column Is That It’s About Parks and Recreation

Lately I’ve been marvelling at my nearly unfettered access to pop culture goodness. Thanks to the advances in technology of the past 15 years, and to my own slow accumulation and development of my personal collections at the same time, I have access to an embarassment of riches. Some weeks I go through the media menu like it’s a smorgasbord, sampling a little of everything, while other times I pick one thing and gorge on it. This week has been more like a binge than a buffet, as the series finale of Parks and Recreation led me to crack open my DVDs and rewatch the show from the beginning.

ParksI watched the Parks finale late Saturday night, two days after it aired, because I was feeling a little maudlin about the whole thing and I wanted to give it a little space for my mind to settle into it. I loved the finale — it wasn’t flawless, and sometimes I found it saccharine, but that’s basically an apt description of the show itself. It’s sometimes a little too sweet and there are episodes that are real clunkers, but overall it’s amazing. The finale wrapped everything up wonderfully — I laughed a lot, I cried, and I even got goosebumps. It gave every actor and every character at least one perfect moment, and it gave Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope about a dozen of them.

I liked the finale so much I decided to watch the series all over again. I wanted to see how the show had changed, to revisit my favourite episodes and possibly discover something new in one or two episodes I had overlooked. I started with the first season, which seems like a completely reasonable decision if you have never seen the first season of Parks and Recreation. The problem with that decision, however, is that the first season is really awful. I know a handful of people who still really like those first six episodes, but I find them clumsy, awkward, and charmless. The bare skeleton of what the show would grow into is there: Leslie Knope is an energetic go-getter with a tenuous grasp on reality who sees her meaningless position as the most important thing in the world, and she is surrounded by a group of eccentric friends and co-workers.

However, those first six episodes get so much else wrong, particularly the fact that Leslie’s co-workers treat her like garbage. Ron Swanson is nowhere near the endearing caricature he would eventually become, and Andy Dwyer is a terrible selfish person who exists solely to showcase how low he is dragging Ann Perkins down. But the worst thing is that Leslie is passionate and yet also terrible at her job, and her co-workers (especially Tom) abuse and mock her at every turn. I know it’s because the show was inspired by The Office, but that style of humour is a really terrible fit for this show. I disliked it the first time I watched it and disliked it even more on this week’s re-watch. I disliked it so much I put that season’s DVDs in my “get rid of” box. Having seasons two through seven of a show on my shelf will feel a little weird to a completist like myself, but it will prevent me from watching that awful season again, so it’s something I’m willing to accept.

When the show came back for a second season, the show’s producers must have thought the same thing, because there was a noticeable change across the board. The characters are a little more likeable, and the main thrust of the show has changed from “Leslie Knope, incompetent fool whom everyone pities” to “Leslie Knope, overenthusiastic dope whom everyone likes.” It’s a much better tone and allows for more interesting character dynamics to develop, especially the two most important relationships for the next three seasons: Leslie and Ron, and Leslie and Ann. What surprised me most on this recent viewing is how much I missed the Leslie/Ann dynamic since Rashida Jones left halfway through season six. Jones and Poehler have great chemistry, and without Ann as Leslie’s best friend and anchor (and vice versa), the show sometimes felt a little lopsided. Without giving too much away, the scene in the finale where I burst into tears — big, manly tears, mind you — involved Leslie and Ann together.

The third season, though, is where Parks and Recreation really figures itself out. The last two episodes of season two added Adam Scott as the nerdy and practical Ben Wyatt and Rob Lowe as the greatest character in the history of television, Chris Traeger. The two of them gave the show a huge shot in the arm; not only are they two talented actors who entirely commit to their roles, but they get to do some heavy lifting plot-wise, allowing for some of the other performers to have fun secondary or tertiary plots where they explore their characters. The third season is sweet and romantic and super-fun, and I always recommend starting there to anyone who hasn’t seen Parks and Recreation and was thinking about starting.

Getting through seasons four through six may take me longer than a week, and I will try to branch out into non-Parks and Recreation territory for next week, if only for my own sanity. It has been fun to revisit the origins of the show, though, and if I’ve learned anything from going over the first three seasons, it’s that I never, ever want to watch those first six episodes again. (And that Paul Schneider’s Mark Brendanawicz is not as awful as I’d remembered.)

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That’s about it for me this week. Until next time, watch Parks and Recreation if you haven’t. But please, skip the first season. I’ll see you in seven days.

Fast and Fury-ous: C!TB rewatches THE INCREDIBLE HULK

[After the “noted” “success” of our LOST rewatch two years ago, James and Scott are back to prepare for the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron the only way they know how: by going through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, movie by movie.  We are not very imaginative.  Check in every week as we go into way too much detail about pop entertainment and frequently say people are wrong about things.]

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 157 –Aiding and Abetting

Contains no criminal activity!

This episode is brought to you by [YOUR BUSINESS HERE]!  Our previous sponsorship arrangement has ended, and we’re looking for news ways to pay the (modest) bills.  If you’d like to pay us to say nice things about you or your business, or simply not insult you on-air, or maybe to repeatedly insult someone else, let us know!  I’m sure we can come to an agreement.