Archive for February 28, 2013

Elsewhere again

February 28, 2013

I’m excited to announce that I’ve made my debut at Wired, writing about recent developments in Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham’s Batman Incorporated #8. I tried to place the event in the context of Morrison’s run, and Morrison’s run in the context of the other things going on both with him and with Batman and DC Comics in recent years. Thanks to Laura Hudson for the opportunity.

And at Vorpalizer, I’ve written about Ron Howard’s Willow and the art and comics of Uno Moralez. Running the gamut!

“I was working with Adrian Belew on some musical ideas”

February 25, 2013


Fanks for finking of me

February 24, 2013

The five sexiest Yo Gabba Gabba! performances

February 21, 2013

5. The Ting Tings – “Happy Birthday”

4. Mya – “The Peanut Butter Stomp”

3. Nikki Flores – “The Twirly Whirly”

2. The Postmarks – “Balloons”

1. Dean and Britta – “Let’s Ride”

I’m going to hell when I die.


February 21, 2013

I’ve been keeping pretty busy these days.

At Cool Practice, I wrote about “Missing You” by John Waite and the kinkiness of crystalline-sheen ’80s pop rock. This is the sound of my soul.

At Vorpalizer, I continued my series of posts on alt-genre webcomics with entries on SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki and Forming by Jesse Moynihan. I also posted the second in a series on formative fantastic fiction, focusing on Taran Wanderer and the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander.

And at Rolling Stone, I updated my list of the Dowager Countess’s best quotes from Downton Abbey Season Three with a few from the season finale.


February 19, 2013

A while back I wrote a comic called “1995” that an artist working under the name Raymond Suzuhara drew. It is not safe for work. Now it lives at its own tumblr. I hope you like it.

Mother of dragons vs. mother of direwolves

February 19, 2013

The new episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour, my A Song of Ice and Fire podcast, is up! This time out, my co-host Stefan Sasse and I continue our series on the books’ female characters, focusing on Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen.

“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven

February 17, 2013



I wrote about the season finale of Downton Abbey for Rolling Stone.

Can’t think of very many things I’ve had more fun writing about than this season of this show. Thanks for reading.

Oh no she Downt’nt!

February 15, 2013

I made a list of the 12 best Dowager Countess quotes from Downton Abbey season three for Rolling Stone. This was a fun piece to put together.

And at MTV Splash Page I wrote some stuff about who’d win in a fight between Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones and a bunch of X-Men characters, now that Peter Dinklage has been cast in the next X-Men movie. It’s every bit as silly as it sounds.


February 12, 2013

“Girls” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “Another Man’s Trash”

February 12, 2013

Broken record time: I find comedy series confounding to write about, because for me writing about TV is calculating how details of setting and shooting and performance add up to something, but with comedy you can’t solve the equation because the need for jokes is an undefinable variable. The joke needs must be king and it trumps all the usual concerns, even on series with heavy narrative serialization and a lot of dramatic moments the inclusion of which used to create “very special episodes” but which are now pretty common across the board. (Scrubs, an overlooked single-camera comedy trailblazer, did this in literally every episode.) Girls is basically a dramedy that has more in common with Mad Men than with Arrested Development, but it still throws those confounding curveballs, exaggerating specific aspects of the characters and milieu for comedic effect. (“Specific” is key here, of course — it’s not flat-out ridiculous — but still.) But just because I don’t write about it very often doesn’t mean I don’t like it an awful lot.

Judging from twitter and Google Reader posts I tried not to read for fear of spoilers, this past week’s episode, “Another Man’s Trash,” was something of a breakout for the show, and having seen it it’s easy to see why. For starters, TV nerds no doubt have to appreciate the humor in borrowing a bottle-episode structure but having half the cast stuck in the bottle be Patrick Wilson.

But its real brilliance is in creating suspense based solely on the show’s established story structure. We’ve all seen Girls before, and we know that anytime something’s going well for Hannah, someone says something that destroys the magic and brings it all crashing down — she’s getting along great with a job interviewer until she makes a date-rape joke about him; she’s having the coked-up time of her life with her gay ex until he tells her he fucked her female best friend, etc. So you spend her entire lost-weekend idyll waiting for the other shoe to drop…

…and it legit seems like it won’t! Hannah and her handsome doctor Joshua keep having sex — lots of it, all over his splendid house, driven by frank and honest statements of arousal and desire that took her months to get to with her ex-boyfriend Adam, if she ever really got to them at all. They lounge, they joke around, they sit quietly reading and eating, they tease each other, they go to sleep and wake up and do it all again. For once she seems able to accept that she and a romantic interest (substitute “friend” or “professional peer” and it’d be the same deal, for her) are on a level playing field.

Why? At one point Joshua tells her she’s beautiful, and when he asks her doesn’t she think so?, she replies something like yes, but that’s not the feedback she’s used to getting. That’s the key here: Joshua’s very existence is the new feedback. Physically stunning, smart, successful, kind, wealthy — Hannah’s holding her own with someone who’s all these things. One of the reasons I love Downton Abbey and Mad Men so much is their emphasis on how the emotional feedback people receive from their friends and colleagues shapes who they are able to be and become; this is the best feedback loop Hannah’s had in ages. If you’ve ever had one of these whirlwind weekends (or whenever) where your every waking and sleeping moment is consumed by someone wonderful you’re in the process of discovering and being discovered by, you know exactly how powerful, arousing, fulfilling, transforming that feedback loop can be. And don’t mistake me—it’s not at all a situation where “oh, someone good likes me, now I feel validated as a person.” It’s more like she’s thrown herself into the deep end and realized she could swim like a motherfucker all along.

That’s her undoing, of course. She believes herself to be totally safe, so after her inhibitions are worn down by getting all light-headed and passing out in the shower, she lets loose with a torrent of pure Hannah solipsism for which Joshua is completely unprepared. It’s heartbreaking to see how Hannah’s emotional awareness works — how she’s initially totally clueless that she’s coming on too strong, that she’s treating Joshua like a journal rather than a person with his own emotions and agency, that she’s being enormously condescending and dismissive to his life; but how the very moment she senses the possibility of rejection, she picks up on those cues and attacks them like a shark that smells blood in the water. She’s clueless unless and until she picks up on someone reacting negatively to that cluelessness, at which point she becomes an emotional Sherlock Holmes.

It was very funny, very sexy, very specific, and very sad. We’re lucky to have the show that gave it to us.

“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six

February 11, 2013

I sure love writing about this show, and tonight there was twice as much to write about it. Click for my review at Rolling Stone.


February 10, 2013

I come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow

February 9, 2013

Valhalla, I am coming


February 6, 2013

I’m going to be writing about science fiction, fantasy, horror etc. with some dayjob coworkers at our new group blog I got started with posts on Michael DeForge’s Ant Comic and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising. Come check it out.

Grimes on pop

February 6, 2013

something i want to say

So I made that post about my favourite songs of 2012 (including taylor swift and gangnam style etc.) and people just hated on it.

I just don’t understand.

I mean, I do understand.  I have my own issues with ‘the industry,’ I have issues with how it’s hard to compete with a bunch of people with great connections, and that a lot of real artists get lost along the way because they dont have an ‘in.’ and that women feel pressured to act like strippers and its ok to make rape threats but its not ok to say your a feminist.  However, I don’t see why we have to hate something just because it’s successful, or assume that because it is successful it has no substance.

Like, how can you hate Beyonce?  Shes changing the world. She stands for people of colour and women everywhere succeeding in a stifling patriarchy without compromising her morals.  And she makes challenging, interesting art.  She’s always positive.  She is everything good.  And the fact that she is hugely successful is not a shitty thing.  It’s an important and amazing thing and she clearly works hard for it.

and I’m sorry, but I think it’s fucking incredible that a korean language song is the most popular thing on the planet.  Thats so good for humanity.  Psy wrote and produced gangnam style himself and directed the video HIMSELF.  No one made psy. psy is a genius and i dont think its so terrible that hes been recognized for this.  It also doesn’t make him evil.  His art is creating a generation of kids that will grow up seeing asian culture as being as valid as western culture which they currently don’t.  I know because I grew up in Vancouver and half my high school was korean or chinese and the kind of shit i heard all the time was horrible.  I used to walk around with my chinese boyfriend and people would yell slurs out of cars. Racism isn’t over.  Sexism isn’t over.  The only way things actually effect social change is by hitting the audience that perpetuates these ideas.  therefore, when a deserving artist blows up its good for everybody.

I’m tired of people telling me I’m ignorant for liking pop and hip hop, because I’m not.  I know whats up with music.  I have thoroughly investigated both mainstream and experimental music.  in fact, i was so dedicated to experimental music that I didn’t even bother to learn about pop and R&B until i was 21.  I put out multiple records on a label that was run by my friends and released my music on tape because it was the cheapest option.  so please don’t tell me that I haven’t been enlightened to the world of alternative music.

and yet I know very few adult males who consider themselves serious ‘music guys’ who don’t laugh when I say I like Mariah carey.

Why? because shes beautiful and people like her.  therefore she must be selling sex, right? so obviously her music is terrible, right?  ugh.

The first time I heard mariah carey it shattered the fabric of my existence and I started Grimes

Claire Boucher/Grimes. She subsequently deleted the post and her entire tumblr.

We’ve got to do better.

“The Americans” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

February 6, 2013

It’s hard to review the series premieres of New Golden Age prestige cable dramas because, like most series premieres, they play to the cheap seats. It’s all about hooks and making an impact and keeping butts in seats for subsequent episodes, right? So you begin your series about undercover superspies with Felicity sucking some dude’s dick. You use central-casting KGB and CIA heavies spouting patriotic Cold War boilerplate that hindsight gives us the ability to see right through. You do a lot of stuff where the cute all-American kids eat breakfast and like ten feet away there’s a defector tied up in the trunk with a gimp gag in his mouth. You play it broad, and you hope two things when you do so: 1) That “broad” will get the audiences you want to come back, and 2) That the critics you also want on your side will remember that series no less august than The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Mad Men (and more recently Girls) started with their broadest episodes, too. Enough landmark series started this way that you almost forget it could be done differently.

But it can, and that’s The Americans‘ problem. The most obvious example is Homeland, which will one day be remembered as the punchline in some inside-baseball “You know what beat the Mad Men season with the Mystery Date/Signal 30/Far Away Places/At the Codfish Ball/Lady Lazarus run of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back masterpieces for Best Drama?” TV-critic joke, started with a drum-taut yet intriguingly elliptical episode dealing with many of the same subjects but completely devoid of “You’d betray the Motherland?!”-style evil-Soviet dialogue. Oh it got there eventually alright, but it took a season and a half. Twin Peaks‘ pilot was probably the weirdest thing ever to air on network television up till that point but its weirdness, like all of David Lynch’s best stuff and unlike any of his imitators, was rigorously observed, and rooted in empathy for human suffering and a desire to probe what drives us to cause it. (The empty desk in the classroom is the structuring absence of the whole series, really.) Lost‘s opening 10 minutes were among the most thrilling opening-10-minutes of anything committed to film by anyone that decade, but they drew much of their strength from the un-thrilling emotion of panic. Even in the violent black comedies that were the pilots for The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, there were character moments (Tony staring at the painting, Walter talking into the camera) and images (the ducks and the pants, both flying away) that iced anything The Americans did in its premiere despite having, quite unnecessarily, twice as long to do it in.

So I’m left wondering what it is I’m going to get. Will it tighten up and calm down, or is this as good as it gets?

A few things make me worry it’s the latter, and make me worry a lot more than even the broadness does. Top of the list: It’s just way too early to have our undercover anti-heroes Phillip and Elizabeth dance right up to the edge of defecting. Way, way too early. By sticking that right in the premiere — by having Phillip actually start doing it, only to change his mind in order to white-knight for his wife when he finds out the captured defector he’d planned to exchange for a life in witness protection had once raped her — you’ve shown us that at any moment, the characters are capable of solving their story’s equation. This sleeper-agent life is untenable if they want to preserve their lives and their children’s happiness in the face of an increasingly implacable Reaganite enemy? Simple: Turn yourselves in, collect literally millions of dollars, move on and live the life you’re more or less happy living already.

So it falls on Elizabeth to erect an artificial obstacle to the obvious, story-ending solution. Writer-creator Joe Weisberg assigns Keri Russell the thankless task of preventing Phillips eminently reasonable and moral decision to defect by swearing her fealty to Mother Russia and, in the immortal words of Alvy Singer, “screaming about Socialism.” Just as it was unfair of Homeland to make poor Dana Brody a mouthpiece for skepticism regarding the danger of her father’s situation, danger we in the audience knew to be very real, so too is it too much for The Americans to ask of Elizabeth to justify the entire show’s existence with jingoistic horseshit on behalf of a system we know is just years away from collapse anyway

Unfortunately, unlike her fellow ’90s-network-TV refugees cum Great Drama leads Bryan Cranston and Claire Danes, it’s not immediately clear that Russell’s bringing much to the table beyond simply having been cast against type. She’s a stunning human being — that hair, unf; feel guilty she has to straighten it but not that guilty — and the show uses that physicality to make her both convincingly sexy and convincingly powerful and dangerous as a physical combatant, but her shaky Russian accent and emotionally depthless delivery of Russian-villain speeches make the performance and the character feel as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. I believe that this Elizabeth could do what she does for as long as she’s done it, but I’m left guessing as to why — particularly when you see what the Soviet system did to her in such astonishingly graphic terms.

About that: Having skimmed some reviews of the show my main takeaway was that it was some sexy-smart spygame stuff, largely on the strength of Russell’s take-charge sexuality. Again, she’s a radiant presence on screen, and her forthright expression of her sexual desires and expertise on that tape recording her husband plays back in particular is totally hot stuff. But is that even really her? Doesn’t Phillip smile despite it all because he’s impressed by how she put on a big show and played the guy? And does it cancel out the rote, seen-it-a-million-times eros’n’thanatos vaudeville routine of Elizabeth and Phillip fucking in their car after disposing of a body? And most importantly, does it square with her sudden and brutal on-screen rape by a higher-up in her KGB training program? Obviously people who have been raped can and do subsequently lead full and enthusiastic and zesty sex lives all the time. But I can’t say that watching these two hours, my takeaway was “Wow, hubba hubba!”

No, if I’m to return to The Americans it’ll be for other things. For starters, it has a sense of humor about itself, a trait almost totally absent from Homeland from day one; this episode is like if Homeland had started out with that marvelously mordant sequence in the woods from Season Two instead of it being a one-off flash of Sopranosism. And unlike that other show, this one appears willing and able to recognize that undetectable superspies with limitless penetration into American life require a suspension of disbelief; that this is totally fine; that you can in fact play with that suspension and wring terrific thriller sequences out of it but only if you acknowledge it exists, otherwise we’ll just go “c’mon, you’ve gotta be kidding me.” I could use a show that treats War on Terror-style paranoia as something of an absurdist farce instead of pretending its manipulations are on the up and up at all times.

I’m also impressed with the quiet work of Matthew Rhys as Phillip. I enjoy the easy confidence with which he slips into other identities — the jocular neighbor, the kind but concerned intelligence officer duping the secretary into giving up secrets, the rough-and-tumble contractor who beats a pedophile up after one of those “secret agent and pedophile” department-store meet-cutes that I’m sure happened to Aldrich Ames all the time — because it’s always clear the confidence is entirely outwardly directed, but inside he’s not quite sure why he’s doing what he’s doing. (Elizabeth is sure, and that’s the problem, because she’s sure about stuff that’s not worth being sure about.) He looks and carries himself like he could be the tougher older brother of a Zach Braff character; his FBI-agent neighbor’s “nice guy, but slightly off” assessment is dead-on.

I’m fond of that neighbor, played by ubiquitous supporting actor Noah Emmerich, as well. Maybe more fond than I have any right to be given how well trod this “well-meaning law-enforcement agent who’s almost got it but not quite” territory is at this point. Coasting on the goodwill generated by everyone from Hank Schrader to Carrie Mathison to Dale Cooper is only going to get Stan Beeman so far, but particularly in those moments where he’s forced to recall an obviously trying stint undercover with a white-power group, he balances expertise and weakness in a way that took all three of those characters some time to arrive at. Again, I think it’s probably too soon to have moved his suspicion of Phillip as far along as the show did, and I’m not sure how they’ll be able to play this thread out for another season, but I’m willing to watch them try. That thread’s what’ll pull me to the next ep. Who needs all those hooks?

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour vs. A Podcast of Ice and Fire

February 5, 2013

The Great Council has convened! This week, my Boiled Leather Audio Hour cohost Stefan Sasse and I are the special guests on the mother of all ASoIaF podcasts, A Podcast of Ice and Fire. The explicit goal was for me and Stefan and APoIaF cohosts Amin, Ashley, and Kyle to let our collective hair down; mission accomplished. We get into some high-grade nerdery: a bunch of “who’d win in a fight”s, picking our ideal Small Council and Kingsguard (well, someone’s ideal, anyway), the pros and cons of Tumblr as a platform and a fandom, our biggest controversies…and, naturally, a spirited co-ed game of “how much sex would you have with this character,” guest starring Elio & Linda from Westeros. We all had a great time and I think it shows.

I’ve been listening to A Podcast of Ice and Fire since the earliest days of my fandom. I’ve hoped to be invited on with a fervency you’d find unbecoming, and not just because they’re all, like, really hot. (I’m not the only person who sits and reloads for the rotating “Current Hosts” photo eye-candy buffet, am I? Amin, put some more pictures in there, you handsome devil.) Thank you to Amin, Ashley, and Kyle for having us; hopefully we’ll get to “meet” Mimi on a future episode.