Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

HBO, Marvel, and “The New Canon”

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

I’m so wrong, but not in the way I might have expected. My students taught me that. They watch Netflix, and they watch it hard. They watch it at the end of the night to wind down from studying, they watch it when they come home tipsy, they binge it on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Most use their family’s subscription; others filch passwords from friends. It’s so widely used that when I told my Mad Men class that their only text for the class was a streaming subscription, only one student had to acquire one. (I realize we’re talking about students at a liberal arts college, but I encountered the same levels of access at state universities. As for other populations, I really don’t know, because Netflix won’t tell me (or anyone) who’s using it.

Some students use Hulu, but never Hulu Plus — when it comes to network shows and keeping current, they just don’t care. For some super buzzy shows, like Game of Thrones and Girls, they pirate or find illegal streams. But as far as I can tell, the general sentiment goes something like this: if it’s not on Netflix, why bother?

It’s a sentiment dictated by economics (a season of a TV show on iTunes = at least 48 beers) and time. Let’s say you want to watch a season of Pretty Little Liars. You have three options:

1) BitTorrent it and risk receiving a very stern cease-and-desist letter from either the school or your cable provider. Unless you can find a torrent of the entire season, you’ll have to wait for each episode to download. What do you do when it’s 1:30 am and you want a new episode now?

2) Find sketchy, poor quality online streams that may or may not infect your computer with a porn virus (plus you have to find individual stable streams for 22 episodes)

or

3) Watch it on Netflix in beautiful, legal HD, with each episode leading seamlessly into the next. You can watch it on your phone, your tablet, your computer (or your television, if it’s equipped); even if you move from device to device, it picks up right where you stopped.

It’s everything an overstressed yet media-hungry millennial could desire. And it’s not just millennials: I know more and more adults and parents who’ve cut the cable cord and acquired similar practices, mostly because they have no idea how to pirate and they only really want to watch about a dozen hours of (non-sports) television a month (who are these people, and what do they do after 8 pm every day?)

Through this reliance on Netflix, I’ve seen a new television pantheon begin to take form: there’s what’s streaming on Netflix, and then there’s everything else.

When I ask a student what they’re watching, the answers are varied: Friday Night Lights, Scandal, It’s Always Sunny, The League, Breaking Bad, Luther, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Arrested Development, The Walking Dead, Pretty Little Liars, Weeds, Freaks & Geeks, The L Word, Twin Peaks, Archer, Louie, Portlandia. What all these shows have in common, however, is that they’re all available, in full, on Netflix.

Things that they haven’t watched? The Wire. Deadwood. Veronica Mars, Rome, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos.Even Sex in the City.

It’s not that they don’t want to watch these shows — it’s that with so much out there, including so much so-called “quality” programs, such as Twin Peaks and Freaks & Geeks, to catch up on, why watch something that’s not on Netflix? Why work that hard when there’s something this easy — and arguably just as good or important — right in front of you?

The split between Netflix and non-Netflix shows also dictates which shows can/still function as points of collective meaning. Talk to a group of 30-somethings today, and you can reference Tony Soprano and his various life decisions all day — in no small part because the viewing of The Sopranos was facilitated by DVD culture. Today, my students know the name and little else. I can’t make “cocksucker” Deadwood jokes (maybe I shouldn’t anyway?); I can’t use Veronica Mars as an example of neo-noir; I can’t reference the effectiveness of montage at finishing a series (Six Feet Under). These shows, arguably some of the most influential of the last decade, can’t be teaching tools unless I screen seasons of them for my students myself.

Anne Helen Petersen, “The New Canon,” LA Review of Books

This absolutely fascinating essay makes the persuasive argument that HBO’s absence from Netflix, the television viewing mechanism of choice for a generation, means what those of us who are slightly older consider key, canonical shows simply aren’t getting watched anymore. It makes a great deal of sense: My own love of The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire was enabled by DVDs, which were at the time the easiest, quickest, cheapest technology for viewing. Now that’s streaming, and those shows didn’t (until the recent Amazon Prime deal anyway) stream without a prohibitively expensive HBO-inclusive cable subscription, and they still don’t stream on the service of many people’s choice, so there’s a whole lot of potential Seans out there who aren’t ever gonna come across these shows. Technology — DVDs, DVRs, Netflix, streaming, even just the proliferation of cable channels and the concomitant need for more programming — played such a crucial role in the creation of the New Golden Age; it’s engrossing to see how it will help transform it and alter our perceptions of it in retrospect as well.

I should add that one of the reasons this article struck me so is that many of its lessons apply to another area of interest for me: Marvel Comics’ mismanagement of its backlist. Very quickly, even after its purchase by Disney, the company is still run by the man who bought it in, and brought it out of, bankruptcy in the late ’90s, Isaac Perlmutter. In many ways he still runs the place like the doors will close at any moment. Sometimes this makes headlines, as when the stars of Marvel’s films band together to demand higher wages; sometimes it’s fodder for jokes, like how Marvel’s publishing wing’s office space has a grand total of one available restroom per gender for hundreds of employees.

But it has a real impact too, in that books are constantly allowed to go out of print rather than commit to the cost of keeping them in print and available to retailers. Marvel makes an end-run around this by continuously repackaging and reprinting, but the net effect is that if you wanted to purchase a seminal, artform-altering run on a Marvel series — the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Fantastic Four in its entirety, say, or the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita Sr. Amazing Spider-Man — this is literally impossible to just hop on Amazon or go to your comic shop and do. At best, you’ll be able to cobble together a collection with different trade dresses, at different sizes, with different cover stock. In many cases you’ll just give up.

This costs Marvel money, obviously — I’d have plunked down $100 or whatever to buy all the Lee/Ditko Spidey and Lee/Kirby FF in one fell swoop years and years ago, if I could have. But it also costs them in terms of legacy — in terms of how readers and critics alike view their output. Compared to their nearest competitor, DC Comics, Marvel’s ’80s output never reached the heights of DC’s best work of the era, your Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. But DC is equally adept at maintaining and selling B- and C-level books like Kingdom Come or the various Jeph Loeb Batman collections that Marvel can easily match or beat with things like Marvels or a solid Dark Phoenix Saga collection or Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt or even Daredevil: Born Again from the Year One creative team of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. But these titles are available sporadically at best, and have been in and out of print so many times that you’d be hard pressed to find two copies that even look alike. Compare that to how consistent, say, Watchmen has looked on store shelves for nearly three decades now.

Moreover, in terms of its 1960s Silver Age material, Marvel absolutely crushes DC. Artistically, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were stylistic innovators who continue to influence the totality of the artform today, not just superhero comics but alternative and art comics as well. Narratively, too, ’60s Marvel basically invented the shared-universe template so much popular fiction follows today — sure, Batman and Superman teamed up from time to time, but the events that befell the Fantastic Four could change what happened to Iron Man or Spider-Man or whoever else. What’s more, those comics had a genuine sense of stakes their DC counterparts sorely lacked; I can’t tell you what an eye-opener it was to interview people as disparate as Gary Groth and Walt Simonson for the oral history of Marvel I did for Maxim a few years ago and hear that one of the things that impressed them about Marvel as kids was simply the fact that these superheroes actually got in fights. Such a basic component of how these stories are told to this day didn’t even exist before Lee, Kirby, Ditko et al did it. Finally, unlike DC, which has rebooted nearly half a dozen times, all those classic Marvel stories are still in continuity — they matter to the stories of those characters to this day. In all these respects those comics are valuable and readable to today’s readers; sure, they’re dated, but so is The Prisoner and The Twilight Zone, you know? A nice, uniformly designed collection of those runs would be invaluable to “fans,” to scholars, to cartoonists, to libraries, you name it. But no such collection exists. It’s not just money that’s left on the table, it’s the perception that the work is valuable and alive. And perhaps HBO, to a lesser but still significant degree, is weathering that exact same loss.


“Mad Men” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Two: “A Day’s Work”

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Throughout “A Day’s Work”—a brisk, funny episode rounded out by meaty material for the show’s young breakout, Sally Draper, and its first prominent African-American character, Dawn Chambers—characters are repeatedly confronted with Campbell’s choice. Should they be up front about their desires and dislikes, in hopes that the static they get in response won’t prevent them from getting what they want? Or should they bullshit their way through it, thinking things will go smoother for all involved if they keep their mouths shut? It’s the stuff that both great Depeche Mode songs and great Mad Men episodes are made of, though in the end, Matthew Weiner’s outlook is considerably more optimistic than Martin Gore‘s

Never again is what you swore the time before: I reviewed last night’s Mad Men for Wired.


Game of Thrones Q&A: Aidan Gillen/Littlefinger

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Does it surprise you that this is such a voraciously consumed show?
I’m aware of that appetite is for teasers and trailers. I’m aware of the huge number of people following the saga and how much they now have invested in it. It’s quite an emotional story, so people are very wrapped up in it. Quite a lot of people. I guess I understand. What’s your theory on that? Why do people want to know all this stuff now as opposed to next week?

I don’t know if it’s from nerd culture’s origins in serialized comic books and epic fantasy series, or simply because TV drama now has short, heavily serialized seasons people follow from week to week where every episode is an event. But I think a lot of people now value anticipation as much as the art itself.

There’s also social media — you can get the stuff now and spread the word about it now. It’s part of how geek culture has moved forward. There’s so many things people can do now that they couldn’t do 15 years ago, particularly people who are less confident. I’m not talking about extreme ends of geekiness — I mean even asking someone out on a date. It’s completely changed the mechanics and dynamics of all of that, which I think is a good thing.

As a person who was a nerd growing up, to walk past Lincoln Center and see a life-sized dragon out front during the Game of Thrones premiere made me feel like I’d won.
That’s good! [Laughs] Have you ever interviewed George [R.R. Martin]? I was watching him backstage at the premiere, watching him watching the dragon, and I have a feeling he felt the same way about the dragon in front of Lincoln Center.

I interviewed Aidan Gillen for Rolling Stone. An intense and intelligent guy.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Three: “Breaker of Chains”

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Finally, far to the East, Daenerys Targaryen delivers the speech of a lifetime. Much has been written, here and elsewhere, about the uncomfortable image of bleach-blonde Dany crowdsurfing above the uniformly brown heads of her adoring ex-slave followers. The show’s creators have attributed the uniformly un-white skintone of the slaves to the pool of available extras on location (the books made a point of how people of all colors and nationalities had been pressed into servitude by the cities of Slaver’s Bay). But they’ve also argued that the ickiness was intentional – that Dany’s emancipation celebration is quite possibly both presumptuous and premature. That argument’s certainly strengthened here, as Dany mouths “Your enemy is not surrounding your country; your enemy is ruling your country” — the sort of rhetoric straight off of George W. Bush’s Iraq War teleprompter. Look at the other leaders on this show who’ve shown Dany’s level of cocksure comfort with command: Robb Stark (early on, anyway), Theon GreyjoyRenly Baratheon, Joffrey, even Dany’s own brother Viserys. How’d that work out for everyone? “Pride goeth before the fall” might not be a saying native to Westeros, but the sentiment is universally applicable. All who find themselves beneath the shadow of her dragons, may have to learn it the hard way.

I reviewed last night’s fine Game of Thrones episode for Rolling Stone.

I also wrote about the very troubling and controversial scene between Cersei and Jaime, and have continued to do so throughout the day in response to reader questions and comments at All Leather Must Be Boiled, my Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire tumblr.


Sexual Harassment in Comics

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Writer and editor Janelle Asselin has created an anonymous survey regarding sexual harassment in comics, and I think it’s very important that people involved in alternative/art comics are represented. We read different comics, go to different cons, shop at different stores, work with different publishers, move in different social circles, and those realities should be reflected. Please take the two minutes it takes to fill this out.


“Mad Men” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode One: “Time Zones”

Monday, April 14th, 2014

“Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something.

Do you have time to improve your life? Do you have precisely 30 seconds for a word from AccuTron watches?

The watch appears, bottom third. The second hand moves with a fluid sweep, and above it? ‘AccuTron Time.’

You go into a business meeting. Is there food in your teeth? Ashes on your tie? And you’ve got nothing to say. The meeting is boring, but you can’t be. But you’re wearing an AccuTron. This watch makes you interesting.”

Freddy Rumsen’s right. This is the beginning of something: the end. And the ad pitch for AccuTron watches that kicks off Mad Men’s seventh and final season (or at least the first half of it in this Sopranos/Breaking Bad-style last-season split) tells us a lot about how our heroes will handle it. If Matthew Weiner hadn’t intended us to “pay attention” to the ad for the watch, he wouldn’t have called this episode “Time Zones.”

I’m back on the Mad Men beat for Wired this year, hooray! Once again each review will view the episode through the lens of the ad campaigns the characters are working on. Mad Men is my favorite show on the air right now, and I love writing about it, though it’s a real challenge. If you watch it, I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to say about it.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Two: “The Lion and the Rose”

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Now’s as good a time as any to point out that this episode was written by author George R.R. Martin — a smart move for several reasons, one of which involves defusing potential complaints about the show’s now-innumerable deviations from the source material. For example, sexual sadist Ramsay Snow taking on a female partner in crime was a headscratcher, though that kind of killing couple is hardly without precedent (google the Moors Murders, if you can stand the result).

The other advantage is to allow the series’ demiurge to try his hand at its unique strength: pairing off characters and just letting them talk. Jaime and Bronn, Roose Bolton and Ramsay and “Reek,” Melisandre and Stannis and his wife Selyse, Cersei and Brienne, Jaime and Loras — the list of dynamite dialogues goes on and on. The dessert course may overwhelm the palate somewhat (loved that close-up of the bird blood in the pie!), but the whole episode is a feast of conversation, cooked up by the master’s hand. And note that in Martin’s original novels, Jaime and Brienne don’t make it back to King’s Landing until after the wedding, meaning some of the episode’s best exchanges wouldn’t even be possible without the show’s changes.

But many of its strengths do indeed originate with the originals. The entire ghastly, endless humiliation of Tyrion by Joffrey came straight from their pages: destroying Tyrion’s painstakingly selected wedding gift, hiring dwarves to put on a grotesque show and damn near forcing Tyrion to participate, dousing him with wine and ordering him to serve as cupbearer. Most revealing is Joffrey’s adamant refusal to let Tyrion play any of this off as accidental, or as “an honor.” Joffrey wants everyone to know exactly what’s going on, and nothing short of spelling it out will do. Joffrey’s not just cruel, he’s stupid — a terrible politician who likely wouldn’t have lasted long on the throne regardless. His final act is to point at the wrong man, for crying out loud. Here lies Joffrey Baratheon: He was the worst, even at dying.

Purple reign, purple reign: I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.


The Great Don Debate: Discuss the Greatness of Mad Men‘s Anti-Hero

Monday, April 14th, 2014

The terrific writer and critic Hazel Cills and I are debating Don Draper and Mad Men for Netflix right this very minute. Come by and talk to us about it.


The Self-Destruction of “Mad Men”

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

But now that the subtext is the text, now thatMad Men‘s storyline has caught up to the countercultural moment that would eventually lead to works like, well, Mad Men, the show’s original aesthetic appeal has been tossed out the window like so much suicide foreshadowing. If you were the kind of Don-bro able to turn off your brain and just enjoy early Mad Men for its lush portrayal of a jocularly misogynist time when men were men, women were women, and everyone looked amazing (even if they smelled like ashtrays), brother, you’re out of luck now. It’s like if David Chase had gotten so fed up with the “Who’s gonna get whacked?” side ofThe Sopranos‘ audience that he spent the last few seasons chronicling Tony Soprano as an honest-to-God waste management consultant. It’s enormously gutsy. And while Matthew Weiner (who, unlike his mentor Chase, at least allows his non-Dons to evolve) couldn’t have known he’d get this far when he spent years lugging the unsold Mad Menpilot around in his briefcase, it was a certainty if the show ever succeeded. Mad Menwas designed to self-destruct.

I wrote about Mad Men‘s deliberate demolition of its nostalgic appeal for Esquire. I’ll also be covering the show again this year for Wired, and you might see me pop up in another place or two about it as well. I like writing about this show, which is the best on tv.


Game of Thrones Q&A: Rory McCann/The Hound

Monday, April 7th, 2014

You guys are shooting in Iceland this year — where you used to live, right?

I hadn’t shot in Iceland with Game of Thrones before — I’d always shot in Malta or Croatia, and [I] was far too hot in that armor. When I was told I was going to Iceland, I couldn’t believe it. Six or seven years ago I went there to do a Viking film, and at the end of it they were like, “You’re going now?” “No, I’m staying.” “No, no, the job’s over.” [firmly] “No. I’ve got my tent. And I’m staying. Thank you very much.” I phoned my agent and went “Don’t phone me unless I’ve definitely got a job.” He didn’t phone me for a year. [Laughs] “Hello? Anything?” I ended up being a carpenter, building houses. Then their whole market crashed, and I borrowed some money off an actor pal that I met up there and hitched out of the place.

I got there last year to do [this season of] Game of Thrones. I’d hitched out of the place on borrowed money, and suddenly there’s this beautiful blonde driver beside this white Range Rover, all smoked out, going [in Scandinavian accent] “Hello, my name is Herta. Should we go skinny dipping before we go to the hotel?” [Laughs] “That would be lovely, Herta.”

Then I was meeting people over there that still didn’t know me as an actor, they just knew me as the guy who used to go to the library. Some still thought I was a local there. I met old friends again, had my bicycle again, did all my old things again. I only partied on the last night, because I was behaving myself. I thought I was gonna have to get my top off for a scene, so I was working out — I mean, I didn’t even drink water for the last 24 hours. On the day, the director comes up to me, and I’ve got dumbells on set, like [makes weightlifting motions] “YEAH! UHHH! FUCKIN’ READY!!!” He touches me on the shoulder and goes “Rory, I was thinking about it last night — I think we’ll just keep the top on,” and leaves me. “Fucking…I haven’t been out for fucking four months! I haven’t had a beer in fucking three months!”

So that night, Maisie was there, it was our last night in Iceland, it was my one night out…and we got stopped by the police. [Laughs] We were all in a van, we had a designated driver, and we were all drunk — but for Maisie, of course — and singing. The police stopped us, he had his hand on the holster, and the driver went “It’s the cast of Game of Thrones.” “Oh yeah? Open up.” I had the nearest seat. I’ve obviously had a few drinks, and I’m very excited. He looks at me, and I go [booming voice] “Hello! I’m the Hound!” And he looks and says “…Hello, Hound! You enjoy Iceland?” I said a few things in Icelandic, and he’s like “Fuck yeah! Well, you have a good time!” And we went on singing. [Laughs]

I interviewed Rory McCann, aka Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, for Rolling Stone, and it was my favorite interview ever.


STC @ MoCCA

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Come see this smiling mug in person at the MoCCA Arts Fest at the Armory in NYC, this Saturday and Sunday from 11a-6p. I’ll either be circulating or making a nuisance of myself near Julia Gfrörer at table G4, so make sure to grab me and say hi if you see me. It’s an alternative-comics convention, so I’ll no doubt be hankering to discuss the membership of the ideal Kingsguard.


The Shocking 16: TV’s Most Heartstopping Moments

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

I wrote up 16 of the New Golden Age of TV’s most surprising and suspenseful scenes and sequences for Rolling Stone (with a little help from my fabulous editor David Fear). Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Lost, Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black, The Shield, The Sopranos, True Detective, Twin Peaks, The Walking Dead, The Wire. Read, then vote in our neat bracket tournament thing!


The Game of Thrones Season Four Cheat Sheet

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Bone up on Thrones: Over at Rolling Stone I wrote a cheat sheet for the show so you can get the lay of the land before this Sunday’s premiere. Share it with that special “wait, who’s that guy again?” someone in your life.

Apologies if you’re getting sick of all the GoT/ASoIaF stuff, but a) you haven’t even seen the half of it here, and b) just you wait a couple weeks when Mad Men season begins.


The Top 40 Game of Thrones Characters, Ranked

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Valar Dohaeris or what have you — I ranked 40 major characters from Game of Thrones from worst to best for Rolling Stone. I never do this kind of thing, which is why I had to do it. I think I’m gonna do one of those supermarket “you’re our millionth customer” prizewinner things in the comments, only for people who say “obviously you’ve never read the books.”


The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 28!

Monday, March 31st, 2014

The Quality of Mercy: GeorgeRRMartin.com’s new “The Winds of Winter” Sample Chapter

It is a weeping, and a moaning, and a gnashing of teeth: Hot on the heels of our last installment comes yet another BLAH about yet another Winds of Winter sample chapter! For all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s about Arya Stark, this one’s pretty clearly the most talked-about yet. Should we believe the hype, or is this often disturbing chapter chronicling Arya’s further Faceless adventures in Braavos edgy for edginess’ sake? And if we see it as the latter, who’s to blame — an author pushing the envelope, or an audience out for blood? It’s our most conflicted sample-chapter discussion yet. Bone up on some recommended reading referenced in the ep first, if you’re up for it, then tune in and see where you come down.

Mirror here.

Previous episodes here.

Podcast RSS feed here.

iTunes page here.

Sean’s blog here.

Stefan’s blog here.


Destructor and the Wiegle

Monday, March 31st, 2014

For the first time in many moons, a new set of Destructor pages is up at the online home of my science-fantasy webcomic. These will be my longtime friend and collaborator Matt Wiegle’s final Destructor pages for a while; we hope to bring in a new artist to keep the saga careening forward to its retrospectively inevitable destination. Thank you for reading, and give Matt a hand when you see him.


The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 27!

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Wild Is the Wind: The New “The Winds of Winter” Sample Chapter in the World of Ice and Fire App

[WARNING: A PODCAST FULL OF SPOILERS AHEAD]

Once more unto the breach, dear friends: George R.R. Martin has unveiled a new sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, this time ensconced in the World of Ice and Fire app on your friendly neighborhood smartphone, and Stefan and I are back to pick that sucker apart! The POV character is Tyrion Lannister, the place is Meereen, and the scene is a slaughter — the Battle of Fire is now fully underway, so via the Imp we get a picture of how the fight is going, who’s involved on what side (the Windblown! the Ironborn! the Second Sons!), and how Tyrion feels about it all. From the strategic situation to Tyrion’s own psychological battles, there’s a lot to talk about. And with GRRM promising much more ASoIaF material on the way at a pretty rapid clip this year, we’d better get cracking!

Mirror here.

Previous episodes here.

Podcast RSS feed here.

iTunes page here.

Sean’s blog here.

Stefan’s blog here.