Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone’
4. Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones
Seven gods, seven kingdoms, zero redeeming qualities — the atrocious boy king who bedeviled House Stark was a living embodiment of George R.R. Martin’s furious fantasy revisionism: If you’re a rich man with a good family name, you can get away with literally anything. In Joffrey’s case, this included torture, murder, sexual assault, the beheading of the show’s main character (R.I.P. Ned, you were too good for this world), and generally being a sneering little shit. He was so hateful that the few times he received any kind of comeuppance—an insult, a slap, a good old-fashioned regicide at the so-called Purple Wedding — are among the show’s most meme-able moments. Actor Jack Gleeson retired from showbiz immediately upon completion of the role; by scraping the bottom, he went out on top.
I ranked the 40 greatest TV villains of all time for Rolling Stone. This, of course, is definitive and inarguable.
Still, the biggest surprise is that defiantly anticlimactic ending. Anyone hoping for a knock-down drag-out fight between Ash and Ruby, let alone him and the forces she controls, is outta luck. (Save it for your Bruce Campbell/Lucy Lawless fanfic.) What you’ve got instead is an exhausted middle-aged man who wants to save his own ass, keep his friends from getting killed, and give up the fight to go live the good life down in Jacksonville. Ruby talks a good game, claiming her goal isn’t the apocalypse but its opposite — an orderly world in which evil coexists with good under her command. That’s part of why Ash takes the deal, sure. But the real reason goes back to what Kelly said about him last episode: He always takes the easy way out if given the chance.
Maybe that’s what explains the character’s enduring appeal. Campbell, of course, is Exhibits A, B, and C in the case of Evil Dead’s lasting legacy. But Ash isn’t just the cartoon character he comes across as. He often makes decisions that aren’t just stupid, but shitty — something action-horror-comedy hybrid heroes are rarely permitted. His carelessness with the Necronomicon is what got everyone into this mess, and his willingness to fob it off on anyone, even Ruby, appears to have brought on Armageddon. In the end, he saves his friends and hightails it out of there, leaving the entire world to its fate; he gets to the finish line and immediately hooks left. It’s not how heroes, even funny ones, are supposed to act. It’s not how stories like this are supposed to work. But Ash vs. Evil Dead never claimed that it would play by the rules. It’s too crazy and confident to be anything but its own groovy self.
When you talk about what makes a TV series succeed or fail, you typically want to avoid repeating the same points over and over. Who wants to sound like a broken record, right? Tell that to John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they made “Revolution 9″ — and if repetition is good enough for the Beatles, it’s good enough for us, and for Ash vs. Evil Dead. The penultimate episode of the show’s first season — “Bound in the Flesh” — gets where it’s going by repeating the same trick it’s pulled since the pilot: taking the gore and nastiness as far as it can, then taking them one step beyond. Like that creepy voice saying “Number nine … number nine …” over and over, it works.
As a general rule, Ash vs. Evil Dead has its tongue buried so far in its cheek it pokes through the side of its own face. True to its splatstick roots, the series cranks up the blood and guts to a more-funny-than-scary degree, and uses its talented troupe of comedic actors to crack wiseass jokes about the carnage. It’s not that it’s making light of violence, let alone celebrating or valorizing it — its attitude is that in the face of evil, death, and the combination thereof, you just have to laugh.
Which makes tonight’s episode — “Ashes to Ashes” — such a shock. From the title on down, it seemed like little more than an excuse to introduce the series’ goofiest antagonist yet: a clone of Ash J. Williams, grown from the stump of his own severed hand. A Bruce Campbell vs. Bruce Campbell fight scene? Groovy, right? But when the evil Ash killed Amanda Fisher — the dogged, surprisingly flirtatious detective who went from nemesis to love interest in the blink of an eye — it was a development that the show’s shits ‘n’ giggles tone made impossible to see coming, and emotionally difficult to withstand.
I reviewed this weekend’s Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone. This show has really been a pleasant surprise.
“Life is hard and dangerous, and sometimes you just gotta chop off somebody’s head to survive.” Wait, since when did Ash vs. Evil Dead become The Walking Dead? We kid, of course. Unlike the smash-hit zombie series, Starz’s resurrection of the beloved splatstick franchise is neither pretentious nor nihilistic enough to serve up that line of dialogue with a straight face. While TWD doles out its sadistic, kill-or-be-killed valorization of violence in all misguided seriousness, tonight’s Ash episode — “Fire in the Hole” — treats it like the joke that it is. In this go-round, Ash J. Williams and his merry band come across a militia full of Rick Grimes–style might-makes-right gun fetishists, and promptly pull their asses out of the fire.
Six episodes into its first season, AvED shows no signs of either slowing down or slipping up. In fact, in sheer entertainment terms, this week’s episode — “The Killer of Killers” — may be the best of the bunch so far. Yes, it lacks the genuine jump-scares of the pilot’s haunted-house atmosphere — hard to pull off when your climactic battle is staged in a greasy spoon — or the inventively awful creature design of the Eligos installments. But it more than makes up for this with crackerjack jokes, no-nonsense viciousness, and enough gore to fill an elevator in the Overlook Hotel. Directed by Michael Hurst, whose resume is full of rollicking genre fare (Hercules, Xena, Spartacus, the Bruce Campbell–starring Jack of All Trades), it’s the most fun you’ll have in 24 minutes this weekend.
I reviewed this weekend’s episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone. My editor cut the concluding “…without taking your clothes off” from this graf but otherwise I stand by it.
The show’s willingness to take on subjects with a degree of difficulty high enough that even so-called “prestige” dramas tend to steer clear remains impressive. Case in point: Following their rousing duet “Powerful” — a Black Lives Matter protest anthem mixed with “Roar”-style empowerment pop — inveterate morning-DJ troublemaker Charlamagne tha God, appearing as himself, bluntly interrogates the pair about their identities. “You black now?” he asks Skye, accusing her of “singing about a race she never really claimed.” Without realizing that he’s struck a nerve, he asks Jamal how people would react if, despite being gay, he suddenly started dating a woman. You can see every possible shade of these sentiments expressed across social media anytime a celebrity’s statements on race or sexuality make the national news. A quickie photoshop of Skye with “a Rachel Dolezal wig” adds even more authentic viral-politics flavor to the mix.
All of this was in service of last week’s shocking smooch — maybe the single soapiest moment in the show’s history, at least until that staircase tumble tonight. The series could have coasted off the sensationalism of that moment for as long as it wanted; instead, it choose to dig into the sociopolitical subtext. (Showrunner mindreading attempts are always ill-advised, but it’s not tough to imagine it’s because this shit matters to them.) Not that any of it felt like getting lectured, of course. It wouldn’t be Empireif even sensitive topics weren’t turned into “oh shit!” moments, whether that’s the shock of Charlamagne’s Q&A or the heartbreaking bigotry ofLucious when, with tears of joy in his eyes, he tells Jamal, “She fixed you!”
The coup de grace against Eligos is the moment that brings it all together. Once Pablo lures the entity out of their friend, Ash is ready to blow it to kingdom come with his shotgun, except the beast teleports far too quickly for the boomstick to get a bead. Then our hero flashes back to something he said during his drug trip last week: “Shoot first, think never.” It’s a terrific credo for the character, not least because Bruce Campbell hilariously plays any instance where thought is required like the strain might cause his head to explode.
And it leads to a kick-ass climax: El Jefe tosses his shotgun in the air, then takes a swipe at the demon with his chainsaw-hand in slo-mo. The creature disappears. The shotgun lands back in his hand, he levels it where it lands, and just before he pulls the trigger, bang, that’s where Eligos reappears. BOOM — the demon is dispatched in a spray of green jelly. Instinct prevails over logic, chaos over order, magic over reason, fun over not-fun. For both the character and the show itself, nonsense makes perfect sense.
All the great shows ask big questions. Mad Men made us think “Can people really change?” The Wire wondered “Can the system be saved?” And tonight, Empire asked “Is Alicia Keys talented and gorgeous enough to convert a gay dude?” According to Fox’s smash-hit soap, the answer is yes! The series has already had a wild second season, but this week’s installment — “Sinned Against” — was the daffiest hour to date…and it was sealed with a kiss.
Last week on Ash vs. Evil Dead, the show put its unique splatstick spin on Hellraiser. This time out, it took on the Monkees’ Head. The Pre-Fab Four’s film, a free-form psychedelic-era artifact (written by Jack Nicholson!), is as good a touchstone as any for the far-out trip Ash J. Williams went on this week — that, or the “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” dream sequence from The Big Lebowski. Our working theory was that tonight’s episode, “Brujo,” was going to offer AvED’s version of New World witchcraft. Instead, it showed us El Jefe’s brain on drugs. As the man himself might put it: Groovy.
I reviewed this past weekend’s Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone. This show is really a hoot.
Then there’s the rap battle itself. To be honest, Hakeem’s defeat of Freda felt like something of a mercy killing, since the young MC’s storyline was a rare case of a plot element on Empire that never quite worked. Granted, the character was supposed to seem ill at ease in the Lyons’ high-powered world, but that out-of-place vibe affected how it felt to watch her as well. Compared to her convincingly sullen demeanor and angry outbursts, the idea that she had a take-on-the-world hunger to rival that of Lucious and his family never came across on screen. She always looked like someone who’d be much happier just battling on the streets where the mogul found her.
If you’ve watched more than a handful of horror films or TV shows, you know the ugly truth all too well: There are a million ways to make a denizens of the netherworld completely boring to watch. So praise the Lord and pass the ammunition: Ash vs. Evil Dead knows how to do it 100-percent correct. What this Starz continuation of the venerable “splatstick” franchise understands is that when it comes to the genre, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — sometimes simply building a better mousetrap will do.
When it comes to Lucious Lyon, there’s no separating the man and his music. The character plays like a parody of pretentious, tempestuous artistes — people who use every triumph and tragedy as fuel for their work and their bad behavior. No wonder stepping into his mind is like watching a Behind the Music episode. In a series of dramatic flashbacks, we discover the shocking origin of the gunshot sound effects that drive the mogul’s tailor-made collaboration with young upstart Freeda Gatz: That’s the noise his bipolar mother would make while playing Russian roulette. This raises two major questions. First, given Lucious’s erratic behavior, is he beginning to suffer from the manic mood swings that plagued both his mom and his son Andre? Second, if that’s the secret behind “Boom Boom Boom Boom,” is there a similarly shocking truth behind Hakeem’s “Drip Drop”?
Is it premature to declare the birth of a whole new TV-show genre? Tonight’s Ash vs. Evil Dead episode — “Bait” — boasts more gore-soaked scenes than half a True Blood season and better gags than the bulk of the broadcast networks’ fall comedy line-up. What do you call the result? Action, drama, sitcom, horror — none of these feel quite right. It’s some high-octane hybrid of all of them, and it pursues a single purpose with all the relentlessness of the reanimated dead: to entertain the living shit out of you.
When was the last time the end of an episode of a television show made you laugh with delight? If you’re an Empire viewer, chances are good this is a regular occurrence. And if you watched tonight’s installment, it probably happened to you about five minutes ago. Cookie Lyons shows up at the house of her hot new security chief Delgado to finally set their slow-burn sexual tension alight; the guy takes off his shirt to reveal the longhorn-cattle brand that marked her son Hakeem’s kidnappers. And boom! A sex scene turns into a plot twist without missing a beat, or a thrust. It’s yet another “oh, shit!” moment of the sort that’s made the Fox soap so damn entertaining, week after week after week.
I reviewed tonight’s episode of Empire for Rolling Stone. This show is such a blast.
But the show’s biggest selling point is neither a dick joke nor a Deadite — it’s the director. As a filmmaker, Sam Raimi brings every weapon in his arsenal to shooting this thing: kinetic but clear action-sequence editing, off-kilter angles, whiplash-inducing camera movements, and that signature evil’s-eye-view high-speed tracking shot. He has one of the few directorial styles that really does merit the ubiquitous comparison to a rollercoaster, although in this case you’ve gotta move down the midway to another attraction: the haunted house ride. The episode lurches and careens, stops short and speeds up, and always seems to have another jump-scare just around the corner. It’s all so gleefully gonzo that you forget this gentleman has helmed some of the biggest mainstream blockbusters of all time. Watching Raimi work his magic on the small screen isn’t just entertaining, it’s inspiring — a sign that TV really can do whatever it wants, and that the only obstacle is that no one bothered to try before.
I’m covering Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone this season, starting with last night’s premiere—a mixed bag, especially the writing, but with much to recommend it.
3. Hannibal (2013-2015)
How the hell did a show as visually audacious, narratively perverse, and mind-bogglingly gory as Hannibal wind up on the Peacock Network? Before its unceremonious and unfortunate third-season cancellation, Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s series of serial-killer novels — starring cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and his arch-frienemy, FBI profiler Will Graham — was nothing short of a horror lover’s fever dream. It treated murder as performance art, peeling away the flesh and gristle of the human body in sensuous, spectacular slow motion to expose the heart of darkness within. In the process it made pretty much every other Prestige Drama look like a student film. As the Phantom of the Opera once said: Feast your eyes, glut your soul.
I counted down the Top 25 horror tv shows of all time for Rolling Stone. Who’s number one?
What’s an empire without a few martyrs? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Andre Lyon’s born-again Christianity hasn’t cost him anything more than a few tense moments with his family — yet. But when tonight’s episode — “Be True” (as in the Shakesperean “To thine own self…”) — dunked the eldest of Emperor Lucious the First’s three sons in the baptismal font, it also put him in the hot seat.
I forgot to link to it the other day, but I reviewed last week’s transitional episode of Empire for Rolling Stone.
We live in an era of all-or-nothing politicization of fandom: Every show and every star is treated as either ideologically flawless or irredeemably evil. Empire knows it’s not that simple. It speaks to the issues, knowing that’s the duty of all art. But it also sees how easy it is to pass off schlock and kitsch as grand statements, and holds itself to a higher standard in that regard than any fan or critic ever could.
As a wise man once asked, “What’s a king to a god?” For Lucious Lyon, anyway, the answer is clear: jack shit. As the focus of much of this week’s episode of Empire — titled, with the show’s typical level of chill, “Fires of Heaven” — the artist/mogul/murderer acts like a recording-industry Zeus, throwing thunderbolts at his hapless subjects below.
I reviewed this week’s fantastically entertaining Empire for Rolling Stone. Here’s the thing about this show: While watching this episode I found myself thinking “This is so good at what it does it actually makes me nervous, because a soap opera with no obvious flaws is some uncanny-valley shit. Surely it’ll screw up! When will it screw up? I must know!” It’s true, though. Empire is neither pretentious nor insulting, neither snidely campy nor self-serious, neither overshooting or undershooting the mark, neither crass nor sanctimonious, neither dull nor overindulgent, neither a guilty pleasure nor an attempt to make you feel like you’re secretly eating your vegetables. It’s just, like, exactly right. It’s hard to wrap my mind around.