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roused to mediocrity is back! probably. [five things 5.4.19]

It has been a long time coming, but Roused to Mediocrity has returned.

I’ve miss it too much to let it stay dead. I’m not myself when I’m not nerding out about the things I love. I miss using this medium to tell my friends about the cool shit I’m into right now. I miss diving more deeply into the things that moved me to parse out what impacted me. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been hiding my passion for things the last few years, but I have been, and it’s stupid, and I need to stop.

Part of my life, part of me has been missing, and while RtM might not account for all of it, I need to be writing again, and this is as good a place as any to start.

I’ve shied away from jumping back in for fear I won’t do it consistently enough, but fuck it. Let’s do this.

What better way to get back into the swing of things than a good old fashioned ‘Five Things’ post. So here they are, five random things I’ve loved recently.

On with the show!

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1.  Avengers: Endgame

Epic is overused these days, but it’s the only word that accurately describes last week’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to long-awaited onscreen battles.

Game of Thrones and the MCU have captured a huge portion of the pop culture consciousness for about a decade (eight and eleven years respectively), and last week included two massive battles royale that were meant to offer some semblance of closure for two devoted fanbases — along with the larger public who’ve been pulled onto the bandwagon.

Within the worlds of each story, both battles had the fate of all (or half of all) life hanging in the balance. Each had wildly overpowered villains. And each had a remarkably high degree of difficulty for the creators.

The difference between the two, in my experience, is that one was a mess, and the other stuck the landing.

Endgame had the same magic that the first Avengers film had in terms of the good kind of fan service — seeing it opening weekend at a 1am showing was not without more than its fair share of roaring cheers. And it offered satisfying conclusions for character arcs that have spanned more than a decade.

The notes all landed in terms of humor, action, acting, and poignancy. These characters we’ve grown to love were given their due at the end of a long road, and some of the more significant moments in the film were — on the other side of the coin from the cheers mentioned above — not without more than their fair share of sniffling throughout the audience.

The theater is often my favorite place to be, heightening the magic and power of cinema. Seeing Endgame with a theater full of strangers all invested enough to start a three hour movie at 1 a.m. was a genuinely communal experience. The quality of the film is the reason that experience was a beautiful one.

Bravo to everyone involved for taking a tough pitch and hitting it out of the park.

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2. Russian Doll

I watched all of Russian Doll twice in a week. The first time because I started an episode to try it out and watched all of it in a day. The second time because I was so taken by it the first time that I got Emily to watch an episode, and we promptly watched the whole thing in an evening.

I love it so much. It’s funny and smart, and manages to be sardonic enough that any tenderness and hopefulness doesn’t feel like bullshit.

Everyone in it is great, especially Natasha Lyonne as our hilarious, irreverent, self-destructive, lovable asshole of a protagonist.

Most importantly, the show is my favorite narrative interaction with mental illness — and how much we all need each other — in a long time.

I should write more about this show, and maybe I will, but for now, suffice it to say that I really loved Russian Doll.

P.S. It also includes what will undoubtedly be my favorite line of dialogue from TV all year. I won’t write what it is, because I think it’s spoilery, but feel free to ask via message or IRL.

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3. Love by Toni Morrison

I’m pretty sure there has never been a writer superior to Toni Morrison. She has peers, but no betters.

Her style is full of quiet power, never relying on overly flowery or ornate language, but instead delivering perfect prose in which every word is a gift.

She shines light through the stories of ordinary but marginalized people, Black Americans struggling for joy, belonging, or respect; for love, sex, or security; for revenge or power; for a way out or a way in; for hope or release; and in the process she reveals the beauty and darkness in every human life.

To quote Oprah — something I can assure you I never thought I would do in the life of this blog — “Toni Morrison’s work shows us through pain all the myriad ways we can come to love.”

Love is a difficult book to put down; not because of some narrative tension where we need to see what happens next, but because it’s such a gift to live with Morrison’s words. Her characters are so full of humanity, each feels like a full, living person, slowly revealing their inner world. The conclusion is moving and beautiful for all its tragedy, and it moved me to tears.

In related news, this:

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4. Bob’s Burgers

Nine seasons in, and Bob’s Burgers is better than ever. At a point when too many shows begin teetering into poor quality, getting more desperate to keep an audience as characters grow stale, Bob’s Burgers just keeps improving. I’d say I don’t get the sense that Bob is planning to strap on any water skis for a daring jump over some sharks, but since that would be an amazing episode of Bob’s Burgers, it would be stupid to rule it out. Yet, the metaphor stands, Bob’s Burgers appears to be in no danger of jumping the shark any time soon.

I get that these characters check all my boxes. Droll weirdos who genuinely love and support each other in spite of all the pot shots is definitely my jam, but those elements alone don’t automatically make me enjoy a show or movie or whatever. More often than not it’s poorly executed, as if the characters were written by aliens who have only a vague approximation of human interaction. Aliens who believe that as long as a line is delivered in a certain tone of voice, with certain musical cues, it’s the same thing as writing genuinely funny and believable moments.

Bob’s Burgers gets it all right, and for my money, the Belchers are the best family on television.

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5. Borderlands 3 

Okay, so this is over a month old, but I wasn’t writing a month ago. Borderlands 3 is officially happening. It has a release date and everything (Sep. 3)!

If you know, you know.

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my year in shows, 2017.

Here are all the shows I finished for the first time in 2017.

Movies are still my first love, so this list isn’t quite as interesting as my film list. Still, definitely some gems on here; they don’t argue about calling this the golden age of television for nothing.

Italics means I was rewatching seasons I’d seen before in their entirety. I also rewatched episodes of 30 Rock, Sunny, Bob’s Burgers, Parks and Rec, Archer, and Arrested Development all year, just as I do every other year.


Luke Cage – Season One
The Night Of
The X-Files – Seasons One – Seven
Black Mirror – Season Three


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Season Twelve
Legion – Season One
Adventure Time – Seasons One – Four
Master of None – Season Two
Fargo – Season Two
American Gods – Season One
Silicon Valley – Season Four
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Season Three
Archer – Season 8
Game of Thrones – Season 7
Strike: Cuckoo’s Calling
Rick and Morty – Season 3
Stranger Things – Season 2
Last Week Tonight – Season 4
Bob’s Burgers – Season 7
Future Man – Season 1
The Good Place – Season 1

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the triumphant-ish return of five things. [five things, 6.9.17]

These days, there’s just too much media to consume.

Combine the accumulation of all the great things created in human history, and you already have too much to get to in one lifetime. Add to that the fact that amazing stuff is currently being made at a pace that is impossible to keep up with, and you have a recipe for despair.

The last thing you need is some asshole giving you a list of more things you should check out.

In that spirit, here is a list of five things you should check out.

None of these things are obscure, but all of them seem underappreciated based on my limited line of sight.


1. Power Man and Iron Fist by David F. Walker

I haven’t watched it yet, but by most accounts, Netflix’s Iron Fist was underwhelming at best. Many people responded more favorably to Luke Cage, but while I enjoyed the character on Jessica Jones, the standalone show fell really flat for me.

Fortunately, I don’t need Netflix if I want a great ongoing Power Man and Iron Fist story, because David F. Walker has been absolutely killing it since relaunching the title for Marvel early last year.

Power Man and Iron Fist is witty, playful, socially aware, smart, and above all, really fun.

Walker is able to embrace and transcend the blaxploitation roots of the title in ways that work on every level.

Also, did I mention it’s really fun? The style? The art? The characterization? Fun, fun, and fun.

Power Man and Iron Fist does just about everything the Luke Cage series tried — and in my opinion failed — to do as far as social commentary goes, but without ever taking itself very seriously.

I want David F. Walker to write all of the things.

Will the Heroes for Hire ride again? Can Danny and Luke get their old mojo back in order to stop an entertaining rogue’s gallery from tearing Harlem apart? Will someone be able to use the Supersoul Stone, and artifacts like it, to become the darkly powerful Grandmaster of Street Magic? You’ll have to read and find out.


2. A Band Called Death

I finally got around to watching this movie. You should finally get around to watching it, too.

I expected it to be entertaining, appealing to my music and record loving heart. And it was. I had a great time watching the story of Death and the strange series of events that led to the band being discovered 34 years after recording their only album.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional power of the film’s third act as it touches on the beauty of family and the bittersweet nature of hope.

Shut up, I’m not crying. You’re crying.


3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Obviously, the film isn’t underappreciated. The beauty of Hayao Miyazaki‘s modern classic — one among many — is well-known.

But the book by Diana Wynne Jones? Now, that’s a different story. Literally, actually. It’s a very different story than the one Miyazaki told — his changes were reportedly made, at least in part, to create a film in response to the American war in Iraq.

Obviously I won’t go into detail about specific differences, because that would ruin all the fun for any of you who decide to read it. What I will say is that both stories are great, so it isn’t hard to love each of them.

Jones immediately shot up my list of authors whose work I want to devour entirely, in much the same way that a fire demon eats bacon. Neil Gaiman’s love for Jones already had her on my list of authors to check out, but Howl’s Moving Castle plants her firmly in the ‘Give Me More’ category. Her writing is funny, wise, and layered. Her narrative voice is bright and playful, and the way she limits the reader’s field of vision based on Sophie’s perspective — even though she isn’t the narrator — is done with heaping portions of humor and insight.

This is a quick read, and well worth your time. Just try not to drag the movie into it. Let each stand in conversation with the other, not opposition.


4. Mo’ Meta Blues by ?uestlove

Seeing The Roots live is one of the greatest music experiences currently available in this world. The two Roots shows we’ve seen were infectiously joyful, wildly fun three-hour-long homages to music and life, with Questlove as the mad genius ringleader [[I read they’ve since tragically retired the three-hour-long so-called ‘Springsteen shows.’]] This book felt a lot like the text manifestation of those shows. I loved it.

One of my favorite things is passionate, knowledgable people talking about the things they love most. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more passionate or knowledgable about a given topic than Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson is about music.

I loved learning the story of Questlove, beginning with his parents’ record collection. I loved learning the story of The Roots, beginning with Black Thought’s rivalry with Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men — they all went to the same arts high school in Philly. But most of all, I loved the deep, overflowing love Questo has for music and seeing how that passion has shaped his entire life, and American music along with it.


5. Legion

I tell ya, I thank the gods of television that Noah Hawley is making shows.

David Haller thinks he’s crazy, but it turns out he’s actually just a wildly powerful mutant. Then again, maybe he’s crazy.

You may think a television show adapted from the pages of an X-Men comic won’t be to your liking, but if let that keep you from watching Legion you’ll really be missing out.

This show isn’t what people might expect in their knee-jerk assumptions about a show based on a comic. It’s super trippy and lots of fun… I know, I’ve said almost everything in this post so far is fun, it’s just that these things are fun.

Legion is like if Pushing Daisies and Fargo — the show, obviously, because Noah Hawley — had a baby, and then that baby grew up and had a baby with Charles Xavier.

The show is smart and quirky, with unexpected delight and/or creepiness waiting around every corner.

The cast is especially great, with the performances by Aubrey Plaza, Dan Stevens and Jemaine Clement deserving gold stars in my book.

Seriously, don’t let the comic origins put you off if you don’t like comics. You can hate super hero films and still love this show. The show is designed so someone who has never even heard of comic books can jump right in and enjoy it. I know that might be hard to believe coming from a guy who started this installment of five things with a comic book, but it’s true. I promise!

 

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more like master of my heart, amirite?! [master of none, season two.]

First things first. In hindsight, the fact that I didn’t name this blog Master of None back when I started it is a great personal failure. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the name Roused to Mediocrity, but Master of None would have been perfect.

What am I if not a jack of all (or at least many) cultural trades, but master of none? What is this blog if not proof that I know more than the average person about a lot of mediums and genres, but never enough to claim mastery, or say, teach a class, or be gainfully employed in the field?

So, as well as I relate to the show’s title, I’m aware that part of what I love about Master of None is that Aziz ticks all the right boxes for me.

The way the show depicts a passion for flavor and adventure is familiar to me. I feel a deep kinship with a character who charges head first down the rabbit hole of any given interest or hobby, or who needs to do internet research to find the best tacos or burgers or ramen or ice cream before choosing where to eat. I see parts of myself in Dev, a character perpetually curious about interesting things and new experiences.

To put it another way, I feel at home in the show’s eccentricities — they’re common eccentricities, no doubt, but they’re eccentricities all the same. If I had the money Dev does, I would live a very similar life, minus all the frustrating dating. I want to live in his apartment, I want to wear his clothes, I want to eat every meal he eats.

That being said, my appreciation for Master of None can’t be summed up in my desire to live the good life. Far more than that, I love that the show is full of sincere personal storytelling from Aziz and co-creator Alan Yang. The details may not be purely autobiographical — although at times they seem to get pretty close — but the themes and overall feeling of the show seem to reveal a part of themselves in a very real way. The show engages themes of identity, family, culture, race, passion, vocation, and relationships, and always with vulnerability, honesty, and tenderness. Add to that a style that is fresh, inventive, and ambitious, and you have a winning formula.

The show is aesthetically and structurally bold, but the bolder moves always work. Like when they spent one of the season’s ten episodes writing a love letter to New York, skipping the show’s primary characters for 10% of the season! [Also, that they spent a chunk of that episode in total silence!] Or when they veer off of Dev’s trajectory for a flashback episode focusing on Denise and the story of her family as they learn to accept that she’s gay — a definite highlight of the season for me. Or kicking off season two with a black and white episode-long homage to Bicycle Thieves (aka The Bicycle Thief, aka Ladri di biciclette), a film you should watch right away if you’ve never seen it.

Those are bold choices, but they fit right in tonally on Master of None. The “New York, I Love You,” episode works because New York has been a character on the show all along. “Thanksgiving” fits, in part, because it’s so tonally consistent with the other episodes. “The Thief” works because, while Dev is taking this deep dive into Italian culture, of course he would start seeing his life as Italian neorealist cinema. And all three work because the episodes fit so well thematically. Master of None is always about how bittersweet it is to be a human, constantly dealing with all the ordinary bullshit and beauty that comes along with being alive.

Master of None is an impressively well-made show. Even more than season one, season two is full of impressive moments of style and craft. Satisfyingly, these moments are used as a tool for storytelling. Any moment where I thought, “Oh, this is a really cool shot,” it was always in service of the story. It’s never empty style.

Anyway, you should definitely watch Master of None if you aren’t yet, even if it turns out we never get a third season.

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the x-files. [a month of happy.]

Popular culture is central to my life. My love of movies, books, music, shows, and the like made me who I am, or at the very least, offered me the language to articulate and navigate my world in powerfully formative ways.

And of all the things that I identified with and was shaped by, the X-Files is second to none.

I’ve forgotten most of my life, a phenomenon that increases in degree as I get older, but many of the memories that have stayed are related to X-Files.

I still have a clear recollection of the time I watched “Squeeze” as an eleven year old. I was terrified and captivated, and the rest of that week I couldn’t be in the dark because I was certain Eugene Victor Tooms was crawling through our heating vents to come and eat my liver. Okay, so maybe I didn’t really think he was coming, but I wasn’t willing to bet my life that he definitely wasn’t coming to eat my liver.

After that, I was hooked. I watched X-Files devotedly from then until the show ended in 2002. My college friends and I rewatched the entire show together, from beginning to end. Which was made easier because that’s when television shows on DVD started to be a thing (actually, the seasons were released on DVD between 2000 and 2004, exactly the years I was in college).

It was our cult, and we delighted in being complete fucking nerds about it. We had Xs taped in our windows, Mitch Pileggi headshots beside our beds, and would often drop whatever other social plans we were involved in when the other three guys came by with an invitation to go ‘X it up.’

My last.fm profile handle is SpookyMulder. My Popularium byline is “I want to believe.”

Now I’m getting to rewatch the show again with Emily as she watches it for the first time.

Most of the popular tv shows today owe part of their DNA to the X-Files, as do I.

There are traces of Scully in my skepticism and wariness, and traces of Mulder in my sarcasm and passion. As evidenced by Emily’s regular exclamations while we watch along the lines of, “Are you sure you’re not Mulder?!” But I actually used to be far more like Mulder than I am now. These days I’m too much like sad sack season five Mulder, when he stopped believing for a while and the animating force went out of him, because he was so driven by his dogged pursuit of truth. I remember those days, and I miss them. I still share too many of his vices and weaknesses. And when I’m my best self, I still share some of his strengths. I mean, minus the brilliance, obviously.

Anywyay, when the X-Files was bad, it was sooooo bad, but when it was good, it was perfect. There are ‘monster of the week’ episodes of the show that will always be on the short list of my favorite tv episodes of all time.

I wish I had more time to write about this, to refine and expand my thoughts — and do even basic editing — alas, this is what happens when a person self-imposes the requirement to post something every single day regardless of busyness.

Suffice it to say that in a month sharing things that make me happy, nothing fits better than the X-Files.

 

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archer noir. [a month of happy.]

We are so close to a new season of Archer. 

Spoilers follow, if that’s even a thing with Archer.

I’m assuming this season takes place in Archer’s mind at the end of season seven, what with the oxygen deprivation and whatnot. Brains are weird even when you aren’t in a cartoon.

That would be a tidy way to have a season that is disconnected from the other seasons. After that, I would assume he’ll be brought back to life for season nine — the whole ‘he was dead for eight minutes’ sort of thing. Since Adam Reed said the show will end after the tenth season, I can’t imagine Archer stays dead.

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a closer look. [a month of happy.]

One thing that has helped me stay sane — or at least, stay in the same neighborhood as sane — these last few months, has been comedians who offer clear-eyed commentary on the lunacy of this administration. And for me, Seth Meyers is right up there in significance with Last Week Tonight and Stephen Colbert (whose heartfelt, live plea for hope and reason on election night kept me from the brink of despair that evening).

There’ve been plenty of claims that through all this Stephen Colbert has been America’s dad, and in that vein, Seth Meyers has felt to me like a funny older brother, talking us through the bullshit.

All the praise for Seth’s interview with Kellyanne Conway was well-deserved, but “A Closer Look” is my favorite thing they do. I’m always sad on the days when we don’t get a new installment.

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