The Time Presents Itself: 'Twin Peaks' Premiere Is A Beautiful/Terrible Nightmare

By Caitlin Malcuit

For the return of “Twin Peaks”—sorry, “Twin Peaks: The Return”—to feel like a waking nightmare couldn’t come at a more prescient moment. Perhaps, to prepare, you buzz at the small pleasure of a slice of cherry pie and cup of black coffee at 9 p.m. But by 11, those treats all sit in the pit of your stomach, churning in an acidic swirl of red and black. It feels like the evil that seeped out of the Black Lodge, smothering more lives in more places with some insidious smog. Time and narrative don’t feel so linear or certain. What the fuck do we know about anything anymore?

The two-part premiere looks and feels like the whiplash fever dream of a David Lynch feature, but the crack-of-the-neck twists unfold in excruciating slow motion. A looming dread, twitchy apparitions, and pulsing sound design may feel more at home in “Silent Hill” or “Jacob’s Ladder” than what “Twin Peaks” fans are used to. The knowing kitsch of the former incarnation is 25 years in the past, and the present is the gritty, slow-burn of prestige drama that everyone cribbed from Lynch anyway. That’s not to say we don’t encounter aesthetic mainstays—the title theme sweeps over white water and rushing waterfalls until the Red Room bleeds into frame. And that’s where we find Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) once again.

Following the replay of Cooper’s dream, Dale and the Giant (Carel Struycken) sit in crisp black and white. The latter implores Agent Cooper to “listen to the sounds” of a scratchy, crackling phonograph. “It is in our house now,” the Giant warns. “It is?” asks Cooper. The Giant replies, “It all cannot be said aloud now. Remember 430. Richard and Linda, two birds with one stone.” I understand says Cooper, even if we don’t. Yet.

For now, the Black Lodge is where Cooper stays. BOB, possessing our beloved agent’s body, roams free to terrorize mortals, grizzled and hardened, his hair a greasy mop with an equally greasy snakeskin dress shirt and leather jacket. His is a world not of diner pies and donuts, but the seedy, steamy underbelly of South Dakota’s rolling plains. BOB machinates the breakdown of high school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard), philandering with Ruth Davenport, the librarian who he’s now accused of killing. Bill’s predicament echoes that of Leland Palmer, whose poor, wretched soul we glimpse in the Lodge.

South Dakota isn’t the only new stopover we make in this return. In Las Vegas, a businessman hands over a bundle of cash and requests that his subordinate Roger “tell her she has the job.” In a New York City warehouse, a young man watches an empty glass box, seeing nothing until he sees something, all right. These new times, places, and faces channel Lynch’s creeping, anxiety-wrought approach to horror in “The Return,” punching you in the face before waltzing your numbed body around the living room.

There are some chisels taken to this darkness, however. They’re found in the familiar faces of Twin Peaks, population 51,201. The man who lifts his dark shades to show off his signature red and blue glasses? Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) is roughing it in the woods now, accepting a delivery of shovels instead of tropical tchotchkes. Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) are still together, and their now-adult child shares a birthday with Marlon Brando. Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) is still parked behind his desk at the Great Northern Hotel, while his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) is all about edibles. These moments are few and far between, and for a brief while, we feel certain again.  

Staring down the uncertainty is Chief Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse), who fields a call from the Log Lady, Margaret. Played by the late Catherine E. Coulson, Margaret lets Hawk know her log has a message to share. “Something is missing, and you have to find it.” Hawk knows that he and the log are on the same page, but the poignancy isn’t in the potential that they’ll get Cooper back. No, it’s that final goodnight that Margaret bids Hawk, done in the quiet, human charm that “Twin Peaks” does so well. The heart aches to see Coulson say goodnight when she truly means goodbye.

Finally, what would “Twin Peaks” be without a stop at the roadhouse? We find Shelly (Madchen Amick) having a girls’ night out as James (James Marshall) strolls in, making flirty eye contact with one of her pals. Another friend says he’s weird (she’s right), but Shelly defends him, saying James “has always been cool” (he’s not). They all smile sweetly at one another, while a stranger (Balthazar Getty) directs a finger gun and a wink at the former Mrs. Johnson. For now, everyone is having a good time as the Chromatics sing us out with their new track “Shadows”—The Bang Bang Bar will have a host of rotating guest performances for this season. For now, it’s a welcome respite from the menace of the last two hours. It’s like having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare, all at once.

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There's Always Music in the Air: Revisiting the 'Twin Peaks' Soundtrack

By Caitlin Malcuit

“Each day, once a day, give yourself a present.”

That’s the advice Agent Dale Cooper gives to Sheriff Harry S. Truman, the original “Treat Yo Self” for those who never deny themselves the chance to indulge. And if you’re planning to sate your “Twin Peaks” craving before the welcome return to Showtime on May 21, it’s worth revisiting one of the gifts left behind from the series’ original run.

“Soundtrack from Twin Peaks” remains a triumph of the ambient genre, all at once mastering atmosphere and soapy melodrama in its concise 11-track package. This is all thanks to frequent David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti—with some touches from Lynch, of course, because he can’t help himself. Badalamenti’s dirge-like synths, finger-snaps, and ample use of cymbal brushes are a hallmark of “Twin Peaks” sound, forging the mood for the misty treetops and seedy secrets of the titular Pacific-Northwest town.

The bass synth plunks away at your brain, and spurs on a sudden craving for doughnuts and coffee.

A majority of the record features the show’s instrumentals and character themes, with three vocal tracks from dream-pop siren Julee Cruise. It opens, natch, with “Twin Peaks Theme.” The bass synth plunks away at your brain, and spurs on a sudden craving for doughnuts and coffee as it layers with the lighter refrain, just before moving on to the requiem of “Laura Palmer’s Theme.” The former netted Badalamenti a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1990.

“Audrey’s Dance” is a slinky, hypnotic work that tells you how peculiar the show really can be, even when divorced from the contextual scene. “Dance” puts you on edge, but you’ll want to sidle up to the jukebox all sexy-like, too. It works well as a companion to “Dance of the Dream Man.” Though a little more accessible as a stand-alone jazz piece, it’s still “off” enough to unnerve you with the screeching sax.

As for the vocal performances, Julee Cruise works beautifully with Badalamenti; he tempered her belting abilities down to the gauzy assonance we now know and love. Cruise also makes a few appearances on screen as the Roadhouse Singer, punctuating action with her ethereal voice. But you get the chance to enjoy the full length versions here. Mellow and prayerful lullaby “Into the Night,” which plays on a vinyl in an abandoned cabin, benefits from a complete listen. “Falling” is just “Twin Peaks Theme” with lyrics, but the reverb on Cruise’s voice serves as a nice compliment to the eerie ambience instead of sounding pasted on. “The Nightingale” is a gooey-eyed malt shop slow dance that sonically matches the contemporary 1950s aesthetic of the show.

If “Soundtrack from Twin Peaks” wasn’t just Season 1 material, then the biggest crime would be the absence of Season 2 feature “The World Spins.” However, that emotional gut-punch of a track is best savored in the moment. It’s another Julee Cruise song, but “The World Spins” and the other vocals can be found on her record “Floating into the Night.“ Consider it a bonus!

So grab a cup of coffee—Agent Cooper takes his black, by the way—and enjoy the gift of one of the best soundtracks to grace television. I’ll see you again later in May.

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Why You Should Be Watching Amazon’s ‘Patriot’

By Dave Pezza

For those of you not aware, Amazon’s pilot process encourages television writers and directors to create a pilot episode. Amazon then makes those pilots available to the public via Amazon Prime Video. Depending on the success or popularity of a pilot, Amazon either picks up a series or doesn’t.

One recently successful example is “Patriot,” a series created and set in 2015 during the Iranian presidential election, but created in its entirety over the last two years. Amazon has hit an extremely poignant tone with this show. Created and largely directed by Steven Conrad, best known for writing “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Patriot” follows CIA agent John Tavner, played by Michael Dorman, as he attempts to buy the Iranian presidential election and stop a potentially nuclear capable Iran. 

The operation, spearheaded by John’s CIA handler and father Tom Tavner, isn’t exactly on the books. Without direct approval from his superiors, Tom entrusts his son to complete the low-key mission by taking a NOC (non-official cover) position with a piping company called McMillan. McMillan is one of a handful of companies in the field that conducts business with in the country of Luxembourg, part of the few European countries to conduct business with Iran at the time. John’s mission? Over the course of the election cycle, play courier to large sums of money from the United States to Luxembourg where a contact transports the cash to pro-American parties in Iran. Simple enough, right? Not even a little.

As John finds himself waist deep in convoluted shit that has hit the fan, he leans more and more on his crutch, writing and playing folk songs truthfully based on the operations he performs for the U.S. government. With killer performances from Kurtwood Smith (Red Forman in “That 70’s Show”) and Aliette Opheim, a Swedish actress playing the role of Detective Agathe Albans who investigates Tavner’s dealings in Luxembourg, “Patriot” has much more to offer than its John le Carré-like plot. Conrad’s wit comes through in the darkest and heaviest moments, offering a Wes Anderson meets Coen brothers brand of dark, dry comedy that brings everything from chuckles to full blown laughter.

But the show’s best moments transcend plot and humor and strikes the contemporary American with questions of identity and purpose. What does it mean to be an American, to be a good worker, to make art? Can we be all or any of these things, and how does the world respond to the way we conduct ourselves in pursuit of these ideals? “Patriot” attempts these heavy questions in a medium that has your ass hovering above the cushion and your nerves pulsing second by second.

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All That Jazz: Why Harry Bosch Fans Will Love ‘Bosch’ Season 2

By Sean Tuohy

March 11, 2016 marks the return of Los Angeles’s no-nonsense jazz-loving homicide detective Harry Bosch. The award-winning and high-rated television series keeps viewers on the edge of our seats, and I can’t wait to see what happens this season.

Borrowing from The Drop, The Last Coyote, and Trunk Music, “Bosch” Season 2 will push Harry to the limit.

Here are some of the things I took away from this season’s trailer:

Harry Going To War

Harry is a determined detective and will risk everything to solve a case. So it’s probably for good reason that he pops up in the trailer with an automatic weapon and a look that screams, “Don’t mess with me!” 

Harry Holding Court

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 9.29.08 AM.png

Harry is not the biggest people person in the world, but in the opening scene we see to see Harry at the head of a long table giving his standard “I just don’t care” stare. Why is he sitting there? Is he in trouble? Is this a Weight Watchers meeting?

Bloody Bosch  

What happened Harry? Did you get close to a case? Are the bad guys keeping you down? Or did you just fall in the shower?

Harry and the City 

Bosch the show, very much like the novels, is about the relationship that Harry shares with the city of Los Angeles.

A Visual Annotation: ‘True Detective’ Season 2 Episode 1

By Dave Pezza

Daniel Ford has wanted me to talk about how I annotate in the margin of books I am currently reading; instead I gave him this—a visual annotation of the first episodes of the second season of “True Detective.” Each post will be my reaction and musings about an episode of true detective.  I've never seen a second of this show before now. So I thought it fitting to start with the second season and work my way backwards.

Books and shows are not about sitting back and being transported into a fake world with fake people with no ties to real life. It’s about conversing with other people as a writer and a reader/watcher. It’s about taking those emotions and observations and processing them into change or knowledge. Annotating has always been my initial response to art. Maybe you’ll like it and maybe you won’t. In either case, here are my thoughts on episode 1 of season 2 of "True Detective." Warning: Spoilers ahead!

All right, so let’s talk about the James Bond-esque opening credits. I want to like it really badly, but I’m not feeling it yet. Although I’m totally going to find the Leonard Cohen song (it’s called “Nevermind”). Writer Nic Pizzolatto throws us right into it; Colin Farrell’s character trying to do right by his probably not son years after his wife was beaten and raped. Pizzolatto is already setting up some good character development devices; here, for instance, where Farrell’s character wants to exchange voice recorders with his son, a sort of audio correspondence. That’ll definitely come in handy for some killer monologue later on (I was right!). I have to admit I love a well worked in monologue. Maybe it’s those Shakespeare classes from college.

Farrell’s character has a gritty feel, a look he’s really good with. But this character seems different, darker than I can ever remember him. Pseudo-dirty cop might seem to on the nose for him, but I already dig it.

Yes! God I am so excited to see Vince Vaughan in this show. He’s the whole reason I decided to check it out. I don’t think for a moment this show is outside of his range. You ever see him as Norman Bates in that remake of Psycho? Creepy as fuck. Pizzolatto decides to give us our first look at Vaughan as not a real, whole villain. He’s helping Farrell out, albeit to get Farrell under the payroll while killing a man in the process. Then again “this filth” did beat and rape Farrell’s wife. And if drama has taught me anything, it’s that singular acts of evil cannot go unpunished, otherwise the framework of the microcosm that the writer has tried to enclose us in totally fails. Vaughn’s wife is a hottie too! I am guessing that’s his weakness, especially since that’s how we are introduced to him, defining Farrell’s wife, a reflection of his relationship with his own wife.

My sense of Vaughn is exactly what Pizzolatto is probably going for: a brooding, serious man who is venturing into something new, laying everything on the line for something grand. Honestly, I think Vaughn’s killing it so far.

Butt stuff! Wow. Really. That’s how we get introduced to Rachel McAdams. Butt stuff. Jesus, HBO. And the over the top effeminate boyfriend to top it off! “Oh, how do we show that a female character is hard? Let’s make her a man.”

And naturally she is paired up with a Hispanic male partner, because you know they go together, because neither of them are white males. Just saying. Pizzolatto seems a little lazy here. And the crazy younger sister is a bit much, maybe not as much as the whacked out, hippie father that named her Antigone, a name which I am supposed to read into more than I will. I hate putting too much stock in character names. No real person has had the luxury of being appropriately named for the poetic circumstances of their life’s drama.

And who is this Paul Walker-looking dude. I’m really not interested in his tacked on story, even though he’s getting one of the top bills. It could be that I’ve just simply gotten tired of the young-white-guy-with-angst-issues character arch. Oh no, does that mean I’m maturing… Ugh, I better pour some more bourbon. Did he take the blowjob, did he not take the blowjob, and I’m supposed to feel sorry for the guy because he has erectile dysfunction? Nah, gimmie more Vaughn…who just stared down some mob attorney like a badass! Now I’m the one with a boner. 

Vaughn is a man keeping it together, slowly coming undone at the seams. I am not sure there is a better way to unleash a villain’s anger throughout a story. And Ferrell is a perfectly foil for Vaughn. A dirty cop at his wick’s end whose sense of right and wrong has him so screwed he’s beating down a reporter and father of a 12-year-old vs. a career criminal who maintains a moral high ground that’s quickly eroding away as he grasps at life in the legitimate. Damn. I just sold myself on this whole season.

I haven’t yet mentioned anything of the plot, but not because it is thin. It’s thin in a good way, the way good noir detective stories should be. There is shit and evil and muck and blurred moral compasses everywhere, but it’s the individual cases and circumstances of these machinations and the men and women who attempt to stop them or cause them that gets me. Plot can be hard-nosed, brittle and difficult to navigate as a writer and reader/watcher, but, when characters are slippery and fickle like real people, they fill in the gaps with their own twists and turns. I’m also glad we are back to hating journalists and have stopped canonizing cops in this show. That’s a world I can only vaguely recall from old movies. I miss it so. Pizzolatto does well there. People can be good and people can be bad, no matter profession or race.

Highlight of the episode is the bar scene between Vaughn and Farrell. They just sit and look at each other for what must have been an hour. The director earned his whole salary right here. I’m terribly impressed with it. Vaughn and Farrell know that their arrangement has grown stale and superficial, and with it their tacit friendship. But it feels like they both so badly want it to endure somehow. That there was something there once, like childhood friends who just don’t get along like they once did. And all of this is beautifully narrated by the folk singer’s song in the back ground. I found this song on the official show soundtrack (which was recorded from scratch) get it, because it is dangerously addictive: "My Least Favorite Life" by Lera Lynn. Interesting tidbit, Lynn was cast to perform the song in the episode.

On the other hand, I’m not sure Pizzolatto nails the ending. I mean it is clear he wants us to see that all these characters are alike and connected in some way. Vaughn and Farrell’s friendship. Vaughn and McAdams with their coffee mug scenes. McAdams and Farrell’s fetish for getting shitfaced on whiskey (join the club). The only one I can’t place is Paul Walker’s look-a-like, other than the fact I’m pretty sure he is shacking up with the missing 24-year-old woman. I guess I have seven more episodes for him. But all in all, Pizzolatto sets the stage pretty well, bringing them all together even with their vastly different jurisdictions.

Line of the Episode: “You ever bully or hurt anyone again, I’ll come back and butt fuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on the goddamn lawn.”—Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell)

Why You Should Be Watching HBO’s ‘Sonic Highways’

By Daniel Ford

“It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here (pointing to his heart) and what goes on in here (pointing to his head).”

I’ve been a fan of Dave Grohl’s ever since he spoke those words at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards in 2012. He confirmed everything I believe about music and writing by taking his industry to task for shitting out over-produced and under-written marketing plans in the guise of hits.

The Foo Fighter’s front man wasn’t being a contrarian just to sell albums or gain a few thousand fans on Twitter. You may not be a fan of his music, but no one can deny Grohl’s sincerity when talking about music. It emanates from him like a thundering drum solo or hard rock guitar lick.

Luckily for fans that enjoy a more analog musical experience, Grohl has been on a documentary kick of late that is nothing short of inspiring. He produced and directed 2013’s “Sound City,” which featured a recording studio in Los Angeles frequented by artists such as Neil Young, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield (who I have a new appreciation for), Fleetwood Mac, and Nirvana (Grohl was the lead drummer for the Kurt Cobain-fronted band) from 1969 until the studio closed in 2011. Whenever a writer’s favorite coffee shop or bar closes down, you don’t expect him or her to purchase a table or stool to keep its memory alive. Well, in addition to making the documentary, Grohl bought the legendary Rupert Neve sound board and installed it in his house. His house.     

I finished “Sound City” and immediately reached for my Moleskin notebook. Watching how influential, experimental, and imperfect art is produced never fails to inspire me to create new worlds in which to torture my main characters. I also went on a music documentary bender that included Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and “The History of The Eagles.”

I couldn’t have been happier when essayist Dave Pezza informed me that Grohl was taking his documentary skills on the road in HBO’s “Sonic Highways.” The series documents the recording process Grohl and the Foo Fighters embarked on for the band’s eighth studio album. One song was written and recorded in eight recording studios across the United States (four of the songs are currently available on iTunes).

What I love most about the show is that the themes Grohl touched on in his Grammys speech and “Studio City”—the importance of retaining the human element in your work and the art of imperfection—are ingrained in each episode. He doesn’t Grohl doesn’t necessarily focus on the more well-known artists of each city. In particular, the Washington D.C. episode featured an underground punk music scene that I had absolutely no idea existed, which once again proves that society’s good stuff is rarely found on the surface. If you’re a writer who wants to accurately form a believable world in your fiction, you have to know how people around you are reacting to media, music, and information.

In the series’ premiere set in Chicago, Grohl talked to Buddy Guy about his journey to the city and friendship with Muddy Waters. You know what Guy said when they told him to change his name? “Fuck you.” Because that’s what badass writers and musicians do when facing authority. Guy was also so poor at one point; he made music with buttons and string.

Try not getting chills listening to this extended interview with Guy:    

Writing, at its core, is a solitary act. At each stop, Grohl locked himself in a room to hammer out lyrics. However, each city’s stories and characters influenced the words he finally put on the page. You hear Guy’s struggle in Chicago’s white world in “Something From Nothing,” the punk angst of D.C.’s youth in “The Feast and the Famine,” and Nashville’s country music influence in “Congregation.” However, none of these songs are transcendent rock tunes, which proves errant notes, misguided lyrics, and unpolished production all have value in making music listener’s might actually want to hear and share.

I was utterly blown away by the inspirational power of the series’ third installment because I grew up on country music. And I mean real country music, not what Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys called “pop music with a twang.” My mother made sure I had a steady diet of Ronnie Milsap, George Strait Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, Rodney Crowell, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Charlie Pride, and Vince Gill as a kid and I believe their storytelling influenced my decision to become a writer. I had chills learning more about Nashville’s history and some of its lesser known acts. Tommy Joe White (who I’d like to narrate my life from now on) delivered a soliloquy on writing and creatively that is one of the best things I’ve heard come out of an artist’s mouth in quite some time:     

“So if you’ve got something in your heart, put it out, ‘cause nobody on this planet has put those words or played that lick before. No matter if it’s bad or good or it sells or don’t sell. You wrote it and you did it. Write what’s in your heart. And if you don’t have something there, maybe you should go back to the cotton fields.”

So, watch the upcoming episode of “Sonic Highways” airing tonight at 11 p.m. on HBO, sit your ass down with your preferred writing instruments, and get to work.

Falling In Love With the Condemned: Discovering "Enlisted"

Enlisted high jinks

Enlisted high jinks

By Sean Tuohy

One day you find the love of your life. He or she has everything you want: brains, looks, and humor. Your friends like him or her and your parents do too.

Perfect, ah?

Well, how about if one day you have to watch him or her get whacked in half by an ax-wielding mad man with too much money. That's exactly what it felt like when I discovered the FOX sitcom “Enlisted.” I fell deeply in love with the show and they canceled it. I finally opened my heart to a new show only to have it smashed to a million pieces. FOX is like a husband in a Lifetime movie. One moment he’s loving and great, giving me great gifts, and telling me I look good in that dress, and the next minute he’s beating me with a broom stick in the bathroom.

To quote Backstreet Boys, quit playing games with my heart, FOX.

Falling in Love

If you haven't seen “Enlisted,” you're missing out on one of the most original comedies to come out this past season. For some reason, FOX decided to bury the show on Friday nights with no lead in. The show followed three brothers who were stationed on the same Army base in Florida. Staff Sergeant Pete Hill—who is played by tons of fun Geoff Stults (not a fat joke)—returns from Afghanistan after punching out a superior officer and placed in charge of a misfit platoon of soldiers.

So the plot line doesn't sound like anything new—we've all see military-based comedies before—but “Enlisted” stands out because of its wit, characters, and, most of all, its heart. It was really easy to fall for the characters that populated the show's world. You rooted for them because they seemed like real people. The jokes were well developed, so you could tell that the writers had fun crafting each line of dialogue. But what really got me was the fact that Peter Hill was dealing with PTSD and that weakness was something that the show was exploring. Given enough time “Enlisted” could have gone to great places with these characters and, because the show was so well written, the audience would have gone with them.

Mad Ax Men

FOX canceled the show because of low ratings. Why did the show get low ratings? Because FOX threw it in to the Friday night death spot. This is not the first time Fox has done this to a good television show. Christopher Titus’ award-winning show “Titus” was all but forgotten by FOX during its third and final season. FOX isn't the only one to employ these tactics, however, FOX seems to act like some an even crazier version of a Roman emperor when it comes to its television shows. If you read Matt DiVenere's piece on the canceled “ Surviving Jack," you see that FOX once again did not give a show a chance before axing it. I don’t work in television, so I am not going to tell FOX what to do, but I would hope that they will see the error in their ways and allow their next batch of freshman shows the chance to grow before cancelling them.

Sad Sean

I discovered "Enlisted" on a boring Sunday and need some background noise. Five minutes later, I was hooked. Something about the writing caught my ear. Writers—well, most writers—know good dialogue when they hear it and I heard plenty of it with "Enlisted." It first comedy since "30 Rock" to make me laugh out loud and truly love the characters. I was on cloud nine with my new show and then I found out that it had been cancelled. Did I treated this the same way I treat all heartbreak? By crying in the shower while eating a candy bar? No, this time I held in my tears and decided to let the writers of "Enlisted" know that they had done a great job via Twitter and then I cried. 

I could sit here and bitch and moan about how FOX screwed a great show (Wait, I kind of just did that) or I could tell you to go watch "Enlisted" by any means necessary because you are going to discover a great show.

I'll be ready with candy bars when you finish.

Set Phasers to Love Me: Saying Good-Bye To ‘Community’

By Daniel Ford

Death has never come easy for NBC’s “Community.”

The show not only had to contend with the constant threat of its own cancellation, but also featured several deaths that the misguided, passionate, weird, contentious, and loveable-despite-themselves band of community college misfits had to wrestle with.

I thought the show was dead when Dan Harmon left. There were three brilliant seasons of television that hardcore fans would forever be happy with and the ratings were such that it seemed cancellation was inevitable.

It was kept alive by NBC. David Guarascio and Moses Port did an admirable job keeping most of the show’s spirit alive in Season 4 under near impossible circumstances. But still, it wasn’t the “Community” that I, or any of its #sixseasonsandamovie-obsessed fans, had grown to love and expect. When the finale of that season ended, I figured the show would finally, and deservedly at that point, be put down for good.

I should have known not to count “Community” out. Dan Harmon was even re-hired to run the show’s fifth season. How crazy is that? Was there something mystical in that hashtag that Jedi mind-tricked NBC executives from seeing the abysmal ratings? It’s not that Harmon had a personality transfusion and would now be willing to play nice with others and develop a “normal” show for the network.

The fifth season premiere of “Community,” and the finale that followed, were the closet in execution and spirit to those incredible first three seasons. While the season as a whole was uneven, I appreciated the bonus hours I got to spend at Greendale, a place I had come to inhabit more so than my actual community college in Queens, N.Y.

Season 5 felt like a long good-bye and an attempt by Harmon to right the ship that he had himself capsized. Donald Glover said farewell, choosing his budding rap career over Troy and his river of tears and sissy sneezes. Chevy Chase’s character Pierce made a brief appearance before he also kicked the bucket and joined his mother in that big energon pod in the sky.

Some storylines were resolved. Some weren’t. It ended the way it should have. You can’t argue that the characters are in a better or worse place than when they started. “Community” was at its best when it mirrored the real world (even those episodes that involved zombies or a KFC flight simulator). None of these characters were comfortable in their own skin because their creator has never been comfortable in his own skin. No one should be 100% comfortable in their own skin because real brilliance and creativity comes from grappling with how best to deal with yourself while having to live in the real world. The friends you make along the way—even when they drive you crazy or try to torpedo your game of Dungeons and Dragons—make that journey tolerable and lead to express yourself better than you would alone.

“Community” is dead, but it lived a full life and should be mourned in peace and tranquility, not anger. We’re not in the darkest timeline because that timeline is one in which the show never existed. Five seasons of the show are a gift, one that can easily be enjoyed on multiple platforms for the rest of time.

 As Shirley would say, “That’s nice.”

5 Things You'll Learn By Watching ‘Surviving Jack’

Christoper Meloni in "Surviving Jack"

Christoper Meloni in "Surviving Jack"

By Matt DiVenere

“Surviving Jack” is a funny show starring Christopher Meloni (best known for his role Elliot Stabler on “Law & Order: SVU”) as Jack who takes the lead raising his children while his wife (Rachel Harris) attends law school. Oh, and it takes place in the 1990s.

Do I really need to say more?

Fine, here are five things you learn from watching FOX’s new hilarious comedy “Surviving Jack.”

Christopher Meloni Is The Man

I don’t know how else to explain this one. If you were a fan of him in “SVU” when he was playing a badass cop that took down the worst scum in the universe, all while having a soft side for his family, then jump aboard the bandwagon. Meloni plays a father, Jack Dunlevy, who is put in charge of parenting, while his wife, Joanne, goes back to school in order to become a lawyer.

Well, Meloni’s character clearly isn’t one of the most emotionally-supportive father figures on television. In fact, in the opening scene of the entire show, he makes his son Frankie (Connor Buckley) take a lap around the block for getting caught watching an inappropriate movie at 3 a.m. in the living room. Jack also goes head-to-head with his daughter Rachel (played by Claudia Lee). I suspect more loveably, yet hilariously embarrassing, fathering techniques as the season progresses.

Nostalgia Galore

The music, the clothes, the hairstyles—the 1990s are back! And no, not in some lame VH1 show where they make fun of your obsession with the last really great time period before the Internet ruined everything. Even the theme song and show’s opening clips are so 1990s that it almost hurts to realize where we are as a civilization. But this brings us back to the glory days with very subtle, but awesome 1990s references.

The Inner-Monologue of a Pubescent Male Freshman in High School

Remember when you were outrageously awkward? How about your first high school party? The first time you completely embarrassed yourself in front of your entire high school? Or how about that girl you really liked…do you remember how weird you became the second she started talking to you? What was going through your head? Chances are it’ll be the same exact things going through Frankie’s inner-monologue that narrates the show.

The Writing

Let me word nerd out on you for a second. The writing for this show is fantastic. Granted, it’s based off of the book “I Suck At Girls” written by best-sellers Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker, who are both the creators and writers for this show. My hat goes off to both of them, as well as their executive producer Bill Lawrence (“Spin City,” “Scrubs,” “Cougar Town”).

Nonetheless, the dialogue is so conversational that it sounds like actual conversations rather than forced crap that most of the new shows are using. From Jack’s sarcastic and outraged sighs, to Rachel’s overall disdain for her younger brothers’ friends eye-humping her any chance they get—everything is on the money. Even the interactions between Jack and Joanne are tight and serve as a fun reminder that they’re not just parents –they’re a married couple trying to live their lives as normally as possible despite their children’s countless issues.

There’s Always a Lesson To Be Learned

Just like any and every single television show that took place in the 1990s, there is always a lesson to be learned at the end of each episode.

During the show, you tend to learn a whole lot about parenting. These lessons tend to be hilarious ones, such as learning the ground rules of carpooling created by Jack or how excited parents get when their kids are out of the house for the night leaving them alone. However, at the end of the episodes, you learn that despite life’s tough choices and overall relentless attempts to knock you to the ground, the people that love you will always be by your side to pick you back up.

And if that person who is helping you get back up just happens to be holding a glass of scotch in your hand, maybe make sure it’s not a trap before letting them help you up—even if it’s your dad.

Never Human: How Promos Killed (Another) FOX Show

"Stop making shitty television shows and endlessly promoting them Gordon. You're letting the team down."

"Stop making shitty television shows and endlessly promoting them Gordon. You're letting the team down."

By Matt DiVenere

While Sean and Daniel talk about their favorite television shows and how they’ve made an impact on their everyday lives, I’ve decided to instead attack one of the networks.

I’m hoping that this rant can be a PSA to network producers, marketing teams and promotional teams across all of the networks in regards to upcoming television shows. So, without further ado, I give you my conclusion:

The more you try to stuff a new television show down my throat by running multiple promos, the easier you make it for me to actively root against it to succeed.

Case in point, FOX recently cancelled their “new hit show” called “Almost Human.” This science fiction meets crime drama show paired up a police officer (Karl Urban) with a lifelike android/robot (Michael Ealy) as his partner in the distant (kind of) future.

Want to know what I can tell you about the show? The android/robot’s name was Dorian and the cop doesn’t agree with the fact that he needs any type of partner because he’s way too badass to have some drone follow him around and help him.

Want to know why I know only that much? Because I refused to watch it. Not because of the plot, or the actors involved in the project. I mean, J.J. Abrams was one of the executive producers, so it clearly had some strength in the production aspect of the show. Hell, there’s even a petition making waves across the Internet to try and get the SyFy channel to continue the series, so clearly it had some type of following to it.

The reason why I did not watch even a second of this show is because of the putrid performance by FOX’s marketing and promotional team in regards to getting people excited about their new show. FOX force-fed us this show with countless advertisements, promotions, and “behind the scenes” videos on their YouTube channel, they violated the Super Bowl with commercials for the show, and even ran promos during “Almost Human” for “Almost Human.” Talk about overkill.

They didn’t want us to watch, they needed us to watch.

So, instead, I chose to actively root against them. I chose to watch shows on the Animal Planet that I didn’t even think could be a thing, like “Treehouse Masters.” I mean, who builds luxurious tree houses? How rich can you be?

See, this is a real thing.

And if I ever overheard someone talking about "Almost Human," which I didn’t personally, I would like to think I would have chastised them for giving in to this type of network peer pressure. Just from the sheer number of advertisements that were produced for this show, you would have thought it was going to be one of FOX’s biggest hits ever. However, despite their pleas and overall disdain for the common viewer’s retinas, FOX kept cramming it farther and farther into the souls of whoever dared watch any type of programming on FOX.

I'm going to turn my final thoughts for the “Almost Human” marketing and promotional team over to Jack Reilly, head coach of the Minnesota Hawks pee-wee hockey team:

“You could have been one of the greats! An’ now look at yourself. You’re not even a has-been. You’re a never-was.”

Full Circle: True Detective Proves Character Trumps Plot

By Daniel Ford

Contains spoilers, so avoid this post and the rest of social media until you’ve watched it.

Any finale that includes someone catching an ax in the chest is a successful one in my book.

While some may have be bummed last night after finding out none of their truly insane fan theories didn’t come to pass, I for one applaud HBO’s latest hit show "True Detective" for confirming something that I’ve believed for a long time.

Plot really doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t.

The mystery involving the creep-tastic Errol Childress—who for me was nudged into an upper tier of chilling bad guys after using multiple accents and having sex his half-sister in a house even “Hoarders” wouldn’t touch—was a vehicle for the audience to learn more about what really matters in any scripted television show or novel: The characters.

I would have watched eight episodes of Rust Cohle speaking Nietzsche-style gibberish, Marty Hart knocking bikers’ heads together and chasing “crazy pussy,” and all the plot points resolving off-camera. I’m also the guy who preferred to read Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov instead of going to the bar the first few weeks of my freshman year in college. I love probing human nature, so I devour television shows and novels with meaty, frothy, troubled, depressed, tortured, and devastatingly human main characters like some people consume a bucket of fried chicken. The fact that the supporting cast wasn’t as fully formed didn’t bother me because Rust and Marty were written and acted so beautifully (I stopped debating whether it was Matthew McConaughey or Woody Harrelson that was giving the best performance. Both flat out nailed it).

I’m willing to bet once I start Nic Pizzolatto’s novel Galveston, I’m going to end up caring more about the characters than what happens in the plot. There are just so many more places to explore when you’re taking a good hard look at someone’s character creation. Why does he drink that bottle of whiskey? What is driving her to make those bad (or good) decisions? Where is the main character left after the plot reaches its climax?

Denouements exist for a reason. It’s like cuddling after sex. You find out more about the person you’re sleeping with in the moments following the passion than during it. You not only use and appreciate that knowledge the next time around, but also every day in order to fully understand the person you’re with. That’s what makes the end with Rust and Marty talking together outside the hospital so special. You know exactly where the two men have been, and you can make an educated guess to where they’re going.

However, I’m not convinced it’s the optimistic end that James Poniewozik of Time and others might think it is. Broken men don’t heal after one win, and both Rust and Marty are more damaged now than they were at the start. The light might be winning, as Rust says, but the feeling of euphoria is always momentary. Rust is still an atheist alcoholic. Marty is still an asshole.

And what did we learn from Don Draper? Happiness is the moment before you want more happiness. After Rust and Marty caught, shot, and killed who they thought was their man earlier in the season, some form of normalcy set in (Rust even had a steady girlfriend). Even if Rust hadn’t learned that the Yellow King was still out there, how long do you really think that kind of contentment would have lasted for him?

As Poniewozik and Alan Sepinwall of HitFix point out, the show was not without flaws and those flaws certainly made an appearance in the last episode. But it proves that good things happen when you have a singular vision coming from one writer and one director (Give Cary Fukunaga all the Emmys right now please). It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it certainly outshined “House of Cards” because it managed to develop at least two three-dimensional characters while servicing a plot that didn’t involve the Vice President of the United States being revealed as the Yellow King (Sorry, I’m out on “House of Cards.” Forgo the Ambien and just turn on an episode of that self-indulgent, “I’m the greatest show on television” snooze-fest. I’d rather watch an hour of Jim and Maggie relationship drama on “The Newsroom.” And I loathe those characters).

Will “True Detective” end up being considered as great as shows like “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad?” No, of course not. As I mentioned before, those shows had (have) more depth. However, my love for this particular show will be rooted in getting the chance to spend some time with two gloriously conflicted assholes that just happened to be chasing a serial killer. Had this show been a novel, I would have stayed up just as late to find out what I already knew.

The circle is indeed infinite and flat, and not even stopping the bad men at the door could get it to open up or deviate course.

The Bearded Oscars: Recapping the 2014 Academy Awards

Daniel Ford wasn’t the only one who watched the Oscars on Sunday night. Enjoy Hassel Velasco’s rant-free recap of the evening’s events. 

A grown bearded man sits sobbing uncontrollably as his recording of the 86th annual Academy Awards has stopped before Ellen DeGeneres introduced Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier. His cat looks at him as if to say, "look at his sobbing bitch ass!" His tears are flowing like the River Kwai. 

This was my Sunday night.

For several minutes, the worst-case scenario ran through my mind. I would have to read about the winners of the last awards of the night on the Internet. The internet, I say! How devastating.

My cat George Michael (named after Michael Cera's character in “Arrested Development”) was the only one who could console me...and he found a certain corner of the room a more pressing issue than me because he hates me.

Living in Los Angeles with a full-time job kept me from watching the ceremony live. I recorded the show and began watching at about 7:45 PST (10:45 EST). Ellen was absolutely “Philomena,” whoops, I meant phenomenal. Her dry and subtle sense of humor kept the night interesting, and she quickly reminded me why I loved the ceremony she hosted seven years ago. I mean come on, she ordered pizza during the show and even brought the delivery guy on stage. Not to mention she broke the Internet with a selfie that made Daniel Ford’s head explode. With every year and new host, we come closer and closer to forgetting that James Franco ever hosted one of these.

Once the ball got rolling, we were treated to a very entertaining show. The biggest winner of the night was probably the American space program. Seriously America, why did we decide to cut that budget? "Gravity" walked away with seven Academy Awards including best director Alfonso Cuaron for creating a visually stunning film.

"Dallas Buyers Club" and "12 Years a Slave" followed with three awards each. Jared Leto let the world know he can do more than whine into a microphone in front of screaming teenagers. His acceptance speech ran twice as long as the allowed 45 seconds, but the guy made some very good points about a shaky world in Venezuela and Ukraine.

Hey! Who thought the guy that made "Sahara" would beat out Leonardo DiCaprio for an Oscar? Crazy right? It was a well-deserved win for Matthew McConaughey, however I will admit I was rooting for Chiwetel Ejiofor. Have you seen his performance? Sorry Leo, the two aforementioned actors made it practically impossible for you to win.

Can we take a second to talk about Lupita Nyong'o? She's amazing beautiful and she looks like what I can only imagine heaven feels like. I bet she smells good too (restraining order pending). She won for best supporting actress, and she also stole everyone's heart with her acceptance speech.

Cate Blanchett won best actress for her role in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." She beat out a category filled with power hitters. John Ridley won for his adaptation of "12 Years a Slave" and best original screenplay went to Spike Jonze and the inevitable future that is "Her." "Frozen" took two awards including best song, which in return gave us another EGOT winner in Robert Lopez (Tracy Jordan, eat your heart out!). Idina Menzel performed "Let It Go" and Pharrell performed "Happy…" I think, he might have also been selling jeans for Old Navy.

The biggest award of the night went to "12 Years a Slave." It's a great film and a gripping look at a very dark time in our history. Director Steve McQueen was literally hopping in celebration of the win, and to quote him "Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup." #allofthefeels

It was a fantastic 86th showing of the Oscars. Hey Hollywood, same time next year? My shot for shot remake of Jurassic Park using giraffes should be done and should be a no-brainer next year. #girafficpark (for your consideration).

As the grown bearded man sobs in the fetal position, he flips through the recorded shows on his DVR. A twinkle in his eye, he abruptly sits up, points the remote at the television and presses play. The Oscars after show recorded. The last 30 minutes of the show recorded. All is good with life. The cat still hates him. 

A full list of all the winners can be found at oscar.go.com. 

The 2014 Academy Awards Telecast Shows No Love to Writers

By Daniel Ford

…or viewers for that matter.

Every year, I use the Oscars telecast as an excuse to wear a suit and tie, drink decent scotch, and beam out snark to a handful of Twitter followers (Check out Writer’s Bone’s Twitter feed for our favorites from last night).

While there were some wonderfully sweet (Bill Murray taking a moment to honor Harold Ramis (and then apologizing for interrupting like a gentleman) and weird moments (Kim Novak (channeling The Yellow King), there was a certain lack of…appreciation for the things that matter most (no, it was not movie heroes). Specifically, there didn’t seem to be an appreciation for the screenwriters who gave all of those actors and actresses something worthwhile to say while fervently hoping to win a shiny gold statue.

I was not alone in noticing this trend:

Was it me or did ANOTHER producer and director FAIL to thank the effiing WRITER. #TheOscars
— Doug Richardson (@byDougRich) March 3, 2014

Writer’s Bone essayist Dave Pezza pointed out that many of the films that were nominated were based off of excellent source material, but the authors of those books weren’t given proper credit (with the exception of Best Picture winner “12 Years A Slave” whose producers and cast gave proper respect to Solomon Northup).

I was excited to get to the adapted and original screenplay categories, for obvious reasons, and the fact at that point I wanted Ellen DeGeneres to throw a hot pizza in my face so I could feel something again.

And then Robert De Niro stepped to the microphone. Here’s what he said:

“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

What the fuck??? I mean, what the fuck? Seriously, what in the holy fucks of fuck?

You know what the worst part is. That was written by a writer! A writer who thought that would get a laugh! Someone on the Oscars writing team wanted to put those words into a movie star’s mouth and broadcast them to millions of viewers. De Niro also couldn’t have been happier to deliver those lines—which is more than we can say for the lines he’s delivered in some of his recent movies. Each word escaped his lips joyously like chocolate-flavored battery acid.

We're beginning to think the script for the #Oscars looks like a Mad Libs page. Example: This show ______-ing ______ huge _____. #Oscars
— Writer's Bone (@WritersBone) March 3, 2014

Listen, writers can be easy targets, I get it. But writers are a lot of other things too. Writers are hard-working, dedicated, passionate, and are consumed with the same desire to entertain and enthrall viewers that actors and directors have. They are certainly more capable of attracting a viable audience than a cheap, exploitive selfie (#dontretweetcannedgarbage).

If the Academy wants people to care more about their awards, they need to employ writers who think more of themselves than the ones on display last night. It would be great if they could find someone that has interacted with an actual human being more recently than 1999.

And you know where a lot of those writers are, Hollywood? Writing great television shows like “True Detective.” Writers who are writing about broken, neurotic, and crippled human beings instead of living out a lame, uninspired stereotype.

Go find some talented writers ASAP or you can enjoy your sad, lonely, boring plunge into irrelevance.