This Week in Pop Culture


Who’s Your Favourite Mad Man?: Breaking Bad and Dexter are two dramas about some heavy subjects and dark leading characters (a meth cook and a serial killer) that I can’t help comparing. I’ve been a long-time fan of Dexter, but I only just started watching Breaking Bad this summer (I’m caught up now). This weekend, we got the second-last episode of Breaking Bad‘s second-last season and Dexter‘s latest season premiere. My verdict? Dexter has become Breaking Bad lite.

Exhibit A: In terms of lead characters, Breaking Bad pushes the boundaries of how far you can send your protagonist over the edge, morally-speaking, a lot further. With Dexter, the show puts a lot of effort (through Dexter’s voiceover, mainly) to make him more sympathetic and palatable for the audience. We like him, and that makes the things he does easier to digest. With Breaking Bad, they don’t hold back. And it’s not just with their respective criminal tendencies. As a person, Walter is just a dick. His main, tragic flaw is his pride and it colours all of his decisions, most of which are selfish and often cruel and short-sighted. (And if my suspicions for the season finale are right, he’s an even more awful person than we’ve seen so far.) Dexter, meanwhile, is always the good guy – or, at most, he stumbles every so often just to see the errors of his ways and right himself again – which wasn’t such a bad thing until I started watching Breaking Bad and discovered the intoxicating flavour of real moral complexity.

Exhibit B: Speaking of Dexter‘s voiceovers… I can’t stand them anymore. I feel like they’re dumbing the show down and explaining every plot development and thought that Dexter has just in case we’re not following along, starting as far back as the final episodes of last season. And it’s not just unnecessary; it’s annoying and breaks the ole “show, don’t tell” rule a dozen times per episode. Breaking Bad, meanwhile, is so subtle and nuanced that you can miss things just by not paying attention, making it much more interesting according to my standards. In a single scene, Breaking Bad can turn everything you thought was happening on its head with single line or look, and every episode is like watching the characters build up to a big reveal where the players finally show their hands in a very lethal game of poker. Happy sigh. I could go on forever…

Guilty and guiltier pleasures: I’ve decided to upgrade The Vampire Diaries from a guilty pleasure to a perfectly justifiable pleasure – no guilt. When I first started watching, I’ll admit, it was mostly because everyone was just so gosh-darned hot. But I have to give them credit. The writing – albeit a bit melodramatic at times – is strong, and the plot twists are some of the best of any show on television. That being said, I think Elena could stand to be less of a wet towel, though I’m happy to see Stefan explore his darker side. Meanwhile… I’m downgrading VD‘s older and more popular sister, True Blood, down to a guilty pleasure. I know I touched on this before, and I did say that the season finale was better than usual, but on the whole, the show has gotten campier and more goofy – sloppy, even – of late. It’s struggling to juggle its giant roster of characters (something that Glee is starting to excel at, based on its second episode of season three, by the way) and Sookie’s character – inextricably tied to her love triangle, er, love square with Alcide, Bill and Eric – is getting worn out, plus I only have so much patience for annoying lead characters. It’s even gotten to the point where I’ll be watching and thinking, “This doesn’t look that hard. I could totally write for this show.”

Meanwhile, at the movies: I saw Drive last night and, despite my very high expectations, it was better than I thought it would be. I was thinking it would be, at best, a very good action movie, but it was definitely more than that. It reminded me a bit of A History of Violence in a few ways. On the whole, the directing right from the get-go was wonderfully bare bones and well-timed, and the story itself was interesting and even unpredictable, but it was Ryan Gosling’s character, with his quiet pacifism, seemingly inherent violent nature and merely hinted-at past that was the most interesting. More questions were raised than answers given, which is a good thing. I was looking at the credits for the movie on IMDB, trying to source where it went right, but I’m not actually sure. Based on director Nicolas Winding Refn’s credits, I’d say he’s a fan of violent films, and then there’s screenwriter Hossein Amini and James Sallis, who wrote the book it was based on. Best guess? A perfect storm of talent. One complaint: what’s up with the pink, 90’s font?

This Week in Pop Culture


Yay: Despite getting cheesier, more over-the-top and ridiculous this season, this past Sunday’s season finale of True Blood was actually really good. Interesting character development, good intersecting drama between the characters and lots of sadness. Keep it up next season!

Nay: The premiere of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s long-awaited (sort of) comeback to television, Ringer, was terribly disappointing. [SPOILERS] There was too much insane drama (Being hunted by a murderer! Love triangles! A fake baby! Thrice-hidden guns! Hit men! Angsty teens!) Plus, Bridget spent too much time explicitly voicing her feelings every step of the way. (Was this for the younger CW audience? Maybe.) And they had SMG looking into mirrors way too much (we get it, already!) and the pacing/directing/writing was just generally sub-par. I might watch another episode or two to see if it gets better, and to see if SMG pulls a Glee by pretending to be pregnant – ’cause that might be fun.

Yay: I saw Morgun Spurlock’s Comic-Con documentary at TIFF this week, exhaustingly but aptly titled Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, and it was fantastic. It didn’t really approach the subject as an attempt to document the history, overall cultural influence of the con, its role in San Diego, controversies or anything like that – though there were elements of these things – instead, it was more of a love letter from convention goers to the con itself. By following a handful of fans who attended as part of their dreams to become comic book artists or costume designers, as well as a comic book retailer and a whole slew of famous, regular con-goers like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (!), it told the story of what the convention means to real fans/geeks/lovers-of-things. A lot of people have been talking about how it’s a charming look at the kind of people who love things intensely, especially the kinds of fans who are moved to emulation as artists. I definitely agree, and I’d have to say it accurately and wonderfully reflected my feelings and experiences as a fan. Even if you don’t consider yourself a part of “that world,” go see it. It’ll explain a lot about why conventions mean something to those who go, and what that whole culture means to them (us).

Nay: Contagion was pretty disappointing. Long story short: it was interesting (and horrifying – gonna’ spend the weekend stocking up on face masks, hand sanitizer and canned goods), but really lacked story structure. Good cast. Poor story. The end.

Yay: I gotta’ say, I’m about 220 pages into The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and it’s honestly one of the best books I’ve ever read. I was trying to explain why it’s so good to my sister, and I couldn’t seem to do it justice. The way it blends together the history of comic books with World War II, and manages to create these amazingly rich, likeable and sympathetic characters in a seamless, easy-to-read, engaging way with lots of effortless historical detail is, quite frankly, infuriatingly impressive. Can’t wait to keep reading.

Comic-Con: Day 3


Yesterday was a mix of panels and emotions (see? see what I did there?).

It was another early-to-rise, long day of panels, again, all T.V. This time I made the fifth row (and later moved to fourth). Woot!

Chuck: It started with Chuck, which I don’t watch, but I was happy to see Adam Baldwin (Jossverse alum!) on the panel. I made a video of him eating the Hershey Kisses they leave on the table for the panelists; I’m going to put it on YouTube. Someone asked the panel if they were going to make action figures, and Baldwin quipped, “I would like another one.” And the crowd went wild, and it was hilarious. (Reference to his Jayne action figure(s) from Firefly). I love how huuuuge Joss Whedon is here. The guy who plays Chuck made fun of him: “Oh, I have an action figure. Oh, I was on Firefly…” Then he mimicked his own action figure beating up a Jayne action figure and yelled, “You’re not so shiny now, are you???” (Firefly reference). Ha, awesome. On that note, at the 24 panel, Freddie Prinze Jr. mentioned that he had been watching 24 with his wife, uh, something, something, something. Anyway, the word “wife” totally set off the crowd (he’s married to SMG, who played Buffy). To which he said, “oh yeah, I forgot, she’s huge here.”

Back to Chuck, they also showed a clip of the Chuck actor sitting with the show’s creators who were talking about life after being cancelled, to which the Chuck actor kept replying with, “but we haven’t been cancelled yet!” Then they get a phone call saying they’ve been renewed and they panick ’cause they didn’t plan for this and they have no new ideas, plus they gave Chuck kung fu skills that they now have to deal with. Anyway, the creators just turn to two guys (cast from the show) wearing Jeffster shirts, and they “you’re on.” Then they came on stage and Jeffster (a fictional band from the show, like on The Office!) rocked out and the audience got on their feet and it was hilarious. Look for it onYouTube, someone must have it on there by now.

Family Guy/The Cleveland Show: The Family Guy panel was kind of interesting. I was happy to see Seth Green on there (Jossverse alum!) and the rest of the cast as well as Seth MacFarlane were pretty funny. They showed a clip from the next Star Wars spoof, and I have to say I laughed pretty hard. Kudos. By the way, it’s kind of strange and distracting to watch something with the creator sitting right infront of you. Wheird. The clips from The Cleveland Show, however, were really, really not funny. Like, not at all. Do not watch this show. Even if you like Family Guy, it’s not even in the same zip code of funny. Don’t do it.

Futurama: Sadly, none of the voice actors were at the panel because of labour disputes, but Matt Groening was hilarious. He was absolutely fixated on giving out prizes to people asking questions and he didn’t even seem to care about answering them. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him on the street corner trying to hustle with his own merch. In any case, not much was shown or talked about. Next!

The Simpsons: Again, Matt Groening was mainly giving out prizes to Q&A people while other writers answered questions. Although, he did say that he and Danny Elfman make the “s” sound at the end of “The Simpsons” at the beginning of the credits. Fun trivia! Then someone from the Guiness Book of World Records came out and gave them two honours, one for the longest running sitcom in the world and another for being voted one of the most important records in the last 100 years. Good for them! To which Matt Groening shouted to the crowd, “There is no end in sight. Simpsons forever!”

V: New show based on an old show. Yes, someone made the BSG comparison. On the panel were the entire cast, including Morena Baccarin (Jossverse alum!) who made the crowd crazy. The showed the entire pilot episode, which was actually pretty good, except it really reminded me of The 4400, which couldn’t hold my attention past the first half season. But we’ll see!

Fringe: I don’t watch this show either, it’s also looks too much like another X-Files wannabe, although I have heard good things about it. Mulder (Josh Jackson) was adorable and really egged the crowd on. It was adorable. They threw t-shirts to people who answered trivia questions. Points for effort! Didn’t show much other than a montage of the past season, but the Q&A was fun.

True Blood: This was the panel I was waiting for. Oh man, most people in the audience were wearing TB-themed shirts, mostly girls with shirts that said “fang banger.” *ahem* One guy had fangs and a bottle of true blood. Eeck. Anyway, when the entire cast walked on stage, the crowd was the loudest I’ve heard it so far. Possibly even louder than for Joss Whedon (*tear*) but I think that was partly for the hot guys in the cast. Charlaine Harris (author of the books) and Alan Ball (show creator and American Beauty/Six Feet Under guy of fame) were also on the panel. Have you ever seen what Charlaine Harris looks like? Look at her picture and then think about the sex and violence (often simultaneous) on the show. Actually, that would be really weird. So don’t. And then they showed a trailer for the second half of the second season, and it was possibly the most exciting thing I’ve seen at the con so far. Please watch this show. Please. Not that it needs the ratings! Booyah! Also, it was Anna Paquin’s birthday.

Following the True Blood panel, I promptly went to the exhibition hall to see if I won the raffle for the Dr. Horrible signing – I did not. 😦 Joss Whedon (and Zack Whedon!) was mere steps from me but I couldn’t get his autograph or take a picture with him like all these other stupid, lucky people. It was heartbreaking. I’m sure you can feel my pain. Although, I did take a picture of me with Joss in the background… talking to some other fan…

And then the day was over! That night, I went to the overflow room (not the live show, but where they screen it for people who didn’t spend all day in line) to watch the Masquerade. If you’ve been to a convention, like FanExpo in Toronto, you know what this is. People in costumes either parade around on stage or do little skits in their costumes. It’s pretty fun. I had the strangest bit of deja vu, though. Mainly about the guy who hosted it (who always hosts it) and the way they call out the contestants (the host goes, “And here’s contestant number…” and the audience yells out “26 ha ha ha” (or whatever number it is). It’s a tradition. Ask me whenever I see you next, and I’ll do the laugh for you.

That’s it for Saturday. Today I’ll be wandering around the exhibition floor and trying to see the musical episode of Buffy to cap off the con. And tonight I’ll try to talk more about the con as a whole (like the crazy people here, and how San Diego turns geek for a few days every year).